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The Bitter End’

In response to:

The Bitter End from the April 28, 2005 issue

To the Editors:

Professor Dyson believes that prisoners taken in World War II by the Germans in the “West” were given the benefits of the Geneva Convention and once they were taken to prison camp they generally survived because they were neither tortured nor starved [“The Bitter End,” NYR, April 28].

Well, not exactly. Dr. Dyson appears not to have heard of the experience of young Jewish-American soldiers taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. After they reached prison camp these Jewish prisoners were segregated out from the other POWs, taken to work as slave laborers in German mines where they were starved, forced to work in bitter cold wearing rags of clothing under conditions more analogous to Ausch- witz than to a normal POW camp. The majority of them died from these conditions; a small remnant survived.

These matters are no secret. PBS has done a documentary on this subject. If Dr. Dyson plans to reprint his piece he might consider adding a caveat after his sentence about the Geneva Convention which would read “except if the prisoners were Jewish.” At the very least, it would be more accurate.

Martin Gaynes

Chevy Chase, Maryland

Freeman Dyson replies:

I am grateful to Martin Gaynes for correcting my mistake. It is important to have it on record that atrocities occurred also in POW camps where Geneva rules were usually followed. Max Hastings makes no claim for the completeness of his collection of atrocity stories, and neither do I. The fact that there was a major breach of the rules in the treatment of Jewish prisoners does not lessen the value of the rules for saving lives, either in World War II or today.

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