44th Evacuation Hospital Orderlies Carry Malmedy Victim on Stretcher

On the second day of the Battle of the Bulge, December 17, 1944, SS troops herded a group of Americans, mostly from Battery B from the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion into a field at the "Five Points" of Baugnez crossroads near the Belgian town of Malmédy. The POWs were lined up, and then the Germans suddenly opened fire on them for reasons that remain unclear. 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. An article in Stars and Stripes alerted the world to the massacre in stark terms, which was used for anti-Nazi propaganda. The bodies of those who had died at Five Points on December 17 lay in what became a virtual no man's land from that day until January 14, 1945. Despite the fact that there was clear evidence from the many survivors that some sort massacre had taken place, the Americans made no attempt to recover the bodies before the 30th Infantry Division retook the area. By a strange quirk of fate it was one of Pergrin's engineer companies that, with the aid of mine detectors, uncovered the snow-covered bodies of 71 victims of the massacre. Then, between January 14 and 16, Major Giacento Morrone, Captain Joseph Kurcz and Captain John Snyder, all doctors at the 44th Evacuation Hospital, carried out autopsies on the bodies, which were frozen stiff and fully clothed on arrival at the hospital. The vast majority still had rings, watches, money and other valuables on them, which contradicts the statements of most survivors who said the Germans stole everything worthwhile from them before they were driven into the field. An analysis of the reports, all extremely disturbing to read, shows that 43 of the bodies had gunshot wounds to the head, at least three had suffered severe blows to the head, three had been crushed, two had received some form of first aid before death and nine still had their arms raised above their heads. It should be noted, however, that both before and during the American advance from Malmédy in January 1945, artillery from both sides hit the Baugnez area, and the autopsies confirm that at least 15 of the bodies had been hit by shell and mortar fragments after death. There is also evidence to show that in at least five cases eyes had been removed from their sockets--and in one case the report suggests that the man was still alive when this happened. While anything is possible, it seems unlikely that even the most depraved or crazed soldier would carry out such an act and, as often happens when bodies are left for long periods in the open, crows or similar birds of prey were the more likely culprits. What is certain is that terrible and usually fatal injuries were administered to the victims at close range. Four months later, additional bodies were recovered when the snow melted. 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.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
National Archives
Date Photographed: 
Sunday, January 14, 1945