Tuesday, May 15, 2007
German Memory- US President Gen Dwight D Eisenhower in the German POW Crisis
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States (1953–1961) who was in charge of the Allied Forces during the Second World War, made the controversial decision to reclassify German prisoners of war (POWs) in U.S. custody as Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEFs). As DEFs, they could be compelled to serve as unpaid conscript labor. An unknown number may have died in custody as a consequence of malnutrition, exposure to the elements, and lack of medical care.
Canadian author James Bacque in his book "Other Losses" heavily criticized Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower for his involvement in treating the German prisoners of war. James Bacque's comments in "Other Losses" were widely discussed on American and German televisions and received a mixture of excitement and anger.
The reason for the reaction was the author's conclusion that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as head of the American occupation in Germany in 1945, deliberately starved to death German prisoners of war in staggering numbers. Bacque holds that "the victims undoubtedly number over 800,000, almost certainly over 800,000 and quite likely over a million. Their deaths were knowingly caused by army officers who had sufficient resources to keep them alive."
Eisenhower's method, according to Bacque, was simple: he changed the designation of the prisoners from "Prisoners of War" (P.O.W.), which required by the Geneva Convention to be fed the same rations as US Army's, to "Disarmed Enemy Forces" (D.E.F.), which allowed him to cut their rations to starvation level.
Bacque says the D.E.F. were also denied medical supplies and shelter; because of that they died by hundreds of thousands. Their deaths were covered up on Army records by listing them as "other losses" on charts showing weekly totals of prisoners on hand, numbers discharged and so forth.
Bacque was quoted in a wire service interview as saying, "Americans should take down every statue of Eisenhower, and every photograph of him and annul his memory from American history as best they can, except to say, 'Here was a man who did very evil things that we're ashamed of."
But the critics exclaimed if there were a million dead, where were the bodies? Did Eisenhower have such vast power that he could order starvation on a mass scale and keep it a secret? Was the undoubted suffering in the camps, especially the transit camps along the Rhine, the result of Eisenhower's policy or the result of the chaotic conditions that prevailed in Europe in the spring and summer of 1945?
Historian Stephen Ambrose criticised James Bacque for having had no previous historical research or writing experience. James Bacque himself admitted in his introduction to the book "Other Losses": "Doubtless many scholars will find faults in this book, which are only mine. I welcome their criticism and their further research, which may help to restore to us the truth after a long night of lies."
Some time back, the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans invited some leading experts to examine the charges. The conference participants, including historian Stephen Ambrose came to the first conclusion that James Bacque had made a major historical discovery: "There was widespread mistreatment of German prisoners in the spring and summer of 1945. Men were beaten, denied water, forced to live in open camps without shelter, given inadequate food rations and inadequate medical care. Their mail was withheld. In some cases prisoners made a "soup" of water and grass in order to deal with their hunger. Men did die needlessly and inexcusably."
Their second conclusion was, "when scholars do the necessary research, they will find Bacque's work to be worse than worthless. It is seriously - nay, spectacularly - flawed in its most fundamental aspects". They accused that, "he misuses documents; he misreads documents; he ignores contrary evidence; his statistical methodology is hopelessly compromised; he makes no attempt to look at comparative contexts; he puts words into the mouth of his principal source; he ignores a readily available and absolutely critical source that decisively deals with his central accusation; and, as a consequence of these and other shortcomings, he reaches conclusions and makes charges that are demonstrably absurd."
The final conclusion of historians was that Eisenhower was an enthusiastic supporter of denazification, but not because he hated the Germans or believed in collective guilt. On the contrary, he believed that there were Germans who were committed to democracy and that the task of the occupation was to find them and bring them to the fore.
In a speech in Frankfurt in 1945, he declared, "The success or failure of this occupation will be judged by the character of the Germans 50 years from now. Proof will come when they begin to run a democracy of their own and we are going to give the Germans a chance to do that, in time."
Historians exclaimed, "This does not sound like a man who simultaneously was directing the death by starving a million of young Germans."