Buried Alive Screaming In The Night: German POW Survivors Describe Eisenhower’s Extermination Camps After WWII Had Ended
One night in April 1945, I was startled out of my stupor in the rain and the mud by piercing screams and loud groans… I saw this bulldozer moving forward through the crowd of prisoners who lay there. In the front it had a blade making a pathway. How many of the prisoners were buried alive in their earth holes…
A similar incident occurred at the American camp at Rheinberg in mid-June 1945… the last act of the Americans at Rheinberg before the British took over was to bulldoze one section of the camp level while there were still living men in their holes in the ground.
This is one of a series of articles detailing aspects of the Western Allies deliberate intention to murder approximately 1 million disarmed German POWs by means of unnecessary starvation, exposure, and illness.
On July 27, 1929, the Allies extended the Protective Regulations of the Geneva Convention for Wounded Soldiers to include prisoners of war (POWs). These regulations state: “All accommodations should be equal to the standard of their troops. The Red Cross supervises. After the end of the hostilities the POWs should be released immediately.” On March 10, 1945, Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, disregarded these regulations by classifying German prisoners captured on German territory as “Disarmed Enemy Forces” (DEFs). The German prisoners were therefore at the mercy of the Allies and were not protected by international law. [i]
The Western Allies deliberately murdered approximately 1 million disarmed German POWs by means of starvation, exposure, and illness. This Allied atrocity was first publicly exposed in 1989 in the book Other Losses by James Bacque. Bacque estimates in Other Losses that the victims undoubtedly number over 790,000, almost certainly over 900,000, and quite likely over a million. The prisoners’ deaths were knowingly caused by army officers who had sufficient resources to keep these prisoners alive. Relief organizations such as the Red Cross that attempted to help prisoners in the American camps were refused permission by the army. [ii]
Germans Testify to the Eisenhower POW Extermination Camps
Surviving German prisoners have provided testimony of the horrific conditions and mistreatment they received in the Allied prisoner of war (POW) camps. Many surviving German prisoners were badly mistreated even before arriving at the Allied camps. Werner Wilhelm Laska, a German prisoner of war, reports his transfer to an American prison camp:
The American guards who arrived with the truck were nasty and cruel from the start. I was forced in with kicks and punches to my back. Other German soldiers were already on board. After a drive of an hour or two we arrived at an open field on which many servicemen were already assembled, in rank and file. As we got off the truck, a large group of Americans awaited us. They received us with shouts and yells, such as: “You Hitler, you Nazi, etc….” We got beaten, kicked and pushed; one of those gangsters brutally tore my watch from my wrist. Each of these bandits already possessed 10 or 20 watches, rings and other things. The beating continued until I reached the line where my comrades stood. Most of our water-bottles (canteens), rucksacks etc. were cut off, and even overcoats had to be left on the ground. More and more prisoners arrived, including even boys and old men. After a few hours, big trailer-trucks—usually used for transporting cattle—lined up for loading with human cattle.
We had to run the gauntlet to get into the trucks; we were beaten and kicked. Then they jammed us in so tightly that they couldn’t even close the hatches. We couldn’t even breathe. The soldiers drove the vehicles at high speed over the roads and through villages and towns; behind each trailer-truck always followed a jeep with a mounted machine gun.
In late afternoon we stopped in an open field again, and were unloaded in the same manner, with beating and kicking. We had to line up at attention just like recruits in basic training. Quickly, the Americans fenced us in with rolls of barbed wire, so there was no space to sit or to lie down that night. We even had to do our necessities in the standing position. Since we received no water or foodstuffs, our thirst and hunger became acute and urgent. Some men still had tea in their canteens, but there was hardly enough for everyone.
Next day the procedure began as on the day before; running the gauntlet into the cattle-trailers, then transport to the next open field. No drinking and no eating, but always fenced in–there is an American song: “… Don’t fence me in…”–as well as the childish behavior of most of the Americans: Punishing the Nazis! After the first night, when we were loaded again, some of us stayed on that field, either dead or so weak and sick that they could not move any more. We had been approaching the Rhine River, as we noticed, but we had still one night to pass in the manner related. It was terrible!
All this could not have been a coincidence. It must have been a plan, because, as we later learned, there was nearly the same treatment in all camps run by American units. During the war we heard about the “Morgenthau Plan” and the “Kaufman Plan,” and exactly that seemed to have been happening to us in those moments: the extermination of an entire people!
Laska eventually was sent to France to work in coal mines and other unpleasant places, where his ordeal continued. On January 7, 1950, the French finally discharged Laska to Germany.
James Bacque writes that the response he has received following the original publication of Other Losses has been amazing. Bacque states:
“Most gratifying has been the huge response from thousands of ex-prisoners who have written to me, or telephoned, sent faxes or e-mail, or even called at my door, to thank me for telling a story they feared would die with them. They continue to send me diaries, letters, Tagebücher, self-published books, typescripts of memoirs, in three or four languages, along with photographs, maps, drawings, paintings and even a few artifacts.”
Several prisoners from Heilbronn have written Bacque to confirm the dreadful conditions witnessed by U.S. Cpl. Daniel McConnell and U.S. Maj. Gen. Richard Steinbach. One is Anton Pfarrer, who was 16 years old when captured and imprisoned at Heilbronn. Pfarrer writes:
“I can recall nearly every day of suffering, but I made it back, although so many thousands never did. There were 3,000 men in my cage in May but by the end of August, only 1,500 were left to answer roll call. They had all died.”
There were no discharges from his cage during that time. Pfarrer telephoned Gen. Steinbach in 1998 to thank Steinbach for saving his life.
Rudi Buchal had been ordered to serve as a German medical orderly-clerk in the POW “hospital” at Bretzenheim, a tent with an earth floor inside the camp. The hospital had no beds, no medical supplies, no blankets, and starvation rations for the first month or more. A few supplies were later obtained by American teams from the German towns nearby. Buchal was told by drivers of the 560th Ambulance Company that 18,100 POWs had died in the six camps around Bretzenheim in the 10 weeks of American control. Buchal also heard the figure of 18,100 dead from the Germans who were in charge of the hospital statistics, and from other American hospital personnel. The six camps were Bretzenheim, Biebelsheim, Bad Kreuznach, Dietersheim, Hechtsheim and Heidesheim.
The reliability of Rudi Buchal has been attested to by the U.S. Army itself. Upon discharge Buchal received a paper stating that in the opinion of U.S. Army officers who commanded him, “During the above mentioned period [April-July 1945] he proved himself to be co-operative, capable, industrious and reliable.” Similar to the experiences of U.S. Cpl. Daniel McConnell and French Dr. Joseph Kirsch, Buchal discovered that these “hospitals” were merely places to take moribund prisoners rather than places to help the prisoners get well. Buchal recalls that many of the mortally sick evacuees were taken to Idstein, north of Wiesbaden. Buchal states,
“And I can remember that from there no prisoners returned.”
German prisoners who survived Bretzenheim have described arriving there on May 9, 1945. The prisoners saw three rows of corpses along the road in front of the camp. A total of 135 dead from Bretzenheim were acknowledged by the Americans to have been buried in Stromberg on May 9 and May 10. Not all of the dead at Bretzenheim were killed by the usual starvation, disease and exposure.
Johannes Heising, formerly the abbot of a monastery on the Rhine, published a book in the 1990s about his experiences in the U.S. camp at Remagen. Franz-Josef Plemper, another former prisoner at Remagen, reminded Heising of an event not described in Heising’s book: on one night the Americans had bulldozed living men under the earth in their foxholes. Plemper described the scene to Heising:
One night in April 1945, I was startled out of my stupor in the rain and the mud by piercing screams and loud groans. I jumped up and saw in the distance (about 30 to 50 meters) the searchlight of a bulldozer. Then I saw this bulldozer moving forward through the crowd of prisoners who lay there. In the front it had a blade making a pathway. How many of the prisoners were buried alive in their earth holes I do not know. It was no longer possible to ascertain. I heard clearly cries of “You murderer.”
The horror of this incident had been so painful that Heising had suppressed it from his memory. Heising remembered this event only after Plemper reminded him of it.
A similar incident occurred at the American camp at Rheinberg in mid-June 1945. According to reports from several ex-prisoners, the last act of the Americans at Rheinberg before the British took over was to bulldoze one section of the camp level while there were still living men in their holes in the ground.
Prisoner Wolfgang Iff said that in his sub-section of perhaps 10,000 people at Rheinberg, 30 to 40 bodies were dragged out every day. As a member of the burial commando, Iff was well placed to see what was going on. Iff saw about 60 to 70 bodies going out per day in other cages of similar size.
A 50-year-old sergeant with a Ph.D. kept a diary in ink on toilet paper at Rheinberg. He wrote on May 20, 1945:
“How long will we have to be without shelter, without blankets or tents? Every German soldier once had shelter from the weather. Even a dog has a doghouse to crawl into when it rains. Our only wish is finally after six weeks to get a roof over our heads. Even a savage is better housed. Diogenes, Diogenes, you at least had your barrel.”
Part of the problem at Rheinberg was that for a long time it was overcrowded. A cage measuring 300 meters by 300 meters was supposed to hold no more than 10,000 people. However, at the beginning, as many as 30,000 prisoners were forced in, leaving about three square meters per person. Prisoner Thelen told his son through the barbed wire that approximately 330 to 770 prisoners per day were dying at Rheinberg. The camp then contained between 100,000 and 120,000 prisoners.
Charles von Luttichau said of his POW camp at Kripp near Remagen on the Rhine:
The latrines were just logs flung over ditches next to the barbed wire fences. To sleep, all we could do was to dig out a hole in the ground with our hands, then cling together in the hole. We were crowded very close together. Because of illness, the men had to defecate on the ground. Soon, many of us were too weak to take off our trousers first. So our clothing was infected, and so was the mud where we had to walk and sit and lie down. There was no water at all at first, except the rain, then after a couple of weeks we could get a little water from a standpipe. But most of us had nothing to carry it in, so we could get only a few mouthfuls after hours of lining up, sometimes even through the night. We had to walk along between the holes on the soft earth thrown up by the digging, so it was easy to fall into a hole, but hard to climb out. The rain was almost constant along that part of the Rhine that spring. More than half the days we had rain. More than half the days we had no food at all. On the rest, we got a little K ration. I could see from the package that they were giving us one-tenth of the rations that they issued to their own men. So in the end we got perhaps 5% of a normal U.S. Army ration. I complained to the American camp commander that he was breaking the Geneva Convention, but he just said, “Forget the Convention. You haven’t any rights.”
Within a few days, some of the men who had gone healthy into the camp were dead. I saw our men dragging many dead bodies to the gate of the camp, where they were thrown loose on top of each other onto trucks, which took them away.
One 17-year-old boy who could see his village in the distance was found shot one morning at the foot of the barbed wire fence. His body was strung up and left hanging on the wire by the guards as a warning to the other prisoners. Many prisoners cried out, “Moerder, moerder [murderer, murderer]!” In retaliation, the camp commander withheld the prisoners’ meager rations for three days. For prisoners who were already starving and could hardly move because of weakness, it was frightful; for many it meant death. The commander also withheld rations at other times to punish the prisoners.
George Weiss, a German tank repairman, said his camp on the Rhine was so crowded that
“we couldn’t even lie down properly. All night we had to sit up jammed against each other. But the lack of water was the worst thing of all. For three and a half days we had no water at all. We would drink our own urine. It tasted terrible, but what could we do? Some men got down on the ground and licked the ground to get some moisture. I was so weak I was already on my knees, when finally we got a little water to drink. I think I would have died without that water. But the Rhine was just outside the wire. The guards sold us water through the wire, and cigarettes. One cigarette cost 900 marks. I saw thousands dying. They took the bodies away on trucks.”
German Cpl. Helmut Liebich was captured near Gotha in central Germany by the Americans on April 17, 1945. The Gotha DEF camp had only the usual barbed wire fences with no tents. The prisoners were forced to run a gauntlet between lines of guards who hit them with sticks in order to get a small ration of food. On April 27, 1945, the prisoners were transferred to the American camp at Heidesheim farther west, where there was no food at all for days, and then very little. The prisoners started to die in large numbers from exposure, starvation and thirst. Liebich saw about 10 to 30 bodies a day being dragged out of his section, Camp B, which held about 5,200 prisoners.
On May 13, 1945, Liebich was transferred to another American camp at Bingen-Büdesheim near Bad Kreuznach. Liebich soon fell sick with dysentery and typhus. He was transferred again, semi-conscious, in an open-topped railway car with about 60 other prisoners. On a detour through Holland, the Dutch stood on bridges to smash stones down on the heads of the prisoners. After three nights, Liebich’s fellow prisoners helped him stagger into the American camp at Rheinberg, again without shelter or much food.
One day in June 1945, Liebich saw the British coming through the hallucinations of his fever. The British saved his life in their hospital at Lintfort. Liebich remembered the life-saving care he received from the British with gratitude for the rest of his life. Liebich states:
“It was wonderful to be under a roof in a real bed. We were treated like human beings again. The Tommies treated us like comrades.”
Former prisoners have also reported numerous instances of prisoners and civilians who were shot by American and French guards. Paul Kaps, a German soldier who was in the U.S. camp at Bad Kreuznach, wrote, “In one night, May 8, 1945, 48 prisoners were shot dead in Cage 9.” Prisoner Hanns Scharf witnessed an especially gruesome killing when a German woman with her two children asked an American guard at Bad Kreuznach to give a wine bottle to her husband, who was just inside the wire. The guard drank the wine himself, and when the bottle was empty the guard killed the prisoner with five shots. The other prisoners protested, and U.S. Army Lt. Holtsman said: “This is awful. I’ll make sure there is a stiff court-martial.” No evidence of a court-martial of this or any other similar incidents has ever been found.
Prisoners and civilian women were shot even though the Eisenhower order gave individual camp commanders a chance to exempt family members trying to feed relatives through the wire. German prisoner Paul Schmitt was shot in the American camp at Bretzenheim when he came close to the wire to receive a basket of food from his wife and young son. Dr. Helmut von Frizberg saw an American guard at Remagen shoot a German prisoner for talking to his wife through the wire. Frau Agnes Spira was shot by French guards at Dietersheim in July 1945 for taking food to prisoners. Her memorial in nearby Büdesheim reads,
“On the 31 of July 1945, my mother was suddenly and unexpectedly torn from me because of her good deed toward the imprisoned soldiers.”
French Capt. Julien got into serious trouble for quarreling with a fellow officer, Capt. Rousseau. Rousseau shot at German women in Julien’s presence, at about the same time and in the same place as a French officer shot Frau Spira. At Bad Kreuznach, William Sellner said that at night guards would shoot machine gun bullets at random into the camps, apparently for sport. Ernst Richard Krische in Bad Kreuznach wrote in his diary on May 4, 1945:
“Wild shooting in the night, absolute fireworks. It must be the supposed peace. Next morning 40 dead as ‘victims of the fireworks,’ in our cage alone, many wounded.”
[i] Gruettner, Maria, “Real Death Camps of World War II,” The Barnes Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, July/August 2012, pp. 28-29.
[ii] Bacque, James, Other Losses: An Investigation into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners at the Hands of the French and Americans after World War II, 3rd edition, Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2011, pp. lxvi-lxvii.
 Laska, Werner Wilhelm, “In a U.S. Death Camp—1945,” The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, Summer 1990, pp. 169-170.
 Ibid., p. 175.
 Bacque, James, Other Losses: An Investigation into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners at the Hands of the French and Americans after World War II, 3rd edition, Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2011, p. xxiii.
 Ibid., p. xxii.
 Bacque, James, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950, 2nd edition, Vancouver, British Columbia: Talonbooks, 2007, pp. 49-50.
 Ibid., pp. 50-51, 53.
 Bacque, James, Other Losses: An Investigation into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners at the Hands of the French and Americans after World War II, 3rd edition, Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2011, pp. xxxiv-xxxv.
 Ibid., p. lxiii.
 Ibid., p. 130.
 Ibid., pp. 40-41.
 Ibid., pp. 37, 39.
 Ibid., p. 41.
 Ibid., pp. 33-34.
 Ibid., p. 34.
 Ibid., p. 36.
 Ibid., pp. 128-130.
 Ibid., pp. xxxiv, 239.
 Ibid., pp. xxxii-xxxiv.
 Bacque, James, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950, 2nd edition, Vancouver, British Columbia: Talonbooks, 2007, p. 46.