This 4 page series reports on some occurrences within:
KRISTALLNACHT (Night of Broken Glass) (November 9/10, 1938)
Demonstrations against Jews and Jewish property was widespread throughout Germany on November 9/10, 1938. On Nov.12, Heydrich reported to the Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, that 101 Jewish Synagogues had been burned down and 76 others demolished. Over 815 shops and businesses were destroyed including the huge Margraf department store on Berlin's Unter-den-Linden which was totally ransacked. By nightfall there was scarcely a Jewish shop, cafe or synagogue in the country that was not either wrecked or burned severely. This orgy of anti-Jewish violence was the result of the assassination of a German Embassy official, Ernst von Rath in Paris by a 17-year old Polish Jew in an act of protest against the deportation of his parents from Germany. Thirty six Jews were killed and around 20,000, in particular the more wealthy Jews, arrested and transported to concentration camps. The cost of shattered glass alone throughout the Reich was estimated at six million marks. The whole cost of Kristallnacht (night of glass) had to be paid by the Jews themselves, the Nazis confiscating their insurance money and imposing a collective fine of one billion marks!
THE SKIATAWA MASSACRE (Sunday November 30, 1941)
The prime mover behind the expulsion of Berlin's Jews was Albert Speer, Hitler's chief architect who had been given the task of rebuilding Berlin. A close friend of Joseph Goebbels, together in 1941, they planned for the clearance of the Jewish slum areas in the western part of the city. In doing so, Speer could then take control of around 34,000 houses and apartments and start his demolishing and rebuilding programme. The first trainload of these expelled Jews left Berlin on October 18, 1941. There were to be 130 trainloads altogether. On November 7, a train, No. Do-26, loaded with 943 Jews left the city bound for Riga in Latvia. Arriving at 9.30am in Skiatawa , about eight kilometres outside Riga, in zero temperatures and three inches of snow on the ground, they were forced out of the train and shot into deep trenches previously dug in a strip of the Rumbula Forest. The executions were supervised by SS Major Rudolf Lange but the actual shooting was carried out by the local Latvian SS troops. Later that day around 4,000 local Jews from Riga itself were transported by trucks to the forest and murdered in the same way at the same spot on the orders of the local SS Commander Friedrich Jeckeln. (By the beginning of 1942, Jeckeln was credited with reducing the Jewish population of Riga from 29,500 to 2,600) This massacre was witnessed by Major General Walter Bruns, a 54 year old German Army bridge building engineer whose testimony is on file at the Public Records Office in London. At the 'Wolf's Lair', Hitler had given instructions to Himmler that the Berlin Jews were not to be liquidated but they were all dead by the time the order came through.
RUSSIAN P.O.W. MURDERS
The first 3,000 Soviet prisoners of war arrived at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp during September 1941. After months of marching hundreds of miles they finally entered the camp completely exhausted and emaciated into mere skeletons. They had received almost nothing to eat during the march. Some weeks later another 4,000 arrived and during the ten kilometre march from the station in Weimar to the camp, 417 collapsed and died. In the camp, one of the most vile cold-blooded war crimes took place in a facility hastily constructed inside the camp's horse stables. When no longer able to work in the stone quarry the prisoners were taken to the stable and ordered into the shower-room eight at a time. The door was then closed and through a slit in the door the unsuspecting victims were simply shot down by an automatic pistol. To cover the cries of the dying loud music was played over loudspeakers. After the killings the showers were turned on but only to wash away the blood. Another method used was for the prisoner to stand against a measuring device to measure his height. Concealed behind the device was a small cubicle in which stood the SS murderer who then fired a shot into the neck of the prisoner through a slot in the partition. One such murderer was a Horst Dittrich an SS member of Kommando 99 at Buchenwald who confessed to having shot at least thirty-eight Russian P.O.W.s this way. Around 500 killings a day was achieved through these methods. In all, about 7,200 Russian P.O.W.s were murdered in Buchenwald.
STARVATION AT REMAGEN
After the capture of the Remagen Bridge, the US Army hastily erected around 19 Prisoner of War cages around the bridge-head to hold an estimated one million prisoners. The camps were simply open fields surrounded by concertina wire. Those at the Rhine Meadows were situated at Remagen, Bad Kreuznach, Andernach, Buderich, Rheinbach and Sinzig. The German prisoners were hopeful of good treatment from the GIs but in this they were sadly disappointed. Herded into the open spaces like cattle, some were beaten and mistreated. No tents or toilets were supplied. The camps became huge latrines, a sea of urine from one end to the other. They had to sleep in holes in the ground which they dug with their bare hands. In the Bad Kreuznachcage, 560,000 men were interned in an area that could only comfortably hold 45,000. Denied enough food and water, they were forced to eat the grass under their feet and the camps soon became a sea of mud. After the concentration camps were discovered, their treatment became worse as the GIs vented their rage on the hapless prisoners.
In the five camps around Bretzenheim, prisoners had to survive on 600-850 calories per day and tried to nourish themselves on a few blades of grass. With bloated bellies and teeth falling out, they died by the thousands. During the two and a half months (April-May, 1945) when the camps were under American control, a total of 18,100 prisoners died from malnutrition, disease and exposure. This extremely harsh treatment at the hands of the Americans resulted in the deaths of over 50,000 German prisoners-of-war in the Rhine Meadows camps alone in the months just before and after the war ended. An order from General Eisenhower stated that any civilians bringing food to these prisoners placed themselves in danger of being shot. It must however be borne in mind that with the best will in the world it proved almost impossible to care for such a huge number of prisoners under the strict terms of the Geneva Convention. The task of guarding these prisoners, numbering around 920,000, fell to the men of the US 106th Infantry Division. The Remagen cage was set up to accommodate 100,000 men but ended up with twice that number. On the first afternoon 35,000 prisoners were counted through the gate. About 10,000 of these required urgent medical attention which in most cases was completely absent. All roads leading to the camps were clogged with hundreds of trucks bringing in even more prisoners, sent to the rear by the advancing 9th US Army. By April 15, 1945, 1.3 million prisoners were in American hands. At war's end, 1,056,482 German prisoners were held in US camps in Europe, 692,895 were classified as Prisoners of War and 365,587 classified as DEF's (Disarmed Enemy Forces) In May, 1945, the number of prisoners held in Allied camps in northern Europe numbered 5,235,700. It was not until 44 years later that the horrible truth of the atrocities committed inside Allied POW camps became known to the outside world.
Tourists, cruising down the Rhine today can pick out a small memorial and plaque built on the site of the former P.O.W. cage. In the Remagen cemetery there are 1,200 graves and at Bad Kreuznach, 1,000 graves.
Just how many German P.O.W.s died in Allied camps? For over forty years we have been told that many hundreds of thousands of German soldiers had died in Soviet prison camps while at the same time keeping quiet about the number of prisoners who had died in American, French and British camps. In 1997, around 1.1 million German soldiers were still officially listed as missing. According to the recently opened Soviet archives, which have been proved to be extremely precise and detailed, the Red Army captured 2,389,560 German soldiers. Of these, 423,168 died in captivity. In October, 1951, the West German government stated in the United Nations that 1.1 million soldiers had not returned home. In other words, we were led to believe they had died in Soviet camps. If we subtract the proven number of deaths in Soviet camps from the missing in Germany we arrive at the figure of around 677,000. Where are these men?. They must have been interned by the western Allies, the greatest majority being held in American and French camps where they died in their thousands through deliberate starvation, disease and hard work.
The standards set by the Geneva Convention were, in most cases, totally ignored by the Americans and French in relation to their treatment of German prisoners-of-war. The French deliberately starved many of their P.O.W.s in order to force them to join the French Foreign Legion. Thousands of Legionnaires who fought in the Vietnam conflict were Germans, handed over by the Americans to the French in 1945/46 to work as slave labourers in the rebuilding of France's war damaged cities. Conditions in the French camps were just as bad if not worse than in the American camps. It is estimated that at least 167,000 German soldiers died in French captivity between 1945 and 1948.
In a large building in the former French Sector of Berlin is housed the military records of every German soldier who served in World War II. There are kilometres of shelves holding about eighteen million files on every man and woman in the German armed forces. Run by a Director and 364 staff members, they receive around 18,000 requests each year inquiring about family members of whom they have heard nothing since 1945. In a Russian archive at Podolsk, south of Moscow there are names of 700,000 German P.O.W.s once held in Soviet prisons, yet the whereabouts of 480,000 of these men remain unresolved today.
THE SAGAN EXECUTIONS (March, 1944)
The Gestapo’s most cold blooded act of butchery was the murder of 50 RAF officers from the P.O.W. camp, Stalag Luft III at Sagan in Silesia. Hundreds of officers had a hand in the building of a tunnel, 28ft down below one of the huts in the British north compound. It ran for 360 feet, passing under the wire at a depth of 20ft. The breakout on March 24th. 1944, saw the escape of 79 men before the tunnel was discovered. The last three men out gave themselves up to the guards in the hope that they could delay the search for the rest. Hitler issued a personal order that fifty escapees were to be shot on recapture. Within weeks, all had been recaptured, except three who eventually managed to reach England. After their capture, the officers were confined to various jails near where the arrests took place. Early in the morning they were taken out of their cells and in groups of two or three, were bundled into cars in company with their guards, and driven out into the country. On the autobahn, near a wood, the car would stop and the prisoners allowed out to relieve themselves. While performing this natural function, the guards would sneak up behind them and shoot them in the neck. Their bodies were then taken to the nearest crematorium. Any money the officers had on them were taken to help pay for the cremation. When the urns containing the ashes of the murdered officers began arriving at Stalag Luft III, the enormity of the massacre was revealed. Most urns had the officers name, date cremated and place-names such as Gorlitz, Brux, Breslau , Liegnitz, Kiel, Munich, Saarbrucken and Danzig. Most urns had the dates, 29th, 30th and 31st March, 1944. Official Gestapo files noted that the officers were ‘shot while trying to escape’. After the war, the RAF Special Investigation Branch, led by Squadron Leader Francis P. McKenna, ex 622 Squadron from Mildenhall, began its search for the culprits. It took over three years to bring the murderers to justice. Of the 72 culprits traced, 21 were found guilty and hanged, 17 imprisoned, 11 committed suicide, the rest died, disappeared or were acquitted.
THE DORTMUND KILLINGS (March 7 to April 12, 1945)
On instructions from their head office, Gestapo officers in Dortmund rounded up 300 persons, slave labourers, prisoners of war, and anti-Nazi resistance fighters and locked them up in the Gestapo prison cells on Benminghoferstrasse. These prisoners were of seven different nationalities including Dutch, Belgian, French, Polish, Russian and Yugoslavian. Starting on the 7th of March, and assisted by some fanatical Nazi Party civilians, the Gestapo officers marched their prisoners in groups to some fields in the Rombergpark and Bittermark suburbs of Dortmund. There, they were all shot to death. The killings continued till April 12 just when US Forces were approaching the city. The Gestapo execution squad then fled the city and disappeared. In 1951, twenty-seven of them were apprehended and brought to trial. Twelve were found guilty of being accomplices to murder and received between two and twelve years in Prison. Fifteen were found not guilty and released.
THE DACHAU KILLINGS (April, 1945)
The Dachau Concentration Camp, near Munich, was liberated by US forces on the 29th. of April, 1945. First to enter the camp and confront the horror within was Private First Class John Degro, the lead scout of Company 1, 3rd Battalion, 157 Infantry Regiment, 45th Division of the US 7th Army. Prior to entering the camp, the troops had come upon a train of thirty nine cattle trucks parked just outside the camp. The train had come from Auschwitz in Poland after a journey of thirty days. The trucks were filled with the corpses of 2,310 Hungarian and Polish Jews horrendously emaciated, who had died from hunger and thirst. This included 21 children and 83 women. Not a single person survived on this train when it reached the gates of Dachau. The sheer, unadulterated horror that confronted the American troops caused the enraged Americans to round up most of the SS guard complement of 560 men, hundreds of whom had already deserted. Included in the round-up was a detachment from the 5th SS Panzer 'Viking' Division sent to Dachau earlier to maintain security and replace those who had deserted. Guarded by angry GIs, one group of guards were lined up against a wall to await the appearance of their commander, SS Obersturmfüher Heindrich Skodzensky.
When he appeared, dressed immaculately with polished boots, and giving the military salute, which was ignored by the US company commander, Lt. William Jackson, who ordered "Line this piece of shit up with the rest of 'em over there". The GIs lost control and began shouting 'Kill em, kill em'. Filled with murderous rage and with tears streaming down his face, one GI of the 15th Infantry Regiment, opened fire with his machine-gun. After three bursts of raking fire, a total of 122 SS men lay dead or dying along the base of the wall. A few of the camp inmates, dressed in the familiar striped clothing and armed with .45 caliber pistols, then walked along the line of dead and dying guards and administrated the coup de grace to those still alive. Forty other guards were killed by revengeful inmates, some having their arms and legs torn apart. At another site near the SS hospital, hundreds of German guards were machine gunned to death on the orders of the executive officer of Company 1, 3rd Battalion. Altogether, a total of 520 persons, acting as camp and tower guards, including many Hungarians in German uniforms and recently returned from the Eastern Front, were killed that day. The sad fact is that many of these guards were new arrivals at the camp and were not the real culprits, the truly guilty had already fled. (Controversy rages to this day over just how many camp guards were killed at Dachau and different units of the US Army are still claiming the title 'First Liberators.')
THE WEBLING ATROCITY (April, 1945)
On the same day that the Dachau Concentration Camp was discovered, a massacre took place in the little hamlet of Webling about ten kilometres from the camp. A Waffen-SS unit had arrived at the hamlet, which consisted of about half a dozen farm houses, barns and the Chapel of St. Leonhard, to take up defensive positions in trenches dug around the farms by French P.O.W. workers. Their orders were to delay the advance of American tanks of the 20th Armoured Division and infantry units of the 7th US Army which was approaching Dachau. The farms, mostly run by women (whose husbands were either dead, prisoners of war or still fighting) with the help of French P.O.W.s, came under fire on the morning of 29th April causing all inhabitants to rush for the cellars. One soldier of Company F of the US 222nd Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Rainbow Division, was killed as they entered the hamlet under fire from the Waffen-SS unit. The first German to emerge from the cellar was the owner of the farm, Herr Furtmayer. Informed by the French P.O.W.s that only civilians, not SS, were in hiding in the cellers, the GIs proceeded to round up the men of the SS unit. First to surrender was an officer, Freiherr von Truchsess, heading a detachment of seventeen men. The officer was immediately struck with a trenching tool splitting his head open. The other seventeen were lined up in the farmyard and shot. On a slight rise behind the hamlet, another group of eight SS were shot. Their bodies were found lying in a straight line with their weapons and ammunition belts neatly laid on the ground. This would suggest that the men were shot after they surrendered. Altogether, one SS officer and forty one men lay dead as the infantry regiment proceeded on their way towards Dachau. Next day the local people, with the help of the French P.O.W.s, buried the bodies in a field to be later exhumed by the German War Graves Commission and returned to their families.
Built in 1600, it was once used as an Institute for the mentally handicapped under the protection of the sisters of the Order of St Vincent of Paul. Taken over by the Nazi regime in 1938/39 it was turned into a Euthanasia Centre. In 1942, a total of 3,166 civilian prisoners from Dachau and Mauthausen were transported to this place, situated just over the German border near Linz in Austria and there put to death by gassing. They were classified as 'unfit to work'. Schloss Hartheim, under the administration of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, was the only prison from which there were no survivors. Used in the SS Euthanasia Programme, 18,269 mentally retarded and crippled children were murdered here. Their bodies were then cremated and the ashes spread over the waters of the Danube and Traun rivers. Five such establishments were set up in Germany, including the infamous Hadamar Psychiatric Clinic in Hessen-Nassau where between 40 and 70 patients arrived daily and where 476 Polish and Russian nationals were put to death within days of their arrival. Since the program began in 1939, a total of 72,424 mentally retarded people were murdered in these centres. A total of 772 children from Vienna were put to death and their brains preserved in glass jars. Around 80 persons were employed at Hartheim encouraged by extra pay and a good alcohol allowance. The director of the program was psychiatrist, Dr. Rudolf Lonauer, of Linz, who committed suicide by poison in May, 1945.
In the spring of 1939, the "Reich Committee for Scientific Research of Hereditary and Severe Constitutional Diseases" was set up. Headed by SS-Obergruppenführer Philipp Bouhler, it operated out of his headquarters at Tiergartenstrasse 4, in Berlin, hence its code name T-4. From all over Germany, deformed children, incurably sick and mentally retarded patients were transported from their hospitals and institutions to the euthanasia killing centres of which there were six, (Brandenburg, Grafeneck, Hadamar, Hartheim, Sonnenstein and Bernberg). At these centres the patients were put to death individually, usually by injection. Later, to speed up the process, cyanide gas, known as Zyklon B, was used. At Hartheim, carbon-monoxide gas was the method used. In November, 1942, 1,200 German political prisoners were taken from Mauthausen and transported to Bernberg and put to death by gassing. Documents discovered after the war listed 70,273 deaths at these six centres. The first centre to be so equipped was Brandenburg in late 1939. The procedure was for groups of twenty or thirty to be ushered into a room camouflaged as a shower room into which gas piping had been laid. The equipment to operate the gas was located outside and operated by the doctor on duty. When the euthanasia program wound down in late 1941, the gassing equipment in these centres was dismantled and transferred to the concentration camps of Belize, Majdenek and Treblinka in Poland in preparation for the forthcoming 'Final Solution' of the Jewish question. It is estimated that between 200 and 250 thousand persons were murdered under the T-4 program.
After the war, the Schloss (Castle) was converted into flats housing 22 families. In 1999, the families were moved and the Schloss refurbished and opened as a Memorial Site and Holocaust Learning Centre for students and the public.
OUTRAGE AT VELPKE (May 1944)
In May, 1944, a home for infant children was established in the village of Velpke, near Helmstedt, Germany. The home was for the offspring of Polish female slave labourers working on farms and food factories in the area. Food being scarce in Germany in 1944, more work was required from these Polish women whom the Nazi Bürgermeister of Velpke thought were spending too much time attending to their children. Forcibly removed from their mothers, the children were incarcerated in an old building without running water, electric light or telephone. Ordered by the Reich Labour Office to take charge of the home and assume care of the infants, an ex teacher, Frau Billien, and four Polish and Russian girls were installed in the building. Neither had any experience in running a clinic for infant children. When the Volkswagen factory at nearby Wolfsburg (where many of the women worked) required possession of the premises some months later it was discovered that eighty four Polish infants had died through sheer neglect, lack of mother's milk and a general disregard for their well being. According to the village register the most common causes of death was general weakness, dysentery and intestinal catarrh. After the war, a British Military Court sentenced two of the the perpetrators to death and three to long terms of imprisonment. Within the confines of the Wolkswagen factory a similar clinic was established under the care of the factory doctor, Dr Korbel, and a nurse, Ella Schmidt. The clinic was later moved to Rühen some twelve kilometres away. Between April, 1943 and April, 1945, it was established that around 400 infants had died there. In 1944, 254 out of 310 admissions ended in death for these infants who lay in cots, weak with diarrhoea and infested with lice. Dr. Korbel was later tried and convicted by a British War Crimes Court and sentenced to death.
(The Volkswagen factory has in recent years traced many of its surviving former slave workers and paid each one of them the sum of DM 10,000.)
RUSSELHEIM ATROCITY (August 26, 1944)
On a bombing mission over Germany, a US 8th Airforce B-24 bomber, piloted by 2nd Lt Norman J Rogers, was hit by flak and crash landed some 90 miles south of Hanover. The nine man crew were captured, one with a broken ankle was taken to hospital. The other eight were put on a train to a P.O.W. camp. On the way, the train stopped at Russelheim where the airmen dismounted and were marched through the town under guard. During the march they were set upon by a crowd of townspeople and pelted with stones, bricks and shovels. Two airmen ran for their lives and escaped. The other six, battered and unconscious were shot by the local Nazi leader, a foreman in the towns Opel Works. All were buried in a common grave. Later, the bodies were recovered and re-interned in the Lorraine Military Cemetery at St Avold in France. After the war eleven of the perpetrators were found and arrested. Five men were found guilty and hanged, two women received a 30 year jail term, two other men, 15 years each, and one to 25 years. One was acquitted.
(In August 2001, one of the survivors, tail gunner Sidney E Brown, of Florida, was invited back to Russelsheim by the town municipality to receive a formal apology from its citizens. On the 60th anniversary of the atrocity , August 26, 2004, the town dedicated a memorial to those killed.)
That same year, 1944, on December 13, three British airmen were captured and were being marched through the streets of Essen on their way to a Luftwaffe unit for interrogation. The three man escort was commanded by Hauptmann Erich Heyer who ordered the escorts not to interfere if civilians attacked the prisoners. Attacked they were as the party crossed a bridge. Sticks and stones were thrown and a pistol was fired which wounded one of the prisoners in the head. The prison and one of the civilians, Johann Braschoss, were sentenced to death. One of the escorts, Private Koenen, was sent to prison for five years and two other civilians, Karl Kaufer and Hugo Boddenberg, to life imprisonment and ten years respectively. The death sentences were carried out on March 8th 1946. On March 22, 1945, five RAF aircrew were captured after baling out from their damaged aircraft during a raid on the Dreierwalde airfield in which around forty civilians and Luftwaffe personnel were killed. Marched to an interrogation centre by a three man German guard, under the command of Oberfeldwebel Karl Amberger, the party turned on to a track leading into a wood. There the prisoners were shot in cold blood. One prisoner, Australian Flt. Lt. Berick, though wounded, managed to escape. At a British Military Court at Wuppertal on 11th to 14th March, 1946, Karl Amberger was found guilty of shooting unarmed prisoners of war and was sentenced to death. He was hanged on May 15th. 1946.
DRESDEN (February 13/14, 1945)
This city of culture is situated on both sides of the Elbe river. Of no tactical or strategic value to the German war effort it was considered 'safe' from destruction by air attacks. By 1945 it became a shelter for some 350,000 refugees fleeing from the approaching Red Army. At the Yalta conference Stalin requested more action against cities such as Berlin, Leipzig and Chemnitz. No mention was made of Dresden. The fact that Dresden was chosen was because the Russians at that time were only fifty kilometres away from the city, much nearer to Dresden than than they were to Berlin, Leipzig or Chemnitz. No doubt Churchill was eager to impress the Soviet leader, Stalin. RAF and USAF bombers devastated the city in the most concentrated incendiary attack of the war in Europe (Operation Thunderclap) In all, 733 British bombers dropped 1,478 tons of high explosive bombs and 1,182 tons of incendiary bombs and 311 US Flying Fortresses dropped 771 tons of bombs on the city. Around 35,000 persons were reported as 'missing' after the fire-storm which engulfed the city and destroyed eleven square miles of its center including 14,000 houses, 22 hospitals, 72 schools and 31 department stores. By the 10th of March, 18,375 dead and 2,212 seriously injured were accounted for. The final death toll was expected to reach 25,000.
In one of the city squares 6,865 bodies were cremated. Thousands of British and American prisoners-of-war were on work detail in the city from the large P.O.W. camp Stalag IVb at nearby Muehlberg. Casualties among the prisoners were fewer than a hundred. Around 200,000 refugees from the east were camped in the city's 'Grosser Garten'. It was estimated that about 1,300,000 people were in the city as the raid started. The toll would have been much higher had not some bomber crews, knowing that thousands of refugees were in the city, deliberately jettisoned their bomb loads wide of the mark. It is doubtful that the air attack on Dresden shortened the war by even one day. At this point of the war, Germany was on the brink of collapse so why give the still twitching corpse this one final brutal kick? Churchill was later to say "The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing". In 1956, Dresden in Germany and Coventry in England, (1,236 deaths) entered a twin-town relationship. (In 1956, the German Statistical Office estimated that German civilian dead, due to air raids throughout the war, to be around 410,000.)
GANG RAPE IN NEMMERSDORF
Just inside the east Prussian border with Soviet occupied Lithuania, the town of Nemmersdorf (now Mayakovskoye in East Prussia) was the first to fall (temporarily) into the hands of the victorious Soviet Army. Overrun by General Gatlitsky's 11th Guards Army, his soldiers, crazy with bloodlust, set about raping, looting and killing with such ferocity that eventually discipline had to be restored to force the soldiers back to fighting the war. From buildings, Russian signs were hung which read 'Soldiers! Majdanek does not forgive. Take revenge without mercy!'. When the Soviet 4th Army took over the town five days later, hardly a single inhabitant remained alive. Women were found nailed to barn doors after being stripped naked and gang raped, their bodies then used for bayonet practice. Many women, and girls as young as eight years old, were raped so often and brutally that they died from this abuse alone. Children were shot indiscriminately and all those trying to flee were crushed to death under the treads of the Soviet tanks. Forty French prisoners-of-war were shot on the spot as spies after welcoming the Red Army as liberators. Seventy one women and one man were found in houses, all dead. All the women, including girls aged from eight to twelve, had been raped.
In other East Prussian villages within the triangle Gumbinnen-Goldap-Ebenrode, the same scenes were witnessed, old men and boys being castrated and their eyes gouged out before being killed or burned alive. In nearby Metgethen, a suburb of Königsberg, recaptured by the German 5th Panzer Division, around 60 women were found in a demented state in a large villa. They had been raped on average 60 to 70 times a day. In nearly every home, the bodies of women and children were found raped and murdered. The bodies of two young women were found, their legs had been tied one limb each between two trucks, and then torn apart when the trucks were driven away in opposite directions. At Metgethen railway station, a refugee train from Konigsberg, consisting of seven passenger coaches, was found and in each compartment seven to nine bestially mutilated bodies were discovered. To the Russians, refugee trains were ideal sources of women and booty. In the town of Niesse in Silesia, 182 Catholic nuns were raped and debauched daily by the Russians. In the town of Demmin in Mecklenburg, German troops destroyed the bridge over the river Peene to slow down the advance of the Red Army. Nevertheless, the town was handed over to the Soviets without much of resistance and soon after around 800 of its citizens committed suicide by drowning in the Peene or by taking poison in fear of rape or murder by the Soviet troops.
In a house in another town, children were found sitting around a dinner table, plates of potato pancakes in front of them. All were dead, their tongues nailed to the table. Soviet officers reported back to Moscow that mass poisoning from captured alcohol, including dangerous chemicals found in laboratories, is damaging the fighting capacity of the Soviet Army. All too often, soldiers who had drunk too much and were unable to perform the sex act, used the bottle to mutilate their victims obscenely. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, an ex-captain in the Soviet Army, recalls, "All of us knew very well that if girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction". (Details of these, and other atrocities, are contained in the Eastern Documentation Section of the German Federal Archives in Berlin)
The orgy of rape by Soviet troops was far greater than at first believed. Even Russian women and young girls, newly liberated from German concentration camps in Poland and in Germany, were brutally violated. The thousands of Russian women taken to Germany for forced labour also fell victims to the rapists. 'I waited for the Red Army for days and nights. I waited for my liberation, but now our soldiers treat us far worse than the Germans did' said one Maria Shapoval, 'They do terrible things to us'.
REVENGE AT NEUSTETTIN (February 16-18, 1945)
On the 16th of February, 1945, soldiers of the First White Russian Army occupied the town of Neustettin just inside the German border with Poland. In the town was the 'Wilmsee' labour camp of the German R.A.D. (Reich Women's Labour Service). In the huts were some 500 uniformed girls of the RAD. They were taken to the foreign workers barracks at the local iron foundry. All were considered by the Russians to be members of an illegal army. In an office set up by the Russian commissar groups of girls were brought in and ordered to undress. Two men (believed to be civilian Poles) then entered the room and grabbing one of the girls bent her backwards over the edge of a table and then proceeded to cut off her breasts before the eyes of the others. Her screams were accompanied by cheers and howls of approval from the Russians. The same fate awaited all the others each procedure becoming ever more cruel. One group of five girls had their breasts cut off with a saw. More girls were brought in continually and out in the courtyard hundreds were clubbed to death, only the prettiest being led to the commissars office for torture, mutilation and death. A few days later when a German reserve tank unit from Cottbus temporarily recaptured the town they were utterly devastated by what they saw. Survivors told of what they had seen. Mothers had to witness their ten and twelve year old daughters being raped by up to twenty soldiers, the daughters in turn witnessing their mothers being raped, even their grandmothers. In most houses in the town nearly every room contained naked and dead women with the Swastika symbol crudely carved on their abdomens. No mercy was shown to the women and girls. Three girls had managed to crawl under the barraks and hide, they were the only survivors. It is estimated that about 2,000 girls that had been in the RAD and BDM (League of German Girls) camps in and around the town were raped and murdered in the first three days of the Soviet occupation.
NAHRENDORF (Near Hamburg, 1945)
A week after the discovery of the Belsen Concentration Camp, a rumour reached the British Army's 'Desert Rats' that the 18th SS Training Regiment of the Hitler Jugend Division, had shot their prisoners at the nearby village of Rather. The 'Rats' were engaged in a fierce battle with the SS defenders in the village of Nahrendorf. Slowly, and in groups, the SS began to surrender. As the noise of battle died away the villagers emerged from their cellars and found the bodies of 42 SS soldiers lying in a shallow grave. The bodies were then interned on a hilltop cemetery near the village. Each year, hundreds of SS veterans visit the cemetery to pay tribute to their fallen comrades whom, they say, were shot in cold blood on the orders of a ‘crazed blood-thirsty British NCO’. (Perpetrators are honoured, victims are forgotten.)
THE GARDELEGEN MASSACRES (April 13, 1945)
In a large grain-storage barn in a field on the Isenschnibbe estate near the town of Gardelegen, 30 kms north of Magdeburg in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, a massacre was committed on the afternoon of April 13th 1945. Earlier that day a train arrived at the Letzingen railway station, some twelve kilometres from Gardelegen, containing slave workers who were being evacuated from camps in the Mittelbau-Dora complex around the town of Nordhausen. The prisoners were unloaded and marched to the military barracks of the Remonte-Schule, a training establishment for cavalry horses on Bismarcker Strasse, Gardelegen. Meanwhile a second train arrived at the small station in nearby Mieste. The train brought 1,400 slave workers from the 'Mittelbau' camps of Rottleberode and Stempeda. As the inmates dismounted from the train hundreds collapsed from hunger and thirst. They were simply shot on the spot. Later, US soldiers dug up 86 dead prisoners from graves around the station. Stationed at the airfield near the town was a Luftwaffe Paratroop unit who took over the guarding of the prisoners.
These Paratroopers were ruthless and started shooting prisoners at the least provocation. In a small wood behind the station, a total of 104 prisoners were executed and buried in three large pits. On the afternoon of Friday, April 13, a group of around 1,050 inmates were marched the two kilometres to a field in which stood a large brick walled barn. None of the prisoners knew of the fate that awaited them. Once the prisoners were inside the barn, the floor of which was covered knee-deep with gasoline doused straw, doors were closed and the straw set alight. Hand grenades were thrown in and machine pistol and rifle fire added to the screams of the panic stricken prisoners. When the screaming masses rushed the doors they were simply shot down mercilessly. Twenty-two prisoners survived by climbing to the inside roof of the barn to escape the flames. The massacre site was discovered next day by soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 405th Infantry of the US 102nd Infantry Division and men of the 548th AAA of the US 102nd Ozark Infantry Division and witnessed by First Lieutenant Drexel Dwane Powell of Arkansas. All civilian able-bodied men of the town (population 13,500) were rounded up, marched to the site carrying spades and white wooden crosses and forced to dig graves and bury the dead. Men in white-collar suits had to carry the corpses with their bare hands, gloves were not permitted. Today, on the Gardelegen Memorial Site, all that remains of the barn is a brick wall with the doorway through which the prisoners first entered. All graves in the Gardelegen Military Cemetery are marked with the white crosses bearing the one word 'Unbekannt' (Unknown). There is a memorial with a plaque commemorating the 1,016 victims from the 'Mittelbau' work camps who perished in the flames.
POST WAR SOVIET PRISON CAMPS
The former concentration camps of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were taken over by the Soviets after World War II and became brutal Soviet-run prisons. Tens of thousands of German civilians were arrested during the Soviet occupation. Anyone, young or old, who had any connection with the Hitler regime, or showed signs of unfriendliness to the new communist rulers, were arrested and thrown into these camps without trial. Exposure, starvation and disease soon took their toll. After the collapse of the Communist Government in 1990 investigations were undertaken to trace those many thousands of young men and boys who had simply disappeared. In 1991, excavations at Sachsenhausen uncovered around fifty mass graves 25 feet by 13 feet wide. Digging revealed bodies stacked 15 feet and higher. It was reported by the Brandenburg State that the bodies of 25,500 persons were found at Sachsenhausen. In other mass graves, at Fünfeichen, Lamsdorf and Ketschendorf, the German Government estimates that another 65,000 bodies will eventually be discovered. In Berlin, a museum has on public display the names of some 43,000 persons known to have died in military prison camps run by the Soviet Union in Germany between 1945 and 1950.
ATROCITY AT THEKLA-1 (April 8, 1945)
As the surrender of the city of Leipzig was being negotiated a gruesome discovery was made by men of the US 272nd Infantry. Three kilometres north-east of the city was the satellite slave labour camp of Buchenwald, known as Thekla-1. It housed some 800 prisoners who were employed at the Erla aircraft factory in nearby Abtnaundorf. As the American forces approached Leipzig, most of the inmates were marched east to other camps leaving behind all those sick and ill. These sick prisoners were locked up in one of the camp huts which was then set on fire after incendiary bombs were thrown in. In a desperate bid to escape the flames doors and windows were smashed down and many of the escapees machine-gunned as they emerged. The American soldiers encountered a scene reminiscent of the massacre at Gardelagen only five days earlier. Horribly charred corpses lay strewn around the burned-down hut. It is estimated that around 100 slave labourers perished in this atrocity. Three French prisoners survived.
THE BLEIBURG-MARIBOR MASSACRES (May, 1945)
During the last days of the war, the Croatian armed forces, as well as tens of thousands of civilian refugees, fled towards Austria to escape the wrath of the Yugoslav communist partisans. In Austria, the British army was waiting, about to accept their surrender in a field at Bleiburg, on the Austrian-Slovenia border. In this huge open space was crowded an estimated 100,000 Croatian troops and civilian refugees. In the woods surrounding the field, Titoist Partisans had infiltrated and set up defensive positions. As negotiations were proceeding for the Croatian troops to lay down their arms, the rattle of machine-gun fire was heard from the woods above. The crowd of troops and refugees, too densely packed to move freely, fell in droves as the machine-guns played their deadly fire back and forth. Within minutes, thousands of bodies lay dead or dying. To add to the horror, hundreds of horses, some still harnessed to their carts, panicked and dragged their wagons over the bodies of the fallen. Those that survived were simply driven back across the border to be dealt with by the waiting partisans. On other parts of the border, masses of Croatian soldiers and civilians were turned back after being disarmed by the British forces. Crammed into trains and military vehicles like sheep, they were told that they were being transported to camps in Italy.
At the town of Maribor they were released from the transports and handed over to Tito's partisans, only to be shot down in their thousands in a massacre that lasted over a week. The 17th Partisan Assault Division, under the direction of Serbian officers, carried out the massacre of some 40,000 persons in the Tezen Forest at Maribor. At Sestine, 5,000 were murdered, at Vrgin Most another 7,000 fell to the partisan's bullets. Untold thousands of Serbs and Slovene Home Guard (Domobranci) from the camp at Viktring in Austria were massacred in a most brutal fashion and their naked bodies thrown into a deep chasm at Kocevje after which grenades were thrown in. There were about three of four survivors from this massacre. In total, 12,196 Croats, 5,480 Serbs, 8,263 Slovenes and 400 Montenegrins were handed over to the partisans. It is estimated that around 180,000 Croatian soldiers and civilian refugees were massacred by Tito's communists. Britain and the US reluctantly agreed to these transfers but insisted that they should be carried out in an orderly and humane manner. Who was ultimately responsible for the carrying out of these forced repatriations? Winston Churchill had expressly forbidden the sending back of all those unwilling to go. Churchill's political advisor and Resident Minister at Field Marshal Alexander's headquarters, Harold MacMillan (future Prime Minister of GB), is the one that all evidence since unearthed, points to as being the one responsible for the order to force these thousands of unarmed soldiers and refugees back into the arms of Tito's communists. Unfortunately his reasons and motives for this shameful behaviour of the British military authorities have gone to the grave with him.
In 1999, during the construction of the Slovenian section of the Nuremberg to Zagreb Highway, between Pesnica and Slivnica, the bulldozers uncovered an anti-tank ditch containing the skulls of 1,179 Croatian soldiers. This was only in a 60 metre section of the three kilometre long trench. The mortal remains of these victims were reburied in a mass grave in the Maribor 'Dobrava' Cemetery. At the time of the massacres, a state of war existed between Great Britain and Croatia and therefore these victims should have been granted prisoner-of-war status after their surrender and entitled to proper treatment under the Geneva Convention. Thus Britain broke the regulations of the Convention by sending these defenceless beings back to their deaths. To date, around 110 mass gravesites have been discovered in Slovenian territory since the fall of the communist regime in 1990. Slovenia, it seems, is full of Katyn Forests.
THE EXPULSION TRAGEDY
The merciless revenge perpetrated on the entire German civilian population of Eastern Europe during the closing stages of the war, and for many months after, took the lives of over 2,100,000 ethnic German men, women and children. For generations these Germans had lived and toiled in areas that today are part of central and Eastern Europe. Around fifteen million of these Volksdeutsche were driven from their homes and ancestral lands in Poland, East Prussia, Silesia, Ukraine, Belarus and Serbia and forced back into the Allied occupied zones of Germany. This was the greatest forcible evacuation of people in European history. It is estimated that of the eight million Germans expelled from Poland around 1,600,000 died in the process. In Czechoslovakia, memories of the Lidice massacre inspired acts of revenge against German soldiers and civilians. Soldiers were disarmed, tied to stakes, doused with petrol and set alight. Wounded German soldiers in hospital were shot in their beds, others were hung up on lamposts in Wenzell Square and fires were lit beneath them so that they died the gruesome death of being roasted alive. These ethnic Germans lived in fear of the Russians but no one thought that the dreadful fate which awaited them would not even emanate from the Soviets at all but from their own neighbours, the Czechs!
Thousands of innocent German residents were murdered in their homes by the Czechs, others were forced into interment camps where they were beaten and maltreated before being expelled. Bishop Beranek of Prague declared: 'If a Czech comes to me and confesses to having killed a German, I absolve him immediately'. The Americans, utterly blind to the political consequences of allowing the Soviets to liberate Czechoslovakia, halted at the Karlsbad-Pilsen-Budweis line. The Sudeten Germans now had no protection from the torrent of bestiality vented on them by the Czechs. In Brno, 25,000 German civilians were forced marched at gun-point to the Austrian border. There, the Austrian guards refused them entry, the Czech guards refused to re-admit them. Herded into an open field they died by the hundreds from hunger and cold before being rescued by the US 16th Tank Division on May 8th 1945. In the Russian occupied zones of Eastern Europe and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of civilian men and women, Poles, Czechs, Romanians and Germans, were transported to the Urals in the Soviet Union and used as slave labourers until released in the late 40s. Mostly ignored by the world's press, the unimaginable suffering experienced by the expellees is largely unknown outside Germany, yet it was systematically carried out in a brutal fashion as official Allied policy in accordance with the decisions formulated at Yalta and Potsdam.
THE POSTBERG ATROCITIES
Around the small Bavarian village of Postberg (Postoloprty) in the province of Saazerland on the Bavarian-Czech border, hundreds of German men, women and children were shot to death during the Czech 'ethnic cleansing'. All German civilian residents in the province were rounded up by Czech soldiers and communist partisans and marched to a collection point in Postberg. There they were interned and beaten, many were executed. On September 17, 1947, a number of mass graves were discovered in and around Postberg. Thirty-four bodies were found in the village itself, another four nearby at Weinberg and twenty-six in an old sandpit at Schuladen. At Lewanitzer, 349 corpses were unearthed and another 103 bodies were exhumed from another mass grave. Ten corpses were found in a sand pit at Kreuz along with another 225 bodies in a mass grave at the local school.
At the military barracks five bodies were found and seven were buried under house No. 74. During investigations only one Czech, Vojtech Cerny, admitted to participating in the shooting and killing of four Germans. In all, a total of 763 Germans were murdered. A law, passed by the Czech authorities (The Benesch law: No115/1946) stated that all Czech crimes against Germans were not legible to penalty. In the town of Aussig on the Elbe River, on July 31, 1945, there was an explosion at the town's cable works and ammunition dump killing about 26 people. The Czechs suspected sabotage on the part of the ethnic Germans. A blood-bath followed. Women and children were thrown from the Usti bridge into the river. Germans, who were forced to wear white armbands, were shot dead on the streets. It was estimated that between 80 and 100 people were killed in this act of revenge by the Czechs. Women and children were thrown from the Aussig-Usti Bridge into the river in a spontaneous outburst of anger and hate. In 1990, a plaque was placed on the bridge by the new government of President Vaclav Havel to commemorate the victims of this tragedy "In the memory of victims of violence on 31 July 1945".
MURDER AT WERETH (December 17, 1944)
In the small hamlet of Wereth, about a mile north-east of St Vith in Belgium, members of the 1 SS Division attached to Kampfgruppe Hansen, accepted the surrender of eleven Afro-American soldiers. They were then tortured and murdered, their bodies left to be covered by snow. The bodies were discovered by Wehrmacht soldiers some days later after the Battle of the Bulge. It was established that the victims were members of the US 333rd Artillery Battalion. The perpetrators of this crime were never identified. (Some 260,000 Afro-American soldiers participated in the European war)
Just before World War II started in Europe, Italy invaded the almost defenceless country of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in October 1935. It was a brutal and ruthless invasion in which a form of mustard gas was used for the first time since the Great War of 1914-1918. On February 19/20, 1937, Mussolini's Blackshirt Fascists committed a series of particularly senseless massacres on the Ethiopian people. In Addis Ababa, (which was captured in May, 1936 and liberated in April, 1941 by the British) a bomb was thrown towards a table around which General Graziani and number of Italian officers were seated. No one was killed but after a moments silence one of the officers fired his revolver into a group of Ethiopian civilians seated at a table nearby in the courtyard of the Palace. The Italian Carabinieri then followed suit and in the melee that followed over 300 Ethiopians lay dead in the courtyard and around the Palace. The corpses were then robbed of all valuables and money. Houses nearby were set on fire and burned well into the night and next day. Over the next three days at least three thousand Ethiopians were killed by rampaging gangs of fascist soldiers. During the Italian invasion around 275,000 Ethiopians were killed, 17,800 of whom were killed by bombing. According to Ethiopian sources a total of 670,000 Ethiopians lost their lives during the entire Italian occupation. For this and other atrocities committed by fascist troops in Africa and the Balkans, no Italian was ever prosecuted for war crimes. As one author states "There was no 'Nuremberg' for Italian war criminals". (Ethiopia declared war on Italy, Germany and Japan on December 1, 1942)
THE 'FOIBE' MASSACRES
In the Italian regions of Istria, Fiume and Dalmazia on the north-eastern borders of Italy (modern day Slovenia and Croatia) thousands of civilian Italian men, women, children and some soldiers were massacred between September, 1943 and late June, 1945. The killings in these disputed regions were perpetrated by Italian communists and Yugoslav communist partisans of the Tiotoist regime. In the Karst region in the hinterland of Trieste, the killings took place in the mountainous regions dotted with thousands of 'foibe' (deep chasms, yawning crevasses and cavernous pits) into which the bodies of the victims were thrown. Tied together with lengths of chain they were made to stand on the edge of these deep chasms. The first few victims were mowed down by machine-gun fire, their falling bodies dragging the others behind down hundreds of meters into the bowels of the earth. As Italians were involved in these murders the story was banished from all Italian history books for over sixty years. Today, in Italy, February 28 is Remembrance Day, commemorating the Italian civilians massacred in the foibes.
VIA RASELLA (Rome, March 23, 1944)
The 11th Company of the German 3rd Battalion of the SS Polizei Regiment 'Bozen', consisting of 156 men, were on their regular daily march through the streets of Rome to the Macao Barracks, when they became the target of the Italian underground movement. On March 23 (the 25th anniversary of the day Mussolini formed his Fascist Party) the police company were climbing the narrow Via Rasella when a bomb, placed in a road sweepers cart, exploded. Twenty six SS policemen were killed instantly and sixty others wounded, two more died later. Some civilians were also killed. The German Commandant of Rome, General Kurt Malzer, drunk and shrieking for revenge, ordered the arrest of all who lived on the street. Some 200 civilians were rounded up and turned over temporarily to the Italian authorities.
Hitler, on hearing of the bombing, immediately ordered that 30 Italians were to be shot for every policeman killed. This number was later reduced to 10. Within twenty four hours, 335 people were loaded onto lorries and driven to a network of caves on the Via Ardeatina discovered by the Germans earlier and where the disbanded Italian army had hidden barrels of petrol and some vehicles. At 3.30pm the executions started, each victim ordered to kneel and was then shot in the back of the head. By 8pm it was all over. In 1947, SS Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler, who was in charge of the executions, was arrested and faced court in Rome. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1972, Kappler was allowed to marry his German nurse, Anneliese Wenger and in 1976, with her help, he escaped from the prison hospital. Seven months later, at her home in Soltau in northern Germany, Herbert Kappler died of cancer of the stomach. SS General Malzer was sentenced to life, later reduced to 21 years, but died in prison on March 24, 1952. The instigator of this attack on the 11th Company was Marxist medical student Rosario Bentivegna, helped by partisan member Carla Capponi whom he later married. Dr. Bentivegna was later decorated with the Golden Medal of the Italian Resistance and his wife Carla became a member of the Italian Parliament. Also responsible for the massacre was SS Captain Erich Priebke. Arrested by the British after the war he escaped from the prison camp on New Year's Eve,1947 and fled to Argentina where he lived for almost 50 years as a free man. Eventually he was tracked down and deported back to Italy in 1995 where he was handed a life sentence. He died in prison on 11th October, 2013, at the age of 100, totally unrepentant for what he had done.
SANT' ANNA MASSACRE (August 12, 1944)
Just north of Pisa, between the towns of Lucca and Currara, lay the small village of Sant' Anna di Stazzema. On August 4, British troops had freed the city of Florence (Firenze) and the German armies were now retreating northwards through the mountainous region of Tuscany, ideal terrain for partisan activity. Many of the German troops were killed in ambushes and skirmishes with the Italian underground movement. On August 12, a battalion of the 16th Panzergrenadier ‘Reichsführer-SS’ Division, reached the outskirts of Sant' Anna, their orders to shoot on sight all partisans found in the area. Believing that the inhabitants of the Sant'Anna were all partisans or partisan sympathizers, the SS started knocking on doors and shouting 'Heraus! Heraus!' ('out of here!'). Gathered together on the village square, the men, women and children, were then shot in cold blood. In all, 560 people were massacred including 110 children. The houses in the village were then burned to the ground, the church organ was riddled with machine-gun bullets and the christening font completely destroyed by a grenade. The church pews were then used for a bonfire to burn bodies. Many of the corpses were doused with petrol and then set alight before the SS unit departed. (On the 60th anniversary commemoration ceremony a German government representative attended the ceremony and for the first time the national flags of the two countries were flying in the wind together.)
ATROCITY AT BARDINE SAN TERENZO (August 20, 1944)
In the area around the village of Bardine San Terenzo, the SS 16 Reichsführer Division was deployed to counteract partisan activity against German troops. Seventeen German soldiers had been ambushed and their truck set on fire. All seventeen were killed. A search of various villages was undertaken where the SS looted and burned a number of houses. Fifty-three villagers were taken to the burned out truck and tied to the chassis of the vehicle and to field posts nearby. Next day a local priest, Padre Lino Piane, discovered the fifty-three bodies. All had been shot. Most of the victims were from the village of Mezzana Castello, those from Bardine were taken to Valla and there, shot. There were 107 persons in all. Only five were men, the rest, women and children. In the four days that the search continued, a total of 369 hostages were brutally massacred and 454 houses destroyed by fire. In overall charge of the SS troops in this incident was Major Walter Reder, the one-armed SS officer responsible for the massacres on the Monte Sole.
SLAUGHTER ON MONTE SOLE (September 29 to October 1st, 1944)
About twenty kilometres south of Bologna is the massif of Monte Sole, part of the Apennine range. Around this area are dozens of small villages and towns, Marzabotto, Girzzana and Monzuno, Sperticano, Cerpiano, San Martino, Creda and Casaglia to name but a few. When Italy surrendered to the Allies on Sept. 8, 1943, Fascist and German troops continued their harassment of these poor mountain people. Forming themselves into small partisan groups, augmented by deserters from the Italian and German armies (ex Russian P.O.W.s) their strength grew to around 1,200 men. Calling themselves the Stella Rossa (Red Star) they confined their activities to sniping, derailing freight trains and the occasional ambush. In their efforts to subdue the Stella Rossa, the German SS often raided small villages and shot hostages. This only increased the determination of the partisans to commit more attacks on the enemy and for the Germans to shoot more hostages.
As the British and Americans fought their way north, the SS formed up for a mass attack on Monte Sole. At dawn on Friday, 29th Sept. 1944, the SS attacked. At Creda, the SS surrounded a barn where a group of partisans were hiding. All the men, women and children of Creda, were assembled in the barn and after their valuables and money was confiscated they were machine-gunned, grenades and incendiary bombs were thrown in and the group, about ninety, were left to burn. This scene was repeated at every tiny village and farmlet as the SS units continued their march. Soon, hundreds of fires could be seen on and around Monte Sole, each one a funeral pyre. At Marzabotto, 955 people were shot including 216 children and 316 women. This was Italy's worst wartime atrocity. During the three days of the rastrellamento (Sept. 29 to Oct. 1st) a total of around 1,830 men, women and children, were brutally murdered by the SS and 420 houses burned. When the SS murder squads moved on, the killing continued as relatives of the victims, searching for the bodies of their loved ones, stepped on the deadly mines laid by the SS. Their commander, one-armed SS Major Walter Reder, an Austrian national, was later arrested by the Americans in Salzburg and handed over to the British who in turn passed him over to the Italians. In 1951, in an Italian military court in Bologna, Walter Reder was sentenced to strict life imprisonment in the military prison at Gaeta. He was released in 1985 and died six years later in 1991.
In 1998, the 54th anniversary of the massacre, the German President Johannes Rau, made a formal apology to Italy and expressed his 'profound sorrow and shame' to the families of the victims of Marzabotto.
THE BOVES ATROCITY (September 17, 1944)
A few kilometres north of Cuneo in Italy, lies the town of Boves. After September 8th, 1943, it became an active center of the Italian underground because of the stationing of many stragglers from the now disbanded Regio Esercito (Royal Italian Army). These partisans were led by Bartolomeo Giuliano, Ezio Aceto and Ignazio Vian. After repeated requests to surrender, the partisans refused in spite of leaflets being dropped by the SS. On the 17th of September the German commander, SS Major Joachim Peiper, ordered two gun crews to shell the town. The partisans again refused to surrender. Two German soldiers were then sent forward (as decoys) to be captured by the partisans. Hoping they would be killed, it would give Peiper the pretext for a slaughter. The parish priest, Father Giuseppe Bernardi and the industrialist, Alessandro Vassallo, were ordered to meet with the partisans and to persuade them to release the two soldiers. The priest asked Peiper 'Will you spare the town?'. Peiper gave his word and the two prisoners were released. But the blood-thirsty SS then proceeded to burn all the houses in the town after which Father Bernardi and Vassallo were put into a car to do an inspection of the devastated town. 'They must admire the spectacle' said Peiper. After the inspection, Father Bernardi and his companion, Vassallo, were sprinkled with petrol and set alight. Both were burned to death. Forty-three other inhabitants of Boves were killed that day and 350 houses destroyed. Next day, a column of armoured vehicles went up the road that led to the partisan base. A lucky shot from their only 75 mm gun destroyed the leading armoured car. After an intense fire-fight the SS retreated with heavy losses. One of the partisan leaders, Ignazio Vian, was later captured by the SS and hanged in Turin. On the wall of his cell he had written in his own blood the words "Better Die Rather Than Betray".
(SS Major Peiper was later brought to trial. See 'The Malmedy Massacre' in the Belgian section below).
THE BRETTO ATROCITY (March 23, 1945)
The power station at Bretto, near Udine, in Northern Italy, was guarded by a unit of the Italian Carabinieri consisting if twelve men commanded by Sergeant Dino Perpignano. While returning to his barracks, Sgt. Perpignano was captured by a gang of Italian Communist partisans under the orders of the 1X Yugoslav Corps. At this time the Yugoslav partisans were being supplied by air-drop by the British who had transferred their support from the Cetniks (who were fighting for the restoration of the Monarchy) to Tito's Communists because they were killing more Germans than the Cetniks. Threatened with torture, Sgt. Perpignano was forced to reveal the unit's password, thus allowing the partisan gang to enter the barracks and overpower the Carabinieri, some of whom were already asleep. After having ransacked the barracks, the partisans herded their prisoners into an upstairs room and after a while were given food which contained a mixture of caustic soda and black salt. As they started feeling sick they realized they had been poisoned. In severe pain, crying and begging for their lives, they were forced marched to a alpine refuge in the mountains, there to face a terrible death. The Carabineri were then stripped, tied up and brutally murdered by pickaxes and kicks to the body. Some had their genitalia amputated and stuck in their mouths, eyes were gouged out. One had a photo of his five sons stuck into his heart. The corpses were eventually found and interred in a medieval tower at Tarviso. The remains of the twelve Carabinieri, Sgt. Perpignano, Pasquale Ruggiero, Lino Bertogli, Domenico Del Vecchio, Antonio Ferro, Adelmino Zilio, Fernando Ferretti, Ridolfo Calzi, Pietro Tognazzo, Michele Castallano, Primo Amenici and Attilio Franzon, lie forgotten by their countrymen and by history, under the merciful care of some nuns, living in a nearby convent.
OVARO and AVASINIS KILLINGS (May 2, 1945)
The atrocities here were committed not by the SS but by a Russian Cossack regiment attached to the German army. At Qvaro, a village in the Butt Valley near Udine, the Cossacks, commanded by General Krasnoff, were retreating northwards toward the Plöcken Pass and into Austria with the intention of surrendering to the British occupation forces. Italian partisans, hidden in the steep cliffs and woods around Qvaro, decided to attack the retreating Cossacks. The Partisans inflicted heavy casualties on the column of Russians. As a cease fire had been signed earlier in the day, anger flared up in the breast of Commander Major Nausikof who, in cold blood, shot the parish priest and twenty one innocent civilians. The surviving villagers, furious at both the Cossacks and the partisans, started shouting 'Death to the partisans' when the victims were buried three days later. At the village of Avasinis another atrocity was committed, this time by German troops from the garrisons at Trieste and Istria who were snipped at by partisans and causing between 70 and 80 casualties. In reprisal, 51 defenceless civilians were killed and 25 wounded. Responsibility for this atrocity was SS Colonel Wagner of the Prince Eugene Division. These senseless attacks by partisans, after a cease fire agreement was signed, was responsible for the needless deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians.
RAMPAGE ON MONTE CASSINO
Monte Cassino fell to the Allies on May 18, 1944. After a four month struggle and the abbey bombed into ruins by the US Air Force, Polish troops of the 12th Lancers, 3rd Carpathian Division, raised their regimental flag over the ruins of the 6th century Benedictine Monastery situated high in the Apennines of central Italy. The next night thousands of French Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Senegalese troops, attached to the French Expeditionary Corps, swarmed over the slopes of the hills surrounding Monte Cassino and in the villages of Ciociaria and Esperia, which is in the region of Lazio, raped every woman and girl that came within their sight. Over 2,000 women, ranging in age from 11 years to 86 years suffered at the hands of these gang-raping soldiers as village after village was entered. Menfolk who tried to protect their wives and daughters were murdered without mercy, around 800 of them died. Two sisters aged 15 and 18 were raped by dozens of soldiers each. One died from the abuse, the other was still in a mental hospital in 1997, 53 years after the event. Most of the dwellings in the villages were destroyed and everything of value was stolen. Later in the war, these same troops raped around 500 women in the Black Forrest town of Freudenstadt, on April 17, 1945, after its capture. In Stuttgart, colonial French troops, mostly African, but under the command of General Eisenhower, rounded up around 2,000 women and herded them into the underground subways to be raped. In one week more women were raped in Stuttgart than in the whole of France during the four year German occupation.
THE CIVITELLA KILLINGS (June 29, 1944)
In their retreat to the north, German units passed through the Tuscan village of Civitella, near Arezzo. In response to two separate partisan attacks on German soldiers the German troops gathered together all the men in the village, including the local priest, and shot them all. This atrocity could be a random response to defeat, humiliation and retreat. Altogether 119 male citizens were executed here and in the associated hamlets of Gebbia and Cornia and a series of outlying farms. They also went into San Pancrazio and shot a further seventy four people. The villages were liberated by the British 8th Army soon after.
In all of Italy, around 400 mass killings were committed involving the loss of some 15,000 civilians. Many atrocities were committed by the Hermann Göring Parachute Panzer Division and the 16 SS Panzer Grenadier Division.
ATROCITIES IN SICILY (1943)
Many massacres of prisoners of war were committed by units of the American 45th (Thunderbird) Division during the invasion of Sicily in 1943. At Comise airfield, a truck load of German prisoners were machine-gunned as they climbed down on to the tarmac, prior to be air-lifted out. Later the same day, 60 Italian prisoners were cut down the same way. On July 14, thirty six prisoners were gunned down near Gela by their guard, US Sergeant Barry West. At Buttera airfield, US Captain Jerry Compton, lined up his 43 prisoners against a wall and machine-gunned them to death. West and Compton were both arrested and convicted of murder. They were later sent to the front where both were killed in action. Both had claimed that they were only following orders and quoted General Paton's speech to them earlier, "When we land against the enemy, don't forget to hit him and hit him hard. When we meet the enemy we will kill him. We will show him no mercy. He has killed thousands of your comrades and he must die". On April 29, 1945, units of the 45th Division liberated the concentration camp of Dachau where more atrocities were committed.
When the 45th Division was first formed its members wore a red square patch on their left shoulder, inside the patch was a yellow swastika, an ancient American Indian sign of good luck. When, in the 1930s, the symbol became so slosely associated with German fascist socialism it had to be abandoned as the insigna of the Division.
Allied troops, as well as Axis troops, committed terrible atrocities during the war. Some years after the war a mass grave was discovered just west of the city of Nuremberg. In it were the bodies of some 200 SS soldiers. It was not until 1976 that one of the bodies was positively identified. It was the body of SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Kukula, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Autopsies on the other bodies showed that most had been shot at close range, the others beaten to death by the rifle butts of the US Seventh Army GIs. In the village of Eberstetten, 17 German soldiers of the 'Gotz von Berlichingen' Division were shot after they surrendered to US troops.
On April 8, 1945, fourteen members of the 116th Panzer Division were marched through the streets of Budberg to the command post of the US 95th Infantry Division. There, they were lined up and shot. Three were wounded but managed to escape.
On April 13, 1945, tanks of the US 97th or 78th Infantry Division were approaching the village of Spitze about fifteen miles east of Cologne. They came under fire from a 8.8 anti-tank gun which disabled one of the tanks. That night, the village was pounded by tank and artillery fire and at daybreak the US forces entered the village. All the inhabitants, about eighty, were gathered together in front of the church. Included in the eighty were twenty German soldiers, members of an anti-aircraft unit stationed in the village. They were separated from the civilians and marched several hundred yards to a field just outside the village. There, they were lined up and mowed down by machine-gun fire. Next day the US Army ordered the civilians to dig graves and bury the dead. On April 14, 1995, a memorial for the twenty victims was built near the spot.
During the Allied assault on Sicily, the largest of the Mediterranean islands, (July, 1943) a dozen unarmed civilians, including some children, were apprehended by US troops after the town of Canicatti surrendered. The civilians were reported to be looting after they had entered a bombed out soap and food factory and were filling buckets with liquid soap that had spilled on the ground. At around 6pm, when an American officer, a lieutenant-colonel, and a group Military Police, accompanied by three interpreters, entered the factory the officer fired a series of shots from his automatic Colt-45 point blank into the crowd. He reloaded and fired again. Eight of the civilians, including an eleven year old girl, died. The officer and soldiers then drove off. Fearing reprisals from the residents of the town, the incident was hushed up for over sixty years. Due to the efforts of Dr. Joseph S. Salemi of New York University, this atrocity was brought to light. The perpetrator of this crime, Lieutenant Colonel McCaffery, died in 1954.
During the fighting in Norway and Finland, the SS Gebirgsdivision 'Nord', was opposing the Russian forces. Very few SS men were taken prisoners by the Red Army, most were shot immediately. A report on Operation No 11 from the Soviet 26th Division states: 'The enemy left approximately 400 dead on the battlefield. Some 80 Germans had surrendered and were executed'.
In the notes found on a Soviet doctor after he was captured, he had written: 'All P.O.W.s who belonged to the German Army were executed during the operations near Odessa'.
Soviet archives reveal the following: 'July 7, 1943, the enemy suffered great losses...we did not take any prisoners, they were all liquidated'.
At the village of Chenogne in Belgium a group of twenty-one German soldiers emerged from a burning building carrying a Red Cross flag. Their intention was to surrender to the US forces but as they exited the doorway they were shot down by machine-gun and small arms fire. This happened soon after the Malmedy Massacre on December 17, 1944.
On May 8, 1945, over 5,000 German prisoners were captured in Norway by the British. Many of these prisoners were forced to undertake mine clearance and walk arm in arm through suspected mine fields which had been partially cleared beforehand. This led to the deaths of 184 prisoners, another 252 were injured.