American POWs of World War II: Forgotten Men Tell Their Stories

By Tom Bird | Go to book overview

Bernie Melnick

Bernie Melnick is one of the approximately 90 American POWs who survived their two-month stay in Berga-Elster. Two articles in which Bernie was interviewed about Berga-Elster have been included in Appendixes B and D to give a more in-depth understanding of all that took place.

The notice came in around the 18th of January--my birthday is January 18, 1924, so it was around my twenty-first birthday--and the order was announced over the loudspeakers. All soldiers of Jewish faith were supposed to report that night to a certain segment of the camp.

The camp was in shock, 'cause we were all Americans. None of the guys saw each other through the eyes of a certain denomination or religion. We'd also heard for a long time what Hitler had been doing to the Jewish people. We didn't know that he had been exterminating them, but we knew of how the Jews had been mistreated before the war. We had read about how all their possessions had been taken from them; and during the war that they had been rounded up and sent to labor camps.

The Germans gave us the whole day to think about what was going to happen to us. They were cruel like that. I don't know if they meant it that way. But if they did, the tactic sure worked, because we were petrified.

Some of the Jewish guys had thrown away their dog tags when they had gotten captured so that the Germans wouldn't know that they were Jewish. Others just tried to hide the fact once they got in camp, and we never thought of pointing them out to the Germans or anything. Though most of the boys didn't try to hide where they came from or what they

-97-

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