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January 26, 2011

Keith Olbermann vs. Bill O’Reilly on the Malmédy Massacre

Filed under: TV shows, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:24 am

I know that I am a bit late in blogging about Keith Olbermann, who has been in the news lately, but it took me a while to remember why I stopped watching his TV news commentary on MSNBC, and started watching Bill O’Reilly on Fox News instead.  On his show on June 1, 2006, Olbermann was outraged as he pointed out that Bill O’Reilly had said that it was U.S. troops that had killed German POWs in the Malmédy massacre during World War II.

During an interview with former NATO supreme commander, Wesley Clark, on May 30, 2006, O’Reilly had compared the incident at Malmédy to the alleged killing of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers in Haditha, Iraq.

I looked it up on the Internet and here’s what O’Reilly said:

“In Malmédy, as you know, U.S. forces captured SS forces who had their hands in the air and they were unarmed and they shot them down. You know that. That’s on the record. Been documented.”

On the May 31, 2006 show, O’Reilly changed his story, in response to a viewer who noted that the Malmédy incident was “the other way around.”

This was not the first time that O’Reilly had made this mistake, according to Olbermann. During a previous interview with Wesley Clark, on October 3, 2005, O’Reilly had said essentially the same thing.  On his show, Olbermann had called attention to O’Reilly’s statements, saying, “the victims at Malmédy in December 1944 were Americans, Americans with their hands in the air, Americans who were unarmed.”

Bill O’Reilly is an educated man; he constantly brags about his degree from Harvard, which irritates me to death.  So why would O’Reilly make such a big mistake?  Well, he was a bit mixed up about the Malmédy massacre, but not completely wrong in his accusation that Americans had shot German soldiers who had their hands in the air.

The infamous Malmédy Massacre occurred, during the Battle of the Bulge, at approximately 1 p.m. on December 17, 1944 and the first survivors of the massacre were picked up at 2:30 p.m. on the same day by a patrol of the American 291st Engineer Battalion. The story of an unprovoked massacre, as told by the survivors, was immediately sent to General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the war in Europe, who made it a point to disseminate the story to the reporters covering the battle.

One of the news reporters at the Battle of the Bulge was America’s most famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was covering the war for Collier’s magazine. When the gory details of the Malmédy Massacre reached the American people, there was a great outcry for justice to be done. To this day, the Malmédy Massacre is spoken of as one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the hated Waffen-SS soldiers.

The Inspector General of the American First Army learned about the massacre three or four hours after the first survivors were rescued. By late afternoon that day, the news had reached the forward American divisions.

In his book , entitled “The Ardennes, The Battle of the Bulge,” Hugh Cole wrote the following:

Thus Fragmentary Order 27 issued by Headquarters, 328th Infantry on 21 December for the attack scheduled for the following day says: “No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight.”

In his book called “The Other Price of Hitler’s War: German Military & Civilian Losses Resulting from WW 2,” author Martin Sorge wrote the following regarding the events that took place after the massacre:

It was in the wake of the Malmedy incident at Chegnogne that on New Year’s Day 1945 some 60 German POWs were shot in cold blood by their American guards. The guilt went unpunished. It was felt that the basis for their action was orders that no prisoners were to be taken.

America had signed the Geneva Convention of 1929, which means that America was required to treat German POWs according to the rules of the convention.  The Geneva Convention did not allow for revenge killings of enemy soldiers.  It did not allow for orders that “no prisoners will be taken.”

O’Reilly was wrong when he said that this war crime happened at Malmédy.  It actually happened at Chegnogne, but it happened because of the so-called Malmédy Massacre.  You have to give O’Reilly credit for knowing about this obscure bit of history.  That’s why I switched from Olbermann to O’Reilly and I never looked back.

I have blogged about the Malmédy Massacre case before, but it bears repeating that America adhered to a double standard regarding war crimes committed in World War II.  The German soldiers involved in the Malmédy Massacre were prosecuted as war criminals, but there were no charges against the Americans who killed the German POWs.  During the proceedings against the Germans who were charged with killing POWs, the defense lawyers were not allowed to mention this. Any of the accused men who inadvertently said anything about American soldiers breaking the rules of the Geneva Convention were promptly silenced and these comments were stricken from the record.

In the Malmédy Massacre proceedings, the prosecution case was based on the accusation that Adolf Hitler himself had given the order that no prisoners were to be taken during the Battle of the Bulge and that General Sepp Dietrich had passed down this order to the commanding officers in his Sixth Panzer Army. This meant that there was a Nazi conspiracy to kill American prisoners of war and thus, all of the accused were guilty because they were participants in a “common plan” to break the rules of the Geneva Convention. Yet General Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army had taken thousands of other prisoners who were not shot. According to US Army figures, there was a total of 23,554 Americans captured during the Battle of the Bulge.

The prosecution claimed that General Sepp Dietrich, on direct orders from Hitler himself, had urged the SS men to remember the German civilians killed by the Allied bombing, and to disregard the rules of warfare that were mandated by the Hague Convention of 1907 and the 1929 Geneva convention. This meant that all of the accused were charged with participating in a conspiracy of evil that came from the highest level, the moral equivalent of the Nazi conspiracy to exterminate all the Jews in Europe, which was one of the charges against the major German war criminals at Nuremberg.

An important part of the defense case was based on the fact that the accused men in the Malmédy case were classified as Prisoners of War when they were forced to sign statements incriminating themselves even before they were charged with a war crime. As POWs, they were under the protection of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which prohibited the kind of treatment that the accused claimed they had been subjected to, in order to force them to sign statements of guilt. Article 45 of the Geneva Convention said that Prisoners of War were “subject to the laws, regulations and orders in force in the armies of the detaining powers.” That meant that they were entitled to the same Fifth Amendment rights as American soldiers.

During the Malmédy Massacre case, Lt. Col. Rosenfeld (the law member among the prosecutors) ruled against a defense motion to drop the charges, based on this argument; he said that the Malmédy Massacre accused war criminals had never been Prisoners of War because they became war criminals the moment they committed their alleged acts and were thus not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention of 1929.

During the Malmedy Massacre proceedings, the prosecution claimed that Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper had instructed his men to fight as they had fought against the Russians, disregarding international law about the treatment of prisoners of war. The defendants testified that they had been instructed to take no prisoners, but they understood this to mean that because they were fighting in a tank unit, they were supposed to send POWs to the rear to picked up by infantry units.

February 10, 2010

Shutter Island scene shows Dachau massacre

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, movies — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 3:36 am

The movie Shutter Island, based on a 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, opened in American theaters on February 19, 2010. The Dachau massacre scene was completely changed and some of the photos on this page, which I began writing on Feb. 10th, no longer show what is in the movie.

The movie plot centers around Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, who is investigating the disappearance of a woman patient in the Ashecliffe mental hospital on Boston’s Shutter Island.

In Lehane’s novel, there is a one paragraph flashback scene which briefly describes the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945. Lehane wrote that “500 Krauts” (German soldiers) were killed by the American liberators.

The photo below shows a scene which was cut from the movie; this scene depicts American soldiers entering Dachau on April 29, 1945. The gate vaguely resembles one of the real gates into the Army garrison next door to the Dachau concentration camp, which is shown in the second photo below. In real life, the American soldiers entered through a different gate.

American soldiers entering fictitious  gate at Dachau

One of the real gates at Dachau

When the American soldiers arrived, they were horrified by the sight of the “death train” that was parked on the railroad tracks outside the Dachau camp.

The train had left the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 7, 1945 and had not reached Dachau until April 28, 1945 because American bombs had destroyed the railroad tracks on the 220 mile route from Buchenwald to Dachau.

Some of the prisoners, riding in open gondola cars on the train, had been killed by American bullets as U.S. planes strafed the train.

Prisoners had been killed by American bullets

In 1954, at the time that the story in the movie is taking place, the shooting of unarmed German soldiers at Dachau was still a closely guarded secret, which would not become known for another 31 years. One of the first newspapers to publish the story of the Dachau massacre was the Boston Globe.

The main character in the movie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, lives in Boston; he was involved in the “Dachau massacre,” that is shown in the flashback in the movie.

Movie scene shows corpses piled up at the “death train”

The photo above shows a scene from the movie Shutter Island which depicts the corpses found on the 39 cars of the “death train” at Dachau. In the movie, there is only one railroad car. This fictitious scene resembles the real photos of the train, combined with real photos of the pile of corpses found outside the crematorium at Dachau.

Note what appears to be barbed wire in the photo, which indicates that the train in the movie was parked inside the Dachau concentration camp enclosure; the real-life “death train” was partly inside, and partly outside, the SS garrison, which was next door to the concentration camp.

The "death train" parked at the Dachau concentration camp

The “death train” parked at the Dachau concentration camp

Bodies piled up outside the crematorium at Dachau, April 1945

Bodies piled up outside the crematorium at Dachau, after the camp was liberated in April 1945

The regular guards at Dachau had all fled from the camp the night before the Americans arrived and there was no one to take care of the dead bodies. There was a typhus epidemic in the Dachau camp and 400 prisoners were dying each day from the disease.

The body of a prisoner beside the “death train”

There were no naked corpses piled up outside the “death train.”  There were only a few bodies on the ground beside the train, as shown in the photo above.

The horrible scene of the “death train” was what prompted American soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division to kill Hungarian Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent directly from the battlefield, wearing their camouflage uniforms, to surrender the Dachau camp.

Dead Waffen-SS soldier who was sent to surrender Dachau

This scene, which shows German SS soldiers at Dachau, was cut from the movie

Waffen-SS soldier killed by the American liberators at Dachau

Movie extras who played German soldiers

The 45th Thunderbird Division soldiers, who executed the “500 Krauts,” had come upon the abandoned train of 39 railroad cars just before they entered the SS training camp through the railroad gate on the west side of the Dachau SS complex.

German soldiers being executed at Dachau

When the photo above was published, the caption read as follows:

“SC 208765. Soldiers of the 45th Infantry Div., U.S. Seventh Army, order SS men to come forward after one of their number tried to escape from the Dachau, Germany, concentration camp after it was liberated by U.S. forces. Men on the ground in background feign death by falling as the guards fired a volley at the fleeing SS men. 157th Reg. 4/29/45.”

This caption is a total lie.  The soldiers were not trying to escape; they remained standing with their hands in the air until Lt. Col. Felix Sparks ordered the execution to stop. Some of them were wounded Wehrmacht soldiers who had been dragged out of an Army hospital at the Dachau garrison.

Note real life Dachau survivor wearing a warm jacket

Prisoner in movie wearing an identical warm jacket; this actor’s scene was cut from the movie

German guards at Dachau were killed by the prisoners

The American liberators allowed the prisoners to kill the guards and mutilate the bodies. Note the German guard in the photo above with his pants pulled down.

SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrenders camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden

The photo above shows 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrendering the Dachau camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden of the 42nd Rainbow Division while Red Cross representative Victor Maurer holds a white flag of surrender.

Note that Wicker’s face is scarred; after he was wounded in battle on the Eastern front, Wicker was transferred to Dachau to work as a guard.  Wicker was killed, but no one knows whether he was killed by the liberated prisoners or executed by the American soldiers.  His family was never notified of his death.

2nd Lt. Wicker had been persuaded by Victor Maurer to stay behind when the other guards left the camp.  He had been away from the camp and had only recently arrived, leading a group of prisoners from one of the sub-camps to the main Dachau camp.