Eisenhower and post-war German mass deaths

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This article is largely a copy of the Wikipedia article "Eisenhower and German POWs" as it existed in 2008. In 2009 the title of the Wikipedia article was changed to "Other Losses" (referring to this particular book) which was then used as an excuse for deleting much of the earlier contents of the article as citing other sources.

General Dwight Eisenhower served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1948. Following the German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower was appointed Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone, based in Frankfurt am Main. Germany was divided into four Occupation Zones, one each for the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. He made the decision to reclassify German prisoners of war (POWs) in U.S. custody as Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEFs), thus depriving them of the protection of the Geneva convention. As DEFs, their food rations could be lowered and they could be compelled to serve as unfree labor. Eisenhower was an early supporter of the Morgenthau Plan to permanently remove Germany's industrial capacity to wage future wars. In November 1945 he approved the distribution of 1000 free copies of Morgenthau's book Germany is Our Problem, which promoted and described the plan in detail, to American military officials in occupied Germany. Historian Stephen Ambrose draws the conclusion that, despite Eisenhower's later claims the act was not an endorsement of the Morgenthau plan, Eisenhower both approved of the plan and had previously given Morgenthau at least some of his ideas about how Germany should be treated.[1] He also incorporated officials from Morgenthau's Treasury into the army of occupation. These were commonly called "Morgenthau boys" for their zeal in interpreting the occupation directive JCS 1067, which had been heavily influenced by Morgenthau and his plan, as strictly as possible.[2]

Canadian novelist James Bacque has alleged that U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower oversaw the deaths by starvation or exposure of one million German prisoners of war held in Western internment camps after the Second World War. Bacque charges that hundreds of thousands of German prisoners of war (POWs), redesignated as "Disarmed Enemy Forces" in order to avoid recognition under the third Geneva Convention, were recorded as entering the camps but not recorded as transferring out, so they must have died. He also points to a German report recording the death of 1.4 million German POWs, and Soviet data accounting for only 450,600 of these deaths. The remainder, he says, must then have died in Western camps.

In his book Other Losses, Bacque recounts interviews with people who claimed to have witnessed trucks full of dead leaving the camps each day, and civilian women who say they were fired upon while trying to throw bread over the camp fence. The fact that Red Cross inspectors were banned, Red Cross food aid was returned, building of shelters was forbidden and soldiers were kept on short rations are seen by Bacque as a "method of the genocide." Another critic of Eisenhower's policy in Germany was Senator Homer E. Capehart.

Eisenhower and post-war American policy

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower frequently clashed with Gen. George S. Patton, a staunch anti-Communist who favored generous treatment of former German officers and even some former National Socialists. Patton felt that "It is no more possible for a man to be a civil servant in Germany and not have paid lip service to the National Socialists than it is for a man to be a postmaster in America and not have paid at least lip service to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party when they are in power," and his vocal complaints eventually led to his being relieved of his command as post-war governor of Bavaria. The controversial general who had once been one of the most feared enemies of the German army admired Germans and after the war even called them "the only decent people left in Europe." He complained of what he considered persecution of the German people and saw it as serving the interests of the Soviet Union, not the United States[1].

American Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. had written a book outlining the Morgenthau Plan, Germany is Our Problem. In November 1945 General Eisenhower, at the time Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone in Germany, approved the distribution of one thousand free copies of the book to American military officials in Germany. Historian Stephen Ambrose draws the conclusion that not only did Eisenhower approve of the plan, he had, in fact, contributed to it while it was being written.[3]

In response to suggestions from his own military government in Germany that the Potsdam agreement be interpreted less strictly as regards the lowering of the peoples standards of living Eisenhower in October 1945 stated his position to the press as "...I say let Germany find out what it means to start a war."[4]

In order to impress the German people with the Allied opinion of them, a strict non-fraternization policy was adhered to by Eisenhower and the War department. However, thanks to pressure from the State Department and individual US congressmen this policy was eventually lifted in stages. In June 1945, the prohibition against speaking with German children was made less strict. In July, it became possible to speak to German adults in certain circumstances. In September the whole policy was completely dropped in Austria and Germany. The prohibition on marriage between Americans and German or Austrian civilians remained until (Austria: January, Germany: December) 1946.[5]

For the treatment of German children see War children.

Using data from US Army records Bacque has estimated that 726,000 German prisoners died of starvation or disease while in U.S. captivity. A number of historians, including Niall Ferguson, maintain that this is a gross overestimation.[6] However, "the mortality rate for German POW's in U.S. hands was more than 4 times higher than the rate for those who surrendered to the British".[7] Further, another advantage with surrendering to the British rather than the Americans was that besides treating German prisoners better than the U.S. did, the British were also less likely to hand German prisoners over to the Soviet Union.[8] Large numbers of German prisoners were transferred between the Allies. The U.S gave 765,000 to France, 76,000 to Benelux countries, and 200,000 to the Soviet Union. The U.S. also chose to refuse to accept the surrender of German troops attempting to surrender in Saxony and Bohemia. These soldiers were instead handed over to the Soviet Union.[9] (The Soviet Union in turn handed German prisoners over to other Eastern European nations, for example 70,000 to Poland)[10] Death rates of German soldiers held prisoner in the Soviet Union was 35.8%.[11]

American food policy in post-war Germany

Throughout all of 1945 the Allies forces of occupation ensured that no international aid reached ethnic Germans. [12] It was directed that all relief went to non-German displaced persons, liberated Allied POWs, and concentration camp inmates.[13]

General Lucius Clay, then Deputy to General Eisenhower, stated:

I feel that the Germans should suffer from hunger and from cold as I believe such suffering is necessary to make them realize the consequences of a war which they caused.[14]

The German Red Cross was dissolved, and the International Red Cross and the few other allowed international relief agencies were kept from helping Germans through strict controls on supplies and on travel.[13] The few agencies permitted to help Germans, such as the indigenous Caritas Verband, were not allowed to use imported supplies. When the Vatican attempted to transmit food supplies from Chile to German infants the U.S. State Department forbade it.[15]

During 1945 it was estimated that the average German civilian in the U.S. and the United Kingdom occupation zones received 1,200 calories a day.[16] Meanwhile non-German Displaced Persons were receiving 2,300 calories through emergency food imports and Red Cross help.[17] In early October 1945 the UK government privately acknowledged in a cabinet meeting that German civilian adult death rates had risen to four times the pre-war levels and death rates amongst the German children had risen by 10 times the pre-war levels. [16]

General Lucius Clay stated in October 1945 that:

undoubtedly a large number of refugees have already died of starvation, exposure and disease…. The death rate in many places has increased several fold, and infant mortality is approaching 65 percent in many places. By the spring of 1946, German observers expect that epidemics and malnutrition will claim 2.5 to 3 million victims between the Oder and Elbe.[16]

In early 1946 U.S. President Harry S. Truman finally bowed to pressure from Senators, Congress and public to allow foreign relief organization to enter Germany in order to review the food situation. In mid-1946 non-German relief organizations were finally permitted to help starving German children.[18] During 1946 the average German adult received less than 1,500 calories a day. 2,000 calories was then considered the minimum an individual can endure on for a limited period of time with reasonable health.[19]

The German food situation became worst during the very cold winter of 1946-1947, when German calorie intake ranged from 1,000-1,500 calories per day, a situation made worse by severe lack of fuel for heating.[20] Average adult calorie intake in U.S was 3,200-3,300, in UK 2,900 and in U.S. Army 4,000.[21]

In a comparative U.S. government study[22] run by former U.S. President Herbert Hoover and published in February 1947, the nutritional situation surveyed in some of Germany's neighbor states (Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands and the UK) was close to pre-war normal, while the nutritional situation for certain population groups in Germany (mainly children and the elderly) was disastrously low.

The historian Nicholas Balabkins notes that the Allied restrictions placed on German steel production, and their control over to where the produced coal and steel was delivered, meant that offers by Western European nations to trade food for desperately needed German coal and machinery were rejected. Neither the Italians nor the Dutch could sell the vegetables that they had previously sold in Germany, with the consequence that the Dutch had to destroy considerable proportions of their crop. Denmark offered 150 tons of lard a month; Turkey offered hazelnuts; Norway offered fish and fish oil; Sweden offered considerable amounts of fats. The Allies were however not willing to let the Germans trade.[23]

Another consequence of the Allied policy of "Industrial Disarmament" (see The industrial plans for Germany) was that there was a drastic fall in fertilizer available for the German agriculture, further decreasing the food production.[24]

German infant mortality rate was twice that of other nations in Western Europe until the close of 1948.[25]

The adequate feeding of the German population in occupied Germany was an Allied legal obligation[26] [27] under Article 43 of The 1907 Hague Rules of Land Warfare.[28]

Richard Dominic Wiggers draws in "The United States and the Refusal to Feed German Civilians after World War II" the conclusion that not only did the Allies violate international law when it comes to the feeding of enemy civilians, they both directly and indirectly caused the unnecessary suffering and death of large numbers of civilians and POW's in occupied Germany, guided partly by a spirit of postwar vengeance when creating the circumstances that contributed to their deaths.[29]

Allied forced labor policy in post-war Germany

Eisenhower also did not oppose the transfers of POWs for forced labor. The topic of using Germans as forced labor was first broached at the Tehran conference, where Soviet premier Joseph Stalin demanded at least 4,000,000 German workers to repair enormous damage inflicted by German invasion on Soviet Union[2] . It was included in the Morgenthau Plan and was finally included in the protocol of the Yalta conference where it was sanctioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although not included in the protocol of the Potsdam conference the policy was nevertheless later implemented de facto. In March 1947 4,000,000 Germans were being used as forced labor [30]. General Eisenhower transferred several hundred thousand POWs to the Soviets[31] which used them, alongside Soviet captured POWs and German civilians, as forced laborers (See also Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union for the fate of the civilians). Death rates for the German civilians doing forced labor in the Soviet Union ranged between 19% - 39%, depending on category. Most German POW survivors of the forced labor camps in the Soviet Union were released in 1953.[32][33]. The last Germans were repatriated in 1956.

The U.S. used over 500,000 German POWs in Germany in Military Labor Service Units[34]. Great Britain used 225,000 Germans as “reparations labor”. In addition to the 200,000 Germans held by French forces (and 70,000 held by France in Algeria), France demanded 1,700,000 POWs for use as “enforced labor”.[35] In July 1945 they were promised 1,300,000 POWs by the SHAEF. The number of actually delivered prisoners is debated, as is the number of surviving POWs eventually released by the French.[36] General George S. Patton commented in his diary “I’m also opposed to sending POW’s to work as slaves in foreign lands (in particular, to France) where many will be starved to death.” He also noted “It is amusing to recall that we fought the revolution in defense of the rights of man and the civil war to abolish slavery and have now gone back on both principles”.[36] On 12 October 1945 The New York Herald Tribune reported that the French were starving their POWs, and compared their emaciation to that of those liberated from the Dachau concentration camp[37]. German prisoners were for example forced to clear minefields in France and the Low Countries. By December 1945 it was estimated by French authorities that 2,000 German prisoners were being killed or maimed each month in mine-clearing accidents.[38] On 13 March 1947 the U.S. made an agreement with the French to the effect that roughly 450,000 German prisoners would be released, at a rate of 20,000 a month. This number included the roughly 200,000 prisoners the French had themselves captured.[39]. In Norway the last available casualty record, from August 29, 1945, shows that by that time a total of 275 German soldiers had been killed while clearing mines, while an additional 392 had been maimed.[3]

In discussions between France and the US in early 1947 regarding whether France should begin repatriating its German prisoners it was noted that of the 740,000 handed over by the U.S. to France for forced labor only 450,000 remained; 290,000 had been "stricken off the rolls".[4]

Defense of Eisenhower

In a 1991 New York Times book review, historian and Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose responded to Mr. Bacque:

Mr. Bacque is wrong on every major charge and nearly all his minor ones. Eisenhower was not a Hitler, he did not run death camps, German prisoners did not die by the hundreds of thousands, there was a severe food shortage in 1945, there was nothing sinister or secret about the "disarmed enemy forces" designation or about the column "other losses." Mr. Bacque's "missing million" were old men and young boys in the Volkssturm (People's Militia) released without formal discharge and transfers of POWs to other allies control areas. Maj. Ruediger Overmans of the German Office of Military History in Freiburg who wrote the final volume of the official German history of the war estimated that the total death by all causes of German prisoners in American hands could not have been greater than 56,000 approximately 1% of the over 5,000,000 German POWs in Allied hands exclusive of the Soviets. Eisenhower's calculations as to how many people he would be required to feed in occupied Germany in 1945-46 were too low and he had been asking for more food shipments since February 1945. He had badly underestimated the number of German soldiers surrendering to the Western Allies; more than five million, instead of the anticipated three million as German soldiers crossed the Elbe River to escape the Russians. So too with German civilians - about 13 million altogether crossing the Elbe to escape the Russians, and the number of slave laborers and displaced persons liberated was almost 8 million instead of the 5 million expected. In short, Eisenhower faced shortages even before he learned that there were at least 17 million more people to feed in Germany than he had expected not to mention all of the other countries in war ravaged Europe, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan. All Europe went on rations for the next three years, including Britain, until the food crisis was over. [40]

In the United States Harry S. Truman, one of several Eisenhower bosses, on taking office in April 1945 he selected Clinton Presba Anderson to serve as his Secretary of Agriculture and in 1946 enlisted former President Herbert Hoover to serve as chairman of a Famine Emergency Committee to see about getting food to Europe, Japan and other countries facing famine. They worked hard to acquaint the public of the need to scrimp on food, minimize food waste, minimize grain fed to animals or used to make beer and whiskey, and maximize grain production and shipments to Europe and Japan from the United States and other countries in South America. [5]. In January 1947 the turn came to dealing also with the food shortages in Austria and Germany, and Hoover was sent on a mission to examine the situation also in these countries.[41]

In a 1989 Time Magazine book review Ambrose did however, apart from his criticisms of the book, concede that:

We as Americans can't duck the fact that terrible things happened. And they happened at the end of a war we fought for decency and freedom, and they are not excusable.[42]

Several historians rebutting Bacque have argued that the missing POWs simply went home, that Red Cross food aid was sent to displaced civilians and that German POWs were fed the same rations that the US Army was providing to the civilian population. US and German sources estimate the number of German POWs who died in captivity at between 56,000 or 78,000 or about one percent of all German prisoners which is roughly the same as the percentage of American POWs who died in German captivity.[43]

Lack of records

There are no longer any surviving records showing which German POWs and Disarmed Enemy Forces who were in U.S. custody prior to roughly September 1945. The early standard operating procedure for handling POWs and Disarmed Enemy Forces was to send a copy of the POW form to the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects (CROWCASS). However, this practice was apparently stopped as impractical, and all copies of the POW forms, roughly eight million, were destroyed.[44][45]


"Starting in April 1945, the United States Army and the French Army casually annihilated one million [German] men, most of them in American camps . . . Eisenhower's hatred, passed through the lens of a compliant military bureaucracy, produced the horror of death camps unequalled by anything in American history . . . an enormous war crime."
—--Col. Ernest F. Fisher, PhD Lt.101 st Airborne Division, Senior Historian, United States Army.[46]
"…Under no circumstances may food supplies be assembled among the local inhabitants in order to deliver them to prisoners of war. Those who violate this command and nevertheless try to circumvent this blockade to allow something to come to the prisoners place themselves in danger of being shot…"
—Eisenhower, 1945.[47]

See also

External links


  1. Ambrose, Stephen (1983). Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect (1893–1952). New York: Simon & Schuster, 422. 
  2. Petrov, Vladimir (1967). Money and conquest; allied occupation currencies in World War II.. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 228–229. 
  3. John Dietrich. The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (2002) pg. 27
  4. Trouble in Germany Time Magazine Monday, Oct. 22, 1945
  5. Perry Biddiscombe "Dangerous Liaisons: The Anti-Fraternization Movement in the U.S. Occupation Zones of Germany and Austria, 1945-1948", Journal of Social History 34.3 (2001) p. 619
  6. Niall Ferguson, "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat" War in History 2004 11 (2) 148–192 pg. 187
  7. Niall Ferguson, "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat" War in History 2004 11 (2) 148–192 pg. 188
  8. Niall Ferguson, "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat" War in History 2004 11 (2) 148–192 pg. 189
  9. Niall Ferguson, "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat" War in History 2004 11 (2) 148–192 pg. 189, (footnote, referenced to: H. Nawratil, Die deutschen Nachkriegsverluste unter Vertriebenen, Gefangenen und Verschleppter: mit einer übersicht über die europäischen Nachkriegsverluste (Munich and Berlin, 1988), pp. 36f.)
  10. Niall Ferguson, "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat" War in History 2004 11 (2) 148–192 pg. pg 164.
  11. Niall Ferguson, "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat" War in History 2004 11 (2) 148–192 pg. 186 (Table 4)
  12. 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
  13. 13.0 13.1 Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 281-282
  14. Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 278
  15. Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 281
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 280
  17. Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 279
  18. Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 282
  19. Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 284
  20. Richard Dominic Wiggers p. 244
  21. Richard Dominic Wiggers p. 285
  22. Herbert Hoover. "The Presidents Economic Mission to Germany and Austria: Report No. 1 - German Agriculture and Food Requirements", February 28, 1947. p. 9
  23. Nicholas Balabkins, "Germany Under Direct Controls: Economic Aspects of Industrial Disarmament 1945 - 1948", Rutgers University Press, 1964 p. 125
  24. Nicholas Balabkins, "Germany Under Direct Controls: Economic Aspects of Industrial Disarmament 1945 - 1948", Rutgers University Press, 1964 p. 91
  25. Richard Dominic Wiggers pg. 286
  26. Nicholas Balabkins, "Germany Under Direct Controls: Economic Aspects of Industrial Disarmament 1945 - 1948", Rutgers University Press, 1964 p. 101
  27. Richard Dominic Wiggers p. 274
  28. Richard Dominic Wiggers p. 279. "In postwar Germany and Japan, the U.S. Army financed the most urgent food imports by citing obligations under Article 43 of The Hague Rules of Land Warfare."
  29. Richard Dominic Wiggers p. 288
  30. John Dietrich. The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (2002) pg. 123
  31. Dietrich pg. 124
  32. Time Magazine Oct. 12, 1953 Homecoming
  33. Time Magazine, 7 July 1952 2,500,000 Missing
  34. Dietrich pg. 125
  35. Dietrich pg. 126
  36. 36.0 36.1 Dietrich pg. 127
  37. Dietrich pg. 129
  38. S. P. MacKenzie "The Treatment of Prisoners of War in World War II" The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 66, No. 3. (Sep., 1994), pp. 487-520.
  39. Dietrich pg. 134
  40. Ike and the Disappearing Atrocities New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991.
  41. TRUMAN AND HOOVER: FRIENDS An article from Whistle Stop the Newsletter of the Harry S. Truman Library Institute Volume 18, Number 2, 1990
  42. Ike's Revenge? Time Magazine Monday, Oct. 2, 1989
  43. War in History - Sign In Page
  44. US Department of Justice, Criminal Division, In the Matter of Josef Mengele: A Report to the Attorney General of the United States (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 1992) (DD 247 .M46 U55 1991). Available from Jewish Virtual Library as PDF (15MB) or from the rotten dot com archiveas html
  45. Note: the file was originally available for download from the United States Department of Justice homepage, as "http://web.archive.org/web/20040909030910/http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/publicdocs/11-1prior/crm12.pdf", and may still be available under a different name or cataloge
  46. One Million German POWs Killed After WWII By US & France http://www.rense.com/general19/gmk.htm
  47. Allied War Crimes 1941-1950 by Rixon Stewart http://www.zundelsite.org/archive/news_english/0036_allied_war_crimes.html



  • James Bacque, Other Losses revised edition 1999, Little Brown and Company, Boston, New York, Toronto, London ISBN 1-55168-191-9
  • James Bacque. Crimes and Mercies: The Fate Of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950 Little Brown & Company; ISBN 0-7515-2277-5; (August 1997)
  • Gunter Bischof and Stephen E. Ambrose. Eisenhower and the German Pows: Facts Against Falsehood (1992)


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