The Malmedy massacre refers to a war crime in which about 90 American prisoners of war were murdered by their German captors.
The massacre was committed on December 17, 1944 by Kampfgruppe Peiper (part of the 1st SS Panzer Division), a German combat unit, during the Battle of the Bulge.
This massacre, as well as others committed by the same unit the same day and on the following days, was the subject of a trial during the Dachau Trials of 1946.
Two theories have been put forward to explain what happened.
The men were deliberately murdered in cold blood. Certainly, the 1st SS Panzer Division had been responsible for atrocities in Russia and they had already shot captured Americans in their advance in the Ardennes Offensive - and more were shot after Malmédy. It is possible that Major Werner Poetschke, who commanded the 1st SS Panzer Battalion, gave the order - but no evidence has proved this, just rumour.
Another theory put forward is that some Americans tried to escape and were fired on by the Germans. Other Germans heard the firing, but were not aware that the targets were three Americans as opposed to all of the group. Either trigger-happy or simply battle-hardened, they opened fire on the group as a whole. In October 1945, an American soldier made a sworn testimony that he had escaped with two other men (who were killed) but he had survived and made it back to US lines. The law as it stood then would have allowed the Germans to shoot at escaping prisoners - but not at the whole group. It is possible that their escape precipitated the shooting of the other men.