How Did The Germans Treat American POW's in WWII?

I’ve heard horror stories about how the Japanese treated our POW’s. And the Germans’ treatment of Jewish prisoners during WWII is not even open to interpretation or debate.

However, how did they treat our POW’s? I’ve never heard a word about this in all the history I’ve learned…

My grandfather was a POW in a German war camp. I never heard him talk about his time there, but from what I’ve gathered from various sources, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Japenese POW camps. It certainly wasn’t by any means pleasent, they were fed minimally, lived in squalled conditions, and I’m sure more than one officer was tortured for information. The reason you probably haven’t heard much is because it wasn’t at any extreme. They weren’t killing the POWS’s, but then they weren’t makng it a vacation for them, either. They were normal POW camps, like most throughout history.

I had a friend how was in the Air Corps and was in a Luftwaffe camp. That’s all he wanted to say about it.

Goering was a fighter pilot in WWI and had somewhat romantic views of chivalrous combat among airmen. By comparison, they were treated well compared to combat troops. And Russians were treated much worse. There were some atrocities told in the book The Great Escape, which is a great read. The popular movie plays the sad ending down quite a bit.

The Germans were signatories to the Geneva Convention which they generally followed. The Japanese did not sign it and did not feel obliged to follow it. This resulted in great bitterness among the survivors. The British survivors of Japanese camps tend to be vocal about it.

Well, Klink treated his prisoners fairly well, but I think that was due to incompetence rather than compassion.

As DPWhite said.

In the book Death March, one of the former prisoners interviewed said that they were assembled shortly after the surrender. A Japanese officer told them that Japan was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention, and as such the Americans were not prisoners of war, but rather were guests of the Emperor.

I can’t offer any specific sources, but I have heard that the Germans and the armies on the Western Front tended to treat their prisoners better in part because the other side was treating their prisoners better.

Death March, by Donald Knox.

Sorry, hit reply instead of preview…

Overall, even with some atrocities, considering what could have happened based on the potential brutality of the Nazis, one would have to say that the POW situation for Americans and Brits in Germany wasn’t too bad (relative to other prisoners in other camps/countries/wars).

POW life sucks across the board, but relative to other situations, the POWs experience in Germany was moderate.

-The Luftwaffe ran the camps (big factor).
-Germans did not want Allied troops to learn of POW mistreatment for fear it would instill a stronger desire to conquer Germany.
-Germans part of Geneva convention
-Germans didn’t want to chase POWs around Germany
-Most POWs were downed airmen in a Luftwaffe camp

Question: did they distinguish between Jewish (& Black) POWs and others?

My uncle was shot in the knees to keep him immobile. Don’t know what German POW camp he was in.

Ouch! Shot in the knees? Did he recover? Again I say: ouch!

I second IzzyR’s question: were Jewish POWs separated from their fellows and sent on to concentration camps?

I think the Luftwaffe only ran some of the camps (the stalag luft)

The Germans generally treated captured western allies relatively well - both sides were parties to Geneva. I have never read of Jewish prisoners being separated, though there are stories of the Germans threatening to separate out the Jewish prisoners (only defeated by American unity and steadfastness).

According to Paul Brickhill’s wonderful book The Great Escape (which they based both movies on) life in the POW camps would have been livable if:

1.) You got enough to fill your belly at least once.

2.) It weren’t such an indefinite sentence. (People only got repatriated if they suffered a serious accident)

3.) The “goons” (guards) didn’t keep dropping hints that Hitler might have them shot, in any case.
As he remarks, German POW rations were just enough to keep you starving in the most prolonged form. Fortunately, at the Luftwaffe prisons (where Brickhill was interned) the Red Cross parcels started coming through after the first few months, supplementing their meals with KLIM, Bovril, Chocolate, and the like. Without the Red Cross, they would’ve starved.

And Stalag Luft Drei was one of the better camps. It was for flyers and officers. Infantry wenrt to camps like the one described in Stalag 17 (written by a couple of ex-POWs, and a lot bleaker than Hogan’s Heros ever was.).
I think a lot of it was due to German resources being stretched pretty thin. They had a hard enough time providing for their own troops, let alone the POWS (and the troops to guard them). They probably counted on the Red Cross parcels to bring the diet up to an acceptable number of calories. It’s still pretty bleak, though. I admire the courage and resourcefulness of the POWs under such adversity.

My uncle was a B-24 bomber flight engineer and had to bail out over Hungary after raiding an oil refinery at Bleckammer Germany when their plane got too shot up make it back to Italy. (He also was on raids to places like Polesti that were a lot worse than the places the planes from England raided, and yet they don’t make movies about it.)

He was “interrogated” for 12 days.

He was sent to a Luftwaffe camp (IV) near the (old) Polish border. They were kept on a starvation diet. When they heard the Russian guns the Germans rounded up the POWs and marched them on foot west. It started Feb. 3rd, 1945. That’s the dead of winter folks. On foot. It ended April 29th, 515 miles later. All on foot. All in winter. With virtually no food provided.

“Old men”, in their late 20’s didn’t usually make it. My uncle was young, strong and most importantly had a lot of experience “roughing it”. He knew how to find/make shelter because they slept out in the open. He knew how to find potable water, what a potato field looked like even in winter, etc. He weighted 110 poinds at the end. Took almost 2 months before he could eat normally.

There were many groups from different camps, literally wandering around different parts of Germany that winter. They call it “The Black March.” Do a google search on “Black March” Germany POWS.

The best estimates of casualties is that more Americans died on The Black March than on D-Day. But very few people heard of it.

One of my uncles crewmates died a year after the war because of the after effects of being a POW. Most continue to suffer some health affects for the rest of their lives.

The Germans did not treat allied POWs at all well. My uncle hates Germans to this day.

My grandfather was a POW. He reports similar experiences to the others in this thread. While they were still in the camps, they were on starvation rations, supplemented by Red Cross packages. Each man got 1/2 of a blanket. The the POWs from each country were kept seperate from one another, but they traded stuff from their C.A.R.E. packages by throwing them over the fence. He said the Russians were good to trade with, but the French sometimes took the stuff you threw over without throwing anything back.

They were lined up every morning and counted to make sure no one had escaped. As the Germans counted each row, guys would quickly step back into the row behind them so that the count was too high. When this happened, they had to start the count over again. This pissed off the Germans, and the POWs loved making them count over and over again, 'cause, what, they have something better to do?

He was marched west as well as the war ended. There weren’t any rations–he tells stories of “grass soup.” Anyone who couldn’t keep up was shot. He suffered from malnutrition (of course) and lost feeling in several toes due to frostbite.

It was a long time before my grandfather could talk about his experiences, but now he speaks to my mother’s high school German classes. He tells the story in a very measured, matter-of-fact way. He doesn’t hold any emnity toward the German people, which is a good thing, I guess, because my mother studied at the University of Bonn, and that’s where she met my father. Grandpa and my German grandfather have met, and they spoke about the war. (Opa was a combat engineer, and an officer.)

Grandpa says that he knew that while he was starving, many German civilians didn’t have much to eat, either. My father was a boy during the war, and says that they usually didn’t even have potatoes. They still tease his mother about boiling the chicken three times for soup.

My family is German, and my father was just a little boy during the war (born in 39). To this day though, he won’t eat chicken. Can’t stand it. It has to do with the above part of your post.

The POWs were on starvation rations while well many, many of the civys actually died of starvation as well. It wasn’t easy for anyone.

*Originally posted by Fiver *
Ouch! Shot in the knees? Did he recover? Again I say: ouch!

Mostly. Was able to walk with braces on both legs. The worst permanent damage was to his spirit. He went into the army a bright energetic young man. He was still young in years on his return, but was left with a permanent bitterness of spirit. Understandable, I guess, and sad. At least he came home; lots of guys didn’t.

I saw a great show on a POW camp. It was actually an old castle that they used as a prison. The men were pretty much left to their own devices. Which gave them lots of time to plan escapes.

They got so sophisticated that they constructed a working airplane in the attic of the castle. They flew an exact replica of it years later and it actually worked.

in an odd twist of fate, they were liberated just as they completed construction of the plane.

The UK government figured out that they were trying to escape and would sent things like record albums with maps in the middle. I got the impression that the prisoners had it fairly easy. But I imagine that this was an exception.

This book contrasts it with almost 20 percent of German POWs at the end of the war who it claims died of exposure and starvation. Seems like a lot; hopefully a knowledgable Doper can confirm or deny this.

My uncle flew with the RAF during World War II. He was dive-bombing some industrial installation when his plane was shot down. He was pretty badly wounded (he used to like to freak us out when we were kids by showing us his chest that was nothing but a scar surface (no nipples, no chest hair, just uneven scar tissue). He was nursed back to health by the Germans, then went to a camp (I believe he mentioned it was under the authority of the Luftwaffe, as is confirmed by other posters in this thread, which may explain why RAF prisoners were treated with a certain amount of respect.)
However, he won’t talk at all about his time in the camp except to say that he figured that he was treated pretty well compared to many prisoners. He still feels a lot of guilt about surviving the war, when most of his comrades died.

A few references on that question.

According to this site, the Germans segregated Jewish-American POW’s but did not otherwise treat them differently. That is based on a Red Cross report, which that site says tended to paint a better picture of POW treatment to avoid upsetting families of the prisoners.

This site,, a questionnare given to a US POW, says he didn’t believe that Jewish POW’s were treated any differently. He does say that Russian prisoners were given so little food they died within a few months.

This site says African-American POW’s were not only segregated but also given inferior rations and supplies.

At least from what I’ve read, it seems the Germans treated American POW’s better than the Japanese did, and better than they treated Russians, but their treatment was in no way a model of following the Geneva accords.