Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Berga: Soldiers of Another War
Stories of Berga What Would You Do? Timeline & Maps Berga and Beyond War Crimes
Intro Prisoners of War Civilian Prisoners
Prisoners of War
Intro The P.O.W. Camp System P.O.W. Camps The Berga Camp

The Berga Camp

Emaciated prisoner

Emaciated prisoner

When the P.O.W.s from Berga were liberated, their physical appearance was indistinguishable from civilian concentration camp inmates.

Rescued soldier

An emaciated liberated G.I. receives medical treatment.

To appreciate the plight of the American P.O.W.s at Berga, it is worth noting that after arriving at the Berga camp, the prisoners soon began to recall -- fondly -- their accommodations at Stalag IX-B, regarded amongst liberated G.I.s as the vilest of the Nazi Stalags. According to the provisions of the Geneva Convention, labor was required of most P.O.W.s; the fact was not that the Berga G.I.s worked was not the problem. Berga was different in that the nature of the work and the horrendous conditions of the camp were all but indescribable.

At other camps, enlisted men were required to perform whatever labor they were asked and able to do, so long as it was not dangerous and did not support the German war effort. Officers were not required to work, although they could volunteer; this rule was strictly observed. All non-commissioned officers were only required to work in a supervisory role, although many complained that this stipulation was not abided by -- perhaps largely due to the Germans' inability to confirm the rank of non-coms in the middle of post-battle confusion.

Chart: About 80 of the 350 Berga GIS were Jewish

The Berga G.I.s suffered the Nazi policy of killing enemies through hard labor and deprivation.
The work other American prisoners performed was largely agricultural or industrial, ranging from coal or potash mining, stone quarrying, or work in saw mills, breweries, factories, railroad yards, and forests. Workers were mandated a period of at least 24 hours consecutive rest once a week, preferably on Sunday.

The prisoners at Berga were not the only group of American P.O.W.s who were exploited in violation of the Geneva Convention; nor were the Jews of Berga the only American P.O.W.s who were abused, sent to concentration camps, or even killed because of their religion. American Jewish soldiers were picked on and beaten at various Luftstalags. In Stalag VII-A, Jewish prisoners were segregated; in Stalag XIII-C, some were separated from their fellow P.O.W.s and never seen again. American officials accused the Germans of forcing laborers in Stalag III-B to work 28 consecutive hours, without a break between weeks and with insufficient clothing and nourishment. Some infantrymen complained they were used to dig communications trenches.

Nevertheless, the prisoners of Berga were placed in a situation that differed from that encountered by all but a few other American G.I.s. They were victims of Vernichtung durch Arbeit -- the Nazi policy of physical destruction through labor, a concerted effort to kill the party's political and racial enemies through hard labor and deprivation. Most of the 350 American prisoners there were put to work digging tunnels for an underground armaments factory, where they worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

They worked without masks, overcoats, or protective footwear, and were beaten when their work did not seem satisfactory to their supervisors. At least 70 G.I.s died at Berga or on the death march, by far more Americans than at any other German camp. When the survivors finally reached Allied forces, their physical appearance was indistinguishable from that of civilian victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

-- John Uhl

© 2003 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

E-mail this page Print this page About the Film For Teachers Resources Pledge Sitemap