The Stavelot massacre

*This story contains a couple of mistakes, we are researching this event again. *

It is well known that troops of Joachim Peiper were blamed of killing many civilians in and around Stavelot during their attacks in the battle of the Bulge.
We wanted to know what happened exactely and dove into the story.

The house on the Route de Trois Ponts houses  a small garage. I remember vividly that the house was for sale for a long time. Apperantely it wasn’t in favour by families…. Since I know what happend there during the war, I can imagine nobody wants to make it into a nice family home…..

Legaye house
The Legaye house after the war

We’ll take you back to december 19th, 1944:
During the attack on Stavelot, many civillians were hiding in the shelter for the furious fightings that took place in the streets. The Americans tried to grab hold on the town, wich was hard: Peipers troops were bashing into Stavelot with many tanks and infantry.
The house at Route de Trois Ponts belonged to Prosper Legaye, his wife Marie and their three daughters. On tuesday evening about twenty people, mostly women and children had spent the night in the basement  because of the heavy fightings in the town. The Germans attacked the area of the Legaye house around  17.30, according to German statements. Around 19.00 hrs they take the two next houses who are abandond. The Americans are then present in the Legaye and Gregoire house and in the Scierie du Perron (sawmill, BK).
In the afternoon, an American soldier  had come looking in that basement, checking for enemy soldiers. Right after dark, another soldier came checking. He told the civilians to keep quiet, because of enemy activity. But Propsers dog didn’t stop barking, so the civilians decided to put the dog down. Later that day, the civilians in the cellar heard shots above them, US soldiers were fighting with the Germans. The fight lasted almost an hour.
After 20.00 hrs two grenades were tossed in  the cellar by German troops. It only wounded mme Gregoire’s leg. The SS soldiers were furious: they were convinced that several people fired at them from this house, wich had wounded one of the soldiers.
The people in the cellar panicked and started to scream. The  German soldiers orderd the people to come out of the cellar. The friends of mme Regine Gregoire, she was the only one who spoke German, asked her to tell the soldiers they were civilians. Mme Gregoire tried, but the soldiers kept on shouting “Raus Raus!” (get out). Mme Gregoire, who was with her two kids, left the cellar and saw about 12 SS soldiers. They told her that they wanted everyone out of the cellar. All civilains obeyed, 5 of them were under the age of 10.
massacreThis detail is pretty unknown in the story: The soldiers asked her if they all were here. Mme Gregoire acted if she was counting everybody and told the Germans everybody was out. But then mme Anne Marie Daisomont told mme Gregoire that her parents and her sister got out earlier. When the Germans tosed the two grenades in the cellar mme Marie Therese Daisomont  passed out. Because of that, her parents openend a door, wich was noticed by the German troops and the three were killed.  At first the soldiers talked with the civilians, via mme Gregoire.
But then, around 21.00 hrs, the civilians were lined up against the hedge on the right side of the house, except for mme Gregoire and her two daughters. The wounded soldier screamed at mme Gregoire that they had wounded him. She told the soldierst hat these civillians had nothing to do with the shooting , they were just hiding in the basement. One SS-er told her that the inoccent had to pay for the deeds of those who shot at them.
Some soldiers, we’re not sure how many (some say two: one armed with a gun and another with a rifle)  loaded their weapon, aimed….and started to shoot. They killed twenty three people.
Mme Gregoire and her two children survived the massacre. She was questionend for some time, because the Germans wanted to know who fired form the houses on them.

opposite legaye house
On the opposite site of the Legaye house

Apperantly, one of the SS-ers stated to mme Gregoire that they didn’t take American prisoners, but killed them, a direct referral to the Malmedy massacre. Another SS-er, who returned from the Legaye house, said that  some civilians were still moving. He told the others that they would bleed to death anyway.
Three days later mme Gregoire and her daughters were freed from the SS-ers by American troops.
Several Germans were captured and the US troops found the dead bodies of the civilians. The SS men confessed they had shot the civilians, because they had been bothering the soldiers.
In another account we found that a gendarme, mr. Arnould, found the bodies of the civilians, piled up against the hedge. He made sure they were removed from that terrible place. A villager, helping the gendarme, found a four year old kid with a fractured skull.

1rst Lieutenant Franck Warnock, D company/ 117th regiment/ 30th infantry regiment,  was fighting in that same area when the SS-ers killed those people. He found the civilians on december 21th 1944.
He stated:
“It was just few step away, across the street in this near vicinity that we came across the butchery by perhaps these same S.S. of the 23 civilians of the city. Perhaps if we had known of this massacre at the time of capture, they would not have been taken prisoner. I heard and read long later that they were convicted by military court and hanged.*  Good! About the butchery of the 23 civilians, I distinctly heard the screams, the sound of the shots and also the distinctive fire from a German machine-pistol. We called the weapon a burp gun because of its extreme rate of fire.. When we took that place from the Germans I can also say that a boy of about 8-10 years, wearing no hat, had been smashed in the head by a rifle butt. He lay in a heap with the imprint of the rifle butt clearly showing. Yes, I counted 23 dead in an area hardly more than 10 feet by 20 feet.
(* this is actually not true)

The victimes of the massacre at first were laid in the garage of Fraipont, on the other side of the policestation. Later they were temporary buried in the garden of the monastary of the Stavelot Abbey by mister Victor Marquet, the local gravedigger.

stavelot killings
War correspondent Jean Marin looks at bodies of civilians massacred at the Legaye house in Stavelot, Belgium.

Who did it?
It is pretty clear that the soldiers belonged to the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LSAH), Joachim Peipers Group, the first division SS panzergrenadiere. According to the stories, mme Gregoire  found a soldbuch (military book) in her house, when the Germans had left, belonging to a German soldier with the initials W.W.
During her captivity in the cellar of mme. Masotte, mme Gregoire heard some Germans statements. They were bragging about their horrible deeds. One soldier even mentionend that he cut of a head of a man and used it as a target for practicing. Another one told that all the people from Stavelot should be killed, because they helped the Americans. And another one told about the killing of US POW’s. When American soldiers came up to them with their hands in the air, they just shot them.
Another source stated that the SS troops were surprised by the unexpected presence of civilians in the basement. The SS troops, led by Unstuf. Sieber, were fighting from house to house and being botherd by the American machinguns and artillery. The civilians made a lot of noise, wich caught the attention of the Americans, who were close by. The Germans had no other option then retreat. But then they started to kill all civilians after they rushed them from the basement.
To us, it seems thta the Germans got very frustrated by the fact their advance got slowed down over and over again. And, the road for the supply trucks was cut off by the Americans by blowing up the bridge at the enterance of Stavelot. We found several sources, saying it was Untersturmführer Ludwig Sieber who gave the order to fire.

A commerorative plaque in Stavelot mentions 164 men, women and children who got killed by the SS.
The Stavelot killings don’t stand on their own. The Germans also killed a lot of civilinas in Ster, Reharmont and Parfondruy. Please see the article on our website.

We used 12 sources:
– The unknown dead, Peter Schrijvers
The story of a small town in Belgium, Stavelot, 1rst Lt Franck Warnock
Sad souvenirs or life of the people of Stavelot during the winter of 1944-1945, by Guy Lebau,
– The Ardennes 1944-1945, Christer Bergstrom
– The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe, door William I. Hitchcock. forum
Axis history forum
Axis history forum II
Joachim Peiper, Justice Denied – David G Williams
The Black Angels, Rupert Butler
Massacre Stavelot et Parfondruy
Discussion about Kampfgruppe Knittel

Copyright: Bob Konings
Prohibited to reproduce or use this content without my permission