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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

The Pow Camp System


Camp entrance

Although a few successful escape attempts were made, many P.O.W.s were killed while trying to flee from captivity.

Two soldiers on bunk

The bunks were far too small for the average G.I.

Over the course of the European campaign, 93,941 U.S. Army and Air Corps personnel were captured by the Nazis and interned in more than 50 permanent prisoner of war camps across Europe and the Mediterranean. About 99 percent of these servicemen survived the war.

The American P.O.W.s held by Germany were interned according to their rank and the branch of the military in which they served. Dulags were transit camps for Army personnel. Stalags were permanent camps for non-commissioned officers and enlisted men of the Army. Oflags were permanent officers' camps. Stalags and Oflags were both administered by the Wehrmacht (German Army).

Camps for Air Corps personnel were run by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force). Permanent camps were Luftlager, and airmen's transit camps were known as Dugaluft. In practice, however, all of the Air Corps camps were called Luftstalags. The Germans referred to the P.O.W.s as "Kriegsgefangenen," which the Americans abbreviated, calling themselves "Kriegies."

At Stalag II-B, 1,500 prisoners were once escorted to the movies.
OKW (Germany's Armed Forces High Command), the organization responsible for enforcing the Geneva Convention, would not take responsibility for enemy soldiers until they had been placed in a permanent P.O.W. camp. The time period between capture and placement in a permanent camp, then, was particularly treacherous for P.O.W.s. Often this depended on whether the soldiers were taken prisoner by the SS or the German Army, which was less likely to abuse its captives.

Soldiers reported that they were denied sufficient food and water or proper medical treatment while they were being transported to their final Stalags. In December of 1944, the Nazis seized the warm clothing of 1,100 prisoners and forced them to ride in an unheated boxcar to Stalag XII-A. Some soldiers were put to forced labor before being sent to their final P.O.W. camps. Airmen were subjected to solitary confinement and often a series of lengthy interrogations. This transition period was especially perilous for Jewish soldiers, some of whom were sent to concentration or labor camps or simply "disappeared."

Once at their permanent Stalags, the P.O.W.s' chief complaint was the lack of food. Their diet largely consisted of potatoes and moldy bread at least partially made from sawdust. Watery soup made with carrots or turnips was another staple. In the fall of 1944, as Germany's resources ran low, the P.O.W. rations were reduced, and the Kriegies were largely dependent on the supplementary rations in their Red Cross aid packages.

Still, with the help of the Red Cross and the YMCA, the American prisoners found ways to take their minds off the hunger. Many Stalags allowed their prisoners to play sports like golf, football, basketball, tennis, and baseball. Cards were popular. Many Stalags had camp newspapers created by the prisoners. Some camps put on musical or dramatic productions, and at Stalag II-B 1,500 prisoners were once escorted to the movies. Sending and receiving mail was perhaps the most important activity to the Kriegies.

Most agree that officers and airmen received preferential treatment over enlisted soldiers. And while there were numerous P.O.W.s who recounted tales of abuse at the hands of their German captors, most American P.O.W.s also felt that at their respective Stalags the Nazis, for the most part, abided by the rules of the Geneva Convention.

Such was not the case for Soviet prisoners of war, who, as Slavs, were considered to be racially inferior by the Nazis. Over the course of the war, a total of 5.7 million Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner, well over 3 million of whom died in captivity as a result of mistreatment, widespread disease, starvation, and mass executions.

Soviet prisoners received especially harsh treatment in the wake of the German invasion of the U.S.S.R. in 1941. In a period of eight months between 1941 and 1942, the Nazis killed 2.8 million Soviet P.O.W.s in what may be the most concentrated mass execution in human history, exceeding in killing rate even the worst stages of the Jewish Holocaust. These figures also do not take into account perhaps as many as a million Soviet soldiers who the Nazis executed immediately, before they could even be taken captive. Those who survived this ordeal were sent to Nazi concentration camps, where they were used for hard labor, medical experimentation, and were often summarily executed.

-- John Uhl

© 2003 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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