You are on page 1of 6

In 'Eisenhower's Death Camps': A U.S.

Prison Guard's Story
By Martin Brech

In October, 1944, at age eighteen, I was drafted into the U.S. army. Largely because of the " attle of the ulge," my training was cut short. !y furlough was hal"ed, and I was sent o"erseas immediately. U#on arri"al in Le $a"re, %rance, we were &uic'ly loaded into bo( cars and shi##ed to the front. )hen we got there, I was suffering increasingly se"ere sym#toms of mononucleosis, and was sent to a hos#ital in elgium. Since mononucleosis was then 'nown as the "'issing disease," I mailed a letter of than's to my girlfriend. y the time I left the hos#ital, the outfit I had trained with in S#artanburg, South *arolina was dee# inside +ermany, so, des#ite my #rotests, I was #laced in a ,re#o de#ot- .re#lacement de#ot/. I lost interest in the units to which I was assigned and don0t recall all of them1 non2combat units were ridiculed at that time. !y se#aration &ualification record states I was mostly with *om#any *, 14th Infantry 3egiment, during my se"enteen2month stay in +ermany, but I remember being transferred to other outfits also. In late !arch or early 4#ril, 1945, I was sent to guard a 6O) cam# near 4ndernach along the 3hine. I had four years of high school +erman, so I was able to tal' to the #risoners, although this was forbidden. +radually, howe"er, I was used as an inter#reter and as'ed to ferret out members of the S.S. .I found none./

I assumed this was a bluff until I . )hen I threw this food o"er the barbed wire to the #risoners. 8hey sle#t in the mud. $e too said they were under strict orders to se"erely ration the #risoners0 food and that these orders came from "higher u#. 8hey told me they did this to hel# ease their hunger #ains. too wea' and crowded to reach the slit trenches. including no medical assistance. but did nothing to hel# them. <ysentery raged. 8he women were 'e#t in a se#arate enclosure I did not see until later. I was caught and threatened with im#risonment. sic'ening and dying before our eyes." ut he said they had more food than they 'new what to do with and would snea' me some. they e(#lained they were under strict orders from "higher u#.uic'ly. . :"en more shoc'ing was to see the #risoners throwing grass and weeds into a tin can containing a thin sou#.777 men if he felt that it was "out of line." lea"ing him o#en to charges. )e had am#le food and su##lies. I #rotested to my officers and was met with hostility or bland indifference. and soon they were slee#ing in their own e(crement. I as'ed a friend wor'ing in the 'itchen if he could sli# me some e(tra food for the #risoners. they grew emaciated. 8he men I guarded had no shelter and no blan'ets9 many had no coats. wet s#ring and their misery from e(#osure alone was e"ident." and one officer angrily threatened to shoot me. Outraged. )hen #ressed." =o officer would dare do this to 57.In 4ndernach about 57. with inade&uate slit trenches for e(crement. I re#eated the "offense. 3eali>ing my #rotests were useless. It was a cold.777 #risoners of all ages were held in an o#en field surrounded by barbed wire. !any were begging for food. wet and cold.

there was a gra"eyard on the u#hill side of this enclosure.45 caliber #istol. Stars and Stri#es. as sim#le and ignorant as many of our own troo#s. were mostly farmers and wor'ingmen. 8hey were mowed down. but. more of them la#sed into a >ombie2li'e state of listlessness. )hen I as'ed. at that distance. couldn0t tell if any had been hit. I found out. )hen I entered the gloom of this shrubby. 4s time went on. soldiers not e(#osed to combat were trying to #ro"e how tough they were by ta'ing it out on the #risoners and ci"ilians.I. I saw the women running for co"er. saying they too' the edge off their hunger." and fired until his #istol was em#ty. enter#rising +. I soon was relie"ed I hadn0t refle(i"ely fired. It was a fairly bright night and I soon became aware of a #risoner crawling under the wires towards the gra"eyard.s too. so I started to get u# from the ground to warn him to get bac'." from two to four 4. while others tried to esca#e in a demented or suicidal fashion. tree2shaded cemetery. #layed u# the +erman concentration cam#s. I thin'. news#a#er. !y su#eriors had forgotten to gi"e me a flashlight and I hadn0t bothered to as' for one. <es#ite my caution." he mumbled. 4ccordingly. Some #risoners were as eager for cigarettes as for food. I was threatened by ran'2and2file +. "8arget #ractice.encountered a ca#tain on a hill abo"e the 3hine shooting down at a grou# of +erman ci"ilian women with his . but somehow curiosity 'e#t me mo"ing. not many yards away. 8hey considered the +ermans subhuman and worthy of e(termination9 another e(#ression of the downward s#iral of racism. )e were su##osed to shoot esca#ees on sight. 8he figure sat u#. 8hey were ris'ing their li"es to get to the gra"eyard for something9 I had to in"estigate. 4ctually. com#lete with #hotos of emaciated bodies9 this am#lified our self2righteous cruelty and made it easier to imitate beha"ior we were su##osed to o##ose. 4lso. )hi##ing my rifle around while stumbling and trying to regain com#osure of mind and body. Suddenly I noticed another #risoner crawling from the gra"eyard bac' to the enclosure. "@an'ee traders" were ac&uiring hordes of watches and rings in e(change for handfuls of cigarettes or less. 8his is when I reali>ed I was dealing with cold2blooded 'illers filled with moralistic hatred. running through o#en fields in broad daylight towards the 3hine to &uench their thirst. I felt com#letely "ulnerable. disgusted as I was with the whole situation by that time. )hen I began throwing cartons of cigarettes to the #risoners to ruin this trade.!. 8hese #risoners.I. 8he only bright s#ot in this gloomy #icture came one night when I was #ut on the "gra"eyard shift.I. . )hy?. 4rticles in the +. I tri##ed o"er the legs of someone in a #rone #osition.

not to be afraid. more #risoners crawled bac' to the enclosure. B. 8em#orarily.:. leaning against a tree at the edge of the cemetery to be incons#icuous and not frighten the #risoners. what it would be li'e to meet a beautiful woman with a #icnic bas'et. e"en allowing them to #lay with it at their re&uestD 8his thoroughly "bro'e the ice. I stuffed it in my ":isenhower Cac'et" and snuc' it bac' to my barrac's. On this day. this &uic' death might ha"e been #referable to slow star"ation in our . 8he bodies were rolled to the side of the road to be #ic'ed u# by another truc'. where I soon would witness the brutality of the %rench soldiers when we transferred our #risoners to them for their sla"e labor cam#s. Shortly afterwards. and still do now. and that I would lea"e the gra"eyard to get out of the way. du liegst mir im $er>en"/.the Oneness of all eing/ re"ealed its normally hidden #resence to me on that occasion."<u. I belie"e a cosmic sense of *hrist . nor e"en come near the #risoners. I decided to celebrate with some #risoners I was guarding who were ba'ing bread the other #risoners occasionally recei"ed. eating it when I had #ri"acy. some of our wea' and sic'ly #risoners were marched off by %rench soldiers to their cam#. under those conditions as a #risoner. howe"er. a #athetic ho#e on their #art. Out of gratitude." and soon we were singing songs we taught each other or I had learned in high school +erman . I ha"e ne"er forgotten her face. we were ha##y. I did so immediately and sat down. and shared the Co"ial mood generated by the end of the war. I saw they were dragging food to their comrades and could only admire their courage and de"otion. I em#tied my rifle and stood it in the corner. +erman ci"ilians were not allowed to feed. :"entually. %or many. I imagined then. I could see the beautiful but terror2stric'en face of a woman with a #icnic bas'et nearby. )e were riding on a truc' behind this column.+radually. #erha#s because the dri"er was as shoc'ed as I was. nor felt a dee#er sense of communion while eating it. so I &uic'ly assured her I a##ro"ed of what she was doing. )e were in what was to become the %rench >one. 4s a gesture of friendliness. <ay. On !ay A. 8his grou# had all the bread they could eat. I ha"e ne"er tasted more delicious bread. )hene"er a +erman #risoner staggered or dro##ed bac'. )e all thought we were going home soon. influencing my later decision to maCor in #hiloso#hy and religion. they ba'ed me a s#ecial small loaf of sweet bread. he was hit on the head with a club until he died. the only #ossible #resent they had left to offer. it slowed down and dro##ed bac'.

)hen I re#orted this. I was used increasingly as an inter#reter. :"en the %rench com#lained that the ra#es. ra#e was #re"alent and often accom#anied by additional "iolence. if they weren0t chased away. the res#onse was a shrug.6Es.s. It was a common sight to see +erman women u# to their elbows in our garbage cans loo'ing for something edible 22 that is. In #articular I remember an eighteen2year old woman who had the side of her faced smashed with a rifle butt and was then ra#ed by two +." )hen I finally saw the +erman women in a se#arate enclosure. $e0d been awarded it for ha"ing fi"e childrenD 6erha#s his wife was somewhat relie"ed to get him "off her bac'. ut two wrongs don0t ma'e a right. In Le $a"re. 8he !.I.s agreed and released him to continue his "dirty wor'. %ortunately." which they showed me. we0d been gi"en boo'lets warning us that the +erman soldiers had maintained a high standard of beha"ior with %rench ci"ilians who were #eaceful."'illing fields." but I didn0t thin' one of our death cam#s was a fair #unishment for his contribution to +ermany. I was told he had a "fancy =a>i medal. 8he +erman o##ortunity for atrocities had faded9 ours was at hand. "8he enemy0s atrocities were worse than ours. when we were already the "ictors. and was able to #re"ent some #articularly unfortunate arrests." %amine began to s#read among the +erman ci"ilians also. to create a su#er2race. the +ermans had to rely on the sharing of hidden stores until the ne(t har"est. I certainly didn0t thin' they deser"ed im#risonment. "So what?" some would say." selected as breeding stoc' for the S. although their coffee and doughnut stands were a"ailable e"erywhere else for us. who #ac'ed the food on truc's and dro"e away.foreigners who had wor'ed in +ermany/. 3ather than co#ying our enemyEs . and that we should do the same. I as'ed why we were holding them #risoner. In this we failed miserably. In the meantime. One rather amusing incident in"ol"ed an old farmer who was being dragged away by se"eral !. I had a chart identifying such medals.S." but des#ite this." It is true that I e(#erienced only the end of the war. I ne"er saw any 3ed *ross at the cam# or hel#ing ci"ilians. $unger made +erman women more "a"ailable. I was told they were "cam# followers.6. looting and drun'en destructi"eness on the #art of our troo#s was e(cessi"e. )hen I inter"iewed mayors of small towns and "illages. I s#o'e to some and must say I ne"er met a more s#irited or attracti"e grou# of women. I was told their su##ly of food had been ta'en away by "dis#laced #ersons" .

I reali>e it is difficult for the a"erage citi>en to admit witnessing a crime of this magnitude. )e can ne"er #re"ent indi"idual war crimes. influence go"ernment #olicy. G. if enough of us s#ea' out. Source1 3e#rinted from 8he Fournal of $istorical 3e"iew. I ha"e recei"ed threatening calls and had my mailbo( smashed. ut its been worth it. forty2fi"e years after the crime. ha"e no fear. 1H121HH . "ol.crimes. )e can reCect go"ernment #ro#aganda that de#icts our enemies as subhuman and encourages the 'ind of outrages I witnessed. ##." )e may e"en learn a su#reme lesson from all this1 only lo"e can con&uer all. which still goes on today. :"en +. 4nd we can refuse e"er to condone our go"ernment0s murder of unarmed and defeated #risoners of war. )e can #rotest the bombing of ci"ilian targets. 4nd the danger has not ceased. they told me. and #erha#s will remind other witnesses that "the truth will ma'e us free. we should aim once and for all to brea' the cycle of hatred and "engeance that has #lagued and distorted human history. no. 8his is why I am s#ea'ing out now. a liberation. but we can. es#ecially if im#licated himself. 17.IEs sym#athetic to the "ictims were afraid to com#lain and get into trouble. )riting about these atrocities has been a catharsis of feeling su##ressed too long. Since I s#o'e out a few wee's ago.

Related Interests