Black Prisoners of War

European and American blacks were also interned in the Nazi concentration camp system. Black prisoners of war faced illegal incarceration and mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis, who did not uphold the regulations imposed by the Geneva Convention (international agreement on the conduct of war and the treatment of wounded and captured soldiers). Lieutenant Darwin Nichols, an African American pilot, was incarcerated in a Gestapo prison in Butzbach. Black soldiers of the American, French, and British armies were worked to death on construction projects or died as a result of mistreatment in concentration or prisoner-of-war camps. Others were never even incarcerated, but were instead immediately killed by the SS or Gestapo.

After battling for freedoms and defending democracy worldwide, African American soldiers returned home in 1945 only to find themselves faced with the existing prejudice and “Jim Crow” laws. Despite segregation in the military at the time, more than one million African Americans were fighting for the US Armed Forces on the homefront, in Europe, and in the Pacific by 1945. Some African American members of the US armed forces were liberators and witnesses to Nazi atrocities. The 761st Tank Battalion (an all-African American tank unit), attached to the 71st Infantry Division, US Third Army, under the command of General George Patton, participated in the liberation of Gunskirchen, a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp, in May 1945.

Freddy Johnson, an African-American jazz musician who was interned in Tittmoning from January 1942 until February 1944, plays the piano.

From the start, jazz music was often associated with race all over the world. Begging the question, could the spirit of jazz stand against racial oppression?
Jazz was described as “musical dictatorship over the masses,” “utterly impoverished,” and “culturally repulsive.” In the early 1920s, African American jazz artists could not break through the racial divide in the US, so they took to Europe where they could perform with ever-growing popularity. The cultural movement of this music threatened the expansion of Nazi ideology, deeming it immoral. By the mid-1930s Nazi authorities banned all foreign, non-Aryan music in Germany.
The campaign to rid the country of jazz did not stop American artists from going abroad to share their art. For African American horn and piano player Freddy Johnson, who was on tour, the threat became real. In December 1941, he was arrested in German-occupied Amsterdam and interned at the Tittmoning prisoner-of-war camp. Once in awhile, despite the oppression of prisoners in the camps across German-occupied Europe, the sounds of jazz could be heard. For many, musical talents helped them survive another day. In February 1944, Johnson was released from the camp in a prisoner exchange.

Photograph #75956
Date : Circa 1943 - February 1944
Locale : Tittmoning, POW camp [Bavaria] Germany
Photo Credit & Copyright : United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Provenance: Greg & Helen Hiestand
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Peter Rosenbaum (later Ros, the father and father-in-law of the donors) was born on March 19, 1925. He was the son of Leopold and Margarethe (Greta) Kapper Rosenbaum. Margarethe was born 8/17/1896 in Dresden and Leopold Rosenbaum was born March 10, 1883 in Radomsk, Poland. Peter had
two younger sisters Eva (b. 9/29/27) and Monica (b. 3/5/29). The children were born in Dresden where the Kapper grandparents could lend a helping hand. The family was assimilated and spoke German at home. Leopold was a prosperous businessman with interests in Chemnitz and Dresden. Leopold was also chairman of the Bar Kochba Sports clubs. In 1934 Leopold moved the family to Prague to reestablish his business after Nazi anti-Semitic ordinances made it difficult to conduct business in Germany. However they returned to Dresden every summer to visit Greta's parents, Otto and Beatrix Kapper and Peter's cousins Irma, Mirjam, and Sonja Sonnenschein. After the girl's mother, Greta's younger sister had died of natural causes on March 26, 1933, the three sisters lived with their grandparents. However, Otto and Beatrix Kapper also passed away within a few years, and the Sonnenschein sisters were left as orphans.

Either right before or right after the family moved to Czechoslovakia, Leopold obtained a Salvadoran passport. Sometime right around the German annexation of the Sudetenland Greta urged him to obtain one for her as well because of the imminent danger. This passport ended up saving the lives of Greta and her three children.
In ate August 1939, Leopold made plans to go to England to find a safe haven once again from the Nazis, but he took a round-about route and traveled via Vilna (Wilna, Vilnius), where he had relatives. He hired a guide for the journey. Soon afterwards World War II broke out trapping Leopold in Vilna. He was later killed in a German bombing raid (probably in June, 1941) at the Vilna train station and was buried in a Jewish cemetery. The fate of the guide is unknown.
After the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in May, 1942, the Nazis began horrific reprisals against the Czech population. Though the Rosenbaums were spared personal harm, they remembered these days as the most dangerous time of all. In Germany Peter's cousins, the Sonnenschein sisters, remained in the family home in Dresden which had been turned into a Jew house during the early part of the war. In the latter part of November 1942 they were forced to move to the Hellerberg concentration camp on the northern outskirts of Dresden. On March 2, 1943 nearly 300 Dresden Jews in Hellerberg were loaded into box cars at Dresden's Neustadt train station. This train carried 1,500 Jews in all from various parts of Saxony to Auschwitz. The following day upon the train's arrival the three Sonnenschein cousins were murdered in one of the gas chambers. Irma was 18, Mirjam was 16 and Sonja was 14 when they when they perished.
Greta's Salvadoran passport protected the remaining family from deportation to Theresienstadt, or other locations "to the East" in Poland. In May 1943 Peter and his family were arrested by the Gestapo. Men came to the family home, one with a gun, and told the family they were to be deported. They were decent about it, but there was a very tense moment as the validity of Greta's passport was questioned. The family quickly gave away valuables to friends and had a short time to pack. Peter was thrown into a Czech jail for two nights. Two brothers, Peter Mahrer and Jerome Mahrer, were also thrown into the same jail cell. The Mahrers quickly became close friends with Peter Rosenbaum.
Because of Greta's Salvadoran passport the family was deported to Ilags (Internierungslager), special internment camps for foreign nationals at war with Germany, and not concentration camps or extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. The women were sent to Libenau (Ilag V), an internment camp for women and children. Peter and the Mahrer brothers were sent to Laufen/Titmoning (Ilag VII), an internment camp for men. Polish-Americans were the largest contingent of prisoners at Tittmoning. The prisoners relied heavily on Red Cross aid packages for subsistence. Cigarettes were valuable and were used for trade, even with German guards.
In January 1945 the Rosenbaum women, and the Mahrer family including the mother Betty Mahrer, were selected to participate in a prisoner exchange for Germans held in Allied countries. As they travelled south from Liebenau by train into the German city of Friedrichshaven they witnessed terrible bombing damage and saw slave laborers toiling away. The actual exchange took place at Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. After passing through Switzerland to Marseilles France, the Rosenbaums were transferred to Camp Jeanne D'Arc in Philippeville, Algeria then under American control.
BBack in Germany, the family home was partially damaged during the Dresden fire bombing, though surviving family members did not learn of this until after the war. Peter was liberated near the end of the war by Patton's Third Army. After liberation he reunited with his sisters and mother in Philippeville. The family did not want to remain in Algeria and instead moved to an UNRRA refugee camp in Aversa, Italy, 15 kilometers north of Naples. The camp held survivors from multiple nationalities and religions. In 1946 Greta and Monica Rosenbaum immigrated to the United States. Eva Rosenbaum married Joel Wolfe, a Canadian war hero who she met in Aversa, and he brought her to North America. Having spent the war as a Salvadoran citizen, Peter intended to move to El Salvador. He made his way around the Mediterranean coastline from Naples to Spain and finally Portugal where he boarded the ship Cabo de Buena Esperanza. While en route, he changed his mind and instead went to Colombia to work for the petroleum company Esso. One year later, his mother sponsored his immigration to the United States. After arriving in the United States Peter worked for Bell Labs and Martin Marietta. In 1967 he changed his last name to Ros in response to discrimination and anti-Semitic behavior he experienced while working as a stock broker in Colorado.