FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 – About 350 American POWs who either were Jewish or appeared to be to their German captors were imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II, according to survivors who have begun telling their stories in a series of special reports on CNN.
Anthony Acevedo, a medic in the 70th Infantry Division during the war, was the first survivor to step forward with the grisly tale of the American soldiers held at Berga an der Elster, a subcamp of Buchenwald. After being captured during the Battle of the Bulge, Acevedo says he was sent to a POW camp near Bad Orb, Germany, where he was held with other American soldiers. About a month later, the camp’s commander told the prisoners to line up and ordered all of the Jewish soldiers to take one step forward. When few volunteered, Acevedo says, about 90 Jewish soldiers and more than 250 others the Germans thought “looked like Jews” were put on a train to Buchenwald. Acevedo, a Mexican American, is not Jewish.
Once he arrived at the concentration camp, he saw dozens of his fellow soldiers beaten, starved, and in some cases executed for trying to escape. Forced to dig tunnels for 12 hours a day in the final weeks of the war, the prisoners were given 100 grams of bread per week and soup made from rats. As a medic, Acevedo was required to use wax to fill up the holes in the skulls of prisoners who had been executed. When American military units neared the camp, the prisoners were forced with the rest of the camp’s inmates on a three-week death march. Fewer than half of the remaining soldiers survived.
Those who did were sworn to secrecy by the army. “We had to sign an affidavit…[saying] we never went through what we went through. We weren’t supposed to say a word,” Acevedo told CNN. Frank Shirer, the chief archivist at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, asserted that the men’s stories were kept secret “to protect escape and evasion techniques and the names of personnel who helped POW escapees.”
Last fall, Acevedo, 84, finally broke his silence, determined to share his experience with the world. After his story appeared on CNN, two congressmen asked the U.S. Army to recognize the service of Acevedo and the rest of the Berga soldiers. “These heroes have not received the recognition and honor they deserve,” Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) wrote in a letter to the army secretary in November.