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Dec 28, 2019

Take no prisoners

Co-produced with PRX Logo

This episode originally was broadcast July 28, 2018. 

In December 1944, Adolf Hitler surprised the Allies with a secret counterattack through the Ardennes forest, known today as the Battle of the Bulge. In the carnage that followed, there was one incident that top military commanders hoped would be concealed. It’s the story of an American war crime nearly forgotten to history.

 

Credits

Reported and produced by Chris Harland-Dunaway. Edited by Brett Myers.

Research help from historians Benjamin M. Schneider, Justin Michael Harris, Danny S. Parker and reporter Jason Leopold. Thanks to the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Anna Sussman of Snap Judgment for helping to bring the story to our attention.

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Amy Mostafa and Kevin Sullivan. Reveal is hosted by Al Letson.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Found, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: Hey, it is your favorite host in all of [podcastdom 00:00:04]. Now, for the rest of the year, I'm going to be asking you to join us by becoming a member of Reveal. Reveal is all about going deep, pulling on threads, telling stories that matter. For more than three years now, Reveal has been fighting a lawsuit that's been jeopardizing our very existence. It's over a story we did about an organization called Planet Aid. Our story raised serious questions about whether international aid was actually reaching the people it was intended to help. And what's more, our story was truthful, and we stand by it. We believe it's our duty to fight attacks like this, but fighting a lawsuit comes at a huge cost.

 

Al Letson: Our legal fees alone total more than seven million dollars. Luckily, we have pro bono legal support to help our in-house counsel. But it still takes significant resources. Resources that should be used to do more public service journalism. This kind of investigative journalism, well, it takes time, and it costs money. If you believe in the work we do, the absolute best way to support us is by becoming a member of Reveal. To do it, just text the word reveal to four, seven, four, seven, four, seven. Standard data rates apply, and you can text stop or cancel at any time. Also, all new members who donate at least $5 a month will get our facts tee shirt. Again, just text the word reveal to four, seven, four, seven, four, seven.

 

Al Letson: And to all of you who already support our work, I want to offer a deep sincere thanks. We can't do this work without you. We're looking forward to 2020. We have big things planned, so let's go do some good work together.

 

Al Letson: From the Center For Investigative Reporting, and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al [Letson 00:01:48]. Back in 2016, Chris [Harland-Dunaway] was between two worlds.

 

Chris D.: Well, I had just finished my first year in journalism school, and I had been a semi-pro bike racer for six years.

 

Al Letson: Chris was in his mid-20s. He was thinking more seriously about his career in journalism. But he also wasn't quite ready to give up on bike racing.

 

Chris D.: I had always dreamt of racing my bike in Europe, because that's the heartland. And I decided, well this is my opportunity.

 

Al Letson: So, in the middle of grad school, Chris made a go of it. He flew to Belgium and got a little apartment, and began testing himself against the elite riders in a place where bicycle racing is a really big deal. It's full of traditions, and idiosyncrasies, like the [Rodania] Car, that drives ahead of Belgium bike races, blaring an ad for Rodania watches. [Foreign Language 00:02:38]

 

Chris D.: It's the ice cream truck of Belgium. Everyone hears that call, and they hear the Rodania, and they know there's a bike race happening just out their front door. And so, they gather along the sides with their paper cones of fries and beer, and watch the racing.

 

Al Letson: So, there's Chris, doing this thing he's always dreamed of doing. And he's performing really well, placing in races and just training all the time. Taking these long rides on narrow ribbons of road through the [Ardennes 00:03:11], a region stretching from Belgium, through France, Luxembourg, and into Germany.

 

Chris D.: I would go on these rides, and I would pass through the spruce forests. It's so peaceful, and I couldn't help thinking whenever I sort of encountered these moments out there, that this is also this place where there's just unbelievable carnage happened there during World War II.

 

Al Letson: And this is where Chris' curiosity and love for journalism began creeping back into focus. The Ardennes Forest saw some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. In December 1944, Germany launched a surprise attack that would become one of its last major offensives. Today, we know it as the Battle of The Bulge. Chris wanted to know what it was really like.

 

Chris D.: And so, I became obsessed with finding the oldest people in the villages nearby, people who would be willing to talk to me and tell me about what they saw during World War II. I figured what better way to understand what it was like then to talk to people who are still alive? And who can still tell stories about what happened.

 

Al Letson: After hearing some of those stories, he began picking up on whispers of an incident he knew almost nothing about. One that's received little attention in the history books.

 

Chris D.: We see the men and women who fought in World War II as the greatest generation, for beating Hitler. They did this amazing thing. They saved the world.

 

Al Letson: And while all of that is true, Chris has spent the last two years investigating whether that's all they did.

 

Chris D.: Maybe bad things had happened that no one is really willing to talk about.

 

Al Letson: We're spending the whole show today looking back on what happened on New Years Eve 75 years ago. We first brought you this story in 2018. It's about an American war crime during World War II. It happened in a small Belgium town called Chenogne. Most people don't know about it, and as Chris found out, those who do still don't seem to want to talk about it.

 

Chris D.: There are always soldiers who don't talk, or can't talk about what they went through. And often, it's not until they're old, looking back on their lives, that some of these stories about war finally start to come out. I searched a long time for someone who knew about Chenogne. There aren't many people who really know what happened there. Let alone saw what happened there with their own eyes.

 

Frank Hartzel: The one thing that's missing is my combat infantry badge, which got lost in Iraq. And it's the thing I was proudest of.

 

Chris D.: Frank [Hartzel's] 93, lives outside Philadelphia. These days, sweaters over collared shirts are kind of his thing. 75 years ago though, he didn't have the luxury of a signature look. It was just combat uniforms, like the one we're digging out of the closet in his study. It's got the 11th Amor Division Patch right on the shoulder.

 

Frank Hartzel: Here is a ...

 

Chris D.: Oh wow, they have ... there's the patch. The thunderbolt patch.

 

Frank Hartzel: Yeah.

 

Chris D.: So, did you wear this in the Ardennes?

 

Frank Hartzel: No. Well, yeah. I guess we did. Yeah, this is what we wore.

 

Chris D.: After the war, Frank went to [Drexall] and MIT. He worked his entire civilian life as a structural engineer, making sure buildings were safe. He's sharp, still talks with the precision of an engineer. I saw a picture of him back before the war, at basic training in the California Desert, standing at attention, rifle resting against his shoulder, a little smirk on his face. He had the same round boyish cheeks he has today.

 

Frank Hartzel: I got my notice when I was 18 that I was drafted. Once I graduated from high school, it was soon after, next week or so, called to take a physical. Passed a physical, and was inducted in the service. And I guess it was July.

 

Chris D.: Because he had good grades, he was fast-tracked for an officer training program in Washington State. But after a few months, the army disbanded the program because they didn't need leadership. Hitler still had a firm grip on Europe, and Frank says what the army really needed was canon fodder. So, Frank sat down with his two buddies, Paul [Gentilly 00:07:32], and Bob [Fordice 00:07:34].

 

Frank Hartzel: We made this pact among us that we'd go to visit the parents of ... if anything had happened to one of us.

 

Chris D.: Before shipping out, Frank was allowed to return home to Wallingford, Connecticut, one last time. On his first morning home, he came downstairs and there was his mom, standing in the kitchen.

 

Frank Hartzel: She had the radio on. She says, "The allies have landed in France."

 

Robert St. John: This is Robert St. John in the NBC Newsroom in New York. Ladies and gentlemen, we may be approaching a fateful hour. All night long, bulletins have been pouring in from Berlin, claiming that D-Day is here. Claiming that the invasion of Western Europe has begun.

 

Chris D.: After D-Day happened, the US began shipping as many men as it could, as fast is it could, across the Atlantic. Frank and his best friend Bob, took a picture together in London, below the Big Ben clock tower. They're standing shoulder to shoulder, smiling, wearing those army envelope hats tilted off to one side. After a couple weeks living in Quonset huts, they crossed the English Channel to France.

 

Frank Hartzel: We were actually on the Channel, on December 16th when the Battle of the Bulge started.

 

Chris D.: The Battle of the Bulge began at 5:30 AM. The pre-dawn sky lit up with artillery fire. For the next three weeks, the entire war hung in the balance. It was Hitler's secret last-ditch counterattack against the allies in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium.

 

Speaker 5: Under cloudy skies, close-hanging ground mists that defied aerial observation. The very much alive German army gathers its forces in the Forest aisles to strike one strong decisive blow at the American army.

 

Chris D.: Hitler's favorite tank commander, [Yakim Piper 00:09:35], led the charge. Promising, in his words, to break the resistance by terror. In the opening hours of battle, he shocked American troops near the Belgium town of Malmedy.

 

Speaker 6: Malmedy, scene of an appalling crime. Here, men of the United States 30th division uncover the frozen bodies of American soldiers, who, after surrendering, were murdered by their German captors.

 

Chris D.: The story was gruesome. On the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers ran straight into German tanks by accident. They surrendered. German soldiers corralled the American POWs in a muddy field beside a crossroads, and shot them. Some Americans played dead. They listened as the Germans walked among the bodies, shooting anyone who looked alive. In all, 84 American prisoners were killed. It was called the Malmedy Massacre. News of the atrocity was spreading, just as Frank and his battalion were piling into armored trucks called Half Tracks, heading straight towards those same German forces that massacred fellow GIs. To dodge German observation planes, Frank's convoy advanced in the dark.

 

Frank Hartzel: We drove all night. No lights, very slowly. We can't even see. I mean, they were heavily armored and this little they'd look out of. It was really something.

 

Chris D.: It was so cold that equipment froze to the ground. Both sides were bogging down, fighting from village to village. This would be Frank's first experience in combat, trying to take control of a Belgian town named Chenogne.

 

Frank Hartzel: The next morning then, we made this attack on Chenogne. The sky was just lead, and snow covered field, was what it was. There was a machine gun firing at us. But we were going up this field, and we were under some fire. Anyway, we finally got up and we took that ridge.

 

Chris D.: The ridge looked out over scattered Belgian farmhouses, a church steeple. Another group of Americans tried and failed to take the town the day before. Frank remembers looking down on their burning tanks. And there's another thing he remembers. Something eight veterans from the 11th Armored say is true. That there was an order to take no prisoners.

 

Frank Hartzel: Then we went down in the town, and then we were told to pull back. I do remember digging in the foxhole along the top of that ridge.

 

Chris D.: They were going to try again the next day. Frank was with his buddy, Bob. It was New Year's Eve, 1944.

 

Frank Hartzel: It was twilight, I guess. There was shooting going, some sporadic artillery come in, and we were digging and it was so hard to dig in that frozen ground. And Bob Fordice, who I dug with, he was a hard worker. And he had been digging. And working hard. And he said, "Hey Frank, you want to dig for a while?"

 

Chris D.: Frank got in the foxhole. He hacked at the dirt. It was like rock. Then they heard artillery rumble in the distance. German shells started whistling down all around them.

 

Frank Hartzel: And I had been in there digging for two minutes before some 88 fire came in and the hole was just shallow enough, I was lying down. When the fire comes then you lie down. And he was lying down on the outside where I had been. And this pice of shrapnel I guess, I heard it, or felt it hit the top of my helmet. Just a little thing down the top of my helmet. And I remember saying, "Boy Bob, that was close." And I looked up and it hit his ... it had taken the top of his head off. And I remember shouting over to Tom [Hiccock 00:13:39], who was our squad leader. I said, "Bob's dead." I guess we spent the rest of the night there. I don't know if his body stayed there all night or not. Well, I lost my two best friends the first two days.

 

Chris D.: In the morning, Frank climbed out of his foxhole. His battalion gathered along the ridge line. Behind them, US artillery started shelling the town of Chenogne, trying to soften up the Germans before the attack. They waited. The guns went quiet. Then, they charged down into town. Machine gun fire snapped through the air, as the GIs ran through the snow. The Germans were ready.

 

Chris D.: What do you remember seeing around you as you moved into town?

 

Frank Hartzel: What'd I see? Just the houses, which had been pretty well demolished by the bombs dropped on the town. Dead bodies or about people who had been wounded. Chaotic, combat is when you're actually in it. It's very chaotic. Yeah.

 

Chris D.: The GIs pushed through the village, starting at one end, hoping to reach the other. They zigzagged, taking cover from the German guns wherever they could. The Americans couldn't figure out where one of the machine guns was shooting from. Then they spotted the source. The basement window of a farmhouse.

 

Frank Hartzel: And I remember I'd be in ... near that farmhouse, just outside this high stone wall, probably two or three yards from it.

 

Chris D.: Two of Frank's buddies hopped the wall, lobbing grenades at the open upstairs windows. Their aim was bad. The grenades bounced off the side of the farmhouse. One of the men dove into the doorway of the house to dodge the explosion. The other guy was shot while trying to make it back to that stone wall. The same one where Frank was taking cover next to one of their sergeants. A guy named Ed [Fraily]

 

Frank Hartzel: Ed Fraily, I remember. And he said, "My stomach hurts." So, I looked and pulled his shirt up, and I couldn't see anything on his stomach at all. Then I turned him over, and there was a little hole in his back. And he died.

 

Chris D.: That high caliber German machine gun wouldn't stop. Behind Frank, a bunch of these [Shermans 00:16:03], these quick scrappy American tanks rolled into town. One of them fired its cannon at the farmhouse. The smoke cleared, and the machine gun went quiet. The site of the farmhouse was cratered. There was nothing the Germans could do but surrender. They stopped shooting because we had surrounded them. By this point, Frank dashed off to continue fighting throughout town. He and the other Americans spread out, surrounding each farmhouse as they went. Eventually, the Germans began surrendering in mass.

 

Frank Hartzel: I just remember them filing out, yeah. With long overcoats, and they were pretty bedraggled, as we were. They'd been attacking for two weeks, and living in the cold as we had, so they were probably just about as unshaven and as dirty as we were. Worse, because they'd been around longer.

 

Chris D.: Under the rules of land warfare in the US, the Germans were prisoners of war. They should've been taken to a collection point behind the frontlines and transferred to a prison camp. Instead, the German soldiers were stripped of their weapons, and herded to an empty field where they stood in the snow.

 

Frank Hartzel: Things quieted down, and I remember we got orders, take no prisoners. And that's when I think it was that afternoon that they were shot. When I walked past a field on the left where there were these dead bodies, I knew what they were. I knew they were dead Germans. And that's about all I can say.

 

Chris D.: Frank says he wasn't there in the field when the German prisoners were gunned down. He says that he had and part in it.

 

Chris D.: What about of blame by saying, "Take no prisoners", do you think they deserve?

 

Frank Hartzel: Person who issued the original order had a lot of responsibility, I think. I don't think I could ... I couldn't pull a trigger on just a man standing, unarmed man. And most people I don't think could do that. So, I say whoever pulled the trigger has the most responsibility.

 

Chris D.: Back in the States, the New York Times landed on people's doorsteps. On page three, there were two stories. On the left side of the broadsheet, an article confirmed the Malmedy Massacre by Yakim Piper's German troops weeks earlier. On the right side of the same page, the other headline read, "Strike on 10 mile front." It told the story of General Patton's lightning assault that knocked the Germans off balance. It noted back and forth attacks, and counterattacks in a town called Chenogne. But nothing else. That wasn't the whole story. And I couldn't get the whole story from Frank, because he only knows so much.

 

Al Letson: But there is someone else who knows more. A man so obsessed with the massacre at Chenogne, that he bought a house on top of the ridge, right next to the foxhole where Frank lost his best friend, Bob.

 

Speaker 7: The people doesn't know that every day in every unit, German and American, it was a war crime every day. Every day.

 

Al Letson: That's next and Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Al Letson: From The Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. The good war. The greatest generation. This is how we tend to talk about World War II and the US role in defeating the Nazis. But it's much more complicated than that. When we left off, an elderly veteran told reporter Chris Harland-Dunaway about a little known massacre. German prisoners of war gunned down my American soldiers. It happened during the Battle of the Bulge, in a tiny Belgian town called Chenogne. And that's where Chris picks up the story.

 

Chris D.: It's December when I arrive. Around the same time of year as the Battle of the Bulge. Thin icy snow covers the fields and forests. Everything is blanketed in fog so thick you wouldn't even know the town of Chenogne was here until it's practically in front of your face. After some searching in the haze, I finally find the house I'm looking for.

 

Roger Marque: [French]

 

Chris D.: [French]

 

Roger Marque: Okay, I'm coming.

 

Chris D.: Hello.

 

Roger Marque: Please, come on.

 

Chris D.: How are you?

 

Chris D.: This is Roger [Marque 00:20:58].

 

Roger Marque: I'm 50 ... 50. I'm 72.

 

Chris D.: While Roger sometimes has a hard time remembering his age, 72 by the way, he says he'll never forget what US soldiers did for Belgium. Roger was born just a year after the war, in a town nearby. And he sees the guys of the 11th Armored division, guys like Frank Hartzel, as saviors, liberators.

 

Roger Marque: And, please.

 

Chris D.: Oh, thank you.

 

Roger Marque: Take a chair.

 

Chris D.: So, it came as a shock when Roger first heard rumors about what happened in Chenogne. That Americans might have massacred German prisoners of war.

 

Roger Marque: But I decided maybe it's not true.

 

Chris D.: He used to be a PE teacher, but after he heard about the massacre, he became a man obsessed and turned his story in.

 

Roger Marque: And I began my own investigation.

 

Chris D.: To understand the full story, Roger embedded with the 11th Armored division veterans, like Frank Hartzel, who we heard from earlier. Roger knows him really well. Roger used to hang out at reunions back at in the States where he'd take guys aside and interview them alone. One by one, he pieced together what happened.

 

Chris D.: Can we walk there or should we go in a car?

 

Roger Marque: Oh, in a car. You couldn't go by walking.

 

Chris D.: Roger takes his wool driving cap down from its peg. We go get into my rental car. We're driving around in the dark. Then his arm shoots up to the window.

 

Roger Marque: There's the house here where the basement and where the German were killed.

 

Chris D.: He's pointing at a farm house, but really he's pointing backwards in time.

 

Chris D.: Oh wow, that's the house right there.

 

Roger Marque: You want to see?

 

Chris D.: Yeah, let's get out. I'll pull over here.

 

Roger Marque: You can stay here.

 

Chris D.: Roger steps out into the snow. I step out onto the frosty black tarmac. Remember earlier when Frank Hartzel described crouching behind that stone wall taking cover from a German machine gun nest? That's where we're standing. In front of us is a three-story farm house, strung with gold Christmas lights. 74 years ago, that high caliber German machine gun was in the basement window. An American tank shot its cannon point blank at the house. It caught fire, the basement filled with smoke and screaming. Those are details I already knew from Frank. But there was some things Frank didn't see that day. For the rest of the story, Roger points at the cellar door.

 

Roger Marque: Look at this. Do you see against the wall?

 

Chris D.: Yes.

 

Roger Marque: It's the stairs, where from the guys came out. And the first one was a medic. A German medic.

 

Chris D.: Roger says it was a German medic who surrendered first. Climbing out into the front yard where we're standing. He carried a white flag, and American soldiers were positioned in a sort of semi-circle around him. Rifles raised.

 

Roger Marque: And without any words, when they saw the guy, he was killed.

 

Chris D.: American soldiers shot the medic trying to surrender.

 

Roger Marque: Second one was maybe a young Belgian boy that didn't fire, of course.

 

Chris D.: The boy made it out alive. Then another German emerged from the cellar steps, trying to surrender.

 

Roger Marque: [inaudible]

 

Chris D.: With the basement on fire, one by one, German soldiers emerged, trying to surrender. And one by one, they were shot. Roger turns and I follow him. He crosses the narrow road. He makes a sweeping gesture towards a small grassy embankment.

 

Roger Marque: When the mayor came three, four days after, he came back. And the bodies were lying at here. In front of here.

 

Chris D.: The German soldiers from the cellar. The ones who had tried to surrender.

 

Roger Marque: And it was 19 dead, and there were put side by side.

 

Chris D.: But that wasn't all, of course. There were other German POWs staggering out of farmhouses trying to surrender. GIs stripped them of their weapons. Roger was told an American commander then barked an order.

 

Roger Marque: Not here, guys. Because the German could see us. Come a little bit further.

 

Chris D.: There were still German soldiers clustered in the forest, just outside of town. Potential witnesses. So, the Americans herded their prisoners down the hill. Roger takes me down the road, past the church.

 

Roger Marque: And when they arrived in the bottom of the village, the German could not see them.

 

Chris D.: We stand next to a barbed wire fence, an anonymous empty pasture on the other side.

 

Roger Marque: And Frank Hartzel said it was only this meadow.

 

Chris D.: This snowy meadow is where Frank and other veterans told Roger that all those German soldiers were gathered up.

 

Roger Marque: And they shoot 60. And one of them, the 11th Armored guy, told me, "I count this. 61, Roger."

 

Chris D.: That 11th Armored guy, Steve [Bugden 00:26:37], assured Roger. He said, "I'm precise." Three testimonies from Steve, Frank Hartzel, and his friend John Fague, who were all by accounts bystanders to the incident estimate that Americans machine gunned 60 German prisoners in this field. That combined with the cellar incident makes around 80 German prisoners killed, after they had surrendered to Americans. Two weeks earlier, when Germans massacred American prisoners in Malmedy, they killed 84. Chenogne nearly settled the score. Roughly one German life for each American life taken.

 

Chris D.: Back at Rogers house, we go into his study. Right above his desk, there's a photograph of Bob Fordice, Frank's best friend, who was killed by shrapnel when they were digging that foxhole.

 

Chris D.: So, you have Bob's photograph right next to where you write.

 

Roger Marque: Oh, yeah.

 

Chris D.: Roger adopted his grave. That spot where Frank and Bob dug to on the ridge, where Bob was killed, it's in Roger's backyard. He built his house here for that reason, and planted a tree to honor Bob. Roger tries to explain his devotion to these men, struggling to find the words in English.

 

Roger Marque: I don't find the words in French. [French]

 

Chris D.: You have the mentality that as long as you remembers someone, they're alive.

 

Roger Marque: He is alive. Yeah. He's maybe not alive, but he is existing, because you speak of him. He is existing.

 

Chris D.: These American soldiers gave their lives to liberate his little corner of the Ardennes Forest, where the Battle of the Bulge plowed through Belgian villages and people's lives. But one question nagged Roger. How could these saviors also kill all those unarmed Germans who surrendered? How could the Americans do what they did?

 

Roger Marque: One of them tell me we became animal at the time of the combat. We became like animal, and you have to do this because if you don't have the instinct of war, you will be killed. It's not excusable when hate is explainable.

 

Chris D.: It's worth noting, we're talking about Nazis here. That alone makes some of this explainable. Allied soldiers were battling for their lives. They were exhausted, living in frozen foxholes. And that's when they got the order to take no prisoners. It's hard to know who gave that order. Especially since many military records from that time have been destroyed by fire. But it's not like they didn't know about it. There's a book called The Patton Papers. It's mostly a transcription of General George S. Patton's diaries and notes. It says this about Chenogne. "There were also some unfortunate incidents of the shooting of prisoners. I hope we can conceal this."

 

Chris D.: But I found Patton's original handwritten diary in the library of Congress. Its been digitized. After hours of clicking through Patton's scrawl, I found the same passage. Blue ink on tan pages. Except this passage is different. It has a misspelled word, med instead of men. More importantly, there's a number. I read it aloud to Roger, slowly. "Also murdered 50-odd German med. I hope we can conceal this."

 

Roger Marque: Now, that's the ... the document that was sent? Where did you find this? Patton paper [inaudible 00:30:52]. Whoa.

 

Chris D.: Roger is surprised, because this diary entry seems to prove something he long suspected. Patton knew his troops had killed Germans. At least 50. Also, Patton called it murder. Not long after, we say our goodbyes.

 

Chris D.: [French]

 

Roger Marque: [French]

 

Chris D.: All right, bye-bye.

 

Roger Marque: Bye-bye.

 

Chris D.: I learn that the Patton papers were written by a historian named Martin [Bloomenson 00:31:27]. He worked for the army, and he was given unlimited access to all of Patton's documents. He died in 2005. How important was it that a historian who worked for the army didn't transcribe Patton's exact words? I went back to the States to find out.

 

Bill Johnson: Chris.

 

Chris D.: Hi.

 

Bill Johnson: How are you?

 

Chris D.: Good. How are you? Nice to meet you, Bill.

 

Bill Johnson: I was looking for you, but-

 

Chris D.: Bill Johnson is a military historian, and former Dean of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. We walk past paintings of musket charges and the calvary riding in. Then Bill points me to a plaque, with Martin Bloomenson's name on it.

 

Bill Johnson: I did check, Martin Bloomenson was here. The [Harold K. Johnson 00:32:10] visiting professor of history from '75 to '76.

 

Chris D.: That's after he published The Patton Papers. Bill starts walking down the hallway again.

 

Chris D.: Did you know Martin Bloomenson yourself?

 

Bill Johnson: No, I have never met him.

 

Chris D.: Okay. So-

 

Bill Johnson: I know him clearly by reputation.

 

Chris D.: Bill is heading into a conference room. It's got funky faux wood paneling. We sit down at the table side by side, and swivel our office chairs to face each other. I pull out a folder holding my documents, and pick out Bloomenson's transcription. The one that reads, "There were some unfortunate incidents of the shooting of prisoners. I hope we can conceal this." Then, I pull out a printed copy of Patton's original diary, in his handwriting, which clearly says, "Also murdered 50-odd German men." Bill inspects them.

 

Chris D.: If you were doing a transcription of Patton's papers, what would you have done?

 

Bill Johnson: At this time, I think I would've probably looked at, from a historian's perspective, this is a relatively small isolated incident, far out of relevance to the bulk of the other material that's there. And so, he may have just made a generalization.

 

Chris D.: Does that come across as sanitized in any way to you?

 

Bill Johnson: I'm sure that some people would immediately look at this and say, "Oh, look. He concealed the number." Others might look at it and say, "No, he didn't know what the number was." He had a single report. We have a truism in the military which is never believe the first report. And so, the question in Bloomsenson's mind may have been I don't know what the real number is, so I'll keep it general.

 

Chris D.: Do you think people who approach it thinking that it's just a transcription of what Patton wrote, verbatim, do you think they have some right to be disappointed?

 

Bill Johnson: Well, again, I think that if you look at some of these issues, some of it is ... I'm sure that editors were trying to portray a broad positive picture, and so sometimes these things get shaded. Winners usually get to write the history, and get to determine what's good or evil.

 

Chris D.: He's saying, "It's complicated, so cut Bloomenson a little slack." So, I pressed one last time, for answers about what happened in Chenogne.

 

Chris D.: Is this clearly a war crime?

 

Bill Johnson: Well, under the law of land warfare, yes. Once people surrendered, they've surrendered. And so, there are clear definitions of what constitutes surrender, and not surrender. What constitutes a combatant and a non-combatant. And all of these activities are reinforced, at least on an annual basis throughout the army.

 

Chris D.: The same rules are in the Geneva Conventions. Both Germany and the United States had signed them before World War II. Bill says US soldiers must follow orders. But they also have a higher responsibility.

 

Bill Johnson: Every soldier has the responsibility to disobey an unlawful order.

 

Chris D.: Every soldier has the responsibility to disobey an unlawful order. But if it was unlawful, if it was clearly a war crime, who was supposed to investigate it? And why wasn't it ever prosecuted?

 

Al Letson: When we come back, Chris talks to a war crimes investigator who argued one of the biggest murder trials in human history. That's coming up, on Reveal, from The Center For Investigate Reporting, and PRX.

 

Al Letson: From The Center For Investigate Reporting, and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. World War II lasted six years. Six years of fighting and extermination on a scale never seen before. At a close of the war, there was an attempt at justice. The trails at Nuremberg and Dachau were one of the world's first major experiments with international courts. Here's reporter Chris Harland-Dunaway, with the final chapter in this story that we first brought to you back in 2018.

 

Chris D.: The Americans fought all the way to Berlin, where they clinked glasses of Cognac with their Russian allies. Spring went to Summer, to Fall, then the Nuremberg trials began in Germany. The Nuremberg trials forced the Germans to answer for crimes against humanity during the war, trials for Hitler's cabinet minsters, the Gestapo Secret Police, concentration camp doctors. The worst of the worst. They sat in the courtroom wearing translation headsets.

 

Speaker 10: We are now ready to hear the presentation by the prosecution.

 

Chris D.: A young American prosecutor named Ben [Farenz] stands at the podium. He looks confident, calm, and determined.

 

Ben Farenz: Once we show that the slaughter permitted by these defendants was dictated not by military necessity, but by that supreme perversion of thought, the Nazi theory of the master race. We shall show-

 

Chris D.: It was the biggest murder trial in human history. 22 defendants, all part of Nazi death squads known as the Einsatzgruppen. They were accused of murdering over a million Jews and other civilians. Before continuing, the American prosecutor pauses. He drinks some water, taking his time. And then makes an argument for the principle of international justice.

 

Ben Farenz: The jurisdiction of power of every state, extends to the punishment of offenses against the law of nations, quote, "By whomsoever, and wheresoever committed." End quote.

 

Chris D.: When the trial happened back in 1947, that young American lawyer was just 28 years old. Today, he's the last surviving prosecutor from Nuremberg.

 

Ben Farenz: My name is Benjamin Farenz. I'm 99 years old. I'm being interviewed now by a very nice gentleman, in Del Ray Beach, Florida.

 

Chris D.: I flew to Florida to meet Ben. And it's worth repeating, he's 99 years old. I was amazed to learn that two years before he stood at the podium at Nuremberg, as chief prosecutor of the Einsatzgruppen, he was a janitor. He scrubbed floors and cleaned toilets in Patton's headquarters. One day, towards the end of the war, he was called in for an interview.

 

Ben Farenz: I met a colonel there, who said, "We have gotten instructions from Washington, to set up a war crimes branch and your name has been forwarded from Washington. And, what's a war crime?"

 

Chris D.: "What's a war crime?" Asked the colonel.

 

Ben Farenz: And that is literally a quotation of how the war crimes program of the United States [inaudible] in World War II started.

 

Chris D.: Ben had a Harvard law degree, studied international law, so he had a good answer. After World War II there were two sets of war crimes investigations, and Ben worked on both of them. The most heinous cases involving concentration camps, and the slaughter of civilians were handled in Nuremberg. But 100 miles away, trials in Dachau covered German war crimes committed against allied troops. One particular case at Dachau captured the public's attention.

 

Speaker 12: State your full name.

 

Speaker 13: [German]

 

Yakim Piper: Yakim Piper.

 

Chris D.: Yakim Piper was that German tank commander responsible for the Malmedy Massacre. Remember, that's when 84 American prisoners were shot, on the first day of the Battle of the Bulg. During Piper's trial, dozens of his troops sat in stands pushed up against the wall. Each one wore a big card with a number on it, hanging on a string like a necklace.

 

Speaker 12: I sign accused number 42. Were you ever a member of the armed forces of the German Reich?

 

Speaker 13: [German]

 

Speaker 15: [German]

 

Speaker 13: Yes.

 

Chris D.: The case ran for two months. First the prosecution tried to find out if Piper's troops knew the rules of war. If they'd read the Geneva Convention.

 

Speaker 12: I'll ask you once again. Did you ever read the rules of the Geneva Convention, whether in a book or in a pamphlet, or in a manual, in your life?

 

Speaker 15: [German]

 

Chris D.: "Yes", the soldier says. They did know the rules. Those American prisoners at Malmedy were slain in spite of that. When it came time for the sentencing.

 

Speaker 12: The court in closed session, at least two thirds of the members present at the time the vote was taken [inaudible 00:40:57]. Sentences you to death by hanging.

 

Chris D.: Death by hanging.

 

Speaker 12: By authority of [inaudible]

 

Speaker 13: [German]

 

Chris D.: A camera flashbulb pops, and Piper is taken away. His sentence was eventually commuted, largely for political reasons. But he and most of his troops were found guilty. This is what justice looked like for the Malmedy Massacre. But what about the massacre in Chenogne? Americans killed a similar number of German troops. There were no trials for the Americans, no prosecutions, and certainly no death sentences. But there was a call for an investigation, one that few know anything about. It's all inside a declassified file I got. One filled with confidential reports from just after the war, including one about Chenogne. A soldier named Max [Cohen] described seeing roughly 70 German prisoners machine gunned by the 11th Armored. Then, there was a back and forth. General Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded a full investigation.

 

Chris D.: The 11th Armored said they sent it. Eisenhower's office said, "We don't have it. Send it again." Then, the 11th Armored basically said, "It's too late. The war is over, the unit's disbanded." In the end, Eisenhower never received any investigation into Chenogne. I wanted to show all this to Ben Farenz, the Nuremberg prosecutor.

 

Chris D.: Okay, so this is a confidential report. It's not this one, it's ...

 

Chris D.: Sitting on his couch in Florida, I ask Ben what he makes of it.

 

Ben Farenz: Well, it smells to me like a coverup, of course. Okay. What, does that surprise you?

 

Chris D.: Yeah, it does.

 

Ben Farenz: Doesn't surprise me.

 

Chris D.: During his investigations for the trials at Dachau and Nuremberg, Ben thoroughly investigated German war crimes, driving all over, interrogating people. Researching documents, exhuming hastily buried bodies with his shovel.

 

Chris D.: So, was it ever your job to investigate American war crimes?

 

Ben Farenz: No, we don't do that sort of thing. No, I was never investigated about war crimes. I was hired to investigate German war crimes.

 

Chris D.: So, even if you received evidence that an American war crime had occurred, like Chenogne, you wouldn't be told to go investigate it?

 

Ben Farenz: Well, the truth is, pay attention. Of course Americans commit crimes in war. And it happens on both sides, on all sides, in all wars.

 

Chris D.: Is understanding that when our guys go in, into a war, knowing from the get-go that there will be soldiers among them who commit war crimes, is that part of understanding war by its nature?

 

Ben Farenz: It is the crime. War is the supreme international crime. We have glorified war for centuries.

 

Chris D.: The men and women who went to fight in World War II are often referred to as the greatest generation.

 

Ben Farenz: That's nonsense. That's nonsense. There's no greatest generation. Greatest generation are the ones who have the courage to say what the government's doing is wrong and we will not support it. That's the greatest generation. When they said, "Hell no", in the Vietnam War, "Hell no, Mr. President. We won't go." Stop war making is the answer.

 

Chris D.: Ben Farenz says war crimes can only be avoided if countries avoid war in the first place. Not only will the bad guys commit them, the good guys will commit them, too. This is the natural course of humanity's most destructive activity. It's easier to deal with that truth in general, but what about in miniature, on a personal level? After those Americans killed prisoners in Chenogne, there was no big trial. I wondered what that did to them. What it was like living with that. When I was in Belgium talking with Roger Marque, that historian who investigated Chenogne, he talked a lot about Frank Hartzel's experiences as a soldier. Going to war as a young man, just 18, seeing his first combat during the Bulge. Then, the war crime in Chenogne.

 

Chris D.: Among the stories, there was one I had trouble understanding. Roger was vague enough that I almost forgot it. But as I sat in Frank's living room in the suburbs outside Philadelphia, I asked about it.

 

Chris D.: So, when I went and visited Roger, Roger told me a story where you shot a German that you came across. It was at Chenogne, I think. And, do you have any recollection of this? It's like ... he was close to you. And I think John was there.

 

Frank Hartzel: No, I shot a soldier. Two of them. But I don't think John was there. I don't know if anybody was there that saw it.

 

Chris D.: Tell me about what happened.

 

Frank Hartzel: They were in a foxhole and I shot them. I didn't know I'd told Roger that, but I did.

 

Chris D.: Were they trying to surrender? Or were they-

 

Frank Hartzel: Yeah, they were. They were. Something I'll never forgive myself for. It was my first day in combat, and they ... two young boys and I shot them. No excuse for it. And they'd been shooting at us. And I could've just passed them by. We were under fire. It was our first attack. And I didn't have to shoot them. That's what we were trained to do. Shoot. I shouldn't have done it. I've always felt guilty about that. If you had time to think about it, you probably wouldn't do it. But I mean, it's a very different feeling when you're being shot at. And you're right in the middle of it, and you're scared to death. So, spur of the moment decision that you make.

 

Frank Hartzel: And sometimes you don't do it, and sometimes you do. And I was young, and inexperienced, and I did it. But I don't want to talk about it anymore.

 

Chris D.: Okay. I respect that.

 

Chris D.: To be clear, what Frank is talking about happened in the first 30 minutes of battle, before the massacre at Chenogne. Frank and his buddies made a charge for the ridge. Two Germans stood up from a foxhole, their arms above their heads, and called out to him. Comrade. That's what Germans yell to surrender. Frank says it all happened so fast, that he acted out of instinct and fear. It's been nearly three quarters of a century, and Frank hasn't told anyone about this. Not his wife, or children. So, why now? The night after our first interview Frank sent me an email. He had more to say about the two Germans. So, I went back and sat down with him the next day so Frank could tell me in person.

 

Chris D.: He started by reading that email back to me.

 

Frank Hartzel: What I wrote was, you certainly did call to my attention my hypocrisy in telling you that I wouldn't shoot unarmed POWs. Well, knowing that early that same awful day, I had done essentially the same thing. I will tell you that I've never forgiven myself for what I did that morning, and will regret it until the day I die. I can't begin to tell you how many times throughout the last 73 years I remembered and regretted what I did during my first half hour in combat. Whenever I think of my son or my grandsons, and how much I love them, I think of the bereavement of those unknown parents. When I think of the long and happy life I have had, of the joys of living and loving, and learning, and working, and parenting, the beauty of our world, the marvelous discoveries about the composition, scale of the universe, the understanding of molecular biology, the digital revolution, et cetera, et cetera, I think of how my action deprived two boys who are no doubt as innocent and un-warlike as I was, add up all that and so much more.

 

Frank Hartzel: There are times when I can't rid myself of the memory for days on end. One complete extenuating circumstances, of which I guess there were a few. But in the last analysis, I committed an act for which there is no excuse, and no forgiveness, and I've lived with that realization most of my life.

 

Chris D.: Frank doesn't know anything about those two young German soldiers. Whether they lived or died, whether they were Hitler youth, or unwilling conscripts. It's impossible to know. One can please extenuating circumstances. The order to take no prisoners, the Malmedy Massacre just two weeks earlier. Maybe even the very fact that these two soldiers were fighting for Nazi Germany. Earlier, Frank told me that war is chaotic. That it's different when you're up close. For Frank, the greatest extenuating circumstance might actually be war itself. But some 73 years after shooting those two young men, it's a point that brings him no comfort.

 

Al Letson: We want to thank Frank Hartzel for sharing his story with us. Chris Harland-Dunaway reported and produced today's show. He started working on it as a student at UC Berkeley graduate school of journalism. It was edited by Brett [Meyers 00:51:31]. We had research help from historians, Benjamin M. [Schneider 00:51:34], Justin Michael Harris, [Daynee S. Parker 00:51:36], and reporter Jason Leopold. Thanks also to my friend Anna [Susman] from Snap Judgment, for helping bring the story to our attention. Our production manager is [Muende Inahosa 00:51:50], original score and sound design by the dynamic duo, Jim [Briggs] and Fernando [Aruda 00:51:56].

 

Al Letson: Our CEO is Chris [Deshofenburg 00:51:58], Matt Thompson is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [Comerado 00:52:04], Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reeve and David Logan Foundation. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Johnathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the [Heising-Simons] Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of The Center For Investigate Reporting, and PRX. I'm Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.

 

Al Letson: These are our last few shows of the year, and let me tell you, in 2020 we are bringing the fire, launching some of our most ambitious projects we've ever done. I can not wait for you to hear them. Reveal is all about going deep, pulling on threads, telling stories that matter. And this kind of investigative journalism, well, it takes time and it costs money. These are the final weeks of our end of the year membership campaign. We depend on listeners like you to help make this work possible. To support us, just text the word reveal to four, seven, four, seven, four, seven. Standard data rates apply, and you can text stop or cancel at any time. Again, just text the word reveal to four, seven, four, seven, four, seven. All right, let's go do some good work together.

 

Speaker 16: From PRX.