The Sorry Fate of German POWs: Enslavement, Starvation and Murder
The Sorry Fate of German POWs: Enslavement, Starvation and Murder - The West
There was no “peace treaty” in place at the end of the War. German POWs were labelled “disarmed enemy forces” (DEF) rather than “prisoners of war” in order to skirt provisions of the Hague Land Warfare Convention which mandated humane treatment, including that which stated: “After the peace treaty, prisoners of war should be dismissed into their homeland within shortest period.” By this manipulation of justice, German POWS could be taken to the lands of their former enemies and used as slave labor for extended periods, often at the cost of their lives due to grim hardships encountered before, during and after transit. Furthermore, a German soldier designated as DEF had no right to any food, water or shelter, and could, as many thousands did, die within days.
There were no impartial observers to witness the treatment of POWs held by the U.S. Army. From the date Germany unconditionally surrendered, May 8, 1945, Switzerland was dismissed as the official Protecting Power for German prisoners and the International Red Cross was informed that with no Protecting Power to report to, there was no need for them to send delegates to the camps.
The Sorry Fate of German POWs: Enslavement, Starvation and Murder - In the East
In the communist realms, the conditions that German POWs, many just kids, endured on the Eastern Front were beyond grim and did not follow any accepted protocol for treatment of captured soldiers. Under the provisions of the Yalta Agreement, the U.S. and U.K. had agreed to the use of German POWs in the Soviet Gulag as “reparations-in-kind,” but comparatively few German were taken alive before Stalingrad. Most were shot and many were mutilated alive. Out of the 90,000 Germans who marched into Soviet captivity at Stalingrad, only 5,000 ever returned: 40,000 did not survive the march to the Beketovka camp, where another 42,000 perished of hunger and disease. Those POWs that made it alive to separate camps in Siberia and elsewhere in the western Soviet Union were forced into slave labor and endured frequent beatings, brutal torture, poisoning and execution. Thousands more captured soldiers were executed on the spot and thrown into mass graves. Food and water were always scarce, living barely primitive. The result was an unacceptable rate of death.