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ATROCITY at the ABBEY ARDENNES
An atrocity unfolds. War brings out heroics, love for one another and infinite barbaric cruelty and atrocities. The German hierarchy searched for brutal personalities, dressed them in black uniforms, given a name easily abbreviated to SS and a symbol of a skull as a badge of impending death.
Even now so many years after their obliteration the new German army only quietly refers to them as the “Black Soldiers”. The past history of the SS exploits is a shunned subject. Let me briefly describe the actions of one of the colonels in 12th SS Panzer Division whose reputation so proceeded him that he warned his soldiers “do not expect to be captured” by the Allies’ troops.
In the town of Falasie, Normandy, 50 SS “youngsters” (as they were all 17-22) held the high school to the very last man. There were no wounded for later memoirs. In nearby, la Merri, 25 SS soldiers were holed up in barn fighting off the Canadians. Suicide was chosen as the alterative to being captured.
Colonel Kurt Meyer, commander, 25th SS Panzer Regiment of the 12th SS Panzer Division occupied a walled commune, the 12th century Abbey Ardennes, 10 miles south of the Juno invasion beach and just two miles from the city of Caen.
From one of the four turreted towers of the ancient abbey building Meyer could easily observe the Canadian tanks and infantry advancing through the waist high wheat fields towards the village of Authie, a half mile to his left. A telephone line and radios connected his observation post to antitank guns hidden in the stocks of wheat. The Canadian Shermans passed through Authie continuing on towards the Carpiquet airport ignoring the abbey commune. Silhouetted against the early afternoon sky background the anti-tank guns fired accurately and destroyed the tanks.
From behind the 10 foot high walls the SS troopers and tanks charged the half mile into Authie and the Canadian infantry. The Germans successfully captured 120 men. The dead Canadians soldiers were laid across the road leading to Bures and run over by the German tanks and tracked vehicles. The wounded were shot. Desecration of the dead was profound. In taking the prisoners back to the abbey headquarters many to slow or out of line were shot. The remaining group was split in two. Twenty four were directed through a gate into the commune enclosure.
The remainder were marched towards Caen. A German supply truck going to the abbey drove into and over the POWs. The narrow sunken road denied escape. Those still breathing were shot.
With in the commune the Canadians were allowed to wash in the animal drinking trough and then herded into a stone walled stable. The sergeant in charge went to the abbey church building being used by Meyer as his regimental headquarters. Standing beneath the elevated pulpit Meyer said “Get rid of them we cannot handle prisoners”. The statement’s meaning was clear, eliminate the prisoners. Called by name, one by one,after shaking hands all around, each soldier was taken from the stable, lead around the corner, up four steps into a garden and shot in the back of the head. (see a photo of the garden go to www.NormandyBattlefields.com/Virtual Tour and click on #24). The bodies were buried haphazardly in shallow graves throughout the garden.
The commune remained in German hands until late July . The Colonel Meyer had become the commanding major general of the division. Over June, July and August the 77 day campaign closed with the decimated Germans fleeing eastward into Belgium. A few of the SS involved in the abbey event survived to later become witnesses at Meyer’s trail. The Canadian atrocity had been discovered so the hunt was on for the SS general, previously a colonel. Belgian resistance men were killing Germans when found. Meyer was captured, in September, hiding in a pig pen (that still exists) at Spontin. About to be shot, on the spot. his rank announcement that he was a general, uniformed as a private, saved his life. Captured generals were wanted by the allies.
His trial was held in the Dachau concentration camp (near Munich)administration buildings. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. His successful appeal gave him life imprisonment in Canada’s Dorchester Federal prison in New Bruswick province. The Canadian Appeal court officers had concluded that “We all shot POWs. That’s war.” Ten years later a reporter from the Montreal Star newspaper went to the prison for an interview and surprisingly discovered Meyer had been returned to a German jail where he had weekend passes and had been elected as the President of the German Waffen SS Association !! He was released shortly thereafter and became a brewery representative selling his company’s products to the Canadian occupying troops PXs and bars !! He visited the Abbey Ardennes. Monsieur Jacques Vico, who as a young boy with his brother Pierre had discovered the murdered soldiers bodies “would not shake hands with Meyer”. Meyer died of a heart attack shortly afterwards.
There is much to visit on the grounds. The garden has a memorial wall of enlistment pictures of the murdered soldiers. During the battle period the occupying German soldiers sculptured insignias on the soft stone walls. The trough and stable remain. Little has changed, in the commune, beyond the essential repairs to the war torn abbey/church. Truly a place of remembrance and sorrow.
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