"There were insufficient American guards, especially German speakers. They mostly supervised the German officers and NCOs who strictly maintained discipline.:33–34 The Germans woke their own men, marched them to and from meals, and prepared them for work; their routine successfully recreated the feel of military discipline for prisoners.:34 Prisoners had friendly interaction with local civilians and sometimes were allowed outside the camps without guards on the honor system:104,223 (Black American guards noted that German prisoners could visit restaurants that they could not because of Jim Crow laws.:52–53), luxuries such as beer and wine were sometimes available, and hobbies or sports were encouraged. Alex Funke, a former POW at Camp Algona, wrote: "We all were positively impressed" by the U.S. and that "We all had been won over to friendly relations with" the U.S.Indeed, unauthorized fraternization between American women and German prisoners was sometimes a problem. Several camps held social receptions with local American girls, and some Germans met their future wives as prisoners." wiki
Well, pilgrims. I find this interesting. This could not be more different from the situation in the Borg/jihadi wars of the last 20 years.
My father was an officer in the US Army Service Forces in WW2. (logistics and base operations in CONUS) until he started training to be a military government official in Germany. He was stationed at several posts that had German POWs confined there. I found them fascinating. I watched them march to and from work singing in four part harmony. Their officers and NCOs marched them. They did the gardening around on-post housing. I often went out to watch them work and talk to them. My mother hated that, but then, she was a person of simple hatreds. The US MP guards watched but did not interfere. These prisoners were veterans of Panzerarmee Afrika, all captured at the surrender in Tunisia.. They told me so. A lot of them spoke excellent English, usually with a British accent that they had learned in school. There were a lot of family men who missed their children.
I find it particularly interesting that a few volunteered to fight Japan and that OKW arranged through the ICRC for them to receive constructive credits at German Universities for the courses that they taught each other.
A different world. pl
I was five or six when I knew these German POWs.
One of the German POWs bagging groceries at the Camp Cook PX (now Vandenburg AFB) broke down and cried when he saw my little tow-haired 2 year old presence in line with my mother – I reminded him of his own little blonde daughter back home in Germany. So the family story goes.
Local German POW camp residuals in Central California – the water tower at a camp is still visible off Highway 101, a German School, at one time several local German restaurants and Delicatessen, and still the German-speaking but now aging, Edelweiss Choir.
Elmore Leonard’s “Comfort to the Enemy” develops from an incident at one of the OK POW camps. And, if memory serves, there’s at least one sequel set in Detroit, “Up in Honey’s Room”, involving the ethnic German community.
As ever with Leonard, great stories, superbly told.
Thank you for this article. I also find it fascinating, albeit through comparing the conditions of the German (and their allied) POWs in the USA vis-à-vis the conditions on the European continent experienced by Allied POWs.
“Daddy” went ashore with the Essex Scottish on RED BEACH at Dieppe, where he accumulated German steel fragments, some of which stayed with him through 2 1/2 years as a guest of the Wehrmacht and on to the grave.
Some six decades ago, I asked him if he hated Germans. His immediate retort was an emphatic “NO, I hate Nazis; but I love the German people.”
Glad to learn that something similar was true in the USA at that time.
Algona, Iowa, where the mentioned museum is and the POW camp was is about 40 miles SSE across the border from my hometown in Minnesota. We also had a camp for prisoners who worked on farms in the area. I dimly recall its barracks on the edge of town being pointed out to me. They were torn down shortly after the war and replaced with a drive-in theater. That is now also history.
In the ’80s a co-worker who was 5-10 years older than I and who grew up on a farm in western MN that used POW labor recalled an “Oh S**t” moment from the era. His dad told his older brother, who was about 15 or so, to drive the pickup truck to the camp and get the crew for the day. The 5 or 6 guys piled into the back of the truck for the uneventful trip back to the farm. But when they arrived and he dropped the tailgate he was appalled to see his loaded 410 shotgun laying at their feet. He’d been rabbit hunting the evening before and had neglected to stow it properly when he had finished. My friend Herb said his brother swore him to secrecy, knowing their dad would let him have it if he knew.
After I was born on Dec. 7, 1941, my parents took me every summer to my maternal grandparents hop farm in Oregon. My grandfather Glen Hiltibrand was very strict but exceptionally honest in overseeing the neighborhood hop pickers in the 40s and 50s before hop picking machines existed and Mexican laborers came to help during the peak harvest months. In 1945 the government had posted a group of German prisoners to work on our hop farm under an American foreman. I used to play with the Germans during their breaks and enjoyed being carried around on their shoulders as I was transferred from one to the other. I learned later that the foreman who oversaw the prisoners was stealing their hourly pay. When my grandfather found that out, he confronted him and demanded that he return all the stolen payments to the prisoners and never steal from them again. The foreman complained bitterly that they were the enemy and deserved nothing from Americans. He was quickly and forcefully shut up. Somewhere in my Oregon house I have a picture of me straddling the shoulders of a prisoner and both of us smiling happily. I’m sure however that their feelings were on children, families and friends back home.
Fascinating and little known. Thank you.
Very humane treatment. Those prisoners were very lucky, they probably avoided the fate of the German PoWs in Europe.
In the UK they were used as slave labour until at least 1947. Our Ministry of Works made an estimated £24M profit a year (at 2.4 £/$) Must be over $1B in today’s money. But at least they were not among the 100,000s who starved and died on the Rhine.
Your father would probably have been looking after civilians, perhaps I/C a town. Did you come to Europe with him Colonel?
He went over six months earlier than my mother and I. He was always in financial affairs, dealt with contracting for agricultural goods for US forces all over Europe. He was a Finance Corps officer after he left the cavalry.
A few years ago one of the prisoners held at Ft Lewis returned to say thanks to his captors. It was covered in the local TV news, but the Army Times wrote it up.
What this article doesn’t mention is what got the local TV news interested. After his visit to JBML he rode his bike over the pass to Yakima (a considerable feat for a man his age even with some electric assistance from that bike) to visit one of the hops/Timothy hay farms where he spent a fall working as a prisoner. Same family still owns it and they remembered him.
I have read these stories and am pleased that we acted honorably. But my only personal connection had a different flavor. My mother was an army nurse at a hospital that received wounded from Europe. She remembered the German prisoners as being arrogant. They seemed to think that no one could beat the Germans. Her family lived in an area of German farmers. They all spoke some German. That may have made a difference in her interactions.
Patton was right.
Dad (Hugh Hanley) flew as a bombardier with the 461st out of Italy. On December 17th his plane (theFlying Finger) was taken down over the Czech Republic. Four of the crew were killed and six bailed out. I grew up listening to stories about the conditions at Stalag Luft I… sawdust bread and cabbage soup, incredible cold, body lice and boredom. They dug a tunnel and the Germans knew it but let them keep themselves busy. It was filled in when they got to the fence. They took the prunes sent by the Red Cross and one of the farm boys made a batch of hooch. They all got drunk and hung over but it was something to do. Dad’s anniversary is coming up and the family will remember and honor it. Before I retired from teaching, I made copies of his bluebook and shared it with my students. He was only 21 when he was shot down and this amazed my kids in high school. I hope they will remember. We must keep the memory alive.
There were quite a few Italian prisoners of war along with the Germans in Ogden, Utah during the war….One of them ended up as my great uncle and was sworn in as a citizen the same year I graduated high school.
The “slave labour” conditions in the UK referred to by JohninMK may have been the usual case of “pot luck” regarding the camps or off-site workplaces assigned to groups. The famous Manchester City goalkeeper “Bert” Trautmann
is reported to have declined repatriation in 1948, having settled in the industrial NW of England.
My paper round in our village just outside Glasgow involved a daily “dice with death” or at minimum serious injury from the horrendously over-sprung steel gate into the property occupied by the family of a schoolmate; her dad had been a POW locally and remained. He always drove a VW, but otherwise appeared well-integrated.
EscapeeS Gaertner and Rossmeisl were wise to to stay in the States. Unlike von Werra who successfuly escaped from Canada, returned to Germany and was KIA just nine months after escaping. The Brits made a film about him:
We only had a couple German POWs in Hawaii, probably more internees. But we did have several thousand Italian POWs, who contributed some art as well as building a Catholic chapel which also got some use by the small Catholic community in Honolulu.
What a lovely story. Based on this, one would certainly expect that interred US citizens would enjoy an even higher standard of living.
Nothing has changed.
The USA in WW2 was the least bad place to be a pow in, by far.
Rheinwiesenlager were quite different though.
Being a pov of the Soviets was potluck. Some camps were fairly humane, other werent. Still, discounting those taken at Stalingrad (who, if they were troops, surrendered as walking corpses) your odds of surviving Soviet captivity as a German were around 8 to 9 in 10, with hunger being the main killer. This compared very favorably to survival rates of Soviets taken by Germans, let alone Chinese taken by Japanese. It should be added though that the USSR had a major famine in 1945 to 1947.
We fought the wrong enemy.
I find it interesting that Patton thought we had a choice.
Imperial Japan didn’t treat them, their Filipino compatriots, or others, as well. I suspect you don’t mean those Americans.
I have a recollection that Patton offered the opinion that we should have instead been fighting the Russian communists, at least he reached this conclusion after seeing the behavior of the Soviets inmediately following the end of the war in Europe. He considered them dangerously untrustworthy, and disinclined to permit the eastern Europeans to exercise their own judgment about their national futures. He was right about that, anyway.
Stueeeeee & Jersey Jeffersonian
There are those who assert that is exactly why he died in an “accident” in 1945.
As I enjoy watching the Walter Matthau film Hopscotch so much I wanted to mention Matthau starred in a film titled “The Incident” where he plays a lawyer defending a German POW accused of killing an American.
If I remember correctly there is friction between the early and later German prisoners.
There is the story of German POWs in north Wales who were sent to work on people’s gardens. One woman was reputedly very abusive to the men who were working for her. She was even more furious when the following spring the flowers she had asked them to plant grew in the shape of a Swastika!
I don’t know if it was true, but it was certainly a local ‘legend’. There is a similar story from SW England.
“Mrs Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue, Boscombe, delighted the audience with her reminiscences of the German prisoner-of-war who was sent each week to do her garden. He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she recalled. “He’d always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt out, ‘Heil Hitler’.”
Bert Trautmann was certainly an interesting one as Cortes mentions, not just an German soldier but an ex Hitler Youth paratrooper with an Iron Cross First Class.
One of our family members lived on a tobacco & cotton farm in Florence SC. Both crops were labor intensive. During WW-II all of the able bodied men were overseas fighting. A German POW camp in the Myrtle Beach area provided the farm labor. The Afrika Corps POW’s were mostly young Bavarian farm boys who were familiar with hard farm labor & knew how to handle the mules used to work the farm. They were glad to be away from the war. The family has fond memories of the Germans
> “Patton was right.”
I take it, that you’d prefer if the US of A joined the Axis and invaded Canada, after the UK declared war on Germany?
> “[Patton] considered [the Russian communists] dangerously untrustworthy, and disinclined to permit the eastern Europeans to exercise their own judgment about their national futures. He was right about that, anyway.
Care to prove this “brilliant conclusion”?
My grandmother and aunt used to tell me stories of the german occupation of Tunis, she vividly remembered the US campaign. They gathered a parachute and made clothing from it.