Anthony Acevedo was born in San Bernardino, California on July 21,1924. He spent most of his childhood in California and later Durango, Mexico after his father and stepmother were deported from the United States. He was a teenager when the war began and as an American citizen was subject to the draft. He was inducted into the 70th Infantry Division. Acevedo had just begun his college studies and had hoped to become a doctor, so he had letters of support recommending him for the Medical Corps, to which he was ultimately assigned. After basic training followed by an expedited four-month medic’s training, he was shipped out as a medic with Company B, 275th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Division. The unit landed in Marseilles, France in December 1944, where they staged for combat in the Battle of the Bulge. Right away, the newly-arrived unit faced brutal engagements in harsh weather and on merciless territory—the steep, rocky, snowy forests of the Vosges Mountains. After one exchange with the enemy, Acevedo’s unit was redirected due to the German advance and B Company was cut off from the rest of the regiment. They dug in on a slope in Falkenberg, France and for the first seven days in January 1945, fought to hold off the German attackers. Acevedo tended to the increasing number of wounded and received a shrapnel wound himself on January 6.
When the men of B Company had nearly exhausted their ammunition and strength, they surrendered. As they trudged into captivity, they joined nearly 24,000 Americans who were captured in late December 1944 and early January 1945. They were forced to march barefoot in waist-high snow after having their shoes stripped from them and were taken to Bad Orb, Stalag IXB, one of the most notorious camps in the German prisoner of war system, where violations of the Geneva Convention regularly occurred. Gestapo officers separated Acevedo and interrogated and tortured him. Weeks later, Acevedo was one of 350 American servicemen in Bad Orb chosen for transfer to the Berga slave labor camp, part of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp system. The men were chosen because they were suspected of being Jewish or were otherwise classified as “racially undesirable” by the Nazis. At Berga, the prisoners endured inhumane treatment as laborers in underground tunnels, clearing space for an underground munitions factory. They worked alongside prisoners from nearby Buchenwald, all while suffering from starvation and beatings. Acevedo was one of six medics among the 350 POWs who did their best to treat and comfort their fellow captives. While in Berga, Acevedo managed to keep a diary, which is now in the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In the diary, he recorded medical details and death dates of fellow prisoners in the camp.
On April 7, Berga was evacuated by the Germans, forcing the starving and weak prisoners to march 217 miles day and night, sleeping on the roadside with no shelter. Acevedo remembered the casualties in this period, “My list started to grow little by little.” During his time in combat and in captivity, Acevedo’s Catholic faith sustained him and gave him the strength to survive. He saw the power of belief in a higher power from individuals of all different faiths give men comfort and sustenance. The conditions in Berga and beyond were deadly; 86 of the 350 POWs transferred from Stalag IXB died before liberation. Seventy percent of those who died perished on the two-week death march after the abandonment of the camp before the approaching Allies, just prior to liberation by American forces on April 20, 1945.
Acevedo recalled about his liberation and the moment of freedom, “When we heard our tanks, the 11th Armored Division, and the tankers started strolling by, I remember the young fellow picked me up like a feather; put me up on top of the tank. I felt weak. I had lost from 145 down to 87 pounds. I was about 19 ½ years old.”
The road to health and back to civilian society was difficult. Acevedo’s battles were not over even after his homecoming. It took him six years to gain the weight that he had lost in his four months as a prisoner. The emotional damage inflicted on him by his father, who had been a violent and domineering presence in Acevedo’s life, would take even longer to heal. Acevedo took the train to visit his family in Mexico and was confronted by his father about his time as a prisoner. His dad told him that it was cowardly to let himself be captured. Acevedo left and did not even speak to his father for seven years. While still physically recovering, Acevedo struggled with trauma and fought the stigmatization, even within his own family, of POWs as losers and cowards.
Nor did Acevedo receive support from the nation he had served. Acevedo and the others who had been taken to Berga were made to sign a gag order about their particular experiences. They were threatened with imprisonment by the US government should they speak out about their treatment under the Nazis. It took decades before the story would be exposed and publicized. In 2009, the US government formally recognized that the POWs taken to Berga were slave laborers as well as POWs. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recognized Anthony Acevedo as the first Mexican American on their Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors.
Acevedo’s documentation and the oral testimonies he has shared with The National WWII Museum, the United States Holocaust Museum, and other are important records of the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Holocaust. Anthony Acevedo passed away on February 11, 2018.
Anthony Acevedo’s story and that of the Berga POWs was featured in the Museum's 2013 exhibition Guest of the Third Reich.
Watch Anthony Acevedo’s interview on the Museum’s Digital Collections.
Kimberly Guise holds a BA in German and Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also studied at the Universität Freiburg in Germany and holds a masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University. Kim is fluent in German, reads Yiddish, and specializes in the American prisoner-of-war experience in World War II.