What treatment did Allied Jewish POWs get when captured by the Germans?

HorusKol 04/26/2016. 3 answers, 3.586 views
world-war-two jews prisoners-of-war

According to Wikipedia, there were about 500,000 American Jews serving in the US forces during World War II, and another 500,000 Jews served other Allied nations.

Some of these servicemen would have been captured by the Germans. What treatment would they have received? Would the Germans have treated Jewish POWs differently?

Note - this is similar to, but not the same as, How did the Nazis justify the differences in the way they treated Jews v. POWs?

5 Comments
NSNoob 04/26/2016
If the Jews were from Soviet Union then they were to be exterminated either by labour or gas as was the policy of the Reich for All Slavic prisoners. Western POWs did fare better than that, Jew or not. In some instances, Western Jews and their non-Jewish comrades were segregated and allegedly "trouble-making" jewish soldiers were sent to concentration camps but that's how far it went AFAIK.
NSNoob 04/26/2016
Third Reich denied Geneva Con rights to Soviet POWs based on pretext (illegal) that SU hadn't signed GenCon. But Wehrmacht was instructed to show appropriate behavior to Western POWs (Except Commandos). It also depended on who was holding you and where. E.g. POWs held by Luftwaffe in Germany would fare better than POWs held by SS in Ukraine.
2 KorvinStarmast 04/26/2016
@NSNoob Seems like you have a decent answer there, why not move from comments to answer?
1 NSNoob 04/26/2016
@KorvinStarmast I am at work right now so can't spend time on finding credible sources. By the time I get off, if it remains unanswered then I would answer it properly. But if you have time and feel it can be a potential answer, feel free to build on it and answer it yourself.
jamesqf 04/27/2016
How would the Germans know that a captured US soldier was Jewish?

3 Answers


Alex 04/27/2016.

British and American POW's were treated as POW's. Soviet Jewish POW's were usually treated as Jews, if their national origin could be determined. The justification was that Soviet Union did not sign the international convention about POW's. Of course, this was the official point of view, but actual treatment depended on commanders in the field.

Official point of view was reflected in the so-called Commissar's Order issued before the invasion of Soviet Union. This order prescribed to select Commissars, Communists and Jews from POW's shoot them on the spot. But not all commanders obeyed this order. Some high standing German commanders refused to pass this order to the troops. As a result, Jewish POWS were treated variously on Soviet theater.

Soviet citizens, except peasants carried the so-called "internal passport", where everyone was assigned a "nationality", which could Russian, Ukrainian, Jew etc. Military personnel did not carry this passport. So to determine that someone "is a Jew" was possible only from the words of other POW's.

Corrections and references. The Commissar order is cited in this Wikiedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commissar_Order I do not know whether this citation is complete but it does not explicitly mentioned Jews. In some documents they were disguised under the name "politically undesirable", like in this original document:http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/1519-ps.aspwhich mentions "politically undesirable nationalities and racial groups". What happened in reality is described in this Wikipedia article:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_mistreatment_of_Soviet_prisoners_of_war

4 comments
HorusKol 04/27/2016
any sources for further reading?
1 Alex 04/27/2016
Most of my sources are in Russian, but this Wikipedia article seems quite informative: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
HorusKol 04/27/2016
thanks - now I need to find what portion of the Soviet military was Jewish to see if that 5% is disproportionate
Alex 04/27/2016
This is easy to find out, but my guess will be about 2%. Also see the references I added to my answer, including some original documents.

Tom Au 04/29/2016.

In general, the treatment of Jewish POWs was at the "low end" of what it was for others of their "nationality."

POWs who were Soviet Jews were treated very badly--because they were Soviets. Things were a bit worse for men who were both Soviets and Jews, but it was basically "Soviet" that determined their treatment.

POWs who were American or British were often segregated from non Jewish compatriots. They were then given unpleasant tasks that others of their nationality were spared, but still not treated as badly as Soviets or other "easterners," Jewish or not. In the back of their minds, the Germans thought of them as e.g. "Americans."

Put another way, the Nazis considered their POWs "Americans" (or "Soviets") first, Jews second.


Anixx 04/27/2016.

The Jewish POWs of Western nations were separated from other POWs, moved to a separate camp at Berga and assigned more hard work. In about 2 months in one camp where the Jews were assigned mining works, 20% of them perished. This is compared to 2% of death rate among non-Jewish POWs. Fortunately to the imprisoned Jews, the war soon came to the end, so only about of 1/5 of them died. If the war continued, they all would eventually die.

Formally Germans claimed that they treated Jewish POWs according the Geneva convention but in reality the conditions differed a lot. On the other hand, on the Eastern front about 60% of all POWs died in camps.

5 comments
2 HorusKol 04/27/2016
any sources for further reading?
1 HorusKol 04/27/2016
hmm - one specific event doesn't indicate a general policy... for example, not all POW camps and responses to escapes were like what you see in The Great Escape.
1 D J Sims 04/27/2016
That page doesn't cite sources besides a tv documentary.
Bak1139 06/12/2016
@HorusKol 99.9% of German camps were uttrly brutal, with little to no variation; See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS-Totenkopfverb%C3%A4nde

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