Although the fighting was over for the approximate 7,000 captured men of the 106th Infantry Division, the next few months as POW’s would prove to be even more trying. Although the POW accounts of men from the 106th Infantry Division vary slightly, the common theme was hunger and cold.
After the surrender, the men were kept together, in groups, and checked for all forms of weapons. For almost all, this search included the confiscating of all valuables, money, keepsakes, tobacco, pipes, and cigarettes. Once stripped of all these articles, the men were marched, often double time, behind enemy lines into Germany. When going through towns, Americans were forced to put their hands behind their heads for the edification of the German people. Frequently, the men would be met with stones, over-ripened fruit and garbage from even the town’s smallest residents. During the 50-kilometer march to Geroistein no food was given them and the only water available was from piles of snow on the side of the road.
Once at German rail stations, most of the POW’s were packed 65 to 90 in cars that were meant to hold 40, while others were marched further into Germany. For many, they made the journey in cattle cars that had animal excrement and a little straw on the floors. At the beginning, each soldier was given 6 slices of ersatz bread and nothing else for their 5 to 6 day trip. Water was unavailable and soldiers were forced to relieve themselves either on the floor or in their helmets that were then dumped Out one of the four small ventilation openings in the upper corner of the car. These conditions led to vi epidemic of diarrhea and infections.’53 Although the trains would make stops to refuel, the men were never allowed to get out of their cramped cars during the entire trip.
For most of the soldiers of the two regiments, their new home was Stalag DC-B, located on top of the mountain outside of Bad Orb. Stalag DC-B was for privates and private first class personnel. Officers were later transported to a camp in Hammelburg, while the NCO’s were moved to Stalag DC-A outside Zeigenhain. Once in Stalag DC-B, they were crowded, 60 to a barrack meant to hold 40. The men received none of the usual prisoner issues of clothing, blankets, or Red Cross POW packages. The only item issued was a small thin blanket about the size of a terry cloth towel. The men would carry their meager blanket with them at all times, otherwise it would have been stolen.’~ Because of the overcrowded conditions, many of the men slept on the cold floor with only their small blanket for warmth and one heating stove that only took some of the chills out of the bones.
All the men went through an interrogation process. Duward Frampton, in his personal memoirs talked about his interrogation.
The interviewer made it very clear to me that I was presently classified S by friend and foe alike as “Missing in Action”. Whether I was finally classified as “Killed in Action” or “Prisoner of War” was his decision to make.
The diet of about 1000 calories a day consisted of a cup of sugarless imitation coffee and the day’s supply of six slices of imitation bread for breakfast. Lunch was a liter of soup made of such thing as rutabagas, potatoes, vegetable peelings or turnip greens and maybe a dash of animal lard, along with a half-pound portion of meat from a Red Cross POW pack divided among 22 men. Dinner was a cup of imitation coffee or tea and a piece of black bread.’5’ The meals were the main event of the day.
The daily routine started with the overhead lights coming on at 0600, followed by inspection and roll call at 0630. if all went well, two men from each group would go to the kitchen for breakfast. Another group was dispatched to the kitchen at about 1130 to bring back the tubs of whatever kind of soup was being served. The evening meal called for an extra man in the crew because bread was part of the meal. The evening meal would end around 1800 with lights out by 2000.
Morale was good considering the situation they faced. Soldiers organized religious groups and educational programs. A soldier who had been a newspaperman gave a series of 21 lectures on American History from memory. Anywhere from 50 to 500 would attend. He also organized a weekly quiz show that drew up to 1,000 at tinies.15’ American POW’s would also find entertainment in trying to “screw up” the roll call every morning and evening. The men also kept their time occupied by playing games such as “20 questions” or carving soap.
The Germans were not generally brutal or sadistic toward American prisoners, however that was not true for all the prisoners in the camp, especially the Russians. “There was absolutely no mercy shown by the Germans towards the Russians.”’59 They were kicked down flights of stairs and beaten senseless with clubs for crimes as small as spilling a little soup from the tubs they were hauling.
The Germans bad a swift form of justice when an American prisoner committed a serious offense. Duward Frampton remembers one time in particular. One night an American prisoner had been surprised inside the kitchen area and had killed the guard in the fight that ensued. The next morning, all the American POW’s were assembled in a very formal formation outside. The commandant explained what had happened. He went on to say, “he was sure that whoever did this horrible crime would be willing to confess and turn himself in for punishment.” Failing to get such a confession, the commandant went on, “that he would arbitrarily pick ten POW’s for execution instead ... the first day, and twenty the next day, and so on, until he either ran out of bullets or prisoners.” There was no second day, because the man turned himself in and was never seen again. It can only be assumed he was executed and 5 buried.
The Germans also had different plans for those prisoners of the 106th that were of Jewish ancestry. About two weeks after the men arrived at Stalag DC-B, an order was posted requiring all soldiers of “Jewish Blood” to report to Headquarters Barrack for segregation. All of the American prisoners convened and refused to permit the Jewish men to obey this first order. Then came a second order, drastic and death promising. “All Jewish violators, when caught, would be summarily shot and all others in the same barrack with the guilty culprit would be punished by decimation (the shooting of every tenth man by lot).”161 The Jewish soldiers decided to obey rather than subject their comrades to the possibility of such drastic punishment. When they reported, accompanying them were about 350 non-Jewish American prisoners. However they were detected and beaten back by German guards. In all, 125 men plus another 150 troublesome prisoners and another 100 men selected at random were put on freight cars and shipped to Berga-am-Elster, about 500 kilometers northeast of Bad Orb.
Although labeled by the Germans as part of Stalag DC-C, in reality it was a slave labor camp. Its inhabitants, made up of many nationalities, were forced to labor excavating a large underground slate mine for a future factory. The living conditions were worse than before. Men slept two to a single bunk with no blankets for the winter cold on mattresses teeming with vermin and filth. The only sanitary provision was a slit trench in the open. Like the other slave laborers, the few men of the 106th sent there worked ten-hour shifts in the mines and marched the four miles round trip. Punishment took on a different tone. For the slightest provocation, men were beaten by guards.
The daily diet also was greatly reduced. Where it had been a meager 1000 calories at Stalag DC-B, the diet at Berga was reduced to 400 calories. Soldiers of the 106th lost from 70 to 100 pounds in a short time. illiness, injuries and the imposed starvation began to take its toll of the American POW’s shortly after their arrival. Daily deaths were routine, and by the beginning of March, men were dying at a rate of 20 per week.
While most of the men from the 106th were sent to Stalag DC-B and DC-A, some were sent to other camps around Germany, including Stalag XI[-A in Limberg, Stalag N-B in Muhlberg and Stalag Vffl-A in Görlitz.
When Allied forces on both front began to apply pressure to the German borders, some of the prisoners found themselves on forced marches by the Germans in an effort to avoid the Russian and Americans. For Sergent John Kline, this was a 415 mile march over the course of two months from Stalag VILE-A to Helmstedt. He was liberated on 13 April 1945 at 1000. In his diary he entered, An American artillery captain just walked into the infirmary with a 5 large box of cigarettes, chocolate and K-rations. He says he is happy to see us.
If he only knew how happy we are to see him. I couldn’t help it, I had to Duward Frampton found himself liberated on Friday, March 30 when units of George Patton’s Third Army rolled into town. Frampton remembered;
These G.I.’s could hardly believe what they saw in us. Yes, they saw us as G.I.’s, but walking skeletons with sunken eyeballs and bony cheeks and jowls. Skinny hands and legs. And even though they loved us as one of their own, they couldn’t get over how bad we smelled. They nearly gagged.’”
The liberating units reported what they had found and then left to continue their chase of the enemy. Two days later, the Medical and Transportation Corps’ arrived to evacuate them back to safer ground. Most of the men of the 106th were sent to Camp Lucky Strike or hospitals for initial care. Some of the men who were liberated by advancing Russian units were evacuated via Russia.
Although most of the men of the 106th Division made it back home, many members died while Prisoners of War. After liberation, an American medical officer was asked if the deaths were due to natural causes? The officer responded; “Yes, but in my opinion malnutrition and exposure were contributing factors. These men were healthy when they came here. Now they are skin and bones.”
|Page last revised 12/01/2005|