Walter Panknin (1998 – 1977) and His Family – Part 26

Sources Backing up Papa’s POW Experiences

After reading the horrific tales in Papa’s notes, I thought he was exaggerating the conditions he had to suffer through. So I did some research on US administered POW camps in general, but especially on the one near Bad Kreuznach, where Papa had spent most of his camp time. I avoided German websites that might appear to harbour pro-Nazi sentiments. Instead, I sought out American sources to lend credibility to Papa’s eyewitness account. 

The first quote is from the US-based Journal of History: “Half of the German POWs in the West were imprisoned by US forces, half by the British. The number of prisoners reached such a huge proportion that the British could not accept any more, and the US consequently established the Rheinwiesenlager from April to September of 1945, where they quickly built a series of “cages” in open meadows and enclosed them with razor wire. One such notorious field was located at Bad Kreuznach, where the German prisoners were herded into open spaces with no toilets, tents, or shelters. They had to burrow sleeping spaces into the ground with their bare hands, and in some, there was barely enough room to lie down. In the Bad Kreuznach cage, up to 560,000 men were interned in a congested area and denied adequate food, water, shelter, or sanitary facilities, and they died like flies of disease, exposure, and illness after surviving on less than 700 calories a day. There are 1,000 official graves in Bad Kreuznach, but it is claimed there are mass graves which have remained off-limits to investigation. There were no impartial observers to witness the treatment of POWs held by the US 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..”

Overcrowded POW Camp

The second quote is from the universal online encyclopedia Wikipedia.com: “To circumvent international regulations that dealt with the handling of POWs, the surrendered forces were termed “Disarmed Enemy Forces” (DEF), and the term “Prisoner of War” (POW) was not applied. Due to the number of prisoners, the Americans transferred internal control of the camps over to the Germans. All administration such as doctors, cooks and workforces were all undertaken by the prisoners. Even the armed guards were former troops from the Wehrmacht’s Feldgendarmerie and Feldjägerkorps. Known as Wehrmachtordnungstruppe (English: Armed Forces Order Troop), they received extra rations for preventing escapes and keeping order in the camps. In June 1946, these military police would be the last German soldiers to officially surrender their arms.”

Thus, by a mere change of the term “Prisoner of War” (POW) to “Disarmed Enemy Forces” (DEF), the International Red Cross was prevented from entering the camps and providing care packages to the starving soldiers. Terrible things happened to the soldiers of both Allied and Axis nations during World War 2 on the battlefields and in the POW camps. But what happened to the German soldiers after the war was over can only be described as an act of revenge and a crime against humanity. My father-in-law was lucky to survive the ordeal relatively unharmed who perhaps received slightly better treatment because of his officer’s rank in the army.

11 comments

  1. Amy · October 15

    I am sorry that your father in law and the others had to endure these conditions. Human beings are capable of unspeakable evils.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Stella, oh, Stella · October 15

    The people of a country that lost a war obviously have no rights at all. The German soldiers followed orders, just like any other soldier would do. Not following orders would have meant a death sentence right away. It is always the small people revenge is taken out on instead of on the politicians and governements, who actually do the war mongering. But what I find most appalling is the fact that Germans treated their own comrades like this. They might have had the possibility of alleviating the situation. Instead they only thought abut their own advantage.

    Your father in law’s notes are a testimony of that time and thus quite invaluable.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. maryannniemczura · October 16

    Peter, this had to be difficult to write. Man’s inhumanity to man. I know some of these places. Thoughts and prayers to you and to those who suffered inhumane conditions.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. kopfundgestalt · October 17

    Surely one still had to fear for one’s life?!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Steve Schwartzman · October 18

    Using euphemisms to evade regulations may well be as old as language itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Peter, I think this was a wise decision to turn your research to US sources, understanding your reasoning. One who has not been a soldier in this war can not even fathom how cruel soldiers were treated, like ” Vieh” to use a German word.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ankur Mithal · October 21

    There is no end to the deviousness and cunning of humans, as demonstrated by the simple change of the term to meet their nefarious purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Klopp · October 21

      What also shocked me to read in other reports was that women who came to bring food to the prisoners were chased away.

      Like

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