Belgio / Storia

Civilians taken hostage



Indicazioni stradali

The civilian population paid a heavy price during the Ardennes offensive. Civilians were massacred or used as hostages, a practice already widely performed during the occupation. This was the case in Jemelle, On, Hargimont, and Ferrières, four villages between Rochefort and Marche-en-Famenne.

As the offensive was gradually contained by the Americans, the German troops found themselves surrounded in various places. Villages were recaptured and the Allies continued to advance. The road from La Roche-en-Ardenne to St. Vith was essential for ensuring supply of the German troops. However, the Americans succeeded in regaining control on 6 January 1945. The Wehrmacht retaliated and arrested all men aged fifteen to 60 in the village of On. Some of the 209 civilians arrested were soon able to return home, but not without the threat of reprisals in case of sabotage. 125 of them as well as about twenty men from Jemelle were nevertheless held in the town hall. In Ferrières as well as Hargimont, the men were also detained. All of them — just under 300 — were then sent to Champlon. The hostages were divided into two groups. The first was sent towards Longchamps, not far from Bastogne. As the American artillery pounded relentlessly, the men were forced to clear the snow and dig trenches. Several were wounded by Allied fire; one man lost his life. The work was gruelling. The men were hungry and cold. Their suffering ended on 19 January. The second group had an even harder time. Also exposed to Allied fire, they found themselves in Germany, not far from Prüm, where they cleared trenches. Several were wounded in a bombardment; four men lost their lives. They were not liberated by the Americans until 6 February 1945.

Apart from the desire to use an expendable workforce, this strategy was clearly part of the intent to terrorise the civilian population at a time when the fate of the offensive was about to change and the Germans were striving to find responsibility for their failure.