Technician 5th Grade Max V. Schwitzgold (1911–1944)

Max V. Schwitzgold (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
HometownCivilian Occupation
Gloversville, New YorkMerchant/luncheonette proprieter
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32954422
TheaterUnit
EuropeanBattery “B,” 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion
Military Occupational SpecialtyCampaigns/Battles
405 (clerk-typist)Rhineland and Ardennes-Alsace campaigns
Schwitzgold (left) with his family (Courtesy of Joanne Goldsmith)

Early Life & Family

Max Victor Schwitzgold was born in Gloversville, New York, on June 15, 1911. He was the son of Jacob Schwitzgold (c. 1885–1955) and Rebecca Schwitzgold (née Eichenbaum, c. 1885–1970). His parents, Jewish immigrants from Poland (then part of the Russian Empire), had immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century and settled in Gloversville, where they worked manufacturing gloves. He had an older sister, Dorothy Schwitzgold (later Ginsburg and eventually Shpritzer, 1908–2000). The family was recorded on the census on the 1920 census living with at 34 Park Street in Gloversville.

Schwitzgold and his sister, Dorothy (Courtesy of Joanne Goldsmith)

Pamela Pepe wrote in a 1992 article in Schwitzgold’s hometown paper, The Leader-Herald, that Schwitzgold “was a 1929 graduate of Gloversville High School. At a young age, he worked as a paper delivery boy for The Leader-Herald, and was employed at a fruit market in downtown Gloversville during his high school years.”

Schwitzgold during his senior year of high school (Courtesy of Joanne Goldsmith)

Schwitzgold was recorded on the census on April 4, 1930, living with his family at 26 Steele Avenue in Gloversville. (Later documents give the family’s address as 29 Steele Avenue.) Schwitzgold was described as unemployed on the census. However, he had moved to Wilmington, Delaware, and was working as a clerk by April 29, 1930, when he married Rose Ruggiero (later Schoonmaker, 1907–1994) there. His bride was also a native of Gloversville.    

Schwitzgold went by the name Max Schold while living in Delaware. On August 15, 1930, a news item in The Evening Journal, apparently pertaining to the Wilmington suburb of Richardson Park, reported that “Max Schold and wife have taken over the Coffee Pot in the Center building.”

The couple had one daughter, Joanne, born in 1933. “He was a good man, he worked hard,” she recalled in a 2022 phone interview. “He developed from nothing a good luncheonette business,” she added, where he sold newspapers, candy, and sandwiches.

Schwitzgold and his baby daughter in 1933 (Courtesy of Michael Goldsmith)
Schwitzgold with his wife and daughter (Courtesy of Michael Goldsmith)

Schwitzgold was living in Richardson Park as of October 9, 1933, when he purchased Helen C. Hearne’s “soda water fountain and candy store” including “all goods, wares, merchandise, stock and fixtures” at 901 West 9th Street in Wilmington for the price of $1,230.07. Presumably, the store included an apartment since all subsequent records show it as Schwitzgold’s home address until he entered the service.

Max and Rose Schwitzgold divorced in March 1939. Schwitzgold remarried to Ethel Rosevich (later Kaplan, 1916–2003) in Wilmington on April 9, 1941. When Schwitzgold registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, the registrar described him as standing five feet, six inches tall and weighing 148 lbs., with black hair and brown eyes.

Schwitzgold’s daughter spent the summer with her stepmother and father before he was drafted. “They were good to me,” she remembered.


Schwitzgold in uniform (Courtesy of Michael Goldsmith)

Military Training & Overseas Service

After he was drafted, Schwitzgold joined the U.S. Army in New Jersey on July 19, 1943. Perhaps anticipating he would be in for the long haul, he put his 1939 Oldsmobile four-door sedan up for sale.

According to his wife’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Schwitzgold was briefly stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He apparently attended basic training at the Field Artillery Replacement Training Center, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Ethel Schwitzgold wrote that her husband was then stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, from December 1943 to August 1944. She wrote that Schwitzgold was promoted to private 1st class in July 1944 and to corporal in September 1944. (As of December 1944, Schwitzgold was a technician 5th grade, which was at the same pay grade as corporal and often referred to as such.) His Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) was 405, clerk-typist.

Battery “B,” 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, probably at Fort Sill in 1944 (Courtesy of William Wise and the Norfleet family)
Private Schwitzgold in a detail from the above group photo (Courtesy of William Wise and the Norfleet family)

Schwitzgold joined Battery “B,” 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, most likely at Fort Sill. The battalion, originally activated on January 11, 1943, at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, was stationed there until it moved to Fort Sill in August 1943. The main body of the battalion left Fort Sill by rail on August 11, 1944, and staged at Camp Shanks, New York, from August 14–18. The unit shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on August 19, 1944, arriving in Cardiff, Wales, on August 31.

Battery “B” reembarked at Portland Harbour, England, on September 17, 1944, arriving the next day at Omaha Beach, Normandy. Assigned to the U.S. First Army, the 285th participated in the Rhineland campaign beginning on September 23, 1944.

Two unidentified soldiers in a Battery “B” vehicle in Europe. The bar in the center was designed to cut wire that Germans would string across roadways to attack vehicle occupants. (Courtesy of William Wise and the Norfleet family)

The 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion’s role was to determine the location of enemy artillery batteries by setting up sound and flash ranging observation posts and supply the data to artillery units (typically at the group, brigade, or corps level) to which an observation battery was attached. American artillery could then direct counterbattery fire against the enemy artillery.

According to a battalion after action report, through December 16, 1944, the 285th had recorded combat casualties of three dead, 17 wounded, and two captured. At the beginning of December 1944, Battery “B” was “Attached to VII Corps and further attached to 13th Field Artillery Observation Battalion[.]”


Atrocity Near Malmédy

On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a massive counteroffensive through the Ardennes later known as the Battle of the Bulge after the salient it created. The German objective, never realistic, was to cross the Meuse and seize the vital port of Antwerp, Belgium. Battery “B” was ordered to prepare for a move to the VIII Corps sector in Belgium the following day.

On the morning of December 17, 1944, the battery began its move from Schevenhütte, Germany, to the area of Maldingen, Belgium, southwest of St. Vith. Their route brought them through the area of Malmédy, Belgium.

Including a handful of attachments from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and Medical Detachment, there were 153 men assigned to Battery “B” on December 17, 1944. More than half the states in the union were represented, but at least 66 (43%) entered the service from Pennsylvania and at least 19 (about 12%) from Virginia. Of the 145 enlisted men in the unit, the vast majority had been conscripted: 135 (93%). Four men were members of the prewar Regular Army, along with six other volunteers. At 33, Schwitzgold was one of the oldest men in the unit (at least two-thirds of whom were 25 or younger).

Most men in Battery “B” had tragic timing. The battalion after action report stated that the battery’s route marking detail, 30 minutes ahead of the main body, passed through Baugnez and reached Maldingen unharmed. A small group of stragglers, 30 minutes behind the rest of the battery, was halted at a friendly roadblock near Malmédy “and informed that the road beyond had been cut by enemy forces.”

Detail of a contemporary Army Map Service map depicting the town of Malmédy (upper left) and Baugnez, the crossroads where Schwitzgold and his unit ran into German forces (Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collections, University of Texas at Austin)

The main body, however, departed Malmédy just after noon. The officer in charge, Captain Roger L. Mills (1918–1944), decided to continue on his assigned route despite reports that German forces were approaching the area. The 285th’s convoy drove two miles southeast to Baugnez, a crossroads known to the Americans as Five Points, to pick up the road toward St. Vith. Around 1245 hours, as the convoy was passing through the hamlet, the vanguard of a German armored task force known as Kampfgruppe Peiper arrived. The battle group, named after its commander, Joachim Peiper (1915–1976), had left a trail of atrocities left in its wake during combat in the Soviet Union, Italy, France, and Belgium.

The soldiers of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were no match for the battle-hardened Waffen S.S. troops or their armored vehicles. Schwitzgold and his comrades had little or no experience in ground combat and were equipped only with small arms for self-defense. They hastily abandoned their vehicles as the Germans opened fire.

111 men from the 285th were in Baugnez when the Germans arrived. Only seven managed to evade capture, while the other 104 surrendered. The Germans executed several men for trivial offenses while rounding up their prisoners. Four men agreed under duress to drive American vehicles that the Germans had captured. The others, including Schwitzgold, were moved into field adjacent to the road to St. Vith, along with a handful of prisoners from other units who had been captured in the area. Over 120 Americans waited in the bitter cold.

One can only imagine Schwitzgold’s fear during the last minutes of his life. Even if he was unaware of the summary executions of some members of his unit, and even if he had overlooked the twin lightning bolts on his captors’ uniforms which identified them as members of the dreaded S.S., Schwitzgold knew that his dog tags, marked “H” for Hebrew, would tell his captors that he was Jewish.

Bill Merriken in a detail from the unit photo (Courtesy of William Wise and the Norfleet family)

Schwitzgold stood near the road next to a friend, Staff Sergeant William H. Merriken (1922–2006), a supply sergeant from Bedford, Virginia. The prisoners watched with alarm as Germans in a halftrack attempted to aim a cannon at them, but they were too close for the gun to be brought to bear. Then one or more German soldiers began firing pistols at the prisoners. Several of the survivors recalled that the first shots hit a medic and his patient. Moments later, the Germans opened fire with several halftrack-mounted machine guns. The Americans in the field, many of them hit, dropped to the ground. Schwitzgold, shot in the chest, fell on top of Merriken, himself wounded by two rounds to his back. Some of the Germans walked into the field to ruthlessly execute those men still alive.

In his book, Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmédy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge, Danny S. Parker wrote that Schwitzgold

was only partially conscious and thrashing in agony. As the man on top of him moaned, Merriken could hear other men screaming—a horrifying warble—and he knew the enemy would see Schwitzgold moving. […]

          Merriken knew the Germans would soon hear the wailing man on top of him; perhaps he could save them both. “Be quiet. Be still,” Merriken whispered urgently. But the boy was delirious. He moaned uncontrollably. The measured sound of footsteps grew near once more and Merriken recognized the two voices. He could not understand them, but their intent was clear. They were right over him now. […]

          There was a deafening blast and a concussion of air. His entire body lurched from the impact of a bullet as it tore into his knee after passing through the wounded soldier’s body. […] The young soldier was silent now—a 9mm slug fired into his [head]. The two enemy soldiers didn’t bother with Merriken. Covered in blood, he presented a ghastly sight. “Tot” (dead), one sighed in dismissal. They walked away.

Despite the brutal executions, several dozen Americans in the field were still alive. After the Germans moved away from the immediate area, those that could still move made a break for it. Hunted by the Germans occupying the crossroads, 31 men from the 285th who had survived the atrocity in the field—some aided by Belgian civilians—made it back to American lines, along with the seven who evaded capture before the massacre.

Only eight men from the 285th escaped the field without physical wounds, and of the 23 wounded men who returned to American lines, one died in the hospital. Another five men survived as prisoners of war. In total, 69 men from the 285th were killed or mortally wounded that day, and one of the prisoners later died in a prison camp. In a single day, Battery “B” suffered 62% casualties. Of the 111 members of the battery present at Baugnez when the Germans arrived, 86.5% became casualties and just 41 (37%) survived the war.

Another 15 men from other units were killed in the area after surrendering or were murdered during the massacre, a total of 84 American fatalities (not counting the soldier who died in the camp). One Belgian civilian was also killed. About ten men from other units survived the massacre—six of them wounded—and another three survived as prisoners of war.

Within days, American forces had stopped and encircled Kampfgruppe Peiper. On Christmas Eve 1944, one week after the Malmédy massacre, Peiper and the remnants of his force staged a breakout to return to German lines, leaving his own wounded to become prisoners of war.


Aftermath of a Massacre

It remains unclear exactly who ordered the executions that came to be known as the Malmédy massacre. One suspect was Jochen Peiper himself. After the war, some of perpetrators blamed another officer, Werner Poetschke, who had been killed in action in 1945. (Whether or not Peiper himself had received explicit orders to give no quarter is still debated.)

Historians and the perpetrators themselves have advanced several explanations for the massacre. One is that Peiper’s men did not want to be burdened with prisoners slowing their advance, though there is ample documentation that many stopped long enough to plunder the prisoners’ possessions and vehicles. Another explanation is that the Waffen S.S. intended to spread such terror that Allied forces in their path would crumble. If so, the atrocities had largely the opposite effect, infuriating American soldiers who fought harder with the knowledge that they could expect no quarter if they surrendered. Another factor was the unit’s culture of brutality. Peiper and his men had a long history of war crimes against Soviet soldiers and civilians during combat on the Eastern Front.

Schwitzgold’s personal effects included a gold identification bracelet, his wallet, and pictures.

Ethel Schwitzgold was pregnant when her husband went overseas. She gave birth to a daughter, Annalee Schwitzgold, in Delaware on January 20, 1945. Tragically, the child died of hydrocephalus and atelectasis of her left lung at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 23, 1945.

After the war, American investigators managed to identify, bring to trial, and convict many of those who perpetrated (or were complicit) in the Malmédy massacre. However, none of the death sentences were carried out and all of the surviving perpetrators were released from prison by 1956, the year Peiper was released.

Factors in this miscarriage of justice included exaggerated or outright false accusations of misconduct leveled at American investigators after the trial and the changed Cold War-era political environment which valued German cooperation against the Soviet Union. In the decades that followed, the perpetrators and their apologists further muddied the waters by offering specious explanations for the massacre, such as the suggestion that passing vehicles had shot at the prisoners without being aware that they had surrendered. The most egregiously false version of events claimed that the prisoners themselves precipitated the massacre by trying to escape.

Technician 5th Grade Schwitzgold was initially buried along with other victims of the massacre at the military cemetery at Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. After the war, there was discussion about whether the victims should be buried together and buried in a national cemetery. This did not occur and Schwitzgold’s family requested that his body be repatriated to the United States. In the fall of 1947, Schwitzgold returned from Antwerp to the New York Port of Embarkation aboard the Liberty ship Robert F. Burns. In mid-December 1947, a military escort, Corporal Calvin G. Marlar (1928–2011), accompanied the casket to Gloversville. Schwitzgold was buried at Knesseth Israel Cemetery there, as were his parents and sister after their deaths.

Memorial in Baugnez on December 12, 2022 (Courtesy of Serge Lemaire)
Schwitzgold’s name on the memorial at Baugnez, Belgium, on December 8, 2022 (Courtesy of Serge Lemaire)

Technician 5th Grade Schwitzgold is honored on a memorial for victims of the Malmédy massacre in Belgium, on a memorial at the Jewish Community Cemetery (where his youngest daughter was buried) in Wilmington, and at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware.


Notes

Mother’s Maiden Name

According to Schwitzgold’s daughter, Rebecca Schwitzgold’s maiden name was Eichenbaum. Other spelling variations in historic records are Auchenbaum and Achnebaum.

901 West 9th Street

Schwitzgold’s store, described as being at the corner of 9th and Adams, no longer exists. Presumably, the building was presumably demolished when Interstate 95 was built through Wilmington in the early 1960s.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Technician 5th Grade Schwitzgold’s daughter and grandson, Joanne and Michael Goldsmith, for contributing information, photos, and documents that were important for telling this story. Thanks also go out to the Delaware Public Archives, to William Wise and the Norfleet family, and to Serge Lemaire for the use of their photos. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Marc Lancaster, whose profile of Schwitzgold on the website The Low Stone Wall led me to Bill Merriken’s eyewitness account recounted in Danny S. Parker’s Fatal Crossroads.


Bibliography

“285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion Organizational History 1944.” World War II Operations Reports, 1940–1948. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905–1981. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_2421406272_0418-00171

“Automobiles for Sale.” Journal-Every Evening, July 28, 1943. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/113605782/schwitzgold-car/

“Baby Dies in Hospital.” Wilmington Morning News, July 25, 1945. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/113587147/max-schwitzgold-daughter-death/

Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257062-00566, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257062-00567

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-267-12643-29666-79, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-267-12529-45366-73

“Divorce Decree For Mrs. Roney.” Journal-Every Evening, March 7, 1939. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/113605636/schwitzgold-divorce/

Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4661109_00662, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4661109_00663

Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4313445-00102

Freund, Archer F. “Report After Action Against Enemy.” Headquarters 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, January 1, 1945. World War II Operations Reports, 1940–1948. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905–1981. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Goldsmith, Joanne T. Phone interview on December 4, 2022.

Max Schwitzgold Individual Deceased Personnel File. Courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

Morning Reports for Battery “B,” 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. December 1944. U.S. Army Morning Reports, c. 1912–1946. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

“Paratrooper Is Missing At Bastogne.” Journal-Every Evening, February 6, 1945. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/113612911/max-schwitzgold-kia/

Parker, Danny S. Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmédy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge. Da Capo Press, 2012.

Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1968. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/5164/images/42410_2421406272_0841-00032, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/5164/images/42410_2421406272_0841-00033

Pepe, Pamela. “Revelations about Nazi colonel deepen a family’s grief.” The Leader-Herald, November 8, 1992.

Remy, Steven P. The Malmedy Massacre: The War Crimes Trial Controversy. Harvard University Press, 2017.

“Schoonmaker, Rose.” The Baltimore Sun, December 4, 1994. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/113606316/rose-schoonmaker-obit/

Schwitzgold, Ethel. Max Victor Schwitzgold Individual Military Service Record, April 20, 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/21666/rec/1

“William Hite ‘Bill’ Merriken.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/16037308/william-hite-merriken

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_09_00009-01048


Last updated on December 17, 2022

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