Wahlen

Wahlen: the other side of the story

A visit to the village of Wahlen was on our list for a long time. As soon as we found out what the target of Mission 745 was on that dreadful day of 25 December 1945, we wanted to go there. We wanted to know the other side of this story.
We already had been three times to Bitburg and the hamlet of Mötsch to find more information about the whereabouts of Stanley Liscomb.
But Wahlen stayed on the to-do list.

Mission 245: Wahlen

In July 2023, I saw a possibility in our busy agenda and we booked a cosy hotel in the village of Dahlem, a 20 minutes’ drive from Wahlen.
The days before I did some research on that town and some parts were already known by me: The whole area between Dahlem and Blankenheim was crowded with German troops and material during the build-up for the Battle of the Bulge. I also tried to contact several people in the area of the village who might be able to help me with my research.
One of them, Andreas Züll, responded on my message and it turned out he had written a book about the villages of the community of Kall, where Wahlen is part of. (The title of the book is: “The war dead of the community of Kall/Eifel in the Second World War 1939-1945 including the victims of the National Socialist tyranny“.)
Although no copies were available anymore because of the horriblew floodings of July 2021 (click here) he was willing to send me a PDF of that book.
Reading the part of the Wahlen bombing was shocking. According to the 389th bomb Group reports the result of the bombing was excellent. We have one picture of the bombing: the village is covered in smoke.
But the book of Andreas Züll showed another side of the bombing: 23 civillians were killed….

To Wahlen

On Monday 24 July we packed our stuff and made the drive to Dahlem, checked in early and directly went to Wahlen. The weather was a bit a trouble maker. One moment we had sun, the other moment we had heavy rain.
Approaching the village I made pictures of the namesign. We drove through the Rochusstrasse, the mainstreet of the town and drove to the SchützenstraBe where the Schützenverein have their base. They had nine of their members killed in the bombing.
While walking through the streets I started filming. Many buildings were new, some looked older. In the village center there was a busstop with the name of  “Kall Wahlen Kirche”, suggesting there used to be a church in the town.  On the junction RochusstrasseSteinfelderstrasse we found a painting of the village with a church in it.

The painting of the old church of Wahlen

A huge rainshower made us run back to the car and we decided to leave the town for an hour and drive around in the area.
When the weather cleared we went back and filmed other streets. While filming the backside of the Rochusstrasse in the Pescherweg I saw a woman approaching on her bike. From a distance she was saying something which I could not understand directly.
When she stopped in front of me, she asked what we were doing. The lady, Sylvia, had seen us filming and was curious why we were around the town. I told her the background of our research and she directly invited us to her house, because her husband was very interested in it and might be able to help us out.
And that was just the moment I was hoping for: meeting civilians who could tell us more. We finished filming the street and headed to her house.
Inside we found her husband already waiting for us. Andreas turned out to be very interested in the history. For them it had to be quite shocking, that we knew exactly who bombed the town and what happend to the crews of the King Size, the Daddy Rabbit and the Old Glory.
And then we met the mother of Julia. She was only one year old when the bombing took place. She looked at the pictures we brought with us and said: “My mother was preparing Christmas dinner for us in the kitchen when all of a sudden she heard explosions.”
There was no warning, no sirens. So they had to take cover as quick as possible.
In one of the books, that Andreas showed me, I read that on 25 December 1944 twelve B-24’s flew over Wahlen and dropped 35,8 tons of bombs. The main targets where men and their mobile radiocars.

Mobile radiocars/ Funkstelle

In the meanwhile Andreas was making a call to another man who apparently knew more about it. My messenger went off and I saw a message coming in from the mayor of Wahlen, Roman Hövel, who was very interested and told me to contact his father who knew much more about it.
This turned out to be the man who was on the phone with Andreas: Willibald Hövel.
A few minutes later Willibald arrived with aerial pictures, wich I have never seen before.
In a report from Otto Hitzfeld, general of the LXVII Corps, their communication net was very well prepared. “Sometimes even call and connections with the Westwall was possible, but it lacked efficient radio transmitters.

Willibald showed me the aerial pictures, which he had retrieved from the community of Kall. It showed the path the bombers had taken.
According to Andreas one of the bombs had hit a house at the junction Rochusstrasse-Marmagenerstrasse, killing the whole family.

Looking at the aerial pictures it seemed to me that most bombs hit the Southern part of the village.
It brought me to the subject of the 23 victims. I had the list with me, to the surprise of Willibald and Andreas. They studied the list and made some comments about some of the victims they recognized in a picture of the Schützenferein.
We were curious if the victims of the bombardment had a monument and if they were remembered each year. To my surprise they said they were not.
23 civilians were killed and were not remembered.

Willibald, Andreas and his mother in law.

Wahlen has no church anymore. Although it was damaged during the bombardment, they used it to place all the deceased civilians in it.
After the war the church was restored, but in 1967 it was decided to build a totally new church on the same place. It was a modern architectural building, disliked by the civilians. Around 2008 it turned out the whole building was constructed in such a bad way, they had to tear it down. Since then there was no church no more in Wahlen. For services, the inhabitants travelled to the church on the terrain of the Steinfelder kloster, which is a 5 minute drive from Wahlen.
I discussed my plans for this trip to Wahlen: we wanted to know the target of the bombing, we wanted to visit the graves of the victims and write an article and create a video about our visit.
It felt weird: 23 civilians were killed and there was no place to remember them.
According to Willibald and Andreas the people were buried in Steinfeld. It would be our next place to visit. We said goodbye to these very friendly people and were hoping to see them soon again.

Steinfeld

We drove straight to Steinfeld, which was only a couple of minutes away. The kloster itself is a beautiful place and the church is impressive. We went to the cemetery behind it, to visit the victims. But it turned out they were not there. We could not find them on the cemetery inside the kloster walls. I presumed they were at the German war cemetery graveyard.
Because it was getting late, we decided to return the next day.

The monastery Steinfeld

After breakfast we drove back to Steinfeld and visited the terrain with the Kriegsgräber. The terrain was well maintained. Several graves had flowers and even one Flemish soldiers grave was visited by Belgium right wing guys.
But we did not find the civillians.
We went back to the Kloster’s cemetery. Here, the grave also were well maintained and it even had a section for the soldiers who were killed in World War 1.  While filming that part, I heard Eveline callin my name. She had found the graves of the civilians.
I walked into the path where Eveline was and I did not see them directly, although she was, apparently, standing right in the middle of them.
The graves were overgrown with weed, plants and even small trees. We were flabbergasted. The cemetery was well maintained, except for the 23 graves of the men, women and children who were killed on 25 December 1944.
With the list we looked up all the names and we only missed two names on our list. Most likely they were buried somewhere else. We had many questions. The most important question was of course why the graves were not taken care of. At some graves there were plastic lanterns, some candles or small new ornaments, placed between the weeds.

The place where the civilians are buried in the monastery.

We decided to move on, with the intention to go back to Wahlen the next day and see if we could have another talk with Andreas or Willibald.
The rest of the day we spent on visiting several Stolpersteinen and the commemorative plaque for the burned down Jewish Synagoge in the village of Kall.
We visited Blankenheim and it’s castle, where the 1st SS Leibstandarte had their meetings with the generals and Joachim Peiper.
And during the visits we kept discussing the reason why these graves were in such a bad condition.

The other side of the war.

On the third day we went back to Wahlen, hoping to talk another time to Andreas and Willibald. Unfortunately they were not at home.
We made another tour through the village. On the other side of the “Kall Wahlen Kirche” busstop I found a faded neonazi sticker on the lightpole. It gave me chills.
We decided to back to the monastery of Steinfeld.
Because of the rain we visited the church again. To our surprise the organplayer was in and he played it. A few minutes later Willibald showed up and had a chat with some people. I walked to him and he was surprised to see me again. “It’s you again!”, he said. We told him why we  were in the kloster again. Willibald took us to the graves and told us it was the task of the community to maintain the graves. But apparently they were doing a bad job. The rest of the cemetery was well done, but this part….
While visiting the graves, Willibald recognized one of the graves as being his nephew.
He offered us a nice tour through the monastery and we learned a lot about it during war time.
After that we walked to our cars. Apparently Willibald was also looking for some answers. Why did we bring up this matter again?
An essential, but also a confronting question. Why did we wanted to know why Wahlen was bombed? Why did we want to know about the victims?
The answer is clear: Here in Wahlen we saw the other side of the war. German families, preparing Christmas diner in the midst of their own troops who were fighting again in the Ardennes.
They did not want this war. This was their village. This was their safe haven.
Do they have the opportunity to mourn? It was one of the villagers that told us, that there is no place to do that. Not only because of the lack of a church or a room. But mainly because they feel they are are not allowed to do it.
Guild, shame and pain of the pitch dark history, caused by a small group, draggin a whole country in a war. And although this generation has nothing to do with it and it is not their cross to bear, you can feel it is a subject that is very hard to talk about.
Many thanks to the people of Wahlen who were willing to help us.

We will go back to Wahlen soon.

Wahlen
The village of Wahlen during the bombardment on 25 Decmeber 1944. Picture shot by one of the twelve B-24’s
After the bombardment
The old church of Wahlen

Bob has been researching the B-24 crashsite from june 2013 till november 2017. He runs a B&B in the hamlet of Grandmenil since 2008 and researches the events of the Battle of the Bulge. www.grandmenil.com www.battle-of-the-bulge.be