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Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures (PWTE)
"Rheinwiesenlager"
World War II
prisoner-of-war camp
Operator: Occupant:




April - September 1945
location: Germany
number of camps: 19
prisoners: 1,000,000 ~ 1,900,000 estimated
deaths: Most estimates 3,000 - 10,000


The Rheinwiesenlager (Rhine meadow camps), official name Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures (PWTE) were a group of about 19 transit camps for holding about one million Germanmarker POW after World War II from spring until late summer 1945. Several thousand German POWs died from starvation, dehydration and exposure to the weather elements.

List of Rheinwiesenlager

listing from north to south with official number
location of the Rheinwiesenlager




Most of the camps were established on the western side of river Rhine to prevent the imprisoned soldiers from returning to the German armies on the right side of the river.

Historical Situation

By March 1943, the general staff of the commander in chief Dwight D. Eisenhower realized that after the invasion in Europe and the victory over Germany, they would not to be able to feed the German military prisoners. Rather than adhere to the Geneva Convention of 1929, it was decided to treat the prisoners as "Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEF)". As captured former soldiers of a state that no longer existed, they could be denied the rights of prisoners of war guaranteed by the Geneva Convention. The German Wehrmacht employed a similar strategy in referring to imprisoned Italian soldiers as "Militärinternierter" in order to justify their use as forced labour.

Half of the German prisoners of war in the West were imprisoned by the US forces, half of them by the British. When the allied forces crossed the Rhine, the quantity of prisoners of war reached such numbers that the British could not accept any more prisoners in their camps. The US forces, forced to deal with the situation on their own, established the Rheinwiesenlager.

The construction of the camps

Sinzig POW camp
Remagen POW camp
In the beginning, there were plans to bring the prisoners of war to Britain, where they would remain until capitulation, because there they could be better provided for. After the failure of the Ardennes offensive 250,000 German soldiers surrendered. After the breakdown of the Ruhr pocket another 325,000 were taken prisoner. After capitulation there were 3.4 million German soldiers in allied custody. With such large numbers of prisoners, it seemed more logical to keep them in Germany.

The camps were founded in April 1945 and remained in existence until September 1945. There was a similar plan for the construction of all the camps. Open farmland close to a village with a railroad line was enclosed with barbed wire and divided into 10 - 20 camps each housing 5,000 to 10,000 men. Existing field paths were used as streets of the camp and surrounding buildings as the administration, kitchen and hospital. The prisoners of war, forced to surrender their equipment, had to dig holes in the earth by hand in which to sleep.Soon the camps were totally overcrowded. Camp Remagen, intended for 100,000, grew to 184,000 prisoners.

"Some of the enclosures resembled Andersonville Prisonmarker in 1864".

The "disarmed enemy forces"

The term "Prisoners of war (POW)" was not applied to circumvent international regulations that deal with the handling of POWs, instead the surrendered forces were termed "Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEF)". The Americans transferred the interior administration of the camps to German prisoners. Internal administration, police, doctors, cooks and work forces were all German prisoners of war. After some weeks those who were regarded harmless were released: Hitlerjungen and women. Later those professional groups, which were important for reconstruction, were released: farmers, drivers and miners. At the end of June 1945 the first camps in Remagen, Böhl-Ingelheim and Büderich were dissolved. This first wave of release stopped again. The SHAEF offered the French, who wanted 1.75 million prisoners of war for forced labour, to take over the camps. On 10 July 1945 Sinzig, Andernach, Siershahn, Bretzenheim, Dietersheim, Koblenz, Hechtzheim and Dietz, at the time containing in total roughly 182,400 prisoners, were given to France. In the British Zone the British took over on 12 June 1945. Those prisoners of war who were able to work were transferred to France, the rest released. At the end of September 1945 all the camps were dissolved. Only the camp Bretzenheimmarker near Bad Kreuznachmarker served until 1948 as a transit camp for prisoners of war coming home from France.

Conditions and deaths

Aerial view of a camp
Official United Statesmarker statistics were just over 3,000 deaths while the German villages nearby reported 4,537. R. J. Rummel calculates a most probable figure of 6,000. Extremely high figures of up to a million are sometimes quoted by James Bacque but there has been no corroboration and such large numbers of dead bodies would have been discovered and reported in the meantime since the camps were located near highly populated areas in Germany. The official German inquiry into the numbers of deaths was published by the Maschke committee (named after its head, Erich Maschke) which, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Displaced persons, Refugees, and War Victims (Bundesministerium für Vertriebene, Flüchtlinge und Kriegsgeschädigte) researched the history of German prisoners of war on a scientific level. According to their results camps with the highest mortality were:



In these camps 5,000 of 500,000 inmates died. An analysis of the documents of the local administrations around the camps of Remagen yields similar results. Projected to a total of about 1,000,000 prisoners in all the camps there would have been at the most, 10,000 deaths and probably many less.

In total, the number of American-held German POWs that died could not have exceeded 1% (56,000). The death rates for German POWs held by Americans were lower than every other country except another Allied member, Britain. The total death rate for POWs in World War II were as follows:

{| class=wikitable


In 1969, Lieutenant General Leonard D. Heaton prepared and published a report for the United States Army Medical Department, that examined preventative medicine and the problems associated with housing a large number German POWs after World War II. The report found a number of problems, including:

  • The army had lost track of all of the locations where POWs were held.
  • The number of prisoners greatly exceeded expectations.
  • Organization of the camps was left to prisoners.
  • Food and water supplies were insufficient during April and May 1945, though they later improved.
  • The 1200 to 1500 calories ration that the Disarmed Enemy Forces were receiving in August 1945 was inadequate.
  • The lack of food led in some cases to "extensive malnutrition."


In one chapter in a multi-author book published in 2003, Richard Dominic Wiggers argued that the Allies violated international law regarding the feeding of enemy civilians, they both directly and indirectly caused the unnecessary suffering and death of large numbers of civilians and POW's in occupied Germany, guided partly by a spirit of postwar vengeance when creating the circumstances that contributed to their deaths. and by strict orders to U.S. military personnel and their wives to destroy or otherwise render inedible their own leftover surplus so as to ensure it could not be eaten by German civilians.

The International Red Crosswas prevented from visiting prisoners. However, by the autumn of 1945 - a time when most camps had closed or where closing - the Red Cross was granted permission to send delegations to visit camps in the French and UK occupation zones, and to provide - very small - amounts of relief. On February 4, 1946 the Red Cross was allowed to send relief also to those in the U.S. run occupation zone.

See also



References

  1. while most sources, including the official German inquiries, estimate death totals between 3,000 and 10,000, one scholar, James Bacque estimates deaths totals as high as 790,000 to 1,000,000
  2. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 381: „ In the first phase of construction, which was rather prolonged, these enclosures consisted of only barbed wire fences in fields. Later, some canvas was provided, and still later, some buildings were put up. For most of the time, prisoners were without cover and were exposed to rain and snow and mud in the ending winter, and to heat, dust, or rain and mud as spring advanced to early summer. Some of the enclosures resembled Andersonville Prison in 1864"
  3. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 382/383
  4. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 381
  5. Erhard Köstler, Franz Grohmann, Rudolf Bentzinger "Heckenrosen: Tagebücher aus Krieg und Gefangenschaft in Frankreich, November 1944 bis Oktober 1948" p.379 Dr. Bachmaier Verlag, 2003 ISBN 3931680398
  6. R.J. Rummel STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE: Chapter 13: Death By American Bombing And Other Democide
  7. Kurt W. Böhme, Die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen in amerikanischer Hand, München 1972, Page 204
  8. Kurt Kleemann, Die Kriegsgefangenenlager Remagen und Sinzig 1945 aus der Sicht kommunaler Aktenbestände, Jahrbuch für Westdeutsche Landesgeschichte, (20), 1994, Page 52
  9. Ike and the Disappearing Atrocities New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991.
  10. Ferguson, Niall, Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat, War in History, Vol. 11, 2004, Part 2, page 186
  11. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Table 21; on the map shown there the camp Mainz-Zahlbach (17) (Mainz Hechtsheim) is located on the wrong side of the Rhine, about 30 kilometers away from its real location.
  12. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 392
  13. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 278-392
  14. MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY PREVENTIVE MEDICINE IN WORLD WAR II, Volume IX, SPECIAL FIELDS, Prepared and published under the direction of Lieutenant General LEONARD D. HEAT0N The Surgeon General, United States Army Editor in Chief, Colonel ROBERT S. ANDERSON, MC, USA Editor for Preventive Medicine, EBBE CURTIS HOFF, Ph D, M D Assistant Editor, PHEBE M. HOFF, M.A., OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY WASHINGTON, D.C., 1969, Pg 391
  15. Steven Bela Vardy and T. Hunt Tooley, eds. Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe ISBN 0-88033-995-0. subsection by Richard Dominic Wiggers, “The United States and the Refusal to Feed German Civilians after World War II” pg. 281
  16. Eugene Davidson "The Death and Life of Germany" p.85 University of Missouri Press, 1999 ISBN 0826212492
  17. ICRC in WW II: German prisoners of war in Allied hands


Further reading

  • Rüdiger Overmans: Die Rheinwiesenlager 1945. In: Hans-Erich Volkmann (Hrsg.): Ende des Dritten Reiches – Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Eine perspektivische Rückschau. herausgegeben im Auftrag des Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamtes, München 1995, ISBN 3-492-12056-3.
  • Brigitte Bailer-Galanda: Eisenhower und die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen. Jahrbuch 1997. Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Wien 1997


External links



  Percentage of
POWs who died
Italian POWs held by Soviets 84.5%
Russian POWs held by Germans 57.5%
German POWs held by Russians 35.8%
American POWs held by Japanese 33.0%
German POWs held by Eastern Europeans 32.9%
British POWs held by Japanese 24.8%
British POWs held by Germans 3.5%
German POWs held by French 2.58%
German POWs held by Americans 0.15%
German POWs held by British 0.03%

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