Military historian Parker (The Battle of the Bulge: The German View, 1998, etc.) returns with a sharply focused look at a grisly 1944 incident, the massacre of more than 80 American prisoners outside Malmédy, Belgium.
Assembling a massive amount of data (the back matter alone consumes more than 120 pages), the author views the tragedy from the perspectives of survivors, the Germans and the Belgian civilians, some of whom aided the wounded, some of whom did not. The author begins with a snapshot of a field full of casualties, then points our attention to survivor Bill Merriken, whose experiences Parker revisits throughout. The author sketches the genesis of the Battle of the Bulge and rehearses the events from various perspectives. At times, the narrative seems almost to have a rewind button: Parker tells about an incident, then repeats it from the point of view of another participant or witness. He was able to interview some living survivors—on both sides (though the SS officers and others were less than candid)—and casts a critical light on the war-crimes trials that ensued, noting that there was, to some extent, a rush to judgment. Some of the guilty escaped; some innocent were convicted. Parker pins down the name of the man who fired the first shot but is unable to determine who gave the order for the massacre—though a principal candidate is Battalion Commander Jochen Peiper. At his trial, Peiper remained unbowed and unrepentant. Some of the details are wrenching—especially the first-person accounts of survivors, wounded in the cold, hearing Germans moving among them, executing the remaining survivors. In an appendix, Parker provides stories about the fates of the participants and a look at Malmédy today.
Comprehensive, definitive, grim and gripping.