German POWs in America
German POW Escapees
Two state patrol officers pose with the four German POWs they found walking along a highway not too far from their camp. The POWs had been away only a few hours, and were actually on their way back to the camp after having paid a visit to the local town to see if they could get into a movie that was playing at the local theater -- supposedly because they had heard that it was air conditioned.
While the majority of POWs were not trouble makers or escape threats, there was still a good number of them who felt it was their duty to stir things up or to try to escape. Argentina was said to be a popular destination place because it was a friendly country, but few POWs made it very far, and even fewer were actually gone for very long. Even though POWs worked and earned $.10 an hours for their efforts, they were paid in military script that was only good at the camp canteen, so the POWs had no actual currency to purchase food, clothes, not to mention train or bus tickets. Additionally, while some of them knew a little English, there was still a communication barrier for many of them, and their accents gave them away to the local authorities or townsfolks. The average length of escape was around 48-72 hours. Often times, the POWs simply wanted to go into town to try to meet a woman, walk in the woods to enjoy a bit of freedom, or many other basically harmless reasons. Some of the POWs even had some assistance from the locals in the area in the form of food or even a ride back to camp. A few of the escapes were well planned out, with the goal of getting out of the country. One escape in Arizona is well detailed in the book, Faustball Tunnel, as referenced below. At the end of the war, only seven POWs were still at large.
A typical guard tower. The camps were well guarded and had high fences with barbed wire loops at the top, however, many of the escapes managed to leave the camp in laundry trucks, walk off of a work site, or in a couple cases, actually pole vault over the fences.
The most notable of all of the escapes is this one in Arizona, and documented in the book, The Faustball Tunnel, by John Hammond Moore. On December 23, 1944, twenty-five German prisoners of war broke out of an Arizona prison camp not far from the Mexican border by crawling along a 178-foot tunnel. By Christmas day, they were looking for ways to reach Mexico and Axis sympathizers who would help them. Drawing on extensive interviews with the escapees and formerly classified documents, John Hammond Moore tells their incredible story—one of the few untold dramas of the war. Many of the men imprisoned at the Papago Park camp were among the Nazis’ toughest and smartest U-boat commanders and their crews. Expecting trouble, their American guards marveled at how well the men adjusted to camp life. Spirits were high and the compound neatly raked several times each day. But the guards failed to realize the men were digging a tunnel right under their eyes. They hid their activity by building a volleyball (faustball) field. Twenty-five escapees used makeshift tools and coal shovels issued them by the camp to hack through the rocky soil. Once free, they disguised themselves as merchant seamen, consular officials, and workers armed with false identification papers. The men lasted six weeks on the outside before being recaptured. Their breakout, told here is breathtaking detail, remains the most sensational mass escape ever to take place from a POW camp on American soil.
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These images are all screencaps from the History Channel DVD: Nazi POWs in America. This DVD is a tie-in to Arnold Krammer’s book of the same title. This DVD is is available from the History Channel and features interviews with Arnold Krammer, some of the former POWs, and residents of Aliceville, Alabama which was one of the very first towns to house German POWs.  The various other sources for this information are listed here.