The Camps of the Rhine Meadows
The International Law The Camps
The Conditions at the Camps
Bretzenhelim The Dead
During the Den
Haag peace conference at the beginning of the 20th century the
so called civilized states agreed to submit to the
International Law. The International Law should amongst
other topics humanize warfare, i.e. eliminate brutality
against the defenseless. On January 26th 1919 "The Haag
War Regulation" is signed by all participating states amongst
them the United States of America.
The Prisoners of War are part of The DEFENSELESS
The following statutes are established:
Prisoners of war are under the supervision of the enemy state
and not of individuals or units who captured them. They
should be treated humanly. All Their personal Belongings
remain in their hands, with exception of arms, horses and
documents of military matters.
The enemy state is allowed to use the POWs according to their
ability as a labour force. Officers are excepted.
The work should not be extraordinarily hard.
The enemy state has to tae care about the livelihood of the
POW. If respective communications concerning food, housing
and clothing do not exist the POW should be treated at the same
level as their own troops.
As soon as the hostilities begin an office of POW affairs has to
be established by all the war faring parties.
After the peace treaties have been signed the immediate release
of the POWs has to be secured.
On July 27th 1929 the Protective Regulations of the Geneva
Convention for wounded soldiers were expected to include now
also POWs. All accommodations should be equal to the
standard of their troops. The Red Cross supervises.
After the end of the hostilities the POWs should be released
Break of the Law
1943 the Allies decided to treat the German
POWs not as regular POWs but as punishable POWs/Strafgefangene
disregarding the International Law. The supreme
commanders of the different forces were give a free hand
in handling the German POW. On March 10th 1945
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the US forces,
received order not to release German prisoners captured on
German territory but keep them in captivity as "Disarned enemy
Forces" (DEF). These there fore were not protected by
the International Law and left at the mercy of the
victors. Breaking the International Law at war
constitutes according to the International Law as WARCRIME.
After the crossing of the Rhine river in
march 1945 Eisenhower was ordered to line up camps for
German prisoners at the west banks of the
river. Vast areas were confiscated and fenced in
barbed wire. The daily increasing number of prisoners
were herded in, wounded, amputees, women, children and old
Rhine camps were set up at or near the following
On May 8th 1945, the end of the war, German soldiers, having
surrendered at different fronts of the war theatre, were
imprisoned, cramped into closed cattle wagons and lorries and
then dumped like garbage across the barbed wire fences.
At the time some of the prisoners were already dead. To
those transports the German soldiers were added who has
escaped the onrushing Russians hoping to be treated more
humanly by the Allies. Also thrown into those camps were
civilians, primarily party leaders, high government officials
and industry captains, fallen under the so called "automatic
arrest", an arrest without further legal process.
When the Allies advanced further East the Americans
established about 200 more camps all over Germany and
Austria. After a while most of the camp's outside the
Rhine river were eventually closed and the prisoners sent to
the Rhine camps. One can assume the finally about 5-6
million Germans were kept at those camps.
Conditions at the Camps:
Some might have heard about the conditions at those
camp's. Important facts should be repeated:
- No registration of the prisoners, neither
on arrival nor at their stay.
- The camps are guarded all around,
floodlight at night,. Escapes are answered with
- Sometimes guards fire into the masses of
prisoners without an reason.
- The prisoners bivouac in spit of low
temperatures, rain and snow without shelter on the bare ground
which after a while turns into a bottomless quagmire.
They are not allowed to build shelters.
-Tents are not distributed even though
German army depots as well as American ones are full of them.
- The prisoners dig holes in the ground to
protect themselves against the icy cold. Yet again and
again they are told not to do it and forced to fill the holes
with dirt again.
- Bulldozers wheel through the Camp rolling
over holes and vegetating soldiers.
- There are no washing facilities.
Beams are raised above deep pits, close to the fences.
So one can observe from the outside natures necessities.
- When the camps opened there was neither
food nor water available eve though German and American army
depots had plenty of it and the Rhine river carried high
- To empty the German depots their doors
were opened for the public to plunder. Later on the
prisoners receive from US stock egg powder, milk powder,
cookies, chocolate bars and coffee powder but still no
water. Hunger and severe intestinal diseases occur.
-The prisoners have no contact with the
outside world. No mail reaches them. The public is
threatened with death penalty if they try to supply the
prisoners with food over the fence.
- The German authorities are urged to
advise the public accordingly. If people still try it
they are chased away or fired at with rifles.
-The Red Cross can not enter Germany.
Eisenhower orders the return of Swiss Red Cross trains loaded
with food and supplies. Seriously ill or dying prisoners
are hardly taken care of or not at all. German hospitals
are not approached.
- Guards are partly recruited from released
foreign workers. Former inmates of German Army prisons,
from the arm penitentiary Torgau, are employed as camp
police. Mistreatment's happen daily and are not stopped.
For additional detailed information about the Rheinwiesenlager
we refer you to James Bacque's "Other Losses". Two of
Bacque's eye witness reports may illustrate the conditions at
An American's Report:
"April 30th was a stormy day, rain, snow, snow rain
intermingling and a bone chilling, cold wind blowing from the
North across the flats of the Rhine valley towards the
camp. A deeply terrifying view appeared at the other
side of the barbed wire fence: Closely pushed together
to warm up each other, hundred thousands emaciated, apathetic,
dirty, gaunt men with hollow eye wearing dirty battle uniforms
standing ankle deep in mud.
Here and there you could see dirty-white spots. When
looking closer you could notice men wrapped up their heads or
arms with bandages or men wearing merely their shirts.
The German division commander said they did not eat for at
least two days, and getting water caused a major problem even
thought the Rhine river was only 200 meters away carried high
A Prisoner's Report:
"Some 100,000 German soldiers, sick people out of hospitals,
women of the military support services and civilians were
captured. A camp mate of the Rheinsberg camp was 80
years old, another one only nine. Permanent hunger and
tormenting thirst plagued them and they died of
dysentery. A cruel sky poured down, week long,
torrentous rains. Amputees were sliding like amphibians
through the quagmire, thoroughly wet and shivering. Day
in day out, night for night without shelter, the camped
hopelessly on the sands of Rheinsberg, finally falling asleep
in the collapsing foxholes."
German POW Death
Camps - A US Guard's Story
By Martin Brech
In October, 1944, at age eighteen, I was drafted into the U.S.
army. Largely because of the "Battle of the Bulge," my
training was cut short. My furlough was halved, and I was sent
overseas immediately. Upon arrival in Le Havre, France, we
were quickly loaded into box cars and shipped to the front.
When we got there, I was suffering increasingly severe
symptoms of mononucleosis, and was sent to a hospital in
Belgium. Since mononucleosis was then known as the "kissing
disease," I mailed a letter of thanks to my girlfriend.
By the time I left the hospital, the outfit I had trained with
in Spartanburg, South Carolina was deep inside Germany, so,
despite my protests, I was placed in a "repo depot(replacement
depot). I lost interest in the units to which I was assigned
and don't recall all of them: non-combat units were ridiculed
at that time. My separation qualification record states I was
mostly with Company C, 14th Infantry Regiment, during my
seventeen-month stay in Germany, but I remember being
transferred to other outfits also.
In late March or early April, 1945, I was sent to guard a POW
camp near Andernach along the Rhine. I had four years of
high school German, so I was able to talk to the prisoners,
although this was forbidden. Gradually, how ever, I was
use as an interpreter and asked to ferret out members of the
S.S. (I found none.) In Andernach about 50,000 prisoners
of all ages were held in an open field surrounded by barbed
wire. The women were kept in separate enclosure I did
not see until later. The men I guarded had no
shelter and no blankets; many had no coats. They slept
in the mud, wet and cold, with inadequate slit trenches for
excrement. It was a cold, wet spring and their misery
from exposure alone was evident.
Even more shocking was to see the prisoners throwing grass and
weeds into a tin can containing a thin soup. They told
me they did this to help ease their hunger pains.
Quickly, they grew emaciated. Dysentery raged, and soon
they were sleeping in their own excrement, too weak and
crowded to reach the slit trenches. Many were begging
for food, sickening and dying before our eyes. We had
ample food and supplies, but did nothing to help them,
including no medical assistance.
Outraged, I protested to my officers and was met with
hostility or bland indifference. When pressed, they
explained they were under strict orders from "higher
up." No officer would dare do this to 50,000 men if he
felt that it was "out of line," leaving him open to
charges. Realizing my protests were useless, I asked a
friend working in the kitchen if he could slip me some extra
food for the prisoners. He to said thy were under strict
orders to severely ration the prisoners food and that these
orders came from "higher up." But he said they hand fore
food that then knew what to do with and would sneak me some.
When I threw this food over the barbed wire to the prisoners,
I was caught and threatened with imprisonment. I
repeated the "offense," and one officer angrily threatened to
shoot me. I assumed this was a bluff until I encountered
a captain on a hill above the Rhine shooting down at a group
of German civilian women with his 45 caliber pistol.
When I asked, Why? He mumbled, "Target practice," and fired
until his pistol was empty. I saw the women running for
cover, but, at that distance, couldn't tell if an had been
This is when I realized I was dealing with cold-blooded
killers filled with moralistic hatred. They considered
the Germans subhuman and worthy of extermination; another
expression of the downward spiral of racism. Articles in
the G.I. newspaper, Stars and Stripes, played up the German
concentration camps, complete with photos of emaciated bodies;
this amplified our self-righteous cruelty and made it
easier to imitate behavior we were supposed to oppose.
Also, I think, soldiers not exposed to combat were trying to prove
how tough they were by taking it out on the prisoners and
These prisoners, I found out, were mostly farmers and
workingmen, as simple and ignorant as many of our own
troops. As time went on, more of them lapsed into a
zombie-like state of listlessness, while others tried to
escape in a demented or suicidal fashion, running through open
fields in broad daylight towards the Rhine to quench their
thirst. They were mowed down. Some prisoners were
as eager for cigarettes as for food, saying that took the edge
off their hunger. Accordingly, enterprising G. I.
"Yankee traders" were acquiring hordes of watches and rings in
exchange for handfuls of cigarettes or less. When I
began throwing cartons of cigarettes to the prisoners to ruin
this trade, I was threatened by rank-and-file G.I.s too.
The only bright spot in this gloomy picture came one night
when I was put on the "graveyard shift," from two to four
A.M. Actually, there was a graveyard on the uphill side
of this enclosure, not may yards away. My superiors had
forgotten to give me a flashlight and I hadn't bothered to ask
for one, disgusted as I was with the whole situation by that
time. It was a fairly bright night and I soon became
aware of a prisoner crawling under the wire towards the
graveyard. We were supposed to shoo escapees on sight,
so I started to get up from the ground to warn him to go
back. Suddenly I noticed another prisoner crawling from
the graveyard back to the enclosure. They were risking
their lives to get to the graveyard for something; I had to
When I entered the gloom of this shrubby, tree-shaded
cemetery, I felt completely vulnerable, but somehow curiosity
kept me moving. Despite my caution, I tripped over the
legs of someone in a prone position. Whipping my rifle
around while stumbling and trying to regain composure of mind
and body, I soon was relieved I hadn't reflexively
fired. The figure sat up. and Gradually, I could see the
beautiful but terror-stricken face of a woman with a picnic
basket nearby. German civilians were not allowed to
feed, nor eve come near the prisoners, so I quickly assured
her I approved of what she was doing, not to be afraid, and
that I would leave the graveyard to get out o the way.
I did so immediately and sat down, leaning against a tree at
the edge of the cemetery to be inconspicuous and not frighten
the prisoners,. I imagined then, and still do now, what
it would be like to meet a beautiful woman with a picnic
basket, under those conditions as a prisoner. I have
never forgotten her face.
Eventually, more prisoners crawled back to the
enclosure. I saw they were dragging food to their
comrades and could only admire their courage and devotion.
On May 8, V.E. Day, I decided to celebrate with some prisoners
I was guarding who were baking bread the other prisoners
occasionally received. This group had all the bread they
could eat, and shared the jovial mood generated by the end of
the war. We all though we were going home soon, pathetic
hope on their part. We were in what was to become the
French zone, where I soon would witness the brutality of the
French soldiers when we transferred our prisoners to them for
their slave labour camps. On this day, however, we were
As a gesture of friendliness, I emptied my rifle and stood it
in the corner, even allowing them to play with it at their
request! This thoroughly "broke the ice, " and soon we
were singing songs we taught each other or I had learned in
high school German (Du, du liegst mir im Herzen"). Out
of gratitude, they baked me a special small loaf of sweet
bread, the only possible present they had left to offer.
I stuffed it in my "Eisenhower jacket" and took it back to my
barracks, eating it when I had privacy. I have never
tasted more delicious bread, nor felt a deeper sense of
communion while eating it. I believe a cosmic sense of
Christ (the Oneness of all Being) revealed its normally hidden
presence to me on that occasion, influencing my later decision
to major in philosophy and religion.
Shortly afterwards, some of our weak and sickly prisoners were
marched off by French soldiers to their camp. We were
riding on a truck behind this column. Temporarily, it
slowed down and dropped back perhaps because the driver was
shocked as I was. Whenever a German prisoner staggered
or dropped back, he was hit on the head with a club until he
died. The bodies were rolled to the side of the road to
be picked up by another truck. For many, this quick
death might have been preferable to slow starvation in our
When I finally saw the German women in a separate enclosure, I
asked why we were holding them prisoner. I was told they
were "camp followers," selected as breeding stock for the
S.S. to create a super-race. I spoke to some and
must say I never met a more spirited or attractive group of
women. I certainly didn't think they deserved
I was used increasingly as an interpreter, and was able to
prevent some particularly unfortunate arrests. One
rather amusing incident involved an old farmer who was being
dragged away by several M.P's. I was told he had a
"fancy Nazi medal" which they showed me. Fortunately, I
had a chart identifying such medals. He'd bee awarded it
for having five children! Perhaps his wife was somewhat
relieved to get him "off her back," but I didn't think one of
our death camps was a fair punishment for his contribution to
Germany. The M.P.s agreed and released him to continue
his "dirty work."
Famine began to spread among the German civilians also.
It was a common sight to see German women up to their elbows
in our garbage cans looking for something edible--that is, if
they weren't chased away.
When I interviewed mayors of small towns and villages, I was
told their supply of food had been taken away by "displaced
persons"(foreigners who had worked in Germany), who packed the
food on trucks and drove away. When I reported this the
response was a shrug. I never saw any Red Cross at
the camp or helping civilians, although their coffee and
doughnut stands were available every where else for us.
In the meantime, the Germans had to rely on the sharing of
hidden stores until the next harvest.
Hunger made German women more "available," but despite this,
rape was prevalent and often accompanied by additional
violence. In particular I remember an eighteen-year old
woman who had the side of her faced smashed with a rifle butt
and was raped by two G.I.s. Even the French complained
that the rapes, looting and drunken destructiveness on the
part of our troops was excessive. In Le Havre, we'd
been given booklets warning us that the German soldiers had
maintained a high standard of behavior with French civilians
who were peaceful, and that we should do the same. In
this we failed miserably.
"So what?" some would say. "The enemy's atrocities were
worse than ours. " It is true that I experienced only
the end of the war, when we were already the victors.
The German opportunity for atrocities had faded; ours was at
hand. But two wrongs don't make a right. Rather
than copying our enemy's crimes, we should aim once and for
all to break the cycle of hatred and vengeance that has
plagued and distorted human history. This is why I am
speaking out now, forty-five years after the crime. We
can never prevent individual war crimes, but we can if enough
of us speak out, influence government policy. We can reject
government propaganda that depicts our enemies as subhuman
and encourages the kind of outrages the kind of outrages I
witnessed. We can protest the bombing of civilian
targets, which still goes on today. And we can refuse
ever to condone our government's murder of unarmed and
defeated prisoners of war.
I realize it is difficult for the average citizen to admit
witnessing a crime of his magnitude, especially if implicated
himself. Even G.I's sympathetic to the victims were
afraid to complain and get into trouble, they told me.
And the danger has not ceased. Since I spoke out a few
weeks ago, I have received threatening calls and had my
mailbox smashed. But its been worth it. Writing
about these atrocities has been a catharsis(the
process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from,
strong or repressed emotions.) of feeling suppressed too
long, a liberation, and perhaps will remind other witnesses
that "the truth will make us free, have no fear." We may
even learn a supreme lesson from all this: only love can
Source: Reprinted from the
Journal of Historical Review, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 161-166
German POW's Diary
Reveals More Of Ike's Holocaust 12-29-3
Note - The following diary extract has been provided by the
nephew of the author under the conditions we honor his request
for anonymity. -ed
A transcript of my Uncle's
words...from my Mother's diary:
"Suddenly an American Jeep moved towards us and several
American Soldiers surrounded us. There was no officer in
charge, and the first thing the 'Amis' did - they liberated
us, I mean, from our few valuables, mainly rings and
watches........ We were now prisoners of war- no doubt about
The first night we were herded into a barn, where we met about
100 men who shared the same fate. To make my story short, we
were finally transported to Fuerstenfeldbruck near Munich.
Here we, who were gathered around Hermann, interrupted him and
gasped in dismay.
Fuerstenfeldbruck had become known to us as one of the most
cruel POW camps in the American zone.
Then my brother continued:
Again we were searched and had to surrender everything, even
our field utensils, except a spoon. Here, in freezing
temperature, 20,000 of us were squeezed together on the naked
ground, without blanket or cover, exposed day and night to the
For six days we received neither food nor water! We used our
spoons to catch drops of rain.
We were surrounded by heavy tanks. During the night bright
searchlights blinded us, so that sleep was impossible. We
napped from time to time, standing up and leaning against each
other. It was keeping us warmer that sitting on the frozen
Many of us were near collapse. One of our comrades went mad,
he jumped around wildly, wailing and whimpering. he was shot
at once. His body was lying on the ground, and we were not
allowed to come near him. He was not he only one. Each
suspicious movement caused the guards to shoot into the crowd,
and a few were always hit.
German civilians, mainly women of the surrounding villages,
tried to approach the camp to bring food and water for us
prisoners. they were chased away.
Our German officers could finally succeed to submit an
official protest, particularly because of the deprivation of
water. As a response, a fire hose was thrown into the midst of
the densely crowded prisoners and then turned on. Because of
the high water pressure the hose moved violently to and fro.
Prisoners tumbled, fell, got up and ran again to catch a bit
of water. In that confusion the water went to waste, and the
ground under us turned into slippery mud. All the while the
'Amis' watched that spectacle, finding it very funny and most
entertaining. They laughed at our predicament as hard as they
could. Then suddenly, they turned the water off again.
We had not expected that the Americans would behave in such a
manner. We could hardly believe it. War brutalizes human
One day later we were organized into groups of 400 men .... We
were to receive two cans of food for each man. This is how it
was to be done: The prisoners had to run through he slippery
mud, and each one had to grab his two cans quickly, at the
moment he passed the guards. One of my comrades slipped and
could not run fast enough, He was shot at once ....
On May 10th , several truckloads of us were transported the
the garrison of Ulm by the Danube..... As each man jumped into
the truck, a guard kicked him in the backbone with his rifle
We arrived in the city of Heilbronn by the Neckar, In the end
we counted 240,000 men, who lived on the naked ground and
Spring and summer were mild this year, but we were starving.
At 6;00 am we received coffee, at noon about a pint of soup
and 100 grams of bread a day........
The 'Amis' gave us newspapers in German language, describing
the terrors of the concentration camps. We did not believe any
of it. We figured the Americans only wanted to demoralize us
The fields on which we lived belonged to the farmers of the
area...soon nothing of the clover and other sprouting greens
were left, and the trees were barren. We had eaten each blade
In some camps there were Hungarian POW's. 15,000 of them.
Mutiny against their officers broke out twice amongst them.
After the second mutiny the Americans decided to use German
prisoners to govern the Hungarians. Since the Hungarians were
used as workers they were well fed. There was more food than
they could eat. But when the Germans asked the Americans for
permission to bring the Hungarians' leftovers into the camps
of the starving Germans, it was denied. The Americans rather
destroyed surplus food, than giving it to the Germans.
Sometimes it happened that groups of our own men were gathered
and transported away. We presumed they were discharged to go
home, and naturally, we wished to be among them. Much later we
heard they were sent to labor camps! My mother's cousin,
feared that he would be drafted into the Hitler Youth SS, he
volunteered to the marines, in 1945 his unit was in Denmark.
On April 20th they were captured by the Americans. his
experience in the POW camp was identical that of my brother's.
They lived in open fields, did not receive and food and water
the first six days, and starved nearly to death. German wives
and mothers who wanted to throw loaves of bread over the
fence, were chased off. The prisoners, just to have something
to chew, scraped the bark from young trees. my cousins job was
to report each morning how many had died during the night.
"and these were not just a few!" he adds to his report he
It became known, that the conditions in the POW camps in the
American Zone were identical everywhere. We could therefore
safely conclude, that it was by intent and by orders from
higher ups to starve the German POW's and we blamed General
Eisenhower for it. He, who was of German descent could not
discern the evildoers during the Nazi time from our decent
people. We held that neglect of knowledge and understanding
severely against him.
I wish to quote the inscription on the grave stones of those
of my German compatriots who have already passed away:
We had to pass
through fire and through water.
But now you have loosened our bond.