Sol­diers and Slaves: Amer­i­can POWS Trapped by the Nazis’ Final Gamble

  • Review
By – July 26, 2012

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.

Mo Alter was a retired edu­ca­tor with degrees from Brook­lyn Col­lege and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mia­mi. He served in the Pacif­ic The­atre dur­ing World War II. He passed away in ear­ly May, 2006, at 91 years of age.

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