The Journal of HistoryFall 2010TABLE OF CONTENTS


The Sorry Fate of German POWs


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Half of the German POWs in the West were imprisoned by US forces, half by the British. The  number of prisoners reached such a huge proportion that the British could not accept any more, and  the US consequently established the Rheinwiesenlager from April to September of 1945 where they  quickly built a series of  "cages" in open meadows and enclosed them with razor wire.

One such  notorious field was located at Bad Kreuznach where the German prisoners  were herded into open spaces with no toilets, tents, or shelters. They had to burrow sleeping  spaces into the ground with their bare hands and in some, there was barely enough room to lay  down. In the Bad Kreuznach cage, up to 560,000 men were interned in a congested area and denied  adequate food, water, shelter, or sanitary facilities and they died like flies of disease, exposure, and illness after surviving on less than 700 calories a day. There are 1,000 official graves in Bad  Kreuznach, but it is claimed there are mass graves which have remained off limits to investigation.

There were no impartial observers to witness the treatment of POWs held by the U.S. Army. From  the date Germany unconditionally surrendered, May 8, 1945, Switzerland was dismissed as the  official Protecting Power for German prisoners, and the International Red Cross was informed that,  with no Protecting Power to report to, there was no need for them to send delegates to the camps.

In 1945, thousands of German POWs were jammed into US Army vehicles going through towns such as Nürnberg and Emskirchen (below). They often traveled for hundreds of miles without being  able to sit and with no food, rest, or relief stops. Hundreds of German prisoners were confined in  makeshift US camps in Emskirchen and elsewhere. Some were sent to fields, mudholes, quarries, and hell holes elsewhere. It is very tricky giving numbers since most records are absent or inaccurate.

Only by the autumn of 1945, after most camps had closed or were in the process of closing, was the  Red Cross granted permission to send delegations to visit camps in the French and UK occupation zones and to finally provide minuscule amounts of relief, and it was not until February 4, 1946, that  the Red Cross was allowed to send even token relief to others in the U.S. run occupation zone. The  death rate for prisoners in these U.S. camps was at that point 30 per cent per year, according to a U.S. medical survey. Nearly all the surviving records of the Rhineland death camps were destroyed.

But these men were lucky. Large numbers of captured soldiers were taken away to be enslaved.  If captured in smaller groups, even the US Army policy was to slaughter the prisoners where they  stood, especially if they were SS. The largest (currently acknowledged) massacres at the hands of the  Americans were the murder of 700 troops of the surrendered 8th SS Mountain Division, atrocities  carried out against the surrendered SS Westphalia Brigade where most of the German captives were  shot through the back of the head, and the machine gunning of three hundred surrendered camp  guards at Dachau.

Over 1,000 captured SS Officers were also poisoned by eating arsenic-laced bread  in 1946 in an American camp near Nürnberg. [Ingrid's Note:  I am not sure this is true!  I know there was such a plan - some Jews bragged about it on TV some years ago,  but I never heard that it was carried out!]  There was also an alleged mass murder of as many as  48 surrendered German prisoners who were captured on April 15, 1945 at Jungholzhausen.

An eyewitness stated: "The Americans forced the Germans to walk in front of them with raised hands in  groups of four. Then they shot the prisoners in their heads from behind." The bodies were loaded onto a truck and taken away. The matter is still under investigation.

At the end of June, 1945 the first camps in Remagen, Böhl-Ingelheim and Büderich were dissolved.  SHAEF offered the camps to the French, who wanted 1.75 million prisoners of war for use as slave  labor. In July, Sinzig, Andernach, Siershahn, Bretzenheim, Dietersheim, Koblenz, Hechtzheim, and  Dietz, all containing thousands of prisoners, were given to France. In the British Zone, prisoners of  war who were able to work were transferred to France and the rest were released. At the end of  September, 1945 all the initial camps were dissolved.

At one point, 80,000 prisoners of war a month were supposed to have to been returned from USA  captivity and discharged into the Allied zones of Germany as part of the 1.3 million allotted to France  for "rehabilitation work" (slave labor), but after the Red Cross reported that 200,000 of the prisoners  already in French hands were so undernourished they were unfit for labor and likely to die over the  winter, the USA stopped all transfers of prisoners to French custody until the French would maintain them in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

About 250,000 Germans (including most of the Afrika Korps) and Italians surrendered in Tunis in May 1943, and were taken as prisoners of war where they sweltered in large pens in the  desert heat. Many survivors were later sent to Egypt and camps in the US and elsewhere.

By the winter of 1947, it was estimated that 4,160,000 German POWs were still held in 'work  camps' outside Germany: 750,000 in France, 30,000 in Italy, 460,000 in Britain, 14,000 in Belgium  (at one point, 48,000), 4,000 in Luxembourg and 1,300 in Holland (as discussed later, the Soviet  Union started with 4,000,000-5,000,000, Yugoslavia had 80,000 and Czechoslovakia 45,000) as well as the USA's 140,000 in the US Occupation Zone with 100,000 more later also held in France.

It is estimated that 700,000 to a million men may have died within the period they spent incarcerated  in American and French camps alone from 1945 to 1948. There are much higher estimates, however,  and attempts to uncover the truth regarding these camps in modern times, as well as excavation of  reported mass grave sites, have been vigilantly thwarted by, among others, the German government.

It is unknown how many perished under British captors but recently declassified documents indicate widespread torture and abuse. Under all of them, many of the prisoners were used to do dangerous work such as working with hazardous materials and mine sweeping in complete disregard of the law.

Nearly all the surviving records of the Rhineland death camps were destroyed. Although it was always strongly denied, Morgenthau himself said his plan was implemented. In the  New York Post  for November 24, 1947, he wrote, "The Morgenthau Plan for Germany... became part of  the Potsdam Agreement, a solemn declaration of policy and undertaking for action.... signed by the  United States of America, Great Britain, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

After the German capitulation in Norway on May 8,1945, over 5,000 German prisoners of war were  forced by the British, under the command of General Sir Andrew Thorn, to undertake clearance of  land mines in clear violation of the Geneva Convention of 1928. The POWs had to walk arm in arm  through mine fields already cleared of mines in hopes of triggering off land mines that were not found  previously. This act of cruelty led to the deaths of 184 German Soldiers and the injuring of another  252 POWs. Neither Thorn nor anyone else was ever held accountable for war crimes.

It happened in Denmark as well, and a Danish historian documented the killing of German POWs  during such clearance of land mines. It is assumed that about 250 German POWs met their deaths in  this way in Denmark when forced to perform this diabolical task. On the morning of July 22, 1945,  seven Germans were blown into the air as 450 land mines detonated. The other German POWs had  to then collect the body parts of their friends without using gloves or other protection.

In the communist realms, the conditions that German POWs, many just kids, endured on the Eastern  Front were beyond grim and did not follow any accepted protocol for treatment of captured soldiers.  Under the provisions of the Yalta Agreement, the U.S. and U.K. had agreed to the use of German  POWs in the Soviet Gulag as "reparations-in-kind," but comparatively few Germans were taken alive before Stalingrad. Most were shot and many were mutilated alive. Out of the 90,000 Germans who  marched into Soviet captivity at Stalingrad, only 5,000 ever returned: 40,000 did not survive the  march to the Beketovka camp, where another 42,000 perished of hunger and disease. Those POWs  that made it alive to separate camps in Siberia and elsewhere in the western Soviet Union were  forced into slave labor and endured frequent beatings, brutal torture, poisoning, and execution.

The gulag's daily food ration was padded with 400 to 800 grams of bread, more than half of the  prisoner's daily 1200-1300 calories. The most productive workers received a modest food bonus  (ironically, the Morgenthau Plan for occupied Germany suggested the same allotment of 1300  calories a day per German, while the suggested minimum requirements for heavy labor are from  3100-4000 calories per day).

In the gulags, the prisoner's food ration was linked to his production.  Realizing that the most productive work done by prisoners is in the first three months of captivity, after which they were too debilitated to perform well, the exhausted prisoners were simply killed off  and replaced with fresh blood, ensuring a constant flow of new labor.

Because the German POWs had been conveniently redefined as "disarmed enemy forces," Allied  captors did whatever they wanted with their German captives, even bartering them away to others  for use as slaves. In fact, in a "Re-education" bulletin distributed by the "Special Service Division,  Army Service Forces" of the U.S. Army in 1945, tacit approval is given for the intentional transfer of  German POWs from Allied hands to the genocidal Red Army:

"Many German prisoners will remain in Russia after the end of  war, not voluntarily, but because the Russians need them as  workers. That is not only perfectly legal, but also prevents the  danger of the returning prisoners of war becoming the core of a  new national movement. If we ourselves do not want to keep  the German prisoners after the war, we should send them nonetheless to Russia." Again, shades of Morgenthau.

Long columns of German prisoners were marched on foot hundreds of tortuous miles toward  their doom in Stalingrad, Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow, and Minsk where most were starved and worked  to death. Very few ever saw home again.

When approximately 6,000 German Army officers were released by the Western Allies in the first  half of 1945, they were then re-arrested by the Soviets and held in Zone II at Sachsenhausen Prison  Camp which had formerly held the Communist political prisoners of the Nazis. Later, Special Camp  No. 7 was filled with German prisoners who had been sentenced by a Soviet military tribunal to 15  years of hard labor. By the end of 1945, it held 12,000 to 16,000 prisoners, among them 2,000  female prisoners, but the population grew.

There was inadequate food and deplorable sanitary conditions. Prisoners could have no clothing  other than what they were wearing when arrested. Disease and epidemics ran through the barracks where the prisoners had to sleep on the bare wood frames with only a block of wood for a pillow for  two years until blankets and bags of straw were finally distributed in 1947. They were not allowed  any activities, and even singing was prohibited. The windows of the overcrowded barracks were  blacked out and the prisoners were kept in almost total darkness. A total of approximately 60,000  German prisoners were held in Special Camp No. 7 after World War II ended, and 12,000 were  buried in unmarked mass graves. None were released by the Soviets until 1948, and most prisoners  remained there until 1950, and some were sent on to the Soviet gulags or handed over to the East  German Communist government for even more punishment.

The fates of thousands upon thousands of German soldiers, many just kids, surrendered to both the Allies and especially the Soviets have never been accounted for and any attempts to uncover the  truth of their disappearance have been halted.

Between 1941 and 1952, millions of German POWs died in the Gulag. The last surviving 10,000 of  them were not released from the Soviet Union until 1955, after a decade of forced labor. About 1.5  million German soldiers are still listed as missing in action and join the ranks of those who vanished  while under Soviet captivity. In total, 5,025 German men and women were convicted of war crimes  between 1945 and 1949 in the American, British, and French zones by Allied War Crimes Trials.  Over 500 were sentenced to death and the majority were executed, among them 21 women.

The Red Terror was let loose on surrendered German POWs in eastern Europe from Czechoslovakia to Poland and beyond. Many were simply shot and thrown into mass graves, others were tortured  and mutilated first, and these retributions extended even to young boys. German POWs who fell into the hands of the Yugoslav hordes suffered horrible fates. After 1986, a report appeared showing that out of about 194,000 prisoners, up to 100,000 died from gruesome torture, murder, horrible  conditions, disease, and intentional starvation.

Around 93,000 ethnic Germans who lived in the Danube basin from 1939 to 1941 served in  Hungarian, Croatian, and Romanian armies, and they remained citizens of those countries during the  war (many of these ethnic Germans served in the "Prinz Eugen" Waffen SS division of about  10,000, which automatically gave them German citizenship). 26,000 of these soldiers died, over half  after the end of the war in Yugoslav camps. When most of the "Prinz Eugen" division surrendered  after May 8, 1945, over 1,700 of them were murdered in a village near the Croat-Slovenian border  and the other half was worked to death in Yugoslav zinc mines near the town of Bor, in Serbia. Aside from these Danube German soldiers, over 70,000 Germans  who had served in regular Wehrmacht died in Yugoslav captivity  from revenge murders or as slave laborers in dangerous work.  These were mostly troops of "Army Group E" who surrendered  to British forces in southern Austria on May 8, 1945 only to have the  British turn about 150,000 of them over to vengeance fueled  Communist Yugoslav partisans who dealt with them as brutally as  they could. Mob surrounds POW, left. Location unknown. The fates of the remaining captured German troops in Yugoslavia was murder, both fast and slow.

First, up to 10,000 died in Communist-organized "atonement marches" (Suhnemärsche) which  stretched 800 miles from the southern border of Austria to the northern border of Greece. In most  instances, the prisoners were all tied together and forced to walk barefoot with no food or water. As  some dropped off one by one on these death marches, others were executed or tied together in  smaller groups and thrown into rivers where they were all shot for sport and drowned. On November  1, 1944, the Council for the Liberation of Yugoslavia declared all Germans "open prey" and less than  half of the German POWs and ethnic German civilians survived the partisans' genocide during this  time. Then, later in the summer of 1945, many more German POWs were murdered in mass  executions or thrown alive into large karst pits along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. For the next 10  years, from 1945 to 1955, as was the case in the Soviet Union and other communist countries,  50,000 more German prisoners died from being worked to death as slaves and from the results of disease, starvation, or exhaustion.

 Thousands of German and Croat soldiers captured in the final  days of the war were coldly executed and buried in mass  graves found in western Croatia. A site recently uncovered at  Harmica, 50 kilometres northwest of Zagreb, holds the bodies of 4,500 soldiers, including 450 German officers, executed by communist partisans. The bones at Harmica were found in  six separate caves and laid in trenches upon discovery. The officers were buried in a separate grave, presumably because they were separated from the  soldiers and executed last. The victims were troops of the 392 Infantry Division, set up by the  German command in Croatia in August 1943 and placed under the leadership of Lt. General Hans  Mickl.

The fates of thousands upon thousands of German soldiers, many just kids, surrendered to both the  Allies and especially the Soviets have never been accounted for and any attempts to uncover the  truth of their disappearance have been halted.

An interesting footnote: After the war, many German combat veterans joined the French Foreign  Legion. Some were surviving SS members recruited directly from prisoner of war camps. Others were men from lost German lands who had nowhere to go home to. Highly regarded by the French  for their discipline and bravery, an estimated 35,000 Germans took part in France's war in Vietnam.  Germans made up over half the Foreign Legion units in Vietnam that bore much of the heaviest  fighting against the communist Viet Minh forces of Ho Chi Minh. In this brutal conflict, more than  10,000 Legionnaires were killed out of about 70,000 who fought.  






The Journal of History - Fall 2010 Copyright © 2010 by News Source, Inc.