A New Openness to Discussing Allied War Crimes in WWII

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D-Day may have
been the beginning of the end of Germany’s campaign of horror during
World War II. But a
new book by British historian Antony Beevor
makes it clear that
the "greatest generation" wasn’t above committing a few
war crimes of its own.

It was the
first crime William E. Jones had ever committed, which was probably
why he could still remember it well so many years later. He and
other soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division had captured a small
hill. "It was pretty rough," Jones later wrote, describing
the bloody battle.

At some point,
the GIs lost all self-control. As Jones wrote: "(The Germans)
were baffled and they were crazy. There were quite a few of them
still in their foxholes. Then I saw quite a few of them shot right
in the foxholes. We didn’t take prisoners and there was nothing
to do but kill them, and we did, and I had never shot one like that.
Even our lieutenant did and some of the non coms (non-commissioned
officers)."

The dead will
most likely never be identified by name, but one thing is clear:
The victims of this war crime were German soldiers killed in Normandy
in the summer of 1944.

At daybreak
on June 6, the Americans, British and their allies launched "Operation
Overlord," the biggest amphibious landing of all time. During
the operation, Allied and German troops fought each other in one
of the fiercest battles of World War II, first on the beaches and
then in the countryside of Normandy. When it was over, more than
250,000 soldiers and civilians had been killed or wounded, and Normandy
itself was ravaged.

The Only
Good German Is a Dead German

There is no
shortage of books on the Battle of Normandy, which also goes by
the name of D-Day. And the same can be said about films, such as
Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film Saving
Private Ryan
, which was a global success. Indeed, it would
almost seem that everything that could be said about the battle
has been said.

Still, that
didn’t deter British historian and best-selling author Antony Beevor
from taking another stab at the material. While conducting research
for his newest book, D-Day:
The Battle for Normandy
, Beevor stumbled upon something
that is currently a matter of much debate among experts. If some
of these scholars are correct, Allied soldiers committed war crimes
in Normandy to a much greater extent than was previously realized.

Beevor extensively
quotes reports and memoirs of those who took part in the invasion,
many of whom state that American, British and Canadian troops killed
German POWs and wounded soldiers. They also reportedly used soldiers
belonging to the German Wehrmacht or Waffen SS as human shields
and forced them to walk through minefields.

For example,
one recounts the tale of a private named Smith, who was fighting
with the 79th US Infantry Division. Smith allegedly discovered a
room full of wounded Germans in a fortification while he was drunk
on Calvados, a local apple brandy. According to the official report:
"Declaring to all and sundry that the only good German was
a dead one, Smith made good Germans out of several of them before
he could be stopped."

In another
account, Staff Sergeant Lester Zick reportedly encountered an American
soldier on a white horse who was herding 11 prisoners in front of
him. He called out to Zick and his men and told them that the prisoners
were all Poles, except for two Germans. Then, according to Zick,
the soldier took out his pistol "and shot both of them in the
back of the head. And we just stood there."

Beevor also
quotes John Troy, a soldier with the 8th Infantry Division, who
writes of finding the body of an American officer the Germans had
tied up and killed because he had been caught carrying a captured
German P-38 pistol. Troy describes his reaction in the following
way: "When I saw that, I said no souvenirs for me. But, of
course, we did it too when we caught (Germans) with American cigarettes
on them, or American wristwatches they had on their arms."

Rage and
Violence

The issue of
war crimes is an incredibly sensitive one. But, in this case, the
evidence is overwhelming.

Given the high
number of casualties they suffered, Allied paratroopers were particularly
determined to exact bloody revenge. Near one village, Audouville-la-Hubert,
they massacred 30 captured Wehrmacht soldiers in a single killing
spree.

Read
the rest of the article

May
10, 2010

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