On 17 December 1944 the German fighting unit (Kampfgruppe) Peiper killed 84 American prisoners of war at the crossroads of Baugnez near Malmédy. Though the reasons for these killings remain unclear, this massacre was part of a series of war crimes committed by the same unit during the previous and following days.
Hitler had just launched his last offensive, known as the Battle of the Bulge. This battle, that started in December 1944, was the last desperate move of the German Wehrmacht to cut though the allied line from Luxembourg to Antwerp. The tanks of Lieutenant Colonel Peiper’s 1st SS Panzer Division drove into the Ardennes to conquer the bridges over the River Meuse and reach the port of Antwerp via Liège. In its progres, this German unit arrived at the crossroads of Baugnez at the same day, 17 December that the U.S. 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion joined the 7th Armoured Division in Saint-Vith. Much less equipped than the Germans the American battalion realised that its situation was desperate and decided to surrender.
About 120 American prisoners of war were gathered in a meadow along the road and, for a reason that still remains obscure, the Germans suddenly opened fire on their prisoners and killed 84 American soldiers in Baugnez.
The German breakthrough through the American lines was followed by other massacres of prisoners of war and, thereafter, Belgian civilians. New massacres were reported in Bande, Noville, Stavelot, Bourcy, Houffalize, Cheneux, La Gleize, Stoumont, in the region between Stavelot and Trois-Ponts, in Lutrebois and Petit Their.
After the war, the presumed perpetrators of the Baugnez Massacre were brought before the Military Tribunal of Dachau in 1946. This ‘Malmedy massacre trial‘ concerned all the war crimes charged to Kampfgruppe Peiper during the Battle of the Bulge. More than 70 people were brought to justice, 43 death sentences were pronounced, but - ultimately none were executed. 22 people were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Visit the ‘Baugnez 44 Historical Center’, 10, Route de Luxembourg 4960 Malmedy.