What Was Life Like For Prisoners of WWII


It’s December, 1944, and the Nazis are on
the attack. You’re a soldier in the Allied forces pushing
forward to liberate France, Belgium, and beyond. But progress toward Germany has slowed. You’d been at the front for just days1 when
the enemy launched a surprise assault. Now, you and your brothers-in-arms struggle
to hold a key crossroads in Belgium. Days of fighting become a blur of rifle fire,
shelling, and disorientation2. In your training, and on the transport across
the English Channel, and as you neared enemy lines for the first time, you couldn’t keep
the thought of dying in battle from your mind. But here, surrounded by German uniforms—bright
white to blend with the snow—the reality of a different outcome sinks in. You are now a prisoner of war. You’ve heard that other Americans who had
surrendered just days ago had been slaughtered once in captivity. This time, at least so far, that doesn’t seem
to be the case. Once you’re past the line of rifles, hands
raised, an enemy officer approaches you. He says something to you in German, which
you don’t understand, but then he adds, in English: “For you, the war is over.”3 If you’d been part of the first days of
World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, it might have gone something like that. As it turns out, science fiction writer Kurt
Vonnegut had an experience of the sort. His tragicomic novel Slaughterhouse Five tells
a fictionalized account of his own experience as a World War II POW4. But if one of his Nazi captors ever announced
to Vonnegut that his war was over, they were mistaken, or disingenuous. After their capture, Vonnegut and his fellow
prisoners had a forced march of three days to a train depot5. From there, he was sent to work in a factory
in the city of Dresden. That location put the future author in the
firing line for the Allied bombing raids which would eventually level the city. He managed to survive. Some 25,0006 people in Dresden did not. It then became Vonnegut’s duty to gather
corpses for burning7. In World War II, your experience as a POW
depended upon where you fought8, and on which side. In the context of war, some of the most important
laws of civil society don’t apply. But if the prohibition on killing is lifted,
couldn’t that invite warring powers to descend into unrestrained violence? International laws aim to prevent a slippery
slope into indiscriminate torture and slaughter9. The Geneva Conventions, written at a series
of international meetings, include rules to protect combatant POWs from the worst violations
of their rights10, although before 1949, they were less explicit about the rights of civilian
POWs. As spelled out before the start of World War
II11, provisions for POWs included: A ban on executing those who surrender
Adequate food, shelter, and medical care in a place out of harm’s way
Freedom from torture or any requirement to share intelligence beyond the prisoner’s own
identity Restrictions on the amount and nature of work
prisoners could perform But two of the major powers involved in World
War II hadn’t accepted the Geneva Conventions. The Soviet Union wasn’t a signatory at all12,
and Japan had signed but never ratified the treaty13. By 1942, Japan announced that it would abide
by the Conventions, with unspecified modifications14. The human rights record of the Imperial Japanese
Army and Navy often didn’t reflect the spirit or letter of the law. At Zentsuji, a model camp15 in the vicinity
of Hiroshima, conditions were difficult, but survivable, with privileges including religious
worship16. But in general, prisoners of war from the
United States and other Allies17 fared poorly in Japanese custody18. Slavery, beatings, starvation, and torture19
were common in Japanese prison camps20. Some Chinese, Russian, and American prisoners
of the Japanese died in macabre and callous medical experiments21. To at least some extent, cannibalism22 of
Japan’s enemies took place, and not always out of hunger23. A particularly brutal atrocity by the Imperial
Japanese Army was the shooting of live human beings in target practice24. Meanwhile, among the Allies in the Pacific
Theater, a take-no-prisoners approach became common early on. Allied troops often executed the Japanese
combatants they captured25, despite the Geneva Conventions. Disturbingly, at least some American and other
Allied service members seem to have been taken trophies from the bodies of the slain26, while
others tortured prisoners or murdered their compatriots27. Japanese service members were instructed to
fight to the death rather than surrender28, even if their situation became hopeless29. There was also a belief that Allies wouldn’t
accept surrender anyway, which was unfortunately sometimes true. If capture became imminent, Japanese soldiers
often chose suicide instead30. This may have further contributed to the Allies’
reluctance to take Japanese prisoners, since suicide by grenade might let them kill their
would-be captor, as well31. But Japanese POWs who survived capture could
be cooperative, providing valuable intelligence to the Allies32. The U.S. command encouraged this approach33. Many more POWs from Germany than Japan came
to the American camps34. But in Europe as well, Allied troops, like
their German adversaries, were at times guilty of killing combatants attempting to surrender35. And at least one interrogation facility in
London engaged in systematic torture36. During World War II, the United States held
hundreds of thousands of enemy combatants in camps of various sorts37. Texas had the most POW camps, in part because
of its distance from the country’s most vital manufacturing centers.38 America’s POW camps
were a separate affair39 from the internment camps where Asian Americans40, including many
U.S. citizens41, were unjustly incarcerated. Although the U.S. didn’t have a perfect human
rights record in the Second World War42, its facilities for POWs were much better43 than
those of either Germany or Japan—or the USSR, for that matter. In the U.S., official policy was fair44, and
even lenient, treatment45. At the opposite end for human rights, camps
of Nazi Germany remain in memory as symbols of the worst horrors imaginable. The concentration camps were already places
of slavery, suffering, and death before the war began, and they only got worse. In a Nazi POW camp, you would get far less
food than you needed to live46. If your stay was long enough, you might lose
half your body weight, taking on the appearance of a walking skeleton. There is an overlap between POWs and the Holocaust. If an SS officer thought you looked Jewish
or seemed otherwise somehow unacceptable47, you might48 be routed to slavery in a concentration
camp, which combined industrial goals with death49 by forced labor and starvation. These POWs joined the millions of European
Jews and other civilians, including Roma, gays, and the handicapped50, targeted for
genocide51. Despite one’s chances of being marked for
death upon arrival, overall fatality for POWs among the Allies on the Western Front was
lower than for other regions and belligerents52. On the Eastern Front, it was a different story. If you were a Soviet soldier or a Soviet or
Polish53 civilian imprisoned by the Nazis, death in the camps was a strong possibility. Hitler’s forces took millions of prisoners
over the course of their invasion of the Soviet Union. Aside from a period of formal non-aggression,
which the Nazis failed to honor, Communists were one of the Third Reich’s stated foes. This stance provided an excuse to capture
almost anyone in the Soviet Union. And in the Soviet Union, as everywhere they
invaded, the Nazis added Jews and others—combatants and civilians alike, men, women, and children—to
their unimaginably long list of murder victims54. Germany was a signatory to the Geneva Conventions,
but once again didn’t live up to its word. Since the USSR wasn’t party to the Conventions,
Germany’s stance was that these laws of war wouldn’t apply there55. That violated the law, but no one could stop
the Germans’ war crimes for good unless the Nazis were defeated.As a result, daily life
for Soviet POWs in German camps amounted to torture56. If the Western Allies’ rations as POWs were
meager, the Soviets’ could be all but nonexistent57. The “Russian bread” fed to many prisoners
was made with ingredients like flour made from straw58, and could have no nutritive
value. All told, the Soviet Union suffered more than
8 million59 military and civilian deaths as prisoners of the Nazis60. Retaliation is no justification, but German
soldiers taken by the Soviets were another group of POWs with a very high probability
of dying in captivity, especially after the war61. And some Japanese prisoners of war ended up
living out their lives in the Soviet Union for many years after the war; many others
died in Siberian labor camps62. Many Australians, New Zealanders, Indians,
British, and Americans faced grim prospects in captivity by the Japanese63. The Philippines, which was then occupied by
the United States, came under attack immediately following Pearl Harbor. The combined Filipino and American forces
held off the onslaught for a time64.But in the end, they couldn’t stop the siege. It was in that country that the Allied P.O.W.s
endured an ordeal that still evokes suffering: the Bataan Death March. Those captured, some already injured or sick65,
marched for five days in severe heat with little food or water66. Prisoners who tried to drink water without
permission were executed, as were civilians who gave aid to the prisoners67. Thousands of POWs died on the march68. At their destination, Camp O’Donnell, extreme
overcrowding, disease, and filth prevailed69. Some 50,000 Filipino soldiers entered the
camp. Of those, roughly half died over the next
eight months. Surviving American prisoners from the camp
were eventually transferred out of the Philippines, with some ending up in Japan, others on the
Asian mainland70. Horrific conditions on the transport vessels
killed some prisoners71. Others perished in slave camps after arrival72. Along with the suffering, some of the war’s
most heroic moments came in the face of atrocities. Some prisoners succeeded in escaping73. Slave laborers would sometimes endeavor to
sabotage the material they made for the Axis74. About 100 U.S. military nurses were stationed
in the Philippines when Japanese forces attacked75. Only about twenty had the chance to evacuate. Those who remained not only became prisoners
themselves, but also provided medical care for a group of civilian internees in Manila. All 77 of these women survived their years
as POWs. Are there stories from World War II have been
especially meaningful to you or your family? Let us know in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video
called “Insane Torpedo-Armed Fast Attack Vessel – WW2 Speed Demons!” Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

Comments 100

  • 2uuuuu much Nodding.. Make way for "Noddy"….

  • Cool

  • Man that would be a nightmare imagine being captured and missing out on the war the whole time. I would rather die at that point.

  • Man that would be a nightmare imagine being captured and missing out on the war the whole time. I would rather die at that point.

  • Y’all gotta make a video on the Area 51 March. Like a prediction video

  • The Rhine please consider it info. ℹ

  • Do you vs batman.

  • Do u vs hunger games

  • Make a video belgium vs netherland 🇳🇱

  • The japanese prison camps are way worse than the germans. Unit 731 is one of the worst thing ever happened in ww2.

  • Do a video about the U.S Defense Pentagon. I find the massive federal landmark extremely interesting.

  • You vs The 1987 Leviathan

  • My grandfather when he was little he saw the executions the nazis did on the streets.

  • If world war 111 started their will be no humans left

  • Please do not use the modern german flag on the WW2 uniforms.

  • YOU VS AN ORDINARY JOE! best you vs ever

  • I was able to speak to my great grandfather before he died. he survived auschwitz I heard many stories from my mother about him still today.

  • Infographic show i got a challenge cam you tell us what would happen if humanity shrunk to the size of ants

  • My great grandad was a soldier and a prisoner of war in WW2

  • What would happen if Germany had won the war what would happen to people today

  • My teacher’s grandmother was executed by the Germans in the greek occupation phase of the war

  • My great grandfather was a pilot of Croatian air force who fought on Eastern front against Soviets. He was captured and spent three years in Siberian prison camp along with many other Axis prisoners, he personally told my family that he was treated fairly well but Ukrainian Axis volunteers were brutally tortured and sometimes shot on spot, he told us that Russians were smiling while doing that to them…The worst thing is that Germans and others had to dig graves for Ukrainian SS fighters and collect the bodies…

  • of course he doesn't mention the incident where a retired US soldier gained unauthorized access to a machine gun in a guard tower in a American German POW camp and mowed down dozens of them. google it. but guess what? the winners of the war write the history books

  • This channel has a prison fetish

  • Clear answer:
    MAYBE

  • I give no quarter

  • My Grandfather saw prisoners of the Americans during WW2 in Florida.

  • If you ended up in the hands of the Soviets there was no life just the gulag.

  • the soviet union wasnt even apart of the allies so…

  • whats with the numbers on the captions

  • My great grandfather joined the death march in the Philippines, but still mamaged to survive… He died 3 years ago…

  • Why are there numbers counting up to 75?

  • why are there numbers after every closed caption?

  • Did you notice in the the German flags are the new modern flags not the ones from world war 2

  • My great uncle was a POW in England he said it’s conditions were actually really nice he even said it was better condition than what he would get as a soldier

  • Trans people were also targeted by the nazis

  • Can you stop making videos about prisons and jails please!

  • Castle Itter

  • Apex legends

  • Hey guys make a video about the philippine Scouts my Grand father a proud member

  • Just watch the movie "Unbroken". You'll get a clear picture.

  • I saw the fascist police ad

  • My grand father fought in the pacific and told me stories a few years ago that mirrored a book called “With the old breed” that I just happened to be reading at the time. He talked about a storm during the invasion of Okinawa that had winds strong enough to lift a tent with 3-4 guys in it and how they had to disinter corpses buried in the side of mountains to weather the storm. He also talked about how he was lucky because as he was climbing the cargo net down to the landing craft, the guy above and below him were shot, but he was unscathed. He told me a few other stories that were funny, sad and in between. He just turned 97 and I don’t know how much longer we’ll have him here, but I was glad to hear all of the first hand stuff that he cared to share.

  • You've got the Indian flag wrong there at 7:23.Change it or we change your subscription numbers.

  • My mother did a report on a WW2 camp when she was getting back into college. Some of the stories people told her were fascinating. A lot of POWs in my neck of the woods worked on farms, but there were some instances that would've caused a national crisis. One person told my mom that they remember a German POW picking them up from school unsupervised. Another remembers their father giving one a rifle to hunt with.

  • So many prison videos^^

  • 1:40, it was more like 100k due to the fallout of no infrastruture

  • Hm. Weird. I thought it’d be very nice.

  • 1:33 is where you blow off al asahds arm. In cod mwf

  • "Funny Animation Challenge"

  • How dare u put today’s German flag on nazis

  • My grandpa recieved 2 Bronze Star and a Purple Heart at the Bulge. Never surrender.

  • dude wrong flag

  • 4:02 thought this was a flamethrower!!?

  • I dont get it isnt it war so why are there rules

  • The flags on the German soldier's armbands are wrong. That wasn't the German flag during World War II.

  • Wow, more world war content to add to the pile from this specific channel.

  • I understand that the animations are secondary to the video and educational content of said video, but to have soldiers in a U.S style uniform with a Soviet flag patch on it in addition to American helmets and carrying British style rifles while using German grenades isn’t exactly accurate but the German officers uniform are almost correct for an animation I guess. I don’t get how it can just be ignored by the team although I love their content it just seems to be an issue in any of your ww2 era videos love all the work and dedication it’s just a minor complaint on my side

  • All is fair in love and war….

  • What about the Australian camps. I heard at school that they were luxurious

  • My great grandfather was a prisoner of war, he was captured in Poland and eventually escaped (can’t remember how), but while he was a prisoner of war his job in the camp was to take a meat hook and when the trains came through with prisoners being transported to the camp, he had to take the meat hook and hook the dead bodies on the train and pull them out and throw them to the side while the alive prisoners walked off the train past the pile of dead bodies. He lived to a really old age but he died an alcoholic and he never spoke German again, he also apparently used to chew his food like 60 times before swallowing because that’s what he did in the camp to savor the taste and experience of eating.

  • My Grandmother's brother survived the Bataan Death March. We even found his name in the memorial shrine for the Death March Soldiers

  • Hey info how about next vid is about WWIII maybe coming because of china looking like they want to go to war with the phillipines i can inform you about the news because ima filipino

  • Man My Father Was Born after The War He Was Born in 1946

  • Nice to see they had purple hair dye available ❤️

  • The German soldiers are having the modern German flag

  • Why never come up with something for Abu Ghraib?

  • whats with the soy looks?

  • My great great grandfathers brother died in Ukraine as a soviet infantry man and he took out 5 German soldiers from behind but a grenade blew his legs off and he died from blood loss. I have his clothes at my grandmas and they are in a plastic bag

  • me, a German, is a little bit triggert that you're using the modern day black red gold flag of germany for wehrmacht troops

  • My Grandpa first fought against the SU, then got captured by the US.
    He was barely 18 back then…
    Wars are so unnecessary these days!

  • If I ever need help in history class, this will be my video to watch

  • My great grandfather was on a Red Cross ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and a German bomb went down the smoke stack and he survived (my answer to your question)

  • No hands just bubs

  • next you vs one punch man

  • hmm……….10:01 minutes,the ad revenue

  • The German flag they used annoyed me all episode

  • What's wrong with using Reich's flag in your vid? It's the same as displaying the SSSR flag btw.

  • Start listing the soundtracks you use for your videos

  • My Grandfather fought in WWII as RO in the US Army Air Corps. Being assigned to bomber squadron and deployed to pacific theater

  • i think that there should be multiple satisfactory ways of depicting a ww2 german soldier without using swastikas.

    putting the weimar/modern german flag there is not one of them.

  • There is a diffrent story about Jews..

  • Why are you showing the black-red-golden flag on Wehrmacht soldiers? This flag was denounced by the Nazis and was not the flag of the German empire between 1933-1945.

  • My great great great grandfather who was around 50 years old during ww2 fought for the USSR, all his comrades were killed by the Germans but they let him live because he spoke german. He was a POW and was sent to a farm to help a farmer in Germany. They even offered him a place to live there after the war but he refused and came back home with no problem.

  • Was the allied victory in ww2 really worth it?

  • Ooooooo u said the n word😶😯

  • Had a cousin who was captured with his two brothers at Bataan, one brother died during the March and the other one was one of the ten selected to punish an escape attempt

  • I’m going to be honest here. If I had to choose between surrendering to the Germans, Japanese, or Soviet’s. I would definitely choose the Germans. The only German POW camp ever talked about was aushwitz, nobody ever mentions that it would be more than likely that you just be sent to a stalag were you would either escape or wait out the war.

  • 1:47 yeah I remember reading about the puffy purple haired soldiers of WWII

  • Why do you put african americans in your ww2 videos with cauasian soldiers. The U.S military was not intergated yet.

  • My grand-grandfather (he is 107 years old) fought in WW2 too and even now he doesn't want to talk about it because it is still to painfull for him . All I know is that he fought between 1941-1944 in the foliage of Odessa .

  • Why are all the uniforms messed up and nazis wearing BRD flashes?

  • Correction for the pronunciation of Bataan :
    /Ba/ /Ta/ /An/ when you pronounce it, make it a bit slower so that you will get it right.
    Thanks
    And I love infographics show . Their videos are so informative.

  • Thanks for all the stories about your family members! Do you think you'd be able to survive too if you were put in a similar position?

  • Ah that remembers me about scp106

    scp 106 a guy hwo was in the wrold war 2 no one knowed were he comes from he went in a hole were he feel in his pocket demention all ppl were sent in a hospital wile he was sent in a mental hospital he kept disapering and one day he sang a song calld `my bunny lies over the ocean` and the other day desapired for ever but one day he was found by resecers and named him scp 106 or the old man

  • My mother's uncle went out in rowboats from Sweden to danish Waters to pick up and save jews escaping from Danmark.

  • Yup I wish we never see another world war again

  • My great uncle was a dambuster and officer. He was taken as a pow by the Germans and due to his rank, was treated very well

  • Japan versus the USSR? I know they battled in China before the war but when did that happen?

    I guess it didn’t.

  • My granmother told me her cousin and brother-in-law were arrested for singing a song. They were both never seen again.

    Also a more fun one: when queen Wilhelmina had her birthday, it was forbidden to have some kind of flower (I forgot which one) or lay flowers at some monument. It was also customary to light some fireworks, which was also forbidden. Later that night some fighters from the RAF showed up and shot tracer ammunition in the air to celebrate the queens birthday. She said that was the most beautiful moment of the war, next to the liberation.

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