- Other Losses: An Investigation into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners of War after World War Two by James Bacque
Macdonald, 252 pp, £13.95, August 1990, ISBN 0 356 19136 2
According to the dust-jacket of this book at least 750,000 German troops died of malnutrition and disease in US Army camps in North-West Europe after the end of the war, and over 250,000 in French Army camps (from about 750,000 prisoners transferred to them from US and British camps). In the text it is claimed that at least 807,190 died in the US and French camps (that is, at least ten times the number killed in combat in North-West Europe from June 1941 to April 1945) of which somewhere between 167,000 and 314,241 died in French captivity. If the higher of these last figures is deducted from 807,190, the number who died in US camps would be about 500,000 rather than at least 750,000.
Vol. 12 No. 20 · 25 October 1990
In F.H. Hinsley’s attempt (LRB, 30 August) to denigrate the evidence produced in my book Other Losses, he makes a number of serious misjudgments. He finds that, on the whole, the dreadful conditions in the US and French camps, which he more or less admits occurred, resulted from misjudgment or miscalculation, rather than from deliberate policy. Oh? Does he think it was by misjudgment that the American State Department and the War Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Army co-ordinated their efforts to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting US prison camps, and prevented the ICRC as well from helping German civilians? Was it by miscalculation that the same US organisations kept out the Quakers, the YMCA and other charitable groups? Will Mr Hinsley contend that it was by a slip that the US Army refused to allow shipments of Red Cross food to land at Augsburg and Mannheim? That they kept in storage 13,500,000 food parcels, intended for prisoners of war, for seven months, while men starved to death in the foetid muck behind barbed wire? That the highest officers ordered lower officers not to supply shelter in the camps, although tents were readily available? This will hardly be believed by the families of those men who died of exposure, which was the principal cause of death in a survey of corpses conducted by the US Army Medical Corps. It will not be accepted by the survivors of the prisoners who suffered agonies of thirst while only a hundred metres away, according to a US Army report, ‘the Rhine flowed bank-full.’ Mr Hinsley better not try to propagate this thesis in front of those German civilians still alive who came to the American camps with food for their relatives and were turned away. All this is documented in the book.
The British and Canadians, who had a much higher prisoner load in proportion to their armies, managed to keep their prisoners alive in fair health without spoiling them. I think Mr Hinsley will find himself lonely in the belief that the British and Canadian Armies were so much better organised than the Americans that they signally succeeded where the Americans dismally failed.
The American guard Martin Brech, now a professor of philosophy in New York, has come forward to testify that when he attempted to feed the starving prisoners from his army unit’s plentiful stocks, he was ordered to stop because it was Army policy that the men die. Since the book was published in Canada, Professor Hans Hoch of the University of York in England and Professor Peter Hoffman of McGill University in Montreal have both stated that they saw Americans pour gasoline over, then set fire to, piles of food before the eyes of hungry Germans.