Rheinwiesenlager

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Rheinwiesenlager
Rhine meadow camps
Part of Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures (PWTE)
West Germany
Reemagen enclosure.jpg
A U.S. soldier at Camp Remagen guarding thousands of German soldiers captured in the Ruhr area in April 1945.
Site information
Controlled by U.S. Army
Wehrmachtordnungstruppe
Site history
In use April 1945 - September 1945
Built by U.S. Army
Events 1,000,000 ~ 1,900,000 prisoners
3,000 ~ 1,000,000 deaths[1]
Garrison information
Occupants Nazi GermanyDisarmed Enemy Forces

The Rheinwiesenlager (English: Rhine meadow camps), were a group of 19 camps built in the allied-occupied part of Germany by the U.S. Army to hold captured German soldiers at the close of the Second World War. Officially named Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures (PWTE), they held between one and almost two million surrendered Wehrmacht personnel from April until September 1945. Prisoners held in the camps were designated Disarmed Enemy Forces not POWs. The decision had been taken in March 1943 by SHAEF commander in chief Dwight D. Eisenhower because of the logistical problems adhering to the Geneva Convention (1929). By not classing the hundreds of thousand of captured troops as POWs, the problems associated with accommodating so many prisoners of war according to international treaties governing their treatment was negated.

Sources for German deaths in these camps range from between 3,000 to 10,000 from most sources, but up to 1,000,000 according to scholar James Bacque. Many died from starvation, dehydration and exposure to the weather elements because no structures were built inside the prison compounds.

Background[edit]

By early 1945 half of almost all German soldiers taken prisoner in the West were held by U.S. forces, while the other half were taken by the British. But in late March 1945 as Allied forces struck into the heart of Germany after crossing the Rhine at Remagen, the number of German prisoners being processed caused the British to stop accepting any more prisoners in their camps. This forced the U.S. Army to take immediate action and establish the Rheinwiesenlager in the western part of Germany.

The creation of the camps was made easier because prisoners would be deemed as Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEFs), a decision that had been taken in March 1943 by Eisenhower. Furthermore all captured soldiers would no longer have the rights of prisoners of war guaranteed by the Geneva Convention because they belonged to a State that ceased to exist. Incidentally the Wehrmacht employed a similar strategy with imprisoned Italian soldiers following the surrender of fascist Italy in 1943. Italian prisoners were deemed Militärinternierte (English: Military Internees) and used as forced labour.

The camps were also established to stop any German insurgency following the surrender on 8 May 1945. The Allied leadership was worried some die-hard Nazi units might try to mount an effective guerilla campaign against the occupation. Historian Perry Biddiscombe believed the decision to keep hundreds of thousands of men in poor conditions of the Rheinwiesenlager camps was "mainly to prevent Werwolf activity" in post-war Germany.[2]

Location of Rheinwiesenlager[edit]

location of the Rheinwiesenlager

Listings are from north to south with official number

Camp construction[edit]

In the beginning, there were plans to bring the prisoners of war to Britain, where they would remain until capitulation, because there they could be better provided for. After the failure of the Ardennes offensive, 250,000 German soldiers surrendered. After the breakdown of the Ruhr pocket another 325,000 were taken prisoner. After capitulation there were 3.4 million German soldiers in the custody of the Western Allies. With such large numbers of prisoners, it seemed more logical to keep them in Germany.

The camps were founded in April 1945 and remained in existence until September. There was a similar plan for the construction of all the camps. Open farmland close to a village with a railroad line was enclosed with barbed wire and divided into 10 - 20 camps, each housing 5,000 to 10,000 men. Existing field paths were used as streets of the camp and surrounding buildings as the administration, kitchen and hospital.[3] The prisoners of war, forced to surrender their equipment, had to dig holes in the earth by hand in which to sleep. Soon the camps were grossly overcrowded; e.g., Camp Remagen, intended for 100,000, grew to 184,000 prisoners.[4]

"Some of the enclosures resembled Andersonville Prison in 1864".[5]

Operations and management[edit]

Aerial view of an unknown camp inside allied-occupied Germany.

To circumvent international regulations that dealt with the handling of POWs, the surrendered forces were termed "Disarmed Enemy Forces" (DEF) and the term "Prisoners of war" (POW) was not applied. Due to the numbers of prisoners, the Americans transferred internal control of the camps over to the Germans. All administration such as doctors, cooks and work forces 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.

Within weeks of the camps being established, some prisoner releases were started. First to be allowed to leave were members of the Hitlerjugend and female personnel who were deemed to have no affiliation with the Nazi Party. Professional groups, such as farmers, drivers and miners, soon followed because they were urgently required to assist in the reconstruction of German infrastructure. By the end of June 1945, the camps at Remagen, Böhl-Iggelheim and Büderich had been emptied.

On 12 June 1945, the British forces took control of the two Rheinwiesenlager camps designated to be in the British Zone. On July 10, 1945, all releases were halted after SHAEF handed control over of the camps to the French. The deal was struck because the government of Charles de Gaulle wanted 1.75 million prisoners of war for forced labor in France. In total roughly 182,400 prisoners from Sinzig, Andernach, Siershahn, Bretzenheim, Dietersheim, Koblenz, Hechtzheim and Dietz were given to France.[6] The British handed over those fit for work from the two camps it controlled at Büderich and Rheinberg, while releasing the remainder.

By the end of September 1945 nearly all the Rheinwiesenlager camps had been closed. Only a camp at Bretzenheim near Bad Kreuznach remained open until 1948 serving as a transit camp for German prisoners released from France.

Conditions and death rates[edit]

Women prisoners held in the Third U.S. Army enclosure at Regensburg, Germany, May 8, 1945.
The exposed conditions within Sinzig POW camp, May 16, 1945.

Throughout the summer of 1945, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was prevented from visiting prisoners in any of the Allies' Rheinwiesenlager. Visits were only started in the autumn of 1945, at a time when most camps had closed or were closing. The Red Cross was granted permission to send delegations to visit camps in the French and UK occupation zones. On February 4, 1946 the Red Cross was allowed to send relief to those in the U.S. run occupation zone. The International Red Cross reports "The quantities received by the ICRC for these captives remained very small, however. During their visits, the delegates observed that German prisoners of war were often detained in appalling conditions. They drew the attention of the authorities to this fact, and gradually succeeded in getting some improvements made."[7]

Official United States statistics conclude there were just over 3,000 deaths in the Rheinwiesenlager while German figures state them to be 4,537. However American academic R. J. Rummel believes the figure is around 6,000.[8] Scholar James Bacque believes the figure is up to 1,000,000. In 1972, the official German inquiry into the numbers of deaths was published by the Maschke committee (named after its chairman, Erich Maschke). It had conducted detailed research of the camp histories on behalf of the Bundesministerium für Vertriebene, Flüchtlinge und Kriegsgeschädigte (English: German Federal Ministry of Displaced persons, Refugees, and War Victims).[9] According to their results camps with the highest mortality were:

  1. Bad Kreuznach (Lager Galgenberg und Bretzenheim)
  2. Sinzig near Remagen
  3. Rheinberg
  4. Heidesheim
  5. Wickrathberg
  6. Büderich

An analysis of the documents of the local administrations around the camps of Remagen yields similar results.[10] Projected to a total of about 1,000,000 prisoners in all of the camps, the official number of deaths remains a subject of debate.

Official claims that the German prisoner death rate was under 1% have been disputed and the conditions in some of the camps that housed captured German soldiers support claims for a higher mortality rate.[11] For comparison the British civilian post-war mortality rate was 1.2% while in America, where there were no food shortages, the U.S. civilian mortality rate did not fall below 1% until 1948. Anglo American troops held in German POW camps had suffered a 4% mortality rate which was praised by the ICRC who credited the low figure to the German military ensuring that POWs continued to receive Red Cross food parcels despite their own food shortages in the final months of the war.[12] Censorship in the occupied areas was so tight that the New York Times complained. However, in late 1945 Le Monde published two articles about conditions in the camps. Reporting a death rate exceeding 21%, the newspaper stated; "As one speaks today of Dachau, in ten years people throughout the world will speak about camps like Saint Paul D'Eyjeaux".[13] Many of the 740,000 German prisoners that the U.S. Army handed over for forced labor in France were already very weak, many weighing barely 50 kilos.[14]

Nevertheless, despite academic studies on the death rates within the Rheinwiesenlager based on the empirical evidence, there are ongoing disputes about the conclusion that the death rate of German prisoners dying in American custody exceeded 1% of the total incarcerated.[15] The official death rate for Germans held by the American military was among the lowest experienced by surrendered combatants during and after the war.[16]

Postwar conclusions[edit]

In 1969, Lieutenant General Leonard D. Heaton prepared and published an exhaustive report for the United States Army Medical Department, that examined preventive medicine and the problems associated with housing such a large number of German prisoners after World War II. The report found a number of problems, including:

  • The army had lost track of some of the locations where POWs were held.[17]
  • The number of prisoners greatly exceeded expectations.[18]
  • Organization of the camps was left to prisoners.
  • Food and water supplies were insufficient during April and May 1945, though they later improved.[19]
  • The 1200 to 1500 calories ration that the Disarmed Enemy Forces were receiving in August 1945 was inadequate.[20]
  • The lack of food led in some cases to "extensive malnutrition."[20]

In 2003, historian Richard Dominic Wiggers argued that the Allies violated international law regarding the feeding of enemy civilians, they both directly and indirectly caused the unnecessary suffering and death of large numbers of civilians and prisoners in occupied Germany, guided partly by a spirit of postwar vengeance when creating the circumstances that contributed to their deaths.[21] There was also strict orders to U.S. military personnel and their wives to destroy or otherwise render inedible their own leftover surplus so as to ensure it could not be eaten by German civilians.[22] The Americans also prevented locals from bringing prisoners food under threat of being shot.[23]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ while most sources, including the official German inquiries, estimate death totals between 3,000 and 10,000, one scholar, James Bacque estimates deaths totals as high as 790,000 to 1,000,000
  2. ^ (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 253)
  3. ^ MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 381: „ In the first phase of construction, which was rather prolonged, these enclosures consisted of only barbed wire fences in fields. Later, some canvas was provided, and still later, some buildings were put up. For most of the time, prisoners were without cover and were exposed to rain and snow and mud in the ending winter, and to heat, dust, or rain and mud as spring advanced to early summer. Some of the enclosures resembled Andersonville Prison in 1864"
  4. ^ MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 382/383
  5. ^ MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 381
  6. ^ Erhard Köstler, Franz Grohmann, Rudolf Bentzinger "Heckenrosen: Tagebücher aus Krieg und Gefangenschaft in Frankreich, November 1944 bis Oktober 1948" p.379 Dr. Bachmaier Verlag, 2003 ISBN 3-931680-39-8
  7. ^ ICRC in WW II: German prisoners of war in Allied hands
  8. ^ R.J. Rummel STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE: Chapter 13: Death By American Bombing And Other Democide
  9. ^ Böhme, Kurt W. (1972). Die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen in amerikanischer Hand. Ernst und Werner Gieseking. p. 204. 
  10. ^ Kleemann, Kurt (1994). "Die Kriegsgefangenenlager Remagen und Sinzig 1945 aus der Sicht kommunaler Aktenbestände, Jahrbuch für Westdeutsche Landesgeschichte". Jahrburch für West-deutsche landesgeschichte 20: 451–484. 
  11. ^ United States Army Preventative Medicine in World War II, Volume IX, Office of the Surgeon General Department of the Army Washington, D.C., 1969, Pg 381-391
    "The standard of the PW (POW) camps in the ComZ (U.S. rear zone) in Europe compare as only slightly better, or even, with the living conditions of the Japanese PW camps our men tell us about". - Lt. Colonel Henry W. Allard, commander in charge of the DEF camps in France.
    The U.S. Army's surgeon general described some of the camps as resembling Andersonville Prison in 1864.
  12. ^ Dietrich, John (2002). The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet influence on American postwar policy. Pages 131-135: Algora Publishing. ISBN 1-892941-90-2. 
  13. ^ Russ Kick Abuse your illusions : the disinformation guide to media mirages and establishment lies. The Disinformation Company 2003. Pg 263 - 265 ISBN 0-9713942-4-5
  14. ^ Sendungen und Programm – ZDF.de
  15. ^ Ike and the Disappearing Atrocities New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991.
  16. ^ Ferguson, Niall, Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat, War in History, Vol. 11, 2004, Part 2, page 186
  17. ^ MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Table 21; on the map shown there the camp Mainz-Zahlbach (17) (Mainz Hechtsheim) is located on the wrong side of the Rhine, about 30 kilometers away from its real location.
  18. ^ MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 392
  19. ^ MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 278-392
  20. ^ a b MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 391
  21. ^ Steven Bela Vardy and T. Hunt Tooley, eds. Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe ISBN 0-88033-995-0. subsection by Richard Dominic Wiggers, “The United States and the Refusal to Feed German Civilians after World War II” pg. 281
  22. ^ Eugene Davidson "The Death and Life of Germany" p.85 University of Missouri Press, 1999 ISBN 0-8262-1249-2
  23. ^ [1]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Rüdiger Overmans: Die Rheinwiesenlager 1945. In: Hans-Erich Volkmann (Hrsg.): Ende des Dritten Reiches – Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Eine perspektivische Rückschau. herausgegeben im Auftrag des Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamtes, München 1995, ISBN 3-492-12056-3.
  • Brigitte Bailer-Galanda: Eisenhower und die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen. Jahrbuch 1997. Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Wien 1997

External links[edit]