Some unknown World War II history to many Americans is that about a month before the end of World War II, a German commander of an American prisoner of war camp received orders to send 350 American prisoners to BERGA, a mini concentration camp in Germany.These orders specified that as many Jewish American prisoners should be included in this transfer.
Some Jewish American POW’s were able to throw away their identification dog tags that were imprinted with the letter H for Hebew,but still 80 Jewish American POW’s were selected and the balance of the prisoner quota was with captured Americans who resembled Jews, had Jewish sounding names or were trouble makers.
This group was sent to Berga which was a satellite concentration camp of the well known
Buchenwald that housed hundreds of holocaust victims.
This special selected group of prisoners were ordered to drill holes in the rocks of a mine. The Germans filled the holes with dynamite and blasted the mine rocks,which the prisoners loaded in carts and pushed into a river working 12 hour shifts. Many of these prisoners were tortured and beaten. After approximately 2 months of hard labor, including a death march, over 70 of the Berga victims perished.
I was a member of the 542d Field Artillery Battalion, 42d Rainbow Division. During World War I
the Rainbow division served under General Douglas MacArthur., In the autumn of 1944, the three Rainbow infantry regiments were rushed overseas ahead of the remainder of the division and saw action near Strasbourg, France around the time of the Bulge. The rest of the division including my field artillery unit joined the infantry on January 18, 1945. Without artillery support, the Rainbow infantry units sustained huge losses including 1174 soldiers captured by the Nazis.With all its units intact, the Rainbow Division attcked the German defensive position, successfully, and were a liberator of the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945.
My division published a book entitled, “Hold at all Cost”, that contained personal accounts of Rainbow Division veterans captured by the Germans. I discovered that one member from my outfit, Morton Brooks,a member of the Rainbow infantry,who became a prisoner of the Nazis was sent to Berga,and narrowly escapted death.
I researched our division records, and contacted Mort, who now lives in Boynton Beach, Florida,and personally met him at a program sponsored by the US Holocaust Museum ,Washington,D.C. that honored concentration camp liberators from many US cities.
MORT BROOK’S MEMORIES
The night of January 8, 1945, I was on duty in a fron-line foxhole, in Hatten, France, when German Panzer divsions attacked us.
Our positions were overrun so that by morning we were actually behind the German front line. The line on our field phone was cut so, we could not
communicate in order to direct artillery fires. As I was knowledgible about conncting phone wiring, I was asked to follow the line back to the point where it could be reconnected.After a while my sergant after seeing a tiger tank coming up the road, indicated that we should surrender.
When performing forced labor of drilling holes in the mineshaft in Berga,there were SS guards with dogs walking the area outside the mineshafts, and we were subject to beatings. I was hit with a pick ax handle or rubber hose on a number of occasions.
Some time ago, I met a Doctor Shapiro who was also a Berga survivor . He sent me a long account of his experiences which included the following memories:
“I now clearly understand and know that my near-death horror was because I was a Jewish American soldier, not an ordinary American POW. The primary and determing factor was being Jewish and therefore, I followed similar routes of uprooted Jews throughout Europe destined for annihilation by the Nazis. WE WERE IN THE SAME HOLOCAUST !!!
Another prisoner of war sent me a news letter, entitled EX-POW BULLETIN, official voice of the American Ex-Prisoners of War.
Portions of a book on the Berga history entitled “American GI’S, German Death, Concentration and Slave Labor Camps by a Daniel Drooze contained some surprising memories.
When I was liberated, I ended up in a hospital. I didn’t want to live. I heard them talking about amputating my leg and I didn’t care.
I HAD TO SIGN A GAG ORDER PLEDGING NOT TO DISCUSS BEING IN BERGA BEFORE THEY WOULD RELEASE ME FROM THE ARMY. OTHERWISE THEY WOULD NOT LET ME OUT.
I THINK THE GOVERNMENET SURPRESSED THE FACT THAT WE WRE NOT TO MENTION OUR HORRIBLE TREATMENT BECAUSE THEY WERE BRINGING OVER SO MANY GERMAN SCIENTISTS AFTER THE WAR TO ASSIST OUR GOVERNMENT IN THE COLD WAR WITH RUSSIA. WERNER VON BRAUN, A FORMER LEADING NAZI AND FORMER SS MEMBER WAS BROUGHT OVER AND HEADED THE US POST WAR SPACE PROGRAM.
WHEN WE CAME BACK, THE ARMY DID NOT WANT NEGATIVE PUBLICITY ABOUT GERMAN TREATMENT OF BERGA PRISONERS. WE HAD TO SIGN A PLEDGE NOT TO TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO US. THEY WERE BRINGING IN GERMAN SCIENTISTS. THE FORMER ENGLISH LEADER, CHURCHILL SAID-THE AMERICANS FORGOT WHO WAS THEIR ENEMY AND WHO WERE THEIR FRIENDS.
Not long ago, Congressman Spencer Bachus and Congressman Joe Baca, after discovering the Berga history, finally recognized a group of American soldiers held as prisoners of war at a Nazi mini concentration camp, called Berga, during World War II for the first time in history.
At a gathering in Orlando, Florida,June 2009, six Berga survivors were present and honored. The program was aired on TV station CNN. There are 22 known Berga survivors still alive.
RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON THE BERGA HISTORY
“Soldiers and Slaves” by Roger Cohen (New York Times reporter)
FORGOTTEN VICTIMS by Mitchell Bard
No comments yet.