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German POWs in the Southern United States: Reeducation and Reactions during World War II

May 3, 2014



The story of the German prisoner of war (POW) in the United States during World War II is hardly remembered.  While the subject of Japanese-American internment camps is highlighted in this period of American history, most Americans today do not even realize that almost half-a-million Nazi prisoners were held inside the country during the war.[1]  During the last years of the Second World War, American officials initiated a classified program to instill in German POWs negative attitudes about the Nazi ideology and regime and to encourage them to think in more democratic ways.[2]  It was vital for this initiative to remain secret, at least initially, for the safety of American POWs in Germany, but more importantly for the security of POW management in the United States, especially since Nazi elements in the camps had enough power to disrupt this program’s effort.[3]  This program was administered through reeducation.  According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, reeducation has two different meanings—(1) to teach someone to do or understand something in a new way or (2) to train someone for a different job.[4]  For thousands of German POWs imprisoned in the South, reeducation meant both.  This geographic designation was chosen because many of these POW and reeducation camps were largely constructed and located in this rural region where industrial and agricultural needs existed.  For a small group of these German soldiers, reeducation resulted in significant changes in their lives.

From 1943 to 1946, the continental United States saw an influx of POWs from WWII.  The United States military, which had little experience with POWs since the Civil War, hastily threw up seven hundred internment camps to detain numerous enemy soldiers who were arriving sometimes at a rate of 30,000 per month.[5]  This decision was ultimately made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Internment camps were built and prepared across the southern United States near small, rural communities or active army installations.  Camp Concordia, located in Kansas, became the site of the first implementation of the reeducation program after first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was approached by two female columnists from New York Herald Tribune. They presented a problem which was brought to light by the forced suicide of two German prisoners, Capt. Felix Tropschuh and a Nazi private.[6]  These two POWs lost their lives because of their curiosity about American culture and willingness to cooperate with camp officials.  Nazi prisoners, especially elite officers and officials, did not like the attitude changes of their men, so they would (like at Concordia) find ways to cause harm to whomever they observed being treacherous.  The two Concordia deaths, and among other incidents, in American POW camps outraged first lady Eleanor and led to an unprecedented education initiative that changed the lives of thousands of German POWs.[7]

In 1945 the US government implemented the IDP to enlighten German POWs on the American way-of-life and increase their appreciation for the United States.[8]  Military officials were told to cease using the terms “reeducation” or “reorientation” for this new program.[9]  This paper seeks to prove that the implementation of this type of reeducation program was effective and resulted in significant changes in the lives of many of its participants and those affected directly or indirectly.  The program used media and educational outreach in its design and implementation[10] and encouraged democratic practices exercised by these POWs.  A total of 24,158 German POWs would eventually graduate from official reeducation schools in the United States.[11]  These affected participants contributed greatly to the reconstruction effort of post-war Germany, led different lives as naturalized citizens of the United States, and shifted their feelings and attitudes about themselves and the United States.  To quote Rudolf T., a former POW at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, “captivity was liberation.”[12]

Some historians believe that the IDP was not effective.  Ron Robin, a cultural historian and expert on the German POW experience, argues in his book, The Barbed-Wire College, that the reeducation program had little if any lasting effect at all.  Antonio Thompson, an associate professor at Austin Peay State University who specializes in POWs, seems to also agree that reeducation was unsuccessful in his book Men in German Uniform.  From the accounts and testimonies of various German POWs and those who were directly involved in the program, this paper will effectively show that this once classified effort of denazification was indeed a success.  These sources will provide evidence for the counter-argument against the interpretations of Robin and Thompson.  The success of reeducation should be measured not by the small number of participants or the rare cases of POW opportunists, but by the effect this POW experience in America had on the lives of these Germans and their commitment to help spread these adopted ideas of democracy to a damaged Germany.  Success, as opposed to how Robin and Thompson measure it, originates from the apparent changed attitudes of these Germans, as well as their roles in post-war Germany.  Captivity in the southern United States was reeducation.  The American POW camp experience would directly impact and significantly change these German mens’ lives.

The successful 1943 allied campaigns, in North Africa and Italy, was the cause of the first large influx of enemy POWs to the United States.[13]  There were 430,000 POWs interned in the United States with approximately 380,000 of them being considered Nazi soldiers[14].  Of the 700 internment camps, about 466, or close to seventy percent of them, were located in the American South.[15]  It is necessary to mention that the South, from the article, does not include other southern states outside of the culturally recognized region.  It is safe to assume that that number was likely higher.  Most of these imprisoned German soldiers were between the ages of eighteen and thirty years old[16] and probably grew up in the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth) or a Nazi household.  The United States War Department was the main agency in charge of overseeing POWs but had help from the Office of the Provost Marshal General (OPMG), a branch of the United States Army that also controlled military police and legal matters, and the Military Police Corps (MPC).[17]

The reason for transferring German POWs to the Western Hemisphere was because the British did not have the means to look after them.  Fortunately the vast resources of the United States could help the situation.[18]  Prior to their coming, the Provost Marshal had to formulate policies for these POWs that conformed with the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.  The document clearly stated that captured soldiers were entitled to adequate food, shelter, and health care while interned and, in return, all enlisted POWs were required to work for their captors at a wage comparable to that in the host country.[19]  According to a War Department film shown to the American public in 1944, these guidelines for prisoner treatment could be found in field manual 27-10, as well in the training film 19-1360 Handling Prisoners of War.[20]  In that same year, the Special Projects Division (SPD) of the OPMG would be founded, and its mission was to eventually implement the IDP for 360,000 German prisoners of war and to select and specially train leaders to return to defeated Germany, pick up the shreds, and guide their crippled nation toward democracy.[21] Not everyone wanted to reeducate Hitler’s soldiers though.  A 1945 questionnaire concerning German POWs showed that only 3% of the American public thought at the time that these members of the Nazi party ought to be reeducated.[22]  The importance of reeducation was unknown to Americans, and it did not help that they already carried an unfavorable opinion about Nazi affiliations.  Reeducation meant the potential democratization of Germany, which was important, but protecting the safety of the POWs from harm was also of high importance.

Proper prisoner treatment was instituted by the United States military because of its commitment to provide safety and comfort for German POWs.  American officials hoped this would ensure equal treatment of the 90,000 American POWs in the hands of Nazi Germany.[23]  Special schools were established in places like Fort Eustis, Virginia, Fort Getty, Kansas, and Fort Benning, Georgia where courses were organized to prepare prisoners for their safe return home.  The majority of these Germen men spent between one to three years interned in POW camps.  At Ft. Benning, German POWs were sent there if their previous profession was as a farmer, official, or railroad worker.[24]  The occupational background of POWs helped determine where they would be transferred for reeducation. These POWs were hand-picked to eventually assist in post-war Germany.  Some of these selectees would later provide assistance communicating with American camp officers and commanders because of their (usually elementary) fluency in English.  This collective group of reeducated men would come to play active roles in healing a Germany that desperately needed direction and rebuilding. The US government needed Germans to help with reconstruction, but how would they go about this effort?

For purposes of the program, Assistant Executive Officers (AEOs) were assigned to all POW base camps where their job was to gain the confidence of POWs through work as an interpreter or assistant to the chaplain.[25]  AEOs’ various roles included helping organize recreational programs, securing books and magazines, selecting movies, and setting up special interest courses for internees.[26]  It was essentially their duty to create a democratic environment for POWs to self-organize and generate reeducation activities, which they were unknowingly participating in.  The objective of the program was summarized by the OPMG as followed:

The prisoners would be given facts, objectively presented but so selected and assembled as to correct misinformation and prejudices surviving Nazi conditioning.  The facts, rather than being forced upon them, would be made available through such media as literature, motion pictures, newspapers, music, art, and educational courses.  Two types of facts were needed; those which would convince them of the impracticality and the viciousness of the Nazi position.  If a large variety of facts could be presented convincingly, perhaps the German prisoners of war might understand and believe historical and ethical truth as generally conceived by Western civilization, might come to respect the American people and their ideological values, and upon repatriation to Germany might form the nucleus of a new German ideology which will reject militarism and totalitarian controls and will advocate a democratic system of government.[27]

     There were two well-known organization that supported American reeducation efforts—the International Red Cross and YMCA.  Both regularly monitored the progress of the program.  In October 1945, Edouard Patte (a YMCA representative) noted the existence of courses in civics, American history, and geography—which wereall available to curious German minds.  The freedom to voluntarily participate in these classes was treasured by these POWs.  These German men also had the freedom to write in camp publications.  From the successful program at Ft. Benning, Georgia, POWs published, in a special edition of Wille und Weg (“Will and Way”), a voluntary pledge signed October 25, 1945 in accepting further reeducation[28]:

            We accept the Re-education Program “American Government and Democracy” to

develop a new basis for the spiritual reformation of the Germans and the reconstruction

of the German Nation.  Since the inner collapse of our people was last due to a systematic

seclusion from the word and ideas of Western Democracy, we saw our first task….to

create for ourselves….a glance into the construction and life of a state, which from the

beginning of its history had only one desire, the freedom of its citizens, the welfare of

their life, and the peace of all those who lived within its borders.

     These POWs became active participants due to their own desire to think differently.  A letter by a converted POW, Hans T. from Camp Bowie, Texas, stated, “Believe me most of the Germans, who formerly promote the poisonous and false propaganda are thinking differently today.”[29]  An AEO at Camp Concordia had a very realistic attitude when he wrote, “The prisoners of war leaving this camp cannot be considered as having suddenly become thoroughly democratic as a whole, but they have been given, and have seized the opportunity, to study America as a nation and functioning democracy, and under reasonably equitable circumstances this study will bear fruit.”  People directly involved, like this AEO, thought that these reeducation efforts would not go to waste.[30]

It was fairly obvious to the general American public that these Germans were being treated quite decently after learning about their quality of life and comfortable treatment.  Apprehension and fear were the first reactions of many American communities when they learned that enemy soldiers would be interned in their neighborhoods, although there were some who became interested in these POWs.[31]  For instance, many Americans in South Carolina were only interested in the work German POWs could provide for a labor-starved agricultural and pulp and paper industry.[32]  Even in places like Georgia and Alabama, German POWs provided much needed relief for farming labor needed in peanut fields.[33]  Labor shortages were widespread in the United States, and this was especially true for the labor-poor southern industry and agricultural.  Because these POW laborers had experienced American culture more directly, it is safe to assume that this form of reeducation was, unofficially, an extension of the program.

After Roosevelt’s death, President Harry Truman decided that labor shortages still existed in the United States and that POWs should remain the country until the shortages were over.[34]  The jobs that most POWs worked in America were not the professions they practiced in Germany.  Farmers and other overseers were training these Germans in different professions, which is undoubtedly one form of reeducation.  Whitey Yamamoto, a former Japanese-American camp guard, says that guards were instructed to protect prisoners and, of course, make sure they did not escape.[35]  Camps were usually miles from civilization, so escape, which was originally feared by American officials, became unimportant.  In Mississippi, German veterans would come back to visit—after WWII and the reconstruction of Germany—to Southern camps which, in a strange way, became the place that saved their lives.[36]  Even in the town of Aliceville, Alabama, community members organized, in March 2003, a reunion for former prisoners on the camp’s 60th anniversary.[37] The POW experience of these former German soldiers made them feel grateful and appreciative for their treatment and education.

The duration of German POW internment lasted from 1943 to 1946, but the United States began holding prisoners as early as December 1941 with the last leaving in 1947.[38]  But through this five-year period of life in the United States, changes of political identity and perceptions took place amongst the masses of German POWs.  Based on the best approximation of the total number of German POWs in the US, along with the number of former soldiers returned to the United States who became naturalized citizens, one out of seventy two ex-prisoners would eventually emigrate to American soil.  This figure is moderately significant.  According to Arnold Krammer, author of Nazi Prisoners of War in America and professor at Texas A&M University, about 5,000 former POWs returned and gained citizenship.[39]  2,200 inmates were recorded to have escape during this Axis POW experience.[40]  Interestingly, there is one particular former POW (referred to as “Hitler’s last soldier”), who never left American soil decades after imprisonment.

Georg Gaertner, an escapee of Camp Deming, New Mexico, had an experience in America that is able show evidence for the apparent genuine transformation of a former German POW’s thinking and appreciation of the United States.  Gaertner, who is famous for being the last fugitive German POW, has much to say about embracing the American spirit.  Being a former sergeant in Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Gaertner was just like any other German soldier, someone who had misconceptions about the United States that were seen through the lens of a  political ideology that was seen as morally destructive.  After spending forty years on the run, Gaertner’s life changed considerably and forced him to change his identity to Dennis Whiles, among other names.[41]  Although forced to live a cautious lifestyle, Gaertner, through many obstacles, became an American citizen.  Gaertner stated, in an interview by historian Arnold Krammer, that he had experienced so much in the last ten years in America—travel, friendship, moderate successes, close calls, and above all, the freedom he longed for all his life.[42]  Because Gaertner, while imprisoned, was the camp translator, it was his responsibility to read the news to his fellow men.  This former POW learned that whatever the drawbacks of democracy, it still represented truth in practice.[43]

Gaertner’s assignment as a worker and translator helped him perfect his English, but convinced him, perhaps more than others, about the importance of freedom to the growth of the human spirit.[44]  Gaertner had to experience the pains and traumatic scenes from footage of concentration camps and mass executions in Europe.  The War Department placed particular emphasis on the showing of atrocity films to the all of these German POWs both as a lesson in “collective guilt” and as a tool in the reeducation effort.[45]  Although Gaertner was not directly involved in any specific reeducation program, his experience as a POW, being a trained worker, and long-time US resident transformed his feelings and appreciation for a country that he use to consider  his enemy.  Gaertner, under informal reeducation, led a very different life indeed and eventually became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Reeducation came in many forms, and its application was done in a broad fashion, by the War Department, to provide government support in ways that benefited the POWs’ physical, spiritual, and intellectual well-being.[46]  Capt. Robert Lowe Kunzig, a former executive officer of the Army’s POW Special Projects Division, offered testimony to the effectiveness of reeducation efforts as a successful change.  Kunzig, in an article in the November 1946 issue of The American Magazine, thought that reeducation was an obvious success and paid-off:

In the Getty-Eustis program, largely financed by the prisoners’ own funds, the American taxpayer had gotten one of the best “bargains” of the war.  It wasn’t necessary to predict, it was already evident that the rank and file of the prisoners were an excellent leavening influence in their communities, and leaders were taking prominent roles in the re-education of a nation. [47]

Being directly involved in the administration of reeducation, Kunig’s assessment of the program’s effectiveness brings clarity to the extent of its success.

Ted Lusniak, a camp guard at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, conveyed to online columnist, Brian Albrecht, that some German POWs did not want to return to their war-ravaged nation, and insisted on fighting the Japanese for the Americans.[48]  After their capture in 1943, many of these German POWs would ask Lusniak how to become an American citizen.[49]  As stated earlier, some 5,000 former prisoners returned to the US after the war and decided to take up permanent residence and eventually become American citizens.  Though this figure is small, it does not make the result insignificant.  While it was not unusual for individual former POWs to visit the places of their imprisonment many years after the war, the return migration and settlement of large numbers of former prisoners to the land of their activity is unusual.  A major part of my research comes from the interviews of former German POWs who immigrated to the United States between 1948 and 1961.  Conducted by Barbara Heisler, a political sociologist at Gettysburg College, these accounts show significant changes in the lives of those exposed to the reeducation program.  For privacy reasons, the full last name of each interviewee has been omitted in Heisler’s book From German POW to American Citizen: A Social History with 35 Interviews.

The right to act, think, and speak without restraint was an idea absent in Nazi Germany.  Freedom is a fundamental concept on which the United States of America was founded.  For these German POWs, freedom was something they craved more for their homeland than their time in these POW camps.  Hermann B., a former soldier of the Afrika Korps who spent time at Camp Aliceville, Alabama and other southern camps, states what he most liked about the United States was “the ability to have more freedom.”[50]  This realization would enhance his admiration for a country he would eventually migrate to in 1949.[51]  Because of his desire to learn the English language while detained, Hermann would leave his life behind in Germany and land a job with the South Bend Tribune where he worked for thirty-one years.[52]  These changes resulted from exposure to reeducation and American ideals.

Many of these German POWs saw immigration to the United States as an attractive alternative rather than staying in war-torn Germany.  For Gunther K., a POW who spent time in many southern camps and took reeducation classes in Camp Opelika, Alabama, the possibility of moving to America—where opportunity and freedom existed—would provide him with a considerably better life.  Gunther’s POW experience made a positive impact on his life and a change for the better.  Gunther would become a self-made man.  He started as an insurance underwriter in Alameda, California and wound up owning his own business selling imported German manufactured awnings.[53]  Gunther is another prime example of how a POW experience in reeducation would motivate a lifestyle change and appreciation for the land of freedom.  Gunther would eventually receive a certificate of appreciation at a reunion of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Hans B. is another example of a former POW who experienced significant changes and led a different life as a naturalized citizen of the US.  Captured by British troops in Zaghouan, Tunisia in May 1943, Hans would travel with his captured comrades in Liberty ships (cargo and supply ships) to rural America and be placed at Fort Robinson, located in Nebraska.[54]  Later, Hans would be selected and placed in a reeducation camp at Fort Eustis, Virginia, where he spent two weeks “learning about democracy.”[55]  Being a part of the “swing kids” movement – a counter-culture of the 1930s that involved German youth who loved jazz music – during his youth, Hans’ appreciation of American culture would eventually deepen after his POW experience.  Before the war, Hans aspired to be an artist, having studied at an art academy in Germany.  But with his English-speaking skills perfected while abroad, Hans would land a job as head translator in his homeland which he “could not have done, had he not been in America.”[56]  His POW experience justifiably explains his transition from Nazi soldier to American citizen.  Many POWs would find refuge in America, but there was also many reeducated POWs whose political outlooks would change, along with their feelings toward the United States.

Ludwig N., another former German POW, said, “When I look back on my experiences, I learned that the world was larger than Germany. I was brought up in the narrow, traditional Germany way.”[57]  The effect of his POW experience would change his narrow view of the world that was shaped by Nazi ideology and propaganda.  Other POWs would come to follow suit.

In Heisler’s POW book, there are two former POWs, who were officers of the Afrika Korps, that were subjected to official reeducation—Wolf-Dieter Z. and Horst von O.  Like many others, Horst and Wolf-Dieter were captured in May 1943 and became POWs.  Both of these Germans would participate in the reeducation program.  Wolf-Dieter, who was part of the 10th Panzer Division, was selected for a possible position in the US military occupation government of post-war Germany.  He remarked that America had communities in peace, a population that was well dressed, and cars everywhere, something distinctly different from life in Germany.[58]  He would relocate from Camp Concordia to Ft. Getty, where some 455 German POWs were being reeducated.[59]  Rather than quickly assist in reconstruction, Wolf-Dieter would continue to spend several months as a teaching assistant at Fort Getty, as did Horst.[60]  Horst, who served in an armored reconnaissance battalion, would also take part in reeducation at Ft. Getty, where he spent two weeks taking courses.[61]  Horst’s whole attitude toward America was sparked by his own curiosity.  His interest in America began a path of evolution from a Nazi automaton to a democratic thinking individual.  Through the camp’s extension program at Kansas State University (then Kansas State College), Horst would receive credit for classes completed.[62]  Both men’s attitudes toward America, along with their political thinking, would change for the better thanks to the reeducation they experienced.

For many Nazi soldiers imprisoned, loyalty to the Führer and the National Socialist Party was absolute.  Because of this stipulation, officials found it difficult to sway political beliefs and initiate reeducation.  German POWs who loosened their devotion to Nazism would have to remain cautious because of fear of violent action by Nazi leaders in these camps.  Several German prisoners later published accounts of their experiences in these camps but no one better described the political conflicts than former POW Hans Werner Richter, who after the war became a prominent member of a liberal German writers’ organization Gruppe 47.[63]  Richter explained why threatened prisoners did not complain to the IRC (International Red Cross) whose representatives periodically investigated conditions in the camps:

It would have been absolutely impossible.  I believe I saw a IRC representative

once, but he was passing so far away.  And besides, if we had dared to tell him

something, you can imagine what the consequences would have been slaughtered in the middle of the night.[64]

     To avoid such tragedies from unfolding, the OPMG presented opportunities for “self-education” in democracy, history, civics, and the English language.[65]  As with all other facets of the reeducation program, the teaching of English was designed to produce a much broader and, in the long run, “a more important objective: … to strengthen these anti-Nazis’ understanding of democracy.”[66]  The US provided a safe environment, which was a form of freedom unknown to them in Germany, conducive to practicing religion, discussing ideas, learning, and self-expression.[67]  The fact that just over 2,000 POWs tried to escape while thousands of others volunteered in some aspect of these programs can be taken as a sure sign of success.[68]  The results of questionnaires given over a six-week period to about 25,000 POWs before their repatriation seem to indicate attitudinal shifts.  The survey showed that 74% left the United States with “an appreciation of the value of democracy and a friendly attitude toward their captors.”[69]

One former POW named Jakob, who was a part of the specially-trained Germans missioned to the reconstruction effort, exclaimed, “Ft. Eustis is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.  Even though it was only a short course, it was an experience that you remember for a lifetime.  Only the United States could have created such a place”[70]  This statement came as a response to a fellow Captain accompanying him along his journey back home.  His opinion about the reeducation program was undoubtedly shared by many who studied in these southern camps.  We know how reeducation significantly changed the lives, ideologies, and feelings of these former POWs, but how did these reeducated soldiers contribute to the reconstruction effort of post-war Germany?

In the November 1947 issue of the American Magazine, Capt. Kunzig mentions a former German POW named Karl, labeled as a “leading prisoner of war” and “sincere” believer in democracy, who became (after his POW experience) Educational Director of Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg—a position that involved undoing propaganda to substitute with truth and facts.[71]  His prominent role in a major media outlet in Germany enabled him to reach out to the German public to promote democratic ideals.  Before a group of ex-prisoners, Karl paid tribute to the United States for providing intellectual freedom and pledged a lifetime effort in bringing democracy to Germany.[72]  Karl helped with policy and adult education initiatives in post-war Germany.  He is but one of many former German POWs to contribute to the reconstruction effort.

A 2008 journal article from War & Society challenges interpretations that cast doubt on the success of US reeducation programs and says that these American POW camps did in fact contribute, in a small but crucial way, to the ‘miracle of democracy’ in post-war Germany.[73]  This scholarly work primarily uses the correspondence between former reeducation instructor Henry W. Ehrmann and over 100 fellow-prisoners, from 1945—48, to reveal supporting material that proves the success of the American reeducation program.  These letters indicate that the majority of these writers became involved in political activity and were genuinely committed to reeducating Deutschland.[74]  This informative source certainly sheds light as to how their social and political reintegration into post-war German society gave them significant and important roles in rebuilding a crippled Germany.  These returning Germans did not bring back an ‘American way of life’ but a desire for a new German ideology.

Friedrich Boeker, who was a teaching assistant to Ehrmann at Ft. Getty and former POW, commented on the challenges of future development and political enlightenment of the German people:

Wherever I can find a possibility to discuss political, economic and educational problems, I do it. In America I have learned about the high value of discussion.  You know that the Germans are good in discussing problems.  Most of them have still to learn this art.[75]

      For ordinary Germans whose minds were still shrouded with Nazi beliefs, the idea of open debate and discussion would become a unique change.  German citizens had many problems to face such as food shortages and financial troubles, but the introduction of these adopted ideas would ease their troubled reactions of Nazi atrocities that were previously withheld (by the Nazi regime) from public knowledge.  Through journalism, politics, and education, these former POWs brought understanding and a new direction to the German nation.  Alfred Andersch, who was interned at a POW camp in Ruston, Louisiana, reported in 1947 that returnees “quickly took up their tasks and, ever since then, they have been been working, each one according to the extent of his abilities, in lower and higher positions in ministries, administrations, schools or newspapers.”[76]  These former POWs held high-profile and influential positions throughout Germany.  Former POW Walter Hallstein would later become state secretary in the foreign ministry.  He was one of many reeducated who occupied roles in politics as government officials.[77]  Carl-Heinz Moser, who worked as a writer for the POW newspaper Der Ruf (The Call), eventually found an influential role as a journalist for Neue Zeitung in Munich, Germany.[78]  Their assigned place in postwar society was at the forefront of spiritual and material reconstruction because of their attained knowledge in American POW camps.[79]  Most might assume that if it were not for US military occupation, these former POWs would not have found the jobs that they were specially trained to fulfill.  The fact is that their special training quickly gained them places in the administration of post-war Germany, even without American assistance.[80]  These men were successful in leading a war-torn, dictatorial society on the path of lasting pacification and thorough democratization.[81]  Based on the Ehrmann letters, the crucial contribution to the success of this reeducation program was the commitment of these few thousand Germans, which is also evident in the US War Department’s Moulton Report.

The purpose of this paper is to ensure that the readership has a clear understanding of the story of the reeducated German POW in the Southern United States.  These testimonies illustrate how their experience in the United States led to unique transformations.  These changes resulted from being exposed to American culture inside and outside of the classroom.  The United States War Department was heavily criticized early on by American citizens who believed that the decent treatment and management received by POWs was completely undeserved.  However, there is no question that the results of these reeducation efforts proved effective and became successful in the eyes of Germans and Americans.  Critics point out that the US went against the Geneva Convention by indoctrinating these German POWs, but based on these findings, it is certainly clear that this was not the case.  The War Department cleverly avoided this condemnation by initiating a form of “voluntary” indoctrination, which was undeniably necessary to rid these German minds of the historically destructive force of Nazism.  This form of intellectual freedom would spread from the mouths of reeducated Germans to the ears of the German public, and, like those POWs, readjust their day-to-day lives in favor of freedom.  With other important issues plaguing Germany, these men affected by reeducation, whether directly or indirectly, concentrated their time and energy on bringing the idea of individual liberty and democratic principles for the betterment of Germany and, most importantly, the rest of the world.  Although the program was aimed at a few thousand men, the German POW would come to appreciate the United States, embrace democracy, and help restore a broken and blinded Germany.


[1]               Georg Gaertner and Arnold Krammer, Hitler’s Last Soldier in America (New York: Stein and Day, 1985), 16.

[2]              Michael R. Waters,  Lone Star Stalag: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 140.

[3]              Arnold Krammer, Nazi Prisoners of War in America (New York: Stein and Day, 1979), 212.

[4]             Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., s.v. “reeducation.”

[5]              Elliot Minor, “Many German POWs spent much of the war in Southern camps,” The Daily Courier, May 5, 2002, 17A.

[6]              Lynn Earmann, “Learning Freedom in Captivity,” Washington Post, January 18, 2004., 18.

[7]             Ibid.

[8]             “Camp Forrest,” Arnold Air Force Base, accessed March 14, 2014, document/AFD-070213-027.pdf.

[9]              Judith M. Gansberg, Stalag: U.S.A.: The Remarkable Story of German POWs in America (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1997), 89.

[10]             Camp Forrest.

[11]             Christina Morina, “An Experiment in Political Education: Henry W. Ehrmann, German POWs in US Reeducation Programs, and the Democratisation of Germany after the Second World War, ” War & Society 27, no. 1 (May 2008): 80.

[12]             Barbara S. Heisler, From German Prisoner of War to American Citizen: A Social History with 35 Interviews (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 39.

[13]             Joseph Foote, “Reeducation of German POWs during World War II in the State of Oklahoma,” Tau Sigma Journal of Historical Studies 20, (Spring 2012): 152.

[14]             Ibid., 153.

[15]             Minor, “Many German POWs spent much of the war in Southern camps, ” 17A.

[16]             Fritz Hamer, “Barbeque, Farming and Friendship: German Prisoners of War and South

[16]Carolinians, 19431946, ” Columbia, South Carolina Historical Association (January 1994): 61.

[17]             Foote, “Reeducation of German POWs during World War II in the State of Oklahoma,” 153.

[18]            Hamer,  “Barbeque, Farming and Friendship: German Prisoners of War and South Carolinians, 1943-1946, ” 62.

[19]            International Committee of the Red Cross. “Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of

[19]War. Geneva, 27 July 1929.” Accessed February 3, 2014. 0c12563da005fdb1b/eb1571b00daec90ec125641e00402aa6.

[20]             WW2: Controlling German Prisoners of War (1945) War Department Film Bulletin, No. 164., pro. by the United States War Department (1944; Department of Defense, online archive), accessed March 16, 2014,

[21]             Robert Lowe Kunzig, “360,000 P.W.’s: The Hope of Germany.” The American Magazine, November, 1946, 1.

[22]             Amy C. Hudnall, “An Historical Analysis Of The Psychological Trauma Suffered By German Prisoners of War” (PhD diss., Appalachian State University, 2001).

[23]             Gaertner and Krammer, Hitler’s Last Soldier in America, 18.

[24]             Susan E. Copeland, “My Experiences as a Knegsgefangen: Heinz Gaertner’s Account as a Prisoner of War in Tennessee and Georgia,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 92 (2008): 251.

[25]             Robert D. Billinger, Jr., Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine State: German POWs in Florida (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 200), 142.

[26]             Ibid.

[27]             Krammer, Nazi Prisoners of War in America, 197.

[28]             Gansberg, Stalag: U.S.A.: The Remarkable Story of German POWs in America, 118.

[29]            Ibid., 99.

[30]             Ibid., 119.

[31]             Hamer, “Barbeque, Farming and Friendship: German Prisoners of War and South Carolinians, 1943-1946, ”64.

[32]             Ibid., 66.

[33]            Whitey Yamamoto, “Camp Shelly: Guarding German POWs.” University of Hawaii Online (2006).  Accessed on March 16, 2014,

[34]             John Ray Skates, “German Prisoners of War in Mississippi, 19431946,” Mississippi Historical Society (2001). Accessed on March 16, 2014,

[35]             Yamamoto.

[36]             Skates.

[37]            Minor, “Many German POWs spent much of the war in Southern camps, ” 17A.

[38]             Antonio Thompson, Men in German Uniform: POWs in America during World War II (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2010), 103.

[39]             Minor, “Many German POWs spent much of the war in Southern camps, ” 17A.

[40]             Hamer, “Barbeque, Farming and Friendship: German Prisoners of War and South Carolinians, 1943-1946,” 64.

[41]             Georg Gaertner and Arnold Krammer, Hitler’s Last Soldier in America, 12.

[42]             Ibid., 122.

[43]             Ibid., 22.

[44]             Ibid.

[45]             Krammer, Nazi Prisoners of War in America, 210.

[46]             Thompson, Men in German Uniform: POWs in America during World War II, 103.

[47]             Robert Lowe Kunzig, “360,000 P.W.’s: The Hope of Germany, ” The American Magazine, November, 1946, 4.

[48]             Brian Albrecht, “Parma Heights World War II Veteran Recalls Guarding German POWs.” Northeast

[48]Ohio Media Group LLC. October 15, 2011. Accessed on March 18, 2014, /2011/10/ vet_ recalls_duty_as_german_pow.html.

[49]             Ibid.

[50]             Heisler, From German Prisoner of War to American Citizen: A Social History with 35 Interviews, 106.

[51]             Ibid.

[52]             Ibid.

[53]             Ibid., 114.

[54]             Ibid., 54.

[55]             Ibid., 55.

[56]             Ibid., 118.

[57]             Ibid., 139.

[58]             Ibid., 61.

[59]             Ibid.

[60]             Ibid.

[61]             Ibid., 62.

[62]             Ibid.

[63]             Lewis H. Carlson, We Were Each Other’s Prisoners: An Oral History of World War II American and German Prisoners of War (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 157.

[64]             Ibid.

[65]             Krammer, Nazi Prisoners of War in America, 198.

[66]             Ibid., 208209.

[67]             Thompson, Men in German Uniform: POWs in America during World War II,  115.

[68]             Ibid.

[69]             Billinger, Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine State: German POWs in Florida, 164.

[70]             Kunzig, “360,000 P.W.’s: The Hope of Germany, ” 4.

[71]             Ibid.

[72]             Ibid.

[73]             Morina, “An Experiment in Political Education: Henry W. Ehrmann, German POWs in US Reeducation Programs, and the Democratisation of Germany after the Second World War, ” 79.

[74]             Ibid., 88.

[75]             Ibid., 89.

[76]             Ibid., 91.

[77]             Ibid., 94.

[78]             Ibid.

[79]             Ibid., 95.

[80]             Ibid., 97.

[81]             Ibid., 102.



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