December 06, 2011

Facts: Hitler's GI Death Camp

About the Nazi Concentration Camp at Berga

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.

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