While researching this story, reporter Karen Duffin came across dozens of photographs of Camp Aliceville and the German POW's, below are a small sampling of those images.
My parents are from England; my mother was a little girl, asleep, when her house was bombed by the Germans. The stories I heard about WW 11 differed from stories told to American children. There is so much to learn about the world and its people, racism doesn't have to always be the focus. Many other cultures and peoples have suffered under a variety of circumstances. The world is such a large place with so many perspectives! Thank you for sharing this unique compilation of experiences from the German soldiers to the Alabama locals.
My father was an American soldier assigned to Camp Battey, GA which I believe was a POW hospital.I am interested to research the Camp Battey, GA situation and find out what my father did while stationed at Camp Battey, 1944-45. My father never spoke of this experience. I would appreciate any leads on where I can proceed to investigate. Thank you.
An even lesser known detainment from WWII was when England rounded up Germans, Austrians, and Italians living in England, put them first in English "internment camps", and then sent several thousand to Canada and Australia. The majority of these people were Jewish refugees and almost none were a genuine threat to England. On the transport ships these refugee prisoners were combined with real German soldier POWs and some nasty incidents resulted. The authorities often didn't realize they had two very different groups of people under their charge. This commingling of ardent German soldiers and mostly Jewish refugees extended to the early days of the Canadian internment camps. Eventually the German POWs were sent off to their own camps, probably similar to the ones in the US. The Canadian and British authorities had no idea what to do with the refugee internees, so they treated them like POWs, and it took years before they were all finally released. Their internment camps often had much worse conditions than those of the German POWs. My father was one of those internees. He had escaped Austria on the Kindertransport trains to England, only to find himself interned a couple years later when he turned 16. Many of the internees felt humiliated by being treated as enemies although they hated Nazi Germany from first-hand experience. As a result, they tended to keep their internment experience to themselves so there was little public knowledge of this sorry WWII episode. Only in recent years have some memoirs come out.
There is a book about German POWs who were held and worked in NH called: Stark Decency; German Prisoners of War in a New England Village.
Robert Miller, the Japanese-Americans who were stripped of everything they owned and hauled off to our internment camps were *not* treated the same as these POWs. As you can see from the personal stories here, while Italian and German soldiers were given "free run of the town" and such, these Americans were treated like true prisoners because of their ethnicity. Do a little more research. I say this also based on family friends who were prisoners in those camps.
Great episode! It was quite a kick to hear Prof. Arnold Krammer, whose class I took back in the mid-90s.This may be splitting hairs, but I wish you wouldn't refer to the German POWs as "Nazi" POWs. While many certainly would have been followers of Naziism, most were probably just regular, decent Germans who had the misfortune of being drafted.
Very interesting. And an equally interesting story would be about the German-Americans who were falsely detained, under the Alien and Sedition Acts. My grandfather was held for months in Anniston, Alabama prison during WW II. He was a blind man who did yoga and practiced massage in Birmingham at the time of his incarceration; the neighbors thought he was strange and turned him in as a suspicious character. It probably didn't help that he listened to short wave radio. I would love to know more about his experiences, but he passed away when I was 10, before I knew about his unfortunate time.
It was great to hear this story. My grandfather was a German POW in America. He traveled to approx 7 different camps in America. He always talked about how nice the American people were. He met his wife up in Wisconsin, where she passed goods to him over the fence line. When the war was over, he came to America and never left.
I know several people from Aliceville, including their current mayor. It does not surprise me that the people of Aliceville - and all of Pickens County - were kind, generous, loving toward the POWs. It's in their DNA.
It's sad to know how much food, time and money we wasted on nazi scum in these luxury resorts, when Jews, Blacks, Homosexuals and so on were not only being tortured, murdered and burned by nazis but victimized in their own country.
My dad is from Opelika, AL. A few months ago, he mention how the German POWs were treated much better that the blacks around town. He said it wa a scary time for blacks.
I was wondering if you could confirm two quotes from this fascinating piece:
1.) Archer lurch, head of the POW World War II program, "We are not going to lower ourselves to Nazi standards. We are not going to let the enemy decide who we are as a country." As quoted or paraphrased by Karen Duffin? Was this Karen's summary, or was this a quote?
2.) There's a radio announcer's voice saying, "For what makes an American is not any precious sort of blood, but the tradition we have inherited. It's tradition, not blood, The patterns the way we think, act and feel." Was this monologue from anyone in particular?
Thanks, so much,
The fact the Japanese POWs were treated the same or similar to German POWs doesn't completely answer the question of racism motivating the internment of American and Canadian citizens of Japanese descent. Fanning the flames of racism justified the removal of entire families from their farms and businesses on the west coast, which were then sold for pennies on the dollar. These citizens were also often used as farm laborers.
Well treating them well was the right thing to do. In fact I'm not sure why more didn't surrender. But no doubt they were propagandized about horribly they would be treated. I'm not sure the chief motivation of following the Geneva Convention is to make sure our soldiers weren't mistreated. It's just the right thing to do. Sadly, the Bushes turned that all on its head.
Off interstate 68 in Allegany County Maryland is the Boys Camp at Green Ridge State Forest. Among the buildings where the boys reside is a log cabin. This cabin was from a prisoner of war camp there during WWII. Since I knew about this camp, I found the story very interesting. Thanks.
My novel, PRISONER MOON, tells the story of a young German soldier captured in France after D-Day. He finds himself in a POW camp in Michigan. As I listened to this podcast today, it took me back to the years of research I did to create the story of PRISONER MOON. I was especially happy to hear from Arnold Krammer who has written extensively on this subject.
John Van RoekelPRISONER MOONOn Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-Moon-John-Van-Roekel/dp/1477511814Web Site: http://prisonermoon.com
We're looking back this morning to a former president and one way he tried to change society. Shortly after John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, he took action on civil rights. One of his first moves was an executive order requiring federal agencies to hire minorities. At the time, the fastest growing government agency was based in the Deep South - NASA.
Nice piece. Many people might also be interested in the fact that German POWs in the South were treated far better than the local African American citizens, even those who had been in the military. It was a source of bitterness for many of these Americans.
My mother-in-law telling me about the German POW camp in Hays and Walker Kans. Walker was also a traning air base for B-17 bomber crew……can you image the Germans seeing them every day knowing that they will be bombing their home land. Hays and Walker area (about 10 mils from each other) is a dominate Volga German population. Many of the people could speak German fluently. There are still a few elders that only speak German. The camp in Hays is now Kansas State Agricultural Research center, but back then it was a POW camp. I do not know how many were held there. They worked with farmers and most of the time treated well with a few treated the POWs bad. Mother-in-law told me that there was one POW that would sneak out from the camp and head to the tavern. Many of the locals knew who he was and welcome for drinks.
There is still a POW camp you can visit, now it's a start park. The POW camp is near New Ulm, MN, a very German town with a brewery, glockenspiel and all things German. The POWs fit right in.
Sorry for the broken link! Try this one
Excited to hear this podcast! I grew up in Roswell NM and there was a camp there too. The POW's were used to pave the banks of the small river. They used small rocks to create an iron cross on the wall. You can visit today and see this.
Post D-Day German POWs held by the US in France got very hungry at the bottom of the priority list, as a conscious command decision.
Great episode, as usual!
I'm wondering if there's an additional point here: You should treat POWs well so the enemy is more willing to surrender.
I can imagine there were many "shades of grey" scenarios in which troops facing the advancing Allied army could choose to fight or surrender. Getting information about how well Germans POWs were treated back to the German troops likely saved American lives.
Hi guys!!!!Is there a way to get the song that sounds on minute 12?Thanks!
We had a camp in my town and always grew up hearing about it since it was by far the most interesting thing to happen in Blissfield Michigan during the 20th century. My great-grandmother did the laundry for the POW's there and found them all to be delightful people. My family were the ones mentioned in the program who would get drunk and fraternize with the prisoners. In the Midwest in the 40's many people were Lutherans and their church services were still in German, so for many they even spoke the same language.She told me a story once though about how a transport that was hauling Germans off to a farm was struck by a train and killed all of the prisoners and guards inside. 16 prisoners died and were buried in the national cemetery at Fort Custer in Michigan and are the only foreign servicemen to be buried in a US national cemetery. To this day I think the tragedy remains one of the only real disasters to happen in our town so people remember it. I tell people about the camp now and they're stunned. They see all of this horrible stuff about the Nazis and they really do seem like demonic bogey-men, so they're surprised when I inform them that they harvested sugar beets in Blissfield MI.Thanks for the story guys, I've been fascinated with this story since I was a kid and it was cool to see that other people found it equally as fascinating!
My mother-in-law has a ship in a bottle that was made for her grandfather who was a guard by a German POW at the camp in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. It is really cool and it is a great point of pride that we treated them so well. There are many people of German heritage on the prairies because they were treated so well as POW's that they returned after being released. I hope we would do that again in this day if we had need to.
My grandfather was captured at Le Mug, France, in August, 1944, and brought to Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. He enjoyed his time in the UNITED STATES so much and was treated so well that he was determined to emigrate with his family after the war. Unfortunately, he died before that could happen. But all his family except one son and one daughter eventually came.
I was surprised at the beginning of the broadcast to learn that POW camps in the US was not common knowledge. I am glad you did this program and I am also sure that Opa was nodding and smiling as I listened to it.
Here is a question not posed in this episode that would have been interesting to research: there were Japanese POW camps-how were they treated? Was there more empathy to the Germans, especially in the South, because they were Caucasians? America was still treating their own citizens of color (arresting and place Japanese Americans in internment camps and taking their property while German Americans were never touched; African Americans fought in WWII but were still being lynched and segregation/racist policies was certainly the pro forma in terms of educational, judicial and socioeconomic opportunities).
I would love to hear more about the relationship between Southern Black Codes and Nazi racism. Can you tell us more?
This was an interesting topic, but is another recent example of Radiolab episodes with good "Radio" but no "lab". Where's the science?? I love RadioLab for the typically wonderful combination of science and story telling; without the science it sounds like a lot of other podcasts out there.
Great episode / fascinating story.
While in Jr. High School [circa 1957-8], I recall having heard of German POW Camp(s) in / near Dallas during the war. My recollection is that the POWs built some of the White Rock Lake City Park pavilions.
Near the end, the turn of topic to racism:- against the Japanese American and - the Nazi rule re Jews partly being taken from American Southern Negro codes was fascinating.
Keep up the good work.
I encountered this history back in the 1970s, while visiting with my uncle in Darmstadt, West Germany, where he was stationed with the US Army. One of the civilian administrators in his office, whom I assumed was an American because of the soft, Virgina drawl he spoke with, had in fact been a Wehrmacht POW, held in Virginia from 1944 to 45, where he learned English while working at a cigarette factory.He met and married a local girl from the town adjacent to the camp.
He called himself a "war bride."
great episode! Weirdly, I did know about this-thanks to one of my favorite coming of age books in junior high "summer of my German Soldier". I cried my eyes out in 8th after I finished this book!
I wish I had collected stories from Brasher Falls, NY (near US/Canada Border) - my mom's home town. The Italian POWs gardened for little old ladies, dated the local girls and had free run of the town. 30 years ago people could have told their stories - collecting those stories was a passing idea. I sure wish I had. Thank you for this story.
Thanks so much for this! These stories are part of my family history. An aspect that you didn't report on is that some POW's stayed in the US after the war. My grandfather was captured and sent to pick oranges at a camp near Oxnard, CA, sent for his wife and children after the war, stayed in the US and became a (proud) US citizen.
There's also a sad comparison in the treatment of those POW's who were allowed to stay, and the our current policy of not even granting visas to those translators who worked with us in Iraq.
The Japanese-Americans in the Japanese concentration camps were treated almost the same. One difference was there were women and children in the Japanese concentration camps.
For a while it was thought the Japanese were attacking the United States with Fu-Go or Fire balloons. (Another Radio Lab story.)
Wow! Thank you radiolab team for this incredibly thought provoking episode.
it would be interesting to see a compare and contrast of this and Japanese internment camps of the same era.
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