A Medic Recalls the Horrors of Berga
by William J. Shapiro
This is the recollection of a former POW who was among the Jews segregated at Stalag 9B and sent to the Berga concentration camp. Dr. Shapiro wrote this memoir in 1998, more than 50 years after being liberated. Up until a few years before, he had not written or spoken about his experience. After more than 50 years of silence and now more than two years since I have first began this exploration, I believe I have a better understanding and somewhat clearer picture of the where, what and when of that experience and, therefore, I feel comfortable in telling my story, he wrote. Dr. Shapiro has graciously granted permission to excerpt his memoir here.
There were no non-coms, nor officers in our barracks [at Stalag 9B]. About mid January, other men were being transferred into our barracks. This was at the time that the Germans demanded to know the names of all Jewish POWs. I knew that Hans Kasten, fellow POW, was the The man of Confidence." His job was to convey orders from the Germans and communicate with them about the needs of the American POWs. Apparently, he refused to divulge the names of Jewish soldiers, irrespective of rank, who were then present in the camp. Kasten and his two POW assistants were replaced with other people and eventually they joined us in being shipped to Berga. I recall that an American officer came into our barracks and stated that the Germans wanted the names of all Jewish soldiers. If they failed to come forward and were later discovered, they would suffer severe punishment. It was during this period of time that I began to notice and appreciate the difference in the treatment of our barracks. The majority of men in our barracks were non-Jews. There were about 300-350 men housed together and, perhaps, less than a quarter stated that they were Jewish. By the numerous discussions, we learned that many had some difficulties with guards or at interrogation. The so-called difficulties were sounding off to a guard, refusing to give any information except name, rank and serial number, maybe stepping out of line, going over to other prisoners already in the camp, found talking to others in the camp, etc. They were referred to as undesirables or troublemakers and they constituted the majority of the men. They were of all religions, no Blacks but several Hispanics.
Our barracks was definitely isolated from the others and received different treatment. The obvious German technique to wear down resistance and promote subservient behavior was to call the men out of the barracks for repeated counting of prisoners. It appeared that our roll calls took an inordinately longer time, requiring us to stand out in the cold, wet rain or snow for what appeared to be hours. Troopers would break into our barracks and arbitrarily pick men for terrible work details such as shoveling out latrine slit trenches. Our isolation prevented us from communicating with our buddies in other barracks and there were many barracks full of Americans. I learned in these past two years that the men who remained in Stalag 9B after our isolation and subsequent transfer to Berga did not know our fate. They did not know what had become of us, where we went, what we did and how many survived. Simply said, we disappeared. It is remarkable that the Germans had succeeded in concealing our fate from our buddies in a manner which was identical to the concealment of the fate of Jews from their hometown neighbors and transferred them from their respective homes to the East....
Aside from standing for long and frequent counting of the prisoners, the twice daily food lines or a line up for the outside latrine, our activities were confined to the barracks. On occasion there would be a sudden break-in to our barracks by German troopers and they would arbitrarily choose several men to perform some very undesirable work. Otherwise, we were confined in a locked barracks. The primary subject and most often discussed topic amongst the men was food, food, food. Everyone was hungry and their focus was food. Everyone had his own tale about the wonderful food he ate, where to obtain it, how to prepare it, and on and on about food...
DISCUSSIONS AND RECREATION
There was no recreation. Shooting craps was a common past time and the stakes were for cigarettes. No one had any money. One time it afforded me a great win that played a very significant role in my survival. I remember Morton Goldstein, in a large white, winter issue overcoat for snow camouflage, directing the crap game almost every day. You could not play at night because there was one incandescent light that served the entire room. This crap game was an example of luck that impacted on my outcome as a POW. Through shooting craps on this one day, I recall very vividly that I had won 31 cigarettes. I had four cigarettes in a package and I chanced to take a side bet with a single one and won. Thereafter, I took small side bets and eventually had 31 cigarettes. I did not ever gamble again as a prisoner.
I was rich." Cigarettes could be traded for items of clothes, utensils, pens, razors, and most important, extra food rations...There was a barter value to cigarettesso many cigarettes for a half of a bread ration or a quarter ration or a piece of sausage. When you are very hungry, you barter for food and do not think of the consequences to the smoker. I bartered as all men bartered for all sorts of items. Some even traded their wristwatch or some other valuable with the German guards in order to get cigarettes. It was a more important commodity than a wristwatch. The number of cigarettes for barter was predetermined and standard. The choice was that of the smoker and if he wanted to smoke, I or others could pay the cigarettes to get some extra food. When I was hungry, I did not moralize about whether this may be harmful, unfair or destructive to my fellow prisoner. I responded to my own constant gnawing feelings of hunger. I guarded the cigarettes as a treasure, always kept them in a pouch, close to my body, under my undershirt. It was further secured by the pouch cord around my neck....
TRANSPORT TO THE UNKNOWN
I was transferred out of Stalag 9B on February 8, 1945, in a group of 350 men. My entire barracks was emptied and we were joined by men from other barracks. About 80 of us were Jewish, others included the so-called troublemakers or undesirables of the camp and there were men arbitrarily selected because their names sounded Jewish. I did not know that we were designated to be a work force, called Arbeitskommando in German, until we arrived in Berga. We were told that we were being transferred to another POW camp and I had thought that I was to work in a hospital. In fact, that is what I wrote to my parents on a postcard from Stalag 9 B. The men who remained in Stalag 9B were told and believed that we were going to Stalag 9C, which was in the eastern part of Germany....
BERGA AM ELSTER ARBEITSKOMMANDO 625
I believe it was five days later, on February 13, 1945, we arrived in Berga am Elster, located in Thuringian province of Germany. It is about 50 kilometers east of Weimar....
We were marched up a long road to our camp, which was essentially two one story barracks made of wood with tar paper covering. There were barred, small windows high on the walls and there was a center doorway. Through the doorway into a corridor, at the end was the latrine consisting of a cold water tap on a sink and a central bucket. Each side of the corridor was a room with triple decked bunks. There were straw mats for bedding and nothing else. Outside the barracks was a field in which we would line up at least twice daily to be counted. Again, the count was by tens and that could take an inordinately long time. In retrospect, this must have been deliberate, just another form of brutalizing us. Endless counts were often used as a form of punishment for contrived infractions of the so-called rules or as opportunities for the Kommandofuhrer to harangue us. Forcing us to stand outside of the barracks in the damp, windy cold weather after a work-shift in the tunnels in order to be counted before receiving the nights food rations was a common tortuous act.
The barracks had a slit trench between them where we could relieve ourselves during the day. At night, the barracks were padlocked and we used the inside bucket. At first, I believe that all the Jewish POWs were placed into the same side of the barracks and I was the only Medic in that part. Sometime later, there was a change and there was no specific Jewish barracks. A small dispensary was established in one part of the other barracks. The line-up field and barracks were surrounded by a double barbed wire fence, with an alley way between two fences. I do not recall any guard towers but there were many tall wooden poles upon which were bright lights to illuminate the area. I observed those lights disappear in the dark early morning hours when we descended the hill to the concentration camp annex to obtain our morning food rations. They were like beacons by which we could determine our distances from the camp.
In Berga, the Guards were much older men, maybe 60 years of age, many with obvious physical disabilities which probably deferred them for more active duty in the German army. They were members of the Volksturm, the civilian guard, and for the most part they were nonthreatening. There was no use of dogs to guard us and accompany us when we left the camp area. I have no recall of the first officer in charge of us. I do remember the person who had most control over us. He was Unterofficier, Erwin Metz, a noncommissioned officer, a Sergeant in the National Guard. He took his orders from SS. Lt. Hacke the head man who directed the Schwalbe V project, a joint undertaking by Himmlers SS and an industrial complex. In effect, he was in charge of the slave-tunnel project to construct underground armaments factories. Lt. Hacke was in charge of all the various slave laborers--political, Russian POWs and now a particular group of American POWs.
Metz was a heavy set man in his late forties or early fifties, wore glasses, had a pointed nose, about 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. He had a distinctive voice that you knew who was talking when you heard it. Recently, I have heard that other POWs described it as a Donald Duck voice. Unquestionably, in Berga and on the Death March, his cruel, indifferent, oppressive and deliberate actions caused the deaths of many the POWs and added to our indescribable sufferings. Metz exhibited a destructive, bestial and barbaric behavior characteristic of what Goldhagen clearly describes as Hitlers Willing Executioners. He was a middle-aged man who somehow avoided being in the Wehrmacht or fighting on the Russian front and was in the National Guard, just one level above the last resort men in the Home Guard. He must have been about 30-35 years of age when Hitler came to power so he was not indoctrinated with Hitler Youth propaganda. Ostensibly he had maturity to think humanely but his actions were that of an Ubermench and we were the untermench, slaves, undesirable humans with whom he could do as he pleased without regard to any sense of humanity.
The longer that we stayed at Berga, the more and more did the men manifest all the sicknesses of deprivation, starvation and exhaustion. It followed that many men appeared at morning sick call, deathly ill and unable to go work in the tunnels. Metz instituted his personal appearance at morning sick call for the men. It was his determination alone that decided whether these very sick men could remain in their barracks or must go to the slave tunnel work. It occurred often for all of us to note that the men that he forced back to work at morning sick call were found dead in their beds the following morning. Mitchell Bards description of the War Crimes trials of Erwin Metz and Ludwig Merz, conducted after the war, was the most depressing information that I have read about my prisoner of war experience. It was some 50 years after the fact, I learned that a trial of these beasts had occurred. The subsequent outcome of this trial, the insignificant applied sentences for their evil deeds, and the amnesty granted to them by parties not even remotely involved in the crimes, were expressions of the most egregiously disgusting and disgraceful injustice for the victims the American POWs under their control for 11 weeks in 1945. Simply put these beasts got away with murder.
Shortly after arrival we were assigned our individual work details. You were selected for a particular job by the Arbeitskommandofuhrer, Metz. There were nine Medics in the group and we were assigned to the food detail and to remain in the barracks to attend the sick men. The remainder of our group were to become slave laborers, working in two 12 hour shifts every day of the week for 40 days straight. They worked in slave tunnels, not unlike numerous other tunnels in different sites in Germany where underground armament factories were being constructed. I was selected for the food detail and to work in the dispensary. My International Red Cross card identified me as a Medic. It was the most important factor in the selection of my particular work detail and it was the ultimate factor in my survival.
Unquestionably, the type of assigned work detail impacted heavily upon the chances of survival in Berga and subsequently on the death march. The slave-tunnel work resulted in the exposure to strenuous, dangerous and exhausting labor in very cold, wet and slate dust-covered environment for 12 hours daily. This work was to continue without respite for 40 straight days. On Easter Sunday, in late March, a days holiday was declared. It was principally because the civilian engineers and gang bosses of the tunnels suddenly became holy." The men were subject to indiscriminate beatings for occurrences beyond their control or erroneously perceived by the work gang bosses. They were repeated harangued by work orders and directions from German civilian engineers or the gang bosses which caused many men to act irrational, attempt to fight back and many attempted escape at any cost. There was daily exposure to and occurrences of injuries. However minor these injuries might be the end result was a major insult to the starved and debilitated men. A POWs particular work detail was proportional to the exhaustion he would suffer -- the heavier the work load, the more exhaustion. At times, men in the various 17 tunnels had different job assignments so that some men fared better than others. But all were debilitated by starvation and exposed to various communicable diseases common in crowded, lice and vermin infested barracks. In a short period of time, the effects were disastrous.
My food detail consisted of eight men who assembled every morning about 4:00 a.m., picked up by the two guards who accompanied us on our walk down the hill to the concentration camp annex. At that time of the year, it was very dark, cold, damp, and often the blowing winds of February and March made our trek on snow, ice or slush very treacherous and difficult. I was miserably cold and unbelievably uncomfortable, suffering in silence, but not a whisper of a complaint because I knew the alternative in the tunnels.
We pushed a large, four wheel wagon similar to a small hay wagon. It had slatted sides and the front axle had an extension pole for steering. On the flat bed were three very large Marmite cans or containers of the size used by Company mess sergeants to feed large groups of men. We pushed or pulled the wagon so that two men would walk in front holding the wagon back, two on each side and two at the back being pulled by the wagon. The distance from our barracks to the Concentration camp annex was about a mile or perhaps, a mile and a half. I used to gauge the distance by watching the lights atop of the long poles surrounding our camp disappear from sight or come into view on our return. I would mentally judge the distances that we would have to hold the wagon from flying down the hill or push with all our strength to get it back to the barracks. When we reached the bottom of the hill, we crossed a small bridge over a dirty, somewhat frozen stream covered with debris and snow. I knew that we would be at the entrance to the concentration camp shortly thereafter. Our food was made and provided to us by adolescent political prisoners at the concentration camp annex. In the morning, presumably after washing our containers, they would fill them with hot ersatz hot coffee-like fluid. Sometimes, we also received our bread rations in loaves of bread, occasionally included were long sausages of blut vorst." Everything was counted by the guards so that when we returned to our barracks the exact number had to be stored in the guard room. In the evening, we would get that universal political prisoner soup made of turnip heads with the greens attached, a variety of greens that looked like weeds, and sometimes it contained pieces of rotted potatoes. Other times there was a detail sent into town for bread rations and then occasionally marmalade would be added to the ration. In general, I recall that a loaf of bread was to be divided by 6-8 men. This was performed in the barracks with the men who bunked near you and after the soup was finished. We used to rotate the cutting of the bread or the sausage among us so we could be sure of fairness. It was almost impossible to be precise since we had homemade knives or a penknife that was not taken by the Germans or bartered from a German guard for cigarettes. It was always about 1 to 1½ inch slice of bread and maybe 1 inch cut of sausage when available. That was our daily food ration until the end of March when we received our only Red cross parcel to be divided among four men.
SATELLITE CONCENTRATION CAMP
When we arrived at the concentration camp, the large entrance gate would be opened by Capos or special privileged political prisoners. At the time, I had no knowledge about certain categories of prisoners but I saw that there was a difference in the behavior and the so-called authority of certain prisoners. They were dressed differently and looked better fed. I learned about these types of political prisoners after the war. On the inner aspect of the front gate were SS troopers, in black uniforms with the toten kopf insignia on their lapels. They had large German shepherd dogs on leashes at their side. It was a frightening sight every time that we entered the camp. We would push our wagon to a kitchen area on the left, just inside the gate. We would stand there, wait until our Marmite cans were filled by young boys wearing the blue/black and white stripped pajamas of the political prisoners. I did not know at the time, but I know now that most of them were Jews. They all wore hats and would remove them prior to bowing, then standing at attention, and then addressing a SS trooper or Capo. They scurried around quickly and looked very busy to complete the job of filling the food containers. It was as if they feared being struck by the closely observing Capos or SS guards. The Capos had batons as did SS troopers who were not carrying rifles.
I had never seen a concentration camp, nor knew anything about political prisoners, what constituted political prisoners, their ethnic backgrounds, or their country of origin. At Berga, I learned that prisoners in stripped pajama -like uniforms were not POWs from other countries, that they were treated more harshly, more cruelly and were even more ill fed and emaciated than we were to become in the weeks ahead. Over the many weeks that I was involved in the food detail twice daily, I had many opportunities to witness the savage, indiscriminate brutality inflicted upon the political inmates, the vast majority must have been Jews. We would stand around waiting for our food rations to be loaded on the wagon. Many times, I saw SS troopers tormenting young boys by making them stand at attention, ask them questions, which I did not understand nor hear, and then suddenly strike out and hit them with their batons or rifle butts. All this to be followed by having the adolescent inmate return to the same starting position, at attention, and repeat the same routine. At first, I thought that this was some game but it became obvious that the blows were meant to hurt and it was obviously no game. It was directed savagery with the intent to maim. This same type of brutal scene has been described by another Medic in Bards book. He saw this happening to a youngster in the village of Berga.
I had never witnessed a public hanging nor let alone ever seen a hanging other than in photographs. In the concentration camp, I saw many hangings in the courtyard not far from the entrance gate, near our kitchen waiting area. At different times, as we waited for our rations, I saw two, three, or four persons, some emaciated, others not emaciated, all in the same pajamas, hanging from a rope from a broad beam supported at each end by angled beams of wood. It was there! In front of us! Out in the open! The area was cleared of any buildings and we came to accept this as part of the camps physical appearance. I had no idea of the why, what or who of these public hangings. But every time that I saw a hanging, I was frightened, lost, felt defenseless, and intimidated. I looked away, kept very close to myself and tried to prevent making any slight movement or expression which would involve me with this scene. I saw, but I did not want to know. I did not want any of the SS troopers to notice my observation of the hangings. All of us observed, made no comment to each other and remained silent. I just wanted to get out of there without being part of the horrible scene. When there were hangings, it appeared that we all had a sense of relief when we started pushing our wagon back up the hill. After awhile, I knew that particular area where the public hangings were and would quickly observe it and avoid looking again. We were separated from the horrors of the camp but I had to view it daily and know that is where we got our nourishment. Even our guards failed to make any comments nor engaged the SS troopers in conversation. They accompanied us through the gate, remained silent and observed these events as if this was not their business. A common response of not becoming involved in order to protect yourself.
BERGA AND THE WORK DETAILS
The German Volksturm guards recognized that pushing the three full Marmite cans up the hill was a heavy chore, particularly, on frozen ground or in wet cold rain. On very harsh blustery days, they would assign 10 men to the food detail. Adding more men to the detail was an opportunity in which we were able to assist some of our buddies in their escape from the camp. We would try to confuse the guards by telling them that we only had eight men on the detail at the start but, in fact, we were 10 men. We would move about changing positions on the wagon to confuse the guards into believing that there were eight of us. During the darkness of the morning, beyond the lights of our camp, they would slip away from the detail. Several men escaped the camp this way.
Three men, the former Man of Confidence of Stalag 9B, Hans Kasten and his two German-speaking assistants, escaped in the first week at Berga. They were captured, spent the rest of the war in a punishment Stalag but they survived.
I know that we used this trick twice with Morton Goldstein. I had met him in Stalag 9B and he was a garrulous, bombastic man who could not be confined and certainly could not do the work in the tunnels. His first escape ended in recapture and extra duty, and he was forced to stand out in the cold for a long time. About the third week in March, on our trip in the morning to pick up breakfast, Goldstein and another POW joined us and then took off. Goldstein was recaptured and was shot in the back of the head by Sgt. Metz. At the War Crime Trial of Metz who was charged with killing an American prisoner, claimed that Goldstein was attempting to run away after he was captured. Goldstein was brought back to camp by some other Medics. Metz would not allow a burial for one week. His body laid on a stretcher between two barracks as a warning to others who would attempt escape. I recall the Goldstein escape very vividly and I remember that he was shot after his second escape. I thought that it was only in the back of the head and it appeared to be an execution performed by Metz, but the Trial Judge of the War Crimes Trial thought differently as there was evidence that he was also shot in the back. The display of Goldsteins body was to deter any further attempts to escape.
The men assigned to work in the tunnels were divided into two shifts, working 12 hour periods, seven days per week. They received no food nor drink while they were in the tunnels. They were marched to the tunnel area about a mile from our barracks by our guards. In the slave tunnels they were under the command of the same work gang bosses and civilian engineers as the slave political prisoners from the concentration camp annex. Their work was identical to the political prisoners but at a different shift time.
This was an SS/Military work complex called Schwalbe V, under the immediate direction of an SS Lt. Hacke, which utilized slave labor political prisoners controlled by Himmlers SS troopers to build underground armament factories. There were many similar complexes throughout Germany for the same purposes. It was in keeping with Himmlers plan to utilize political prisoners from all of conquered Europe as slaves in building a greater Germany. The work site was a very long and tall hillside adjacent to the Elster river. The site ran along the river bed for a considerable distance and was sufficiently large to accommodate the construction of 17 different tunnels which lead into a planned large armament factory area. The factory area had not been excavated as yet, but by the size and number of tunnels the over all planning must have been for a complex of significant size.
The slave work consisted of excavating rocks and dirt by hand and shovel after it was loosened by explosives laid by the German engineers. The men hand loaded rocks onto or shoveled slate fragments and dirt onto flatbed cars similar to coal cars. They hand pushed the cars on its track to an area where the rocks could be dumped into the Elster river. They worked with primitive drills, old mining machines and often the men were utilized in place of machine power or horse power to move heavy objects. Accidents and beatings with rubber hoses were common. Slate dust was choking and ever present. Our Volksturm guards marched the shifts of POWs to their tunnels, where they remained until the shift ended. The return to the barracks was often marred by the indifference and uncaring long waiting periods until our guards arrived to march them back to the barracks and their bunks. Even after this torture there was a further delay of the much deserved rest because they had to stand in line for the evening count of the prisoners. These repetitive, disruptive, inane counts made the suffering more harsh. Finally, the meager rations of a bowl of rotted potato or turnip top green soup and a slice of hard, grainy black bread was distributed.
Thankfully, I did not have to work in a tunnel nor was I was ever in a tunnel. My knowledge was obtained by witnessing what had occurred to the men who worked there during our seven weeks in Berga. The horror of their slave labor was evident by their individual stories of the terrible inhumane work, the constant inhaling of the slate dust, their creation of cursing names for the brutal gang bosses, seeing and treating their wounds some minor, others severe, but all became grossly infected almost immediately. It was very apparent to observe their progressive bodily deterioration and the loss of will to continue to live. It was in their vacant staring into space, the exhausted movements and disinterest in their surroundings which foretold the ultimate demise of many of them. We were not confined in the satellite concentration camp and not guarded by SS totem kopf guards, however our agony was worsened by supposed ordinary Germans. Sergeant Metz and our elderly guards were grown men of age when Hitler came to power in Germany. Many of the guards were in the seventies or maybe eighties. They were older men who possessed the same mentality of the SS even though they were the last resort of men to defend their country as Home Guard. They were conscripted for guard duty because of age and disabilities but yet their actions were equally barbaric as any Nazi. They did not treat us as soldiers but rather as political prisoners who had to suffer. Again, the same ingrained German character of ubbermench." A large measure of their brutality was on their own volition as they were not under constant orders or surveillance by their superior officers. Beating the prisoners, hitting them with the butts of their rifles were spontaneous expressions of their own individual bestial acts against mankind.
There was little comfort at night. In our locked barracks, the cold, wet, wintry weather continued to rack our bodies. The barracks was heated by a pot belly stove in the middle of the room. However, the wood allotment was very small and heat could be generated for a couple of hours. Many of us would heat some water obtained from the sink in the latrine. It rarely ever came to a boil for sterilizing the water, but it was hot. I was dressed in everything that I owned. I used my overcoat for a combination pillow and blanket in addition to the German-issued thin blanket When I got partially undressed to wash myself, I had to ask a buddy to pay close attention to my belongings since theft was rampant. Washing my body was rare but washing my hands was often. I did not shave nor did I ever have a haircut. Some men did have scissors and would offer a haircut for a cigarette.
In sharp contrast to the Bad Orb Stalag days, there was very little talk about food or food menus in Berga. In fact, there was very little interactive talkperiod. The men were all consumed in caring for themselves. They were half-starved, exhausted, had different types of wounds, illnesses and pains which involved them with their respective misery. They sat on or lay on their bunks tending to their own needs. There was cold water for washing but many men were not interested in washing at any time. They appeared totally detached from their surroundings, did not talk to others and functioned in isolation. They would only react to the presence of food or commands by the guards. Food would activate them into a frenzy but after the distribution of the food, they would go off, climb onto their bunks and disassociate themselves from the other men. In Stalag 9B, there was talk of food, when the war will end, how far are the Allied forces from us etc. Everyone was some kind of a knowledgeable person or appeared to act as if he knew something. Rumors would fly.
It was different at Berga and I would learn the beginning signs of the giving up syndrome-- the desire for peace and death. Even as a Medic, I could not reach them unless it involved food. Later in life, I was to learn that this was the same dehumanizing dying process portrayed by prisoners in concentration camps. They were indifferent to their surroundings, cowered, frightened, did not speak, obviously weak and emaciated, without will and always looking for something to eat. The lasting effects of this concentration camp demeanor continues to manifest itself to the present today in some Holocaust survivors and ex-POWs. They hoard food and other small life supporting items which they have reasoned to be necessary in an emergency. They are secure when food is always available, they eat quickly and do not like to wait for their meals. It becomes a lifetime insecurity about returning to the starvation of the past.
A favorite pastime at night was squashing white lice between the nails of your thumbs. I would pick out the lice from the seams of my trousers, particularly around the crotch or the seams of the sleeves of my field jacket. The pubic and axillary hair were great areas to find the critters. Sometimes it would take hours to clear the areas of obvious lice. I could not see the eggs of the lice so there would be new mature ones in a few days. A common barrack scene was to observe men with their clothes partially removed, dangling their feet over the sides of the bunks, killing lice between their thumb nails and then blowing the dead vermin onto the floor. There was a lot of scratching and rubbing to relieve oneself of the itching.
In addition to the itching, sleep at night was disturbed by repetitive hacking coughs, high-pitched sounds of stridor and inability to breathe in different men at different times. Most men had the slate dust in their lungs and were forcing up globs of mucus in order to breathe. This cacophony of coughing sounds would continue for hours. Intermittently, there would be sudden, hurried sounds of someone jumping off the bunk, racing to the latrine and then climbing back in exhaustion. Nighttime was not a restful time except for those so exhausted that time was going very fast for them.
Every morning, there was a dread about returning to the tunnel. Men would line up for sick call in the very early morning to avoid going to work. Most had legitimate reasons of sickness or injury to be excused from work. I recall that there were many men who could not get out of bed and had to be assisted to sick call. The slave tunnel work and starvation had profound effects so large numbers of men reported to sick call. Sergeant Metz took over as the Judge who would determine the seriousness of a soldiers sickness and his ability to work. He attended sick call every morning and his determining exam was to look at the soldiers tongue. I do not know what criteria in the appearance of the tongue made the decision for rest in barracks or return to work. This barbaric and capricious diagnostic test was incorrect many, many times. After sending the man to work, he would do his shift in the tunnels and then we would find him dead in his bunk the next morning....After being in Berga for about two weeks, the men had numerous diseases such as dysentery, dehydration, advanced emaciation, large ulcers on feet and hands, leg edema, pneumonia and probably tuberculosis. About you in every direction the man below your bunk, next to your bunk, across the room, in the latrine were exhibiting some ailment. Impending death was all about me.
I recall trying to treat a large ulcer on the foot of one man with sulfanilamide powder and bandaging the foot with crepe paper bandage wrap. Now, I know that he had gangrene and he died shortly, thereafter. This was a self-inflicted wound with a rock so that he would not have to return to the tunnels. He was so despaired, resigned, and he gave up. In effect, he killed himself.
I recall treating men suffering from repeated bouts of diarrhea, more often uncontrollable. It was horrible to have diarrhea and [be unable to] relive yourself because there was no place, or no time was allowed by the guards for this activity. All we had for treatment and relief were charcoal pills. According to orders from Metz, we were to ration them. I recall speaking to the International Red Cross representative, on the one time that he visited our camp on the hill. I asked for some paregoric which I knew was used in the treatment of diarrhea. I can still visualize this tall man in a military uniform, walking into our barracks, looking about superficially, and indifferent to my request. I have often spoke of this episode when I returned home. It was my feeling that he was a Nazi sympathizer. Obviously, at that time, and until the recent disclosures of the nefarious relationship between the Swiss and Germans in WW II. I now know that my feelings at that time may have been correct. We did not receive anything through the International Red Cross, and to this day, I continue to harbor undiminished animosity for the IRC and the Swiss.
A WONDERFUL LIFE SAVING INTERLUDE
At the end of February, a wondrous and life saving event occurred to me. I was chosen along with three other Medics to accompany 12 very sick men to another Stalag. I had a large KG painted on the back of my field jacket. KG are the German letters for signifying Kriegsgefangenen prisoner of war. We had two guards who were surprisingly friendly and helpful. They arranged for a wagon in which we placed four of the sickest men. We went by truck to a railroad station which I believe was in Weimar. It was a very large railroad station in which many civilians and uniformed German soldiers were walking about waiting for their trains. We were off to one side and we were not harassed. Many people came over to look at us but no one spoke nor approached us in any threatening manner.
When the train arrived, we pushed the cart along the platform up to the door of the compartment which eight of us and a guard occupied. The other compartment held the other nine people. This was a standard train compartment as could be found in any European passenger train. I was surprised by our accommodations. We had a loaf of bread for four men which I recall that I divided it with the guards pocketknife. I know that we had some fluid which was in a container and a piece of sausage, again divided by the same knife. It was the first time that I had a significant piece of meat or sausage since I was captured two months previously. We had our food for the eight men in each compartment and the Guards had their own food. The next morning, we arrived at a rail siding and we got off the train. No other passengers detrained. We were picked up by a truck and taken to a Stalag. We discovered that one of the sick POWs was dead as we prepared to detrain and we took his body with us for burial.
At this Prison Camp, which I have learned was Stalag 9C, there was an entirely different look and feeling. This Stalag was different from Stalag 9B and had not the slightest resemblance to anything at our present Berga camp. Most of the POWs that I encountered were British. There were non-coms as well as privates. The men were orderly dressed in a variety of their army uniforms which appeared clean, not ragged nor torn. The British POWs appeared well fed and were walking leisurely about the open field as with entered the gate. This was in sharp contrast to how we appeared and what we are permitted to do in our Berga camp. We had no free exercise time out in an open field. The Stalag had guards stationed about the field area and there were guard towers with the usual, I presumed, electrified fences about the camp. We were approached by a British Sergeant Major who directed some men to relieve us of our burden of unloading the sick American POWs off the truck. They also took the dead man and thereafter, I did not see our sick men nor knew about the burial. We assumed that they were taken to the Stalag hospital.
The Sergeant Major escorted the four of us to a large building which appeared to be a laundry and a stock room. I could see shower stalls outside the side of this building. We were told to undress so that we could be deloused. Our clothes were taken by a British POW and I thought that we were going to get new uniforms. We were dusted from head to toes with a white powder. I did not know that it was DDT since I had no knowledge of DDT nor had I used anything like it before this time. We all submitted without question. After sometime, we were directed to the showers. This was my first experience with hot water since the farmhouse in Nachtmanderscheid, Luxembourg, some two months before. The soap and hot water caused my open, infected Lice bites to burn and itch. I had bites and sores all over my body. I remember scrubbing and scrubbing to stop the itching and the burning. We did not have to shave our heads, nor our pubic and axillary hair. After some time, they returned our own uniforms. I remember that the clothes were very warm as if they were just taken out of an oven. Heating the clothes for a period of time was their method of delousing our uniforms.
While we were waiting for our clothes in this large building, we were given two American Red Cross parcels to share among the four of us. The box had clearly imprinted upon it the words, American Red Cross. The box was about 16-18 inches wide, 10-12 inched tall and about 8 inches in depth. I had never seen one before. It was already opened and we were told to share one box for two people. I was amazed of what was fitted into the carton. I remember a can of powdered milk, a can of hash-like meat, crackers, chocolate candy bar, powdered coffee, one or two bars of soap, a razor, some type of vitamin tablets, and most important there were packages of cigarettes. I think that we got four packages in each box and I recall that they were Camels. I know that the other Medic and I each took one package of cigarettes and gave them to the Guards who accompanied us to Stalag 9C.
I remember that we discussed how they tried to be helpful in getting the sick POWs a wagon, similar to a luggage wagon, so that they could sit upon it as we pushed them to the train in the Weimar railroad station. We divided the cans of food, he wanted the coffee and I wanted the chocolate bar which was like a D ration for combat troops. I do not remember how we divided the remainder of the food, the toilet tissues, the candy, dried fruit and vitamins. I know that I ate a lot of it while we were waiting for our clothes. However, I did have items and partially opened boxes to carry back to Berga. When they gave us this life saving wonderful gift, I knew how important it was for me and how I had to protect it. The sharing was very fair as I remembered it. No one quarreled about how the parcel was divided. It was vastly more food and goodies that anyone of us had seen in two months of starvation. We talked about food in Bad Orb but there was no discussion about this kind of food nor that the Red Cross was a source of supplementary food for POWs. We were giddily happy, we ate and tasted everything. I could not fully encompass this tremendous good fortune. We were receiving this food in a Stalag, having just had a hot shower and now sitting there in our shorts tasting a little bit in all the open boxes.
Prior to this glorious moment, none of us had been aware of the existence of American Red Cross parcels for POWs. We did not know how to get them, who was to get them, how often and how many POWs were to share a parcel. The British told us that it was part of the Geneva Convention to supplement the diet of POWs. A fantastic revelation. We also were told that they had a supply of these food parcels stored in this camp. Unbelievable! All of us began to explain our desperate and starving plight in Berga to the Sergeant Major. We spoke about the failure of receiving any Red Cross boxes since our capture and that condition was the same for 300 plus men in Berga. He promised that a truck load of parcels would be sent from Stalag 9C to Berga. Until the time that we left Stalag 9 B to return to Berga, we continued to remind him of our urgent need for food parcels and medical supplies
I have always looked back at this miraculous journey to Stalag 9 C in late February 1945 as one of the important events that allowed me to survive my ordeal. It was a period in which I was humanized again. I was in another life for the moment. I was outside of my prison, with its terrible surroundings, death occurring to men on frequent mornings, foul smells, filthy latrine, horrible meager food, and the constant Arbeitskommandofuhrer to hound and torment. In the railroad station of Weimar, I saw people milling about. It was a wide-open space. Although we were guarded, we were not threatened nor harassed. We traveled in a train compartment as did civilians, it was a comfortable night and very quiet. The British POWs treated us warmly, took care of our immediate needs and fed us a feast beyond any imagination and with leftovers to nourish us in Berga. The timing was perfect as I was able to replenish my supply of cigarettes for bartering. In fact, one of our guards who I gave a package of cigarettes continued to trade with me at Berga. At times, I would get hard tack type of crackers or some bread for a cigarette. That trip to Stalag 9C in late February was the lifesaving respite which nourished me and prepared me for the horror of the next seven weeks: four in Berga and three on the Death march.
BACK TO BERGA
After I returned to Berga, about the last days of February, it was very evident that men were dying at an alarming rate. From the time that we arrived in Berga, three weeks ago, they worked 12 hours daily with no day of rest. It became easy to recognize who was near death. Buddies would point out their bunk mate or another friend who was near death. Their eyes revealed a distant and fixed stare. Their mouths were open and a dehydrated tongue was evident. They were in a daze and disinterested in their surroundings or comfort from their buddies. There were many very sick men in the dispensary. As was usual in the morning, we would find men dead in their bunks, and many had worked the previous day in the tunnels. Death was all about us. You recognized it, you acknowledge who he was but you blocked from becoming more involved. It was a protective acknowledgment so that you could continue on. It was not that you were without feeling but that you had to disassociate yourself in whatever little way because it was occurring all about us. Every morning, we saw that Death was all about us. It came down to what was going to happen to you and when. The grave detail was busy burying the dead in a corner of the camp. They placed markers with crosses and added the soldiers helmet on top of the marker.
Mitchell Bards book states that 25 men died in the seven weeks that we were in Berga. Close to 10% of those who arrived on February 13, 1945. It is estimated that about 25 men were transferred to hospitals during this time. I was only involved with one transfer of 12 men at the end of February and have no recollections of other hospital transfers. A fair estimate was that about 50 former very ablebodied and healthy men died or succumbed to severe illness in just seven weeks.
The hospitalization of the sick Americans was not motivated by benevolent or humane care but it was another expression of the selfish, uncaring, warped and frightened German mind. Many of the men had uncontrolled diarrhea, marked dehydration, chronic productive coughs, maybe tuberculosis, and some even had a diagnosis of Diphtheria by the town physician. The Germans were deathly afraid of the spread of communicable diseases which could contaminate their ranks.
The fear of typhus or other plague-like diseases in our vermin infested quarters was a definite possibility. The Germans had experienced typhus outbreaks in other concentration camps. An inordinate number of sick prisoners caused them to be alarmed and they sought ways to transfer POWs to a hospital. Hospitals are where people die and the death of slaves, even American POWs, were no great concern to the Germans. Therefore, I believe that the number of sick Americans in Berga after only two weeks of working in the slave tunnels, motivated the first transfer of 12 men. It constituted half of the number of men hospitalized.
The SS/Military complex, Schwalbe V, set up the construction site, planned the construction, hired the engineers and arranged to have slave labor transported to the area. The slaves were to be worked until death and there were readily available replacements with other political prisoners. It was not apparent to any of us that essentially we were renamed as slave labor, political prisoners, available to the SS and no longer considered American POWs with whatever rights are inferred by the Geneva convention. At times different men complained to Metz that some of his actions were against the Geneva convention. His reply was that he was the Geneva Convention. In fact, he sent a Medic to work in the tunnels one day because he questioned Metz about the conventions protection of POWs.
Death of slaves because of inhumane conditions was not a significant factor calculated in the SS construction plans. Slaves could be easily replaced by ordering another transport of political prisoners from some concentration camp. The approach was simple and concrete. Sickness of the slaves caused grave anxiety but death was a mundane matter which was abundantly replaceable with more things. The depraved and evil mind of the German perpetrator was too monstrous and incomprehensible for any sane person in the world to believe. Even the prisoners could not rationally understand what was happening to them.
About the last week in March, we were moved to barracks situated alongside of the concentration camp annex. I believe that my date of changing barracks is correct because Morton Goldstein and another man escaped on March 20th from our morning food detail while we were going down the hill to the annex. We moved to the new location after Morton Goldsteins dead body was laid outside our barracks on the hill for several days as a warning for anyone attempting to escape. Our new barracks were separated from the Concentration Camp annex by two electrified fences. I could see into the other camp and observed many of the inmates were working in a very large warehouse type of building. The SS troopers patrolled inside the concentration camp fence and we continued to have the Volksturm guards with Sergeant Metz in command. The work detail of the men was significantly changed. They no longer had to work in the tunnels. There were several different jobs but all were above ground, away from the slate dust and cold damp air of the tunnels. Some had to take a train to a rail yard where they moved sections of track or track bed material. Others worked near the tunnels and pushed the tram carts which came out of the tunnel onto a turntable and dumped the excavated material into the Elster river. The work was strenuous but the weather was warming and the breathing was easier. Even the shifts were changed to a more favorable time during the day. My job was less tiring, there was no hill to climb and a minimal amount of pulling and pushing was necessary to get our wagon over the bridge near the entrance of the concentration camp. However, everyones daily work continued for forty days until Easter Sunday. It was a day of rest for the Americans and the civilian gang bosses and engineers. By that time we had received our first Red Cross package
In the middle of March, we saw a truck delivering Red Cross parcels to our camp. The Sergeant Major from Stalag 9 C was true to his word. The parcels were locked up in the guard house and the guards had acknowledged that we did receive parcels for distribution to the men. The crucial points were when, how will they be distributed, how many men were to share a parcel and what was in the parcels?
Many rumors abounded to all these questions. At a line up for the evening count of the prisoners, Sergeant Metz made a proclamation that no parcels will be distributed until the men cleansed themselves, shaved and appeared orderly. What a brutal blow! More torment! How devastating and incredibly cruel to expect starved, sick, low functioning and half-crazed men to comply with this order. A delay in the distribution was in effect a new order to further punish us. Make us suffer in order to achieve complete dominion over us. Make us beg and twist the demands a little tighter. It was almost impossible to even modestly perform to the order. Men could not even walk about because of foot sores, dazed from hunger, exhaustion and completely focused on getting to that food in the parcel. Few had the necessary razor or even an old used blade to shave, there was no soap and no cloth or old paper to use as toweling to dry off the cold water for washing. So you froze until your body heat dried your body after the wash up. We had no other uniforms and we all wore the same clothes since the day that we were captured. How could you look orderly dressed when you were in rags with stained fecal smelling pieces of uniform? We were craving for the packages, fantasizing about its contents, and directed our wishes and hopes that the parcels would forever quell our hunger pains. I had experienced a shared parcel and knew that in addition to the food there will be items which will better our miserable existence --vitamins, some drugs for diarrhea, bandages and maybe sulfanilamide, soap, reading material, notepad and pencils, sweets and cigarettes. But I remember that I primarily wanted the food since I had that wonderful moment a month before.
There were repeated delays in the distribution of the parcels. I do not recall the various reasons for postponement, but it was obvious that Metz was tormenting us, using the parcels as a reward for some action or other by the men. We were totally defeated and only interested in getting to the boxes of food.
Eventually he allowed the distribution of one Red Cross box to be divided among four men. This was welcomed by us at that time. However, I know that he kept many boxes intended for our use and gave them to the 25 guards and many others. We received the food parcels about March 25, 1945. I believe that this was date because my fellow Medic, Tony Acevedo, started to keep a diary in the notepad book that was in the Red Cross parcel which he had divided....
Easter was about March 30, 1945. It was that day, after 40 daily work days, the men had their first day of rest, did not have to go the slave tunnels and were able to enjoy the contents of the Red Cross parcel. Three and a half months in captivity. A cherished shared variety of foods plus the first and only extra soup ration to honor the Germans celebration of Easter. What hypocrisy!
I strongly believe that the willful cruel delay in the distribution of the packages for about 7- 10 days was an important factor in the subsequent death of many more men at Berga and on the march to nowhere (death march). The parcels contained meat products, milk, vitamins, many forms of carbohydrates all of which would have served to replenish the depleted liver and muscle basic needs for life. Each delayed day led to further depletion in a body already severely compromised. Metz actions in withholding the needed nourishment deprived some men of the chance to rebuild their body storage of fats, protein and energy carbohydrates for the forced march of the next three weeks. Again, his actions revealed the demonic nature of the man. He was a supposed ordinary German citizen, 50 years of age, who was in the retail business before the War. Metz was a mature, grown man beyond the age for ritualistic indoctrination in schools and military groups as was seen in the younger men during the rise of Hitler since 1933. Why he was in the equivalent of a National Guard and not in the more active Military branches was unknown to me. However, he performed in a manner identical to those Nazis trained from childhood to hate, kill and comport themselves as ubermench above others who they considered as untermench." He hated us not as soldiers but as political prisoners which was synonymous with Jews.
VERY LONG MARCH INTO HELL
On April 6, 1945, we were ordered to evacuate the barracks and started a march from one city to another in a southeasterly direction, supposedly, to get to Bavaria. This was a Death March so properly termed by the thousands of Jews from across Europe who were forced to walk for endless days, starved, beaten, prodded and arbitrarily shot. The march was to nowhere in particular, often deliberately made longer, circuitous, hazardous, maintained for 10-12 hours each day with minimal food and water all designed to promote death. In some ways it was comparable to the overcrowded boxcar transports of Jews taken on long journeys, exposed to the elements of freezing cold or hot baking sun while tightly sealed, starved and without water. Again, all this was designed to bring about death of Jews from natural causes.
None of us American prisoners who started that march in April 1945 had any idea as to what was expected of us or where we were going. No one had any idea of how destructive this march, per se, would be to our group of debilitated soldiers. It was simply walking, no strenuous work in the tunnels, no lifting heavy rail ties, no moving of rail track for 12 hours daily. This was a walk at a slow pace, interrupted by a break every hour and one half in order to defecate, urinate or just sit down along the gutters of the road. Simple! Yes, simple except that we were debilitated, maimed, sick and emaciated. We were totally unprepared for the horrors that we would encounter the profound despair, the inability to continue to make another step forward, the discovery of dead buddies each morning and the wanton, gross murder along the roads. The guards told us that we were marching to the next town. Every day, that was the same response to our questions as to where next. The answer was always to the next town.
Metz was ordered to take all of the Americans onto the road, even the sick and disabled. He commandeered a horse drawn wagon for several of the men who were extremely sick if not moribund and for some of the guards luggage. After eight weeks in Berga, only 280 out of 350 men started on this march, 25 men died, 25 men were hospitalized and about 20 men who escaped had an unknown fate. We walked along each side of the road at a slow pace, strung out for a long distance and alongside of us were our elderly Volksturm guards.
I remember very clearly that on the first day I assisted a buddy who had a swollen left foot and could not wear his boot. I remember him hanging onto my neck, leaning against me and hopping or gently stepping down on his injured foot. We continued in that way for the most part of the day. After some time, my left knee began to pain. We were walking on the roadside and most of the pressure was on my left side and I assume my knee. We waited for the wagon to catch up and I helped him grab the side of the wagon so that he could be dragged along by the horse. That is my only recollection of actually supporting anyone as we walked but there may have been others. I recall that at one point in the march, the horse disappeared. We had the wagon full of disabled men so I took many turns on different days in pushing the wagon. I always opted to get behind the wagon rather than pulling it. When we got to a hill, we would decide which men would have to get off and hobble on their own and who could ride the wagon as we pushed it up the hill.
I do not recall what happened at every night stop in our march but I do remember the route from Berga to Greiz, to Hof and then south to Cham, a distance of about 200 kilometers (120) miles. At each stop, we slept mostly in hay lofts or on the open ground in fields. We would get our bread ration at night and some soup. I had some of my food from the Red cross package which I nibbled a small piece slowly each night. On the road, some of the German civilians were passing out turnips, potatoes and some men even got bread and other foodstuffs. The civilians were not hostile to us, perhaps, they also knew that Allied forces were not very far away. We could hear the artillery fire in the distance but we had no idea as to where they were, how close, whether they were Americans or Russians, or any sense of direction.
When we stopped for a rest, the first act was to find some place to defecate, find some grass to cleanse yourself and then scrounge around for something to eat. We would drink from any clear stream and we had no idea if it was polluted. We were very thirsty and if it appeared clear, we would drink I recall washing my face and taking a French bath" until a guard began shouting at me to rejoin the march.
I did fairly well for the first three days of the march until we got to Hof, our third stop. On the previous nights in other two towns, there were reports of two or three deaths. The men walked all day, held out until night and they would die in their sleep. When we arrived in Hof about 10 men died. It was only about 50 miles to Hof but the walking became unbearable. Our group was stretched out for a very long distance, which resulted in many, many stragglers. Some of us Medics would full back, sit on the roadside until the stragglers would reach us. The guards would not hassle us because they knew what we were doing. We would accompany the stragglers so they would not wander off disoriented. The Volksturm guards were also suffering, old men who were having great difficulty in maintaining the pace of march. They were suffering but they had food rations which they ate as they walked and during rest stops. They carried water containers and hard tack bread to munch on. We got rations after the days march and all the water and food that we could scrounge from the adjacent roadside fields or hand outs by the occasional peasant. These were mostly in the form of raw potatoes, turnips, assorted greens and once, I remember an apple.
In Hof, we were allowed to remain in the hayloft and did not have to arise early every morning to continue our march. Some men were able to get some turnips and potatoes from the farmers. We ate everything raw and enjoyed whatever manner and condition of the food that was available. We were there on April 12, the day that Roosevelt died. I remember that a German officer rode up to the barn in his side car motorcycle and spoke to us. He recognized that we were Americans and he told us in perfect English that Roosevelt had died and then added, it is a sad day for Germany." I did not understand nor appreciate what he had meant by Roosevelts death being a sad day for Germany. Many years later, I presumed that he was frightened of the Russian advance and political take over of Germany. At that time, the German officer was more in tuned of what was happening in the war than any of us broken, malnourished soldiers without any will except for finding some rest and food. I remember that we all began to cry and this superimposed upon our existing anguish brought us to hopeless despair. After all this suffering, I thought that there was no hope, no chance for liberation. I was lost-- did not know where I was nor what was going to happen to me. I remember some sort of makeshift service that we had for President Roosevelt.
On April 15, we resumed our march along the road to the next town. This phrase was always repeated by the Guards in some measure to reassure themselves as well as to prod us along. They were also suffering by the continued walking. Fortunately, the weather was warm but I did not discard any item of clothing. You become very possessive of all your belongings no matter how fowl smelling, tattered or unnecessary on a warm day. I carried or wore all my ragged clothing.
Sometime during our march, we came upon the most frightening and horrible scene that I had ever seen. I could bring up that scene in my mind with no difficulty. To my mind it is worse than seeing the photographs of emaciated bodies piled high like wood in recently liberated concentration camps. It was infinitely worse that the hangings that I had witnessed. We knew that the political prisoners from the concentration camp annex were also on the road, guarded by SS troopers. They were many miles ahead of us and could be seen in the distance as the road curved or we were atop of a hill.
As we approached a steep hill, I saw the most gruesome, cruel, barbarous, inhumane acts that I have ever seen in my entire life even to this day. As we climbed the hill in the road ahead of us and caught up to where we had seen the political prisoners in the distance, we saw on each side of the road hundreds of dead Jews. Most of them were in the kneeling position, many on their side in a fetal position and all were dead by obvious gun shots behind the head. Many heads were blown open by the force of the shot and the brains were splattered about. It was ghastly. It was indescribably frightening. It was unspeakable. It was so shocking to look at the very recent awesome destruction of human beings, presumably because they could not continue the march up the inclined road. I can still clearly visualize that scene of Jews in their black and gray stripped pajamas in a kneeling position, many facing away from the center of the road and all shot behind the head.
It was unbelievably frightening to me and I am sure to my buddies walking up the hill. What was in store for us? Is this the manner in which it will all end? There were heads blown apart as a result of a close range murder with a rifle or pistol. The horror of it reflected onto me and my overwhelming despair. After all the suffering that these Jews had encountered, so close to freedom, their inability to climb the hill resulted in instant death. I was engulfed by the same persistent thought of what if I cannot continue this is what happens if you do not continue. I was exhausted and just dragged along, fearful of stopping until we were told that it was time for a break. I became an automaton. As we continued to walk through them and past them we came to another group of political prisoners in similar positions. As we ascended the steeper part of the hill, there were more and more victims. You became immune to the sight, you expected it, it was walking into a hell. The trees lining the sides of the road to hell were dead Jews. I could never imagine anything as macabre as this massacre. As we were catching up to the civilian prisoner march, we began to hear the firing of machine guns and burp guns in the woods a short distance from the road. We could not see the Jews but we knew what was happening in those killing woods among the pine trees which blocked our view.
These barbaric inhumane acts were exemplars of the evil German mind created by Nazi preparation, inculcation and philosophy. They were Hitlers Willing Executioners. At this point in the war and on this Death March to nowhere, there were no lines of command to the private German soldier carrying the guns. I know that there was no on the spot communication with higher ranked officers in charge. No one was observing, standing over the troops, directing or commanding their actions. These were self-motivated heinous actions by barbaric indifferent people with no personal forethought or concern about what they were committing. They possessed no feelings nor conscience, therefore, had no governance on their inhumane actions.
From that point on, I believe my fear for my personal safety began to grip me. I did not know whether I would be shot at any time although I saw that our guards would only prod the men with their gun butts to get them to move on. I thought that I was going to die. I have absolutely no recollection of the march from about April 16 until my liberation on April 23, 1945. I was socially dead. I kept to my self, probably walked like a zombie – the walk ascribed to civilian prisoners in the camps who were close to death. I suppose that I ate and drank but it is all a blank in my mind....
LIBERATION APRIL 23, 1945
Liberation was near the town of Cham. I believe that I was in that twilight zone before death that I have observed in some men in Berga. I do not believe that I was sick with any disease except severe weight loss, intermittent diarrhea, exhaustion and lice infestation. We were billeted in a hayloft and a large tank rolled in front of the barn. I thought that it was a German panzer. I saw the white star on the side of the tank and then some men started to shout that they are Americans. It was after some time, about ten minutes, that I realized that I was liberated. My mind was blank and I was not functioning. I walked out of the barn, it was a bright sunny day. I saw many tanks roll by, soldiers were hanging over the turrets and throwing food and chocolate D ration bars at us. I picked one up and had great difficulty opening the package. A jeep pulled up and told me to get in. I remember sitting along side of the driver, mumbling and trying to chew on the chocolate bar. I do not recall any extended conversation. He knew that I was in the 28th Infantry Division by the shoulder patch on my field jacket. I knew that he was part of the 11th Armored Division and this was part of Pattons Third Army. I did not cry, nor shout, nor jump or run about as some of the others did. I recall seeing several of my buddies sitting on the side of the road with all kinds of food and stuffing it into their mouths. They were shouting and eating at the same time. I was simply dazed, quiet and did what the soldier told me to do.