Other Losses - Other Evidence For German POW Deaths

Other Evidence For German POW Deaths

Several historians rebutting Bacque have argued that the missing POWs simply went home, that Red Cross food aid was sent to displaced civilians and that German POWs were fed the same rations that the U.S. Army was providing to the civilian population. U.S. and German sources estimate the number of German POWs who died in captivity at between 56,000 and 78,000, or about one percent of all German prisoners, which is roughly the same as the percentage of American POWs who died in German captivity. This is contradicted by a report into missing POWs commissioned in the 1950s by the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, which found that 1.5 million German prisoners known to be alive in allied prison camps never came home, nor were their deaths recorded. The book Other Losses alleged 1.5 million prisoners were missing and estimated that up to 500,000 of these were in Soviet camps. When the KGB opened its archives in the 1990s, 356,687 German soldiers and 93,900 civilians previously recorded as missing were found to be listed in the Bulanov report as dying in the Soviet camps.

German POW expert Kurt W. Bohme noted that, of the 5 million prisoners in American hands, the European Theater of Operations provost marshall recorded a total of 15,285 prisoner deaths. In 1974, the German Red Cross reported that about 41,000 German MIAs were last reported in western Germany, which is also the location of the prisoner camps. It is reasonable to assume that some deaths in transit camps just before the end of the war went unreported in the chaos at the time. Historian Albert Cowdrey estimates that the total figure is unlikely to be above the aggregate of the recorded deaths and the MIAs, which together total 56,285. That maximum number would constitute approximately 1.1% of the 5 million total prisoners held by U.S. forces. That figure also is close to Bohme's estimate of 1% for deaths of prisoners held by the Western powers.

Many of these occurred in the initial Rheinwiesenlager transit camps. The German Maschke Commission which studied prisoner deaths in the 1960s and 1970s concluded that 557,000 prisoners lived in the Rheinwiesenlager camps. The official death toll for those camps was 3,053. The number registered by local Parish authorities was 5,311. The Maschke Commission noted that the largest claim was that "32,000 fatalities had been heard of", but the Masche Commission considered this account to be impossible, as was anything in excess of double the Parish authorities' figure.

While harsh treatment of prisoners occurred, no evidence exists that it was part of an organized systematic effort. Bohme concluded that Eisenhower and the U.S. Army had to improvise for months in taking care of the masses of prisoners to prevent a catastrophe: "In spite of all the misery that occurred behind the barbed wire, the catastrophe was prevented; the anticipated mass deaths did not happen."

The total death rates for United States-held prisoners is also far lower than those held by most countries throughout the war. In 1941 alone, two million of the 3.3 million German-held Soviet POWs — about 60% — died or were executed by the special SS "Action Groups" (Ensatzgruppen). By 1944, only 1.05 million of 5 million Soviet prisoners in German hands had survived. Of some 2–3 million German POWs in Russian hands, more than 1 million died. Of the 132,000 British and American POWs taken by the Japanese army, 27.6% died in captivity — the Bataan death march being the most notorious incident, producing a POw death rate of between 40 and 60%.

Regarding overall POW death rates, the death rates for German POWs held by Americans were lower than every other country except another Allied member, Britain. Using data from U.S. Army records, a number of historians, including Niall Ferguson, maintain that this is a gross overestimation. However, Ferguson states that "the mortality rate for German POW's in U.S. hands was more than 4 times higher than the rate for those who surrendered to the British", but that the United States total mortality rate was under 1% and better than every other country in World War II except for the British. Ferguson further claims that another advantage with surrendering to the British rather than the Americans was that besides treating German prisoners better than the U.S. did, the British were also less likely to hand German prisoners over to the Soviet Union. Large numbers of German prisoners were transferred between the Allies. The U.S gave 765,000 to France, 76,000 to Benelux countries, and 200,000 to the Soviet Union. The U.S. also chose to refuse to accept the surrender of German troops attempting to surrender in Saxony and Bohemia. These soldiers were instead handed over to the Soviet Union. (The Soviet Union in turn handed German prisoners over to other Eastern European nations, for example 70,000 to Poland) Death rates of German soldiers held prisoner in the Soviet Union was 35.8%.

Ferguson tabulated the total death rate for POWs in World War II as follows:

Percentage of
POWs that Died
Russian POWs held by Germans 57.5%
German POWs held by Russians 35.8%
American POWs held by Japanese 33.0%
German POWs held by Eastern Europeans 32.9%
British POWs held by Japanese 24.8%
British POWs held by Germans 3.5%
German POWs held by French 2.58%
German POWs held by Americans 0.15%
German POWs held by British 0.03%

Official claims that the German POW death rate was under 1% have been disputed. For comparison the British civilian post-war mortality rate was 1.2% while in America, where there were no food shortages, the U.S. civilian mortality rate did not fall below 1% until 1948. Anglo American troops held in German POW camps suffered a 4% mortality rate which was praised by the ICRC and credited to the German military ensuring that POWs continued to receive Red Cross food parcels despite their own food shortages in the final months of the war.

Conditions in some of the camps that housed captured German soldiers support claims for a higher mortality rate. Lt. Colonel Henry W. Allard, the commander in charge of the DEF camps in France, later stated "The standard of the PW (POW) camps in the ComZ (U.S. rear zone) in Europe compare as only slightly better, or even, with the living conditions of the Japanese PW camps our men tell us about".

The U.S. Army's surgeon general described some of the camps as resembling Andersonville Prison in 1864 and noted that the lack of food in some cases led to "extensive malnutrition".

Read more about this topic:  Other Losses

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