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World War II: Prisoners of War – Full Documentary


(orchestral music) – [Narrator] During the final days of the Second World War, Allied forces liberated many prisoner
of war camps such as this. It is estimated that during
the course of the war, as many as 35 million
people from all nations spent time in enemy hands. Germany alone had imprisoned
more than 15 million men and women by the fall of Berlin. Those that survived were
now free to go home. But the future for German
servicemen was very different. While their cities lay
in ruins, vast armies were now incarcerated. For them, life as a prisoner
of war had just begun. (somber music) During the First World War, the treatment of prisoners was governed by
the 1907 Hague Convention. These regulations had
proved unsatisfactory, resulting in the need for a more thorough agreement that took into account new developments in modern warfare. On the 27th of July 1929,
the Geneva Convention was signed by 38 powers,
including Germany, Italy, Britain, France and America. These regulations contained
97 specific articles covering the treatment of prisoners of war and were to be overseen
by neutral parties. They would act as a protecting power, responsible for monitoring the conditions of all prisoners held captive. In 1939, America oversaw
treatment of all captives, but once America itself entered the war, Sweden became the protecting power. The provision of a prisoner
of war code was one thing, the question remained whether countries would honor this agreement. Would Nazi Germany, a regime which had torn up the Treaty of
Versailles, made a mockery of the Munich Agreement
and herded thousands of Jews and political dissidents
into concentration camps be bound by this code? – The fact that Germany
signed the convention at all and that it continued
to draw up regulations for years before the war does indicate that to some extent it did want to adhere to the principles of
the Geneva Convention, but one of the major problems it had was that it was really two nations. On the one hand, you had
the ordinary soldier, the professional soldier,
the ordinary citizen. On the other hand, you had Nazi Germany. (somber music) – [Narrator] From the
outset of hostilities, Germany found itself responsible for large numbers of captured men. The lightning war philosophy of Blitzkrieg relied on rapid military domination followed by the
establishment of a government controlled from Berlin, but this approach did not allow for a protracted conflict or for having to contain
large numbers of prisoners for a long duration, a problem that was highlighted by the outstanding success of the Polish campaign. Germany was taking vast
numbers of Polish prisoners, who had to be housed and fed in a nation which was already on rationing. The overall responsibility for these men fell to the (speaking
in foreign language), the supreme commander of
the German armed forces. The head of the OKW was Wilhelm Keitel, but ultimate control rested with Hitler. To prepare for the handling of prisoners, the OKW instituted courses in Vienna for those charged with
their care and provided instructions in every soldier’s paybook on the proper conduct towards prisoners. Prison guards were directed that on seeing an escape in progress, no warning shots were to be fired and that
should a guard ever need to fire weapons, they must be
fired with the intent to hit. – One of the problems
that personnel running camps faced was that if
they tried to be decent commandants, decent soldiers, they were accused by the Gestapo, by the SS and by the high command
of being a defeatist. (somber music) – [Narrator] The first
prisoners from the western theater of operations were not housed in purpose-built prison camps. They were held in a converted
castle in Spangenberg called Oflag IX-A/H, a small camp outside Frankfurt called (speaking
in foreign language) as well as other camps that had been opened for the Poles since 1939. – There were really three factors which determined their existence. One is that they were near
the western theater of war, where operations were
actually taking place. Secondly, they were still far enough away from any friendly border
to discourage escape. But the third and most important factor is that they were convenient. – [Narrator] Spangenberg
was old Medieval castle, which had been expanded through history, and had served many
times as a prison camp. From October 1939, there were, in fact, two camps at Spagenberg, the
(speaking in foreign language), or upper camp was for
officers and was situated in the castle on top of the mountain. At the bottom of the
mountain, in the small village of Elbersdorf was an old hunting lodge known as the (speaking
in foreign language) or lower camp, which
housed the noncommissioned officers and other ranks. Most of the prisoners
being held during that first year were RAF and
French Air Force personnel. But life was difficult
for these early prisoners. There was a shortage of food, a situation worsened by the fact
that no Red Cross parcels came through until the
23rd of December 1939. (somber music) During the early months of
1940, the number of western allies taken prisoner was very
small, but after the invasion of the low countries in
France in May and June, German armies began to
take western prisoners in much greater numbers. (dramatic music) By November 1940,
thousands of French, Dutch and Belgian troops were
being held behind barbed wire along with 44,000 British POWs. They were force-marched
on starvation rations into Germany, Austria and Poland. On arriving in Germany, the new prisoners were sent to dulags or transit camps. There was one for the army at Lindberg called Stalag XII-A, and
there was another one for the air force at
Oberursel called Dulag Luft. As well as being a
transit camp, it was also to be Germany’s most
important interrogation center for RAF prisoners. Once processed, they were sent to a number of permanent camps set up in Germany. By now, Germany had
reopened camps which had existed in the First World War. The biggest was Stalag VIII-B in Lamsdorf. It was to this camp that most NCOs and other ranks were sent. The camp housed thousands of prisoners of different nationalities, all segregated in different compounds. The only chance these men had to meet was when the camp held what was known a red letter day, when
the guards would open the gates of each of the inner compounds and allow the men to mix freely. At dusk, they were sent
back to their compounds, and the gates were locked again. The other occasion when they could mix was on working parties. Lamsdorf was a massive base camp for many (speaking in foreign
language) or workers camps, which were spread throughout Germany. – The policy of forced
labor was not actually in contravention of the Geneva Convention. The convention stated
that officers should not be allowed to work, that
noncommissioned officers could only work in the
capacity of supervisors, and that other ranks could work, for which they were to receive something called (speaking in foreign
language) or camp pay. But they were not allowed
to work in any field or industry that was actually
related to war production. But in time of war, almost
any kind of labor is war work. (somber music) – [Narrator] In August
1940, the Germans started to construct purpose-build camps. Located generally in forest clearings, these camps were cheap
and easy to construct. Their layout was very
bare, and with regularly spaced sentry towers, proved
much easier to watch over. Conditions for the prisoners
improved because they now had more living space. There was room to exercise properly and stage large sporting events. Their diet was also improved because now they had room to cultivate
their own vegetable patches. The first of these
camps was Stalag Luft I, which was located at
Barth on the Baltic coast. (somber music) The huge numbers of men captured
up to the fall of France had not only taken the Germans by surprise but also the British. The prisoner of war
directorate of the war office had no idea of the numbers
of men that the Germans would take during that period. (dramatic music) Similarly, the war office was also having to improvise makeshift
accommodation for German prisoners. And, like Germany,
Britain found converting old country estates an easy option. The interrogation center
for German prisoners was Number 8 Kensington Palace Gardens. While the first prison camp of a permanent nature was a mansion called
Grizedale Hall in Westmorland. – The authorities in
prison had it a lot easier than the German authorities
did, because these camps were by no means overpopulated
with German prisoners. For example, in March
1940, the number of German officers and men in Britain was only 257, and by mid-1941, it had
only gone up to 3,800. Most of these were U-boat
crews and Luftwaffe air crews shot down during
the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. – [Narrator] The Luftwaffe
and the U-boat arm were the cream of the German armed forces. Both highly trained and
motivated, they were to prove difficult men to control. There was a great deal
of strife and tension between these men, coupled with a lot of interservice rivalry. Each of these services
trying to better each other at escape attempts, led by a hard core of persistent escape fanatics. Generally, German prisoners
were treated much better by the British than British prisoners were treated by the Germans. During the early years of the war, the British authorities
were much more intent on adhering to the Geneva Convention. German prisoners tended
to be much better fed, despite all the shortages in the country. To some extent, it was
sheer numbers that dictated the quality of treatment. The fact that Britain had so few Germans meant they were able to feed them better. By mid-summer 1940, Britain
started to transport German prisoners to Canada. The main reason for a change in policy was to conform with the Geneva Convention. It was laid down that
prisoners had to be moved out of a war zone, and
Britain, it was argued, constituted one entire war zone. The country was being
blockaded by the U-boats, had just been through
the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, and was preparing itself for the threat of invasion. One of the most persistent escapees was the Luftwaffe Captain Franz von Werra, who had already made
two quite daring escape attempts and who was determined to escape before he reached the
prison camp in Canada. He was unable to make an escape
before reaching Liverpool and boarding the ship. Escape from the ship
itself was impossible. But finally, in Canada,
when they were being transported by train, he managed
to jump out of the window and row across the St.
Lawrence River into America. From there, he managed to find
safe passage back to Germany. One of his first assignments on his return was to visit Dulag Luft. German intelligence
successes, based on prisoner interrogation, were few and far between, happening more by luck than by design, such as during the fall of Crete, when information literally
fell into their hands. The only prisoners questioned
thoroughly were RAF officers fresh from England, who were
interrogated at Dulag Luft. The British permanent staff at Dulag Luft seemed to be treated very well compared to the prisoners in
Stalag Luft I at Barth. For most of 1940, they
received no Red Cross parcels and had to cook
their meager German rations in the open air. These men were writing
letters home complaining about the poor treatment
they were getting, compared to the luxury
treatment the permanent staff were receiving at Dulag Luft, through which all of them had passed. In June 1941, 18 officers
escaped from the camp, some of them reaching as
far as the Swiss border. As a result of this,
there was a high-level conference between Hitler,
Himmler and Goering. Hitler ordered the (speaking
in foreign language), the commandant, should be removed. Himmler wanted the Gestapo
to take over the camp, but Goering intervened and suggested that von Werra visit
the camp to investigate interrogation procedures and
to suggest security measures. He sat in on a number of interrogations, examined security measures and sent back a report saying that the
interrogation procedures were amateurish and that
the security organization was virtually nonexistent. He identified that interrogation methods at the Dulag Luft were less effective than those of the British. The Luftwaffe interrogators
were mainly concerned with gathering intelligence
for defensive purposes. The British interrogators sought technical and operational information
that would contribute towards the bombing offensive. As a result of von Werra’s
report, the security measures were made much more stringent, and the interrogation
methods were improved. As the war progressed and the Americans entered the conflict, the
regime became tougher. They were interrogated
at length by specialists, and at times, the sick and wounded were denied medical treatment. They were taken to
solitary confinement cells, which were used as sweat boxes. The heat would become
unbearable and was only turned down when prisoners
revealed information. (somber music) The major determining factor in prisoner of war life was food. The rations provided by
the Germans were meager, five pounds of bread and
nine pounds of rotting potatoes per man per week. Another staple provision was cabbage. Occasionally, the Germans
would issue some sausage meat. Sugar, artificial coffee, salt, barley, margarine and marmalade
were issued grudgingly. – German rations were abysmally low. The reason why they were so low was that, of course, Germans didn’t expect to have a couple of million
prisoners, which including the French and so forth in 1940, and then towards the end of the war, the Germans were desperately
short of food themselves. Food was the worst thing,
I think, without a doubt. And if it weren’t for the Red
Cross, we would have starved. – [Narrator] How well a
prisoner of war survived was largely determined by the Red Cross. This organization
established a huge network for distributing food and
clothing parcels to POW camps. Although in the early stages of the war the flow of parcels was
disrupted, after 1941, they were generally
issued at a rate of one per man per fortnight. The Germans did not see
it in their interest to restrict supplies, owing to the fact that by allowing Red
Cross parcels plus parcels from friendly societies and
from prisoner’s relatives, they were saving money. – The German rations
deteriorated as the war went on, and because, of course, the
German’s food got worse. If it hadn’t have been
for the Red Cross parcels that came through, I doubt if many of us would be alive now. – [Narrator] Another fact
of prisoner of war life was depression. – We had a high number of people who got very depressed, I suppose
about 8 or 9% would get very depressed, and
it was very difficult to get them out of this depression. I mean, all you could
do was to talk to them, and people would sit up
all night, six, seven, eight of us listening to somebody, hoping that it would get
them out of their depression. But there was a generally
cheesed off if you didn’t get letters and things like that. – We were in a very confined space, so you had to be tolerant
of your fellow men. It wasn’t always easy. There was times when you
wanted to be on your own. If I saw anybody who
wasn’t prepared to talk, wanted to be on their own,
well, you respected them. You didn’t interrupt them. – You didn’t take enough exercise, you didn’t sleep as much as you should, and you woke up in the night wondering what was going to happen,
what was happening at home, how your families were. And one was, yes, pretty
depressed at times. But one got out of it. – [Narrator] In some
camps, it was possible to appeal to German notions of fair play, and there was even a certain
amount of mutual respect. – I think what one admired
amongst the German cagers was when they pure and
simply did their job and were not vindictive or anything else. To give Eggers his due,
as security officer, he was always correct
in his behavior with us. He never did any dirty tricks. He knew the English very well. His English was good,
although with an accent, and he had vowed very early on to himself never to lose his temper. – He was a schoolmaster by
profession before the war, and I think he really looked
upon us all as schoolboys. – I was a valued client of the cells, and there was a sergeant
there was out of the war, you see, he was a World War I veteran. And he was not venal. He wouldn’t be bribed or anything, nor was he unpleasant. He was fair. Yet he was a good man. Used to let his dog out,
you know, which was company when you were walking up and down. And I used to tease him a lot. He would say, “Hauptman
Brooker,” you know. “You know the rules of the cells. “You’ve been here often.” I would say, “No, never heard of them.” And he’d say, “You do, and I’m
not gonna read them out now.” I’d say, “Well, if you
don’t read them out, “I shall do” this, that and the other, all the rules, you know,
and he’d go mad. (laughing) But you see, it was a pleasant
relationship with him. (somber music) – [Narrator] In the first six
weeks of the Russian campaign, the Wehrmacht scored sweeping victories. But this initial euphoria was not to last. The Germans were unprepared
for the brutality of the battles that followed. This was a disheartening time for Germany. (guns firing) – Yeah, Eggers, the anti-escape officer, I was timing sentries into somewhere, and I was in the embrasure
of a window, you know, big long, five-foot embrasure, and it was the time of Stalingrad. And he came from outside
in and stood in the yard up against the bars of the embrasure, and of course, you weren’t supposed to be roaming around the camp at that time. And I couldn’t resist it, and I quoted Heine’s poem, you know
(speaking in foreign language). “I don’t know what’s come over me “that I am so sad.” That’s a very not literal translation. And I couldn’t resist it,
so I spoke into his ear. I was right up against him, you see, and I said the poem, and he didn’t look around or anything, didn’t start. And then he said (speaking
in foreign language), you’re right. He said, “Captain
Bruce,” because he didn’t know what a flight lieutenant was, “Will you go to cell? “Will you go to your room?” And he didn’t put me in jug or anything. Normally, I’d’ve been, you know, sentries would have come, dragged you
off, and you’d be in the cell. (somber music) – The Gestapo, in fact, had tried to gain influence over prisoner of war camps as early as 1941, just
after the commencement of the Russian campaign,
when they rounded up thousands and thousands
of Russian prisoners. And they passed an
edict which laid it down that insubordination, active or passive resistance must be immediately
broken by force of arm. Prisoners who tried to escape must be shot immediately without being challenged. Warning shots are strictly forbidden. – [Narrator] Now, although
this initially was a decree regarding
Russian prisoners, it was later used by the Gestapo
against British prisoners. By now, prison camps
were becoming a serious threat to state security. Prisoners had specially
picked men to bribe and compromise German guards. – We had a system of bribery. The people weren’t allowed to go on a free market type of bribery. We had to have an ombudsman. A Czech RAF officer was, in actual fact, detailed to be the bribery officer, and all bribery had to go through him. Otherwise, you’d start
mucking up the whole market. – The bribing experts would make friends with the Germans, go up and
chat, because they spoke German. And say oh, “Where do you come from?” Say “Oh yes, I know that. “It’s a lovely area, isn’t it? “Have you got a wife?” “Yes, I’ve got a wife.” And ask if you’ve got a photograph, and look at their photograph. And ask about the
children, in other words, make friends with the person. Then say, “Oh, by Joe,
you know, we’re hungry. “Do you think you could
bring me in an onion?” Or something simple like that, and give him a few cigarettes for it. Right, you are then beginning
to get him under your control. – Some of them were not
Nazis, but they obviously had to tow the line. And they are human people, like all of us, and if you started talking to a guard, and you talked to him about his wife and his children and how they were, when he’d seen them last,
within five minutes, he was bringing out a picture from his pocketbook and showing you his family. And then you started
talking, and then you’ve got them, as some people did, working out of the palm of your hand. They could bring anything in for you, because you got under their skin. – And after a time,
you’ve had lots of little innocuous things like that. You then start putting the pressure on and say you want something that the German knew you shouldn’t have. And if he gets difficult you say, “Well, you know, of
course, what you’ve done “already bringing me
these onions and so on in, “you’d be in trouble if
the Germans, the senior “officers found out
about it, wouldn’t you?” Get ’em under control like that. All right, it might be dirty business, but war is dirty business. – [Narrator] The prisoners
were also in touch with home by means of secretly constructed radios. Escapes were becoming bigger,
bolder and better organized. Between 1941 and 1944, there was a spate of mass escapes by British POWs, starting with the tunnel break from
an army camp at Eichstatt, followed by the dramatic
escape from Oflag VI-B, known as the Warburg Wire Job. There was another mass escape by air force officers from Oflag XXI-B
at Schubin in March 1943. And this was followed by the tunnel escape of 132 French officers from
Oflag XVII-A in Austria. It was capped by the
tunnel escape of 132 French officers from Oflag XVII-A in Austria. In addition to all the prisoners of war that the Germans were holding, there were also five million foreign workers held in labor camps, and the Germans feared that the prisoners of war
and the slave laborers would actually escape and unite. This belief was fueled by the publication of a book in America called
A Prisoner in Germany. It was written by an
escapee from a French camp, writing under the name of Robert Guerlain. In it, he actively promoted
the idea of prisoners and slave workers getting
together to form a second front. (tense music) This was of great concern
to the Gestapo and the SS. The final straw came in March 1944 when 76 RAF officers escaped
from Stalag Luft III and caused a nationwide manhunt. Hitler was furious and
held Himmler personally responsible for their recapture. Only three of the escapees
made it as far as Britain. The rest were recaptured and handed over to the local Gestapo. 50 of these men were
executed by firing squad. (somber music) By the autumn of 1942,
the war in Africa was turning against the Axis forces. Italy had suffered great
losses before surrendering in vast numbers. The Italian soldier was
regarded by the British authorities as less
fanatical and generally more docile than the
German, which would lead to a less severe security regime being applied to these prisoners. The war effort had led
to chronic shortages in manpower, especially in agriculture, so these new POWs were
soon pressed into service as forced labor on the land. The Africa Corps captured at this time were to experience much
harsher conditions. – [Man] There’s no
shadow of doubt about it, the enemy are on the run,
and we are after them, right on their heels, no half measures. (speaking in foreign language) – [Translator] This
project was badly organized by the British, and we
were taken to a station which was still on Tunisian soil. The people did not even
know that we were wounded. We were then transported
to Boerne by rail. We didn’t get any
blankets, and the carriage was designed for cattle transport. The British were very apologetic, but they could not do anything about it. Three days later, we
arrived in Boerne and were picked up by French soldiers. They took us to a British prison camp, which was virtually a desert. – Under the Geneva
Convention, a prisoner of war remains the prisoner of
the army of the country that captured him, but
what the British were doing and the Americans were
doing, were actually handing the prisoners over to
other national forces. – [Translator] From here we
went to Iran on a British ship. We were treated nicely,
and when we got there, we were taken over by the Americans. There, we were greeted
by one American for every prisoner of war, in order to make sure that we would not flee. (somber music) – [Narrator] In 1942, the
United States War Department decided that all Axis prisoners captured were to be brought to America. This would conserve
manpower in combat zones as well as ensure the handling of POWs accorded fully with the Geneva Convention. 400,000 prisoners were eventually brought to the States, while much
smaller numbers went to Canada. By June 1944, Canada had opened 21 camps, while America had 300. That number rising to well
over 600 by the war’s end. The conditions the POWs were to experience at these new camps were better than any they had known before. The barracks were spacious and clean. There was very good
health care, abundant food and consumer goods that had not been seen in Europe for years. There was no need any more
for Red Cross parcels. Some felt that after everything
they had been through, it was like being rescued
to be brought there. In October 1943, the
first exchange of sick and wounded British and German POWs began at the Swedish port of Gothenburg. Most of the Allied wounded were casualties of Dunkirk and Dieppe,
while the German wounded were mostly comprised of Africa Corps. (somber music) After D-Day, the advance towards Germany led to whole armies surrendering
to the Allied forces. Now, German prisoners were force-marched long distances with little food and poor medical attention,
just as the Allied prisoners had suffered back in 1940. Many were forced to sleep
outside in overcrowded prison camps formerly used by the Germans to hold French soldiers. These conditions became a source of embarrassment to the Allies. – [Soldier] I’ve covered them
with a gun down at a clearing station, thousands of them and all kinds. The tough ones with a smile froze stiff on their faces by shell fire, and the plain Joes who’d had to much and were ready to tell you that. And their poker-faced officers who never lost the poker-faced look. The SS, the parachute
troops, the old soldiers off the Russian front, I’ve seen ’em all. The Hitler Youth babies
lookin’ like they walked out of Lincoln High, expert killers, smart aleck with their talk of rights under the Geneva Convention and askin’ “When do we go to America?” And the other guy who’d
crawl out of a hole with his hands up, all
through and talkin’ too much, ready to swear he hated
Hitler all the time. The kids that knew how
a machine gun worked and nothing else, grinning
like they were still on top. They could hardly hold
that trigger finger still. The middle-aged guys wanting to tell you about the wife and kids, if you’d let ’em. And they were through
killing when I saw ’em, and through gettin’ killed too. Some of them thought they were lucky and others didn’t, and
some didn’t give a damn. I covered ’em down to
the rear, where it was somebody’s job to find
out what made ’em tick. It wasn’t my job to figure them out. I just kept them covered,
and brother, I never gave ’em more than the Geneva
Convention and that was all. – [Narrator] The effect of the invasion was to raise the spirits of
prisoners inside German camps. They realized the Allies
were winning the war, and that it was only a matter of time before they would be released. Rather than concentrate their energies on trying to make escape attempts, they instead took a far greater interest in the progress of the war. – Escaping ceased really
in 1944 because by then Hitler had issued this
order that all escapers, if caught, were to be shot. – [Narrator] POWs were
warned that all areas within several miles of
camp were to be declared death zones, and anybody
entering these areas without authority would be shot on sight. – The end of the war was nearly there, and we’d had orders from
England to stop escaping, because it was just plain silly to go out, because if you were
caught, the next thing that would happen is your ashes
would come back in a tin. Well, things just weren’t worth that at the end of the war. – Anyhow, by then you see, September ’44, the Allies were on German soil, and the attitude of the German populace meant that if you did get caught, you’d get pretty rough treatment. – [Narrator] In March 1945, United States forces crossed the Rhine. On the 21st of April, the
Russians had reached the Elbe. By the 2nd of May, the capture
of Berlin was complete. (guns firing) (somber music) – We saw these airplanes
diving right below the castle, and then they all disappeared. Quiet reigned again. They think they were
shooting at some SS troops that had moved in to defend the village. And after a long pause,
suddenly some tanks emerged from the end
of the wood some three miles from there, quite a long way away. And there was a terrific
argument immediately amongst us as to whether
they were American tanks or German tanks. And the experts all had their say. These tanks just stayed quite
motionless in the field, and there we were,
prisoners, who’d waited, many of us, for five long
years with tremendous patience suddenly were
seized with the most irrational and ridiculous impatience. People started shouting,
“What the hell do they “think they’re doing! “Come on, get cracking! “For goodness sake, don’t just sit there!” And all these sort of silly phrases echoed ’round about, but I suppose
it was natural, really. It seemed funny to me at the time, and then they attacked the village, and the battle went on all day around us. The next morning, the
Americans had clearly won and made contact with us in the castle. And I remember very much
we were, some of us, waiting in this courtyard, most of us in the courtyard, wondering
what the Americans were going to do. We’d seen from the windows they were in charge of Konigs town. And suddenly, eventually, this great door into the British part of
the castle sprung open, and through it, as I say in my book, filthy and muddy from
battle, steal helmeted and armed to the teeth,
came the first American GI who most of us had ever seen. It was a most fantastic memory. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] The Allied POWs, protected by the Geneva Convention
and by the Red Cross were hungry but in good health. For Russian prisoners, the
situation was more desperate. The bitter enmity that
developed on the Eastern front, fueled by the Nazi belief that the Russian people were of a lower breed, meant that no such codes operated in the East. Russia had not signed
the Geneva Convention or organized support facilities
for its captured men. So those that were
taken suffered terribly. (dramatic music) There would be no real
liberation for these men. The belief that those
captured were tainted by Western philosophy meant that on their return, half
of them would be treated as non-persons while the
other half were executed. (somber music) (fanfare music) – [News Announcer] General
Eisenhower’s battle headquarters in the ancient city of Reims was the businesslike setting for Germany’s unconditional surrender, and
just before the delegates arrive, a few out of
the millions of beaten German soldiers were
trudging past the building. The Allied officers who took their places on either side of
Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Bedell Smith included Admiral Burroughs and
Major General Susloparoff, a terrific moment for them all. The German delegates were
General Admiral von Friedeburg, who’d previously surrendered to Monty, General Jodl, German Army chief of staff, and his aide, Major Oxinius. It was, naturally, a brief
ceremony, and after Jodl had signed on the dotted
line, the other signatories completed the capitulation
of Reims at 2:41 a.m. True, Jodl made a statement
about the sufferings of the German Armed Forces and people and hoped that the victor will treat them with generosity, but the
surrender was unconditional, signed with a gold pen by the Allies and an ersatz pen by the Huns. The Allies followed this by giving German prisoners of war a different status. They were now officially
known as defeated enemy, thus, denying them prisoner of war rights under the Geneva Convention. Soldiers were herded
into massive compounds without proper facilities. They were denied the opportunity to write or receive letters. They were given very small food rations, and were also not allowed
access to Red Cross parcels. Large numbers of prisoners died of hypothermia and malnutrition. (speaking in foreign language) – [Translator] My home was
occupied by the Russians, and I did not have a clue
what happened to my family. After about five months,
we were allowed to write to our parents, however, in
order to be allowed to write, we had to sign a card which confirmed that I was a solider of the
defeated German army and that I asked permission to write. I did not sign the card, because I did not want to disavow myself. – In Britain and Canada and America, German prisoners underwent
a de-Nazification program in which they were given
lectures on democracy and shown footage of
liberated concentration camps. This was part of a
policy of trying to make them fit to live in a democratic nation. (speaking in foreign language) – [Translator] The war
was very hard for us, and I am sure it had
effects on my personality. I went to war at the age of 21. I was young lieutenant who
didn’t have any political views, and I wanted to support my fatherland, which was in trouble. Why it was in trouble, I did not know. We were conscripted soldiers and officers, and we fought this war
until the bitter end. We lost friends, got injured
and came into captivity. And when we returned
home, there was nothing. We had to digest this, and
it formed our characters. And everything else we
experienced was relative, which also had an effect
on your view of the world. We distanced ourselves. It was also very
difficult for us to digest what we learned in captivity. We found out what happened
because of us, the Germans. And we did not know about it. In captivity, I saw
pictures of concentration camps for the first time. At first, we thought it was propaganda, because we could not believe it. But we had to believe
it and did believe it, and this threw us into a deep depression. (somber music) – [Narrator] For Allied
POWs, the end of the war meant that they were free to go home. While in Britain,
prisoners were still being used as slave labor. (speaking in foreign language) – [Translator] We were
taken to a camp in Essex called Essex Hill Hall, where
we were about 400 prisoners. The commander of the camp was Jewish, and we got along with him very well. We did little favors for each other. We went to little farms and brought back some petrol for his little car. And in return, he would turn a blind eye when we stepped over the barbed wire to meet our English girlfriends. It was a very good relationship, and I stayed in this
camp until October 1947. – [Narrator] By the
late 1940s, the feeling that German prisoners
should be made to pay for Britain’s war damage had been replaced by a feeling that they
should be sent home. Many, however, felt that they had nothing to go back to and decided to stay. The last boat carrying
German prisoners of war left England in November 1948. (ship’s horn blowing) (orchestral music)

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