Destroying Fort Schmerzen: Freeing The Prisoners

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The captain of Lt. Mike Powell's Ranger squad kills a German guard as the boxcar doors open inside Fort Schmerzen.

The captain of Lt. Mike Powell’s Ranger squad kills a German guard as the boxcar doors open inside Fort Schmerzen before the soldiers begin their assault on the fictional fort.

The “Schmerzen Express” grinds to a halt inside the fort’s gates, a Trojan Horse with boxcars full of U.S. Army Rangers ready to ambush the unsuspecting German soldiers outside. The doors open and Lt. Mike Powell and his squad engage enemy snipers in towers overlooking the tracks in a deadly firefight.

Once the train platform is clear, Powell makes his way inside to free some Allied prisoners held in cells on Fort Schmerzen‘s top floor before heading deeper into the facility to plant his explosives.

It’s uncertain why the men were at the fort, instead of in a prisoner of war camp, but given the unpleasant nature of its commander, Oberst (Col.) Hermann Müller, his involvement in the production of poisonous mustard gas, and the fact that the POWs were kept in what looks like solitary confinement cells, they were probably about to meet a horrible fate.

During World War II, POWs were expected to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention, which was signed by 46 countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States on July 27, 1929, countries that later ratified the agreement. Of the other major powers, Japan signed but did not ratify the document, and the Soviet Union didn’t sign it at all.

The agreement stated that “in the extreme event of a war, it will be the duty of every Power, to mitigate as far as possible, the inevitable rigors thereof and to alleviate the condition of prisoners of war.”

It also notes that “prisoners of war are in the power of the hostile Government, but not of the individuals or formation which captured them. They shall at all times be humanely treated and protected… measures of reprisal against them are forbidden.”

The prisoners leave their cells after they're freed by Powell.

The prisoners leave their cells after they’re freed by Powell.

Even though it’s not clear why the Allied soldiers are being held at Fort Schmerzen, it’s pretty clear that they’re not being treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Although Article Nine of the document says prisoners can be kept in a town, a fortress, or any other place, including fenced camps, it explains that they can’t be confined or imprisoned except for safety or health reasons, and must be released once such circumstances have passed.

The following article adds that POWs must be lodged in buildings that are clean and safe, and that their living conditions must be the same as those experienced by the detaining country’s own depot troops (those housed in barracks and not on the front lines).

Unless the Wehrmacht had a habit of keeping its own soldiers in solitary confinement, the living conditions for Fort Schmerzen’s prisoners are far less than acceptable.

Of course, some prisoners were confined in this way, as the agreement says that imprisonment is the most severe disciplinary (non-trial) punishment that can be inflicted upon a POW. Prisoners could be tried and sentenced to death, but their military had to be notified of all sentences.

It seems unlikely that Fort Schmerzen’s prisoners would’ve all been disciplined at once, or that they would be all be sentenced to death by gas.

Even if these were men not sentenced to death, but put to work, the Geneva Convention specifically states that work done by POWs “shall have no direct connection with the operations of the war,” including weapons production and transport of supplies.

A 1944 map of POW camps in Germany and surrounding countries. More sites have since been found.

A 1944 map of POW camps in Germany and surrounding countries. More sites have since been found.

Throughout the war, mistreatment of POWs and breaches of the Geneva Convention by all sides did occur, and there’s a chance that a camp like Fort Schmerzen did exist.

As Dr. Martin Dean says in this March 2013 New York Times article, “You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps… they were everywhere.”

At the start of the war, 17 military districts (Wehrkreise) were created, and camps were governed by whatever district they were in. The seats of the districts closest to Fort Schmerzen’s possible location were Stuttgart and Wiesbaden, but the train commandeered by Powell’s Rangers has “Kassel” printed on the inside of the boxcars – another district seat located more towards the center of the country.

As mentioned before, atrocities did happen, but they were more likely to happen to non-Western prisoners. According to this article in World War II Magazine, of 5.7 million Soviets captured after 1941, 3.3 million died in captivity.

In Adolf Hitler’sCommissar Order” of June 6, 1941, he describes the Soviets, specifically “political commissars” – identified as anyone wearing a red star with a golden hammer and sickle (anyone in the Red Army) – as barbaric, ideological enemies who had to be destroyed.

He said the Soviets could not be expected to act in accordance with international law (possibly because they had not signed the Geneva Convention), and that as a “menace to our own safety… they must be dealt with promptly and with the utmost severity.”

The prisoners freed from Fort Schmerzen were not Soviets (their circumstances may have been more accurate if they had been), but Allied soldiers (all apparently clones of Pvt. Jury), who probably would not have found themselves awaiting a painful death at the hands of a madman.

~ by John on January 12, 2015.

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