Chapter 14: Stalag VIIA
Notes on the Liberation of S VIIA that the POWs were unaware of:
Hitler had dictated a “scorched earth policy” on 19 March 1945, ordering retreating German soldiers to leave behind nothing of value to the Allies. There were fears that the same policy would be applied to POW camps and Allied prisoners. With the help of Swiss intermediaries, negotiations were undertaken with the German government. On 23 April 1945, a press release in the United States read, in part: “The Government of the United States has accepted an offer of the German Government to leave in camps all prisoners of war as the Allies advance, the State and War Departments announced today. The proposal of the German Government was made to the United States through the Swiss Government as Protecting Power.” Throughout the war the Swiss government remained neutral, playing the role of The Protecting Power responsible for the distribution of Red Cross parcels, reporting on conditions in POW camps, and acting as intermediaries in negotiations between the Allies and the Reich.
Some anxiety remained because the German government had yet to confirm the agreement in writing, and later that same day the Allies received word that Hitler intended to order the POWs from S VIIA moved to his “Alpine Redoubt” as hostages.who would be executed if satisfactory surrender terms were not offered. This was a mountain retreat, heavily fortified and rumored to be where the Third Reich would make a suicidal last stand. The governments of the US, Britain, and the Soviet Union then issued a joint warning that was distributed across Germany in leaflets released by flights of bombers. It warned the Germans, especially the Gestapo and SS, that they would be ruthlessly pursued and punished for any subsequent mistreatment of POWs. They soon received official assurances and written confirmation that Germany would abide by the intent and the letter of the agreement.
Late in the afternoon of 28 April 1945, Mr. Wolf Born arrived at S VIIA, representing the Swiss Delegation. He had come to negotiate the transfer of the POW camp from German to Allied control as per the straightforward terms of the recently negotiated agreement. Things did not go according to plan, and the problems were symptomatic of the difficulties faced whenever negotiated multinational agreements are implemented.
Mr. Born went directly into a meeting attended by Kommandant Oberst Burger and Mr. George Guedenod, a representative of the Red Cross. At that meeting he learned that all of the administrative staff remained in place, and that the distribution of food to the prisoners could continue without interruption. Mr. Born then asked what steps had been taken to insure that there was no fighting in and around the camp, but Burger responded that he had yet to hear from the German military command.
Next, Wolf met with representatives from the various POW groups within the camp and received assurances that the men would stay calm, remain under control, and resist the urge to take reprisals on the prison guards or staff.
As an answer still had not been received, Mr. Born, accompanied by Col. Braune, as Burger’s representative, was driven south of Munich to the local Wehrmacht commander, who agreed that to protect civilians and POWs, the area around Moosburg and S VIIA would be a neutral zone where fighting would not occur. Orders were issued to the local Divisional HQ, which was located north of Moosburg. So Born and Braune got back in the car to hand-carry those instructions to their destination.
The Commander of the division, an SS-Obergruppenführer of the Waffen-SS, read his orders and then formulated a proposal to be delivered to the Americans. Moosburg and SL VIIA would be considered a neutral area, provided that two bridges were left clear for the SS troops to leave the area and rejoin the remaining German forces. This proposal was delivered to the closest American senior officer by Col Braune, Mr. Born, and SS-Major Deutschbein. The senior officer, a Colonel in a tank regiment, decided that he had no authority to make a decision. He joined the group, which went on an hour’s ride to reach General Patton’s mobile headquarters. After a lengthy discussion, Patton decided that the proposal was completely unacceptable; he was not going to let that Waffen-SS division get away. The final battle for S VIIA would begin the next morning.