The Deliberate Extermination, Torture & Starvation Of German POWs, Women & Children In Allied-Run Concentration Camps
He showed me photographs of human skeletons and letters from French camp commanders who have asked to be relieved because they can get no help from the French government and cannot stand to see the [German] prisoners dying from lack of food.
People were talking a horrifying death rate [of German POWs], not from sickness but starvation, and of men who weighed an average 35-45 kilos [80-100 pounds]. At first we doubted the truth of all this, but appeals came to us from many sources…
This is one of a series of published and planned articles detailing aspects of the Western Allies deliberate intention to murder possibly well over 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.
Introduction: Comparison to German Camps
Germany also approached the ICRC immediately after war broke out with the Soviet Union to attempt to regulate the conditions of prisoners on both sides. The ICRC contacted Soviet ambassadors in London and Sweden, but the Soviet leaders in Moscow refused to cooperate. Germany also sent lists of their Russian prisoners to the Soviet government until September 1941. The German government eventually stopped sending these lists in response to the Soviet Union’s refusal to reciprocate.[iii]
Over the winter Germany made further efforts to establish relations with the Soviets in an attempt to introduce the provisions of The Hague and Geneva Conventions concerning POWs. Germany was rebuffed again. Hitler himself made an appeal to Stalin for prisoners’ postal services and urged Red Cross inspection of the camps. Stalin responded:
“There are no Russian prisoners of war. The Russian soldier fights on till death. If he chooses to become a prisoner, he is automatically excluded from the Russian community. We are not interested in a postal service only for Germans.”[iv]
The death of millions of Russian POWs in German captivity constitutes one of the major tragedies of the Second World War. However, much of the blame for the terrible fate of these Soviet soldiers was due to the inflexibly cruel policies of Joseph Stalin. A major portion of the Soviet POWs who died from hunger could have been saved had Stalin not called them traitors and denied them the right to live. By preventing the ICRC from distributing food to the Soviet POWs in German captivity, Stalin needlessly caused the death of a large percentage of these Soviet POWs.
Thus, Germany did not intentionally mass murder its POWs and camp inmates during World War II. The Allies can not legitimately use revenge as a reason for their intentional starvation of German POWs after the end of the war.
Additional Witnesses to the American and French POW Camps
In addition to American soldiers and German survivors, many other witnesses and government officials knew about the lethal conditions in the Allied prisoner of war (POW) camps. In an interview conducted in June 1945 with the U.S. Army, Dr. Konrad Adenauer deplored the U.S. death camps along the Rhine in very strong terms. Adenauer said:
Some of the German PWs are being held in camps in a manner contrary to all humanitarian principles and flagrantly contrary to the Hague [and Geneva] Convention. All along the Rhine from Remagen-Sinzig to Ludwigshafen the German prisoners have been penned up for weeks without any protection from the weather, without drinking water, without medical care and with only a few slices of bread to eat. They could not even lie down on the floor [ground]. These were many hundreds of thousands. It is said that the same is true in the interior of Germany. These people died by the thousands. They stood day and night in wet mud up to their ankles! Conditions have improved during the past few weeks. Of course the enormous number of prisoners is one of the causes of these conditions but it is noteworthy that to the best of my knowledge, it took a great many weeks to improve at least the worst conditions. The impression made on the Germans by the publication of facts about the concentration camps was greatly weakened by this fact…I know that in the winter of 1941-1942 the Russian prisoners were very badly treated by the Germans and we ought to be ashamed of the fact, but I feel that you ought not to do the same thing. German prisoners too in camps ate grass and picked leaves from the trees because they were hungry exactly as the Russians unfortunately did….
Dr. Adenauer’s description of the German men who “stood day and night in wet mud up to their ankles” as they died by the thousands is similar to the description of the prisoners in American camps along the Rhine made in April 1945 by U.S. Cols. Charles Beasley and James Mason, who said that the prisoners were “standing ankle-deep in mud.”
Dr. Joseph Kirsch, a French volunteer doctor who worked in an evacuation hospital for moribund prisoners of war, writes:
I volunteered to the Military Government of the 21st [French] Military region [near Metz]…I was assigned to the French Military hospital at the little seminary of Montigny…In May 1945, the Americans who occupied the hospital at Legouest brought us every night by ambulance, stretchers loaded with moribund prisoners in German uniforms…These ambulances arrived by the back door…We lined up the stretchers in central hall. For treatment, we had nothing at our disposal. We could only perform elementary superficial examinations (auscultation), only to find out the anticipated cause of death in the night…for in the morning, more ambulances arrived with coffins and quicklime…These prisoners were in such extremely bad condition that my role was reduced to comforting the dying. This drama has obsessed me since the war; I consider it a horror.
Similar to the experience of U.S. Cpl. Daniel McConnell, Dr. Kirsch discovered that these “hospitals” were merely places to take moribund prisoners rather than places to help the prisoners get well.
Prisoners transferred from the American camps to the French camps kept on starving. Journalist Jacques Fauvet wrote in Le Monde: “As one speaks today of Dachau, in 10 years people throughout the world will speak about camps like Saint Paul d’Eyjeaux,” where 17,000 prisoners taken over from the Americans in late July were dying so fast that within a few weeks two cemeteries of 200 graves each had been filled. The death rate by the end of September was 10 per day, or over 21% per year.
Fauvet challenged the question of revenge:
“People will object that the Germans weren’t very particular on the matter of feeding our men, but even if they did violate the Geneva Convention, that hardly seems to justify our following their example…People have often said that the best service that we could do the Germans would be to imitate them, so they would one day find us before the judgment of history, but it is to an ideal higher than mere dignity that France should remain faithful; it is to be regretted that the foreign press had to remind us of that…We didn’t suffer and fight to perpetuate the crimes of other times and places.”
Jean-Pierre Pradervand, head of the delegations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in France, went to inspect the French camp at Thorée les Pins in the late summer of 1945. This camp was already known in the village nearby as “Buchenwald” after the notorious German camp. Two thousand of the men at the camp were already so far gone that nothing could save them. Twenty of the prisoners died the day Pradervand was there. Approximately 6,000 of the prisoners would soon be dead unless they were immediately given food, clothing, shelter and medical care. All of the remaining prisoners were undernourished.
Pradervand first appealed directly to de Gaulle, who repeatedly ignored him. So Pradervand got in touch with the ICRC in Geneva, asking for action. On September 14, 1945, the ICRC in Geneva sent a devastating document to the State Department in Washington, D.C. based on Pradervand’s report of the conditions in the camp. The document requested that the U.S. government take emergency measures to supply the prisoners with food, medications, clothing, boots, blankets, and soap. The ICRC recommended that the United States increase rations in American camps in Europe to obviate the prolonged undernourishment of the German prisoners.
Henry W. Dunning, who was in the prisoner of war department of the American Red Cross, also wrote on September 5, 1945, to the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. Dunning stated:
[T]he situation of the German prisoners of war in France has become desperate and shortly will become an open scandal. During the past week several Frenchmen, who were formerly prisoners of the Germans, have called on me to protest the treatment being given German prisoners of war by the French Government. Gen. Thrasher, commanding the Oise Intermediary sector, asked one of our field workers to come to Paris to see me about the same matter. Mrs. Dunning, returning from Bourges, reports that dozens of German prisoners are dying there weekly. I saw Pradervand who told me that the situation of German prisoners in France in many instances is worse than in the former German concentration camps. He showed me photographs of human skeletons and letters from French camp commanders who have asked to be relieved because they can get no help from the French government and cannot stand to see the prisoners dying from lack of food. Pradervand has appealed to everyone in the French government but to no avail.
The French newspaper Le Figaro reported the horrific conditions of the prisoner camps in September 1945. The newspaper had been convinced by the testimony of impeccable witnesses, such as a priest, Father Le Meur, who had actually seen the prisoners starving in the camps. Le Figaro’s reporter, Serge Bromberger, wrote:
“The most serious source confirmed that the physical state of the prisoners was worse than deplorable. People were talking a horrifying death rate, not from sickness but starvation, and of men who weighed an average 35-45 kilos [80-100 pounds]. At first we doubted the truth of all this, but appeals came to us from many sources and we could not disregard the testimony of Father Le Meur, Assistant General Chaplain to the prisoners.”
Le Figaro interviewed French Gen. Louis Buisson, the head of the Prisoner of War Service, who admitted that the prisoners got only 900 to 1,000 calories per day. Buisson said,
“The doctors told us this was just enough for a man lying in bed never moving not to die too quickly.”
Louis Clair wrote in The Progressive of the horrible conditions in the French camps of German POWs. He reported:
In a camp in the Sarthe district for 20,000 prisoners, inmates receive 900 calories a day; thus 12 die every day in the hospital. Four to five thousand are unable to work at all anymore. Recently trains with new prisoners arrived in the camp: several prisoners had died during the trip, several others had tried to stay alive by eating coal that had been lying in the freight train by which they came.
In an Orleans camp, the commander received 16 francs a day per head or prisoner to buy food, but he spent only nine francs, so that the prisoners were starving. In the Charentes district, 2,500 of the 12,000 camp inmates are sick. A young French soldier writes to a friend just returned from a Nazi camp: “I watch those who made you suffer so much, dying of hunger, sleeping on cold cement floors, in no way protected from rain and wind. I see kids of 19, who beg me to give them certificates that they are healthy enough to join the French Foreign Legion…Yes, I who hated them so much, today can only feel pity for them.”
A witness reports on the camp in Langres: “I have seen them beaten with rifle butts and kicked with feet in the streets of the town because they broke down of overwork. Two or three of them die of exhaustion every week.”
In another camp near Langres, 700 prisoners slowly die of hunger; they have hardly any blankets and not enough straw to sleep on; there is a typhoid epidemic in the camp which has already spread to the neighboring village. In another camp prisoners receive only one meal a day but are expected to continue working. Elsewhere so many have died recently that the cemetery space was exhausted and another cemetery had to be built.
In a camp where prisoners work on the removal of mines, regular food supplies arrive only every second day so that “prisoners make themselves a soup of grass and some stolen vegetables.” All prisoners of this camp have contracted tuberculosis. Here and elsewhere treatment differs in no respect from the Nazi SS brutality. Many cases have been reported where men have been so horribly beaten that their limbs were broken. In one camp, men were awakened during the night, crawled out of their barracks and then shot “because of attempted escape.”
There are written affidavits proving that in certain camps commanding officers sold on the black market all the supplies that had been provided by American Army authorities; there are other affidavits stating that the prisoners were forced to take off their shoes and run the gauntlet. And so on, and so on…These are the facts.
The ICRC inspecting the French camps in 1945 and 1946 reported time after time that conditions were “unsatisfactory,” “disturbing,” “alarming,” but very seldom that they were satisfactory. At the end of October 1946, the ICRC stated that “the situation at present is more than alarming. More than half the German POWs working are insufficiently clad and will not be able to stand up to the rigors of winter without running the gravest risks of disease. In such conditions a high number of deaths in the course of winter must be expected.” The same dire warnings were repeated in a report by the ICRC in 1947.
Random shootings of prisoners were common in the French camps. Lt. Col. Barnes reported that drunken French army officers at Andernach one night drove their Jeep through the camp laughing and shouting as they blasted the prisoners with their Sten guns. The result was 47 prisoners dead and 55 wounded. French guards pretending to notice an escape attempt at another camp shot down 10 prisoners in their cages. The violence reached such heights in the 108th Infantry Regiment that Gen. Billotte, the commanding officer of the Region, recommended that the Regiment be dissolved. Billotte’s recommendation was based on the advice of Lt. Col. de Champvallier, the Regiment’s CO, who had given up attempting to discipline his men.
French Capt. Julien thought as he walked in the former American camp of 32,000 prisoners at Dietersheim in July 1945, “This is just like Buchenwald and Dachau.” The muddy ground was “peopled with living skeletons,” some of whom died as he watched, others huddled under bits of cardboard. Women lying in holes in the ground stared at him with bulging bellies from hunger edema, old men with long grey hair watched him feebly, and starving children of six or seven looked at him with lifeless eyes. Julien could find no food at all in this camp. The two German doctors in the “hospital” were attempting to take care of the many dying patients stretched out on dirty blankets on the ground, between the marks of the tents the Americans had taken with them.
The 103,500 prisoners in five camps near Dietersheim were supposed to be part of the labor force given by the Americans to the French for reparations. However, of these prisoners the French counted 32,640 who could not work because they were old men, women, children less than eight years old, boys age eight to 14, terminally sick or cripples. All of these prisoners were immediately released. The prisoners found at another former U.S. camp at Hechtsheim were also in lamentable condition. The skeletal prisoners at Hechtsheim dressed in rags again reminded Capt. Julien of the victims in German concentration camps. In his report, Julien called the camps “bagnes de mort lents” or slow death camps.
Capt. Julien took immediate steps to improve conditions in the camps. The official army ration had been only 800 calories per person per day. This starvation level, which was the same as the German concentration camp at Belsen when it was liberated, was all that the French army allocated to POWs from its own supplies. Capt. Julien rounded up the women from the village, who immediately brought food to the camp. Julien received additional help in his efforts to improve conditions in the camps from “German authorities” and the ICRC. By August 1, 1945, over 90% of the prisoners were housed in tents, food rations were greatly increased, and the death rate had been cut by more than half. Capt. Julien’s system of improving the camps worked. The U.S. Army could have adopted Julien’s humanitarian methods, but chose instead to let the German POWs die of exposure and slow starvation.
On a visit to one prison camp, Robert Murphy, who was the civilian political advisor to Eisenhower while he served for a few months as Military Governor, “was startled to see that our prisoners were almost as weak and emaciated as those I had observed in Nazi prison camps.” The commandant of the camp told Murphy that he had deliberately kept the inmates on a starvation diet. The commandant explained, “These Nazis are getting a dose of their own medicine.” Murphy was later able to get the commandant transferred to another post. It is uncertain how much conditions at the camp improved after the commandant’s transfer.
[i] 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. 67-68.
[ii] Wear, John, Germany’s War: The Origins, Aftermath and Atrocities of World War II, Upper Marlboro, MD: American Free Press, 2014, p. 383.
[iii] Tolstoy, Nikolai, Victims of Yalta: The Secret Betrayal of The Allies 1944-1947, New York and London: Pegasus Books, 1977, pp. 33-34.
[iv] Ibid., p. 34.
 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. 186-187.
 Ibid., p. xxxix.
 Ibid., pp. 97-98.
 Ibid., pp. 87-88.
 Ibid., p. 89.
 Ibid., p. 91.
 Clair, Louis, The Progressive, Jan. 14, 1946, p. 4. Quoted in Keeling, Ralph Franklin, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies’ Postwar War Against the German People, Torrance, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1992, pp. 22-23.
 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. 107.
 Ibid., pp. 85-86.
 Ibid., pp. 81-83.
 Ibid., pp. 144-145.