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In the summer of 1946, Gustav Knittel, a 31-year old former SS officer from the Bavarian town of Neu-Ulm, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders his battalion had committed in and around the Belgian town of Stavelot during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. The author, Timo R. Worst, reconstructed Knittel’s personal life, his military career in the Waffen-SS and both his personal involvement in the grim story of that horrendous week in the Ardennes and the role the men under his command played in the murder of over a hundred civilians and unarmed prisoners of war.
Not content with the published works about the beastly behaviour of the SS in Stavelot and the surrounding hamlets, he felt compelled to visit the Ardennes himself, to search the archives and ultimately to contact veterans of Knittel’s battalion and to consult his family. By providing the available pieces of the puzzle, Worst allows the reader to follow Knittel’s footsteps: his entry in the SS, the units he led traversing Europe from France and Greece to Italy, Ukraine and Belgium, the men under his command, the battles he fought and awards he won, but also his doubts about the outcome of the war and how this effected his state of mind, the massacres, his arrest, the trial and his post-war life.
The resulting book enables the reader to see through the multiple smoke screens created not only by Knittel, his defence lawyers and his wartime comrades, but also by his captors, his interrogators and the prosecution, all who knowingly fudged, were evasive or downright lied about the facts in order to ensure the success of their own personal motives and political agendas.