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January 29, 2013

Eisenhower’s death camps — a stain on American history

Filed under: World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:43 am

The term “death camp” is used by Holocaustians to mean a Nazi concentration camp where prisoners were taken to be deliberately killed in gas chambers or worked to death.  The term Vernichtungslager (extermination camp) was coined by the Allies to refer to the six Nazi “death camps”:  Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The POW enclosure at Reemagen

The open air POW enclosure at Remagen

The POW camps set up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, after World War II ended, are also called death camps, because 1.7 million German POWs allegedly died in these camps. To read more about Eisenhower’s camps, go to this website or this website.

The subject of Eisenhower’s death camps came up in a recent comment on my blog, made by a reader who was actually a prisoner in one of Eisenhower’s camps.  The following quote is from his comment:

… all I can say to you and your readers that I reached that stage of the of starvation as a POW under Eisenhower within 10 days after receiving no food or water, according to his orders to all Allied Forces (Montgomery did not follow these instructions after consultation with Churchill). All I received was one pint of watery soup with dried onions in them. My weight was down to 50 kg(112lbs) and I could no longer walk, thus became a Muselmann, but was slowly nourished back to reasonable health at (German) Army Field Hospital. My average weight at the height of 1,82 m has always been steady at 80 kg (182lbs). You very rarely ever see pictures or comments of what was going on at the end of 1945,that he, Eisenhower, maintained Death Camps, Where allegedly 1.7 Million Germans died of hunger. Yet I doubt this figure

You can read about an American soldier’s experience as a guard in one of Eisenhower’s camps here.

I previously blogged about Eisenhower’s death camps here, but it bears repeating.

The German city of Gotha was the first headquarters of the victorious American Army in Germany, set up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower in April 1945. Gotha was also the site of one of the Prisoner of War camps set up by Eisenhower.

General Eisenhower mentioned Gotha in his book Crusade in Europe, as the nearest city to the “horror camp” at Ohrdruf-Nord, the only concentration camp that he ever visited.  He failed to mention his own notorious POW camp located near Gotha.

On March 10, 1945, as World War II was coming to an end, General Eisenhower signed an order creating the status of Disarmed Enemy Forces for the German Prisoners of War who would soon be surrendering to the Americans. This order was a violation of the Geneva Convention because it allowed Eisenhower to disregard the rules for the treatment of Prisoners of War. It allowed him to starve the German POWs, deny them the right to send and receive letters, and to receive Red Cross packages and packages from German civilians. All of these rights were enjoyed by the prisoners in the Nazi POW camps and even in the notorious concentration camps. Eisenhower signed this order before he had even seen the horrors of the Ohrdruf camp.

In his book entitled Other Losses, James Bacque wrote the following:

There were no tents in the Gotha DEF camp, only the usual barbed wire fences round a field soon churned to mud. On the first day, they received a small ration of food, which was then cut in half. In order to get it, they were forced to run a gauntlet. Hunched over, they ran between lines of guards who hit them with sticks as they scurried towards their food. On April 27, they were transferred to the U.S. camp at Heidesheim further west where there was no food at all for days, then very little.

On May 7, 1945, the German army had surrendered to General Eisenhower, who refused to shake hands with the German General, as is customary. The neutral country of Switzerland was removed as the Protecting Power for German prisoners, which was another violation of the Geneva Convention. General George S. Patton quickly released the prisoners who had surrendered to his Third Army, but General Eisenhower held his POWs until the end of 1946, forcing them to live on starvation rations. German civilians were forbidden to bring food to the POWs. Red Cross packages sent to the German POW camps were returned. The POW camps had no barracks or tents.

German POWs were forced to dig holes for shelter

German POWs were forced to dig holes for shelter

The German prisoners were forced to dig holes in the ground for shelter, as the picture above shows. Even though the American army had plenty of tents, the prisoners lived for months in their holes. When it rained, the holes collapsed and the prisoners died.

After 1947, most of the records of the POW camps were destroyed by the U.S. government, according to James Bacque, as written in his book Other Losses. Bacque wrote that the Germans claimed that 1,700,000 soldiers, who were alive at the end of the war and had surrendered to the Allies, never returned home. All of the Allied countries denied responsibility, and the families were never told what had happened to their loved ones.

The following quote by Lieutenant Ernest Fisher, of the 101st Airborne Division and former Senior Historian of the United States Army is from the book Other Losses:

Starting in April 1945, the United States Army and the French Army casually annihilated about one million men, most of them in American camps.

Eisenhower’s hatred, passed through the lens of a compliant military bureaucracy, produced the horror of death camps unequaled by anything in American military history…

Stephen Ambrose, a noted World War II historian, disputes the claims made by James Bacque. His review of Bacque’s book can be read at this web site:

This quote is from the words of James Bacque, who wrote a book entitled Other Losses:

Under the Geneva Convention, three important rights are guaranteed prisoners of war: that they will be fed and sheltered to the same standard as base or depot troops of the Capturing Power; that they can send and receive mail; and that they will be visited by delegates of the International Red Cross (ICRC) who will report in secret on their treatment to a Protecting Power.  (In the cas eof Germany, as the government disintegrated in the closing stages of the war, Switzerland had been designated the protecting power.)

In fact, German prisoners taken by the U.S. Army at the end of the Second World War were denied these and most other rights by a series of specific decisions and directives stemming mainly from SHAEF–Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force.  General Dwight Eisenhower was both supreme commander of SHAEF–all the Allied armies in northwest Europe–and the commanding general of the U.S. forces in the European theatre.  He was subject to the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) of Britain and the U.S., to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and to the policy of the U.S. government, but in the absence of explicit directives–to the contrary or otherwise–ultimate responsibility for the treatment of the German prisoners in American hands lies with him.

“God , I hate the Germans,” Eisenhower wrote to his wife, Mamie, in September, 1944.  Earlier, in front of the British ambassador to Washington, he had said that all the 3,500 or so officers of the German General Staff should be “exterminated.”

In March, 1945, a message to the Combined Chiefs of Staff signed and initialled by Eisenhower recommended creating a new class of prisoners–Disarmed Enemy Forces, or DEFs–who, unlike Geneva-defined prisoners of war, would not be fed by the army after the surrender of Germany.  This would be a direct breach of the Geneva Convention.  The message, dated March 10, argues in part: “The additional maintenance commitment entailed by declaring the German Armed Forces prisoners [sic] of war which would necessitate the prevision of rations on a scale equal to that of base troops would prove far beyond the capacity of the Allies even if all German sources were tapped.”  It ends: “Your approval is requested.  Existing plans have been prepared upon this basis.”

On April 26, 1945, the Combined Chiefs approved the DEF status for prisoners of war in American hands only: the British members had refused to adopt the American plan for their own prisoners.  The Combined Chiefs stipulated that the status of disarmed troops be kept secret.

By that time, Eisenhower’s quartermaster general at SHAEF, General Robert Littlejohn, had already twice reduced rations for prisoners, and a SHAEF message signed “Eisenhower” had reported to General George Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of staff, that the prisoner pens would provide “no shelter or other comforts….”

The problem was not supplies.  There was more than enough material stockpiled in Europe to construct prison camp facilities.  Eisenhower’s special assistant, general Everett Hughes, had visited the huge supply dumps at Naples and Marseille and reported:  “More stocks than we can ever use.  Stretch as far as eye can see.”  Food should not have been a problem, either.  In the U.S., wheat and corn surpluses were higher than they had ever been, and there was a record crop of potatoes.  The army itself had so much food in reserve that when a whole warehouse was dropped from the supply list by accident in England it was not noticed for three months.  In addition, the International Red Cross had over 100,000 tons of food in storage in Switzerland.  When it tried to send two trainloads of this to the American sector of Germany, U.S. Army Officers turned the trains back, saying their warehouses were already overflowing with ICRC food which they had never distributed.

Nonetheless it was through the supply side that the policy of deprivation was carried out.  Water, food, tents, space, medicine–everything necessary for the prisoners was kept fatally scarce.  Camp Rheinberg, where Corporal Liebich would fetch up in in mid-May, shivering with dysentery and typhus, had no food at all when it was opened on April 17.  As in the other big “Rhine meadow” camps, opened by the Americans in mid-April, there were no guard towers, tents, buildings, cooking facilities, water, latrines, or food.

The conditions in the American camps along the Rhine in late April were observed by two colonels in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, James Mason and Charles Beasley, who described them in a paper published in 1950:  “Huddled close together for warmth, behind the barbed wire was a most awesome sight–nearly 100,000 haggard, apathetic, dirty, gaunt, blank-staring med clad in dirty field grey uniforms, and standing ankle-deep in mud….The German Divisions Commander reported that the men had not eaten for at least two days, and the provisions of water was a major problem–yet only 200 yards away was the River Rhine running bankfull.”

[…]

On May 4, 1945, the first German prisoners of war in U.S. hands were transferred to DEF status.  The same day, the U.S. war Department banned mail to or from the prisoners.  (when the International Committee of the Red Cross suggested a plan for restoring mail in June, it was rejected.)

On May 8, V-E Day, the German government was abolished and, simultaneously, the U.S. State Department dismissed Switzerland as the protecting power for the German prisoners.  (Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada protested to the foreign Office in London the parallel removal of the Swiss as protecting power in British-Canadian camps, but was squelched for his pains.)  With this done, the State Department informed the International Red Cross that, since there was no protecting power to report to, there was no longer and point in visiting the camps.