On the 21st October 1941 the following notice appeared in the Bordeaux newspapers:
Cowardly criminals in the pay of England and of Moscow have killed, by shooting in the back, the Feldkommandant of Nantes on the morning of 20 October 1941. Up to now the assassins have not been arrested.
As expiation for this crime I have ordered that 50 hostages be shot, to begin with. Because of the gravity of the crime, 50 more hostages will be shot in the case of the guilty not being arrested between now and midnight of 23 October 1941.
One witness to subsequent events was Police Officer Roussel
22 October 1941, at about 3.30 in the afternoon, I happened to be in the Rue du 11 Novembre in Chateaubriant, and I saw coming from Choisel Camp four or five German trucks, I could not say definitely how many, preceded by a sedan, in which was a German officer. Several civilians in handcuffs were in the trucks and were singing patriotic songs; the ‘Marseillaise,’ the ‘Chant du Depart’ and so forth. One of the trucks was filled with armed German soldiers.
I learned subsequently that these were hostages who had just been taken from Choisel Camp, to be led to the quarry of Sabliere on the Soudan Road, to be shot in reprisal for the murder in Nantes of the German Colonel Hotz.
About two hours later these same trucks came back from the quarry and drove into the court of the Chateau of Chateaubriant, where the bodies of the men who had been shot were deposited in a cellar until coffins could be made.
On coming back from the quarry the trucks were covered and no noise was heard, but a stream of blood escaped from them and left a mark on the road from the quarry to the castle.
The following day, 23 October, the bodies of the men who had been shot were put into coffins, without any French persons being present, the entrances to the chateau having been guarded by German sentinels, and were taken to the cemeteries of the surrounding communes,three coffins per commune. The Germans were careful to choose communes to which there was no regular transport service, presumably to avoid the population’s going en masse to the graves of these martyrs.
I was not present at the departure of the hostages from the camp nor at the shooting in the quarry of Sabliere, as the approaches to it were guarded by German soldiers armed with machine guns
It was these actions which were to prompt a response from the United States government:
Department of State Bulletin, October 25, 1941.
The practice of executing scores of innocent hostages in reprisal for isolated attacks on Germans in countries temporarily under the Nazi heel revolts a world already inured to suffering and brutality. Civilized peoples long ago adopted the basic principle that no man should be punished for the deed. of another. Unable to apprehend the persons involved in these attacks the Nazis characteristically slaughter fifty or a hundred innocent persons. Those who would “collaborate” with Hitler or try to appease him cannot ignore this ghastly warning.
The Nazis might have learned from the last war the impossibility of breaking men’s spirits by terrorism. Instead they develop their lebensraum and “new order” by depths of frightfulness which even they have never approached before. These are the acts of desperate men who know in their hearts that they cannot win. Frightfulness can never bring peace to Europe. It only sows the seeds of hatred which will one day bring fearful retribution.