Review Essay

Fake History

How a Nazi Massacre Came to Be Remembered as Its Opposite

In This Review

The Malmedy Massacre: The War Crimes Trial Controversy
The Malmedy Massacre: The War Crimes Trial Controversy
By Steven P. Remy
Harvard University Press, 2017, 352 pp. Purchase

Bill O’Reilly, late of Fox News, once made the following claim in an exchange with former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark: “In Malmedy, as you know, U.S. forces captured SS forces who had their hands in the air and were unarmed, and they shot them down. You know that. That’s on the record. Been documented.” Of course, Clark knew nothing of the sort. O’Reilly had gotten the facts completely reversed, and not for the first time—several months earlier, he had made the identical misstatement on air. However astonishing, O’Reilly’s false claim was hardly unusual. It offered no more than an extreme example of the bizarre form that the Malmedy affair has assumed in collective memory.

The story of how a massacre of U.S. soldiers came to be remembered as an instance of American abuse of defenseless Nazis is the subject of Steven Remy’s rigorously researched new book, The Malmedy Massacre: The War Crimes Trial Controversy. Remy, an associate professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY’s Graduate Center, is hardly the first historian to write about the Malmedy affair. But whereas previous histories have largely accepted the myth of U.S. malfeasance, The Malmedy Massacre convincingly corrects the record. In so doing, Remy offers a timely study of the process of historical mythmaking—how false and distorted accounts come to constitute their own durable reality.


On December 17, 1944, on the second day of the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes, known as the Battle of the Bulge, a Waffen-SS combat group under the command of Colonel Joachim Peiper captured over 100 American soldiers at the Baugnez crossroads, near the Belgian town of Malmedy. As a fighting force on the eastern front, the Waffen-SS had left a long trail of atrocities that included the mass murder of Jews and Soviet POWs in Belarus. Now deployed in Hitler’s last desperate push to forestall defeat, the Waffen-SS sought to spread its trademark terror to the Western Front. Having

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