Sixty years ago (1945) during the “Battle of the Bulge” of World War II, hundreds of American troops were captured by the Germans. Of these, 350 were transported in cattle cars to a concentration camp known as Berga.
This town’s “Little Secret” was that it was perhaps “the most intense killing field for American prisoners of war in Europe.”
The POWs of Berga were selected especially for one reason — that they were Jews (or thought to be Jews).
The POWs were brutally beaten and mistreated in total violation of the Geneva Convention. All this, despite the fact that the Nazis knew that Germany was close to defeat and that the war was near its end. They put the prisoners to work as slave laborers, forced to dig tunnels into solid stone mountains, within which the Germans planned to build a factory to manufacture synthetic fuel.
These POWs replaced the European Jewish prisoners who had been requisitioned from Buchenwald and who they found to be totally incapable of productive effort.
Worse yet, as the war came to an end, the Nazis decided to force the weak, starving Jewish soldiers on a lengthy death march. More than 70 POWs perished under continued brutal beatings and starvation in a ten-week period.
None of this was ever made public, so that during the Cold War years, many of these events were pushed aside and were nearly forgotten.
But here, in Soldiers and Slaves, Roger Cohen, a foreign affairs writer for The New York Times, describes in painful detail the extreme suffering the POWs endured at the hands of their Jew-hating Nazi captors at Berga.
In a touching manner Cohen concludes his book with these words: “Now, the countryside adjacent to Berga is rich and fertile. On a summer’s day marigolds and primroses bloom. The meadows are full of poppies. In the hillside hidden in the woods is the now unused and semi-abandoned Jewish cemetery. The tombstones are covered in moss. The grass is waist-high. Nobody comes here. The German countryside is tranquil. All is in order.