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Berga: Soldiers of Another War
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For Teachers
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Prisoners in Another War

background procedures for teachers organizers for students

Grade Level and Learning Objectives


Since the 19th Century, nations and individuals have struggled to create a set of international agreements regarding the treatment of prisoners, combatants, and civilians during times of War. The Geneva Convention of 1864 was the first multilateral agreement between nations to establish conventions regarding the conduct of war. The Geneva Convention was modified and expanded throughout the 19th Century as the features of modern warfare changed. The Hague Conference of 1899, for example, added provisions relating to "the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons," "the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body," and "the use of projectiles the object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases."

World War I resulted in the creation of yet another set of conventions regarding the conduct of war. In 1929, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War was signed by 47 governments, including Germany, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. It was this set of conventions that was in force during World War II, when the events documented in BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR occurred.

Following World War II, the Geneva Convention of 1949 was established to address some of the shortcomings of the conventions of 1929. The Geneva Convention of 1949 revised the conventions concerning the treatment of prisoners of war, the treatment of sick or wounded forces on land and sea, and the protection of civilians, adding new provisions to improve the implementation and enforcement of these agreements. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) was established as a direct response to the crimes of the Holocaust.

The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, in which Nazi war criminals were tried before an international tribunal in 1945 and 1946, represented an important step in enforcing the provisions of international agreements concerning the conduct of war and the treatment of civilians by their own governments. As Nuremberg prosecutor Telford Taylor writes in his memoir, The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials:

There are no permanently established means of enforcing the Nuremberg principles, and they are often flouted, but as a moral and legal statement, clothed with judicial precedent and United Nations recognition, the Nuremberg principles are an international legal force to be reckoned with.

The 350 POWs at Berga represented a small portion of the 1.2 million Allied prisoners of war held in German POW camps. One million of these prisoners were Soviet soldiers; the remaining 200,000 were from the other World War II Allied nations. This lesson plan will look at BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR in the context of the Geneva Convention and will study the role of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

For more information on the Laws of War visit Yale Law School's Avalon Project.

For an concise introduction to the Geneva Convention, visit the Reference Guide to the Geneva Conventions, created for the Society of Professional Journalists.

Grade Level:
Grades 9-12

Time Allotment:
3 class periods

Subject Matter:
20th Century US History, 20th Century World History, Diplomatic History

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:
  • Identify violations of the Geneva Convention in the treatment of American POWs at Berga
  • Understand the role of international bodies in judging war crimes and crimes against humanity


Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning

World History Standards and Benchmarks

MCREL Standard 41, Level IV (Grade 9-12)
Understands the Holocaust and its impact on Jewish culture and European society

Historical Understanding Standard and Benchmarks

MCREL Standard 1, Level IV (Grade 9-12)
Understands historical continuity and change related to a particular development or theme

MCREL Standard 2, Level IV (Grade 9-12)
Understands that the consequences of human intentions are influenced by the means of carrying them out

MCREL Standard 2, Level IV (Grade 9-12)
Understands how the past affects our private lives and society in general

This lesson was prepared by: Thomas Thurston

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