German Prisoners of War Living in America

Posted on May 30th, 2016 by:

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German Prisoners of War Living in America:

During WWII, 425,000 German prisoners of war were held in prison camps across the United States.

After the surrender of the German Afrika Korps in Tunisia on May 13, 1943, America was tasked with the responsibility of taking care of hundreds of thousands of German prisoners of war.

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German Prisoners of War march to their prison camp

A signing member of the Geneva Convention, the United States was required to provide comfortable and adequate housing for its prisoners, feed them the same rations as American soldiers and compensate them for any work they provided.

German prisoners of war were shipped to America on Liberty Ships, arriving as many as 30,000 a month. They were then transported by rail to one of over 700 prison camps by comfortable Pullman cars.

Under the rules of the Geneva Convention, officers could not be forced to work, but German enlisted men were regularly sent out to work on farms and in canneries and mills. The prisoners were paid in scrip and earned the equivalent of an American Army Private. The POW’s work helped alleviate wartime labor shortages in many agricultural areas.

Life in the prison camp was generally relaxed. With not enough guards to watch over the entire prison population, the Americans supervised German Officers and NCOs who in turn looked over their men. The Germans were allowed to watch movies, put on theatrical productions, subscribe to American newspapers and even print their own camp newspaper, (nearly half of which promoted pro-Nazi ideologies) as well as have camp functions that included local American girls.

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POW’s sitting in on a lecture. Many class were offered to prisoners of war. Some even received high school and college credit

In some camps, prisoners were let out without guards on an honor system. Ironically, German prisoners of war were allowed to visit segregated restaurants and businesses off limits to African-American and Japanese-Americans serving in the US Army.

While Americans captured by the Germans and Japanese faced starvation and mistreatment, German POWs in America received cigarettes, meat, beer (wine for captured General officers) and special meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas. At first, German Prisoners burned their leftovers fearing their rations would be reduced if the Americans found out they were unable to finish the food allotted to them.

Many of the German prisoners captured in North Africa still believed Germany would win the war. Some ardent Nazis resisted the Americans and intimidated other prisoners they believed were “disloyal” or “traitors”. Many prison camp “suicides” are believed to be killings ordered by secret camp courts. After WWII, the American government executed 14 German POW’s who were involved in such murders, but hundreds of others are believed to have gone unprosecuted.

After the discovery of Nazi concentration camps, workloads on German prisoners were increased and their rations cut. Every German was forced to watch the graphic film footage taken at the death camps.

After WWII nearly 5,000 former German POW’s immigrated to the US, convinced of the power of American democracy and impressed by the fair and kind treatment they received by their captors.

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Prisoners of war wore “PW” stamped on their clothing. Most clothing issued to POWs were from old stocks like this denim chore jacket which was phased out of use by the US Army in 1942.

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Front of jacket with “PW” sleeve marking visible

For More Reading Check Out:

Lone Star Stalag: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne

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