Archive for the ‘Morabito’ Category
After more than four years of research, I have finally found the resting place of Charles J Morabito (1919-1945), killed during an escape attempt from the Berga extermination camp, around one month before (some of) his fellow prisoners were liberated.
This has been quite an emotional event to say the least.
A few step forward in my search for details about Charles Morabito, PoW 25084 at the Berga slave camp in Nazi Germany. Charles was very unfortunate, part of what might have been the very last group of American prisoners of war tortured/neglected and ultimately killed by the Nazis. As reported by the PBS, he was one of the few American victims of “Vernichtung durch Arbeit — the Nazi policy of physical destruction through labor“.
As of now, I believe Charles Morabito was killed while trying to escape, sometimes in March 1945.
(1) I have now found this article in the New York Times: “CAPTIVE U.S. TROOPS BEATEN WITH PICKS; Survivor of German Camp Tells How He Put In Long Hours as Slave Laborer” from June 13, 1945. It contains the results of an interview with 20-year-old Daniel D .Steckler, survivor of Berga. He speaks of slave labor under appalling conditions, and of a total of around 350 dead between Feb 28 and Apr 18, 1945.
The article says the Americans had belonged to the 28th Division, fighting in Luxembourg.
(2) There is a Wikipedia entry for the U.S. 28th Infantry Division, but no mention of Berga in the World War II section. Also, that entry includes the 109th, 110th, 111th, and 112th Infantry Regiments for the 28th Division, whilst other sources indicate the 106th Regiment.
(3) Via the Jewish Virtual Library one can find the following 1994 book: “Forgotten Victims: Abandonment of Americans in Hitler’s Camps” by Mitchell G. Bard (Author). Interestingly, the Amazon UK site brings up next to that book, a work by Flint Whitlock entitled “Given Up for Dead: American GI’s in the Nazi Concentration Camp at Berga“.
I will try to source both books at my local library.
(4) Whitlock’s book is described with these words, providing more about the background of the whole Berga camp story:
This is the extraordinary and little-known story of American GIs taken prisoners at the Battle of the Bulge and forced into unspeakable slavery in the Nazi concentration camp at Berga. When thousands of American soldiers were captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, most were marched off to prisoner-of-war camps where they were relatively well-treated. A few hundred others, mainly Jewish, were marched off to the Nazi slave-labor camp at Berga-an-der-Elster, where many met an unspeakable fate. This is their story. For over three months, the soldiers worked under brutal, inhuman conditions, building tunnels in a mountainside for the German munitions industry. Many of them died. The others struggled to survive in a living nightmare. Strangely, when the war was over, many of the Americans who had survived Berga were required to sign a ‘security certificate’ which forbade them from ever disclosing the details of their imprisonment at Berga. Until recent years, what had happened to the American soldiers at Berga has been a closely guarded secret.
(5) Via “Look Inside“, it is possible to find references to “Morabido, Charles” for pages 156-159 (it is a misspelling…check out “Morabito” as written on Charles’ tomb’s cross; and his name in the prisoners’ list):
1. on Page 159:
” … escape was tied to Morabido’s “plundering” at the farm, and he explained the predicament to Bokanic. A German noncom “badgered Bokanic about knowing and escaping with Morabido”
2. on Page 158:
” … Bokanic dashed from the storeroom, out the gate, and ran for cover to wait for Morabido. Five minutes passed and then a shot rang out from the direction … ”
3. on Page 157:
“asked Bokanic where Morabido was and he said that Morabido went to milk a cow. Believe it! Soon, we heard the noise of cows mooing, then … ”
4. on Page 156:
” … known of the plan and, once Mark was at work in the tunnel, two GIs, Charles Morabido and another whose last name was Bokanic, approached him and said they … ”
5. from Index:
“xv, 25, 28 Morabido, Charles: 156-159 Moselle River, France: 68 Munk, Honzo: 140,176-177,179-180 Nabburg, Germany : 189 Nachtmandersheid, Luxembourg: 41 … “
(6) Those pages speak of an escape attempt, and Charles is described by fellow prisoner Joe Mark as a “devil-may-care soldier“, together with his friend ??? Bokanic, very much interested in having finally something to eat. For some reason he decided to milk a cow at a nearby farmhouse. At page 158 the book says Charles might have been shot by the farmer.
It was March 1945.
(7) It is very unfortunate that none of the four original documents displayed in the PBS site about Berga contains the entry about Charles Morabito. There is plenty of information in that site though. For now I have extracted the following map:
Rocco Morabito, aka “Rocky Morabito”, is nowadays a 87-year-old resident of Jacksonville, Fla.
Forty years ago, Rocco gained everlasting notoriety winning the Pulitzer Prize for this picture, later title “The Kiss of Life”:
It shows lineman J.D. Thompson resuscitating fellow worker Randall G. Champion. The story behind the picture can be found in this 1997 article on the Florida Times – Union.
The life of Rocco Morabito has recently become the subject of a documentary by the Jacksonville Historical Society. A 5-minute extract is available here.
There are several pictures of Rocco available on the web, including this 1988 visit to Champion (who died in 2002), together with Thompson:
This is Rocco in 2006, pictured with one of his old cameras:
And here’s Rocco Morabito just a few months ago, in April 2008, as his picture was included in an interactive exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, DC:
It all started for me whilst reading the IHT, with a NARA photo of Charles Morabito’s then-grave at Berga:
Now I know Charles was a very unfortunate Prisoner of War, sent to a deadly slave camp in the last months of the war. The PBS pages about the documentary “BERGA: SOLDIERS oF ANOTHER WAR” list him as prisoner #25084, with rank PFC
He may have been of the 106th Infrantry Division, but it is not a given. I’m still looking for details