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?

  • 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
    Apr 26 '16 at 7:17
  • 2
    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.
    – NSNoob
    Apr 26 '16 at 7:18
  • 2
    @NSNoob Seems like you have a decent answer there, why not move from comments to answer? Apr 26 '16 at 12:59
  • 1
    @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.
    – NSNoob
    Apr 26 '16 at 13:05
  • How would the Germans know that a captured US soldier was Jewish?
    – jamesqf
    Apr 27 '16 at 4:59

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.asp which 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

EDIT. There are many books which address the question, for example, Alexander Dallin, German rule in Russia, 1941-1945: A study of occupation policies.

  • any sources for further reading?
    – user13123
    Apr 27 '16 at 0:26
  • 2
    Most of my sources are in Russian, but this Wikipedia article seems quite informative: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Alex
    Apr 27 '16 at 3:19
  • thanks - now I need to find what portion of the Soviet military was Jewish to see if that 5% is disproportionate
    – user13123
    Apr 27 '16 at 3:25
  • 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.
    – Alex
    Apr 27 '16 at 3:34
  • One way that the Germans were able to differentiate Jewish from non-Jewish POWs was whether they were circumcised. Also, Allied military personnel carried identity disks or dog tags which listed their religion. Jewish aircrew were instructed to get rid of theirs in the event of being shot down. Jun 14 '18 at 2:08

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.

  • It's true that Soviets, in particular those belonging to the Bolshevik party were treated badly because Hitler blamed Marxist ideology for the Kiel uprising that he believed cost Germany a potential victory in WW1.
    – Vincent
    Feb 16 '19 at 17:27

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.

  • 4
    any sources for further reading?
    – user13123
    Apr 27 '16 at 0:26
  • @HorusKol mitchellbard.com/articles/pows.html
    – Anixx
    Apr 27 '16 at 0:31
  • 1
    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.
    – user13123
    Apr 27 '16 at 0:36
  • 1
    That page doesn't cite sources besides a tv documentary.
    – D J Sims
    Apr 27 '16 at 5:35
  • 3
    @Vincent no, nearly all Western POWs survived the war.
    – Anixx
    Feb 16 '19 at 20:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy