Medics carrying weapons in WWII? And what happened to Jewish soldiers captured by Germans?

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a World War II veteran for an oral history project with the National World War II Museum. The man was in the second wave of troops who landed at Normandy; he was in the 84th Infantry (“Railsplitters”) and saw heavy fighting, including at the Battle of the Bulge. He was a medic, and saved many lives. He claimed that medics were not supposed to be armed. However, he disobeyed this rule and carried a pistol at all times, a Luger which he took off of a German prisoner. He said he was sure that he would be killed if captured by the Germans, because he was Jewish, so he would rather shoot it out with them than allow himself to be taken prisoner.

First of all, was there really an official rule that medics weren’t supposed to be armed?

Was it assumed that a medic would not be shot at by the enemy?

Would Jewish soldiers fighting for the US (or Russia) against the Germans be summarily executed, or sent to concentration camps? Or would they be taken as POWs in the same that a non-Jewish prisoner would?

I can’t answer all your questions, but I know that many American soldiers . . . Jewish and otherwise . . . did wind up in concentration camps. And they didn’t all survive.

here is an example story about American Jewish POWs . It seems that they were treated worse than average, but still more or less ok.

On the Eastern Front it is common knowledge that Soviet POWs of Jewish descent were summarily killed, if identified. There are also stories of people of other ethnic groups who had similar Mediterranean phenotype, e.g. Armenians, being killed by mistake.

CORRECTION: turns out that this link’s article says that in fact 20% of those mentioned Jewish POWs died, for a total of 73 people. More interestingly, it says that these 73 casualties constituted 6% of ALL American POW casualties in Germany during the war, suggesting that a total of 1200 American POWs died there overall. Pretty decent stats, especially compared to allegations of mass casualties among German POWs in Allied hands after the war due to famine and work on mine field clearing.

This isn’t completely accurate.

For example, one of the two leaders of the uprising at the Sobibor concentration camp was Alexander Pechorsky (var. Pechersky, Peczersky). He was a lieutenant in the Soviet army who, after being captured, was sent to Sobibor along with the other Jewish members of his unit.

As an aside, despite being the hero of the revolt, Pechorsky was harassed and persecuted by the Soviet government after the war. This was typical of the treatment received by ex-POWs who returned to the USSR after their liberation/escape. Apparently, the fact that they were captured rather than fighting to the death, was considered evidence of disloyalty at best, and treason at worst.

The protagonist of “A Day In The Life Of Ivan Ivonovich” was in the gulag because he was captured by the Germans and then accused of collaborating with them.

Solzeneitsen (sp?) stated in “Gulag” that it was common for soldiers being repatriated to immediately be put back into prison for the crime of being captured.

According to Maus, Jewish prisoners of war were protected by the Geneva convention. Vladak (who fought for the Polish Army) was captured by the Germans, but they quickly released any Jewish soldiers since once they were released, the Geneva Convention did not apply.

The Nazis did honor the Geneva Convention, simply because it applied to their captured soldiers, too. If they ignored it, the Allies would have ignored it, too.

What about the medics being armed?

Germans did not apply the rules of Geneva Convention to Soviet POWs, officially because Soviet Union was not at the time party to it. Conversely, Russians didn’t apply these rules to Germans either, although the mistreatment of German POWs was sometimes tempered by humanitarian efforts from the Allies.

I may not understand what you’re getting at, but Jewish soldiers of the Polish Army of 1939 who were captured, suffered horribly, that is, if they weren’t murdered outright.

I’ve read that the Germans generally treated non-Soviet Allied prisoners pretty decently, including Jews, due to their surprisingly scrupulous observance of the Geneva Conventions. The Japanese suffer greatly by comparison.

If you were a Soviet POW, what with Nazi ideology and STalins dislike of captured troops, well being Jewish was probably not an immdiet concern right.

If you were British or American, being Jewish as a POW was likely not so bad, in most cases.

Carrying a Luger could have got you in trouble. I think some considered that a War Crime, as you must have looted it.

My Dad fought the Japanese during WWII, and he had told me some medics carried guns. The Japanese did not respect the Geneva Convention.

This guy I talked to said there was a lot of looting. He said most of the other guys in his division also took Lugers and some of them took expensive silverware, silver plates, and jewelry from a mansion they stayed at. One guy, according to him, actually blew open a safe in a hospital in Belgium and stole diamonds and jewelry from it. He didn’t know if he managed to get it back to the States or not. From his story it seemed like there was a lot of chaos and impulsive behavior. He claimed that at one point he was in a convoy and there was an MP directing the trucks down a path which they realized headed straight into a German ambush. It turned out the MP was actually a German spy dressed up in an American uniform. The officers dragged him off and shot him on the spot.

To answer the OP’s first question, IIRC US medics weren’t generally armed in order to be considered non-combatants under the GC (and the red cross flashes and arm bands). I’m sure some medics ignored this for various reasons, but I do believe there was a regulation prohibiting medics from carrying weapons.

(ETA: This rule is no longer in effect btw, and I believe that the US now allows for and even requires combat medics to wear side-arms to protect themselves and their patients).


The rule is still in effect. If a soldier wears a Red Cross, he is a non-combatant and cannot take up arms against the enemy. As such, the enemy is not supposed to shoot him.

If a medic does not wear the red cross, then he is not afforded those protections under the Geneva Conventions, and therefore is not prohibited by them either.
Currently, the US Military uses “combat medics”. They don’t wear crosses, so they can fight and carry rifles.

Similarly, with vehicles. If we display Red Cross placards on our ambulances, those vehicles cannot bear weapons and fight the enemy. But if we decline those protections, we also have the freedom to fight from the vehicle. In a war such as our current conflict, where our enemy would not honor the Geneva Conventions anyway, displaying red crosses would only hinder our fight without adding any benefits of protection for our medical personnel.

To flog this horse, one more time, in Richard Evans’ masterful and authoritative The Third Reich at War", a four-month fatality rate of 50 percent is given for Jewish-Polish POWs captured in 1939. Hardly seems consistent with treatment according to the Geneva Convention.

It’s Alexander Solzhenitsyn; the book is called ‘A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’, the book that Tristan refers to is the three-volume magnum opus ‘Gulag Archipelago’.

Using captured enemy equipment is not a war crime.

FWIW, this would seem to suggest that Nazi policy might be inconsistenly applied

Rommel is regarded as a chivalrous and humane officer because his Afrikakorps was never accused of any war crimes. Soldiers captured during his Africa campaign were reported to have been treated humanely; furthermore, he ignored orders to kill captured Jewish soldiers and civilians in all theaters of his command.[2]