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Confronting Captivity

Britain and the United States and Their POWs in Nazi Germany

Arieh J. Kochavi

Publication Year: 2005

How was it possible that almost all of the nearly 300,000 British and American troops who fell into German hands during World War II survived captivity in German POW camps and returned home almost as soon as the war ended? In ###Confronting Captivity#, Arieh J. Kochavi offers a behind-the-scenes look at the living conditions in Nazi camps and traces the actions the British and American governments took--and didn't take--to ensure the safety of their captured soldiers. Concern in London and Washington about the safety of these POWs was mitigated by the recognition that the Nazi leadership tended to adhere to the Geneva Convention when it came to British and U.S. prisoners. Following the invasion of Normandy, however, Allied apprehension over the safety of POWs turned into anxiety for their very lives. Yet Britain and the United States took the calculated risk of counting on a swift conclusion to the war as the Soviets approached Germany from the east. Ultimately, Kochavi argues, it was more likely that the lives of British and American POWs were spared because of their race rather than any actions their governments took on their behalf. Kochavi describes how it was possible for almost all of the nearly 300,000 British and American troops who fell into German hands in WWII to survive captivity in German POW camps and go back home almost as soon as the war ended. Kochavi shows that Berlin tended to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, but when Hitler shifted responsibility for the camps to the SS and the Gestapo after D-Day and Allied bombing campaigns devastated German cities, fear set in for the captives' very lives. Nonetheless, Kochavi conludes, London and Washington took a calculated risk during the final months of the war by excluding any operative steps on behalf of their POWs. Kochavi describes how it was possible for almost all of the nearly 300,000 British and American troops who fell into German hands in WWII to survive captivity and return home soon after the war ended. How was it possible that almost all of the nearly 300,000 British and American troops who fell into German hands during World War II survived captivity in German POW camps and returned home almost as soon as the war ended? In ###Confronting Captivity#, Arieh J. Kochavi offers a behind-the-scenes look at the living conditions in Nazi camps and traces the actions the British and American governments took--and didn't take--to ensure the safety of their captured soldiers. Concern in London and Washington about the safety of these POWs was mitigated by the recognition that the Nazi leadership tended to adhere to the Geneva Convention when it came to British and U.S. prisoners. Following the invasion of Normandy, however, Allied apprehension over the safety of POWs turned into anxiety for their very lives. Yet Britain and the United States took the calculated risk of counting on a swift conclusion to the war as the Soviets approached Germany from the east. Ultimately, Kochavi argues, it was more likely that the lives of British and American POWs were spared because of their race rather than any actions their governments took on their behalf.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

For the research that went into this book I visited archives and libraries on both sides of the Atlantic, among them the National Archives, College Park, Maryland; the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; the Public Record Office, Kew, England; the British Red Cross Archive, London; and the Imperial War Museum, London. ...

Abbreviations

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

Sailing back from the Russian port city of Odessa on the Black Sea after having spent nearly five years as a British prisoner of war (POW) in German captivity, David Wild relates how ‘‘[a]fter four days the Duchess, which had so far carried no more than three hundred ex-prisoners, was filled to capacity with hundreds of homeward bound troops of various units ...

Part I. Facing the Challenge

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1. Whitehall and British POWs

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pp. 9-39

World War II broke out on 1 September 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland. Turning westward after the winter, the German armies during May 1940 invaded the Low Countries, where they met little or no resistance. In effect, the thrust of the German attack was such that it forced British and French troops to beat a hasty retreat from southern Belgium and northern France. ...

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2. Years of Long Captivity

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pp. 40-70

On 19 August 1942, a joint British-Canadian commando launched a major raid on the French port of Dieppe. Five thousand Canadians and 1,000 British troops took part in the operation, which ended disastrously with more than 1,000 of the Allied soldiers killed and about 2,000 taken prisoner, most of them Canadians. ...

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3. Washington and American POWs

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pp. 71-102

Four days after Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, on 7 December 1941, Germany declared war against the United States. ‘‘The long known and the long expected has thus taken place,’’ President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote in the message he sent to Congress the same day requesting it ‘‘to recognize a state of war between the United States and Germany, and between the United States and Italy.’’1 ...

Part II. Repatriation

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4. Exchanging Seriously Wounded and Sick POWs

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pp. 105-147

Within a few weeks of the outbreak of World War II, the German government issued a proposal to ensure the repatriation of seriously wounded and seriously sick POWS.1 Soon thereafter German Foreign Office officials informally advised the American embassy in Berlin that the German government had already appointed the people who would serve on the mixed medical commission (MMC) ...

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5. Long-Term POWS Kept in Abeyance

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pp. 148-168

When, in October 1942, the Red Cross asked the British whether they would want to consider a mutual repatriation of POWS in long-term captivity, several months passed before London even reacted.1 The Geneva Convention did not make such an exchange binding,2 and Whitehall was pressed to first arrive at concrete arrangements ...

Part III. The Final Stage of the War

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6. Prisoners’ Safety and the Collapse of Germany

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pp. 171-202

Neither in London nor in Washington, until the end of 1943, did the physical safety of British and American troops who had fallen into German hands appear prominently on the agenda of government officials. Initial apprehension in Britain that the Germans might act against British prisoners in an openly brutal fashion ...

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7. Forced Marches

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pp. 203-222

It was general German policy to hold POWS in camps located as far away as possible from the front on which their compatriots were fighting so as to prevent prisoners who had succeeded in escaping from rejoining their own forces. Russian and Polish POWS were largely concentrated in western Germany, while British and U.S. prisoners were retained in the east.1 ...

Part IV. Liberated by the Soviets

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8. An Anglo-Soviet Bargain

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pp. 225-254

Within a few days of D-Day, 6 June 1944, British and American military commanders discovered that among the German troops they were capturing there were unexpectedly large numbers of men who had originated from the Soviet Union proper but also from the Baltic republics, which Moscow had annexed in 1940, and eastern Poland. ...

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9. A U.S.-Soviet Package Deal

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pp. 255-279

"My darkest days in Russia," Major General John R. Deane wrote in his memoirs, "were in the winter of 1944–45, when I was trying to arrange for the best possible care and speedy repatriation of American prisoners of war liberated by the advance of the Red Army."1 Deane was head of the U.S. Military Mission in Moscow and as such in charge of the negotiations with the Russians ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 280-286

Barely one month into the war British intelligence had warned: ‘‘It appears very probable that the Germans will fight this war on no rules whatsoever, and that our conceptions of the treatment of prisoners of war will have to be entirely revised. It is even possible that certain Prisoners of War camps in Germany will be in the hands of the Gestapo, ...

Notes

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pp. 287-348

Bibliography

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pp. 349-364

Index

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pp. 365-382


E-ISBN-13: 9781469603636
E-ISBN-10: 1469603632
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807829400
Print-ISBN-10: 0807829404

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 8 illus. 1 maps
Publication Year: 2005