Camp Survivors Anthony Acevedo, One Man's Story
By Imogen Reed
(Each Photo enlarges when
We've all read about the atrocities and unimaginable suffering
that went on within the concentration camps that were built and
run by the Nazis during World War Two. Such horrors took place
that are still unbelievable to this day. The images and stories
that we hear are just as shocking as they were then. What is very
rarely, if ever heard about, are the US soldiers and servicemen
who were victims of these places too. There is one gentleman in
particular whose story still sends shivers running through anyone
who encounters it to this day. That man is Anthony Acevedo and
this is his personal story.
Berga Camp and its Origins
Anthony wasn't the only
US serviceman to be taken prisoner; as many as three hundred
and fifty soldiers were held within
the walls of these places. Many where taken and kept at the
place in which Acevedo was sent to, a camp in Berga, Germany,
or to give it its full Deustche title "Berga an der Elster".
This was a camp that had been built for inmates who were forced
to dig some seventeen tunnels that would lead to an underground
ammunition factory. Prisoners there had come from two other
camps - "Buchenwald" and "Stalag IX-B".
Many of the prisoners who were brought to Berga died simply
through overwork and malnutrition (as was the case for many
of the other camps in the Nazi regime.) Some prisoners even
reported that being sent to Berga was often used as a threat.
Stalag IX-B was reportedly the worst
of the Stalags to be interred in, as it suffered from dreadful overcrowding
and also was subject to increased scrutiny from Nazi leaders who
began to mercilessly and maliciously segregate prisoners by religion.
They reserved particular venom for any Jewish-American troops who
were eventually sent along to Berga to build the aforementioned
tunnels. You can learn more about Berga here:
Anthony Acevedo was working
as an Army Medic when he was captured and sent first to
Stalag IX-B and later to Berga Camp.
He had his army induction in August 1943 and was assigned
to what was then the 70th Infantry Division. He underwent
rigorous medical training for six months before eventually
being sent off to Marseilles, France - from there he went
onto Phillipsburg in Germany where he took up a post as
a medic with the 275th Regiment, Company B.
It was on 6th January 1945 that things went drastically
wrong. Acavedo and his men had been heading back from a
special mission when they were attacked by the Germans.
He and his men had no ammunition left and therefore no choice
but to surrender. It was from here they were taken to Stalag
IX-B and the real nightmare of the servicemen's ordeal truly
During this time he somehow managed to keep a diary of all
the atrocities and wrongdoings he saw committed, this document
has recently been unearthed and is now held safe inside
the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is quite
an extraordinary feat he
to do this when you consider that many prisoners had had to use
their own personal paper rations or even letters from loved ones
as lavatory paper such were the unsanitary conditions and squalor
they were kept in.
Acavedo named his diary "A Wartime Log". The simplicity
of the title belies what is held within its pages. The events
happened over sixty years
ago, but to Acavedo they are still as fresh and disturbing
as they were then. In an interview that was conducted for
CNN, he tells of how he held a soldier by the name of Vogel
in his arms as he died. You can
to die! I want to die! I want to die!
read the full article here. He says simply "He died in my
arms. He wouldn't eat, he didn't want to eat. He said "I want
to die! I want to die! I want to die!"".
the acute hunger, people starving. Food was unimaginable;
the prisoners were fed soup that had been made from weeds
that had been mixed with dead animals, usually rats or cats
that had been found festering locally. The soldiers were given
bread, but the mix had usually been adulterated with things
like sawdust or sand and ground glass. Their bread ration
was one hundred grams... per week. He recalls the hunger,
commenting "You would eat anything to stay alive".
Acavedo weighed one hundred and forty nine pounds when he
was first interred. At the time of his liberation at the end
of the war he weighed eighty seven. This was in complete contrast
to the soldiers who were in control of the camps, who lived
in relative luxury with home comforts, leather
furniture, good food and
clean clothes - a terrible and horrible
juxtaposition, which still causes
anger and justifiable upset to this day. At a time in which people
of their own country were dying of starvation, or from the injuries
they sustained fighting it's a truly despicable image.
The slave labor camp was
finally liberated on 23rd April 1945 with Acavedo being
one of the men who had managed to survive his horrific
However, that was not the end of his suffering. Survivors
were told to sign an affidavit by the Government which
precluded them from ever mentioning what they had seen
and heard ever again. Not only were they dealing the horrific
experiences, the physical and mental scars, now they were
being told they couldn't ever speak about what they had
been through to anyone. More than anything this is the
one thing that truly upset Acavedo - here was a man who
had fought for his country, who had joined to help the
war effort, yet was not allowed to speak out about the
dreadful things he had witnessed.
It is only now,
in the last three years that by talking about his experiences
and sharing his diary that he feels he has begun to heal
somewhat, more than sixty years on that's quite an admission.
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."*
"These heroes have not received the
recognition and honor they deserve,"
The Berga G.I.s suffered the Nazi policy of "killing
enemies through hard labor and deprivation." Jewish prisoners
were segregated; and some were separated from their fellow
P.O.W.s and never seen again. All were forced into labor ranging
from coal or potash mining, stone quarrying or, in this case,
to construct underground shelters for the dispersal of synthetic
fuel plants which were never built. This mine entrance (now
sealed) can still be seen after a short walk into the woods.
They worked without masks, overcoats, or protective footwear.
They were severely beaten when their work did not live up
to their supervisors demands. At least 70 GIs died at Berga.
This is tiny cramped barracks was used to house some 200 prisoners.
Germany, in 1999 did compensate some survivors of Nazi persecution.
Their persecution of Jews and POWs is legendary but pales
in comparison to those by the Japanese during WWII.
"In its rampage over the
east, Japan had brought atrocity and death on a scale that
staggers the imagination. In the midst of it were the prisoners
of war. Japan held some 132,000 POWs from America, Britain,
Canada, New Zealand, Holland, and Australia. Of those, nearly
36,000 died, more than one in every four. Americans fared
particularly badly; of the 34,648 Americans held by
Japan, 12,935-more than 37 percent-died. By comparison, only
1 percent of Americans held by the Nazis and
Italians died. Japan murdered thousands of POWs on death marches,
and workedthousands of others
to death in slavery, including some 16,000 POWs who died alongside
as many as 100,000 Asian laborers forced to build the Burma-Siam
Railway. Thousands of other POWs were beaten, burned, stabbed, or
clubbed to death, shot, beheaded, killed during medical experiments,
or eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism. And as a result of
being fed grossly inadequate and befouled food and water, thousands
more died of starvation and easily preventable diseases. Of the
2,500 POWs at Borneo's Sandakan camp, only 6, all escapees, made
it to September 1945 alive. Left out of the numbing statistics are
untold numbers of men who were captured and killed on the spot or
dragged to places like Kwajalein, to be murdered without the world
ever learning their fate.
In accordance with the
kill-all order, the Japanese massacred all 5,000 Korean captives
on Tinian, all of the POWs on Ballale, Wake, and Tarawa, and all
but 11 POWs at Palawan. They were evidently about to murder all
the other POWs and civilian internees in their custody when the
atomic bomb brought their empire crashing down.
On the morning of September 2, 1945, Japan signed its formal surrender.
The Second World War was over."**