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Since the subject comes up so many times in so many different places I decided it might be interesting if I did some research of my own. So I searched and found the dossiers of the Belgian military tribunal that was tasked with researching the cases. They did their best in assembling material (mostly the sworn statements of eye-witnesses) but most cases remained unsolved and classified. The curious habit seems to have been on immediatly charge the local commander for the crimes troops under his command supposedly committed; innumerable are the charges of volontary manslaughter (homocide volontaire) against General von Boehm for instance.

However, one case drew my attention as it seemed to offer some more depth and at least gave a name of the supposed perpetrator; a certain "Karl von Kohlenberg". The city of Aalst/Aloste in the Belgian province of East-Flandern was inhabited predominatly by the working-class, the province being the first to start up the industrial revolution in Flanders after 1830. The Germans arrived at the gates of the city late september 1914 and started shelling the city. With the city in flames, German troops from the Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment 73 (Hannover) poured in and some of them then seemed to have unleashed fury on the inhabitans, who had mostly resorted to hiding in cellars. Basically, the charges against German troops would be three-fold; plundering, setting fire to houses and murder. According to some eye witnesses, anybody who came out of hiding (mostly to check up on their house during a pause in the shelling) were stabbed or shot to death immediatly. The instigator of the crimes was by several people identified as Oberleutnant Karl von Kohlenberg, whom they described as having led the operations while qui se conduisait en v?ritable forcene - he behaved furious, him being groot and struisch; big and strong.

I count at least 25 charged of volontary manslaughter brought against him, all of these happened before the 27th of september 1914. The city fell on 28th september 1914. Kohlenberg was supposed to be company commander of 8.Kompanie of above regiment. Whilst not personally involved in any of the crimes (the stabbing and shooting of mostly male inhabitans) he is at least identified by one person as having given the orders to do so. Kohlenberg didn't survive; the died on the 27th when a burning chimney came down crashing from a roof on top of him. He was buried in Aalst and many of the people who lost a relative walked past the grave each day for the duration of the occupation. Eventually the Belgian military tribunal halted all prosecution on 17.12.1924 because the main suspect was dead. His real name was actually Karl Kohlenberg, the "von" seems to have been a collective illusion after the war.

So my question is, can anybody provide any more details on this person? I know next to nothing on him. He is buried at Vladslo.

I also vaguely remember a post by forum member Ulsterman who, on a topic with the same subject, referred to IR 73 as being a source of much problems. Could it be the same regiment? It would seem that the German war crimes were the result of a small number of bad apples.

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  • 2 weeks later...

well, I find one mention of the shooting of 20 civilians in Aalst on Sept. 27, 1914. According to Horne and Kramer this was the result of a skirmish with a Belgian patrol from Antwerp. The "enraged officer" Kohlenberg above may also be responsible for a series of other atrocities in the area within a fortnight, including the execution of peasants working in the fields, the local curate and a number of children.

I have no mention of him, but my Landwehr resources are limited. It would be interesting to know though, if there was a Landwehr73 book out there somewhere. It was part of the 37th landwehr Brigade and their commanding officer was killed later the next year, so they seem to have spent most of the war on the western front.

Hanovers' records seem a little more available than other sources.

Edited by Ulsterman
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Karl Kohlenberg was a judge in civil life. A Reserve officer with 1. Hannoversches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 74, he was assigned to Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 73 on mobilisation. He is reported as a Hauptmann der Reserve at the time of his death when KIA on 27 September 1914 although I can find no order promoting him to this rank.

Leutnant der Reserve: 18.5.01

Oberleutnant der Reserve: 16.6.10

Regards

Glenn

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Somehow the good citizens of Alost must have overlooked the fact that their town was in the fighting line these days. The 37. LdwBrig lost it to the Belgians on September 27th and re-took it on the 28th.

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