Letter from Buchenwald – 99-IB(S) (Minge)

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(Background) After Pearl Harbor (Dec 7, 1941), the War Department considered how the military could use foreigners and bilingual, first-generation immigrants from German-occupied areas to assist the war effort. The initial assessment concluded that it would be ‘un-American’ to train foreign troops on US soil, prompting the Norwegian government to refuse a request to recruit Norwegians in the United States for military training in Canada. After a time, however, the War Department decided to set up special units of US citizens from certain ethnic groups for operations in countries occupied by the Axis powers. The following five battalions, established in 1942, were organized based on ethnic groups: 1st Filipino Infantry Battalion (Filipino the nucleus of later 1st and 2nd Filipino infantry regiments), the 99th Infantry Battalion (S) (Norwegian), the 100th Infantry Battalion (S) (Japanese), the 101st Infantry Battalion (S) (Austrian but dissolved in 1943 before active service), the 122nd Infantry Battalion (S) (Greek). A Polish unit was also proposed, but never created.

In Norwegian historiography, the men of the 99-IB (S) are often referred to as Norwegian’Americans. This is only partially correct; the original intention was to transfer as many voluntary Norwegian nationals who had begun the immigration process (a condition of enlistment) to the unit from existing armies as could be acquired. In her book, The 99th Battalion, the Norwegian novelist Gerd Nyquist estimates that first-generation Norwegian immigrants may have constituted 50 percent of the original force – about 500 men. One of Nyquist’s sources from the battalion said 40 percent of the battalion had been Norwegian citizens (around 400 soldiers). This figure was the result of an informal survey conducted by Nyquist; however, the survey was limited to 152 respondents. Based on information from a veteran of the battalion, Max Hermansen argues in his book D-dagen 1944 og norsk innsats that there were approximately 300 Norwegians in the battalion.

Capt Raymond K. Minge, MD, 99-IB-S
Memories of Another World

Dr. Raymond K. Minge, who is a Captain serving with the American Medical Corps in Europe, has written his parents a graphic description of a German Concentration camp and conditions in Germany. Capt Minge has served with the American forces ever since they entered France and has been near the front lines on the long trek across the continent. His description of the camp is the first eye-witness story of conditions in Germany told by an Otter Tail County man and fully corroborates the stories that have been written by the various war correspondents.

Capt Minge writes in part as follows to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. O. M. Minge of Fergus Falls under the date of Apr 22, 1945: I am trying to keep up with the rapid advance of our armies across Germany which doesn’t give much time for letter writing. We have just moved into a fine German house, and believe it or not the occupants cleaned it up for us before they took off. After a long session of tent life, it is a real treat to again live indoors and enjoy such luxuries as electric light, heat and running water.

German Towns Escape Damage – Civilians Well Dressed
The smaller German towns and villages often escape the destruction of war and life seems to be almost normal among the civilians. They are all well fed and have fine clothes; the women seem to have a bounteous supply of silk stockings. The little children at first afraid, then shy, finally becoming quite bold and ask us for candy and gum. Of course, any type of fraternization is strictly taboo and a court-martial offense. I feel sorry for the little children (and there is no end to them in this country) for they’re certainly innocent, but the older folks must be treated very sternly.

No Doubt as to What Americans Fought For
Not long ago I had the opportunity to visit one of Germany’s recently liberated concentration camps. It was a real eye-opener. Any doubt I ever had as to the justification for sending American soldiers overseas was completely banished.

Prisoner Acted as Guide
I’ve heard much about the horrors of the concentration camp but no story can give the true picture as the actual sight of starving children. We were guided through the camp by one of the liberated prisoners, a German citizen who had been at the camp for two years. He was first arrested in 1933 because of his anti-Nazi activities but managed to escape to France. There he married a French girl, established a home and lived a happy life until the Gestapo knocked at the door two years ago and took him away.

He was never offered a word of explanation as to the reason for his arrest. He spoke fine English, having lived in Philadelphia four years and seemed to be a most refined and intelligent sort of person. He was ashamed to admit he was a German and was now eagerly awaiting transportation to his home in France. He said he was never again going to meddle in politics. How different the situation is in the states where a person can speak his true mind.

The Concentration Camp – Slave Labor
The camp was a huge affair and had been constructed entirely by slave labor in 1934 and 1935. Adjacent to it was a large factory for war equipment to feed the Wehrmacht. Here the prisoners were forced to work without pay and without necessary food to sustain life. Our guide had the greatest admiration for the American Air Force. During the last fall, it completely demolished the factory area but had not touched a single building housing the prisoners.

Although the prisoners had access to no news other than a little Nazi propaganda they did manage to gather bits of news and know that the Americans were making good progress across Germany. Their hour of joy came on a certain afternoon when American machine-gun fire was heard; they then knew their hour of liberation had arrived. The majority of Hitler’s Elite SS super coward troops guarding the camp managed one of their strategic withdrawals and escaped capture.

51.000 Prisoners Died Here
After passing through the heavy iron gates of the camp the first thing to greet us was a tall monument constructed the day before by Americans Forces; it was made of cardboard and had the number 51.000 printed on it; above the number was a large wreath. It was put up in memory of the 51.000 who starved to death at this camp.

Torture Chamber
Nearby was a large whipping post and next to that a scaffold where men were hung by their hands, tightly bound behind their backs for two or three hours. We were next conducted to a crematorium, but before reaching that passes a heap of about fifty bodies of men who had died from the effects of starvation the preceding night. It was a ghastly sight. Beside this pile of starved bodies were two dead SS troops who were found hanging; the SS insignia were tattooed on their bodies.

Ashes of Dead await Mailing – Condolences
We then entered the crematorium, which contained five large crematory furnaces; bodies were being cremated at the time the Americans arrived, but the process had been cut short, charred bones and skulls still filled the furnaces. Numerous urns, packed and addressed, were piled on shelves ready for mailing to the next of kin to be followed, of course, by letters of condolence that Mr. So and So had unfortunately died of appendicitis or some other natural cause.

Hook Torture – Death – Crematorium
On the floor below the crematorium was a large room with numerous hooks in the walls for suspending prisoners for various forms of torture. When they had breathed their last they were put on an elevator and conveyed to a crematory furnace. No detail was overlooked in this systematic mass human slaughter.

Human Being Used for Experiments in Laboratory
We next visited a large, modern and beautifully equipped experimental pathological laboratory where numerous experiments were carried out by the camp doctors. The laboratory contained many mounted and preserved specimens—all of the work inspired by a friend. Many of Europe’s best men met their death at the hands of these doctors. The sick were terrified whenever any of these doctors paid them a visit.

Hospital Ward – Patients Lien on Floor
We were then shown through one of the so-called hospital wards; never have I imagined such a pitiful state of affairs could exist in a civilized nation. Lying on the floor with hardly sufficient room to turn around were many hundreds of men too weak from starvation to stand or talk beyond a faint whisper. Their arms and legs were like toothpicks and their faces really not human. Many were lying in a semi-coma and nearing the end. Some were a little stronger and smiled as we walked by. A few could speak English. I especially remember one man of about 50. He was a living skeleton, deeply jaundiced. I stopped a few minutes and talked with him. He spoke good English. He had been a prosperous lawyer in Vienna, an anti-Nazi. Four years ago he was arrested and removed to this camp. His wife had managed to escape to New York City. After these four long years, he at last again had hoped he might get word of her welfare. He was so very happy and thankful that the Americans had arrived; now he seemed to be ready to die in peace. All ages were represented. Even small babies had been brought in with their fathers and given the same starvation regime. The total daily diet consisted of 300 grams of bread and a bowl of fatless broth. Three hundred grams of this course and heavy German bread is not much.

Women prisoners were taken to a different camp; only eighteen were kept in this camp for immoral purposes. The men were allowed to visit them once a week after having been in the camp for six months, but very few men did so. The men in the camp were political prisoners and comprised the educated and cultured classes who dared oppose Hitler. There were professors, lawyers, ministers, doctors, musicians, etc. All nationalities were represented—German, British, French, Belgian, Dutch, Czech, Russian, Poles, Danish, Norwegian, Italians.

Twenty American Fliers Believed Shot
I asked if any Americans were there. There had been 20 fliers interned there. They had all mysteriously disappeared and it was believed they had all be shot. Escape from this camp was all but impossible with the guard system set up. There were three rings about the camp, the first contained 500 well-trained police dogs, and the other two of 2000 SS troops armed with machine guns. Of course, there were the usual electrified barbed wire fencing, searchlights, watchtowers, loudspeaker system. What chance would one have? Only SS troops were allowed to guard and enter the camp.

Citizens Thought Band Music was for the Prisoners
It was located near a city, so I thought surely the civilians must have realized what was going on but apparently not so. All they knew was that it was a political camp; a large band played every day and the outsiders, hearing the music, thought that the prisoners must really be having a fine time—and what a fine time it was—slow, sure death from starvation.

How Many Camps Were There ?
To date, 51.000 had died of starvation in this particular camp. How many similar camps exist through Germany and Nazi-occupied countries remains to be seen. I am now thoroughly convinced we have a good reason, in fact, an obligation, to be over here fighting the Nazi system and playing a part in the liberation of these poor victims. I cannot conceive of a civilized nation subjecting its own people or any other people to such inhuman treatment.

Our guide insisted the whole German nation was guilty, I cannot believe that the bulk of the German people would approve of the treatment accorded the inmates of a concentration camp; their guilt rests chiefly on the fact they permitted men like Hitler and Himmler to gain power and in their attitude of indifference at the policies these men adopted to achieve their goal. The German nation is now suffering the consequences in the loss of their men in battle and the destruction of their cities.

600 Died one Bight
We visited one of the barracks where the men slept; it was a building for 100, but 1800 were quartered in one of these buildings. They slept on boards without blankets or heat. One winter morning 600 dead were removed from these barracks. The commandant of the camp was an SS colonel, one of Himmler’s stooges.

Wife of Commandant Selected Torture Victims
The SS colonel’s wife, in all her splendor, used to ride through the camp on horseback each day. The prisoners were supposed to bow and remove their hats when she approached. If she didn’t like the manner of a certain individual she reported his number to her husband. (Each prisoner wore a metal tag on which his number was stamped.) The poor victim would disappear mysteriously and soon his ashes in an urn would be on the way to the next of kin—another death from appendicitis.

Medical Supplies, American Doctors, Red Cross in Charge
American doctors and nurses, medical supplies, food, Red Cross facilities and all we have to offer have now been placed at the disposal of this camp, but even so, about fifty continue to die daily from the effects of prolonged starvation. The Americans are real heroes in the eyes of these people. If they hadn’t arrived death by starvation or some violent means was the inevitable fate of every man and child. Now they have the freedom to look forward to; those whose health has not been entirely broken will be nursed back to health and the hopeless will at least be offered relief from suffering during the remaining days. Our guide was jubilant that day as he had just gotten a message through to his wife in France and was expecting to be on his way home again shortly. He says he will never in all his life forget how his heart leaped for joy when he heard American machine-guns, but he believes we are too kind. He wishes we had immediately shot the 200 SS men that were captured instead of making prisoners of them. The day after the liberation of the camp, civilians from neighboring towns were forced to march through the camp and see for themselves what had been going on. Many of them had to be revived with smelling salts. These were the people who had boarded the bandwagon when things went well in the Reich. Now, of course, they all decry Hitler.

SS Man – Another German Warrior – Had Sudden Change of Heart
Just the other day we picked up a man in civilian clothes who cursed the Nazis. His clothes were forcibly removed and under his left arm was tattooed the enlightening insignia of the SS soldiers. He had probably been one of the guards at this concentration camp. It will undoubtedly take some time before the full story of these camps comes to light, but I have already seen enough to justify sending American soldiers to fight in another European war. It now looks as if the war is getting into its final stages.

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