ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE, France -- France remembered 642 people killed in the small village of Oradour-sur-Glane 75 years ago Monday, the biggest massacre of civilians by Nazi troops during Germany's World War II occupation of France.
Genevieve Darrieussecq, a junior armed forces minister, presided over ceremonies at the site near Limoges in central France. A Mass, wreath-laying ceremonies and a march through the village were organized to remember the tragedy on June 10, 1944.
Though the massacre occurred four days after the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy, the killings were believed to have been ordered in retaliation for the kidnapping of a German soldier by the French Resistance.
Troops from the fanatical SS "Das Reich" division were responsible for the killings, herding hundreds of civilians into barns and a church and setting the town on fire.
A new village has been built but the old town's ruins have been left untouched as a testimony to Nazi horrors.
Michael Roth, Germany's deputy foreign minister for European affairs, said the massacre represents "unimaginable inhumanity and cruelty."
"We bow our heads to the victims and their descendants in shame and the deepest sadness," he said in a statement from German Foreign Ministry.
"The crimes that the Germans inflicted upon their neighbors during the Second World War were, and remain an inextricable part of our history."
Roth added that in that context today, "we are all the more grateful for the outstretched hand and the readiness for reconciliation extended to us Germans. The German-French friendship is for us a gift and a mission."
"Our united, democratic and peaceful Europe is the answer to the experiences of war, fascism, the Holocaust and the barbarity that emanated from German soil," Roth said. "Today's commemoration binds us to defend the European peace project resolutely against nationalism and populism."