How were Jewish POW's treated in WWII?

I’m re-reading An Army at Dawn, Rick Atkinson’s history of the US army in the North African campaign. In one vignette, he tells the story of a US soldier fleeing during the Kasserine battle who threw away his dog tags because they identified him as Jewish. This led me to wonder, how did the Nazis treat Jewish POWs? Were they treated as other POWs, or were they sent to exterimation camps?


Good question. I believe that the Germans followed the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs for all of them. I have never heard or read of any war crimes charges or trials for improper treatment of Jewish POWs. I have to think that had such a thing happened the surviving POWs would have reported it and someone would have been tried for it.

That’s not to say that a fleeing Jew wouldn’t fear for his safety and discard his dog tags.

There was a book mentioned in the NY Times book review 3 or 4 years back written by Jewish US Army survivors. They were singled out and many went to the concentration camps. They were not treated as POW’s in most cases. Can’t remember the name of the book.

I’d make a distinction between Jewish POWs from the USA and Jewish POWs from other countries. Soviet POWs were treated very poorly by the Germans. Many were summarily executed.

I’d also make a distinction between prisioners held by the Luftwaffe, who were treated a lot better, and other POWs.

On further investigation I discover that it is just barely possible that I was mistaken in my previous post. I know that’s hard to believe, but it does seem to be true.

It’s true that there were very few, if any, trials for special mistreatment of Jewish POWs, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. A Google search for “Jewish US POW” turns up a number of sources indicating that Jewish POWs were treated differently and the US government largely looked the other way.

As to US inaction on the matter, I probably should have remembered the attitude of many in this country at that time. I recall one day we were sitting around in the barracks discussing the war and Hitler. One guy pops up and says something along the lines of - Yeah, Hitler is pretty bad but you have to give him credit for one thing. He sure knows how to handle the Jews. I don’t remember any of the rest of us protesting. I didn’t like the remark but said nothing.

See the review of Men of Honor: American Gis in the Jewish Holocaust by Jeff Donaldson at 2005-08-03-Jewish POW review.

I just read ‘The Rising Tide’ by Jeff Shaara (I bet I spelled that wrong). It is a novel, but based on memoirs. Real people. One of the real people was captured in North Africa. While in the Cage, the Nazis called out men with Jewish names and beat them up. I suppose he did not make that up.

Was circumcision universal among American men by WWII? I’ve heard storeys that the Germans would examine the penises of men and boys to route out Jews (since Jews were pretty much the only men circumcised in Europe).

dr. lewis hayes of the uss indianapolis stated that he had done so many circumcisions that they nicknamed the indy “the clipper ship.” from his accounts tonsil removal was popular as well. (in harm’s way by d. stanton)

Why would grown men be lining up to be circumcised?

You could hope for complications so you could go to a safer place. :wink:

Infection and nuisance rashes? Is there a risk of an uncircumcised guy getting some sort of rot from being out in the field for weeks or months without a bath?

By the 1920s (when most GIs in WW2 were born), the majority of births in larger American cities occurred in hospitals, and almost all hospital births of boys were followed by circumcision. A rough estimate would be about 30% of all American men born in the 1920s were circumcised.

Given what happened to the Indianapolis, the only safe place was not to be aboard ship.

Guys like that were the reason my grandfather had three court marshals on his record (and was proud of every one of them).