What was the routine of Allied soldiers like in the Nazi prison camps?
We here at Mega Curioso have talked on several occasions about the labor and extermination camps created by the Nazis during World War II. But we had never talked about the prison camps to which soldiers who were captured by the Germans were sent. For today we invite you to accompany us on a brief journey into the past - not to a distant past, but certainly a dark and dramatic one, and to know a little bit about what was the routine of the military falling into the hands of Hitler's troops. and your followers.
In the hands of the enemy
Yes, dear reader. In addition to the labor, concentration and extermination camps, during World War II proliferated the prison camps - places where the soldiers captured by the Germans were sent and kept. And since the invasion of Poland, an event that unleashed the global conflict, with the arrest of Polish military personnel, fighters seized after bombing, offensives and all sorts of campaigns and offensives, the Nazis have ended hundreds of thousands of officers under their control. .
Thousands of Russian prisoners in German improvised camp (Wikimedia Commons / Bild Bundesarchiv)
It's not hard to imagine that life in prison camps was nothing, not easy. Staying in these places involved much more than just depriving the soldiers of their already limited freedom and, since Germany had very limited resources - since everything was being invested and injected into the war effort - the well-being of the combatants. It was far from a priority.
Thus, although the barracks built in the camps offered a roof over the prisoners' heads, these structures did not provide much protection from the elements, especially during the intense European winters.
Prison Camp (The Journal)
In addition, food was incredibly scarce, and although the provisions of the 3rd Geneva Convention were that soldiers should receive the same amount of calories per day as a German civilian (who was not working) - around 1.9 thousand calories. / day - the combatants could not consume even the equivalent of 1.5 thousand. It is not surprising, therefore, that most prisoners experienced an average weight loss of nearly 20 pounds during their stay in the camps.
Although many Poles and Slavs were captured by the Germans, there were a number of Americans, Canadians, British and Russians among the prisoners - and the treatment the poor people received was not impartial. The Nazis felt a special dislike for Red Army soldiers and treated the captured members worse than if they were animals.
Russian prisoners in Mauthausen (Wikimedia Commons / Bild Bundesarchiv)
In addition to being especially cruel in the assaults, there are reports that in some camps Russian soldiers were used as targets by the Nazis during shooting practices. The Germans also nearly starved these prisoners of hunger, providing them with even less food than the others - which is why the Russians (with their characteristic determination and ... Russian spirit) often set out on nightly expeditions in the which captured the Nazi watchdogs, killed and ate the animals - and left their skins spread across the field as a sign of provocation. In any case, more than 3 million of these brave prisoners died in the camps.
With regard to prisoners other nationalities, British and American, were treated more or less similarly and milder. However, the attitude of the soldiers was quite different with regard to daily life in the camps.
During inspection (Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
The Yankees - who had joined the war years after the Europeans - had a natural detachment because of their geographical origin, because they were not directly linked to the events that triggered the conflict and were from a nation that was at that time. in a more economically stable situation - they were more likely to complain and fight for better conditions in prison camps.
This behavior, in turn, put higher patent officers in a tricky situation as they were tasked with trying to maintain local order. The British, on the other hand, followed a seemingly impassive and resigned attitude to their situation and chose to survive through discipline and mutual help.
Surviving in dark times
But hunger and mistreatment were not the only problems that plagued the soldiers. Their humiliating situation as prisoners, the experience of being in the midst of a bloody war - knowing that their comrades were dying by the thousands on the battlefronts - and boredom could have devastating effects. Thus, to occupy minds with other things, many military personnel took the time to read and even study, and many even enrolled in correspondence courses to gain new qualifications once the conflict was over.
Entertaining the crowd (Creative Boom)
But despite their regrets, so many soldiers found inspiration and creativity within them to assemble plays and entertain the rest. Yes, dear reader! According to survivors, prisoners used Red Cross boxes as benches and empty cookie bins as spotlights, and they could never miss “ actors ” playing female roles to amuse the audience.
Humor in Dark Times (Creative Boom)
And speaking of women - but this time, the real ones - there were several romances between prisoners of war and locals, as soldiers were often enlisted for forced labor in the towns and villages near the camps. . Often the activities consisted of clearing the streets of the rubble left by Allied bombing, and all were done under the watchful eye of Nazi guards.
Only, you know how humans are, right? The people in charge of keeping an eye on the prisoners easily fell into temptation and turned a blind eye when the soldiers took their nightly getaways for coffee, cigarettes, and chocolate - we are talking in times of war, when those luxuries were all but scarce. Local girls who surrendered to foreigners' charms also gained little from time to time, and many novels flourished in this way.
Prisoners of War (Glogster)
So much so that prisoners actually fell in love, abandoned everything, deserted their home armies and enlisted with those of their enemies - a situation that was very uncomfortable and dangerous for everyone, especially the soldier involved in the relationship, since such an attitude could bring very serious consequences.
Betrayals and escapes
The Nazis and the fascists, as you all know, were on the same side of the war and were strongly aversive to communist ideals. It turns out that among the prisoners there were also those who were strongly opposed to communism and sympathized more with the purposes advocated by the far right ; thus, “ turning the coat ” was a natural consequence for some of them. As a result, there were many cases of military personnel who abandoned their own armies and joined their enemies to fight in international units.
Dramatic situation (Wikimedia Commons / Bild Bundesarchiv)
However, not everyone switched sides voluntarily ... You know the novels we commented above, right? It happened that the bribed guards and even the girls handed over the prisoners to the authorities - and, as punishment, the soldiers were forced to enlist to the enemy troops.
As for the escape attempts, there were few during the war! After all, one thing the prisoners had to spare was time to devise mind-boggling plans to escape the camps - or at least keep the Germans busy and, if possible, sabotage the Nazi resources .
Reunited Group (392nd Bomb Group)
In general, planning was handled by one officer per field - so that it would not become a mess and one group would not interfere with the other - and efforts included falsifying documents, making tools, and even getting German uniforms and civilian clothing to be used after the escape. In fact, the British and Americans had units specifically focused on helping escapes.
Called MI9 and MIS-X - the first was the British unit and the second, the American - they were meant to provide prisoners with information, maps, radio components so that soldiers could keep in touch, and paraphernalia that could be helpful in escaping. Many attempts ended up being thwarted, but many others worked and ended with the prisoners arriving in neutral territories and even returning to their countries.
Do you know the Mega Curioso newsletter? Weekly, we produce exclusive content for lovers of the biggest curiosities and bizarres of this big world! Register your email and do not miss this way to keep in touch!