German POWs in America
POW Labor
POWs were put to work not only completing the construction of the camps where they were housed, but also harvesting crops, working in canneries, on farms, building roads, buildings, clearing land and any other task that wasn’t considered hazardous or directly related to the war effort. The POWs often had their noon meals in the homes of the families who owned the farms where they worked. In the Midwest, for example, there were many residents directly of German descent and who spoke German, so many friendships were made. It should be noted that many of the work groups performed their tasks willingly, and with little supervision and few guards. There were few escapes, few troublemakers, and overall they worked hard. The POWs were compensated so they could purchase personal items, art supplies and writing materials from the camp commissary. They were paid in script instead of actual currency.
In addition to working within the local community, the POWs took advantage of educational opportunities. Not only could they learn English, they could study mathematics, engineering and science. Some of the younger POWs completed the equivalent of a high school diploma, and other POWs completed courses of higher learning, all complete with grades class transcripts.
The POWs were put to work in the fields, building roads, cutting timber, repairing vehicies and almost any task imaginable that was not considered hazardous or seen as directly aiding the war effort (this was in accordance with the Geneva Convention). For their efforts, the POWs were paid $.10 an hour. With that they could purchase personal supplies at the camp canteen. They were even allowed one beer per day. At first the POWs aided large companies who faced work shortages because of the large numbers of American men who were away fighting the war in Europe. However, individuals such as farmers and other small businessmen were allowed to submit a work request to the government asking for emergency POW workers to help harvest crops, or perform repair and maintenance work on farms. One MP tells of the time he was supervising a group of POWs who were put to work re-roofing a large barn in Texas. With the various colored shingles, they designed a Swastika pattern that could be seen for miles, and had a good laugh over it. They were later required to redo the roof with the guards ensuring that the shingles were laid out in the proper manner.
Officers were not required to work, but many times they offered to out of sheer boredom. They often grew restless reading or painting, and many of them felt that the opportunities of attending classes still didn’t give them enough to do. They welcomed the physical activity in the fields, canneries or construction sites where they were sent to work. Many of the POWs were lightly guarded, and often became friendly with their employers, and even ate the noon meal in the dining rooms with the other family members. Other times, the wives of the farmers would bring out extra sandwiches, coffee, lemonade or cookies to the workers.
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©, 2013
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.