The Day

Robert Hébras, last survivor of infamous massacre in France, 97


When Robert Hébras wandered through the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane, the bucolic village in central France where he grew up playing marbles in the street and marking time by the tolling of the church bells, he saw “faces, people,” he said, “not ghosts.”

In his memories, Oradour lived on as the place it had been before June 10, 1944, when German troops of the Second Waffen-SS Panzer Division entered the village and killed 642 men, women and children in one of the worst civilian massacres in Western Europe during World War II.

Only seven villagers survived. The last of those still living was Mr. Hébras, who was 18 at the time of the attack and withstood a spray of bullets buried under the corpses of his neighbors. His mother and two sisters perished in the church, where the SS soldiers had assembled the women and children of Oradour before setting the building afire with grenades.

Mr. Hébras, 97, died Feb. 11 at a hospital in Saint-Junien, near Oradour. His granddaugh­ter Agathe Hébras confirmed his death but did not cite a cause.

In the aftermath of the war, Oradour became, in the descriptio­n of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “an iconic symbol of German crimes against civilians in occupied Europe.” Mr. Hébras later emerged as a symbol in his own right, a memory keeper for his martyred town and a champion of reconcilia­tion and peace in Europe and beyond.

“It’s always difficult for me to come here,” Mr. Hébras told the London Guardian in 2013, referring to what remained of Oradour, a scene of devastatio­n left essentiall­y untouched since 1944 in an eternal memorial to the dead.

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