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Military CP - July 1944

Corpun file 21453


Time, New York, 10 July 1944

Army & Navy

Command: Object Lesson

Good Army men winced at the news: a major had been having military prisoners flogged. It was no extenuation of his conduct that he had been trying to restore discipline in a madhouse of a prison in a Mississippi Army camp.

Major Louis Rothschild Lefkoff, a misfit officer, was a reflection on his superiors' inertia: he had moved to new jobs and higher rank through a series of military failures. Finally found ill fitted for active command, Lefkoff was sent to Camp Van Dorn, a dreary clump of tar-paper barracks and huts some 50 miles south of Natchez as police and prison officer.

The general prisoners in his charge -- all committed on serious offenses -- were a rough lot. They refused to get up for reveille, held kangaroo courts and beat up fellow inmates, threatened Lefkoff's family. Lefkoff tried punishment -- taking away all privileges, making them "walk the track" with heavy packs, depriving them of their mail. When nothing seemed to work, he lost his head.

He issued clubs to the prison guards, ordered them to beat up a recalcitrant prisoner. When the guards refused, he called in MPs. The nine ringleaders of the prison gang (six white men, three Negroes) were taken into a tar-papered room. While the major stood outside, armed with a pistol and a submachine gun, the MPs flogged the prisoners' bare backsides with weighted rubber hoses. One man had to be taken to the hospital. By night fall, the story was all over camp -- and Major Lefkoff's military career had ended.

Said the court-martial: "The offense was the result of malassignment and incompetency. . . ." Louis Rothschild Lefkoff was found guilty, dismissed from the service, sentenced to a year and a day at hard labor. For his superiors, who had joined in the superannuated Army game of passing the buck -- no punishment.

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