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Massacre at Malmédy: Background & Overview

(December 17, 1944)

Combat during World War II was horrible enough, but soldiers sometimes went to extremes that resulted in mass murder. On the second day of the Battle of the Bulge, December 17, 1944, SS troops herded a group of Americans from the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion into a field near the Belgian town of Malmédy. The POWs were lined up, and then the Germans suddenly opened fire on them.

As the German soldiers and tanks left the area, they shot Americans who showed signs of life and pumped more bullets into those already dead. The exact number killed was never determined with certainty, but it was between 90 and 130. Several men somehow escaped, but some were found hiding in a nearby cafe. The Germans set the building on fire and then shot the men as they ran out. A handful of other GIs eluded the Germans and got out the word that the Germans were shooting POWs. News of the atrocity was widely reported and helped stimulate the Allies to fight even harder.

A group of ex-Waffen SS officers of the 1st Panzer Corps were convicted before an American military tribunal convened May 12-July 16, 1946, at Dachau. Seventy-two were found guilty and 42 were sentenced to death, though all these were later commutted to life imprisonment. One defendant committed suicide and one was acquitted; the remainder were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.

A man named Charles F. Appman, who was among the last survivors of the Malmedy Massacre, died in August 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a forward observer in Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery. Appman survived because the Germans thought they had killed him when other dead soldiers were actually laying on top of him and their blood had spilled on him. He told his story of surviving the atrocity at Malmedy in 1944, and the history - including Appman's testimony - has since been recounted in the news and most recently in a 2012 book called Fatal Crossroads.

Sources: Mitchell G. Bard, The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War II. NY: MacMillan, 1998; Third Reich Factbook; "Obituary: Charles F. Appman / Survivor of Malmedy Massacre during World War II," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (August 30, 2013).