I was unable to write you yesterday because I was traveling most of the day, dear. I am now with another battery – visiting – this one is headed by Captain Morgan who is an old-timer with our outfit and an old friend. He’s got a swell wife and a cute baby. They live in New Jersey and after the war – we’ll have to look them up too.
George Morgan is a peculiar sort of fellow; he is either very morose and dull – or the exact opposite – he rarely strikes a medium. I’ve always gotten along with him – although many of the officers don’t. One thing about him – he always seems to end up with more adventures of one sort or another – than anyone else I’ve ever met up with dear – and that includes myself. Back in France he tied himself up with some of the Maquis – a band of about 60 men and two officers and they have followed him ever since. If his battery is near a wooded area where some Germans are known to be hiding – he sends the Maquis out and they hunt them down with a vengeance. When I arrived here late yesterday p.m. the 2 officers and Morgan were discussing the 8 German SS soldiers that had been shot in the last area. We had supper together – the officers eat with the battery – the 60 men eat off the land. They are all just what you’d imagine to be – a rough lot, oddly uniformed – with all sorts of guns, pistols, light machine guns and grenades – and all intent on one thing – killing Germans. They haven’t taken many prisoners – from what I can gather and they sure are looking forward to getting into Germany. This is, of course – only a small group – dear, but take it from me – all over Europe there are thousands like them – from France, Belgium, Holland Poland and Italy – following the American and British Army and ready to take some revenge for all they suffered. Almost anyone of them can tell a tale of atrocity from his home town and all you have read in the papers in past years – as far as I can see, darling, is true. The Germans are barbarians and even now – when they are not in the driver’s seat – they are continuing some vile acts.
Well – how did I get started on that? I’ll be with this battery for 2 more days and then return to the battalion C.P. When I left battalion yesterday – there had not been any mail for 4 days – but they went out for it – so perhaps tonite I might get some. I hope so, dear – because it seems like a whale of a long time since I had a fairly recent letter.
|Huy. The Meuse River and Le Chateau Fort|
And here it is Rosh Hashanah coming up next week and last year I was in the States – although I believe I was home only one of the days and saw you! It all seems like a long long time ago, sweetheart – and yet I’m not complaining because after all – in the past year – the Lord gave me you, sent me across the sea in safety and apparently has watched out for me up to now. I don’t know where I’ll be able to pray this year – but one way or another I will and if the Lord hears me – He’ll keep us for one another – and darling – that’s what I want more than anything else.
I’ll stop now, dear; Morgan just came in and I’m going out to see a couple of gun sections with him. I’ll write again tomorrow and until then so long. Love to the family and give them my best wishes for a Happy New Year.
On September 5, 1944, a unit of Belgian Marquis attacked a German unit at Bande, in the Wallonia area of Belgium, killing three soldiers. Two days later the American troops arrived in the area and the Germans retreated. Three months later, during the Ardennes Offensive, the village of Bande was retaken. On Christmas Eve, a unit of the German SD (Sicherheitsdienst), the officers of which said they were sent especially by Himmler to execute members of the resistance, set about arresting all men in the village. The younger men, aged 17 to 30 years, 35 in number, were taken away to a place apart from the older men. They were questioned about the events of September 5, then lined up in front of the local cafe. One by one, they were led to an open door and as they entered a shot rang out. An SD man, positioned just inside the door, fired point blank into the victims neck and with a kick sent the body hurtling into the open cellar. After twenty had been killed this way, it was the turn of 21 year old Leon Praile who decided to make a run for it. With bullets flying around him, he escaped into the woods. Meantime the executions continued until all 34 men had been killed. He then fired a volley of machine gun bullets to make sure that they were dead.
On January 10, 1945, the village of Bande was liberated and the massacre was discovered. From Nigel De Lee's Voices of the Battle of the Bulge (David & Charles Publishers, 2004) comes Ninth Parachute Regiment private Ernest J. Rooke's account of that experience:
"We were taken to a building where we saw the victims – rows of young men laying on the straw on the floor. The bodies were frozen stiff – it was a gruesome sight. Every man had been shot at the back of the neck behind the ear. It looked as if the murderers were probably standing just alongside the victims when firing the fatal shots. I was deeply shocked by what I saw, as were my comrades. Most of us had seen other victims of war – we had seen crushed bodies, men who had suffered severe injuries, but this was callous, calculated killing of young men – civilians. As we talked with the villagers, we tried to show by gestures and the few words of their language we knew just how they felt. We could only shake a hand, put an arm around a shoulder.
Even if we had a command of their language, we would have found it impossible to find words to express our feelings. After the bodies had been identified (and this must have been a most distressing task for the relatives), soldiers from our battalion placed the dead young men in coffins draped with the Belgian flag. A few days later the coffins were taken in our transport to the village church and then to the little cemetery on the outskirts of the village. Sections of our battalion acted as pallbearers; others followed the relatives in the procession; others carried the coffins into the cemetery. The victims were buried together; later their bodies would be transferred to family graves.
A Belgian War Crimes Court was set up in December 1944. One man, a German speaking Swiss national by the name of Ernst Haldiman, was identified as being a member of the execution squad. He had joined the SS in France on November 15, 1942 and in 1944 his unit was integrated with other SD units, into No. 8 SS Commando for Special Duties. Haldiman was picked up in Switzerland after the war and brought to trial before a Swiss Army Court. On April 28, 1948, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was released on parole on June 27, 1960, the only member of the SS Commando unit that has been brought to trial.