Maxine Clamage

Letters to a Lost Soldier – American Prisoners of War Suffer Hardships in Nazi Germany

Dear Daddy,

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(I originally wrote in March, 1945) I don’t complain about dry matzo for Passover when I know that black bread with sawdust is your bread of affliction. We celebrate the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and you are still a slave in Nazi Germany eating bitter herbs.

 Some American Prisoners of War who were lucky enough to escape report severe lack of food and medical supplies.  “Conditions for Germans are so dire that the Red Cross packages intended for American POWs are being confiscated and American prisoners must share packages 4 or more to a man.”

“What is saving prisoners from complete defeat is the ability of American men to organize themselves and maintain discipline. The Nazis thought we’d be fighting and killing each other over the meager amounts of food we get, but we showed them,” reported one escapee.  “American soldiers cooperate with one another, pool their food and divide it evenly and no one is left out. We share housekeeping duties, blankets and body warmth.  However, a man is no longer treated in a friendly way if caught stealing from another man.”

During the long marches from the east to west to avoid the advancing Russian armies, soldiers assist their buddies who stagger from exhaustion. “If a man falls, he is shot on the spot and left on the road to rot. When doctors aren’t available, the POWs tend to each other’s wounds and show the Germans what it means to have respect for the dignity of another human being during bad conditions.”

Optimistically, it appears the Allies are winning the war against Nazi Germany.  More than 8,000 American troops crossed the Rhine into Germany. Hitler issued the Nero Decree for everything to be blown up that the Allies could use as they advance.  His officers are disobeying him and ignoring his order to kill all Jewish Prisoners of War. They know it will be over soon and don’t want to be punished for war crimes.  

The Jewish Brigade is fighting to win the war for the Allies in Italy.  Bepa says that Jews in concentration camps are also winning the war against Hitler because Hitler has diverted resources from fighting the Allies to rounding up and killing Jews.  Hitler is so obsessed with killing Jews that he is running out of munitions, oil and manpower.

Bepa gets his information from the newspapers, the radio and the men he meets at the Stock Exchange and the Masons.  I watch the newsreels at the movies and see streams of refugees marching down the roads with their belongings in one direction while the American tanks and artillery are moving in the opposite direction.  I want to scream:  Go, Americans, Go, GI’s, Go!

The war drags on and I am learning about endurance and not giving up when the going gets rough.  I pray that you stay strong, Daddy. Remember when I asked why men like to watch the boxing matches and you said there was an important lesson.  “You are not out until the count of ten. You can be knocked to the mat and the referee can start the countdown, but if you get up before the count of ten, you can still be a champ.”

Prisoners of War who escaped are champs although some feel guilty about originally getting captured.  They weren’t instructed how to survive as Prisoners of War, and were only told to give their name, rank and serial number.  They weren’t prepared for the ordeal and wanted to get back to combat. Others felt they contributed to the war effort because they messed up on work details and the Nazis had to divert manpower and supplies to supervise and correct them. American soldiers who get caught escaping are shot dead.

God hardened Hitler’s heart, like he hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  The American tanks and artillery are on their way to free you from captivity, just as Moses freed the slaves in Egypt.  It won’t take 40 years for you to return home and we are waiting with open arms. Keep your chin up!




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