CROSSROADS OF DEATH: The Story of the Malmedy Massacre and Trial by James J. Weingartner

CROSSROADS OF DEATH: The Story of the Malmedy Massacre and Trial

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KIRKUS REVIEW

On December 18, 1944, during the confused offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge, over 70 American prisoners of war were gathered in a meadow and mercilessly shot down by SS troops near the Belgian town of Malmedy. As James J. Weingertner (History, So. Illinois Univ.) rightly observes in this highly detailed, generally readable account, this may seem a ""wicked act of very modest proportions"" in the context of World War II, but the report of Malmedy was used to spur American resistance against Hitler's unexpected western offensive, and the ""Malmedy Massacre"" grew in the public mind to include many more alleged murders. Thus, in 1946 when 74 SS officers and men were tried at Dachau for the Massacre, they were accused of the deaths of up to 750 American PeWs and 90 Belgian civilians. That the original massacre occurred is established fact, but while the court found all the defendants guilty of violating the rules of war and sentenced most of them to death, Weingartner convincingly illustrates by his review of the often tedious court proceedings why that verdict has never ceased to be an object of controversy. The defendants were tried by a General Military Government Court, whose officers could accept or reject evidence as they saw fit; because they were tried en masse the rights of individual defendants may well have been ignored; and, moreover, the defendants claimed that art unusual degree of at least psychological abuse--what came to be called ""brainwashing"" after Korea--was used to extort pretrial confessions. In addition, Weingartner is not afraid to point out that the abuse of PeWs was not unknown on the Allied side. He raises many important questions, for the Malmedy trial was a classic example of a case where the fate of the accused owed more to public opinion than to justice. The judges keenly felt the public pressure to condemn the defendants, but gradually the mood changed and none of the guilty actually hanged. (The Senate hearings on the case gave Joseph McCarthy his first national exposure.) Weingartner demonstrates clearly that whatever the guilt or innocence of the accused, the Malmedy trial, unlike Nuremberg, was a botched case of ""Victors' Justice.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1979
Publisher: Univ. of Calif. Press