In October 2021, digging will once again take place in the idyllic Arnsberg Forest. 77 years after the horrific events, a team of archaeologists tries to restore some dignity to the murdered here - by recovering and burying the last seven victims. Only to find that a federal highway now runs above the spot where they were buried by their killers. They will probably never be recovered.
It is the prelude to this reconstruction of a war crime that casts a dark shadow on the post-World War II era: for the murderers were not brought to justice until decades later, the lenient sentences and acquittals were a scandal, and the memory of the events between March 17 and March 20, 1945 disturbed the post-war Germans in finally putting the war behind them.
This documentary traces what happened in that forest at that time, reconstructs the course of events with the help of re-enactments and historical film footage, lets contemporary witnesses speak for the first time, and explores the reasons why the murder of 208 men, women and children went more or less unpunished.
The victims were the poorest of the poor anyway: Forced laborers from the already bombed factories in the West who were no longer necessary. They were now in the way. And who, as it was called in Nazi jargon - were to be "decimated". Secretly at night, in three different places in the forest. The people were forced to dig their own graves.
After the invasion of the Americans, the dead bodies were quickly discovered. The occupiers force the German population of the area to exhume the dead and give them a decent burial.
A war crime investigator writes a report. And then the grass grows over the matter. A trial does not take place until twelve years later. It ends with two lenient prison sentences. Most of the defendants are acquitted.
As it turns out, the story of the massacre in the Arnsberg Forest is not only a story of suppression. It is also a story about the involvement of the American liberators in Nazi crimes. A special unit of the Waffen SS was responsible for the massacre, which, among other things, coordinated the use of V2 rockets. Their knowledge and expertise were obviously more important to U.S. strategists than justice. Some evidence suggests that the notorious commander of this SS unit who ordered the mass murder never committed suicide, but was taken out of the country by the CIA.
But the documentary also shows that the events continue to reverberate to this day: When the grandson of one of the main perpetrators meets the niece of one of the victims, guilt and forgiveness are still at stake. Decades of silence have not been able to heal anything. "You can repress, but you can't forget," says one of the surviving eyewitnesses.