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Date: Monday, 7 May 1945
Place: Bad Reichenhall, Oberbayern, Germany
Captive Frenchmen from the 33. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne (französische Nr. 1) and Wehrmacht stand in front of Général de Division Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque (22 November 1902 - 28 November 1947), the commander of the 2nd Armored Division of the Free French forces, after their captured in the German spa town Bad Reichenhall, 7 May 1945. Front row far left is LVF Leutnant Paul Briffaut (8 August 1918 - 8 May 1945); at his right with feldmütze and trying to look at the photographer is Waffen-Untersturmführer Serge Hermann Louis Théodore Krotoff (11 October 1911 - 8 May 1945); 2nd row far left (we can only see his neck and ''Schulterklappen'' rank) is Waffen-Obersturmführer Robert Doffat. These captives held themselves with dignity and even defiance. When General Leclerc called them traitors and said: “How could you, the French, wear someone else’s uniform?” one of them replied: “You yourselves wear someone else’s uniform – the American one!” (the division was equipped by the Americans). They say it angered Leclerc, and he gave orders to shoot the prisoners! Here is the background behind this one-of-its-kind story: At the beginning of May 1945, 13 French soldiers of the Charlemagne Division were convalescent in a german hospital in the west. They were captured by US troops and sent to the Gebirgsjäger barracks of Bad-Reichenhall along with others germans POWs.Then they learned that the POW camp was to be seized by French Gaullist troops, so the 13 men decided to escape (by the way, one of them was not SS but Wehrmacht: Leutnant Paul Briffaut who was LVF member and being wounded. He was already in the hospital when the LVF melted within the SS Charlemagne. For this reason he was not versed within the SS, and his promotion as an Waffen-Untersturmführer only exist on paper. As a Vichyst french army ROTC aspirant, he joined the LVF when the Vichy army was dissolved in 1942). Two other officer and and three soldiers were in this group: Waffen-Obersturmführer Robert Doffat, Waffen-Untersturmführer Serge Krotoff, Waffen-Grenadier Raymond Payras (some sources said his rank as Waffen-Untersturmführer), Waffen-Unterscharführer Jean Jules Eugene Robert (1 Februari 1915 - 8 May 1945), and SS-Mann Jacques Ponnau. Krotoff was a veteran of the 8. Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade Frankreich and had been wounded at the Mokre battle in Ukrainia, July 1944. In 6 May 1945, the 13 Frenchmen were captured by troops of 4th Company/Regiment of Tchad/2nd Free French Armoured Division (this company, under command of Lieutenant Ferrano, was formed with Communist Spaniards who fled Franco's Spain after the Civil War and formed the hardcore of the terrorist ''resistance'' in southwest France in 1944). The commander of the division, General Leclerc, came to inspect the newly captured prisoners. His first decision was to secretly remove one the SS men who was the son of a Free French high officer (friend of him). This young SS French volunteer was put later in a plane and clandestinely sent back to his father. Then Leclerc started to questioned the prisoners, telling them blatantly that they were traitors because they were wearing a foreign uniform, the German one. One of the SS prisoner bravely answered: ''Sir, you too wear a foreign uniform, the American one!'' (the 2nd Free French Armoured Division was uniformed and equiped by the USA). Hearing this, Leclerc went pissed of and unhesitantly ordered the execution of all of the the prisoners - without trial or court martial - because they were ''arrogant''! The prisoners were shot at a place known as Karlstein in the afternoon of May 8th 1945, the very day the war was over! Under pressure of the two Catholic chaplain of the division, Father Fouquet and Maxime Giaume, General Leclerc conceded a religious assistance. In this ceremony were presents: General Leclerc, Major Lebec (division's G-2), Fathers Fouquet and Giaume, 2nd Lieutenant Cortadellas and Lieutenant Ferrano (whose 4th Company furnished the firing squad). The young Lieutenant who commanded this squad was astonished to have to do the job and wanted to disobey the order, but he had no choice, at last he talked with respect to the prisoners. They were shot 4 by 4, all were denied to be shot at the back as Leclerc initially ordered, and the firing squad commander authorized them to be shot standing in front. They also denied a bandage on the eyes and all shouted ''Vive la France''. Still angry, Leclerc ordered the corpses to be let unburied. They were buried then by US troops three days later. After the war, Major Lebec referred to this story as a ''dirty affair''! This killing was known thanks to Father Giaume who tried to find and advise the families of the SS after the war. Of those 13 prisoners captured, 12 were shot and one (still unidentified) was spared. In 1948, during a flight in Algeria, the plane of General Leclerc crashed in the desert. Some rumors says it was sabotaged on De Gaulle's orders. True or not, fact is that the flight registered a total of 12 men, including Leclerc, but the corpse of the 13th passenger, unknown, was found inside and never explained... a winkle of Destiny!