Last Chance for American
Victims to Get Justice
In 1939, more than 80,000 American citizens were in
Europe. Many returned home when the war broke out, but not all. Thousands
who stayed were arrested and put in internment camps. Hundreds, perhaps
thousands, were sent to concentration
camps. Americans were in virtually every major concentration camp,
including Auschwitz, Dachau,
and Bergen-Belsen. Americans
were also in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The reason American citizens wound up in camps has much to do with what
the U.S. Government did, and,
more often, did not do to save its own citizens.
was a death camp. Prisoners of war who escaped from POW camps were often
sent there to be executed. Spies, such as one group of OSS agents, were
also murdered at Mauthausen. Some soldiers did survive, however, including
one OSS agent who later testified at the war crimes trial of those responsible
for Mauthausen. Among other things, that agent, Lt. Jack Taylor, was
forced to build a crematorium.
In August 1944, 168 Allied airmen (82 Americans) captured
in France were put in boxcars with civilian prisoners and sent to Buchenwald.
One American and one Englishman died in the camp. The rest were later
transferred to a POW camp, but the two months in the concentration camp
left many of the men permanently scarred, physically and psychologically.
According to the National Archives, approximately 60 Medical Corps personnel
also spent time in Buchenwald.
Thousands of Americans were captured in the Battle
of the Bulge and sent to Stalag 9B. The Jewish GIs were segregated and
sent to a special barracks. Later, those Jews and about 270 non-Jews
were sent to a slave labor camp called Berga
where they worked in mines with political prisoners from a Buchenwald
sub-camp at Berga. This
prison had the highest fatality rate of any camp where Americans were
held -- 20 percent. Of the 350 men who were sent there in February 1945,
less than 280 survived the forced labor and subsequent death march.
These brave American soldiers -- Jewish and non-Jewish
-- were not treated as POWs; they were treated the same as other victims
of the Holocaust. They witnessed and experienced similar inhuman cruelty,
but never received recognition for their heroism or compensation for
Most American victims of Nazi persecution never applied
for reparations. Even if they had, they would have been ineligible because
they did not meet the criterion of being stateless after the war. After
decades of fighting for justice, Hugo Princz, a survivor from New Jersey,
and his supporters in Congress and the Administration succeeded in getting
Germany to sign an agreement to consider requests for compensation from
American victims of Nazi persecution who suffered a loss of liberty,
or damage to body or health as a result of that persecution. In 1995,
Princz and ten others were awarded $2.1 million in compensation. The
Germans agreed to consider compensation for one more group
of claimants in 1997.
Unfortunately, many of the American victims of the
Nazis are ineligible for compensation because the agreement only provides
for payment to those who are still living. The relatives of Americans
who were killed in the camps cannot apply, neither can the families
of victims who passed away after the war. The narrow agreement further
excludes more than 5,000 Americans who were placed in internment camps.
One of the big questions is whether American prisoners
of war who were sent to concentration camps or singled out for special
treatment will be eligible. The agreement does not say anything to preclude
POWs from applying, but the fear is the Germans will try to deny their
claims because they were soldiers rather than civilians. The truth is
many POWs were treated the same way as civilians. The most notable examples
are of servicemen sent to Mauthausen, Buchenwald and Berga.
The U.S. Justice Department's Foreign Claims Settlement
Commission has reviewed claims by Americans and determined who should
be eligible for compensation based on the narrow agreement signed with
the Germans, and the even narrow interpretation of that document made
by the State Department. Sometime in early 1998, negotiations will commence
between the U.S. and German governments and a determination made as
to how much money the latter will pay. All the Americans with valid
claims will receive some compensation, however, the amount will be divided
proportionally depending on the amount received from Germany.
Source: Copyright Mitchell G. Bard. Forgotten
Victims: The Abandonment of Americans In Hitler's Camps. CO: Westview