Malmedy massacre

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The Malmedy massacre is a name used by the WWII Allies and later more generally in politically correct sources, for alleged killings of American POWs and Belgian civilians in December 1944, near Malmedy, Belgium, by an SS unit, part of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, led by Joachim Peiper. The alleged killings occurred during the Battle of the Bulge, when Peiper's unit were advancing, notably on 17 December 1944, but also during the following days. The alleged killings were quickly used as part of Allied psychological warfare.

The Malmedy trial involving those alleged to be involved in the claimed killings, was one part of the Dachau trials, notorious for the use of torture and other miscarriages of justice.[1] Revisionists have criticized both the politically correct views on the claimed killings and the show trial.

Revisionist views on the claimed killings


"The prosecution, on the basis of a number of sworn statements, alleged that as many as 311 American prisoners had been killed in La Gleize. Hal McCown, ultimately the defense's star witness, was a USA Major at the time of the offensive and spent several days as Peiper's prisoner in La Gleize. He maintained that during that time he had not seen a single dead American prisoner. The prosecution pointed out that McCown had not seen all parts of the village. The defense was, however, able to offer several affidavits by La Gleize residents who had been present during the Germans' stay there. None had seen any American prisoners shot, nor the dead bodies from any alleged shootings, nor had they even heard of any such incidents. These were followed by testimony from German witnesses who supported the observations of McCown and the civilians. But, as in other instances during the trial, the Belgians' testimony in favor of the defendants was highly effective, since they had no stake in the outcome of the case. Indeed, they would tend to be hostile towards the defendants if anything."[2]

McCowan also testified for the defense that he himself and the hundred or so other American prisoners "had been properly treated" once the chaos of the initial capture subsided.[3]

"The prosecution claimed at least nine civilians were murdered by Peiper's men in Bullingen. One of the defense lawyers made a brief investigative trip to Bullingen. He brought back an affidavit from the village Mayor and Registrar, whose task it was to keep track of the citizenry (and not a very hard task in a small community of about 300), which stated only two citizens had died since 16 December 1944: one of natural causes, in 1946, the other by shrapnel from American artillery fire (the latter claim was supported by an affidavit from the husband of the woman who was killed)."[2]

Justifiable or accidental killings

"The "Malmedy Massacre" is revealed by David Irving to be a hoax invented by wartime sensation-mongers. During the Battle of the Bulge, a unit of the 1st Panzer Division killed over 80 GIs during a fire fight. The American dead were laid out in rows in the snow, but the Germans were forced to withdraw from Malmedy before the dead soldiers were buried. Allied propagandists blew this event up into a major atrocity story, claiming that the Americans had been taken prisoner and then lined up and shot. Several Germans were tried after the war for their participation in this "war crime."[4]

A similar revisionist view is that "In the initial attack on the American column at the Baugnez crossroads, some GIs were wounded. Descriptions of the attack indicate that the column was fired on by all manner of tank cannon, mortars, machine gun and small arms fire. Photos clearly show the destroyed, burned-out, and bullet-and-shrapnel-riddled vehicles of the column. It would seem highly unlikely that no one would be killed in such a battle. Were any Americans killed in the battle, prior to the alleged massacre? If so, how many-and are they included in the number of dead alleged to have been murdered by Peiper's men?"[2]

Another revisionist view is that some of the claimed killings may have been otherwise justifiable or due to mistakes. Thus, "some Americans may not have totally surrendered to their captors; some may have attempted to delay or impede the progress of Peiper's troops, or made outright sabotage attempts; some may not have surrendered all their weapons; others may have been slow to obey commands or even totally disobeyed them. There was the possibility of accidental shootings as well. [..] In house-to-house fighting it was a common tactic to toss grenades into buildings first and then rush in with weapons firing. Accidental deaths of civilians caught in battle zones was the rule rather than the exception." Some of the claimed killed civilians may have been accidental deaths caused by Americans during the fighting.[2]

Some of the claimed killed civilians may have been partisans or suspected partisans. "The mere thought of the presence of guerrillas, who would be virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the population, would obviously make any soldier trigger-happy around civilians in a combat zone. Some defendants, including Peiper, claimed to have seen civilians firing on German troops."[2]

General Handy, in 1951, commuted the death sentences of Germans still awaiting the gallows for the Malmedy affair. He used these words to describe the event: "The offenses are connected with a confused, mobile and desperate combat action", and not by deliberate malice. This is supported by the accounts by American soldiers who witnessed the events.[5]

Dubious "superior orders"

"The big question seems to be whether or not an order existed that prisoners were to be shot. No proof of a written order has ever been found. Many of the defendants claimed orders to such effect were given by their superiors, prior to and during the offensive. The prosecution's claim that such an order had been given by Hitler or at least some higher authority above Dietrich could not be conclusively proven, although some comments made by Dietrich and others to their subordinates could be interpreted in different ways. If such an order was given by any higher authority above Peiper, why was his unit the only one to carry them out? If the order originated with Peiper, why did they kill only some prisoners and not others?"[2]

Claiming the existence of superior orders would have been in the interest of the defendants, since they could then the use the superior orders defense. Revisionists and even some non-revisionists have stated that this caused false "confessions" in various war crimes trials. (See the article on the superior orders.)

Accusations of killings of German POWs

"U.S. troops not only brutalized and killed German prisoners on their own - before, during and after the Battle of the Bulge - but orders to that effect had been given. An order issued on 21 December 1944 by Headquarters of the U.S. 328th Infantry Regiment stated: "No SS troops or paratroops will be taken prisoner, and will be shot on sight." Isn't just the issuance of such an order a war crime? Weren't some of the Malmédy Case defendants being accused of the exact same crime?"[2]

"Irving does authenticate several instances of German POWs being executed in cold blood by Allied troops. Irving cites Patton, who wrote in his diary on 4 January 1945: "The Eleventh Armored is very green and took unnecessary losses to no effect. There were also some unfortunate incidents in the shooting of prisoners. I hope we can conceal this.""[4]

"The legend that the Germans alone were guilty of shooting captured enemy soldiers is also challenged: "Much has been made of the shooting of prisoners -- most notoriously, Canadian prisoners -- by 12th SS Panzer and other German units in Normandy. Yet it must be said that propaganda has distorted the balance of guilt. Among scores of Allied witnesses interviewed for this narrative, almost every one had direct knowledge or even experience of the shooting of German prisoners during the campaign... Many British and American units shot SS prisoners routinely, which explained, as much as the fanatical resistance that the SS so often offered, why so few appeared in POW cages."[4]

"Everett also considered that the crimes of which the youngsters of the Waffen SS in the heat of battle had been accused, had their counterpart in the U.S. Army. Everett recalled talking with General Josiah Dalbey, president of the Malmedy court, at the officer’s club in Dachau one evening. Dalbey stated that the sentencing of the seventy-three defendants had been the most difficult undertaking he had ever encountered because he knew that American soldiers had been guilty of similar offenses. Dalbey agreed with Everett that the case should not have come to trial."[6]

See also Chenogne massacre.

See also Western Holocaust camps: Allied atrocities at the Western camps on Allied killings of German prisoners at the liberation of Holocaust camps.

Malmedy trial

Malmédy trial, Peiper at the dock.
Defendants during the closing statements at Malmedy trial.

The Malmedy trial, involving the claimed killings, was one part of the Dachau trials, notorious for the use of torture and other miscarriages of justice. See the article on the Dachau trials on general criticisms.

Jewish involvement

"Willis M. Everett, appointed by the U.S. Army as chief defense counsel, and others, were uneasy about the number of Jews who were involved in the war crimes process. James J. Weingartner writes of this:

Other factors entered into Everett’s refusal to accept the outcome of the Malmedy trial. While not a racist, he shared with many contemporaries a suspicion of Jews as a clannish subculture with views and interests not entirely in harmony with the best interests of the countries of which they were citizens. This manifested itself in a distrustful attitude towards the Jewish principals in the Malmedy investigation and trial, particularly the law member of the court, Colonel Rosenfeld, in the assumption that Germans, SS men at that, could not have received just treatment at their hands. In a nutshell, Everett believed that confessions had been extorted and then legitimated in court by a collusive system which had been weighted against his clients from the beginning.[46] [...]

Colonel Strong, head of the War Crimes Group at Wiesbaden, testifying before the Senate investigation, was critical of the prejudiced manner of Colonel A. H. Rosenfeld, the “law member” of the court trying the Malmedy defendants, and stated that the prosecution team had obstructed and threatened witnesses.[53] Rosenfeld “had wielded great power, interpreting the law and making frequent procedural rulings for a bench whose members were combat soldiers inexpert in such matters. Rosenfeld had not allowed the defense to challenge the credibility of prosecution witnesses.”[54] The most prominent of the interrogators at Schwaebisch Hall was William R. Perl, a Prague-born Jewish lawyer from Austria, who had been active with Zionist emigration programs. He was attached to the War Crimes Branch of the U.S. Army in 1945. When incessantly questioned by Senator McCarthy, Perl “exploded” that there was so much “noise” about “one or two Germans getting slapped.”[55]"[6]

On the side of the defendants, "A civilian member of the defense staff, Herbert J. Strong, born and raised in Germany, was a Jew and refugee from Nazi Germany. Being fluent in German, he was an invaluable member of the defense staff. Later, during the Senate hearings on the trial, Strong criticized the Army's conduct of the investigation and trial. He also believed, that while some of the defendants were guilty, it had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. And his testimony could not be easily brushed off as pro-Nazism or anti-Semitism."[2]

Torture and other problems

"At the Malmedy trial, which took place at Dachau in 1946, American investigators submitted the accused to every sort of physical and mental torture to force them to sign false confessions, as the commission of inquiry presided over by Judges van Roden and Simpson established".[7]

"The following allegations were made by defendant Hendel: "… on 4 April 1946 1 was led from my cell under a black hood, was put into a cell facing the door and was then beaten in the abdomen and face until I fell to the ground. When a moment later the hood was taken off, Lieutenant Perl and Mr. Thon stood before me. During the subsequent interrogation, I was also beaten several times. No notice was taken of my request to have the interrogation postponed since I was not in condition for it at that time. The facts described happened before my interrogation. During the interrogation, promises were made to me but since I did not know anything and today still do not know anything of an order, all sorts of threats were made to me and since things were immaterial to me and I wanted to avoid further beatings, etc., I wrote down everything that was dictated to me." Many additional allegations were made by defendants, all in the same vein."[2]

"The use of mock trials and threats was admitted by the investigators, but all manner of physical abuse was denied. [...] Later, the Senate investigation would show that at least some of these allegations of physical brutality, denied by the interrogators at the trial, were founded in evidence."[2]

"A dissertation on the U.S. War Crimes Group, although favorable towards the whole war crimes process, nonetheless states of the defendants that #most were locked in the dungeon of Schwaebisch Hall for months, where they were refused clean clothing or the ability to take a bath. After taking the German prisoners from their dank cells, American interrogators roughly interviewed them and coerced confessions and sworn statements from each using psychological torture, threats and physical violence. Though the SS men were veterans of some of the bitterest fighting in history, most of them were young and did not have the education or experience to withstand the pressure of the investigators.[45]""[6]

Furthermore, "The guards at the prison where the interrogations took place were not under the control of the war crimes team. They also, for a time, included Polish refugees who harbored considerable resentment towards Germans-and especially SS men. Some defendants specifically mention physical abuse by these guards as they were being led between their cells and the interrogation rooms and while waiting in halls, all the time wearing black hoods over their heads. (The hoods were claimed to be necessary to keep the prisoners form recognizing each other and to prevent them form speaking to fellow soldiers.) Kicking, punching, beating about the arms, and pushing prisoners down stairs, in addition to verbal abuse, was conducted frequently, much to the amusement of the perpetrators."[2]

An particularly absurd event in the process was when "the American investigator Kirschbaum introduced a witness, Einstein, to prove that the defendant, Metzel, had murdered [Einstein's] brother, who was nonetheless sitting in the courtroom! [Prosecutor] Kirschbaum proceeded to scold Einstein: "How can we bring this pig to the gallows, if you are so stupid as to bring your brother into court!""[7]


The tribunal tried more than 70 persons and pronounced 43 death sentences (none of which were carried out) and 22 life sentences. Eight other men were sentenced to shorter prison sentences.


"American attorney Willis N. Everett, Jr. was the lead defense counsel at the Malmedy trial. Everett was convinced that the Malmedy trial had been an ethical abomination. Approximately 100 of Everett’s friends and some additional American military officers advised Everett to forget about the Malmedy case and live in the present. Everett’s sense of ethics, however, set him on a mission to obtain justice for the Malmedy defendants.[21] Everett and another defense-team member prepared a 228-page critique of the investigation and trial, stating that the Malmedy convictions had been secured primarily on the basis of “illegal and fraudulently procured confessions.” The petition also argued that the trial was a travesty of justice to German soldiers since the Allies were also guilty of the same violations of international law."[8]

"The review officer of the Malmedy case, Maximillian Koessler, after the trial, pushed for a speedy review. He referred to convictions, including death and life sentences, as being secured on vague and contradictory testimony, and to interrogation methods that included the use of hoods, false eyewitnesses and mock trials. Col. Straight was displeased with Koessler’s reviews (although he could not adequately articulate his reasons), and they were rejected.[47] Everett took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the Army refusing to provide him with the court transcripts of Malmedy. The Supreme Court Justices ruled that they did not have jurisdiction over the Army trials.[48]

German and American patriots, along with sundry liberals expressing disquiet about the vengeance being wreaked upon Germany, took the matter up with Senator McCarthy, a member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, pressing for an inquiry.[49] The secretary of the army, Kenneth C. Royall, established a tribunal headed by Gordon Simpson of the Texas Supreme Court, Leroy van Roden, Pennsylvania judge, and Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Lawrence of the U.S. Army.[50] The Simpson Commission recommended the commutation of all death sentences of the Malmedy defendants.[51] While the Simpson Commission report was “bland,” van Roden returned to the USA fully endorsing the allegations that interrogators had subjected the defendants to beatings, including “blows to the genitals,” threats of hanging during interrogations, and refusal of drinking water.[6]

Reduced sentences

Most of the death sentences were commuted, because of a revision of the trial carried out by the US Army. The other life sentences were commuted within the next few years. All the convicted were released during the 1950s, the last one to leave prison being Peiper in December 1956.

Other alleged killings of POWs by Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler members

There are also other claims of killings of POWs by Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler members, which may be problematic for reasons similar to stated regarding the Malmedy massacre. As the unit was an elite unit used in pro-German propaganda, claims of atrocities by the unit also had great anti-German propaganda value.

External links


  1. Ziemssen, Dietrich, The Malmédy Trial, Merriam Press, 2012,, ISBN: 978-147825-8414
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 The Malmédy Massacre and Trial
  3. American Mercury, November 1954, article "Malmedy and McCarthy" by Freda Utley
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The War Between The Generals Book Reviews
  5. American Mercury, November 1954, article "Malmedy and McCarthy" by Freda Utley
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Defending the Defenseless
  7. 7.0 7.1 Two False Testimonies from Auschwitz
  8. The Malmedy Massacre: The War Crimes Trial Controversy by Steven P. Remy, reviewed by John Wear: