Mass grave near Hirzenhain (Hessen), 2 May 1945.

The SS ordered a pit to be dug for the bodies of the dead. After the area was taken under Allied control, the village residents tried to keep the mass grave secret. It was discovered four weeks later by liberated forced laborers.

Source: National Archives, Washington

Two German men exhuming bodies of the dead, Hirzenhain, 2 May 1945.

The men of the village were ordered to help with the exhumations and the relocation of the bodies to a dignified burial site. Only one of the SS men responsible for the massacre was brought to trial after the war.

Source: National Archives, Washington

A German mother and her children are ordered to view the corpses from the massacre of Warstein (Westfalia), 3 May 1945.

The US Army wanted to ensure there would later be no attempts to deny the massacres had taken place. After the viewing, the remains were given a dignified reburial in local cemeteries.

Source: National Archives, Washington

A German civilian holds the remains of a child in his arms, Warstein, 3 May 1945.

Twelve years after the massacre, the men who carried out the killings were finally put on trial. Even though the German court concluded that the motive was “a lust for blood,” the majority of the accused were acquitted on the basis of “superior orders.”

Source: National Archives, Washington

Order to Gestapo and criminal police departments, Düsseldorf, 26 January 1945.

The letter gave police officials a free hand to implement the “special treatment” of forced laborers, that are executions carried out “by tacit agreement, and also by shooting.”

Source: Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen Abteilung Rheinland

Leaflet of the Allied High Command (S. H. A. E. F.), November 1944.

Because of the many reports of abuse of forced laborers, the Allies distributed leaflets and issued radio warnings to the German population not to participate in the abuse.

Source: Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

Testimony of Matthias H., witness in the trial of the murderers of Hirzenhain, January 1949.

Matthias H. described the words spoken by an SS officer to one of his soldiers: “You did a good job, my man, here is a bottle of brandy for you.”

Source: Hessisches Staatsarchiv Darmstadt


On 26 March 1945, on the periphery of the Hessian village of Hirzenhain, an SS unit shot and killed eighty-one women and six men, all forced laborers from a “work education camp.” The victims were primarily of Polish and Soviet origin and were in the way of an SS detachment from Wiesbaden which wanted to take up quarters in the camp as they fled from the Allies. The SS men decided to murder the inmates.

Six days previously, members of the SS, Wehrmacht soldiers and civilians had murdered thirty-five men, twenty‑one women and one child in a forest near Warstein in Westphalia. The dead had been among nearly two thousand “Eastern workers” being driven eastward by the German authorities on account of the advancing front. The massacre was the prelude to a three-day murder campaign to which more than two hundred persons fell victim throughout the region.