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Nazi Summer Camp

Friday, May 22, 2015 - 06:51 PM

Reporter Karen Duffin and her father were talking one day when, just as an aside, he mentioned the Nazi prisoners of war that worked on his Idaho farm when he was a kid. Karen was shocked ... and then immediately obsessed. So she spoke with historians, dug through the National Archives and oral histories, and uncovered the astonishing story of a small town in Alabama overwhelmed by thousands of German prisoners of war.  Along the way, she discovered that a very fundamental question  - one that we are struggling with today  -  was playing out seventy years ago in hundreds of towns across America: When your enemy is at your mercy, how should you treat them? Karen helps Jad and Robert try to figure out why we did what we did then, and why we are doing things so differently now.

Produced by Kelsey Padgett. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this podcast stated that the Nuremberg Laws and the Mississippi Black Code could be viewed side by side at a museum in Nuremberg. We were unable to confirm the existence of such an exhibit. We were also unable to confirm that the Nuremberg Laws were literally copied from the Mississippi Black Codes. The audio has been corrected to reflect this.

We've gathered more photos of Camp Aliceville here

Special thanks to:

Mary Bess Paluzzi, founding director of the Aliceville Museum 
John Gillum, current Director of the Aliceville Museum
Sam Love, a filmmaker who gathered the oral histories
Ruth Beaumont Cook, who wrote a great book about Aliceville

Produced by:

Karen Duffin and Kelsey Padgett


More in:

Comments [68]

Jennie from San Diego, CA

What a huge difference between how we treat white prisoners of war and how we treated our own citizens who were black during that time. If you want to really see the difference do research on convict leasing.

Jul. 17 2017 10:21 AM
Norman from NH

Typical PBS story. Take an interesting topic and throw in your left wing snobby criticism of the military (alleged torture). Plus, anybody who didn't know this story was too busy making baskets and singing protest songs in school to actually learn something. This is why I want all government funding for PBS stopped now.

Apr. 15 2017 12:46 PM
Hanh Morgan

The transcript for this podcast can be found here:

Mar. 30 2017 01:04 PM
Greg W.

I grew up in a small town in the same Alabama County as Aliceville. Did not know the history of the Camp until a few years ago but am not surprised that German POW's would have been treated well. Not even surprised that they were treated with more dignity and respect than some of their African-American citizens. Although that degree of Racism was just as bad throughout the U.S. and not a southern problem. I just wish I knew going in that I could stop listening with 3 minutes left when the inevitable Anti-Bush rant started. Nice start, sour finish. Thanks, NPR!

Jan. 22 2017 12:57 PM
Jessica from Grand Rapids, Michigan

I just found out that there was a similar camp in my small hometown of Sparta, Michigan. I remembered listening to this episode of Radiolab last year and thinking it was interesting. So, with this new knowledge, I had to find it and listen again.

Dec. 30 2016 11:33 AM
Volker from San Diego

My grandfather who served in the Wehrmacht (German Army) told me he and most of his solders in arms. Respected the Americans because they treated their POWs well.
At the end of the war most German GIs had three objectives, Run way from the Russians (because they will kill you), avoid the SS (they will kill you if they realize what you’re doing) and find and surrendering to the Americans. They will ship you to America were you pick fruit in California.

Aug. 11 2016 06:53 PM
Scott from Stockholm Sweden

Who is the target audience? School kids? This does not sound like programming to an adult audience.

And why have some over-done US sea chanty as the background music for German POWs? That made absolutely no sense whatsover, and in fact was so out of place I lost the storyline. Really, if guys are singing lustily together, it's got to be a German march?

This was my first attempt to listen to Radiolab, and if it's generally this poorly researched, you've lost me. The BBC does much better work. (As do the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish equivalents).

Jan. 20 2016 02:18 AM
mscottvbeach from los angeles

They failed to mention a huge underlying cause of the difference in how we treated German POWs and the Japanese-American citizens who were detained:

Though this belief was unjust and shameful it was still a belief: the Japanese-Americans being detained were working against the interests of the country. There were in some way seditious and or treasonous.

Again, this couldn't have been further from the truth. But if we assume that at the time, among the guards, the neraby populations, the politicians and military leaders making decisions, that by and large their treatment was defined by a sense that these were citizens who were against the country then there's a huge non-racial (or to be fair, indirectly racial since the mistake of detaining in the first place is certainly racist) racist.

In other words, it shouldn't surprise anyone that we treat enemy combatants better than we treat what appears to be traitorous behavior. Just look at all the hate for Berghdal. And so unless everyone involved in creating the conditions of the Internment Camps knew without a doubt that it was an absurd and shameful farce of justice then of course they were treated worse than enemy combatants.

Jan. 04 2016 04:24 AM
Nathan Talley from Houston

What is the music of the German men singing at around 11:30?

Oct. 07 2015 11:10 PM
Emmaline Mueller from Wisconsin

Honestly, I'm proud of America that we treated the Nazi POWs so well. I'm glad that we treated these humans like humans, as they were. My Grandfather was in WWII and he told me how, when the fighting was halted, soldiers from both sides would trade food and other knick-knacks. I think it's important to remember that people aren't devils, as much as we see Nazis as evil incarnate. We're all just men, and therefore, we deserve basic human respect. Giving this respect to those who may deserve it less, does not lower us, it raises us. It shows that we are truly good.

Sep. 20 2015 09:48 PM
Keith Shazad Malik rhodes from Philadelphia


It's the obvious question, isn't it?

Were the nazis pampered in America because there was German American (non Philadelphian) support for the Holocaust?

Keith Shazad Malik Rhodes

Sep. 03 2015 11:44 AM
Chris from New York City

There's some transcript and reflection on this Episode in this blog post:

“We are not going to let the enemy decide who we are.”

Aug. 21 2015 11:14 AM

I can't slog through all these comments but feel compelled to respond to one:
"... I have to wonder if they were treated so well because perhaps Idaho didn't love the jews either."

I grew up in Idaho and can tell you it's more likely the POWs were treated well because they were human beings, and that is how we are supposed to treat our fellow human beings. How does it help to treat people badly, ever?

Aug. 04 2015 03:09 PM
Ahmed from Egypt

First of all , I'am a huge fan of the show . But I really didn't like the end bit where they there is talk about the Geneva conventions when we now know that America practices or abides by none . Casing point Iraq detention prisons which isn't even for POWs but for random detained people with no evidence , also GITMO , drone strikes killing civilians and even as early after WW2 as in Vietnam . Sure they treated these soldiers good but what about after that , the talk about the Geneva conventions as something that is important anymore for America or other western countries in the past wars is absurd and its even more damning when the people being treated like that and tortured aren't even fighters . Don't get this comment wrong as I'm not an American , But acknowledge that most people fighting for these people that I mentioned are Americans , so in no way am I trying to paint Americans in a certain picture ... but the opposite , most people I admire and shaped my ideology are American civil rights activists and people who put pressure on their government to do the right thing . And the show did a couple of episodes on Guantanamo and drone strikes so in now way they are trying to paint a certain picture but it just came off that way to me .

Aug. 04 2015 03:52 AM
Alireza from Iran

Why there is no transcript for your newer podcasts like this one in your website?

Jul. 31 2015 11:20 AM

Very interesting story. What a disgrace. It's always my wish that people get to experience both sides...if only all those who ran the POW summer camps and the locals who befriended and drank with the Nazis could have spent an equivalent amount of time starving in the Lodz Ghetto or in Birkenau death camp...maybe they would have contained themselves a bit--just maybe they wouldn't have showered them with food and activities. Sickening.

Jul. 06 2015 12:30 PM
David Miyashiro from hawaii

Interesting story. Since it's about German POW that were given pretty good treatment by America, how about doing a story about Japanese-Americans citizens who were also forced to relocated to camps?

This new generation needs to know about the historical injustice by the US government based on race which is supposed to be unconstitutional. We all need to learn from past mistakes.

Great show!

Jul. 03 2015 06:23 PM
Yvette from Las Vegas

Seems we treated German POWs better than our own Japanese-American citizenry.

Jun. 30 2015 06:44 PM
Jennifer from Oregon

"Summer of my German Soldier" was required reading when I was in school. That's how I knew about it. YA fiction : )

Jun. 27 2015 06:52 PM
Miriam from Australia

There is another extremely important, and usually overlooked, reason to treat prisoners of war properly, besides wanting the enemy to reciprocate, or because you want to do the right thing. That is, that you haven't truly won until your enemy has become your friend. Torturing and killing people doesn't make friends, it makes enemies, in fact it multiplies enemies.

Jun. 25 2015 02:47 AM
Lu Palm

This is difficult to listen to because I know that American citizens of color, even those serving in the military, weren't treated as well as these prisoners of war. Do a story on that!

Jun. 23 2015 12:23 PM
JoLyn from Utah, formerly Idaho

This report is meaningful to me because it helps me understand a story my grandmother in her life history. Now I see her experience in the context of what was happening nationally,.

Roy and Lillian Perkins, my grandparents, were farmers in southeastern Idaho. In 1946, there was a group of German prisoners encamped in tents at the Franklin County Sugar Factory at Whitney, Idaho, near Preston. They were used by the Sugar company for hand labor in the sugar beet fields. One day, Roy had a group of the prisoners come and help him on the farm. In Lillian's own words in her life story, she tells what happened:

One day Roy brought six of them over to hoe beets for us and I was quite unhappy with the kind of lunch which the sugar company had provided for their noon time meal. They came onto the lawn in the shade of the trees to eat and when I saw that each of them had only two thin slices of bakery bread without butter and one thin slice of minced ham plus a canteen of water after working for hours in the field, I really felt
sorry for them.

Maybe our American boys who were prisoners of the Germans were treated much worse, but two wrongs never made one right.
Anyway, we made a lot of sandwiches of home made bread, opened a two quart jar of peaches and took out to them along with a large pitcher of cold milk.

Later that afternoon, before Roy had to return them to the prison camp, we prepared a fried chicken supper for them and invited them in to eat.
One was only a boy, 15 or 16, and when they sat down to eat he began to cry. I asked the one who could speak a little English and acted as
interpreter for the group, what was the matter with the boy and he said, "He's homesick and this meal reminds him of home."
Then he said, "Lady, we didn't want this war any more than you did but were forced into it the same as your boys were. It was only our leaders who wanted war, but when your boys return home they will be so much better off than we will because they will have homes and loved ones to return to, while we may have nothing. We don't know if our loved ones are living or dead, whether our homes are still standing or destroyed by
bombs and fire. We don't even have a country anymore."

They thanked us over and over for the meal and I was very glad we had treated them kindly and have often wished I had asked them to write to
us after they were returned to Germany.

Jun. 20 2015 12:39 AM
ahmad from iran

Hi everybody.where can i find transcripts of podcasts? plz help me

Jun. 18 2015 03:14 PM
ColinAlcarz from Idaho

I remember the NPR story on this issue and it seems to me that they brought up a justification absent from this episode. That is that we were being good to the German prisoners not just to comply with the Geneva convention in the expectation there would be reciprocity abroad, but because it was felt that if in their letters home the Germans communicated that they were being treated better as prisoners of war than their families who were free in Germany were living, it would destroy the morale of the entire population to the extent it spread publicly. I think a case could be made that this is what happened.

Jun. 11 2015 01:59 AM
Dan from Bangkok

Hi, I'd like to raise one issue. Throughout the episode the prisoners are referred to as Nazis when I understand that they were actually German soldiers. Not every German citizen was a member of the Nazi party or was necessarily in favour of their rule. I think it would be capricious to label all POWs as Nazis, unless they were from SS divisions or something. Surely some, perhaps most, were enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi party but we should not label the soldiers of a nation for their political party.

Jun. 07 2015 02:58 PM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca.

The poor treatment of African-American soldiers in the South as compared to the often better treatment of captured Germans was one more bit of fuel for the renascent civil rights movement dating from the war onward (see: the 'Double "V"' movement, A. Philip Randalph's threatened march on Washington c. 1942).

More generally, I'm afraid that this episode induces me to suggest that you leave the hardcore history to "Backstory" opposed to the interleaving of history and of science and technology that your show does best.

Jun. 06 2015 03:23 PM
Tony from Verlanis

A study of Japanese POWs can found in the book The History of Camp Tracy
by Alexander D. Corbin.

Jun. 05 2015 11:20 PM
David Rubin from NJ

I spoke to a several former Wehrmacht soldiers when I lived in Germany in 1982-3. Some had been POWs in the American Mid-west. Many of them had wanted to stay in the US after the war but got shipped back anyway. They also said that prior to capture, they had also been repeatedly told by their superiors that the Americans would kill them if they captured them. They were astounded at how well they were treated after being captured, and very grateful to the US, both for their own good treatment, but also for the Marshal plan that allowed the rebuilding of their destroyed country after the war.

Jun. 04 2015 07:23 PM
Brenda Simon

I have known of the German POWs since I was a little girl. When riding around the rural areas of my hometown, Alexandria, LA. there are reminders for example in Forest Hill, many of the POWs stayed and started plant nurserys and one can drive through the area and see the German names on the mail boxes. Many of them were interviewed and said that life in the US was better than anything they remembered in Germany. After the war they were given land grants and the opportunity to start businesses and bring relatives to Louisiana. There presence is still here today. They married many local young women. Walter Winchel and Rush Limbaugh be damned, this is my America.

Jun. 03 2015 01:55 PM
John Van Roekel

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 Roekel
On Amazon:
Web Site:

Jun. 01 2015 06:15 PM
Nate from Denver, CO

At approximately 11:53 in the Nazi Summer Camp episode, there is a German song in the background (men singing) relating to the prisoners musical endeavors. Can anyone tell me what this song is, or where to find it? Much appreciated.

Jun. 01 2015 12:57 PM
Ellen Wanders from Neuss/Germany


70 years after WW II ended I thought several times about my father and his time in Aliceville when I was listening to the radio story. As a German POW my father could “recover” from the worst in his young life there in Aliceville.
He was a young German soldier, had to go to war to Russia, Italy and to Africa. He and his family never were friends of the German regime at that time. Being branded as a Nazi, which he was not, for sure punished him, too.
But I am so thankful that after the time in camp Aliceville his self-esteem was not broken. He could keep living in Germany with self confidence.
And also very important to remember what happened after years: The reunions between the guards and the former POW’s after some time. The friendship of the families in Aliceville and Germany was growing year for year! The former POW's came back to Aliceville with their children and grand children.
In 1943 the Geneva Convention was sort of a camp seed in Aliceville and our continuing friendship is its rich harvest even in 2015!!!

Jun. 01 2015 12:19 PM

Did people not listen to the whole podcast? They did touch on the issue of racism, Japanese internment camps, and Guantanamo.

Jun. 01 2015 07:25 AM
Andrew from Croatia

Interesting podcast but as I listened to it I could not help but think of my German uncle, Edvard, who was starved to death in an American concentration camp, quite a different story to the one presented here.

Jun. 01 2015 05:49 AM
Melanie from Austarlia

This was definitely interesting but I struggled all the way through to get over the astonishment that most Americans were unaware of this. How can this be?

As an Australian, I was aware of this in the US - along side the knowledge of the internment of Germans, Italians and Japanese in Australia. It was a part of my primary education. We even read Summer of my German soldier' at school when I was 10.

I am still shocked.

May. 31 2015 09:09 PM

I've started listening to this episode and I had to shut it off when the POW joked about having too much ham. Too much ham! I need to listen to the entire thing. But my blood pressure went through the roof. When I think of all of the atrocities in the concentration camps - images of those people - juxtaposed with nazis enjoying large meals of ham...

I know the point is to examine what to do with the enemy. I would never have wanted cruelty. Do not believe in an eye for an eye. But I have to wonder if they were treated so well because perhaps Idaho didn't love the jews either. Sorry but my father's side of the family is jewish and I'm just not as amused as some are.

May. 31 2015 05:08 PM
Michael Ishii, NY JACL from NYC

Thank you for reporting on this piece of history. But you have missed an important other half of the story- that of the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned alongside these German and Italian POWs. The Tule Lake Pilgrimage happens every two years at the former segregation camp site that housed Japanese Americans during the WWII forced relocation and incarceration.
An important part of that gathering has been the sharing of oral histories by survivors, including very compelling stories of Japanese American men who were imprisoned alongside German and Italian POW's in a special CCC camp nearby the main compound at Tule Lake, where Japanese American men were subjected to physical and psychological torture as defined by the Geneva Conventions. The Tanimoto brothers, now in their nineties are amongst the only survivors of the CCC camp and I hope you will investigate their testimony.
The stories the brothers have recounted about German and Italian POW's getting weekend passes to stay with families and farms in the area, the special treatment they received including Sunday dinners and special meals with towns people, riding on parade floats....are shocking. Especially when juxtaposed to the horrific treatment that the Japanese American men in the same CCC camps received. When I heard these stories of mistreatment it made me think about the connection of this dark history to the more recent participation of the US military at Abu Graib and how the Tule Lake CCC camp was in some ways a historical precursor in the use of psychological torture. In this case on U.S. citizens. I encourage you to reach out to the Pilgrimage and ask them to help you be in contact with the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned alongside these POW's. The racism of WWII as demonstrated by these double standards should be examined more closely and be understood by the men who experienced its effects most profoundly in relation to the specifics of this part of the incarceration of the Japanese American community.

May. 29 2015 08:25 PM
Shell from Chandler, AZ

My father was in his teens when he worked as a translator and driver at Camp 202 near Greeley,CO. His family was VolgaDeutsch, having emigrated from Russia earlier in the century and his first language was German. Many of the farmers in this part of eastern Colorado shared that heritage so communication was much easier than one might have expected. He recalled the prisoners lining up four deep in the early mornings and the line stretching far into the distance. The men were loaded into trucks and then driven to the local farms for the day. Dad would wait for them in the late afternoon and told me he often took his accordion along and would play as they gathered for the ride back to camp. The music he played was very familiar to them and because he spoke their language a real camaraderie developed.He believed many of them had a wish to return to the area after the war. These prisoners had been Afrika Korps and were among the some 230,000 German and Italian troops captured during the Tunisia Campaign. He did mention that there was a small number of Italian prisoners at the camp but they did not mingle with the Germans and were separately housed. Dad worked there until he joined the US Army Air Corps and went off to fight in the European theater.

May. 29 2015 05:54 PM
Rick Padden from Loveland, CO

My full-length play, "Beets," which dramatizes the use of German POWs from Camp 202 near Greeley on the beet farms of Berthoud, Colorado, sold out its run at the Aurora Fox in Denver in January, and is returning to four other Denver venues this summer.

I'm enjoying your podcast immensely!

May. 29 2015 01:41 PM
Barbara Heisler from Lake Oswego, OR

If you are interested in this topic you might be interested in learning about former German POWs who immigrated to the United States after the war.
Check out my book "From German Prisoner of War to American Citizen: A Social History with 35 Interviews" (McFarland 2013). Barbara Schmitter Heisler

May. 29 2015 12:23 PM
John from oh

Karen Duffin sounds like a flighty teenager.

May. 29 2015 11:03 AM

Wow. How can you guys not know this bit about American history? Do you have in your mind that the Americans never caught Axis combatants? Where do you think they were held?

My father was a kid who was from a divorced family (hey, it also happened in the 1930's). He refused to live with his mother, and when his dad was called up to active duty he was sent to a boarding school across the country (his choice, it was near one of his grandfathers). My father recalls seeing the German prisoners many times on the train between Washington state and Georgia. So I knew they existed.

Then I escaped to the wet side of the state and learned that racism was part of the keeping those prisoners:

My dad retired to Arizona. When I visited almost thirty years ago he had a book about Germans held in Arizona who thought if they built a boat they could float away, except they did not realize there was a basic difference in the definition of "river" between Germany and the American southwest:

By the way, since I know children of those in held in Japanese internment camps, I would be very interested in a RadioLab story of how imprisoned Americans just because of their Japanese heritage were treated versus Japanese prisoners of war.

May. 29 2015 04:59 AM
Sara from Georgia

When I was a kid I read a book about German POWs in the us. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene

May. 28 2015 11:56 PM
Kay Moon from Hawaii

Before they were deployed, Japanese American soldiers guarded German POWs on peanut farms in Georgia and Alabama:

May. 28 2015 02:44 PM
Kristen from Los Angeles, CA

What's the name of the book by Ruth Beaumont Cook on this subject? I clicked on the link, hoping it would bring me to a page with the title, but it's just a link to e-mail radiolab instead.

May. 28 2015 10:19 AM
Julien Couvreur from Seattle

"At that time, there is no such law stating what you can and cannot do towards your civilian population." (rough quote from the episode, 25 minutes in)

Only if you ignore British Common Law, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and prior Supreme Court rulings (innocent until proven guilty, natural rights to liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness). Also, you don't need legislation to be morally consistent.
I found this argument a lame defense for the treatment of citizen of Japanese descent.

On a broader note, the episode perpetuates the mythology of group guilt in war. Yes, judging individuals properly consumes precious time. But let's not pretend that POWs became automatically more guilty because other Germans committed even more crimes. Each POW is an individual who committed specific crimes.
Note that this is the same fallacy that underlies racist and ethnic ideology of the first half of the century. For example, in the US with treatment of Japanese and eugenics movement, as well as obviously in Germany, but also the Armenian genocide and more.
I fear that we downplay the ideological similarity between the Nazis and other western cultures (probably for people in winning nations to feel better about themselves, and propaganda value by those governments). For instance, "scientific" central planning of the economy, "scientific" planning of society, eugenics and other anti-individualist thinking (bombing civilians, blockading food supplies, group generalizations, sacrificing/coercing some for a goal they don't support, ...). Although the episode brushes on this uncomfortable topic, it could use more digging.

PS: thanks for digging up this story of German and Japanese POW camps. It's the first time I heard about it.

May. 28 2015 08:43 AM
Cody from LA

Radiolab is the best all other podcasts are just imitating.

May. 27 2015 06:29 PM
Scott Mahlik from Denver, CO

"I have been an avid RadioLab listener for the past 8 years or so. I've listened to every show. This episode, in it's virtual shrugging off of the issue of race in the treatment (both inter-personally and institutionally) of German POWs vs. black soldiers and American citizens, was the most disheartening and disappointing I've ever tuned in to. The question is dogged, and it's unforgivable"

This is exactly what was running through my mind during this episode. There was honest laughter at how funny it was that German POWs were burying their ham and corn and America was assuming Hitler was treating American/European POWs with the same respect. Meanwhile we hear nothing of Japanese POW camps knowing full well there was a fight to the death culture at the time. That's the Anglo Saxon benefit of the doubt and double standard. It's BS, glossed over or avoided in this episode. This conversation is difficult to have and is probably too close to the majority Radiolab audience to tackle with any real honesty. I would suggest inviting Nell Irvin Painter on to extend the discussion of why we love Germans (even Nazis) so much in America. You guys should move to Denver. I will tune back in when you talk about prejudice, exhibit 1: RadioLab the Nazi Summer Camp Episode

May. 27 2015 03:02 PM
Daniel Lynch from Costa Rica

Wait what happened to the POW at the end? Where they sent back home after the war or did they stay in the US?

May. 27 2015 01:12 PM

When are you going to go back to what made Radiolab great? I miss the awesomeness of the old Radiolab. I haven't even bothered listening to the last dozen episodes. Give up the This American Life BS!!!!

May. 26 2015 07:19 PM
Lucy Sanna from Madison, WI

Because the US Army destroyed the records at camps that housed WWII POWs, we can only know what happened through interviews of those who remember. Of course everyone remembers things differently, and there’s a lot of romance in the backward-looking lens.

POWs were often housed in military camps away from the eyes of fearful citizens. But once it was clear that farmers needed seasonal laborers—migrant workers had gone off to war or to more lucrative factory jobs—the Army realized that putting prisoners in rural towns where they were needed might be just the thing. The famers could even pay for POWs room and board. The Army suppressed the information best they could, and the media complied, but many town fathers in those rural communities feared the introduction of the enemy.

Who can tell this story? The farmer who housed the prisoners, who got to know the individuals, who worked side-by-side with the so-called “Nazis” tells a story with a different kind of truth.

In researching this topic, I decided to write a novel rather than a nonfiction book. You can listen there to the first two chapters—where the problem is presented by the farmer to the town fathers:

May. 26 2015 07:06 PM
C Quilty from new york, new york

I have been an avid RadioLab listener for the past 8 years or so. I've listened to every show. This episode, in it's virtual shrugging off of the issue of race in the treatment (both inter-personally and institutionally) of German POWs vs. black soldiers and American citizens, was the most disheartening and disappointing I've ever tuned in to. The question is dogged, and it's unforgivable.

May. 26 2015 05:05 PM
Bill from NM

As a youth who grew up in Connecticut I can vividly recall a childhood ditty:

Whistle while you work,
Hitler is a jerk,
Mussolini is a meanie,

I have never forgotten that partly because my parents after hearing it, forbade me using it and also because as I got older I was so astounded by it ramifications. "How could my country approve of a man like Hitler and yet drop an atomic bomb on the Japanese?" was my first realization. The second in my maturity in this area was "How could we have put American citizens in camps and say they were worse than Hitler?"

Ironically, here we are 70 years later with POW's of Arabic descent in a POW camp, some for never having done anything or at least anything we could actually prove. More importantly, we also tortured many of these men in violation of our own principles of justice and a strict constitution. This is not a movie of atrocities committed 70 years ago; this is what we are doing today!

We all can intellectualize, with a wink at history and be interested in what happened back then to the German and the Japanese in our country. But, let us not become such a calloused society who cares more for its "interesting" past, only to dismiss the cruelty and essentially immoral behavior of our currently elected officials! To do so will place us in the magnification lens of historians and what our grandchildren will see is quite different that just giving the Germans preferential treatment and imprisoning our own citizens.

May. 26 2015 04:04 PM
Colin from Ireland

For those who are no doubt interested the song is Haul Away Joe, an old sea shanty but this appears to be a German Version which is new to me. Was fantastic!

Arist: Rostocker Shanty Chor
Album: Luv Un Lee
Song: Haul Away

May. 26 2015 03:50 PM
bob minder from wbur, wgbh

i taught holocaust history to young men and women for twenty years. They were 13 and 14} and the classes ran in size from 15-20. Aside from all reading together both volumes of maus and wiesel's night {about a fourteen year old}, each student chose a film to watch on his own and a novel to read on his own, from a long list i gave to choose from. {Holocaust studies comes with an enormous supply of very fine literature and film as well as that which is to be avoided.} One of the novels, which had an accompanying film, was The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene about a Jewish girl, i think about fourteen, too, who lived in Arkansas and whose family had a German prisoner of war as a worker on their farm. It was really quite good--about her self-esteem issues, the soldier's own past, an academic father and a mother from Manchester, neither pleased with herr hitler, but.... and about the girl's issues with parents who really were too heavy-handed in their parenting style. it was a good one, i remember. bob minder

May. 26 2015 03:23 PM
Evan Stein from New York, NY

I enjoyed this episode but I was infuriated by the comment about that stated we protected POWs because we had an "International Code to follow" but we didn't protect Japanese Americans because there was "no law governing how to treat our own citizens."

There is. We call it the CONSTITUTION. That's what makes what happened to the Japanese Americans so disgusting.

May. 26 2015 03:06 PM
ronah from Illinois

NPR did a story on German POWs in Texas and how accepting the Texans generally were. The book and TV film "The Summer Of My German Soldier" of the '70s featured prisoners. PBS series "Foyle's War" did an episode about a POW in Britain. Where were the folks who knew nothing of POWs??
I wonder too on how the Japanese prisoner relations were. The cultural barriers between Asian and American values and hatred for Pearl Harbor bombing must've caused great stresses.
Still, nothing compares to the U.S. Civil War POWs on both sides, whether Andersonville in the South or Camp Douglas in Illinois.

May. 26 2015 02:35 PM
Sebastian from London, UK

There's almost too much on in this episode there's hardly enough time to think! But very interesting nonetheless. I'm also interested in where this information on the Jim Crow laws connection came from. Which museum in Nurnberg is this said to have come from? It's the first I've heard about it.

May. 26 2015 06:26 AM

Yeah, I've had folks I told about this say that anti-semitic laws written on the basis of Jim Crow laws is bunk, and I haven't been able to find any info linking the two as directly as claimed in this piece. Sounds plausible, but unless there's some actual textual proof offered, some direct link shown either on this webpage or even in the comments, I have to consider it unfounded.

May. 25 2015 08:35 PM
Dusty Free from Eau Claire, WI

Does anyone know what the german song is called, featured on this episode? I absolutely loved it.

May. 25 2015 01:59 PM
Evan from Washington, DC

There was a quick, almost parenthetical mention that the Nazi codes were based on Jim Crow laws. Is there any more literature on that? Very interesting.

May. 25 2015 12:40 PM
Alexander from Australia

I thought this was a very informative episode and covered the story without bias from an american point of view. The fact there was anger in the media toward the treatment of the German POWs was understandable taking into account news from the battle of the bulge where surrendering americans were killed. Just wondering if anyone knows the chant the german's are singing about 1/3 into the episode?

May. 25 2015 05:44 AM
Andrew Rettig from Mississuaga, Ontario

Thanks for the interesting piece on German POWS in Alabama. You covered a lot of points that had a bearing on the coddling of the POWs by America. Coddling also occurred in Britain, Canada and possibly other Allied countries. There is one untold frightening aspect of this story that is overlooked: a ruthless European dictator held Allied soldiers in German POW camps. Allied leaders knew his reprisals against civilians in Nazi occupied zones had been completely beyond reason involving massacres of civilians for the death of a single German officer. The historical record shows he took a personal interest in approving these retaliatory actions. (Google - Allied Dieppe Raid 1942 - Nazi Shackling of Canadian POWs) In the closing weeks of the war, Hitler's mind occasionally focused on the American POWs in German camps in the areas east of Berlin where the Russians were defeating his armies. He moved some of them west. They were a bargaining chip in his mind. He gave orders to his Generals to abandon the Geneva Convention so that parachuting Americans, Brits, and Canadians could by lynched by German civilians angry about the bombing of their homes. Some were killed - I believe. But the German generals - finally finding some metal- refused to commit themselves. Not long after VE Day, German POWs in Canada and Britain - and probably the US - had their rations reduced from 3200/day to 1550/day - the amount a European civilian received from Allied forces. (But they still gardens full of potatoes.} They became DEFs - Disarmed Enemy Forces who did reparation labor in Britain and some other Allied countries for 1 for 2 years. The Allies had abandoned the Geneva Convention after May 8th. The coddling of German POWs in America - and in Canada - aimed at increasing the security of American/Canadian POWs in Germany. The Swiss Red Cross inspectors who inspected camps on both sides informed Berlin about the good treatment of German POWs in North America. In Canada, the German POWs once received a Christmas present from the Nazi government - leather briefcases. Hitler had not forgotten them: he often stressed to others how he regretted their ordinary soldier's suffering and ultimate sacrfice. In spring of 1945, he was moody and very unpredictable and could have ordered the killing of American POWs in the closing weeks of the war especially since America was the deciding force on the Western and Southern fronts. (POW Negotiations Allies - Japan went through Spain at some point even though Japan had not sign the Geneva Convention.) There is the same explanation for coddling of Japanese POWs. It was an Allied attempt that hoped for the best.) What option was there? And those GermanPOWs who did farm labor were not the extremists Nazis who, occasionally, beat or threatened other POWs who wanted to work outside the camp. Radical Nazis accused the working POWs of assisting the Allies in their war effort. Conflicts between POWs still need to be explored in greater detail.

May. 25 2015 01:59 AM

POW Camps near St Louis, MO. Italian & German.

May. 25 2015 01:19 AM
Chris from BC, Canada

How about the even lesser known story (at least in the USA) of the many, many German POWs who were kept in Canada from almost the beginning of the war (3 years before the USA entered it). Before Dec. 1941, any of those prisoners who made it out of the camps would make for the USA boarder, as they would have been free once crossing it, the USA being a neutral country at that time.

May. 24 2015 05:49 PM
WhitePawn from Wisconsin

I feel like there wasn't enough coverage on the Japanese Americans vs. the Japanese POWs. More details, more analysis.

There was an opportunity here for a deeper exploration and I feel it was brushed past.

We all know you have people to talk to on the internment camp side thanks to Uncle George Takei. Surely there are other survivors of that atrocity that can be found and spoken to.

Dig deeper please.

May. 24 2015 01:28 PM

My grandma had several paintings done by German prisoners as thanks. My mother remembers the prisoners coming to work on the farm. My grandparents spoke German and so could easily talk with them.

May. 24 2015 09:57 AM
JD from NYC

You all were getting somewhere as Dr. Goldfield illuminated an EXTREMELY valid racial analysis. You missed an opportunity by dismissing that analysis. That is extremely frustrating. Maddening, even.

If you chalk up this great treatment of Nazis to "rules" we had to follow, what does that say about how the US treated their own? US citizens interned, Black Americans fighting treated like crap - what rules were there to dictate the treatment of our own citizen and what does their experiences say about US ideology? Do we just focus on US virtues by way of this extraordinary treatment of Nazis on US soil?

To counter the dismissal of this racial analysis by Dr. Springer, do we even wonder whether those Japanese POWs got more than just livable facilities, 3-square a day, and no torture? Did they get the empathetic sentiments that the people of Aliceville conveyed in the recordings of this oral history at the beginning of the show? Did they get "oh, they're just young kids" and "concern in our hearts" like the Nazis did? Were the Japanese POWs drinking and bonding with their captors? I highly doubt it. So it is less about the rules than those moments captured in the oral history. THAT is why the connection on race and racial ideology between folks in Aliceville and those Nazi POWs is valid. That's why it matters.

But this is what happens. We put our toe into truth and then when it implicates whiteness, there is always an alternative explanation, a way out. Here, that would mean looking Nazis in the face and saying, "I relate to you on racial and ideological levels" and clearly that is undesirable. But we will get NO WHERE if we dont GO THERE.
What Radio Lab offered as an EXTREME example of US virtue (juxtaposed with the mess we're in now with torture reports) is actually a perfect example of what the US is and has always been capable of doing and being, based solely on race. Particularly, how White Supremacy and those who uphold this ideology decide who is worthy of empathy, humanity, the benefit of the doubt, a second chance, childhood, youthful mistakes, femininity, protection, and all extensions of grace that so many folks of color are not afforded in this nation. If these folks in Alabama could see humanity on this level in Nazis, then there is something worth struggling with that allowed them to access that from the moment those Nazis stepped off of the trains in Aliceville. You cannot dismiss race here.

May. 23 2015 07:51 PM

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