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Men in German Uniform

POWs in America during World War II

Antonio Thompson

Publication Year: 2010

Examining the largest prisoner-of-war handling operation in U.S. history, this book offers a meticulous account of the myriad problems—as well as the impressive successes—that came with housing 371,000 German POWs on American soil during World War II. Antonio Thompson draws on extensive archival research to probe the various ways in which the U.S. government strove to comply with the Geneva Convention’s mandate that enemy prisoners be moved from the war zone and given food, shelter, and clothing equal to that provided for American soldiers.

While the prisoners became a ready source of manpower for the labor-starved American home front and received small wages in return, their stay in the United States generated more than a few difficulties, which included not only daunting logistics but also violence within the camps. Such violence was often blamed on Nazi influence and control; however, as Thompson points out, only a few of the prisoners were actually Nazis. Because the Germans had cobbled together military forces that included convicts, their own POWs, volunteers from neutral nations, and conscripts from occupied countries, the bonds that held these soldiers together amid the pressures of combat dissolved once they were placed behind barbed wire. When these “men in German uniform,” who were not always Germans, donned POW garb, their former social, racial, religious, and ethnic tensions quickly reemerged.

To counter such troubles, American authorities organized various activities—including sports, arts, education, and religion—within the POW camps; some prisoners even participated in an illegal denazification program created by the U.S. government. Despite the problems, Thompson argues, the POW-housing program proved largely successful, as Americans maintained their reputation for fairness and humane treatment during a time of widespread turmoil.
Antonio Thompson is an assistant professor of history at Austin Peay State University and the author of <i>German Jackboots on Kentucky Bluegrass: Housing German Prisoners of War in Kentucky, 1942–1946</i>. He has also taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

World War II was a horrific war. Not only did millions die on the battlefield, but the regimes of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan also waged war on civilians. Germany engaged in a campaign of systematic genocide aimed at exterminating European Jewry and enslaving the Slavic populations...

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pp. xii-xiv

Only four works broadly examine the German POW topic. Judith M. Gansberg first covered it in her 1977 work Stalag: U.S.A. The Remarkable Story of German POWs in America. Although she examined the POW program in its entirety, the bulk of her research and the real value of her work concerned...

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pp. xv-xvi

This book, my second, was only possible through the constant help, support, and guidance of numerous people. I am very grateful to all. It seems that I have always been interested in World War II, but my interest in POW studies really began at Western Kentucky University. I studied under some fine professors and produced a thesis that dealt with German...

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1. Housing the Enemy: Prisoner of War Administration and Camp Construction

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pp. 1-14

Between 1941 and 1945, about 425,000 Axis prisoners of war entered captivity in the United States. This large influx created huge demands for a nation already taxed with conducting a two-front war. The first POW entered the United States on December 7, 1941...

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2. Sprechen Sie Deutsch? From Recruitment in the Third Reich to Incarceration in the United States

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pp. 15-36

The heterogeneous group of “German” men who filled the POW camps in the United States joined the Third Reich at various stages of the war and as need demanded. Their differences further compounded problems already being experienced by U.S. officials. As the well-oiled Wehrmacht war machine that pounded Europe from 1939 to 1942 deteriorated...

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3. Igniting the Powder Keg: Nazi Influence within the Camps and the Last Acts of Defiance among POWs

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pp. 37-54

The prisoner of war “congregation” gathered on the night of November 4, 1943, at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, to listen to Hauptfeldwebel Walter Beyer’s “midnight sermon.” All understood that the late-night meetings passed for courtsmartial within the camps. After accusing Gefreiter Johannes Kunze of treason, the “pastor” and the faithful grew quiet...

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4. Love Thy Enemy: Coddling, Segregating, and Fraternizing with German POWs

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pp. 55-76

Americans reacted to the housing of the German POWs with mixed emotions.1 The number of injuries and deaths of American boys overseas continued to rise and the army discovered evidence of German military atrocities. GIs taken captive by the enemy suffered torture and deprivation while POWs held by the United States enjoyed dry clothes and warm food...

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5. The Devil Is in the Details: German POW Labor and the AmericanHome Front

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pp. 77-102

Prisoner labor became one of the most beneficial and controversial aspects of the World War II POW program in the United States. The Geneva Convention permitted forced labor for enlisted prisoners and allowed officers to volunteer to work. Regulations, while vague, required that POWs be afforded the same benefits and treatment as civilian employees...

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6. Idle Hands: Recreation and Intellectual Diversion behind Barbed Wire

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pp. 103-116

By the end of World War II, nearly half a million Axis POWs resided in camps in the States, almost 400,000 of them Germans. The United States began holding prisoners as early as December 1941; the last left in 1947. Such a large number of men held for this long period of time caused trouble if left unoccupied.1 The labor program proved helpful but only filled eight to ten hours a day...

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7. Exorcising the Beast: The Reeducation of German POWs in the United States

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pp. 117-128

The reeducation program, dubbed the intellectual diversion program, was a belated and poorly orchestrated attempt to teach German POWs the value of democracy. This project began secretly because the Geneva Convention outlawed attempts to denationalize POWs. Any reeducation efforts might be seen as brainwashing or denationalization...

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8. Leaving a Place Called Amerika

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pp. 129-134

With the surrender of Germany and the end of World War II, the United States began the repatriation process for the approximately 372,000 German POWs housed within its borders. The United States encountered and overcame a number of problems while housing these prisoners. Ultimately, it exceeded the guidelines set forth in the Geneva Convention...


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pp. 135-158


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pp. 159-174


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pp. 175-178

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337428
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337282

Page Count: 194
Publication Year: 2010