Research

Goodman, Sydney

Jewish-American prisoner of war
Stalag IX-B (Bad Orb), Berga

Born in 1917 in  Detroit to Jewish parents, Goodman attended Durfee Intermediate and then Central High School, graduating in 1935. He attended Northwestern University and Wayne University, earning a degree in 1939. In 1940 he married Grace Goldberg and together they had a daughter, Karen, in 1941.

Goodman was drafted onto the U. S. Army in November 1943 and received his basic training at Camp Walters, Texas. Following basic training, he was sent to England for further training and from there went to France to a replacement depot. He was assigned to Company M, 110th Infantry, 28th Division, 1st Army, as a machine gunner.

During the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, Goodman was captured by the German army and, following a five-day march of considerable mileage, sent to the POW camp Stalag IX-B at Bad Orb in Germany. Prior to being captured, he threw away his metal "dog tags," i.e., identification tags, which were marked with an H, designating to be Hebrew. At Stalag IX-B, all Jewish POWs were isolated into separate barracks after being identified to the Germans by American officers. The barracks containing Jewish POWs were surrounded by barbed wire fences.

Subsequently, Goodman and the other Jewish prisoners were sent to the slave labor camp Berga, a subsidiary camp of Buchenwald. Whereas general conditions were bad at Stalag IX-B, Goodman describes them as horrible at Berga, with food being very meager and non-nutritious and housing and sanitary conditions totally inadequate. The approximately 350 Jewish POWs from Stalag IX-B plus the other Jewish prisoners at Berga were forced to dig tunnels under inhumane conditions. Subsequently records revealed that Berga had a death rate of approximately 20 percent, the highest of any POW camp holding American military personnel. Requiring POWs to perform forced labor is contrary to the articles of the Geneva Convention, which sets the rules for the treatment of prisoners of war. These were ignored by the Germans at the Berga camp.

One of the items that Goodman was allowed to keep in his possession were some photographs of his family. He used the backs of them to keep a diary of the events at Berga. This diary later allowed him to identify and report to U. S. Army authorities the names of the 69 of the 350 soldiers from Stalag IX-B who died either at Berga or on the forced march that followed the liquidation of the camp. The list of 69 does not include those who died in hospitals or were killed after escaping from the camp or the forced march.

Goodman was liberated by American army units while on a many-day-long march from Berga to an unknown destination. He spent considerable time in military hospitals in the field in England and the United states and was then discharged from the army on November 1, 1945, at the Percy Jones Hospital, Fort Custer, Michigan.

Goodman believes he lost about 40 pounds while at the two POW camps but attributes his survival primarily to two reasons. First, since he was able to speak Yiddish, which is quite similar to German, he was used as an interpreter by the guards at Berga who had no knowledge of English, and because of that ability, he was thus not required to work in the mines and tunnels. This also allowed him to obtain some extra food once in a while. Secondly, he managed to stay focused on survival and did not let all of the other events get to him.

Various documents and photographs are shown on the video authenticating his story.

The treatment of Jewish-American prisoners of war is documented in a book. "Forgotten Victims - The Abandonment of Americans in Hitler's Camps" by Mitchell G. Bard, 1994, Waterview Press. Goodman is mentioned in the book on page 73.

Interview Information:
Date: July 12, 1999
Length: 1 hour 12 minutes
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Format: Video recording