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Berga: Soldiers of Another War
Stories of Berga What Would You Do? Timeline & Maps Berga and Beyond War Crimes
About the Film
Intro Description The Filmmaker Interview with Charles E. Guggenheim Broadcast Schedule Credits


Description

Charles Guggenheim (far left) and members of the film's production crew.

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BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR, a documentary film revealing Nazi Holocaust atrocities inflicted on 350 American P.O.W.s "classified" as Jewish, will be presented nationally by Thirteen/WNET New York on Wednesday, May 28 at 8 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.) The film is the final work in the long and distinguished career of the late documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim. The four-time Academy Award-winner wrote and directed the film, and, because of his personal connection to the story, also narrated in the first person for the first and only time in his career. The film is a production of Guggenheim Productions in Washington, D.C.

Thousands of American G.I.s, including soldiers in Guggenheim's 106th Infantry Division, were captured by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge. Those "identified" as being Jewish -- along with fellow G.I.s who "looked Jewish" or had "Jewish-sounding" last names -- were selected to fulfill a quota and shipped off to a satellite of the notorious concentration camp at Buchenwald where they suffered harrowing atrocities as slave laborers. Guggenheim, who had remained stateside with a debilitating infection during the final months of the war, carried with him a personal and moral obligation for more than 50 years to tell this untold story for his comrades who did not return, and for those who have lived with the horror of their experience. While completing the film, Guggenheim faced a heroic battle of his own with terminal cancer. He died six weeks after the film was finished.




The production team at work in the snowy German winter.
BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR reveals a previously unknown fact of World War II: imprisoned American G.I.s were forced to work alongside slave laborers from Nazi concentration camps. The film, shot entirely in black and white, tells the story through on-camera testimony by survivors and eyewitnesses, archival photographs and film, and re-enactment footage. Many scenes are recreated at original historic locations using young East German locals portraying the American soldiers. The recreations capture the inhuman boxcar transport, slave laborers tunneling through quartz rock, brutal Nazi guards, austere prison conditions, abandoned corpses, makeshift burials in bleak and snowy fields and churchyards, the massive, forced slave labor march of prisoners away from advancing Allies, and then, finally, the G.I.s' liberation.

Uncovering the Story

After the war, Guggenheim tried to locate a friend from the 106th Division, but discovered he had died in captivity in a German salt mine. The salt mine turned out to be the slave labor camp at Berga, a small town located in the east side of Germany, which the filmmaker confirmed in War Crimes Trial documents located at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

"The idea of this happening, the suggestion of an American soldier persecuted for being Jewish or looking Jewish or otherwise undesirable, never left my mind," said Guggenheim.

After two and a half years of extensive research, Guggenheim found 124 survivors and witnesses. Forty agreed to be interviewed. Many revealed that they had repressed their memories for over 50 years and never talked about their imprisonment, not even to spouses and family members.

Slave Labor at Berga

In December 1944, thousands of American soldiers captured during the Battle of the Bulge were transported to Stalag IX-B, the largest German prisoner-of-war camp, near Frankfurt, Germany. A military order was issued that all Jewish soldiers identify themselves. After the Americans refused to comply, Nazi guards selected the G.I.s they thought "looked Jewish," had "Jewish-sounding" last names, or whom they classified as undesirables. Less than a third of the American soldiers selected were, in fact, Jewish.

Packed into railway boxcars with no food, water, or toilets, they were transported further into the German countryside. Five days later they arrived at Berga, a satellite of the concentration camp at Buchenwald. The Americans were put to work alongside European concentration camp prisoners and forced to dig tunnels into rock cliffs that together would form an underground military factory. They were ridiculed, intimidated, beaten, denied heat, given insufficient water and fed substandard provisions. Many died of injuries, malnutrition, disease, and exhaustion. Several were fatally shot by guards for no apparent reason. Some went insane.

End of the Nightmare - Liberation

By April 1945, as the Allies advanced, the S.S. ordered the evacuation of the camp. Surviving prisoners were marched through rain, snow, and bitter cold on a 150-mile procession of death. Those unable to keep up were abandoned or shot, and those who died were buried in roadside graves or Christian church cemeteries.

The nightmare finally ended on April 23, 1945, when advancing American units came upon and liberated the final surviving prisoners. The war in Europe was over five weeks later.


Recreating the experience of being shipped and checked into a Nazi prisoner camp.



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