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THE VINKT MASSACRE (May 26/28, 1940)
One of the first war crimes committed by the German Wehrmacht (Not the SS or Waffen SS) in World War II took place at and near the Vinkt bridge over the Schipdonk Canal in Belgium. As the German 225th Divison approached the bridge they found it blocked by refugees fleeing south. Soldiers of the 225th then took a number of refugees and used then as human shields. Others were herded into the Meigem church where a grenade was thrown in amongst them killing 27. For no known reason the 225th started to execute their hostages. Next day (May 28) the Belgium army capitulated in the early morning and another nine hostages were shot. Altogether the number of hostages shot amounted to 86. Others killed in the cross-fire on the bridge brought the total to around 140. After the war, two German officers, a Major Kuhner and Lieutenant Lohmann were arrested, tried and convicted of the crime. They were both sentenced to 20 years imprisonment but released after only five years.
BANDE (Christmas Eve, 1944)
On September 5, 1944, a unit of Belgian marquis attacked a German unit, killing three soldiers. Two days later the American troops arrived in the area and the Germans retreated. Three months later, during the Ardennes Offensive, the village of Bande was retaken. On Christmas Eve, a unit of the German SD (Sicherheitsdienst) set about arresting all men in the village. They were questioned about the events of September 5, then lined up in front of the local cafe. One by one, they were led to an open door and as they entered a shot rang out. An SD man, positioned just inside the door, fired point blank into the victims neck and with a kick sent the body hurtling into the open cellar. After twenty had been killed this way, it was the turn of 21 year old Leon Praile who decided to make a run for it. With bullets flying around him, he escaped into the woods. Meantime the executions continued until all 34 men had been killed. On January 10, 1945, the village of Bande was liberated by British troops and the massacre was discovered. A Belgian War Crimes Court was set up in December 1944. One man, a German speaking Swiss national by the name of Ernst Haldiman, was identified as being a member of the execution squad. He had joined the SS in France on November 15, 1942 and in 1944 his unit was integrated with other SD units, into No. 8 SS Commando for Special Duties. Haldiman was picked up in Switzerland after the war and brought to trial before a Swiss Army Court. On April 28, 1948, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was released on parole on June 27, 1960, the only member of the SS Commando unit that has been brought to trial.
THE MALMÉDY MASSACRE (December 17, 1944)
During the Ardennes Offensive (Battle of the Bulge) the Combat Group of the 1st SS Panzer Division, led by SS Major Joachim Peiper, was approaching the crossroads at Baugnes near the town of Malmédy. There they encountered a company of US troops (Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion) from the US 7th Armoured Division. Realizing that the odds were hopeless, the company’s commander, Lieutenant Virgil Lary, decided to surrender. After being searched by the SS, the prisoners were marched into a field adjacent to the Cafe Bodarwé. The SS troops moved on except for two Mark IV tanks Nos. 731 and 732, left behind to guard the GIs. A couple of GIs tried to flee to the nearest woods and an order was given to fire. SS Private Georg Fleps of tank 731 drew his pistol and fired at Lary’s driver who fell dead in the snow. The machine guns of both tanks then opened fire on the prisoners. Many of the GIs took to their heels and headed for the woods. Incredibly, 43 GIs survived, but 84 of their comrades lay dead in the field, being slowly covered with a blanket of snow. No attempt was made to recover the bodies until the area was retaken by the 30th Infantry Division on January 14, 1945, when men from the 291st Engineers used metal detectors to locate the bodies buried in the snow. (The US troops in the area were issued with an order that for the next week no SS prisoners were to be taken) At the end of the war, Peiper, and 73 other suspects (arrested for other atrocities committed during the offensive) were brought to trial. When the trial ended on July 16, 1946, forty three of the defendants were sentenced to death, twenty two to life imprisonment, two to twenty years, one for fifteen years and five to ten years.
Peiper and Fleps were among those sentenced to death, but after a series of reviews the sentences were reduced to terms in prison. On December 22, 1956, SS Sturmbannführer Peiper was released. He settled in the small village of Traves (population 63) in northern France in 1972 and earned a living by translating military books from English into German. Four years later, on the eve of Bastille Day, July 14, 1976, he was murdered and his wooden house burned down by a French communist group known as the ‘Avengers’. His charred body was recovered from the ruins and transferred to the family grave in Schondorf, near Landsberg in Bavaria. Most of the remains of the murdered GIs were eventually shipped back to the US for private burial but twenty-one still lie buried in the American Military Cemetery at Henri-Chappelle, about forty kilometres north of Malmédy.
American flag flies over the Malmedy Memorial built at the Baugnes crossroads
Today, the American flag flies over the Malmédy Memorial, built at the Baugnes crossroads, about 100 metres from where the actual killings took place.
The Malmedy Memorial wall plaques
The Malmédy Memorial Wall – 84 names of the victims are engraved on individual plaques on the wall behind the flagpole
ATROCITY AT STAVELOT
On December 18, the day after the massacre at Malmédy, the same SS unit of Kampfgruppe Peiper, systematically executed 130 Belgian civilians in the village of Stavelot. Charged with sheltering American soldiers, 67 men, 47 women and 23 children were brutally executed.
CHENOGNE (January 1, 1945)
In the village of Chenogne, a unit of the US 11th Armoured Division had captured around sixty German soldiers. Marched to behind a small hill, out of sight of enemy troops still holding the woods beyond the village, the prisoners were subjected to a volley of machine-gun fire. On this cold and frosty first day of 1945, the GIs were showing no mercy for their unfortunate prisoners as they crumpled to the ground, dead. With memories of the Malmédy massacre still fresh in their minds, killing had become impersonal, revenge was now uppermost in their minds.
THE WERETH KILLINGS (December 17, 1944)
Shortly after the Battle of the Bulge commenced, eleven black American soldiers surrendered to the Nazi SS troops who had overrun the small hamlet of Wereth in Belgium. Some were wounded but this didn’t stop the SS from marching them to a field during a severe blizzard and shooting them in cold blood. All were members Battery-C of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion and were from Alabama. The bodies were found covered in snow two months later when the villagers directed members of the US 99th Infantry Division to the site. Seven of the murdered soldiers were buried in the American Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle in Belgium, and four were returned to their families in the USA. In 1994, three local residents of Wereth built a monument to the eleven slain black soldiers at the corner of the field where they were shot and on May 23, 2004, a rejuvenated memorial was dedicated to the victims. In the USA another memorial was built especially to memorialize the eleven victims and also to pay tribute to the 260,000 African-Americans who fought on European soil during WWII. The memorial is in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon, Massachusetts.
THE ABBEVILLE SHOOTINGS (May, 1940)
In Abbeville, France, twenty-two Belgian right wing political leaders were arrested by the French Police. Just before the German invasion the twenty-two men were taken to a public park in the town and shot. This must constitute Western Europe’s first ‘War Crime’ of World War II and the first to be documented. After the shootings hundreds of the victims followers rushed to join the volunteer regiments of Germany’s Waffen SS.
THE NORMANDY MASSACRES (June, 1944)
A sensation was caused in Allied Headquarters when reports came through that a considerable number of Canadian soldiers were shot after being taken prisoner by the 12th. SS Panzer Division ‘Hitler Jugend’. On the morning of June 8, thirty seven Canadians were taken prisoner by the 2nd Battalion of the 26th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. The prisoners were marched across country to the H/Q of the 2nd Battalion. In the village of Le Mesnil-Patty they were then ordered to sit down in a field with their wounded in the center. In a short while a half track arrived with eight or nine SS soldiers brandishing their machine pistols. Advancing in line towards the prisoners they opened fire killing thirty five men. Two of the Canadians ran for their lives and escaped the slaughter but were rounded up by a different German unit to spend the rest of the war in a POW camp. First to make contact with the Canadians was a combat group led by Obersturmbannfuhrer Karl-Heinz Milius and supported by the Prinz Battalion. Near the villages of Authie and Buron, a number of Canadians of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, were taken prisoner. Numbering around forty, they were individually killed on the march back to the rear. Eight were ordered to remove their helmets and then shot with automatic rifles. Their bodies were dragged out on to the road and left to be run over by trucks and tanks. French civilians pulled the bodies back on to the pavement but were ordered to stop and to drag the bodies back onto the road again.
On June 7 and 8, in the grounds of the Abbaye Ardenne, the headquarters of SS Brigadefuhrer Kurt Meyer’s 25th Panzer Grenadiers, twenty of the Canadians were shot. After being taken prisoner they were locked up in a stable and being called out by name they emerged from the doorway only to be shot in the back of the head. During the afternoon of June 8, twenty six Canadians were shot at the Chateau d’Audrie after being taken prisoner by a Reconnaissance Battalion of the SS Hitler Jugend. Other units of the German forces in France called the Hitler Jugend Division the ‘Murder Division’. After the war, investigations established that separate atrocities were committed in 31 different incidents involving 134 Canadians, 3 British and 1 American. Brought to trial before a Canadian military court at Aurich in Germany on December 28, 1945, Kurt Meyer was sentenced to death but later reprieved and spent six years in a Canadian jail at New Brunswick before being transferred to the prison at Werl in Germany where he was released on parole on September 7, 1954. He died of a heart attack on December 23, 1961, at age 51.
LE PARADIS (Pas-de-Calais, May 26, 1940)
A company of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, trapped in a cowshed, surrendered to the 2nd Infantry Regiment, SS ‘Totenkopf’ (Death’s Head) Division under the command of 28 year old SS Obersturmfuhrer Fritz Knoechlein. Marched to a group of farm buildings, they were lined up in the meadow along side the barn wall. When the 99 prisoners were in position, two machine guns opened fire killing 97 of them. Knoechlein then ordered a group of his mem to fix bayonets and stab or shoot to death any who showed signs of life. The bodies were then buried in a shallow pit in front of the barn. Two managed to escape, Privates Albert Pooley and William O’Callaghan of the Royal Norfolk Regiment emerged from the slaughter wounded but alive. When the SS troops moved on, the two wounded soldiers were discovered, after having hid in a pig-sty for three days and nights, by Madame Duquenne-Creton and her son Victor who had left their farm when the fighting started. She then cared for them till captured again by another, much more friendly, Wehrmacht unit to spend the rest of the war as POWs. In 1942, the bodies of those executed were exhumed by the French authorities and reburied in the local churchyard now part of the Le Paradis War Cemetery. After the war, the massacre was investigated by the War Crimes Investigation Unit and Knoechlein was traced and arrested. During the war he had been awarded three Knight’s Crosses. Tried before a War Crimes Court in the No. 5 Court of the Curiohaus, Altona, in Hamburg, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging and on January 28, 1949, the sentence was carried out. Married with four children, his wife attended the trial every day. (On May 27, 1970 a memorial plaque was affixed to the barn wall and unveiled by Madame Creton in the presence of members of the Dunkirk Veterans Association)
WORMHOUDT ATROCITY (Pas-de-Calais, May 27/28 , 1940)
The day after the Le Paradis massacre, around 100 men of the 2nd Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Cheshire Regiment and the Royal Artillery, were taken prisoner by the No 7 Company, 2nd Battalion of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. At Esquelbecq, near the town of Wormhoudt, about twelve miles from Dunkirk, the prisoners were marched across fields to a nearby farm and there confined in a barn with not enough room for the wounded to lie down. There the massacre began. About five stick grenades were lobbed in amongst the defenceless prisoners who died in agony as shrapnel tore into their flesh. When the last grenade had been thrown, those still standing were then ordered outside, five at a time, there to be mown down under a hail of bullets from the rifles of the executioners. Fifteen men survived the atrocity in the barn only to give themselves up later to other German units to serve out the war as POWs. Bodies of the murdered victims were buried in a mass grave dug up near the barn. A year later, the SS, in an attempt to cover up the crime, disinterred the bodies and buried them in various cemeteries in Esquelbecq and Wormhoudt. In 1947, the War Graves Commission erected headstones over the graves but as most of the bodies bore no identification, their ID tags and pay books being destroyed by the SS prior to the shootings, the names carved on the headstones bear no relation to the bodies buried underneath. Unlike the Le Paradis massacre, the victims of Wormhoudt were never avenged, as after the war no survivor could positively identify any of the SS soldiers involved. Where as the majority of soldiers serving in the Waffen SS were entirely blameless, the actions of some units have forever tarnished the name of the Waffen SS.
PARIS DEPORTATIONS (July 16-17, 1942)
A total of 12,884 non French Jews, (3,031 men, 5,802 women and 4,051 children) were rounded up in Paris for deportation to the death camps in Poland. For a whole week, 6,900 of them including the 4,051 children, were confined in the huge sports stadium, the Velodrome d’Hiver on the Boulevard de Grenelle. Without food and little water and only four toilets, the victims were in a deplorable state before being transferred to the camps at Drancy or Pithiviers on the outskirts of Paris. Here the Vichy French police separated the children from their parents. The parents were then transported to Auschwitz to be gassed. The children followed soon after. When the Red Army liberated Auschwitz on January 26, 1945, they found 2,819 inmates still alive but only thirty of the 6,900 non-French Jews were alive. Sadly, none of the 4,051 children survived.
It is estimated that around 60,000 Jews from 37 countries perished in France under the German occupation. This includes 22,193 French Jews and 14,459 Polish Jews who had fled to France earlier. Prior to this, on June 11, 1941, three hundred Jewish boys, aged between fourteen and nineteen were arrested and sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Of the three hundred, none survived. On May 15, 1944, a fifteen cattle-truck train left Paris (Convoy-73) heading for Kovno in Lithuania. On board were 878 male Jews including 37 boys aged between thirteen and eighteen. On arrival at Kovno 400 were taken to the slave labour camp at Pravieniskes where many were executed by Lithuanian SS auxilliaries. The other 478 were taken to Reval in Estonia where sixty of the prisoners were shot in a nearby forest. A hundred more, judged too sick to work, were also murdered. The rest ended up in the Stutthof concentration camp where many died. After the war it was found that only twenty-three of the original 878 deportees had survived.
During the Nazi occupation of France around 36,000 Gendarmes were in service. A total 338 gendarmes were executed by the Nazis, over 800 were deported and some 400 died fighting during the Liberation. Many were summarily executed by the Resistance without a trial. Their crime, ‘anti-French behaviour’ i.e. being forced to guard camps such as Drancy and in rounding up Jews for deportation.
ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE (Central France, June 10, 1944)
On their 450 mile drive from the south of France to the Normandy invasion area, the 2nd SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ (15,000 men aboard 1,400 vehicles, including 209 tanks) under the command of SS General Lammerding, arrived at Limoges, a town famous for its porcelain. In the small town of St. Junien (30 kilometres from Limoges) the ‘Der Führer Regiment’ was regrouping. Following many encounters with the local maquis in which two German soldiers were killed, a unit of the regiment arrived at ORADOUR (believed to be a hotbed of maquis activity) in a convoy of trucks and half-tracks. At about 2 PM on this Saturday afternoon the 120 man SS unit surrounded the village ordering all inhabitants to parade in the market place for an identity check. Women and children were separated from the menfolk and herded into the local church. The men were herded in groups into six carefully chosen local garages and barns and shot. Their bodies were then covered with straw and set on fire. The 452 women and children in the church were then suffocated by smoke grenades lobbed in through the windows and shrapnel grenades that were thrown down the nave while machine-guns raked the interior. All flammable items in the church then caught fire.
Incredibly, one woman, Mme Marguerite Rouffanche, escaped by jumping through a window, she was the only witness to the carnage in the church. (Mme Rouffanche died, aged 91, in March, 1988). Unspeakable atrocities were committed throughout the village, but some men managed to escape. The commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the SS Regiment at ORADOUR was thirty-two year old SS Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, a survivor of the Russian Front. He was later killed in the Normandy battle area on June 30 when hit in the head by shrapnel. Many members of the “Das Reich” reacted with surprising venom against the officer who ordered the massacre and a court martial was established but Diekmann died before the trial took place. The world heard of this massacre eight years later when some of those responsible were brought to trial. In 1953, a French Military Court at Bordeaux, established that 648 people (245 women, 207 children and 196 men) had perished. This included 393 residents of the village, 167 people from surrounding areas, 33 from Limoges and 52 from other outlying districts. Twenty-one other members of Diekmann’s company (including fourteen Frenchmen from Alsace-Lorraine who had been conscripted into the SS) were sentenced to death but later their sentences were commuted to terms of imprisonment. All were released by 1958. SS General Lammerding, who was sentenced to death in absentia, died peacefully at his home at Bad Toltz in Germany on January 13, 1971, of cancer. A close friend of Diekmann was Major Helmut Kampfe, commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion of the Der Führer Regiment He was kidnapped and executed by the FTP (Communists) the day before the massacre. His kidnapping was not the only reason for the events at Oradour. Gold, looted by the Nazis, and then stolen by the Maquis, was rumoured to be hidden in the village, why else the indiscriminate destruction? Today, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane stands in ruins, just as the SS left it. Entry to the memorial site can only be gained through the Centre de la Memoire museum and documentation centre at the entrance to the village.
Aerial view of Oradour. Church is in foreground centre. The new village, top left.
Car of the Mayor and local doctor, Dr Jean Desourteaux, still sits where he left it to visit a patient.
THE TULLE MURDERS (Near Limoges, Central France, June 9, 1944)
The day before the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, the SS murdered 99 men in the town of Tulle in central France. This was in response to activities by the local FTP resistance groups who had attacked and taken over the town. When the 2nd SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ took over the town they found 40 dead bodies of the German 3rd Battalion/95th Security Regiment garrison troops near the school, their bodies badly mutilated. Other bodies were found around the town, bringing the total German dead in Tulle to sixty-four. Next day, the reprisals began. All males in the town were gathered together and 130 suspects were selected for execution. A number were released because of their youth and the remaining 99 were executed by the Pioneer Platoon of SS-Panzer Aufklarungs Abteilung 2. Their bodies were hung up on lamp-posts and from balconies along the main streets of the town in the hope that the hanging bodies would deter future attacks by the Maquis and the FTP. More would have been hanged had not the SS ran out of rope. Instead, they rounded up 149 civilians and deported them to Germany for slave labour. Of these, 101 did not return.
ASCQ (Near Lille, April 2, 1944)
At the end of March, 1944, the 12th SS Panzer Division ‘Hitler Jugend’ set out on 24 rail trucks for Normandy to cover the coast in anticipation of an Allied landing. The convoy, under the command of SS Obersturmführer Walter Hauck, was approaching the small railway station of Ascq when a violent explosion blew the line apart. Stopping the train, it was found that two flat trucks had been derailed, holding up the whole convoy. Hauck, in a foul mood, ordered his men to search and arrest all male members of the houses on both sides of the track. They were assembled together and marched down the track about 300 yards where each man was shot in the back of the head. Altogether 70 men were shot beside the railway line and another 16 killed in the village itself. After an investigation by the Gestapo, six more men were arrested and charged with planting the bomb. They were all executed by firing squad. When the war ended, a search for the perpetrators was set in motion. Most of the SS men were found in Allied POW camps in Europe and in England. In all, nine SS men stood trial in a French Military Court at Lille. All were sentenced to death, including Hauck. The sentences were later commuted to a period of imprisonment and Walter Hauck was released in July, 1957.
In the local cemetery at Ascq, two rows of identical tombstones, and a large plaque engraved with the names of all victims, stand in silent testimony to the tragic events of April 2, 1944.
OUTRAGE AT IZIEU (Central France, April 6, 1944)
The sleepy French village of Izieu lies overlooking the Rhone river between Lyon and Chambery in central France. A number of refugee Jewish children, most of them orphans, were being sheltered in a home in the hope that the Nazi Gestapo would not find them. Supervised by seven adults, they felt safe and secure. However, on the morning of April 6, 1944, as they settled down to breakfast, a car and two military trucks drove up in front of the home. The Gestapo, led by the regional head, Klaus Barbie, entered the home and forcibly removed the forty four children and their seven supervisors, throwing the crying and terrified children on to the trucks like sacks of potatoes. All were transported to the collection centre at Drancy outside Paris where they were put on the first available train to ‘points east’. One carer, Miron Zlatin, and two of the oldest children ended up in Tallin in Estonia where they were all shot. The others found themselves in the notorious concentration camp of Auschwitz. Of the forty-four children, aged between five and seventeen kidnapped from Izieu, not a single one survived the war. Of the supervisors there was one sole survivor, twenty-seven year old Lea Feldblum. It is a tragic fact that patriotic French citizens willingly helped the Gestapo in their search for these Jewish children. On July 3, 1987, Klaus Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyon, was finally arrested, tried in a French court and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died of cancer in prison on September 25, 1991.
(The former children’s home in Izieu is now a memorial-museum, opened on April 4, 1994 by the then President of the French Republic, Francios Mitterrand)
FRAYSSINET(Near Tulle, Central France, May 21, 1944)
In the small village of Frayssinet le Gelat south of Tulle, between Gourdon and Fumel, an SS Rifle company of the 2 Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ stopped for a refreshment break. Believing that one of their officers had been shot by members of the French underground, fifteen hostages were taken and executed. These hostages were all young males from one child families. This, in the twisted minds of the SS, was to prevent any further family line of descent. Outside the entrance to the local church in Frayassinet le Gelat stands a small monument mounted with a stone cross, and a plaque bearing the names of all the fifteen young victims.
REPRISAL AT UGINE (June 5, 1944)
On this day, at 8.15am, members of the French Resistance exploded a roadside mine by remote control just as a column of German military police were passing by. Eleven of the policemen were killed and some twenty were injured. At Ugine, about thirty-five kilometres of Annecy, the enraged survivors of the police unit immediately set about grabbing all males walking along the streets or road and even those descending from a bus that had stopped and shot everyone of them, twenty-eight all told. Nineteen were taken to the exact spot where the mine exploded and there executed, their bodies falling into the hole. The youngest of these hostages was 17, the oldest, a man of 68. Next day, three apartment blocks, each of forty units, were blown sky high by the by police survivors depriving around 500 residents of all they possessed. By late evening the bodies of those shot were retrieved and placed side-by-side on the floor of the local garage to await proper burial next day. (One has cause to wonder what was gained militarily by attacking German soldiers knowing that such an act would result in heavy casualties in the civilian population)
REVENGE KILLINGS AT SAINT-JULIAN (August 9, 1944)
Fifteen kilometres north of Bergerac in the Dordogne region of France, lies the village of Saint-Julian. The surrounding forested area was a hiding place for many French Resistance groups. On Wednesday, August 9, a unit of German troops surrounded the village. (These troops were actually Soviet horse-mounted Cossacks collaborating with the Germans) They proceeded to round up all male residents and assembled them in the grounds of the village school. After questioning, some were released but the others, seventeen in all, were summarily shot leaving many families grief stricken. Two weeks later, during an action 50 kilometres west of Bergerac, a group of German soldiers, 82 in number, gave themselves to the Maquis. They were transported to the Davoust Military Barracks in Bergerac. On Sunday, September 10, a group of Marquis decided to take their own revenge for the shootings at Saint-Julian. They entered the Barracks under a false pretext and removed 17 prisoners from their cells. Taken to Saint-Julian, some were ordered top dig a deep grave before all 19 POWs were shot. In the year 2003, after 59 years, the unmarked mass grave was found and the bodies of the 17 German POWs were reburied in the German Military Cemetery at Berneuil, near Bordeaux. None of the perpetrators of these crimes were ever brought to trial.
SAULX VALLEY ATROCITIES (August 29, 1944)
In the Saulx Valley, in the Meuse départment of eastern France, stands the sleepy villages of Robert-Espagne, Couvonges, Mognéville and Beurey-sur-Saulx. Late in August, 1944, as the German armies were retreating eastwards in the face of the Allied advance, units of the British 2nd S.A.S. Regiment were parachuted in behind the enemy lines to harass the retreating Germans. Joining up with units of the local maquis, their first action, on August 28, was the ambush of a German staff car carrying two officers and two NCOs. The deaths of these four men so infuriated an SS officer to such an extent that he ordered several lorry loads of his soldiers into the nearby village of Robert-Espagne. Their first act was to destroy the telephone equipment at the local post office, thus cutting off the village from the outside world. All males were then rounded up (49 in number) and marched off to the station and there, with their backs to the embankment, they stood, three deep along the rails, and awaited their fate. Three machine-guns, firing in unison, sent their deadly stream of bullets into the helpless group while from nearby houses, their pale faces streaming with tears, wives and mothers watched helplessly from their windows. When the foul crime was over, the SS ordered the women out of their homes to look at the carnage, after which their houses were deliberately set on fire. In the village of Couvonges, 26 men were killed and 54 out of the 60 houses were burned to the ground. Two kilometres further on, the village of Beurey-sur-Saulx was also targeted by the SS and seven inhabitants met their deaths, the church and houses put to the torch. In Mogeville, three people died as a result of the SS retaliation. Similar atrocities were also carried out almost simultaneously in the villages of Sermaize-les-Bains (thirteen died), Cheminon and Tremout-sur-Saulx by the SS 3rd Panzer-Grenadier Division.
KALAVRYTA( December 13, 1943 )
Due to partisan activity around the town of Kalavryta in southern Greece, a unit of the German army ‘Kampfgruppe Ebersberger’ the 117th Jager Division, under the command of General Karl de Suire, surrounded the town on the morning of Monday, December 13. All the inhabitants were herded into the local school. Females and young boys were separated from the men and youths, the latter being marched to a hollow in a nearby hillside. There the soldiers took up positions behind machine-guns. Below, they witnessed the town being set on fire. Just after 2pm a red flare was fired from the town. This was the signal for the soldiers to start firing on the men and youths who were huddled in the hollow. At 2.34pm the firing stopped and the soldiers marched away. Behind them lay the bodies of 696 persons, the entire male population of Kalavryta. There were 13 survivors of the massacre, the town itself totally destroyed. Only eight houses out of nearly five hundred, were left standing. It was not until late afternoon that the women and young boys were released to face the enormity of the tragedy. Today a memorial stands on the site of the massacre on which are carved the names of 1,300 men and boys from Kalavryta and 24 nearby villages who were murdered that day. (Around 460 villages were completely destroyed and approximately 60,000 men, women and children were massacred during the occupation of Greece)
THE KOS MASSACRE( October 4, 1943 )
When the island of Kos in the Aegean, fell to the German forces, a total of 1,388 British and 3,145 Italian troops were taken prisoner. Italy had signed an armistice on September 8 and the Italian troops were now fighting on the British side. On September 11, Hitler gave the order to execute all Italian officers who were captured. The officer in charge of the Italian troops was Colonel Felice Leggio. He, and 101 of his officers, were marched to a salt pan just east of the town of Kos and there, shot in groups of ten. They were buried in mass graves. When Kos was returned to Greece after the war, the bodies were dug up and transported back to Italy for burial in the Military Cemetery at Bari.
CEFALONIA MASSACRE ( September, 1943)
Almost unknown outside of Italy, this event ranks with Katyn as one of the darkest episodes of the war. On the Greek island of Cefalonia, in the Gulf of Corinth, the Italian ‘ACQUI DIVISION’ was stationed. Consisting of 11,500 enlisted men and 525 officers it was commanded by 52 year old General Antonio Gandin, a veteran of the Russian Front where he won the German Iron Cross. When the Badoglio government announced on September 8, 1943, that Italian troops should cease hostilities against the Allies, there was much wine and merriment on Cefalonia. However, their German counterparts on the island maintained a stony silence and soon began harassing their Italian comrades, calling them ‘traitors’. The German 11th Battalion of Jäger-Regiment 98 of the 1st Gebirgs (Mountain) Division, commanded by Major Harald von Hirschfeld, arrived on the island and soon Stukas were bombing the Italian positions. The fighting soon developed into a wholesale massacre when the Gebirgsjäger troops began shooting their Italian prisoners in groups of four to ten beginning with General Gandin. By the time the shooting ended four hours later, 3,339 Italian soldiers lay dead in twenty five different locations all over the island. But that was not the end for the Acqui Division, some 4000 survivors were later shipped to the mainland for further transportation to Germany for forced labour. In the Ionian Sea three of the ships hit mines and sank soon after leaving port taking around 3,000 men to their deaths.
The final death toll in this tragic episode was 9,646 men and 390 officers. Major Harald Hirschfeld was later killed by a bomb splinter during the fighting at Duklapass in Warsaw in 1945 after he was promoted to Lieutenant General. General Hubert Lanz, commander of the Gebirgsjäger troops, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. He was released in 1951. In the 1950s, the remains of over 3,000 soldiers, including 189 officers, were unearthed and transported back to Italy for proper burial in the Italian War Cemetery at Bari. Unfortunately, the body of General Gandin was never identified. In 2002, the investigation into this massacre was reopened in Germany and ten ex-members of the 1st Gebirgs Division, of the 300 still alive, have been investigated and may be charged. The youngest is 81 and the oldest is now 93. There is no Statute of Limitations for murder.
MASSACRE AT DISTOMO (June 10, 1944)
Four days after the Allied invasion of Normandy, a most despicable atrocity took place in the village of Distomo in the province of Boeotia in Central Greece. A unit of the SS Police Panzergrenadier Regiment No 7, on an anti-partisan sweep, massacred 218 Greek civilians in the village. Packed into seven trucks, the unit drove through the village without incident but a short distance beyond the village the convoy was ambushed by a guerrilla band that resulted in the killing of seven SS soldiers. The SS unit doubled back into the village and in a last ditch effort to crush partisan activities, the reprisals, including looting, burning and rape, began. When a Red Cross delegation visited the village some days later they found bodies hanging from trees along the main street. One survivor, Yannes Basdekis, recalled, ‘I walked into a house and saw a woman, stripped naked and covered in blood. Her breasts had been sliced off. Her baby lay dead nearby, the cut off nipple still in its mouth’. The body of the village priest was found headless.
The unit commander, SS Hauptstrumführer Lautenbach, was later charged with falsifying a military report on the massacre but the charges were dropped as the massacre was judged a ‘military necessity’. Today, the skulls and bones of the victims are displayed in the Mausoleum of Distomo. In 1960, Germany paid the Greek government 115 million marks as compensation for the suffering of its citizens during the German occupation but as yet no payment is forthcoming for the victims of Distomo. It was not until 1990 that members of the German embassy first took part in the wreath laying ceremony on the annual anniversary of the massacre. (It is somewhat ironic that other massacres took place on a same date, the 10th of June, Lidice in 1943, Oradour-zur-Glane and Distomo, in 1944)
The skulls and bones of the victims of Distimo on display in the Museum.
ETHNIC CLEANSING IN CAMËRIA JUNE 27, 1944
Cameria was a region in Northern Greece populated mostly by Albanian Muslems. These Muslems suffered the most cruellest atrocities during their ethnic cleansing by Greek Fascists. Beginning Tuesday June 27, 673 men women and children were killed in the town of Paramithia. In Gumenica, 192 persons were killed and in the towns of Margellic and Parga, 626 people met their deaths at the hands of the Greek gangs. In the town of Filat, 1,286 persons were killed during the period June, 1944, to March, 1945. Hundreds of persons went missing. In all, 2,877 Albanian men, women and children were massacred, 475 women were raped and 68 small villages were razed to the ground including 5,800 houses and places of worship (110 Mosques). After March, 1945, the remaining Albanian Muslims (Around 30,000) were expelled from their ancestral lands and forced to flee to Albania or Turkey.
Anther village in Greece which suffered under the Swastika was…
KOMMENO (August 16, 1943) The eight hour massacre by the First Alpenjäger Division ‘Edelweiss’ commanded by General Stetner, started early in the morning at 5.30 and finished at 12.30 midday. Of the 680 inhabitants of the village, 317 were murdered, 74 of whom were children aged between one and ten years old. In the house of Thedoros Mallios, a wedding reception was taking place for his son Spyros and his new bride. In the early morning, after a celebration that lasted all night, the bride and groom and all guests were confronted by the machine guns of the Edelweiss soldiers and shot to death. The house was then burned to the ground. In all, 34 persons died. Both priests of the village were shot and after the massacre the rest of the houses in Kommeno, about 180, were put to the torch.
DE WOESTE HOEVE (March 6, 1945)
On the night of March 6, a BMW car, carrying the SS General Hans Albin Rauter, the most feared man in Holland, was ambushed, his driver and orderly being killed. Rauter was seriously wounded. Some hours later the damaged car was found by German troops and Rauter was taken to the St. Joseph-Stichting hospital on the outskirts of Apeldoorn where he recovered after a series of blood transfusions. Soon after the ambush, the SD arrived and what followed was one of the most notorious war crimes ever committed in Holland. In charge of the investigation was SS Brigadefuhrer Dr Eberhardt Schongarth, who immediately ordered reprisals. One hundred and seventeen men were rounded up and transported to the scene of the ambush where they were all shot dead, their bodies being buried in a mass grave in Heidehof Cemetery in the village of Ugchelen. The 117th man was a German soldier, Helmut Seijffards, a member of the firing squad who refused to take part in the shootings. In Gestapo prisons all over Holland, prisoners were taken out and shot in reprisal for the ambush. In all, a total of 263 people had been shot. The irony was, that the Dutch underground fighters had intended to ambush and steal a German lorry, and had no idea that the car they shot up contained a German General. Rauter himself survived the war. He was arrested by British Military Police in a hospital at Eutin and turned over to the Dutch. Before a Special Court of Justice in the Hague, he was sentenced to death and on March 25, 1949, he was executed by firing squad in the dunes near Scheveningen Prison. Schongarth was tried by a British Military Court, found guilty on another war crime charge and sentenced to death. He was hanged in 1946.
TEXEL MASSACRE (April 1945)
On the island of Texel, just off the coast of Holland, some 800 Soviet soldiers from Georgia (drafted into the Red Army and who volunteered to join the German Army after being taken prisoner during the German advance into the Soviet Union) decided to mutiny against their German masters. They had been formed into the 822nd Infantry Battalion, and were led by around 400 German officers and NCOs. One night at the end of April, the Georgians, led by a Lt. Shalva Loladze, stealthily entered the German quarters and killed 246 German soldiers as they slept. German battalions were sent from the mainland to secure the island and hunt down the rebels. Summary justice was then dispensed to the Georgians, four or five being tied together and grenades placed between them. Only 235 were left alive out of the original 800 when the Canadians occupied the island in May. Unfortunately, during the hunt, 117 Texelers were also killed. A total of 476 Georgians lie buried in unmarked graves in the Georgian War Cemetery on Texel.
PUTTEN ATROCITY (September 30, 1944)
On the night of September 30, 1944, a group of Dutch resistance fighters ambushed four German soldiers near the small Dutch village of Putten. The attack went wrong and three of the soldiers escaped to raise the alarm, the fourth being kept hostage. The German commander of the area, General Heinz Helmuth von Wuhlisch, ordered all inhabitants arrested and the village burned down. Thirty nine were arrested immediately and lined up on the square. Hoping to save the 39 men, the resistance group released the hostage, Lt. Eggert. It made no difference, all the other men in the village were rounded up and together with the 39 men on the square, forced to board a train bound for the Reich. In all, 589 men from the village were transported to Germany for forced labour. Only 49 were alive at the end of the war. Luckily, of the 600 or so houses in Putten, ‘only’ 87 were burned down.
RIDDERKERK ATROCITY (1945)
The last atrocity of the war in Europe took place in the small town of Ridderkerk, near Rotterdam. The Mayor had ordered the local police to arrest some ‘Hun girls’ (women collaborators). While standing with three of their prisoners in front of the house, a German officer and his girl friend passed by in a truck. The police stopped the truck but at a signal from the German officer, a group of ten drunken soldiers stormed out of a nearby house and started firing at the police and their prisoners who had fled to safety back into the house. The soldiers then stormed the house, dragging women and children outside. Eleven men were found inside the house and forced outside to stand up against the wall to be shot down. A wounded man, hiding behind a sofa, gave himself away by his moans. He too was shot dead. The soldiers departed, leaving behind three survivors.
THE AMSTERDAM REPRISAL (October 24, 1944)
When S.D. officer Herbert Oelschagel was murdered by the Dutch resistance on October 23, 1944 in Amsterdam, the Nazi reprisal was swift and severe. Next day, 29 civilians were arrested and pedestrians on the Apolloaan were forced at gunpoint to witness their execution. At the same time, several buildings were deliberately set on fire.