The Holocaust Historiography Project

Miscellaneous Files of Interest

James Bacque Answers a Critic (8/20/1993)

This is a letter by James Bacque, author of Othe Losses. It appeared in The Times Literary Supplement of August 20, 1993.


It is every writer's delight to be attacked in a famous journal by a confused critic, so my thanks go to John Keegan for airing his views on my work in the TLS on July 23.

Mr Keegan has been misled by the editors of the book, "Eisenhower and the German POWs: Facts against falsehood," which he cites to refute me. The principal editor, Stephen E. Ambrose, clearly does not know what he thinks from day to day, because he has varied wildly from strong approval of my book, "Other Losses," to snarling slanders of me personally, together with buffoonish misrepresentations of American army policies. Having kindly read my manuscript, he wrote to me as follows: "I am not arguing with the basic truth of your have the goods on these guys, you have the quotes from those who were present and saw with their own eyes, you have the broad outline of a truth so terrible I really can't bear really have made a major historical discovery..." It appears from the latest Ambrose writings that, indeed, the truth was something he could not bear.

The same might be said for his co-editor, Gunter Bischof, an Austrian. Keegan admires the "scholarship" of Bischof, but Bischof does not know a displaced persons camp from a prison camp. He chastises me for stating that there was a US Army prison camp at Ebensee in Austria: he says that the camp was for DPs. In fact, I have photocopies of General Mark Clark's secret report about the condition of prisoners of war in the camp, plus US Army medical reports of prisoners in the camp, plus eyewitness accounts of the catastrophe among dozens of thousands of prisoners, including the manuscript of a diary kept by the priest Franz Loidl who ministered to the dying. This manuscript is on deposit in the Church History Institute of the Catholic Theological Faculty, University of Vienna.

In the same book so admired by Keegan is a gross error made by Rudiger Overmanns, who does not even know the number of prisoners taken by the Americans. This was not 3.8 million as he says, but over 6 million, according to US Army records in Suitland, Maryland. Of course, this error, conveniently for Ambrose and Keegan, apparently diminishes the number of lives for which the Americans were responsible.

Underlying the Ambrose-Bischof book is a series on German prisoners edited by Erich Maschke. Underlying that series is no important documentation from the US Army archives in Washington. The author of the book on the American camps casually omits all the significant records that survived the paper purges of the late 1940s. However, for an expert judgment on the condition of American camps Mr Keegan may rely on the words of an American Lieutenant-Colonel who was in charge of the camps in France in 1945. In a report preserved at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry W. Allard wrote that "the standards of PW camps in the Com Z in Europe compare as only slightly better or even with the living conditions of the Japanese PW camps our men tell us about, and unfavourably with those of the Germans". Let us remember that after the war, the Americans executed Japanese for precisely the crimes referred to by Allard.

Mr Keegan does not accept the definition of the term "Other Losses" given me by Colonel Philip S. Lauben. He is unaware of the US Army report discovered by Richard Boylan, a senior archivist at the US National Archives, which confirms Lauben. The report plainly states that the "Other Loses" category of prisoners meant deaths and escapes. And finally, of course, 1,700,000 Germans, plus hundreds of thousands of other Europeans, are still missing from their families. This astounding fact is normally neglected by the Western apologists, unless they can also use it to hammer the Soviets, saying they all died in the Gulag. But now that the Soviets are gone, their archives are open and the truth at last emerges.

That truth is simple. The Soviets took some 4.1 million prisoners of war east and west, of whom some 600,000 died in slavery. Of the total take, some 2.4 million were Germans. Of these, some 450,600 died, the rest were sent home. Subtracting the 450,600 dead Germans from the missing 1.7 million, we see that some 1.25 million are still not accounted for. Of these, probably 100,000 - 200,000 died in Polish, Yugoslavian and other camps. The number remaining is very nearly the number I said in "Other Losses" of those who died among all Europeans taken prisoner in the West.

I wonder if Mr Keegan will consult the Soviet records before attacking them? The surprising thing about the Soviet records is that they are extensive, detailed, accurate and incriminating. For instance, on the subject of prisoners of war, these archives display a dossier for each prisoner, complete with capture records, biographical information, legal,labour and medical history, including X-ray photographs, and so on. The average is about fifteen pages per person. The dossier of Nobel prize winner Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian zoologist contains two hundred pages about him and his work. No such records exist anywhere in the West. In months of work in the archives of the West, I was never able to find the dossier for a single one of the 9 or so million prisoners held. Not one. But in the first hour in the NKVD/KGB archives, I found the archival boxes containing over 4 million personal dossiers. I was allowed to walk up and down the aisles, and take down and photocopy any box I chose at random, and did so. I have scores of photocopies of those records here in Toronto, and Mr Keegan is welcome to consult them. Or he may wish to visit Moscow. He will find interesting information beginning with the story of the Japanese prisoners. The Japanese authorities have long since determined that some 62,000 of their prisoners, chiefly in the Kwantung Army, died in the Gulag. The Soviets lied to the Japanese government for years about the number of deaths, first saying 3,800 had died, then about 4,000, then around 35,000. Finally, the Soviet archives were opened, and mirabile dictu, the death certificates were all there, totalling very nearly 62,000.

Do I hear Keegan protesting that Japan is not Germany? On his visit to Moscow, he may see for himself the Soviet records showing that the prisoners of various nationalities were often mixed together in the same camp, so that Japanese were enslaved beside Germans, were all treated the same way, and died in approximately the same ratio of much the same causes. Letters to me from individual prisoners and records at the Hoover Institution in Stanford all show independently of the Soviet archives that this was the case in more than thirty major camps

Let me also remind Keegan that the Poles long accused the Soviets of massacring some 14,000 officers at Katyn, but that the Soviet archives reveal that the true total was around 21,000. If John Keegan and his friends wish to attack the authenticity of the Soviet archives, they are going to have to show that the fragmentary documents in the Western archives, airy with lacunae and poxed with evasions, are superior to these tremendous archives which incriminate its masters for a horrifying crime against humanity. What will they say then? That the Soviets are hiding something?

422 Heath St. E.
Toronto, Ontario