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Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble Paperback – April 11, 2006


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Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble + Given Up For Dead: American GIs in the Nazi Concentration Camp at Berga + Berga: Soldiers of Another War
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385722311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385722315
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #557,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A former Balkans bureau chief for the New York Times, Cohen last explored atrocity in Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo; he now steps back 60 years and moves a few hundred kilometers west to recount the fate of 550 American POWs shipped into eastern Germany during the winter of 1944-1945. Most were Jewish--or appeared Jewish enough to satisfy Nazi officials, who needed to meet labor quotas the dying concentration camp inmates were no longer fit to handle. Cohen's interviews with survivors show that the POWs met nearly as dire a fate, as they dug underground to build a synthetic fuel plant, with 20% of them dying and others being crippled for life by rock falls, dust, starvation and by the brutal treatment from the guards. Postwar, the camp fell within what became East Germany, where the investigation into the Holocaust was less rigorously pursued than in the West. The guards got off lightly; the commandant was sentenced to only eight years. Following Germany's reunification, exploration into the methods and motives of the Third Reich has been losing support, Cohen shows; his outrage is plain when he encounters a German environmentalist who wants the surviving caves turned into a bird sanctuary. The book is well organized, but the writing style is not always smooth; it's Cohen's level of detail that makes this journalistic history come alive. 75,000-copy first printing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

Less than a hundred days before Hitler killed himself, three hundred and fifty American P.O.W.s—most of whom the Germans had identified as, or suspected of being, Jews—were moved from Stalag IX-B to Berga, where, alongside Jews from Auschwitz, they were starved, beaten, and forced to work in appalling conditions before being sent on a death march. Cohen gives a powerful account of a chapter of the war that was long suppressed—in part, he argues, because American authorities didn't recognize that their own soldiers had been caught in a "little outpost of the Holocaust." Cohen is particularly good at conveying the otherworldly encounters between Americans and European Jews in the camp, as when shock spreads over the face of a G.I. who realizes, after an exchange in broken Yiddish, that the crowd of wraithlike figures he sees is made up of Jews like him.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Very good research.
William Cartwright
Read them, one by one, as you ponder what you have just read about the horror they went through: a horror that many of them carried with them the rest of their lives.
Raymond H. Mullen
The Berga workers included American POWs as well as Jewish prisoners from other camps like Buchenwald.
R. Hardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It has been sixty years, and all the stories of World War II are not yet told. Along with the big stories of horrors and triumphs, there are smaller ones on the same themes, and some of them were deliberately covered up or hushed up by the victors. Most of us didn't realize that captured American soldiers who should have been mere prisoners of war were actually shunted directly into the Holocaust and treated with the same sort of brutality meted out at the infamous camps like Auschwitz. In _Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble_ (Knopf), Roger Cohen has brought forth a grueling and difficult story of American soldiers, many but not all Jewish, who were assigned to Berga, a concentration camp in eastern Germany, and worked as slaves, many to their deaths. Instead of becoming part of the history of infamy by the Nazis, the investigation done at the time was hushed up and the victims who lived did not get to testify against the officials in charge of the camp in the war crimes trials. Cohen's book represents a late but essential corrective.

The Nazis took thousands of American soldiers prisoner in the winter of 1944, and most went on to the more typical POW camps. Even in the closing days of the war, however, and even against Americans, the Nazis had not lost their particular hatred for Jews. About 350 of the captives were singled out for special transfer to Berga, as were about 350 others, many of them Jewish soldiers, but also others who had been branded as troublemakers at other camps, or those who just looked Jewish according to the prejudices of whatever goon was making the decision. The Berga workers included American POWs as well as Jewish prisoners from other camps like Buchenwald.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Neal Bellet on May 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Soldiers and Slaves by Roger Cohen is the story of 350 Americans, captured during the Battle of the Bulge, who end up in a Nazi slave labor camp. A major portion of this group were Jewish. The prisoners were sent from a Stalag, where the Jewish prisoners were separated from their fellow POWs. How these men were treated at Berga was a travesty. What was a greater travesty however was how the Americans allowed those who perpetrated these heinous acts to get away with what, considering how they treated their prisoners, amounted to nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Cold war concerns got in the way of justice. The men who were able to survive the camp and the horrific death march after they were forced from the camp by their Nazi guards were heroes in every sense of the word. Those who are alive today still suffer both physically and emotionally as a result of their experiences. Recently, another book on the same subject was published. Although that book was good, this one is a much more interesting read and I recommend it to any WWII buff.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By George T. Macknight on June 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Soldiers and Slaves" is an excellent narrative on the American soldiers who were interned at the Berga an der Elster Arbeit Kommando. Not for the faint of heart, it describes the particular horror of a group of American prisoners, many Jewish, who were used as slave labor to carve out an underground synthetic fuel factory for the German war effort. This volume adds tremendously to the building documentation of American Prisoners of War during WWII. The volume presents the story of 350 men who were selected as slave laborers based on their Jewish faith, suspected Hebrew heritage, and prisoners considered troublemakers. They were transferred from Stalag IXB at Bad Orb, Germany to the slave labor camp at Berga. The theme pervasive throughout the book is that these men were selected for special treatment as part of Hitler's ethnic euthanasia program known as the Holocaust. This managed plan worked men, women and children on starvation diet in a carefully controlled manner that eventually resulted in death or selection for euthanasia.

Cohen offers comparison to establish this theme using Mordecai Hauer, a native of Budapest, Hungry who enters Hitler's death camps at Auschwitz and proceeds though the hellish system of Buchenwald, and finally to Berga. A good number of pages in the book are used to present the story of Hauer and his family. Some limited contrast to the plight of other American Prisoners of War is based on the treatment of these men in Stalag IXB at Bad Orb is also offered.

At this late date in the war, American Prisoners of War were on a starvation diet, and those who were captured after December 1944 had Red Cross Packages withheld.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The title and cover photo suggests this book is about US troops captured in the Battle of the Bulge particularly since the sub-title is "American POWs Trapped by the Nazi's Final Gamble." The cover photo is one frequently published as capured GIs of the 99th Division at Honsfield on the German/Belgian border in December 1944.

The book was "inspired" by a 2003 documentary piece BERGA: SOLDIERS OF ANOTHER WAR by New York's WNET PBS channel developed by Charles Guggenheim, an internationally acclaimed documentary filmmaker who was captured as part of the 106th Infantry Division in the opening stages of the Battle of the Bulge.

The book (I listened to the audio version) is more two stories, haphazardly woven together about Hungarian and other people of Jewish background with no connection to the US military and some GIs singled out by religious beliefs or assumed to be Jewish or troublemakers in POW camps all sent to work camps near Berga, Germany to dig tunnels and caves for protected industrial sites.

Savage treatment of captives in concentration and work camps is well known and this work provides more evidence of depravity and repeats, in new circumstances, unmet justice as the developing Cold War diluted much of the fervor for finding and prosecuting Nazi war criminals.

I think thr writer had a story of Hungarian victims and wanted to tell it. He should have, but not by using GI experiences as the tease.

If you are looking for military history and what happened to some Jewish GIs captured near the end of the war, maybe twenty percent of the book is about that with little at all about their experiences immediately before capture, a context for their role and the role of their units or anything else.
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