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Facts: Hitler's GI Death Camp

About the Nazi Concentration Camp at Berga

Photo: A diary kept by an American POW during WWII

Photo: A diary kept by an American POW during WWII (View larger version)

Photograph by Miriam Lomaskin and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Published

Deep inside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, newly discovered artifacts, photographs, and journals tell the story of 350 American GIs who were held as prisoners of war in one of Hitler's most secretive slave labor camps, known as Berga. Here are some of the facts of the story.

  • In the 1930s, before being used as a prisoner-of-war camp, Berga was a camp for young Nazi volunteers.

  • The Battle of the Bulge was a gamble for Hitler to change the course of the western front. In a little over a month, 81,000 American soldiers were injured, killed, or captured.

  • During WWII, American soldiers had a letter stamped on the upper-left corner of their dog tags to indicate certain religions for proper burial ministrations: “C” stood for Catholics, “P” for Protestants, and “H” for Hebrew.

  • Initially interned along at the Stalag 9B POW camp in Bad Orb, Germany, with more than 2,000 other American soldiers, a group of 350 was isolated from the rest, including every POW who was known or suspected to be Jewish.

  • In 1945, about 3 percent of the American armed forces was Jewish. Of the 350 soldiers sent to Berga, at least 23 percent were Jewish.

  • After living in separate barracks under SS guard for several weeks, the group of 350 was boarded onto boxcars without food or water and transferred to the Berga labor camp, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, where they arrived on February 13, 1945.

  • While riding in the boxcars for several days, the soldiers being taken to Berga used straw as toilet paper, until it ran out. Then they were forced to use letters sent from loved ones back home.

  • After spending just 50 days at Berga, only 280 American prisoners were left to walk the forced death march led by their captors. Seventy others were sent to hospitals, escaped, or perished.

  • Only 63 of the original 350 who were sent to Berga survived until liberation.

  • Most of the American GIs weighed around 160 to 170 pounds when they arrived at Berga. When they were released ten weeks later, most of the survivors weighed around 80 to 90 pounds.

  • The Berga GIs were liberated in two groups: the first by the 90th Infantry Division on April 20, 1945, and the second by the 11th Armored Division on April 23, 1945.

  • The barrack that once housed the American prisoners in Berga still stands today on a hill on the south end of Berga, Germany.

  • In 1942 alone, an estimated 2.7 million Jews were killed by the Nazis as the apparatus of the Final Solution became fully operational.

  • The Germans managed to relocate millions of Jews from the ghettos of Europe to the extermination camps with a ruse: They told the Jews they were being resettled in a place that would be far superior to the cramped, squalid quarters in which they had been living.

  • Hungary was the last country to resist the Nazi invasion. By the end of 1943, more than 700,000 Jews still lived peacefully in Hungary, while outside of the country more than 4.3 million European Jews had been slaughtered by the Germans.

  • In March 1944, Hungary, under the influence of Adolph Eichmann, began deporting its Jewish citizens. Within two months 434,351 had been sent to Auschwitz and were being killed at a rate of 6,000 to 12,000 per day.

  • By 1944, all of the death camps in Nazi-occupied Europe had been shut down, except for Auschwitz, which was still operating at full capacity.


20 comments
David Cruz
David Cruz

My Uncle Jack Cruz was captured during the Battle of the Bulge. While watching this show it described everything he told me back in the early 90's  including the rail car being bombed by the aircraft, getting beat up everyday by a German guard, eating only soup sometimes and getting liberated after the German guards left their post. He said the guards were afraid the Russians were  going to get their first.  He said when he saw the American tanks it was the best day of his life. I taped it but lost the cassette years later. It their a list of the POW's who were there?

David Cruz
David Cruz

My Uncle Jack Cruz was captured during the Battle of the Bulge. While watching this show it described everything he told me back in the early 90's  including the rail car being bombed by the aircraft, getting beat up everyday by a German guard, eating only soup sometimes and getting liberated after the German guards left their post. He said the guards were afraid the Russians were  going to get their first.  he said when he saw the American tanks it was the best day of his life. I taped it but lost the cassette years later. It their a list of the POW's who were there?

dwcruz@yahoo.com

V Crawford-Robinson
V Crawford-Robinson

I noted while watching ("Hitler's GI Death Camp") the footage of the captured American GIs, that there were also African American GIs in the first part of the footage.  Although there was much about the Jewish GIs, there was no information about what happen to the African American GIs.  Given the ferocity of the German SS toward the Jewish GIs, one can only imagine the fate of those men. Where is the documentation/information as to what happened to those African American GIs who were captured? 

V Crawford-Robinson
V Crawford-Robinson

I noted while watching ("Hitler's GI Death Camp") the footage of the captured American GIs, that there were also African American GIs in the first part of the footage.  Although there was much about the Jewish GIs, there was no information about what happen to the African American GIs.  Given the ferocity of the German SS toward the Jewish GIs, one can only imagine the fate of those men. Where is the documentation/information as to what happened to those African American GIs who were captured? Where is their story?



Rogers Hellman
Rogers Hellman

My father, now deceased, was a Jewish American POW held at Stalag 9B, but he escaped.  In the official records he is listed as having been captured in Sep 1944 and held for 5 months.  That would mean he escaped within weeks if not days of the transfer to Berga.


If any survivors of Stalag 9B or Berga, or their families are reading this and remember a soldier with last name of Hellman, I would love to hear from you.


The story of his escape is pretty riveting, but I know nothing of the others who escaped with him.  If it happened that they were individuals slated to go to Berga, it would even add another chapter to this sad, but fascinating story.


Rogers Hellman 

BIkramjit Dam
BIkramjit Dam

It is really very sad to know and should be known by everybody...

John LINSTRA
John LINSTRA

My Uncle was also a victim of Berga.  He was captured during the Bulge and originally taken to Stalag 9B at Bad Orb Germany.  He was then taken with the others to Berga.  He died of malnutrition after liberation in England.  He must have been part of the first group that was liberated from the German hospital.  I had a chance to meet a friend from his unit who was with him in the camps.  The family never knew the whole story until I did the research.  I even had a chance to visit Berga and walk along where the tunnels are/were. 

Pam Mighaccio
Pam Mighaccio

I am in tears, having never known about the Americans who were in the death camps along with the Jews.  This is such a powerful program and should be seen by all college students when they study that era.

Norma Yolanda Lozano Vega
Norma Yolanda Lozano Vega

A shameful part of human history. It bothers me a lot when sometimes ignorant people Say this did not happen. I hope we humankind learn from our past.

Terry Burke
Terry Burke

I had no idea about this sort of camp, an absolute eye opener. Another example of the evil third Reich,god bless them all.

Dr. Lou Turchi
Dr. Lou Turchi

I am somewhat of a historian of WWII, especially in Europe.  My two sons and I have visited Normandy and Bastogne for the past four years.  I have never heard of this camp or the surrender of G.I.'s in the Ardennes.  I started to watch the program last night and had to turn it off.  Perhaps, it was just too much of a shock and since I Tivo'd the program I might watch it with my sons. On our visits to Bastogne we have had private tour guides who are well versed in the Battle of the Bulge, yet neither have mentioned this camp???? 

Judy Ferguson
Judy Ferguson

I just want to send a great big hug and kisses to all the American GI POW's and give you guys a heartfelt "thank you" from the bottom of my heart for all that you suffered on my and the rest of our countrymen's account.  I just want you to know that there is someone out here who appreciates what you and others like you gave for me. Thank you, Judy L Ferguson

Rachel Franchi
Rachel Franchi

This is outrageous...Im sick over this even happening AND the fact that I also had never heard of this!  

Why wasn't this covered over in our history classes growing up!!!  I pray for all of the fallen and the survivors of WWII tragedys.

Dr. Lou Turchi
Dr. Lou Turchi

@Rachel Franchi You are correct in why this wasn't taught in our history classes.  But very little of WWII is taught in history classes.   Almost as if it never happened.  However, in my many visits to Normandy and Belgium, they do teach this in their schools.  I have been told often that they do not want the younger generation to ever forget the supreme sacrifice made for their freedom.  Where is America????

Edward Urban
Edward Urban

@Rachel Franchi Rachel - as the son of one of the survivors of the Berga Camp, I too was sickened by the fact that this story was hidden away. My father died in 1956 when I was only 8 years old, and until recently, never knew of the story.  The survivors were forced to sign a non-disclosure form, and being the patriots they were, they never spoke of it to anyone. It looks to me that our government did not want the world to know this dirty secret, so they could look the other way in prosecuting the camp guards with whom they sought information.

Edward Urban
Edward Urban

@Rachel Franchi Rachel - as the son of one of the survivors of the Berga Camp, I too was sickened by the fact that this story was hidden away. My father died in 1956 when I was only 8 years old, and until recently, never knew of the story.  The survivors were forced to sign a non-disclosure form, and being the patriots they were, they never spoke of it to anyone. It looks to me that our government did not want the world to know this dirty secret, so they could look the other way in prosecuting the camp guards with whom they sought information.

Kittie Mann
Kittie Mann

@Dr. Lou Turchi @Rachel Franchi You all are so right. I think we have a duty to our fallen soldiers too  demand these things be taught to our youth. There must be a group or something we can support toward this end.KittieMann@Att.Net   -I was the wife of a WW2 Veteran. He worked at BurtonWood England and they worked on damaged aircraft. I was born in '43, my husband was born in '23.  He continued working for the govt. as a civilian,for Army,Navy etc.  Our eldest son became a ww2 historian and friends with many of the flyers of that time. Tex Hill,Chanult's son,many of the Flying Tigers and Those earlier flyers in China. Thank you to all who served and those who lost their lives,for ours and the worlds freedom. This was a generation that will never be seen again.

Rich Young
Rich Young

@Edward Urban @Rachel Franchi If your father was Anthony, after the war he sent my grandmother a letter detailing my uncle's death at Berga. Uncle David's death was mentioned by Tony Acevedo in this piece.  My father kept the three letters that were sent to my grandmother (Anthony Urban,  John W. Reifenrath, and Robert Welker).

Edward Urban
Edward Urban

@Rich Young@Edward Urban@Rachel Franchi Hello Rich - Yes, my father's name was Anthony. I just took a guess that maybe your uncle's last name was Young as well, so I looked in my father's address book and saw that he had a Mrs. N. Young, 101 Grant Avenue, W. Collingswood, NJ among the listings. I must assume that this is your grandmother. If you still have the letter that my father wrote, I'd love to get a copy if possible. My contact info is as follows: Edward Urban, 3107 Alberta Street, Munhall, PA 15120.

Best regards - Ed