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Apr-17-2011 20:54printcomments

German WW II POWs In the U.S.

The U.S. housed, fed, and worked over 400,000 German POWs in 46 states with little or no risk to the populace.

Map of some of the important detention/internment camps operated by U.S. during WW II (German American Internee Coalition)
Map of some of the important detention/internment camps operated by U.S. during WW II (German American Internee Coalition) Larger version below

(SAN FRANCISCO) - I just finished "A Brother's Blood" by Michael C. White. The novel is set in Maine where German prisoners of war (POWs) were detained during World War II.

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The novel begins many decades after the war when Wolfgang Kallick arrives in Maine from Germany to find out the details of his brother Dieter's death at the camp. The book is loosely based on the POW camp at Seboomook, Maine where, because of the increased shortage of paper, Great Northern Paper Company had an arrangement with the U.S. Army for a POW camp and initially 250 prisoners from General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, the German elite, were brought to cut pulp wood and yard it with horses. You will have to read the book to discover the mystery surrounding Dieter Kallick's death.

The novel did spark my interest in a little-known chapter in twentieth-century history. That is, by 1945 there were 425,000 German prisoners of war living in about 700 camps in 46 states throughout the United States. Nine of them were located in California, one at Camp Angel Island. Camp Ono in San Bernardino held Italian prisoners. At least two each were located in Oregon and Washington. About 860 German POWs died during captivity and remain buried in 43 sites across the United States, with graves often tended by local German Women's Clubs.

During World War I, a relatively small number of POWs reached the U.S. and were located at Forts McPherson and Oglethorpe in Georgia and Fort Douglas in Utah. After the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, the United Kingdom asked the U.S. to house some German prisoners due to a housing shortage in Britain. The U.S. agreed. But we were initially unprepared logistically to meet the requirements of providing food, clothing, and housing. The U.S. was also wary of having German prisoners on American soil because of perceived security problems and possible fear among the civilian populace. Fore these reasons, media coverage of the camps was intentionally limited not only because of the Geneva Convention but also not to scare the populace near the camps.

More than 150,000 men arrived after the surrender of Gen. Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in April 1943, followed by an average of 20,000 new POWs a month.

Under the Geneva Convention POWs could work but only if they were paid for their labor. Millions of U,S. men and women were fighting overseas, leaving a resulting shortage of labor so POW workers became welcome laborers. Ironically, by working, the POWs helped the Allied war effort. In "A Brother's Blood," the POWs worked for lumber companies cutting pulp wood and hauling the wood with horses.

Internment camps for German POWs were often dominated by Nazi enforcers, who killed as many as 150 of their fellow prisoners during World War II. Only seven were officially considered murder. Even the smallest infraction could put German prisoners at risk. Those who talked to guards, spoke English, or refused to parrot the Nazi line were often beaten or killed. American camp officials generally looked the other way because they appreciated the discipline and order that the Nazis provided in the camps. Prisoners who were not ethnically German and had been conscripted into service were in particular danger from their fellow prisoners. Eventually, American officials began separating the Nazis from the anti-Nazi Germans. In White's book, Oswald, a German prisoner, was put in charge of the horses and POWs because of his experience working with horses on a farm. Mysteriously, a tree fell on him causing him tremendous pain and ultimately death. The nazis in the camp were suspected of engineering the "accident" because he had become too cooperative with the Americans.

Of the tens of thousands of POWs in the United States during World War II, only 2,222, less than 1 percent, tried to escape, and most were quickly rounded up. By 1946, all prisoners had been returned to their home countries.

Remember, President Obama’s vow to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. This erupted into a furious debate about where to relocate the prisoners captured in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. And recently, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected providing funds to close the U.S. military prison in Cuba, saying that no community in America would want terrorism suspects in its backyard. Yet, during World War II, the U.S. housed, fed, and worked over 400,000 German POWs in 46 states with little or no risk to the populace.

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Salem-News.com writer Ralph E. Stone was born in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School. We are very fortunate to have this writer's talents in this troubling world; Ralph has an eye for detail that others miss. As is the case with many Salem-News.com writers, Ralph is an American Veteran who served in war. Ralph served his nation after college as a U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he went on to have a career with the Federal Trade Commission as an Attorney specializing in Consumer and Antitrust Law. Over the years, Ralph has traveled extensively with his wife Judi, taking in data from all over the world, which today adds to his collective knowledge about extremely important subjects like the economy and taxation. You can send Ralph an email at this address stonere@earthlink.net




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Johnnie November 17, 2011 7:53 am (Pacific time)

Thinks this really helped me on my assignment


Bill Griffith April 21, 2011 2:47 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. Stone the prisoners down Cuba-way were caught on the battlefield, as were the German POW's. There has been reports that a significant percentage of the alledged terrorists released outright, and/or released to their home countrys', were once again recaptured/killed on the battlefield. There are also reports that they killed Americans. There is no history/evidence that German soldier pow's killed while in America, and I assume none were released until Germany's formal surrender. There is no real logical parrallel to be made in my opinion, other that they were, and are, the enemy to American values and institutions. Germany is now an ally, maybe someday the radical terrorists will be an ally? Pretty doubtful.


Anonymous April 19, 2011 11:32 am (Pacific time)

It is unclear if the statistics are from the fiction novel or from historical fact. Is everything written after the first paragraph factual, i.e., "By 1945 there were 425,000 German prisoners of war living in about 700 camps in 46 states throughout the United States." This is something I have never heard of before. So much for our education and news...


Amanda April 19, 2011 9:57 am (Pacific time)

The agree with the comment by the "Editor" that this country needs a complete overhaul, But that does not excuse comparing War Prisoners to the Palestine crisis. Bad choice


Ralph E. Stone April 19, 2011 6:57 am (Pacific time)

Ms. Young, remember the prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp are “alleged” terrorists. They have been held at Guantanamo for years without a trial. Why? Because many would probably be set free if they were tried based on lack of competent evidence. I am not sure that the alleged terrorists at Guantanamo are any more dangerous than the few hard core Nazis held in U.S. detention centers during WWII.


Joe April 18, 2011 7:57 pm (Pacific time)

The vast majority of German soldiers in WW II were not Nazis get real Salem News.


Charlene Young April 18, 2011 7:32 am (Pacific time)

My late father, career miltary officer, had introduced me to a number of former GERMAN pow's who had been housed here during WWII and who later immigrated to America after the war. Many of these former pow's became quite successful. A very large percentage of our population is of German heritage. These were soldiers, who were in uniform when captured and interned. It's apples and oranges to compare them with terrorists that have sworn to kill us regardless if a declared war status is in effect or not. How many of these released terrorists were later recaptured or killed during combat? How many Americans were killed by these releasees? How many WWII German POW's later killed Americans? It was a different time and a completely different scenario. Remember spies in civilian clothing were often executed.

Editor: OK, so the friggin Nazi's were 'OK' because they were 'soldiers' with 'uniforms'.  But the people of Palestine (I presume) are bad because they defend their land from Zionist thieves who practice genocide and have separate laws and roads for Jews and non Jews?  They are bad and Nazi's are good?  That might be the most incorrect statement I have seen suggested.  The Nazi's were killing Jews and Roma and poor and disadvantaged by the million, whereas the Arabs have never started any significant problems with the US.  We ripped off Iran and removed their first democratically elected President, we attacked Iraq with no proof of WMD's and even 911 is a pile of BS and if there was a single Arab on any of those planes I would be shocked.  Perhaps also, if you think about Daniel Johnson's story which you refer to in your last post, his perceptions are right on target.  This is a disgusting country that we live in, brutal and deadly toward the world.  I put down the Kool Aid long ago and I hope others do too.  And for the record, both Daniel and Henry are well grounded men who have big hearts and great ambitions.  It is not one versus the other, we at Salem-News.com all admit that this place needs an overhaul.  

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.