March 24, 2005
National Archives Features Book and Film on U.S. POWs in Nazi Germany
Washington, DC. . . On Thursday, May 5, at 6:30 pm, the National Archives will present a special lecture, book signing, and documentary film screening about American soldiers in World War II who were captured and held prisoner by the Nazis. Acclaimed New York Times journalist Roger Cohen will discuss his new book, Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble (Knopf, 2005). Cohen recently adapted an article from the book for the New York Times Magazine: "The Lost Soldiers of Stalag IX-B" (February 27, 2005). The author will be available to start signing books at 6:00 pm, and will begin speaking at 6:30 pm. At 7:45 pm Grace Guggenheim will introduce the documentary film, Berga: Soldiers of Another War (2003, 85 min.). This documentary was written and directed by her father, the late Charles Guggenheim.
The lecture and film screening will be held in the William G. McGowan Theater. This event is part of the Guggenheim Center for the Documentary Film celebrating its inaugural year at the National Archives, and is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone (202-501-5000 before April 15, then use 202-357-5000 thereafter). The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Spring hours are 10 am – 7:00 pm. daily.
Both the book and the film tell the story of American GIs captured during World War II Battle of the Bulge who were "classified" as Jewish by German captors, sent to a slave labor camp, and subjected to Nazi Holocaust atrocities.
Thousands of American GIs, including soldiers in Charles Guggenheim's 106th Infantry Division, were captured by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge. In February 1945, 350 of these American POWs were singled out by the Nazis because they were Jews or were thought to resemble Jews. They were transported in cattle cars to Berga, a concentration camp in eastern Germany, and put to work as slave laborers, mining tunnels for a planned underground synthetic-fuel factory. This was the only incident of its kind during World War II. Starved and brutalized, the GIs were denied their rights as prisoners of war, their ordeal culminating in a death march that was halted by liberation near the Czech border. Twenty percent of these soldiers—more than seventy of them—perished. After the war, Berga was virtually forgotten, and the experiences of these Americans were buried.
Uncovering the Story
Charles Guggenheim had remained stateside with a debilitating infection during the final months of the war. After the war, Guggenheim tried to locate a friend from the 106th Division, but discovered he had died in captivity in a German salt mine. The salt mine turned out to be the slave labor camp at Berga, a small town in East Germany, which the filmmaker confirmed in War Crimes Trial documents located at the National Archives in Washington, DC. "The idea of this happening, the suggestion of an American soldier persecuted for being Jewish or looking Jewish or otherwise undesirable, never left my mind," said Guggenheim. After two-and-a-half years of extensive research, Guggenheim found 124 survivors and witnesses. Forty agreed to be interviewed. Many revealed that they had repressed their memories for over 50 years and never talked about their imprisonment, not even to spouses and family members.
While completing the film Berga: Soldiers of Another War, Guggenheim faced a heroic battle of his own with terminal cancer. He died six weeks after the film was finished.
About the Author
Roger Cohen writes on foreign affairs for the New York Times, where he has worked since 1990, primarily as Paris correspondent, bureau chief in the Balkans and Berlin, and foreign editor. He also writes a twice-weekly column for the International Herald Tribune. His book on Bosnia, Hearts Grown Brutal, based on his prizewinning coverage of the war there, was cited for its excellence by the Overseas Press Club.
About the Filmmaker
Charles Guggenheim received 12 Academy Award nominations and won 4 Oscars for his films Nine From Little Rock, Robert Kennedy Remembered, The Johnstown Flood, and A Time for Justice. He also won the George Foster Peabody Award. Berga: Soldiers of Another War is written, directed and narrated by Charles Guggenheim and produced by Grace Guggenheim.
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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-501-5526.