The photograph is a jarring image that shows Nazi Party members, shovels in hand, digging up graves of American soldiers held as slaves by Nazi Germany during World War II.
While the men dig up the site, U.S. soldiers investigating war crimes stand over them. Two crosses with helmets placed atop them — the sign of a fallen soldier — are visible. Two Germans are knee deep in mud. Another, with a handlebar mustache, has the look of a defeated man. The bodies of 22 American soldiers were found in at least seven graves, according to the photographer.
On the back of the photo is written, “Nazi Party members digging up American bodies at Berga.”
Berga an der Elster was a slave labor camp where 350 U.S. soldiers were beaten, starved, and forced to work in tunnels for the German government. The soldiers were singled out for “looking like Jews” or “sounding like Jews,” or dubbed as undesirables, according to survivors. More than 100 soldiers perished at the camp or on a forced death march.
It was on this day six decades ago, April 23, 1945, when most of the slave labor camp soldiers were liberated by advancing U.S. troops. The emaciated soldiers, many weighing just 80 pounds, had been forced by Nazi commanders to march more than 150 miles before their rescue.
The US Army is trying to come up with a way to honor the few remaining survivors of this. They might want to hurry. There are only about 20 of them still alive.
The death sentences for the two Nazi commanders at Berga were commuted in 1948. By the US government at the time.