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German POWs on the American Homefront
Smithsonian Magazine ^ | 16 Sep 2009 | J. Malcolm Garcia

Posted on 09/28/2009 7:30:33 PM PDT by BGHater

Thousands of World War II prisoners ended up in mills, farm fields and even dining rooms across the United States

In the mid-1940s when Mel Luetchens was a boy on his family’s Murdock, Nebraska, farm where he still lives, he sometimes hung out with his father’s hired hands, “I looked forward to it,” he said. “They played games with us and brought us candy and gum.” The hearty young men who helped his father pick corn or put up hay or build livestock fences were German prisoners of war from a nearby camp. “They were the enemy, of course,” says Luetchens, now 70 and a retired Methodist minister. “But at that age, you don’t know enough to be afraid.”

Since President Obama’s vow to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp erupted into an entrenched debate about where to relocate the prisoners captured in the Afghanistan War, Luetchens has reflected on the “irony and parallel” of World War II POWs and Guantanamo inmates. 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.

But in America’s backyards and farm fields and even dining rooms is where many enemy prisoners landed nearly 70 years ago. As World War II raged, Allies, such as Great Britain, were running short of prison space to house POWs. From 1942 through 1945, more than 400,000 Axis prisoners were shipped to the United States and detained in camps in rural areas across the country. Some 500 POW facilities were built, mainly in the South and Southwest but also in the Great Plains and Midwest.

At the same time that the prison camps were filling up, farms and factories across America were struggling with acute labor shortages. The United States faced a dilemma. According to Geneva Convention protocols, POWs could be forced to work only if they were paid, but authorities were afraid of mass escapes that would endanger the American people. Eventually, they relented and put tens of thousands of enemy prisoners to work, assigning them to canneries and mills, to farms to harvest wheat or pick asparagus, and just about any other place they were needed and could work with minimum security.

About 12,000 POWs were held in camps in Nebraska. “They worked across the road from us, about 10 or 11 in 1943,” recalled Kelly Holthus, 76, of York, Nebraska. “They stacked hay. Worked in the sugar beet fields. Did any chores. There was such a shortage of labor.”

“A lot of them were stone masons,” said Keith Buss, 78, who lives in Kansas and remembers four POWs arriving at his family’s farm in 1943. “They built us a concrete garage. No level, just nail and string to line the building up. It’s still up today.”

Don Kerr, 86, delivered milk to a Kansas camp. “I talked to several of them,” he said. “I thought they were very nice.”

“At first there was a certain amount of apprehension,” said Tom Buecker, the curator of the Fort Robinson Museum, a branch of the Nebraska Historical Society. “People thought of the POWs as Nazis. But half of the prisoners had no inclination to sympathize with the Nazi Party.” Fewer than 10 percent were hard-core ideologues, he added.

Any such anxiety was short-lived at his house, if it existed at all, said Luetchens. His family was of German ancestry and his father spoke fluent German. “Having a chance to be shoulder-to-shoulder with [the prisoners], you got to know them,” Luetchens said. “They were people like us.”

“I had the impression the prisoners were happy to be out of the war,” Holthus said, and Kerr recalled that one prisoner “told me he liked it here because no one was shooting at him.”

Life in the camps was a vast improvement for many of the POWs who had grown up in “cold water flats” in Germany, according to former Fort Robinson, Nebraska, POW Hans Waecker, 88, who returned to the United States after the war and is now a retired physician in Georgetown, Maine. “Our treatment was excellent. Many POWs complained about being POWs—no girlfriends, no contact with family. But the food was excellent and clothing adequate.” Such diversions as sports, theater, chess games and books made life behind barbed wire a sort of “golden cage,” one prisoner remarked.

Farmers who contracted for POW workers usually provided meals for them and paid the U.S. government 45 cents an hour per laborer, which helped offset the millions of dollars needed to care for the prisoners. Even though a POW netted only 80 cents a day for himself, it provided him with pocket money to spend in the canteen. Officers were not required to work under the Geneva Convention accords, which also prohibited POWs from working in dangerous conditions or in tasks directly related to the war effort.

“There were a few cases when prisoners told other prisoners not to work so hard,” said historian Lowell May, author of Camp Concordia: German POWs in the Midwest. Punishment for such work slowdowns was usually several days of confinement with rations of only bread and water.

“One prisoner at Camp Concordia said a good German would not help the Americans,” May said. “He was sent to a camp for Nazi supporters in Alva, Oklahoma.”

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.

The deprivations of the postwar years in Europe were difficult for the repatriated men. The Luetchens, who established a “lively” letter exchange with their POW farmhands, sent them food and clothing. Eventually Luetchen and his parents visited some of them in Germany.

Recently Luetchens considered those experiences in the context of current controversies about Guantanamo detainees. “It was less scary then,” he concluded, but he expressed hope for understanding others, even your designated enemies.

“When you know people as human beings up close and understand about their lives, it really alters your view of people and the view of your own world.”


About 12,000 POWs were held in camps in Nebraska. "I had the impression the prisoners were happy to be out of the war," said Kelly Holthus, 76, of York, Nebraska.


From 1942 through 1945, more than 400,000 Axis prisoners were shipped to the United States and detained in camps in rural areas across the country.


Life in the camps was a vast improvement for many of the POWs who had grown up in “cold water flats” in Germany, according to former Fort Robinson, Nebraska, POW Hans Waecker, 88.


TOPICS: History; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: german; germany; nazi; pow; wwii

1 posted on 09/28/2009 7:30:34 PM PDT by BGHater
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To: BGHater

Most german POWs were drafted or be killed into the German army in WWII, not brainwashed like Islamist jihadis. This article is being used to justify letting them out of Gitmo and into mainstream U.S.


2 posted on 09/28/2009 7:34:47 PM PDT by Citizen Soldier (Just got up from Bedroomshire)
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To: BGHater

>Since President Obama’s vow to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp erupted into an entrenched debate about where to relocate the prisoners captured in the Afghanistan War, Luetchens has reflected on the “irony and parallel” of World War II POWs and Guantanamo inmates. 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.<

There it is.

SRM will run with that agenda in order to condition us for the eventual release of all the jihadists onto our own soil.

You know it’s coming.


3 posted on 09/28/2009 7:35:10 PM PDT by Califreak (If it's Astroturf, why are you trying to mow it?(sign seen at a town hall meeting))
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To: Citizen Soldier

Agreed.

Ping to #3


4 posted on 09/28/2009 7:36:19 PM PDT by Califreak (If it's Astroturf, why are you trying to mow it?(sign seen at a town hall meeting))
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To: BGHater

I don’t think I would want the detainees from Gitmo working in our fields or around our neighbor hoods!


5 posted on 09/28/2009 7:36:48 PM PDT by tallyhoe
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To: Califreak
We already have jihadist and terrorist in our domestic prisons.

SMag put their dribble into the article, but as a whole this is historical in context and should remain so.

6 posted on 09/28/2009 7:37:50 PM PDT by BGHater ("real price of every thing ... is the toil and trouble of acquiring it")
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To: BGHater
they worked in the sawmills here a bouts
7 posted on 09/28/2009 7:40:03 PM PDT by Chode (American Hedonist *DTOM* -ww- I AM JIM THOMPSON!)
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To: BGHater
My grandfather worked at prison camps in Wyoming and Colorado in WWII. He said that in Colorado Springs they used to take the prisoners into town on Saturday afternoon to let them go to the movies and get a burger.

They had minimal guards -- as my grandfather said "Most of them had no desire to escape, and even if they did, where could they go in the middle of Colorado? Rocky Mountains on one side and desert on the other."
8 posted on 09/28/2009 7:42:30 PM PDT by atomicweeder
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To: BGHater

“Fewer than 10 percent were hard-core ideologues, he added.”

I imagine that of the prisoners at Gitmo, fewer than 1 percent are not hard-core.


9 posted on 09/28/2009 7:42:37 PM PDT by KrisKrinkle (Blessed be those who know the depth and breadth of their ignorance. Cursed be those who don't.)
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To: tallyhoe

No detainees need to apply around here ... we aren’t Muslim, we don’t speak Arabic or Persian ... and we are sane.

Look at the commonalities between the German POWs and the surrounding farms and factories — Christian background, Western culture, similar ethnic background, even some common language.

There’s no parallel between German prisoners helping out on the farms of German-American Midwesterners, vs. Gitmo detainees.


10 posted on 09/28/2009 7:42:56 PM PDT by Cloverfarm (Where are we going, and why are we in a hand-basket?)
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To: BGHater

I don’t think the people in the regular German army during WWII were anywhere near as crazy or individually dangerous as the Islamic radicals at Gitmo.


11 posted on 09/28/2009 7:43:57 PM PDT by GoldStandard
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To: GoldStandard

Not all societies are equal nor should we imply we can change their culture or would they even want what we have achieved.


12 posted on 09/28/2009 7:45:50 PM PDT by BGHater ("real price of every thing ... is the toil and trouble of acquiring it")
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To: BGHater
What a crock of sh*t!! There is absolutely NO comparison between captured enemy prisoners of war of a nation-state (even Nazi Germany) and the terrorist jihadists being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba!! Most German enlisted men were draftees just like most of our soldiers. Other than the Waffen SS, few dyed-in-the-wool Nazis were involved directly in combat. Many of the upper-level officers were held in a camp in Mississippi, IIRC. If jihadists are housed on American soil, I hope that the citizens of that state rise up on their hind legs and let the elites know, in no uncertain terms, how they feel about that...
13 posted on 09/28/2009 7:46:06 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (I will raise $2 million for Sarah Palin if she runs; What will you do?)
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To: BGHater

The elephant in the room not discussed in the article was that the Germans were mostly Christians. Our two countries had the same religious values and historically, English narrowly edged out German as the “unofficial official” language of our country.


14 posted on 09/28/2009 7:48:28 PM PDT by pfflier
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To: BGHater

I used to work with a guy whose family used German POWs to work on their farm in Alabama.

I recall a few things he told me about them. One is that several of them exchanged Christmas cards or letters with the farmer for the rest of their lives.

He also said the farmer would give them a coke every day and also cigarettes as part of their pay. He said the German POWs would get Red Cross packages from Germany which contained German ersatz cigarettes. The first thing they would do when they opened the packages would be to throw the cigarettes away.


15 posted on 09/28/2009 7:48:54 PM PDT by yarddog
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To: Califreak

Bingo! That’s exactly what I was waiting for when I started reading the article. It didn’t take long to find the money line. Great post.


16 posted on 09/28/2009 7:49:52 PM PDT by weef
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To: BGHater

http://www.historynet.com/the-not-so-great-escape-german-pows-in-the-us-during-wwii.htm#hide

interesting story from my parts about the “great escape” from Papago Park in Phoenix.


17 posted on 09/28/2009 7:50:40 PM PDT by machogirl
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To: Citizen Soldier

In the 1940s we understood what a POW was. POWs are not someone who has committed a crime but rather a combatant taken off the battlefield until the war is over.

We could have the current combatants in the US now, if the left did not want to try to get them access to US courts to free them. The key differences in the 1941 to 1945 period was we had a Dim president and were on the same side at the USSR. Thus the left was content to let us hold our POWs. This would not happen to day.


18 posted on 09/28/2009 7:51:19 PM PDT by JLS
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To: BGHater

No comparison at all.

Those German soldiers were mostly just kids caught up in the Nazi machine. My mother managed a PX at a large training and POW camp in Texas. She recalled how the German POWs asked permission to plant flowerbeds around her building, just happy to be out of the war. My grandfather hired them as farm laborers. These young men scared no one. They didn’t want to fight for Hitler any more than we wanted to fight against him. They bore us no ill will.

No way would any of us want to associate with Muslim jihadis — trained to hate and determined to kill us “infidels.”


19 posted on 09/28/2009 7:56:21 PM PDT by Jedidah
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To: Cloverfarm

I know the German’s had similar backgrounds!


20 posted on 09/28/2009 8:00:51 PM PDT by tallyhoe
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To: BGHater

The proper comparison would be between Al Qaeda and the Gestapo.


21 posted on 09/28/2009 8:01:38 PM PDT by Zhang Fei (Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
The Waffen SS was not, however, a small number of Nazi soldiers. At peak strength there were 38 divisions.

I take your general point: the author is interested in establishing that most puke-worthy liberal icon, the "straw puppy." The Russians love their kids, too... Iranian political leaders are really not so different from those in the West once you break down the cultural barriers... Serial killers and child rapists have families, too... and now the ever resourceful, always politically correct Smithsonian is attempting the double straw puppy construction: Jihadist = Nazi = German POW = not so bad when you get to know them. It's an insult to the Wehrmacht, yes, but not as big an insult as it is to the intelligence of anyone who reads the magazine.

22 posted on 09/28/2009 8:06:16 PM PDT by FredZarguna (It looks just like a Telefunken U-47. In leather.)
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To: Zhang Fei

>> “Having a chance to be shoulder-to-shoulder with [the prisoners], you got to know them, ... They were people like us.”

Ooh, I can hardly wait to have milk ‘n hummus-flavored cookies with this bunch.


23 posted on 09/28/2009 8:06:56 PM PDT by QBFimi2 (Ve are the New World Order; ve bring to the world dis-order. Spike Jones, 1943.)
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To: FredZarguna

Remember: Not all those 38 divisions were actually German (many were volunteers and conscripts from conquered areas and ethnic Germans also). Wasn’t there even a Muslim division or two?


24 posted on 09/28/2009 8:20:03 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (I will raise $2 million for Sarah Palin if she runs; What will you do?)
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To: BGHater

This is the second story in the news the past few days about foreign POWs bonding with the community around the camp.

Firstly was the one about some German who liked being in Scotland, and now this about the Germans liking the Midwest.

I think there’s a trend towards rosy nostalgia to soften up us rubes in fly-over country. That way we won’t fuss so much about Gitmo peeps getting dumped here. (As if!)


25 posted on 09/28/2009 8:24:49 PM PDT by Cloverfarm (Where are we going, and why are we in a hand-basket?)
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To: BGHater

Those POW’s were Catholic and Lutherans.
Many who were brought to the U.S. were the conscripts
and not the SS type.

The prisoners at GITMO are IslamOfascists who want to kill Jews and Christians.

the difference is no comparison. The anti war will reach at anything to prove a point, they lost on this one.


26 posted on 09/28/2009 8:56:24 PM PDT by SoCalPol (Reagan Republican for Palin 2012)
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To: BGHater
I remember several occasions of seeing German POWs riding through town in the back of county trucks in western NY state during WWII on their way to work on the state and county roads and bridges. I was only about 8 years old, and I was surprised that the Germans were not mean looking and didn't have horns and forked tails. If they had not had “POW” painted in big white letters on the back of their shirts and jackets I would not have guessed they were Germans because they looked just like all the other men in that town. They rode in the open trucks with no guards except the truck drivers even when it was cold and snowing, and AFAIK none ever tried to escape.
27 posted on 09/28/2009 9:16:09 PM PDT by epow (Luke 11:21 "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace:")
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
They were somewhat successful at recruiting in the Baltics. They could have raised twenty or more divisions in Ukraine and chose not to (slavs -- "inferior," dontcha know.)

My Dad, a "3rdDivisionVet" actually fought SS troops in the battle of Nuremberg. I believe he was of the opinion there were some Waffen SS, but by that late date also many SS who had been reservists and "police units," and their divisional organizations were disintegrating.

I will have to ask him, because he's the real expert on WWII in the family, but if I recall correctly, the SS tried conscripts and recruits in the occupied territories and was not very successful. I know partially this was due to Speer, who had made some promises to Vichy French and other occupied governments that in return for increased industrial production he would reduce the quota of drafted soldiers in the West. The SS resisted that, but did not regard most of the conscripts as reliable.

28 posted on 09/28/2009 9:19:32 PM PDT by FredZarguna (It looks just like a Telefunken U-47. In leather.)
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To: BGHater
These were prisoners of war, taken in uniform under international conventions that both sides honored (more or less). Those of them who were inveterate enemies were not treated this way.

The jihadists are not prisoners of war, were not in uniform, and do not observe international conventions. And they are, most of them, inveterate enemies.

The implication - the article is rife with it - is that if we're just nice to these guys they'll be nice too. I'm sorry, but I just don't think so.

29 posted on 09/28/2009 9:25:50 PM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: epow

I went to Fort Robinson in northwestern Nebraska earlier this month and there were photos of German POWs held at Fort Robinson during WW2. There is nothing left of their camp.

Fort Robinson is more well known as the site where Crazy Horse surrendered and was killed in 1877.


30 posted on 09/28/2009 9:43:31 PM PDT by chrisinoc
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To: Citizen Soldier

I agree - most of the German prisoners were not Nazi’s. but simply young men being drafted to serve in an ugly war. They were for the main part Christians, and cultured, and certainly most were easily accomodated in the midwest where there were many people of German descent already there.

The parallel to the prisoners at Guantanamo is simply not realistic.


31 posted on 09/28/2009 10:00:36 PM PDT by Gumdrop
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To: Cloverfarm
No detainees need to apply around here ... we aren’t Muslim, we don’t speak Arabic or Persian ... and we are sane.

Look at the commonalities between the German POWs and the surrounding farms and factories — Christian background, Western culture, similar ethnic background, even some common language.

There’s no parallel between German prisoners helping out on the farms of German-American Midwesterners, vs. Gitmo detainees.

Hammer Nail Pictures, Images and Photos

Hit the nail on the head, but one thing to add... there is certainly no labor shortage at present time either.

32 posted on 09/28/2009 10:46:54 PM PDT by Rodamala
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To: Gumdrop

exactly, they were soldiers, not someone seeking martyrdom. I have two German women friends who both said their fathers were told they would go in the army or be shot during WWII. Both ended up on the Russian front and one stayed in a POW camp there for a few years after 1945. Back home both families hid Jews fleeing Germany by hiding them in their cellars during the day as they fled, one had been their neighbor.


33 posted on 09/29/2009 11:20:59 AM PDT by Citizen Soldier (Just got up from Bedroomshire)
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