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Catholic, military, missal carried by Anthony Acevedo as a medic and POW

Object | Accession Number: 2010.440.4

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    Brief Narrative
    Catholic prayer book used by 20-year-old Anthony Acevedo when he was a US Army medic and a German prisoner of war in the Berga an der Elster slave labor camp from December 1944 to April 1945. Tony was a Mexican-American who enlisted in the US Army in 1943. He served as a medic in Company B, 275th regiment, 70th Infantry Division. In January 1945, the company surrendered to the German Army during the Battle of the Bulge. They were sent to a prisoner of war camp, Stalag IX-B, in Germany, where Tony was tortured during interrogation. In February, he was transferred along with 350 fellow soldiers, either Jewish or considered undesirables, to Berga, a subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp. Berga was a slave labor camp where prisoners toiled in underground tunnels and mines. Tony worked at the camp as a medic, and he was able to hide a diary and record the names and deaths of the many who died there. He did this out of duty and to honor to his fellow soldiers. On April 3, as Allied forces neared, the prisoners were ordered on a death march. On April 23, they were liberated by the 11th Armored Division. Before being discharged, the roughly 160 survivors of Berga were forced by the US Army to sign an affidavit promising not to speak about their experiences in Berga. Tony was sent to California to recuperate and discharged in December 1945. In 2009, the US Army finally admitted that American soldiers had been imprisoned in a German slave labor camp.
    My Military Missal
    publication/distribution:  1942
    use:  1943-1945 June
    publication: Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
    use: Marseille (France)
    use: Stalag IX B.; Bad Orb (Germany)
    use: Berga (Concentration camp); Berga (Thuringia, Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Anthony Acevedo
    front, cover, top left, printed, red ink : MY / MILITARY / MISSAL
    back, cover, bottom, printed, red ink : MY / ROSARY / PAGE / 123
    Subject: Anthony Acevedo
    Editor: Joseph F. Stedman
    Publisher: Confraternity of the Precious Blood
    Distributor: National Catholic Community Service
    Anthony (Tony) Acevedo (1924-2018) was born in San Bernardino, California, to Francisco Guillermo and Maria Luisa Acevedo. Francisco was born in Mexico City, Mexico, and Maria was born in Sonora. Tony had one sister, Maria Luisa (1925-?). His mother died in January 1926. The family moved to Pasadena. Francisco remarried in 1930 and had two children. The family was Catholic and Tony attended a segregated public school. In 1937, his parents were deported and the family relocated to Durango, Mexico, where Francisco, an architectural engineer, was appointed Director of Public Works. One day in 1940, Tony heard Morse code transmissions near their home. He reported this to his father and it was discovered that two employees were spying for a German submarine near Baja, California; the spies were soon arrested.

    In 1942, Tony, an American citizen, returned to Pasadena, CA, to join the Army. Since he was only 17-1/2 at the time, his father wrote a letter grating permission for Tony to return to the United States and join the military. When Tony reported for induction, he was informed by the Army that his education in Mexico was insufficient, so he began classes at Pasadena City College. After a three month semester, he was inducted into the Army in 1943. Tony had a strong interest in medicine and was assigned as a medic to Company B, 275th regiment, 70th Infantry Division. In December 1944, the company was deployed to Marseilles, France, and sent into combat in the Battle of the Bulge. The company was surrounded at Falkenburg Hill and endured heavy casualties. Tony was struck in the shin by shrapnel. The soldiers took cover in foxholes for a week with no food or water. On January 6, 1945, the unit was ordered to surrender to the Germans. They were forced to take off their boots to prevent escape, and then walk down the hill in waist deep snow to the train depot.

    After a short truck ride, they marched for six days and nights to prisoner of war camp, Stalag IX-B, in Bad Orb, Germany. Tony was prisoner number 27016. He was interrogated for several hours by a German officer in English and Spanish, and revealed only his name, rank, and serial number. The officer knew detailed information about Tony and his family, including the incident with the German spies in Mexico. Tony was beaten numerous times for refusing to talk and tortured with needles pushed under his fingernails. The prisoners slept in barracks without bunks and were given boiled grass to drink. In early February, there was a line up and Jews were told to step forward. There were not enough in this self-selected group, so the Germans selected prisoners who they thought looked or sounded Jewish, as well as those they deemed undesirable. A guard pushed Tony with a gun and ordered him to step forward.

    Tony and 349 of his fellow soldiers were transported to Berga an der Elster labor camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp. They were placed in Berga 2. Berga 1 held political and Jewish prisoners from other countries who wore striped uniforms. They were interrogated again. The prisoners slept two to a bunk in lice-ridden barracks. Food rations were 100 grams of bread per week and according to Tony it was made of sawdust, ground glass, ground sand and barley, and that they received soup made from cats and rats. Later, there was even less to eat. The prisoners were used as slave labor, digging tunnels and working in mines in 12 hour shifts. Tony worked as a medic, crossing floating bridges to retrieve injured or fallen workers. He used clothing for bandages, ordinary sewing kits for sutures, and melted snow to clean wounds. The Germans made clear that his job was to aid the prisoners so that they could be forced back to work. The death rate was high due to starvation, overwork, disease, and mistreatment, such as frequent beatings by the guards. Tony tried his best to keep others alive, but, as with one friend who was too weak to eat, he could only comfort him as he died in his arms. Some tried to escape and were executed with wooden bullets; medics had to fill the holes with wax. They also had to bury the dead. Tony received a diary in a Red Cross care package, where he recorded the name, date, and cause of death of his fellow soldiers. Sometimes he had trouble keeping up, as the death rate reached six a day.

    On April 3, 1945, as American forces advanced near the camp, the prisoners were ordered on a death march. Tony pushed a cart loaded with twenty wounded and dead men; some were suffocated by the weight of those above. The Germans killed prisoners from other camps and fleeing civilians that they passed during the march. At one point, Tony asked permission to perform a tracheostomy on a soldier suffering from diphtheria; the camp commander, Erwin Metz, denied the request and hit Tony with his rifle butt. They walked for three weeks and over 150 miles with little food or water. The prisoners died so quickly that Tony could not record all the deaths in his diary.

    On April 23, they were liberated by the 11th Armored Division near Cham. The inmates were taken to a field hospital. Of the 350 prisoners who were sent to Berga, it is estimated that half of the men died during their imprisonment and the death march. Tony weighed only 87 pounds at liberation. He was next sent to a general hospital in Reims, France. Prior to being sent back to the US for further care, Tony and some of the other surviving prisoners from the camp were ordered by the US Army to sign an affidavit that they believed stated that they would never speak about their experience in Berga. If they did so, they would be subject to disciplinary action. In June 1945, Tony was sent to a recuperation center in Santa Barbara. He was discharged on December 10, 1945. When he returned home, his father accused him of being a coward for being captured and held as a POW. Tony could not describe his ordeal and he never did for over fifty years. He received several awards, including the Bronze Star, for his wartime service. Tony settled in California, married, and had four children. He had a career as an aerospace design engineer. Tony later divorced and reconnected with his sweetheart from before the war.

    In 1999, Tony began speaking about his experiences as a prisoner of war in the Berga slave labor camp to local groups and, later, to national newspapers. It was not until 2009 that the US Army publicly recognized that the Berga camp where Tony and his fellow soldiers had been imprisoned was a slave labor camp.

    Physical Details

    English Latin
    Object Type
    Missals (lcsh)
    Religious books.
    Physical Description
    Book; 126 p.; illustrations; 10.5 cm. Missal bound in tan-colored cardstock covers with white string threaded through the flexible spine. The covers are printed in red ink with the title and the logo for the National Catholic Community Service, as well as an image of a sword and crown on the front cover, and an image of a rosary on the back cover. The missal has serious deterioration across the covers and spine; the top corners of the pages are all dog-eared; the top right corner of the front cover is torn off; the last page is missing; and the back cover has large pieces missing and has been repaired through conservation.
    overall: Height: 4.125 inches (10.478 cm) | Width: 2.750 inches (6.985 cm) | Depth: 0.250 inches (0.635 cm)
    overall : cardstock, paper, ink, string

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The missal was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2010 by Anthony Acevedo.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-24 14:55:43
    This page:

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