If you find yourself passing through the Ardennes and Belgian civilians are standing along the side of the road waving their arms and yelling “Boches! Boches!”1, then it might be a good idea to turn back. A unit of the 7th Armored Division was oblivious to the significance of these cries on December 17th, 1944 as they carried onward from the city of Malmedy down a road toward Five Points, a crucial crossroads in nearby Baugnez, a small village of “no more than eight or nine houses.”2.
The word Boche would be the French equivalent of the American GI word Jerry, which is slang for German soldier. Unbeknownst to the American unit, they were about to come headlong into Joachim Peiper and his 6th Panzer Division. The inevitable confrontation should have resulted in the Americans being taken prisoners of war. Instead, what happened was “the worst crime committed against American troops during the war in Europe.”2 Rather than deal with the American POW’s, the SS rounded them up in a field adjacent to the crossroads and attempted to murder them all. Since the exact numbers are still a matter of discussion to this day, I refer to the rounded numbers provided by author Stephen E. Ambrose in Citizen Soldiers, “Of the 150 POWs, 70 survived.”3 According to Fatal Crossroads, by Danny S. Parker, a total of “84 names are engraved on the Baugnez memorial.”4 Also, according to Parker, 41 of the deaths were confirmed by autopsy to be from a “close-range shot to the head”4. This after having to dig up their frozen contorted corpses from the snow-covered killing field.
The news of these killings spread like wildfire and changed the outlook of being taken prisoner from bad to worse on both sides. Neither side could trust each other to follow the Geneva Convention now that American GI’s were bent on revenge. Patton openly admitted to “some unfortunate incidents in the shooting of prisoners”4. Ambrose cites one particularly gruesome retaliation that if a German soldier was captured wearing US paratrooper boots, they were made to walk around barefoot until their feet froze so much that they had to be amputated3.
This was called the Malmedy Massacre, and I planned a hike between the city of Malmedy which bears the massacre’s name and the place it actually occurred, Baugnez. Rather than follow the busy road that still links the two, this hike will follow a circuit route through the beautiful countryside which was still experiencing the harsh contrast between the glorious rebirth yet bare-tree stage of Spring that occurs at the end of April.
There are some sections in this hike, particularly in the first 1/3rd along the top section of the map which may be unpleasant for some due to steep inclines which may also be quite muddy. Part of the route overlaps with mountain bike trails as well. Wear good shoes.
|Starting/Ending Point||Cathedral of Malmedy|
|My Moving Time||4h 7m|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
Malmedy is a city which is not found in any of my classic travel books about Belgium. For over 1100 years until the French Revolution, Malmedy was part of a micro-state along with the neighboring city of Stavelot, known as the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy. Both were known for their Benedictine abbeys started by Saint Remacle in the 7th century. Similar to the Prince-Bishopric of Liege, Stavelot-Malmedy was ruled on both a secular and religious level by a religious figure. In this case a Prince-Abbot rather than a Prince-Bishop. After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, the city became part of Prussia, where citizens were forced to change their language from French to German. In 1925, during the aftermath of WWI, Malmedy joined Belgium until WWII, when it was re-annexed to Germany. This is the setting we find ourselves in during December 1944. Imagine being a grunt American soldier, some farm-boy from Nebraska, finding himself in this part of Belgium, trying to comprehend why the civilians they are trying to liberate and protect have pictures of family members wearing German uniforms from WWI hanging on their walls.
Around the cathedral, there are several war memorials, not all of which are shown below.
US 1st Army Liberation Monument
Memorial to the Victims of Dachau Concentration Camp
On the north-side of the cathedral, a path which leads to the Malmedy cemetary where there is the memorial to the civilian casualties.
Memorial to Civilian Victims Malmedy
After this solemn beginning to the hike, the hike immediately ascends to the top of a hill with a nice view looking back.
At the top is this tower and for a brief moment, the hike follows the massive pipe coming from it.
At this point, the trail heads down to the left instead of straight ahead. This is a steep decline and is not well marked the whole way down. Prepare to occasionally find something to grab onto.
At the bottom, there is a very short but lush segment.
You quickly realize that the trail lead down only to force you to ascend again. This section was difficult due to the mud. You just have to brute force your way up.
Once you make it up, it becomes easier and in fact the hard parts are over.
Eventually you are rewarded with some scenery over-looking the valleys created by the Warche River and it’s tributaries. A great place for a beer photo. Brasserie de Bellevaux is a nearby brewery I have featured before on this blog.
Now the hike becomes a meandering journey past farms and scattered houses.
Then the final approach to the Baugnez Crossroads.
Baugnez Memorial to the Malmedy Massacre
The massacre didn’t occur on the site of the memorial but more in the area of the green field seen in the distance in the photo. I believe there is actually a house built upon the land out of frame behind the cars.
Baugnez ’44 Historical Center
Next to the massacre site is this former museum. I stopped at the Five Points restaurant which is linked to the museum to discover that not only had the museum closed down in January 2023 but the restaurant was open for the final time on THAT day. The owner had been trying to sell for some time and decided to finally pull the plug. Checking Google Maps, it is confirmed that the Five Points restaurant is listed as permanently closed as I publish this. Most of these Battle of the Bulge museums are located in remote little villages and I imagine are not lucrative businesses. But this is one that has to see the light of day again. The crossroads factor means that it is relatively easy to get to from multiple directions. Why not incorporate a brewpub rather than just a standard Belgian restaurant? Perhaps with some war-themed beers? That would multiply the attraction factor. Reading the Google Map comments, a common complaint were the prices, especially considering the unreliable quality of things like burgers in Belgium. This was exactly the feeling I got when I looked at the menu without knowing any of those comments ahead of time. It was not worth the risk to drop 30 euros for a lunch I would probably just be eating for eating sake. So rather than order lunch, I chose to sip a beer and sulk a little about the unfortunate loss of part of the Battle of the Bulge legacy.
The next part of the hike would follow the general direction of the escape route for some of the survivors. Many of them played dead or hid beneath a fallen comrade, holding their breath and watching thru squinted eyes as SS soldiers walked around shooting anyone they found still alive. Long before “Let’s Roll” became a heroic catch phrase, there was “Let’s Go”, spoken by Private Jim Mattera4 to kick off an escape attempt.
Approaching Malmedy, there are some nice views overlooking the city from a distance.
Back in the city center, it was time to finish up the hike relaxing with a beer on the main square. A place with a good selection of local beers but with a horrendously unappealing name is the Scotch Inn. If I was randomly checking Google Maps for a place which looks like a cool beer pilgrimage, it would not be an establishment calling itself Scotch Inn. That sounds like a 40 bucks a night dirtbag motel with cigarette-burned carpet in the lobby. However, this was not the case. I thoroughly enjoyed the Peak Triple and the atmosphere.
Taverne de Rome
The final beer stop was also an oddly-named pub, yet with a nice beer menu and nary a cheap tasteless pizza in sight. I specifically had this pub on my list because of the pictures I saw in Google Maps showing beers that I hadn’t yet tried, including this La Culminante Blond brewed not far away in the village of Waimes. Outdoor seating was packed so it was a tad anti-climactic to enjoy it indoors. But recommended if you want to try some new beers in Malmedy.
The perpetrators of the Malmedy Massacre were tried in the Dachau trials of 1946 including SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper, the superior officer of the shooters. Sentences ranged from death to life imprisonment to a few with shorter terms. However, due to political reasons,which require far more research and political savvy to explain than I can offer at this point, most were eventually commuted. Peiper was a free man by the end of 1956, living a life incognito in France until recognized by someone from the French Resistance. In 1976, he was burned alive in his home by French anti-Nazi activists.
Aside from the muddy ascent towards the beginning, this was an enjoyable hike well worth associating with the memories of that fateful day of December 17, 1944. It was disappointing to see the Baugnez ’44 Museum succombing to perhaps the economic difficulties of the Covid era. I don’t pretend to know the reason why. But the Baugnez Crossroads should be a place where people come to spend time connecting with this important piece of history. The memorial is fine, but by itself is a quick stop passing through. Of those who experienced WWII, fewer and fewer remain alive to tell the stories. It is a shame that a place which could have lived on to tell their stories is no longer there to do so. And to add to Malmedy’s already complex identity, it is now associated with this atrocity which actually didn’t occur there. But even the unmasking of the name (or misnomer) itself is now locked up behind those closed doors. This is one sentence that really ought to be commuted.
- Ardennes 1944 Hitler’s Last Gamble by Antony Beevor, Penguin Books 2015
- The Unknown Dead by Pter Schrijvers, The University Press of Kentucky 2005
- Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster 1997
- Fatal Crossroads by Danny S. Parker, Da Capo Press 2012
2 thoughts on “Beer & The Bulge: Malmedy Massacre”
Great post, Matthew! 🔝
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Thank you, Patricia! 🤩