Death and the Civil War Directed by Ric Burns (PBS) 2012 Film review This PBS documentary explores the unprecedented level of casualties during the US Civil War and its effect on future federal and military policy. The Civil War was … Continue reading
The Dirty Business of Old Clothes
Directed by Michael Höft and Christian Jantzch (2019)
This documentary is about a racket involving the German Red Cross and other charities that sells 700,000 tonnes of donated secondhand clothes to a for-profit company called Soex. Soex, in turn, sells the clothes to Eastern Europe, Middle East, and sub-Saharan markets.
This particular scheme is similar to those operating in other European countries and the US. The Red Cross receives five cents per kilo for donated clothing that is resold for €1.20 per kilo.
Filmmakers follow one shipment of secondhand clothing to Tanzania, where most people live on less than one euro a day. The flood of cheap second hand clothing into the port of Dar es Salaam has shut down a local clothing factory that formerly employed 9,000 workers. No textile manufacturer in the world could compete with an industry selling clothes they source for free.
The film features heartbreaking interviews with unemployed workers who often go days at a time without eating.
The filmmakers attempt to interview the chairman of the German Red Cross about the program, but he declines to speak to them.
Other Losses: An Investigation into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners at the Hands of the French and Americans After World War II
by James Bacque
General Paperbacks (1991)
This book is a mind boggling expose about the 5 million German soldiers and civilians crammed into barbed wire cages in Allied occupied Germany. According to reliable witnesses, as many as three million of these detainees were civilians, ie had no military status. Survivors, military personnel and camp visitors reported seeing pregnant women in the camps, as well as children as young as six. The prisoners had no access to shelter, warm clothing, sanitation or medical facilities. Many were deliberately given starvation rations.
War Department records reveal the camps had death rates of approximately 30% annually from exposure and starvation related illnesses – though the US Army officially recorded them as “other losses.” For the most part they were buried in mass graves, some of which were later uncovered by German construction crews and grave diggers. Because the US military made no effort to identify them, by 1947 German families were reporting one million loved ones missing and unaccounted for.
How Eisenhower Circumvented the Geneva Convention
Military personnel who worked closely with Eisenhower and his aides believe this policy (to imprison large numbers of Germans in concentration camps) was devised in 1944. In April 1945, Eisenhower announced to the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS)* that he was creating a new category of military prisoner – Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEF).**
Although other generals in the CCS advised him against capturing any more DEFs after VE Day,*** Eisenhower went on to capture an additional 2 million.
In addition to denying them any form of shelter or adequate rations, Eisenhower also prohibited the Red Cross (ICRC), Quakers, Unitarians, YMCA and concerned German civilians from providing them food parcels.
Heavy Censorship: How the Camps Were Kept Secret
Owing to heavy censorship in US-occupied Germany, the deplorable conditions of these camps were kept secret outside of Germany until the US began transferring prisoners to French camps for slave labor assignments (which also violated the Geneva Convention). The French camps were allowing ICRC visits. Horrified by the extreme emaciation and poor health (with many on the verge of death) of the former US prisoners, Red Cross representatives made formal complaints with the US and French government and the press.
US Blames Fictitious “World Food Shortage”
In response, the US government launched a massive PR offensive shifting the blame for the prisoners’ horrendous condition first to the French and then to a non-existent “world food shortage.” There is incontrovertible evidence there were global surpluses of wheat, maize and potatoes in both 1945 and 1946. There were also hundreds of thousands of food parcels piled up in US Army and ICRC warehouses that the Red Cross was prohibited from delivering. There were also hundreds of thousands of unused tents captured form the German army.
There was absolutely no military reason for the Allies to keep millions of disarmed Germans in prison camps after Germany surrendered. The French kept them for slave labor and, where possible, to recruit them to the Foreign Legion to fight in Vietnam and Algeria. According to Bacque (based on actual statements by Eisenhower), the sole purpose of the US camps was a perverted and sadistic desire to take revenge on German soldiers and civilians.
Low Death Rates in Canadian and British POW Camps
The experience of POWs in Canadian and British camps was markedly different from that in the US and French camps. In the former, all inmates were provided tends or other shelter and, in all but one case, adequate food rations. The Canadian and British military also provided hospital care for sick and wounded inmates. The result was death rates comparable to the general population.
The US had only released 40% of their prisoners by January 1946. A year later 24,834 remained in custody.
*The Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) was the supreme military command of the military forces of the US and Great Britain during World War II.
**Clearly Eisenhower hoped that by calling them DEFs instead of Prisoners of War (POWs), he would avoid violating the Geneva Conventions governing POW treatment. It was for this exact reason, George W Bush declared all the detainees at Guantanamo Bay Enemy Combatants, rather than POWs.
***Victory over Europe Day (May 7, 1945) – the day the Allies accepted the German terms of surrender.
Sky and Ground
Directed by Joshua Bennett (2018)
Sky and Ground is about two refugee families from battle torn Aleppo who illegally smuggle themselves from Turkey to Germany, where they are eligible to apply for asylum. Due to archaic and tortuous EU law, they are unable to apply for political asylum unless they run the gauntlet and illegally cross a number of countries to reach German soil.
Using smugglers to cross the Mediterranean, they decide to leave Greece after a hepatitis A outbreak in their refugee camp. An uncle, a filmmaker, captures their journey on his Smartphone. He also uses the phone to communicate with brothers in Germany, who track them via GPS and advise them of the best routes to take.
In 2016, Macedonia has just closed their border, which means they must find an unguarded wilderness crossing point. They seek medical help when one of the women sprains her ankle. The Red Cross turns them into the police – who return them to the Greek refugee camp.
On their second attempt they walk mainly at night across Macedonia. They openly cross the Serbia border, where police transport them to a hostel in Belgrade.
They stay in a refugee camp on the Serbian-Hungarian border, where the Hungarian police demand a $50 bribe not to return them to Greece. As a single man, their uncle is forced to remain in the refugee camp for 28 days. A relative from Germany flies to Hungary to assist the other family members in traveling by train from Hungary to Austria. There, they are taken to the police station, where they are issued a 14-day permit.
Eventually the entire group reaches Germany, where they apply for, and receive, temporary asylum.
Killing the Count – Part 1 The White Buses
Al Jazeera (2014)
Killing the Count is a two-part documentary about the 1949 assassination of UN mediator Foulke Bernodotte. Part 1 covers Swedish baron Bernodotte’s daring rescue of 30,000 concentration camp victims during the final year of World War II. Of the 30,000, 10,000 were Jews and 20,000 were Scandinavian resistance fighters arrested following the Nazi occupation of Norway and Denmark.
On learning of Hitler’s order to exterminate all concentration camp prisoners when it became clear Germany would lose the war, Bernadotte used his friendship with Himler’s personal physician to arrange a meeting with the SS leader responsible for running the camps.
Bernadotte, an exceedingly shrewd negotiator, persuaded Himler to allow the Swedish Red Cross to move Scandinavian prisoners from Germany’s interior to Neuengame, a concentration camp close to the Danish Border.
The Swedish Red Cross had a detailed list of all the Scandinavian prisoners detained in German camps. In part owing to Sweden’s strong Nazi leanings,* their Red Cross had been to deliver food parcels provided they were personally addressed to individual prisoners.
By the time Bernadotte successfully organized a convoy of buses to transport 10,000 Scandinavian prisoners to Neungame, Allied troops had crossed the German border and most SS members had deserted. Because there were no Nazis to stop him, Bernadotte now used his buses to evacuate the Scandinavian prisoners and as many Jewish prisoners as he could rescue from Neungame and the women’s and children’s concentration camp Ravensbrook. He was subsequently honored by a number of Jewish organizations for his effort.
In 1948 the UN Security Council would him to negotiate a settlement in the Jewish-Palestinian war in Palestine.
*Although technically a “neutral” country, the Swedish monarch provided the Third Reich with iron exports critical for their armaments industry, as well as allowing Hitler’s Navy to cross their territorial waters and his bombers to cross their air space.
The Great Depression Part 2 – The Road to Rock Bottom
The second episode of the PBS Great Depression series deals mainly with the near collapse of the farm economy, when farmers burned their crops because they couldn’t cover their costs by selling them. The depression in the farm economy had started in the mid-twenties, prior to the 1929 Wall Street crash. World War I created large demand for US agricultural exports. This led to a crisis of overproduction when the war ended.
With Hoover unwilling to provide government aid, the Red Cross took primary responsibility for providing food aid to starving families in Arkansas and other southern states.
This episode also explores the exploits of Pretty Boy Floyd, known as the Sage Brush Robin Hood, for sharing the proceeds of his bank robberies with families who couldn’t feed their children.
It finishes with the Bonus Army saga, in which 20,000 homeless World War I veterans and their families camped out in Washington DC to pressure Hoover and Congress to authorize early payment of the bonus they were promised in 1945. Under Hoover’s orders, Generals MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower led a military assault on the encampment. They burnt all the tents and shacks protestors were living in, injuring 55 veterans and killing a 12-week-old baby.