WWII Investigation

trees cat die
family trees cat die
unless their cut down
— Graffiti, on street-side of an electric box, in black marker

Thirteen years ago—1996, Stuttgart Germany—my small, three-man office received a request for a preliminary investigation from the office of General Shalikashvili, the Chairman of the US Army Joint Chiefs of Staff (the equivalent of the President of the US contacting Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry). By the time the ‘request for preliminary investigation’ made its way thru the chain-of-command pipeline it had been transformed into a directive for an immediate full-investigation.

Back-story: More than a decade earlier (before 1985) -then- Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Shalikashvili worked with CPT Expat, who later retired as a LTC, in -then- West Germany, where he bought a home and remained. LTC (retired) ExPat went to his local Gasthaus to do what one does there—drink great beer and talk.

In 1996: LTC (retired) Expat meets an elderly gentleman who tells him about witnessing US Soldiers execute German POWs by firing squad, during the last few months of WWII, and, later, meeting a survivor of the same firing squad he had witnessed. LTC (retired) Expat writes a letter to GEN Shalikashvili...

...And I receive a directive to investigate the 51-year-old murder of German POWs by US soldiers.

I interviewed the elderly German witness (using my interpreter). This is the important part of his statement:
...In 1945 I was nineteen. The war had turned. Everyone knew it was going to be lost; by that I mean the other soldiers in my unit all talked about losing. I left my unit and for about a month I moved only at night until I got back to my hometown. It was not easy, but I was able to avoid the German units as well as the Americans who were advancing behind me from the southwest.

Once I returned to my village, I could not stay in my house because, since I was a deserter, they might come looking for me and if they caught me my family would be in trouble for hiding me. So I hid and slept in different fields and barns, only coming out to get food. For weeks the artillery shelling had been getting closer to my village and one day I was hiding in a barn on the south edge of the village when I heard gunfire very close. I peeked out through the slats in the barn after I heard voices in English and saw three Americans shouting and pointing their rifles at the woods to the east of the village. Three German soldiers came out of the woods and the American soldiers marched them, with their hands on their heads, up towards the village Gasthaus where I lost sight of them.

I thought the Americans would soon search the barn, so I found a way to get under the floor. I could see through a chink in the mortar. Whenever I heard noises I would peek out. After maybe an hour or more I watched as they lined up seven or eight German soldiers on their knees behind the Gasthaus. One of the Americans, with this symbol on his arm (Master Sergeant) was very angry and kept yelling and waiving his arms. I don’t know if he saw me peeking through the crack or what, but he eventually got a bazooka and fired into the barn. The barn caught on fire. I stayed.

After about another hour, in the late afternoon, the Americans got the Germans up off their knees and marched them towards the barn. Near the short stone wall that is behind the Gasthaus, they shot all of them with hand-held machine guns. I couldn’t see them after they fell, because the wall blocked my view. After sunset I crept out of the barn because the smoke was getting bad.

About twenty years later, I met Herr Realucky. He came to the village Gasthaus and told me and others about that day and explained he was one of the eight who got shot that day. I have also met another man who was here that day who hid in the oven and was not discovered, his name is Herr Shakenbake.
I got some more details from Herr Deserter and then located Herr Shakenbake, who lived about 100 miles away. He explained the following:
The Americans were advancing so fast that our unit didn’t have time to pick-up and move our equipment. We barely escaped being killed and hid in the woods. After a couple days a small group of us hiked through the forest for a few miles until we got to this village. We thought the Americans were probably one or two days behind us, so we went to the Gasthaus to eat. There was three in my group and there were others already eating there. Before our food arrived, however, the waitress came rushing in and told us the Americans were in the town. I ran down the back stairs and hid in the cellar. I heard the Americans come into the Gasthaus and I thought I would be discovered, so I climbed into the unused stone oven that was located just off the stairway. About 30 minutes later, the Americans came down and one even looked in the oven but, I must have been far enough back in the shadows because he didn’t see me. I couldn’t hear anything. Every once in a while—over the next three days—I heard a couple explosions, and once I heard talking in English in the stairway. On the fourth day the waitress came and told me they were gone. It was night. I returned to my home town after that. But I return to that Gasthaus once every couple of years to thank the waitress who saved my life.
Herr Shakenbake had no additional knowledge to provide, so I located Herr Realucky. This is his story:
I was in the village Gasthaus eating when three more soldiers arrived. They didn’t talk to us probably because we wore brown uniforms. I was German artillery who wore brown, just like the brown shirts did, but I was not a brown shirt (storm-trooper). I and a friend had survived the artillery shelling that killed most of our unit and were moving ahead of the advancing Americans. The waitress told us that the Americans were already in the town and we hid in an upstairs bedroom. I was in a wardrobe (closet) when they came in and captured us.

We were put on our knees behind the Gasthaus and searched. There were eight of us. Our belts and personal belongings were removed and they shouted questions at us. None of us understood English and none of them spoke German. After a while one of them got in an argument with a couple others and he shot a rifle in the woods and in the air, then he threw some grenades in the woods and at the barn, then he got out a bazooka and shot the barn with it. I could see the barn catch on fire. It looked like he killed a couple of cows. I don’t know why he was so angry.

They left us on our knees for the longest time, maybe two hours, then they stood us up and I thought they were going to march us to a prisoner camp. But as we turned left and began to head toward the road, they told us to halt and turn toward the barn. Then I knew they were going to shoot us. I had my hands folded on top of my head and I turned just enough to look under my arm at them and saw they were lined up behind us and they were bringing up their rifles. The second I heard the first shot I fell to the ground.

I was only hit with one bullet. It entered my left lower back and exited a little higher near my ribcage on the left (scars verified). After the initial shots I thought they would come up and finish us off, but they didn’t. For a few minutes there were some groaning and gasping from the other seven, but then they were all quiet. I could tell they were all dead. I’d fallen with my face turned away from the Gasthaus and I could hear the Americans talking and moving around. As the afternoon approached evening I slowly turned my head to face toward the Gasthaus. It took about 30 minutes to turn my head completely around. But one of the Americans must have seen me move or something, because I heard him approaching. I had my eyes open and I held my breath. He looked at my face and kicked me in the side but it wasn’t the side where I had been shot and I didn’t blink or move. He must have been convinced because he kicked a couple others and left. I didn’t finish trying to move my head, I just laid still for three or four more hours.

Once it was full dark, I crawled south and east. I moved for many hours and just before dawn I smelled cigarette smoke. I didn’t know if I had come up to an American or German unit so I just waited. After maybe a half-hour I heard someone walking on cobblestones and I could tell the boots had nails in the soles, which is the way German uniform boots sounded, so I whispered in German and they called me in.

I told my story to several people. I was transferred to a few different hospitals. Maybe four months later, the war was over, and I was taken to tell my story to a Major who spoke German but he was not German. He was from a NATO country and he was investigating war crimes. After I told my story, he said, “You must be mistaken. The Americans didn’t shoot POWs. If you were telling me the Russians did this, well then I would believe you, but not the Americans. Why are you making this lie? Are you a trouble maker?” I could see how this was going, so I told him I was not a trouble maker, left, and never told anyone else in authority my story. I have lived my life and it has become a distant memory.
Herr Realucky asked me why I was investigating this now, after all these years. All I could tell him was: “Murder is murder, and there was no statute of limitations on it.”

I identified the unit of the soldiers. I identified a list of well over 200 people who may have been assigned to that unit during the late 1944-mid 1945 time-frame (over twenty were Master Sergeants). I sent my paperwork higher. I have no idea what—if anything—was ever done.

What do you think should have been done?

If the old-American-soldiers were located and confessed to shooting and killing unarmed prisoners of war, what should have been done to those 70 to 85 year old men?

Why do so many Americans hold strongly to mistaken beliefs, that: ‘we are better than that’ or ‘we don’t do that’? (You can fill in the ‘that’ with anything: torture; shoot POWs; kill innocent people; commit genocide; etc.) In what universe do we really not do these things?

I can not believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war. — Eleanor Roosevelt (niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt)

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