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The Tulle Martyrs

Artwork from the 70th Anniversary in 2014

In the 1970's, blocks of maisonette housing were built on Church Drive, Prestwich, and they were given the name of Tulle Court. Some of the properties were demolished/replaced/rennovated between 2006 and 2015, but the name still lives on with the housing built on the same location.

Tulle Inscription, Prestwich

Some Prestwichians (Prestwichtonians?) may remember a sign post in Prestwich Precinct pointing towards Tulle, and when the water feature and artwork called The Retreat was installed in Prestwich, in 2004, the post was replaced with an inscription in the granite paving.

Below is the sad story of Tulle, translated from French leaflets and documents [Ref: 70th Anniversary Leaflet, the words are not all my own, but carry the essence of my best translation efforts. I've taken some information out and added some information in. Please be aware that some details included may be upsetting, there is one particular photo (hidden behind a link) so continue at your own discretion.

The SS Panzer Division Das Reich arrived in France from the Eastern Front in February 1944, and were placed under the orders of SS General Heinz Bernhard Lammerding, specialist in the repression of "gangs". Lammerding established camps in the region of Montauban, where his objectives were to eradicate resistance and spread terror.

Heinz Lammerding was familiar with the use of hangings to achieve his objectives, he had inflicted the same approach on the civilians of towns in Russia and Central Europe, and on the 5th June he had stated that he intended to use the same tactic in France. The village of TULLE was to be chosen to set an example to the French.

Heinz Lammerding

On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces triggered the D-DAY landing operations on the beaches of Normandy and at the same time, in response to messages received from London, the French Resistance intensified their guerrilla actions aiming to destabilise the occupying troops.

Tulle, France

In the region of Limousin, between the 7th and 9th of June 1944, several important localities experienced the excited expectation of a quick liberation that would stop the great power of an enemy still present throughout the South West of France.

The mountain resistance of Limousin and the Massif Central, buoyed by the news of the Allied invasion in Normandy, launched attacks on the occupying troops for two days. Then on June 8, 1944, the 58th Division were ordered to deploy in the Tulle / Limoges sector to chase "the gangs". The 2nd SS Panzer division Das Reich was integrated into the intervention group, in charge of hunting down the Resistance fighters.

Tulle June 8th 1944

On June 8th half-tracked convoys of the sinister Das Reich division crossed the Dordogne river and entered the region causing many civilian casualties.

At around 8:30 p.m., after resistance had dealt a severe blow to the local German garrison in Tulle, all but wiping out the garrison, the first detachment of the Das Reich division arrived from the West. In the hours that followed, under the crackle of machine-gun fire and tanks, Tulle was very quickly encircled, and as the last freedom fighters escaped, the Germans entered the city. In the hours that followed, even more numerous SS elements, coming from the South, crisscrossed the main access roads, and isolated the village from all outside contact.

Calm returned, heavy and distressed, to the inhabitants as they shelter in their apartments, living in anxiety. They cannot imagine the intentions and cruelty of the newcomers. The silence of the night, interrupted here and there by the passage of street patrols, served to raise their fear and their most frightening imaginations.

Tulle Pont du tribunal

At first light on the 9th June, the SS undertook a monstrous roundup which continued until late morning.

All able-bodied men, aged 18 to 60, most often apprehended at home, were taken to the town Square "Place de Souilhac", and their homes looted. Although everyone understands that these arrests (more than 3000) do not bode well, the reason given by the authorities is rather reassuring: "Follow us for verification of papers ”.

At around 9 a.m. the detainees are split into groups of six before being gathered in two rows, one column to the right, and a column to the left, presumably for identity checks. This strange sight continues all morning until mid-afternoon. However, some hostages are then arrested, selected from one or other of the columns. Swiftly they are asked unceremoniously to join the middle line. The unwritten target is for 120 men to be hung, so whenever a man is removed from the middle row, another is selected to replace them.

A local retired colonel, Colonel Bouty, and not one of the detainees, intervenes and argues that a certain number of hostages be selected for their usefulness (factory or medical workers etc) are returned to their homes, upon restrictive conditions placed upon the individuals.

The remainder of the two columns, still made up of around 600 hostages, are then under the instructions of an SS officer, Walter Schmald. He takes control with a threatening attitude, according to the instructions he received and also by his inclination, and orders certain men with a brittle "you", to go and swell the middle group.

Walter Schmald is a second lieutenant and a member of SD (Sicherheits-Dienst or Security Service), a sister of the SS Intelligence Agency or "Gestapo".

This selection lasts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during which interventions, negotiations, and transfers of men from one column to another occur, with the objective to select 120 unfortunate people (two groups of 60).

Artwork from the 70th Anniversary in 2014

Meanwhile, Commander Kowatsch, ordered that posters be put up in the village and that the town’s loudspeaker disseminates the proclamation of reprisals for the deaths inflicted on the local garrison by the resistance fighters.

By around 5pm, the Waffen SS had surrounded Place de Souilhac with their armoured vehicles ready for the occasion. The detained then saw with fear, beyond the lines of armed uniforms, ropes hanging from the balconies of the buildings in the surrounding streets.

The emotion intensified even more, when the 1st group of 10 of the condemned, in triangular formation with hands tied behind the back and surrounded by surly young SS men, were led to the gallows that awaited them.

Ten by ten, they were made to climb ladders with their hands tied behind their backs. A soldier climbed a second ladder and placed a rope around the condemned man's neck and the ladder was pushed away.

A photo of a hanging in Tulle, it will upset you...PLEASE ONLY CLICK IF PREPARED

This scene repeated itself and repeated itself again. The Nazi officers and Fraülein Geissler indifferently supervised the massacre from the terrace of the Tivoli café overlooking the square, while downing wine and listening to records.

Fraülein Geissler Paula Geissler, spokesperson for the German Wehrmacht attached to the director of the Tulle arms factory, nicknamed "the bitch", was also involved in sorting and release of sixteen or seventeen hostages, engineers from the factory or men that she knew, such as the son of the town's pharmacist. Sixteen or seventeen hostages then replaced those spared, maintaining the target of 120. Paula Geissler was sentenced to three years imprisonment for not having saved the life of an employee of the MAT factory when she could have done.

On the ladders, as the nooses approach, attempts to escape occurred but all were doomed to failure.

The next morning around 200 of the detained are returned to their families, leaving 311 hoping for liberation.

A further selection is made and 149 Tullist hostages are designated to be deported to concentration camps in Germany where the worst sufferings await them. Only 48 of them ever returned from the camps.

The bodies of those that were hung in the town were cut down and tipped into the local rubbish dump.

The coffins of the martyrs when they were later given proper burials

At the end of the war, at the request of their families, the bodies were returned for a more decent burial.

Testimony of Yvette Chastel (aged 14)

Yvette Chastel

On June 9, looking through the half-closed shutters, I said to mum "come and see, they are putting up ropes [] at one point two young SS men entered the house, into the kitchen, they [] made it clear that they wanted to wash. [] They asked for a basin, mum gave them the porcelain bowl we used for our toilet with a matching pitcher filled with water.

mum and I left these men alone in our kitchen and found ourselves in the hall of the house. The door opened and they motioned for me to come, I looked at mum and walked home with them. They let me know that they wanted towels. I went out and asked mum "they want towels where are they ? Go to the wardrobe in the bedroom, give them two white towels ”.

I complied immediately, they waited until I wanted to leave, one of them held me back by the arm and with a smile that I could not qualify, led me to the window and made me look outside, through shutters still half closed. How awful ! At that moment Jean Vieillefond was climbing the ladder, I still remembered this moment the image of this torture. Hands tied behind his back, left foot on the second step of the ladder, right on the third, his head raised, no doubt wanting to look towards his family, he was near his parents' butcher's shop, then I can still hear his voice: "mum, mum, tell them I'm innocent!"

On June 10,[] trucks were lined up, they were full of very passive men. We couldn't hear any talking. An SS soldier guarded the rear trucks, "maybe your daddy is there", mum told me,[] We approached the truck, it was the second truck if I remember correctly,[] "I'm here ". From the middle of the truck where he was sitting, he came towards us, in the front of the back of the vehicle, his comrades having left a passage for him.[]

Dad: "You know, I've been to Germany twice, this will be the third time, this time I'm not coming back"

Yvette's father, Antoine Chastel, was taken hostage June 9 1944, deported to Hersbruck, and died on 1st February 1945.

As a symbol of remembrance, on June 9th every year, the living generations of the village of Tulle along with visitors, gather for a slow and silent march towards the memorial at Ceuille, the site of the town's old rubbish dump, and of the mass burial. They pay homage to the 200 Martyrs who were victims of Nazi barbarism.

The Annual Memorial Ceremony

In Tulle, the wounds left by Nazi barbarism remain, perhaps they will never be able to fully heal, the perpetrators having escaped justice. The SS Officer Heinze Lammerding was found guilty of war crimes in France, in absentia, and sentenced to death, but West Germany never extradited him as he had already been found guilty of war crimes and served a prison sentence, so could not be tried again. He died of cancer in 1971.

The Memorial

Here you can view some photos of the memorial area at Ceuille. In the spirit of friendship Tulle was twinned with the town of Schorndorf in Germany, where a monument was unveiled on the 75th anniversary of the terrible events at Tulle, as well as commemorating a second massacre that took place at Oradour-sur-Glane (10th June 1944).

The town of Prestwich was twinned with both Tulle and Schorndorf in 1969. Bury then took on the twinned status in 1974 with Mr. Trevor Holt, Mayor of Bury attending the ceremony at Schorndorf in 2019.

The Original Tulle Court Prestwich

The Original Tulle Court Prestwich

There was a plan submitted to make the court into an estate of 28 houses with road access from Church Lane but this was rejected and a combination of partial demolition, modernisation and new builds occurred including affordable housing, using the existing road access from Church Drive.

The New Tulle Court Prestwich