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Nazi War Crimes: The Russelheim Massacre

(August 25, 1944)

On the night of August 25, 1944, elements of the Royal Canadian Air Force bombed the Opelwerk in Russelheim, causing tremendous damage to both the factory and the neighboring town. Fires raged in the wake of the air raid, terrorizing the townspeople as they huddled in shelters during the early morning hours of the 26th. Between 9:00 and 10:00 AM, a train arrived at Russelheim carrying eight crewmembers of a U.S. Eighth Air Force B-24 shot down near Hanover. As news of the presence of the aviators spread, the citizens of Russelheim left the shelters to quench their thirst for revenge. They began throwing pieces of the rubble created in the raid, showering both the prisoners of war and their two escorts. Under blows from the escorts, the Americans were forced to run a gauntlet of 200 citizens of Russelheim, who were wielding sticks, boards, bricks, and a variety of other weapons. The Germans viciously attacked the defenseless prisoners as they attempted to huddle with one another for protection. Several civilians closed on the prisoners and beat them until they no longer moved.

Around noon, the Chief of Propaganda of Russelheim and members of the local SA and Hitler Youth collected the bodies and took them to the town cemetery for burial. During a subsequent air raid, two of the American prisoners of war who had remained motionless during the trip to the cemetery climbed over a wall and managed to escape. Although it is not known for certain, it seems that three of the prisoners of war were killed by the beatings and three were shot sometime prior to burial in a common grave. After the “Russelheim Massacre,” German authorities made a cursory investigation, but the Terror Aviator Orders effectively prohibited prosecution and the authorities took no legal action.

Sources: C. Robert Bard, “Review, US v. Hartgen, et al.,” 12-1497, August 23, 1945, Record Group 549, “Cases Tried” (National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland), 1-2. Dachau Trials