A dramatic story of slave labor, forced abortions, and mass murder
When local officials in and around the German city of Passau were forced after the Second World War to mark the graves of some of the victims of Nazi terror in commemoration of the crimes committed by a nation, they chose the cheapest ground cover available—wintergreen. With bitter irony the title Wintergreen refers simultaneously to the easy cover-up of these crimes in the collective memory of a people who were observers, bystanders, facilitators, and even participants.
With the same commitment to exposing Nazi crimes that has made her books Against the Stream and Out of Passau so widely read, Anna Elisabeth Rosmus uncovers the wartime fate of foreign workers, their children, prisoners of war, and Jewish citizens in Wintergreen: Suppressed Murders. The renowned human rights activist, whose search for the truth about the Nazi state inspired the Academy Award–nominated film The Nasty Girl, recounts a horrific story of slave labor, forced abortions, and mass murder that took place in and around her Bavarian hometown. Until Rosmus began her work, the citizens of the region had successfully avoided acknowledging these atrocities for decades.
In Wintergreen, Rosmus documents the treatment of women from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and other Easter European countries who were deported to Germany and put to work as forced laborers. She tells how doctors performed abortions—at times without anesthesia—on these women despite the illegality of such practices for German women and strong opposition by the local and highly influential Roman Catholic church. Rosmus describes the mistreatment of the infants in so-called children's homes, where they were intentionally fed spoiled food and the mortality rates were notoriously high.
With an impending German surrender, Passau and its environs witnessed additional carnage. Rosmus sheds light on the united effort of the Hitler Youth, secret police, militia, and German Wehrmacht to massacre thousands of Russian prisoners of war who were being held in the region. The Nazis and their sympathizers forced some prisoners to dig their own graves before being shot; others they threw into the Inn River to drown. In nearby Pocking-Waldstadt, Nazis murdered Jews held in a concentration subcamp, dumping some bodies from moving trains and placing others in hastily dug graves. As disturbing as these crimes are, Rosmus finds just as unsettling the local population's ability to gloss over these acts or to believe that they never happened at all.
Anna Elisabeth Rosmus, an author and human rights activist, is the recipient of many awards for her struggle against bigotry and anti-Semitism. Her honors include the Conscience in Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Heinz-Galinski Prize given by the German Jewish Community, the Sarnat Prize from the Anti-Defamation League, and the Holocaust Memorial Award from the Holocaust Survivors and Friends in Pursuit of Justice. Her writings about Nazism and neo-Nazism have educated generations of Germans and non-Germans, particularly those born after 1945, about the Holocaust. Rosmus lives near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
Imogen Von Tannenberg previously served as director of translations at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation established by Steven Spielberg and is currently an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California. She lives in Venice, California.