The Camps of the Rhine Meadows

The International Law
The Camps
The Conditions at the Camps
The Dying

The Dead

International Law

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:

Paragraph 4

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.

Paragraph 6

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.

Paragraph 7

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.

Paragraph 14

As soon as the hostilities begin an office of POW affairs has to be established by all the war faring parties.

Paragraph 20

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 immediately.

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.

The Camps

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 folks.

Rhine camps were set up at or near the following  towns:

Bad Kreuznach
Bretzenheim Buderich

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 execution.

- 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 water.

- 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 the Rheinwiesenlager:

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 water."

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."

Language German
Eisenhower's German POW Death

Language German Allies Killed Millions

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 hit.

 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 civilians.

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 investigate.

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 happy.

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 "killing fields."

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 imprisonment.

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 conquer all.

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
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 it!
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 winter weather.
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 ground.
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 beings.
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 butt.
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 without cover.
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 further.
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 of grass.....
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 wrote me.
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.