The Unknown Dead
Civilians in the Battle of the Bulge
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
464 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, photos, maps
- Published: April 2005
Traditional histories of the hard-fought Battle of the Bulge routinely include detailed lists of the casualties suffered by American, British, and German troops. Conspicuously lacking in most accounts, however, are references to the civilians in Belgium and Luxembourg who lost their lives in the same battle. Yet the most reliable current estimates calculate at approximately three thousand. the number of civilians who perished during the six weeks of fighting. Telling the stories of ordinary people caught up in the maelstrom of war, The Unknown Dead surveys this crucial battle and its consequences from an entirely new perspective. Renowned historian Peter Schrijvers, a native Belgian, describes in vivid detail the horrific war crimes committed by German military units on the front lines and by Nazi security services behind the battle lines, as well as the devastating effects of Allied responses to the enemy threat, including massive bombings of small towns.
During the offensive, inhabitants of the villages of this region of Belgium lived in a state of chaos. Countless men, women, and children were killed in cold blood for aiding American soldiers, and the GIs themselves were often highly suspicious of German-speaking Belgians. Local services ground to a halt, and citizens formed volunteer groups to obtain water and meet other basic needs. Even after the violence had ended and the postwar reconstruction had begun, the small communities remained in turmoil. The countryside was dotted with abandoned land mines and explosives, and the emotional tension between civilians and battle hardened veterans often took years to dissipate. Based on recently discovered sources including numerous personal testimonies, municipal and parish records, and findings of the Belgian War Crimes Commission, The Unknown Dead vividly recounts the experiences of innocents in the violence of one of World War II's seminal battles.
"Admirably relates the stories of many of the estimated 3,000 dead and others, thus drawing attention to their collective fate and individual humanity. This is a well-written, powerful, and deeply unsettling work. Highly recommended." -- Choice
"Not recommended for the faint hearted or easily disturbed, this book nevertheless conveys with incredible thoroughness and accuracy the suffering of civilians caught in the path of war." -- Air Power History
"Original and arresting, The Unknown Dead focuses on civilians 'in the path of war'; Schrijvers writes with force and grace and has produced a unique examination of the Battle of the Bulge." -- Allan Millett, Major General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Professor of Military History,
"The first real study of the civilian casualties in the Battle of the Bulge. Filled with the stories of the survivors and the memories of those that died, it presents a horrifying picture of the savagery of war." -- Bowling Green (KY) Daily News
"A well-written social history that reconstructs events from the bottom up" -- Journal of Military History
"As the biggest battle in U.S. military history, this epic engagement has not received the scholarly and even popular attention it deserves despite its strategic importance. Schrijvers is one of the most promising scholars of my generation to study the history of the Second World War." -- Kurt Piehler, Director, Center for the Study of War and Society, University of T
"Draws on newly discovered sources to tell the forgotten story of those civilian victims.... Sheds new light on the complicated nature of relations between the civilians and the German and U.S. armies." -- Military Trader
"A welcome break from the typical historiography of the Battle of the Bulge.... Successfully keeps the reader informed of the battle's major events while highlighting the civilians' experiences against a well-written background of the battle's progression." -- On Point
"A stunning tale of the realities of war. There was more suffering and death to Belgians during the last days of World War II in the Ardennes than in the four years that preceded it. Schrijvers puts a human face on the 'spoilage' of war as he makes the Belgian inhabitants of the picturesque Ardennes come alive even as they are being killed and wounded by the victorious Allies and the Germans making a last-ditch attempt to win the war." -- Thomas D. Morgan, Lieutenant Colonel, USA, Retired