MAILLE, France – French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid homage Monday to victims of a 1944 Nazi massacre that was long forgotten by the history books, overshadowed by another event the same day: the liberation of Paris.
On Aug. 25, 1944, as the Allies liberated the French capital from the Nazis, retreating German troops massacred 124 of the 500 townspeople in the village of Maille in the Loire Valley, 160 miles to the southwest. Sarkozy said that by visiting the site he hoped to "repair an injustice."
"By ignoring the tragedy in Maille for so long, by remaining indifferent to the pain of the survivors, by letting the memory of the victims be erased, France committed a moral mistake," Sarkozy said.
Jacqueline Hinderscheid, 81, who lost her mother and sister in the massacre, said her "little village was forgotten" every year amid the celebrations to mark the anniversary of Paris' liberation.
"We suffered from a lack of recognition," she said.
The massacre of townspeople and the razing of the village were believed to be retaliation for Resistance action in the region, according to local archives. Forty-four children were among the dead, the youngest just 4 months old.
A German investigator, Dortmund prosecutor Ulrich Maass, has been drawing attention to the forgotten chapter of World War II. Last month he visited to interview survivors and dig through archives as part of his probe into the killings.
A Nazi officer, Gustav Schlueter, was convicted in absentia for his role in the killings by a military court in Bordeaux in 1952. Maass, who has been investigating the case since 2004, has said Schlueter died at home in Germany in 1965.
Other soldiers' roles remain unclear, but any suspects in the case could be charged with murder — the only World War II-era crime on which the statute of limitations has not elapsed in Germany.
The massacre in Maille was the second worst atrocity in Nazi-occupied France. The Germans killed 642 men, women and children at Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944, four days after the D-Day landings in Normandy.