On February 9, 1945, the State Department sent an urgent telegram to the Secretary of State. The message informed him that thousands of American soldiers, captured during the Battle of the Bulge, were being held at a notorious German POW camp. It stated that Stalag IX-B was “previously not (repeat not) known to be a large American camp.” The POW camp, also known as Bad Orb-Wegscheide, was located near Bad Orb in Hesse, Germany. After receiving reports of the horrific conditions in the camp, plans immediately got underway to liberate the prisoners. On April 2, 1945, an American task force broke through the German line and drove 37 miles through enemy-held territory to rescue the prisoners of Stalag IX-B.
Stalag IX-B was a German Army training camp during WWI, but in 1939, the Wehrmacht seized it and converted it into a POW camp. The camp housed prisoners from at least eight countries, including Americans, which began arriving in December 1944.
During the Battle of the Bulge, some Americans were captured and sent to Stalag IX-B. The first group, numbering nearly one thousand, was taken prisoner on December 17, 1944. They were forced to march for four days, only receiving food and water once. Then they were packed into boxcars for the five-day trip to Stalag IX-B, again only receiving food and water once. Those that were wounded were denied medical attention and suffered tremendously. The prisoners finally arrived at Stalag IX-B nine days later, but camp officials were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of POWs. They lacked beds, food, and supplies. The appalling conditions of the camp were indescribable.
In January 1945, the International Red Cross visited Stalag IX-B and reported on conditions. They described 1,300 men sleeping on the floor and others sleeping on vermin-infested straw or mattresses. Many of the barracks had broken windows, and the POWs lacked blankets or coats. There were no washing facilities and insufficient toilets. They gathered a list of soldiers imprisoned there, noting some had already passed away. At another visit in March, a report noted conditions had gotten even worse, with prisoners suffering considerable weight loss, disease, non-existent hygiene, and small portions of food.
Included among the Americans held at Stalag IX-B were Jewish-American troops. During one daily line-up, the camp commandant ordered all Jewish prisoners to step forward. Roddie Edmonds quickly spread orders that his men should stand firm. He then responded with, “We are all Jews here.” For this act of bravery, he was awarded Righteous Among the Nations, the first American soldier to be so honored.
On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, a reconnaissance task force comprised of members of the 2nd Battalion, 114th Regiment, US 44th Infantry Division, the 106th Cavalry Group, and the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion broke through German lines and went ahead of the main body of American forces. They arrived at a hill overlooking the town of Bad Orb. When a German garrison opened fire on the American position, they answered with machinegun fire and artillery shells throughout the night. Finally, Germany withdrew its troops. The following morning Stalag IX-B was turned over to the Americans, many of whom wept when they saw the condition of the emaciated prisoners.