Tag Archives: Charles Morabito

Veteran’s Day: Story of Charles (and Anthony and Frank)

Since it’s Veteran’s Day in the USA, I am posting a recap of the story of Charles J Morabito, killed in the proximity of the Berga extermination camp in the last weeks of World War II, and whose temporary resting place appears in a relatively famous picture taken shortly after the war.

“A special area of the Berga cemetery was set aside for the bodies of 22 Americans, some of whom were buried in the same grave without coffins. The helmet of John Simcox displays the insignia of the 28th Division”. Charles’ helmet and cross are to the left. (NARA photo)

Plus I’ll mention brothers Anthony “Tony” F. Morabito and Frank A. Morabito, Purple Heart both of them, killed in action in December 1944 and February 1945 respectively and currently next to each other at the Épinal American Cemetery and Memorial, France.

I feel particularly attached to these stories having researched them for more than four years before being able to collate some information. BTW I have had the privilege to visit Tony and Frank in France and plan to go see Charles as soon as I can arrange a trip to his cemetery in Cuyahoga County, OH.

I will also travel one day to what remains in Berga.


Charles J. Morabito (1924-1945):

  • Born in 1924 (less probably, in 1916 or 1919) in Cuyahoga Falls, OH (Cleveland area)
  • Son of Santo “Sam” Morabito (Feb 16, 1889-Oct 26, 1975) and Mamie Foll (August 17, 1892-April 24, 1975)
  • Charles’ siblings: brother Frank (d. Oct 1969) , Frances Edith (d. 2004), Grace (March 22, 1930-Feb 8, 1931) and Tony Joseph (d. 1991)
  • Completed first year of high school
  • Listed as “semiskilled chauffeurs and drivers, bus, taxi, truck, and tractor” – somebody able to handle a motor vehicle
  • Last address in America: 9022 Kinsman Rd, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
  • Enlisted at Camp Perry Lacarne in Cuyahoga County, OH on March 3, 1943, “for the rest of the war, plus six months” in the U.S. Army, Service #35050065
  • Probably assigned to the XVIII Infantry Division, Regiment 106, 109, 110, 111 or 112
  • Captured by the German army in December 1944 during the “Battle of the Ardenne”
  • Spent a few months in captivity in Bad Orb, near Frankfurt
  • Became prisoner of war #25084 in the enslavement and extermination camp in Berga, Germany around Feb 18, 1945 (less than three months before VE-day)

    Barracks in Berga, where 200 prisoners were cruelly cramped
  • Described by fellow prisoner Joe Mark as “reckless”
  • Escaped in March 1945, probably on the 15th. Was captured while milking a cow not far from the camp, a reckless act indeed but still done after having been starved for weeks (the cow, has it happens, made a noise)
  • Killed by his captors, probably shot on the spot with wooden bullets
  • After many vicissitudes, the survivors of Berga were freed on April 18 (or 23), 1945. Histomil has more details. There are also a NatGeo video and pictures.
  • Charles’ tomb in Berga (where the body was transferred after the camp was liberated) was photographed by NARA (see photo at the top of this post). In 2006, by pure chance that same picture got printed on the pages of the International Herald Tribune and that’s where I noticed it, kicking off all the search to collect this information
  • The body was returned to the U.S. around 1948
  • Charles’ funeral with family and friends was held Dec 14, 1948 at St. Anthony-St.Bridget Church (appropriately serving at the time also the Italian community from Cleveland’s Haymarket area

    Two views of the Church were Charles’ funeral was held
  • Chales was finally buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cuyahoga County 
  • He is there now with his mother and father. The following pictures were kindly taken for me by volunteers of the Find A Grave project:

Some details about the rest of the family (the whole Cuyahoga area in Ohio is full of people with surname “Morabito”):

  • Sister Frances married Anthony Giancola (d. 1990)
  • Brother Tony lived probably in 4538 Hunting Valley Lane, Brecksville, OH 44141 with his wife, J.A.
  • Descendants of Charles’ siblings: Anthony, Frances, Tina. Maybe Lisa A Morabito, daughter of Tony.
  • Probable relatives: Sebastiano and Carmela Morabito Prefiero, whose son Giuseppe was born Dec 7, 1908 and died Apr 12, 1912; and Giovanni (John) Morabito and Concetta A. Conti

And this is what I know of New-York-State born Anthony “Tony” F. Morabito (1921-Dec 4, 1944) and Frank A. Morabito (1920-Feb 20, 1945), both killed in action and thankfully resting next to each other:

  • Sons of Frank Anthony Morabito and Maria Nicola Salvatore.
  • Last US address: 161 West Avenue, Spencerport, Monroe County, NY
  • Tony enlisted on May 22, 1944 at Fort Dix, NJ. Service #42142051 in the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Army
  • Frank enlisted on April 14, 1944 at Fort Dix, NJ. Service #56374374 in the 274th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Division, U.S. Army
  • Both ranked Private First Class, noted as mechanics, single, without dependents.
  • Tony and Frank “died of wounds” during action in Germany and France respectively, only 11 weeks apart
  • They had at lest two brothers: Arthur Carmelo Morabito, veteran of WW II, Korea and Vietnam, retired a Lt. Colonel from the U.S. Air Force; and Joseph Bruno Morabito, veteran of WW II as a Tech. 5, 154th engineers and awarded four battle stars having seen combat in Peilelu, Saipan Leyte Gulf and Iwo Jima.
  • This means their family might have had four siblings fighting in WWII at the same time 
  • Tony and Frank are buried next to each other in Épinal American Cemetery and Memorial, Vosges, Lorraine Region, France respectively in Plot A Row 36 Grave 51 and Plot A Row 36 Grave 50

Ciao Charles. Ti Ho Trovato.

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.

New Details About Charles Morabito

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.

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(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:

To Berga