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Given up for dead : American GI's in the Nazi concentration camp at Berga

by Flint Whitlock; Mazal Holocaust Collection.

  Print book : Biography

U.S. POWS In A Nazi Concentration Camp   (2011-07-28)


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by BERNIE2260

Review Written By Bernie Weisz, Historian, Pembroke Pines, Florida April 22, 2011 Contact: Title of Review: U.S. POWS In A Nazi Concentration Camp:Described As a Million Dollar Experience Not Repeatable If Offered 2 Million!
Flint Whitlock has done it again! After reading and reviewing "Internal Conflicts" I was glad that the conclusion of that book was based on historical fiction. Quite the contrary, I was horrified that the contents of this book are very real and lurid, with such inhumane acts being inflicted to American prisoners of war that were doled out by barbaric men who in the end were given a slap on the wrist. The history of W. W. II is well known. After swallowing up large parts of Europe starting in 1938 which included Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium, Greece and Yugoslavia, et al, in the last six months of 1941 Adolf Hitler launched an aggression that would ultimately cost him the war, his life and the obliteration of "The Third Reich." First he attacked the Soviet Union on June 22nd, and by years end, four days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, he made another major blunder. President Franklin Roosevelt and his administration received the following communication from Hitler: "The Government of the U.S., having violated in the most flagrant manner and in ever-increasing measure all rules of neutrality in favor of the adversaries of Germany and having continually been guilty of the most severe provocations toward Germany ever since the outbreak of the European war, provoked by the British declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939, has finally resorted to open military acts of aggression. Although Germany on her part has strictly adhered to the rules of international law in her relations with the United States during every period of the present war, the Government of the United States from initial violations of neutrality has finally proceeded to open acts of war against Germany. The Government of the United States has thereby virtually created a state of war. The German Government, consequently, discontinues diplomatic relations with the United States of America and declares that under these circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt, Germany too, as from today, considers herself as being in a state of war with the United States of America."

Flint Whitlock would prove that the only law Adolf Hitler would adhere to was of his own machinations. From sending in the Wheremacht and Luftwaffe into Russia, expecting them to survive nevertheless victoriously prevail with little petrol and light winter clothes, to taking on Britain, the U.S. and Canada, to attempting to implement his "master race" demented Aryan philosophy, it was only a matter of time until the world found out what Adolf Hitler was capable of. 1942 would give universal flavor to the aforementioned. Lidice is a village in the former Czech Republic just north-west of Prague. As part of the 1938 "Munich Agreement," The Czech state was now part of the Third Reich. Reinhard Heydrich, also known as "The Hangman," was a high-ranking German Nazi official who chaired the 1942 "Wannsee Conference," of January 20, 1942, which discussed plans for the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory. In an operation named "Operation Anthropoid," he was attacked in Prague on May 27, 1942 by British-trained Slovak and Czech agents who had been sent to assassinate him there. He died approximately one week later due to his injuries. Lidice, as per orders directly from Heinrich Himmler, the Reich Leader of the dreaded Gestapo from 1929 until 1945, was completely destroyed by German forces in reprisal for the assassination of Heydrich in the late spring of 1942. The world was getting a minor taste of the future . On June 10, 1942, Himmler ordered all 192 men over 16 years of age from the village murdered on the spot and the rest of the population of Lidice sent to Nazi concentration camps where many women and nearly all the children were killed. Six weeks after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated the "Manhattan Project" to develop an atomic bomb, on July 22, 1942 Germany began deporting hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp for the purpose of the "Final Solution."

The Final Solution was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the most deadly phase of the Holocaust. Himmler was the chief architect of the plan, and mass killings of about one million Jews occurred before the plans of the Final Solution were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population that the extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jews began in earnest. This decision to systematically kill the Jews of Europe was made, as previously mentioned, at the "Wannsee Conference." However, Hitler's initial luck would soon wane. On November 8, 1942 the Allies invaded North Africa, beginning "Operation Torch." U.S. forces landed in Algeria, Oran, and Casablanca, and on May 12, 1943, the Axis forces in North Africa surrendered. Hitler's stock continued to fall, where on January 31, 1943, over 90,000 German troops at Stalingrad surrendered to the Soviets. It was a significant turning point in the war against Germany. On April 19, 1943 the world saw with repulsion the way Hitler dealt with the Polish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where German troops attempted to deport the ghetto's last surviving Jews, and about 750 Jews fought back the Germans for almost a month. German troops would slaughter thousands of Jews there, the rest were sent to the Treblinka concentration camp to die. However, in July of 1943, the Allies landed in Sicily, and by month's end Benito Mussolini's fascist government was overthrown in Italy. In September Italy formally surrendered, and on Oct. 13th declared war against it's former partner, Nazi Germany.

It was the next year, particularly the winter of 1944-45 that Whitlock's story centered on. Nazi fortunes continued to plummet. For it was that year that the Nazi siege of Leningrad, which began in September 1941 finally ended, sending the Soviets westward in a vengeful pursuit which would not cease until they met the Anglo American forces at the Elbe River on April 25, 1945. In February, the Allies began their massive bombing campaign of Germany, and the beginning of the end started on June 6, 1944, "D-Day" or "Operation Overlord." This was the Allied invasion of German-occupied Western Europe that began on the beaches of Normandy, France and ended similarly with Allied and Soviets shaking hands in Berlin. Seeing what was going on, Hitler sped up the extermination camp killing machinery, tried terrorizing Britain by launching "V-1" flying-bombs, nevertheless the handwriting was on the wall. Proof of this was the July 20, 1944 German military leaders failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in the Rastenburg Assassination Plot. Allied armies were now invading German-held Europe from all sides. From August on, the Allies retook France, the Netherlands, and October 21, 1944, they captured Aachen, the first city to be taken in Germany. On a steady diet of constant injections from his doctors, in a morphine and amphetamine induced euphoria, Hitler issued a "stand and fight" edict. Hitler proclaimed that although the once vast Nazi empire had diminished, the Fatherland could never be penetrated. He created the "Volkssturm," the German militia created to defend the German homeland in the last months of World War II. Nazi Germany's last-ditch effort to defend the fatherland fell on the Volkssturm, or "Peoples Army." Drafted were any able body, man or boy, ages 15-65. In most cases the Volkssturm were elderly men and Hitler Youth fanatics. This group, along with whatever remained of his Wheremacht, would coalesce together in one final effort to reverse the impending German defeat.

Code named "Wacht-am-Rein" or the "Battle of the Bulge," it started on December 16th, 1944. Delusional thinking convinced Hitler that the alliance between Britain, France and America in the western sector of Europe was weak. Concluding that a major attack and defeat would break them up, he ordered a massive attack against what were primarily American forces. The attack was strictly known as the "Ardennes Offensive," but because the initial attack by the Germans created a bulge in the Allied front line, it became more commonly known as the "Battle of the Bulge." Hitler's goal was to launch a massive attack using three German armies on the Allies . This would, in his mind, destabilize their accord and also enable his forces to capture the huge port of Antwerp, through which a great deal of supplies reached the Allies. In theory, it was a preposterous plan, especially as Germany had been in retreat since D-Day, her military was depleted of supplies and was facing the awesome might of the Allies. Regardless, Hitler, as commander-in-chief of the military, decreed that the attack take place. He intentionally focused on an area in the Ardennes held by the 99th and 106 Divisions, mostly freshly trained, untested recruits of 80,000 Americans. Although in comparison it seems meager to his "Operation Barbarossa" (in the 1941 invasion of Russia, Hitler sent 3 million troops) he was able to muster almost 300,000 troops, thinking a miracle would occur. It almost did. The battle started with a 2 hour bombardment of the Allies lines that was followed by a huge armored attack with the majority of the German armored might based at the Schnee Eifel. The Germans experienced great success to start with. Even through British Intelligence experts, who broke the high-level encrypted enemy radio and teleprinter communications of the Germans (called "Ultra") had warned the Allies of this impending attack, this was ignored resulting in them being caught totally off guard. Before the attack started, Hitler deceptively sent Otto Skorzeny to lead 1000 English speaking German soldiers dressed in American uniforms covertly behind the Allied lines causing havoc by spreading misinformation, changing road signs and cutting telephone lines. Climate was also in Hitler's favor. In December, snow, low clouds and fog meant that the superior Allied air force could not be used, similarly to the Vietnam War where the initial North Vietnamese assault on the U.S. base at Khe Sanh was successful. Though the weather was typical for the Ardennes in winter, the ground was hard enough for military vehicles, especially 1,083 German tanks to cross and thus initially meet success.

However, "Given up For Dead" is not about the war, politics or the "Battle of the Bulge." It is about the American prisoners Hitler's forces took in their initial success at this battle, specifically 350 of them. The seven main protagonists that Whitlock used were Morton Brooks, Gerald Daub, Anthony Acevedo, Norman Fellman, Joe Mark, William Shapiro, and the only non Jew, Peter Iosso, who, as Whitlock would later write: "By Christmas (1944-45) they would be fighting for their very lives in struggles of great magnitude. And their fates would be intertwined in ways they never could have imagined." The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle fought by the Americans in World War Two. 600,000 American troops were involved in the battle. The Americans lost 89,500 men while the Germans lost 100,000 killed, wounded and captured. 19,000 Americans were killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 captured or missing. This book chronicles how Hitler's stooges treated Americans, particularly Jewish G.I.'s in captivity. Hitler's attack was so fast and furious, that many soldiers were captured without even their boots on. Immediately, the Geneva conference was flaunted by the Germans. Joe Mark reported after surrendering: "After capture, we were assembled by the road and Krause shared a K-ration with me. While waiting, the Germans prepared their anti aircraft weapons for transport. A German officer told one of the Americans to help. The American said it was against the Geneva Convention to help. The German said "Ja, Geneva Convention" and shot him." There are several books existent of how Germans were treated as POW's in this country, distributed in camps located in Wisconsin, Texas and New Hampshire, et al. There is no American equivalent as to the beastly treatment American G.I.'s were accorded in Nazi Stalag's, or Nazi sentiment if one was Jewish, Catholic,or "an undesirable" in Concentration Camps, used for slave labor.

Eleven years after W. W. I ended, the Geneva Convention was first adopted, although significantly updated after 1949. Spelling out the treatment meted out to prisoners of war, it defines humanitarian protections for prisoners of war. This treaty's most significant provisions are that people who took no active part in the hostilities be treated humanely (including military persons who have ceased to be active as a result of sickness, injury, or detention)and the wounded and sick be collected and cared for and treated with diligence. From initial captivity, it dictates what information a prisoner must give (name, rank and serial number only) and interrogation methods that the detaining power may use. No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion can be used for interrogation methods by the captor. It dictates what private property a prisoner of war may keep and that the POW must be evacuated from the war zone immediately. Proper housing, food, clothing, hygiene and medical attention are to be upheld by the captor, and to be both allowed and respected are religious, intellectual and physical activities of the POW. Articles 49-57 covers the type of labor a POW may be compelled to do, taking such factors as rank, age, and sex into consideration. Anything that is unhealthy or dangerous can only be done by POW's who volunteer for such work. The author clearly articulates that for many of the American POW's taken during the "Battle of the Bulge," particularly G.I.'s of the Jewish faith, none of the previously mentioned applied to them: "Although Germany had signed the Geneva Convention on July 27, 1929, four years before Hitler came to power, it was still legally bound to abide by the provisions. But like so many other treaties, conventions, and other agreements he broke, Hitler felt free to observe or ignore the Geneva convention as it suited him." Whitlock further succinctly added: "The loophole, of course, was that if Hitler and his Nazi minions wanted to make life miserable for the enemy prisoners-and they most assuredly did-there was no agency on earth that could enforce those sanctions."

Although they were scattered all throughout Axis territory, Whitlock focused on the aforementioned group that was transferred to Stalag IX at Bad Orb, 30 miles east of Frankfurt. At it's height, it held 4,000 U.S. POW's. Right after capture, captured U.S. G.I.'s, average age 20, were marched to a railroad station for transport to hell, devoid of food, water or heat in the middle of winter. Whitlock wrote that the POW's soon found themselves herded into boxcars like hogs headed for the slaughterhouse and rolling eastward. Locked in these trains, they were targets of constant Allied Bombing, and were packed in 70 men to a boxcar, without toilets nor the ability to sit down. For food at Bad Orb, the first week they received a meager ration of potato soup, and for the last four months of captivity up to liberation only sugar beets and turnip tops. Being a potential gold mine of intelligence to the Nazi's, Private Owen Chafee noted the following Nazi interrogation methods: Some men who were ahead of me refused to fill out anything but their name, rank , and serial number. The German officer got mad and called 2 guards over. The guards hit the Americans with their rifle butts and made them stand outside for 3 or 4 hours in the snow. I saw this happen to 25 men. Many of those so treated came down with severe frostbite." However, the fanatical Gestapo had special plans to single out any Jewish POW's. Although not Jewish, POW Peter House wrote the following when questioned about his religion: "A German corporal interrogated me. He was a mean spirited man. He was very upset when all I gave him was my name, rank and serial number. He asked my religion. I refused. He asked how would they know what type of service to provide if I died. This seemed reasonable at the time, so I said "Protestant." Another POW, Leon Horowitz, asserted: "In those days, your religion was imprinted on your dog tags so that, if you were killed in action they would know what kind of burial service to give you. I threw my dog tags away shortly after I was captured. In retrospect, the Germans would have quickly suspected that anyone who didn't have dog tags was Jewish."

Conditions grew worse for the U.S. POW's at Bad Orb. In order to distract oneself from starvation and the severe cold, POW's dreamed up escape plans and were preoccupied with killing rampant body lice. Body heat was the only source of warmth, and sleeping on filthy, vermin infested, straw filled sacks, they spent horrible nights in barracks with broken windows, leaky roofs and no toilet facilities. Whitlock pointed out that on the starvation diet of less than 1,000 calories a day, if one worked, they died. Furthermore: "Not surprisingly, food quickly became a burning obsession among the POW's. They thought about food, dreamed about food, and talked about food constantly." Just like cigarettes are a commodity in U.S. prisons, so was food at Bad Orb, with an antisemitic extortionist twist to it. According to POW Joseph Mark: "A guy from my own company called "Blackie" came up to me one day and asked if he could borrow some bread. I said, "I don't lend bread." He threatened me; he said, "then I'm going to tell them you're a Jew." POW James Smith continued describing the mistreatment: "Every morning we'd go out-we didn't actually have a roll call;it was just a head count. During this twice a day routine, camp personnel spent hours counting and recounting the prisoners and often spewing vitriol into their captives faces, screaming at them for minor infractions, beating them with sticks, whips, clubs and rifles; threatening them with vicious dogs, humiliating them in any way possible."

In the first week of February, 1945, Hitler's henchmen decided that underground armament factories had to be carved out of solid ground in the final defense of the Third Reich. Shifts were to be 12 straight hours for 40 days straight, using pneumatic drills to carve out the caves. This was to be done with no protective garments for the elements, on 400-600 calories a POW. Selected from Bad Orb Stalag IX-B would be 350 POW's, all to be sent to "Berga" a stone throw from Buchenwald. POW Tony Acevedo wrote of the Nazi selection process to work the tunnels: "They wanted to do that with Jews, but they couldn't find enough. so they went down the line; if you looked Jewish or your name had a Jewish sound to it, they pulled you out. If you looked Catholic or they assumed you were Catholic, you were also pulled out. Of the 350, only about a third were actually Jewish; the rest were either Catholic or they were troublemakers in the camp-people they caught stealing, etc." African Americans were involved as well. Although they were not fully integrated into the U.S. armed forces until 1948, POW Fred Koenig recalled It was sometime in February 1945 that a Corporal Schulz, a German guard at IX-B, beat up a colored American Soldier: "I witnessed this assault. Named "Shorty", his crime was walking past a group of German soldiers without saluting them. Schulz stopped him and said something in German which the American did not understand, so Schulz hit him several times with a bayonet scabbard, knocked him to the ground, and kicked him. Shorty was a bloody mess." POW James Smith quoted about Black POW's the following: The camp commander suggested that we put them in the MP barracks for their own protection. He said, "We've got a lot of fanatical idiots," which was an understatement. He was afraid that if we didn't keep them in there for their protection, some Germans might do harm to them."

The stories told at Berga in the last part of Whitlock's book are nothing less than spell binding. Witnessing hangings of fellow POW's, threatened by German Shepard dogs, frozen, beaten, and starved, POW Joe Mark quipped: "Dying was of no great consequence, but being hungry was." The families of these POW's were notified that these men were "MIA" (missing in action), but other from that, they had vanished off the face of the earth. Unfed, full of body lice, working 12 hours a day for 40 days straight in the elements digging tunnels, POW's began dying. Shaving with broken glass, being fed only bread made of sawdust, ground glass and sand, camouflaged with barley, POW Medic William Shapiro, commenting on the horrid conditions at Berga, wrote that many men turned inward just trying to survive, cutting contact off with their fellow POW's. Afraid of Nazi "plants" among the POW's, no one dare complain. Shapiro had the following to say: "Food would activate the POW's into a frenzy, but after the distribution of the food, they would go off, climb into their bunks, and disassociate themselves with other men...I would learn the beginning signs of the "giving up" syndrome. This book is so disturbing that I am grateful that Whitlock had a few humorous stories to break up this unimaginable tale of human degradation. One was told by POW Joe Mark, right after German capture: "They marched us back to a town and searched me. I had a tin of aspirins, Bayer aspirin, and this German who was searching me thought I had taken them off a German because Bayer is a German product and he was going to shoot me, but a sergeant told him that Bayer was commonly distributed, so I wasn't shot."

POW Gerald Daub wrote about the constant underground drilling in the caves the following entry: "The air was just totally filled with stone dust. Everything coated with it, including your lungs filled with it. And we had no bathing facilities, so you can picture that, after a day or two, we just looked like cement statues walking around." Then there is the humorous story of Private William Thompson, a POW assigned to a German officer's quarters for housekeeping duty. With no one else there, he discovered a plate of cake and a bottle of brandy. Unable to resist, he imbibed the brandy and wolfed down the cake, finding himself completely inebriated. Thompson recalled: "The cake was almost gone and I was drunk as a sailor. I finally had to lie down on the commandant's freshly made bed. I was rudely shaken awake by an enlisted German guard who was shaking with fright at the sight of a drunken, lice-infested POW sleeping in the captain's bed after having consumed a cake and most of his fine brandy. I soon found myself on the operating end of a bucksaw, cutting logs for firewood. I had difficulty keeping the saw blade taut and was receiving a tongue lashing when I was saved by the flyover of a 1000 plane raid. The sky was filled with contrails, and P-47's weaved back and forth. We were looking up. I told my guard, "All is kaput-you're going to lose." He said, "When, for God's sake?" How many of the original POW's made it home? Who liberated them, and how? During the war crimes trials, were the Nazi's that were guilty of atrocities receive punishment commensurate to their crimes? How much did the "Cold War" of the late 1940's affected the outcome of those trials? Were any of the POW's allowed to testify? Since Flint Whitlock did a follow up of the originally mentioned 7 POW's, did any in this groups suffer from "Survivor Syndrome" or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?" You will have to read "Given Up For Dead" to discover the answer. I guarantee you will not be disappointed!


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