- Point of Interest
- Cour-de-l'Abbaye, Houffalize, Belgique
Houffalize was a strategically located crossroads on the Ourthe River, right in the center of the Bulge, south of Liège and just north of Bastogne. The German troops occupied the town from 20 December 1944 to 16 January 1945. The Allied planes struck Houffalize many times. 189 Civilians died and 350 habitations were devastated.
While Belgian civilians were preparing for Christmas in their new-found freedom after the liberation of Belgium in September 1944, the firing suddenly resumed. The inhabitants were trapped in the heart of the battle: the German Ardennes Offensive in December 1944, also called the Battle of the Bulge. With a death toll mounting to 3,000, the Battle exacted a heavy tribute from the civilian population. 250 civilians were murdered by the German troops. The nefarious acts of massacre, as in Stavelot and Bande, were perpetrated by the SS and SD.
However, an equal number of Belgian deaths must be ascribed to the Allied forces. Located at important crossroads in a hilly region crossed by marshy areas that made the roads vital for tanks to advance, the small towns in the Ardennes were the scene of savage and destructive fighting. Bastogne was one such, as were Malmedy, Houffalize, La Roche and Saint Vith, a large marshalling yard that was almost entirely flattened by the American Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force. In the three Belgians provinces of Namur, Liège and Luxembourg at least 11,000 buildings were destroyed. Caught in the net like the troops, the civilians took shelter in the region’s thick-walled stone cellars, that provided relatively safe shelter during the ground fighting. But no place was safe when the bombs rained down. Most civilians took refuge in the cellars, with no food, no clothing and no heat during this most severe winter in memory.
After the war the houses in the Ardennes were rebuilt, but death lingered on in the region. The very ground was deadly, being sown with hundreds of thousands of unexploded munitions.
Like the other children in La Roche, Andrée Collin was eagerly looking forward to Christmas of 1944. In September the Americans had liberated the Belgian town from Nazi occupation. There were plans for a banquet and a ball on 25 December. Hitler’s counteroffensive in the Ardennes brought a nightmare instead.