On June 12, 1944, Edmond Réveil witnessed the execution of 47 German soldiers and one French collaborator, who had been captured shortly after an uprising in the French city of Tulle.
For decades, Edmond Réveil carried a dark secret. But as he reached the end of his life, the former French resistance member decided to come clean, and told the media about the execution of 47 German soldiers and one female French collaborator that he witnessed in 1944 during World War II.
“We were ashamed,” Réveil, who is now 98, told the French newspaper La Vie Corrézienne. “We knew that we should not kill prisoners.”
Réveil first told his story in 2019. It was then that he rose to speak at a meeting of the National Veterans’ Association and revealed what had happened 75 years before. But the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic meant that little was done about Réveil’s confession — until now.
“It had to become public,” Réveil said, according to The Guardian. Citing his age and the fact that the other resistance members have since died, making him the sole surviving witness, he added: “The world has to know what happened there. It is a historical truth.”
In June 1944, Réveil was an 18-year-old member of the FTP (Francs-tireurs et partisans) Resistance group. That month, shortly after D-Day on June 6, Réveil took part in an uprising in the town of Tulle, during which 50 to 60 German soldiers were taken prisoner. In retaliation, the Germans publicly hanged 99 civilians and sent 149 others to the Dachau concentration camp.
The next day, German troops also massacred more than 600 people, including 247 children, in the small nearby village of Oradour-sur-Glane.
Meanwhile, Réveil and 30 of his fellow resistance members found themselves with almost 50 prisoners of war, 47 Germans and one female French collaborator. But it was difficult to guard and feed the prisoners.
“If a prisoner wanted to take a pee, he needed to be guarded by two of us,” Réveil explained. “We hadn’t planned anything for food.”
Then, they received orders to kill them on June 12.
Their commander “cried like a kid when he got the order,” Réveil said according to the BBC. He added: “But there was discipline in the Resistance.”
As Réveil recounted, the commander asked for volunteers to kill the prisoners. Réveil and a handful of others balked at his request, but the rest agreed to participate in the execution. They hesitated, however, to kill the Frenchwoman, and ended up drawing lots to see who would have to do it.
“It was a terribly hot day,” Réveil told the BBC. “We made them dig their own graves. They were killed and we poured quicklime on them. I remember it smelled of blood. We never spoke of it again.”
To The Guardian, Réveil added: “It had to stay secret – it was wrong to shoot prisoners.”
Réveil joined the French Army after the country was liberated, and went on to fight in Germany. When the war ended, he found a job as a rail worker, married, and had children. All the while, he kept his secret about what had happened in June 1944.
The execution that Réveil witnessed didn’t entirely remain secret over the years, however. In 1967, a dig at the site uncovered 11 bodies. But The New York Times reports that few records of the discovery were made, and that the exhumation was stopped for unknown reasons.
Now, however, French authorities are determined to return to the site and search for the rest of the 47 people who were killed back in June 1944. According to The Guardian, France’s National Veterans Office is working with the German War Graves Commission to locate the site using ground-penetrating radar. They hope to exhume and identify the remains, and return them to their families.
The mayor of Meymac, the town where Réveil lives now, told the BBC that Réveil’s 2019 confession of the execution appeared to have lifted a weight from his mind.
“Over the years he had plenty of opportunities to tell the story, and he never did,” he said. “But he was the last witness. It was a burden to him. He knew that if he didn’t speak out, no one would ever know.”
After reading about the 98-year-old former member of the French resistance who revealed the execution of German POWs during World War II, discover the stories of 11 resistance fighters across Europe who stood up to the Nazis during World War II. Or, look through these photos of the French resistance.