The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16, 1944. It was the largest and most costly American battle of WWII. Within days, the American 106th Infantry Division had been, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. Other divisions were badly mauled. Thousands of Americans were taken prisoner. The Germans marched them east into Germany and transported them in boxcars, without food or water to Stalag 9B, a prisoner of war camp north of Frankfurt.
Soon after their arrival, the order came down to identify all the Jewish prisoners. The American leaders refused. Threatened with punishment and death, the vast majority of Jews stepped forward. Unhappy with the numbers, the Germans went through the ranks and selected those Americans who looked Jewish, had Jewish sounding names, or were generally considered "undesirables."
Shortly afterwards, the selected 350 men were marched to the boxcars. Five days later they arrived at Berga, a German town housing a satellite camp of Buchenwald. There, side by side with Jewish concentration camp inmates, the Americans became slave laborers, digging tunnels into the rock cliffs along the Elster River. Living under inhuman conditions, the Americans were overworked, abused, beaten and starved. Within a few weeks, many died of injuries, malnutrition and disease. Some went mad.
In April 1945, the Germans, fearing retribution from the advancing Allied armies, emptied the camp at Berga and forced the surviving prisoners on the road. With the soldiers physically depleted and receiving little food or water, the march became a death march.
Americans who died along the way were ordered buried by their comrades in shallow graves beside the road or in Christian graveyards. Concentration camp laborers who were unable to keep up were similarly shot and left by the roadside.
On April 23, 1945, advance units of the American 11th Armored Division discovered the Americans. The German guards fled. The GIs ran and crawled toward their liberators.
Treated in a local field hospital, the Americans were later sent to France and England for prolonged hospitalization. Until now, the story of Berga: Soldiers of Another War has remained untold, lost in the trauma of the war.
This project began more than five years ago when Charles Guggenheim began to investigate the death of a fellow army company friend from the 106th Division who had died in a German salt mine. Guggenheim's discovery of the circumstances of his friend's death never left his mind, and that is why he had to tell this story.
Presented by Thirteen/WNET New York, Berga: Soldiers of Another War had its national broadcast debut Wednesday, May 28th on PBS at 8:00 pm.
Berga: Soldiers of Another War is available on VHS/DVD through PBS Home Video and Warner Home Video beginning May 20, 2003. The features include Guggenheim's last interview with David McCullough about his career and the making of Berga; in addition there are two-minute clips from ten of Guggenheim's most acclaimed films. Contact: 1-800-PLAY-PBS or visit www.pbs.org.
A companion book, Soldiers of Another War, is being written by Roger Cohen and published by Alfred A. Knopf. It is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2003.
CINE Golden Eagle Award 2004
IDA Award for Distinguished Feature Documentary Film - Pare Lorentz Award 2003
Columbus International Film and Video Festival Best of Festival - Chris Award 2003
Haifa International Film Festival participant - 2003
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival - Tribute Screening - 2003
AFI Silver Docs - Tribute Screening - 2003