Tag Archives: German POW

The Cruelty of the Victor

As victors of WWII prepare to celebrate VE Day, it is worth remembering what this day meant for the vanquished, despite their unconditional surrender. In this post, an excerpt of James Baque’s “Other losses”, fourth chapter.

The spirit of Goethe, a holy spirit, keeps me alive.

Anonymous prisoner

At night, searchlights threw blinding light over the men lying in the shadowy holes. They watched uneasily the dark shapes standing high above them on the paths lit by the searchlights. Men shuffled along the slippery banks between the holes all night, lining up for water. Charles von Luttichau[1] lay in his hole curled up next to one of his brother officers wondering if he could get himself released before he was shipped to France. Men cried out in their nightmare sleep. He resolved to try again with the guards the next day. “I am half-American,” he thought, rehearsing his English. “My mother is American. I gave myself up to you. I don’t belong in here. I am half-American.”

He had not been captured in battle but was convalescing at home when he decided to surrender voluntarily to U.S. troops about to occupy his house because otherwise he might be accused of plotting further underground resistance.

“We were kept in crowded barbed wire cages in the open with scarcely any food,” he has said of his camp at Kripp near Remagen on the Rhine.

The latrines were just logs flung over ditches next to the barbed wire fences. To sleep, all we could do was to dig out a hole in the ground with our hands, then cling together in the hole. We were crowded very close together.

Because of illness, the men had to defecate on the ground. Soon, many of us were too weak to take off our trousers first. So our clothing was infected, and so was the mud where we had to walk and sit and lie down. There was no water at all at first, except the rain, then after a couple of weeks we could get a little water from a standpipe. But most of us had nothing to carry it in, so we could get only a few mouthfuls after hours of lining up, sometimes even through the night. We had to walk along between the holes on the soft earth thrown up by the digging, so it was easy to fall into a hole, but hard to climb out. The rain was almost constant along that part of the Rhine that spring. More than half the days we had rain. More than half the days we had no food at all. On the rest, we got a little K ration. I could see from the package that they were giving us one tenth of the rations that they issued to their own men. So in the end we got perhaps five percent of a normal U.S. Army ration. I complained to the American camp commander that he was breaking the Geneva Convention, but he just said, “Forget the Convention. You haven’t any rights.”[2]

Within a few days, some of the men who had gone healthy into the camp were dead. I saw our men dragging many dead bodies to the gate of the camp, where they were thrown loose on top of each other onto trucks, which took them away.[3]

One 17-year-old boy who could see his village in the distance used to stand weeping near the barbed wire fence. One morning the prisoners found him shot at the foot of the fence. His body was strung up and left hanging on the wire by the guards as a warning. The prisoners were forced to walk by the body. Many cried out “Moerder, moerder [murderer, murderer]!”[4]  In retaliation, the camp commander withheld the prisoners’ meager rations for three days. “For us who were already starving and could hardly move because of weakness, it was frightful; for many it meant death.”[5]  This was not the only time when the commander withheld rations to punish prisoners.

[1] Von Luttichau, who survived three months at Kripp, later moved to Washington. He has written military history for the U.S. Army.

[2] Interviews of the author 1987-88, with von Luttichau of Washington, D.C.

[3] The statement by Charles von Luttichau of Washington, made to the author in May 1988, is confirmed by many other prisoners. The rainy spring is confirmed by a Canadian Army war diary including weather reports for north Germany for the period. The rapid onset of death is confirmed by the study in the U.S. Army Medical History of the ETO for May-June (Appendix 1). The space allotment is confirmed by several U.S. Army reports of overcrowding in the Rhine cages in the spring of 1945. The implication of common graves is confirmed by evidence from postwar discoveries. See note 16.

[4] Gertrude Maria Schuster, Die Kriegsgefangenenlager Galgenberg lind Bretzenheim (Stadt Bad Kreuznach, 1985), pp. 40-41.

[5] Gertrude Maria Schuster, op. cit.