Re-creation of “the first war-crimes trial after World War II,” which exposed the deep grief and anger at the Allied bombing of Germany.
Shot down on a bombing mission in their B-24 (called the Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’am) on Aug. 26, 1944, eight American airmen were attacked by a mob of angry villagers of Rüsselsheim. Six died, and two miraculously escaped. Freeman (Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk, 2009, etc.) builds his chilling tale backward, from the moment the beaten men were stacked on a tumbrel headed for the town cemetery and Sgt. Sidney Eugene Brown watched surreptitiously as a villager finished each off with a blow by a two-by-four, to the final trial in Darmstadt in July 1945, led by prosecutor Lt. Col. Leon Jaworski (later famous as special prosecutor in the Watergate hearings). Jaworski had reviewed many files in postwar Germany and was convinced that “the Nazis had openly violated long-recognized rules of land warfare, as agreed to by the United States and Germany in the Hague Convention of 1907 as well as in the Geneva Convention of 1929.” Mistreatment of airmen shot down over Germany was not unusual, and German police were not obligated to help them. In Rüsselsheim, the guards accompanying the young men to a detention center abandoned them to the fury of the mob, incited by two sisters who sought vengeance for the firebombing of their houses. Jaworski believed this was a history-making trial, setting the tone for Nuremberg, as most of the participants were sentenced to hanging; his statements are as moving as the quotes from participants are shocking (the reverend who watched from his parsonage replied to the question why he had not tried to stop the violence: “It was not my task”).
A riveting narrative bolstered by frequent, helpful citations.