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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

Aerial view of camp

An aerial view of the barracks at Stalag IX-B, the infamous Bad Orb.
The treatment P.O.W.s received at their respective camps varied largely according to the German officers who administered them, as Nazis' Stalags and Luftstalags (also referred to as Stalag Lufts) were run by different divisions of the German military. Stalags, which held Army P.O.W.s, were run by the Wehrmacht, or German Army, while the Luftstalags were supervised by Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe.

Historical research, as well as comparative assessments at WWII P.O.W. reunions, suggests that the Luftwaffe generally accorded their prisoners better treatment than their counterparts from the Wehrmacht. This may be due in part to a different attitude among Luftwaffe guards, who tended to extend a greater degree of respect to their captives. Some former prisoners have suggested that the Luftwaffe maintained a stronger sense of honor than other branches of the Nazi military.

The prisoners at Bad Orb were not issued soap or towels, and each 160-person barrack had only one water tap, which provided only cold water.
Regardless of the reasons, none of the captives imprisoned in the Luftstalag system were subjected to a situation that approached the appalling living conditions found at the infamous Stalag IX-B, also known as Bad Orb. Located near Orb, Germany, Stalag IX-B held French, Italian, Serbian, and Russian P.O.W.s in late December of 1944, when 985 American soldiers captured during the first two days of the Battle of the Bulge were sent there. The camp was almost entirely made up of infantry privates.

By the end of the war, Bad Orb held 4,700 American P.O.W.s, far more than it was equipped to handle. The food was terrible and rationed in insufficient quantities -- by the time Allied forces reached the camp, its captives were too weak to greet their liberators. The prisoners were not issued soap or towels, and each 160-person barrack had only one water tap, which provided only cold water. There was a hole in the ground for a toilet, and the barracks were so overcrowded that the prisoners had to take turns sleeping because there was not enough room on the floor. There were no beds, per se, and even the mattresses in the hospital were made of lice-infested straw.

Stalag IX-C camp

The Stalag IX-C American P.O.W. camp in Bad Sulza, Germany.

Stalag IX-B is often regarded as the worst of the camps that held American P.O.W.s. Abuse of enemy captives, however, was not limited to the camps that held enlisted men. For 87 days, 6,000 prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were forced to march 600 miles through freezing winter temperatures and snow. When they arrived at their final destination, four hundred of the airmen were so badly frostbitten that they could hardly walk. In 1944, 76 P.O.W.s escaped from Stalag Luft III (the inspiration for the popular 1963 movie THE GREAT ESCAPE). Only three reached safety, and Hitler ordered the Gestapo to kill 50 of the recaptured men -- an act that the Luftwaffe officers of Stalag Luft III told the Americans they deplored. Seemingly, the G.I.s believed them; two German guards were invited to and warmly received at the 20-year reunion of the American Former Prisoners of Stalag Luft III.

-- John Uhl

© 2003 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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