Aftermath and Trial
On January 13, 1945, American forces recaptured the site where the killings occurred. The cold had preserved the scene well. The bodies were recovered on January 14 and January 15, 1945. The memorial at Baugnez bears the names of the murdered soldiers.
The size of the massacre, which apparently is the only one perpetrated on such a scale against American troops in Europe during World War II, caused an uproar at the time. However, the number of victims was quite low, compared to other German atrocities.
In addition to the effect the event had on American combatants in Europe, it seems that news of the massacre also greatly affected the United States. This explains why the alleged culprits were deferred to the Dachau Trials, which were held in May and June 1946, after the war.
In what came to be called the "Malmedy massacre trial", which concerned all of the war crimes attributed to Kampfgruppe Peiper for the battle of the Bulge, the highest-ranking defendant was General Sepp Dietrich, commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army, to which Peiper’s unit belonged. Joachim Peiper and his principal subordinates were defendants. The Tribunal tried more than 70 persons and pronounced 43 death sentences (none of which were carried out) and 22 life sentences. Eight other men were sentenced to shorter prison sentences.
After the verdict, the way in which the court had functioned was disputed, first in Germany (by former Nazi officials who had regained some power due to anti-Communist positions with the occupation forces), then later in the United States (by Congressmen from heavily German-American areas of the Midwest). The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which made no decision. The case then came under the scrutiny of a sub-Committee of the Senate of the United States. A young Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy (who was Irish-American but, represented a heavily German-American ethnic constituency), used it as an opportunity to raise his political profile. He stated that the Court had not tried the defendants fairly.
This drew attention to the trial and the judicial irregularities that had occurred during the interrogations that preceded the trial. But, before the United States Senate took an interest in this case, most of the death sentences had been commuted, because of a revision of the trial carried out by the U.S. Army. The other life sentences were commuted within the next few years. All the convicted war criminals were released during the 1950s, the last one to leave prison being Peiper in December 1956. There was a schism within the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars because World War II veterans who were members protested McCarthy's defense of the convicted. The leadership consisting of the earlier World War I veterans was reluctant to criticize him, because of his anti-communist stance. Critics of the post-war trials of Japanese military personnel have cited the release of these war criminals as an example of the racism that characterized the difference in treatment. Japanese military personnel who were convicted of killing prisoners as a matter of policy were executed per international law and custom.
The turmoil that followed the Malmedy trials and the early release of the condemned is often used by some people as an example of biased post-war justice applied at the discretion of the victor.
A distinct lawsuit about the war crimes committed against civilians in Stavelot was tried on July 6, 1948, in front of a Belgian military court in Liege, Belgium. The defendants were 10 members of Kampfgruppe Peiper; American troops had captured them on December 22, 1944, near the spot where one of the massacres of civilians in Stavelot had occurred. One man was discharged; the others were found guilty. Most of the convicts were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment; two officers were sentenced to 12 and 15 years.
Read more about this topic: Malmedy Massacre
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