The POW Experience

AS a wonk on history and foreign policy especially on conflicts around the world….my granddaughter came to me and ask if there were any WW2 POWs in the US….if not where were they held.

She had watched the Hitler Channel with her father and saw all the German troops that had surrendered at Tunisia in 1943….her brain wanted to know where all these people were held since the war was still raging around Europe and other locations.

I told her that many were sent to the US and that there were even some held here in Mississippi…..okay she wanted to know where….so I did what I always do…I dropped some history on her….

Just about 60 miles up Highway 49 is Camp Shelby, today it is a training site for the Reserves and the Seabees but during WW2 it was a POW camp… held prisoners from the Africa Corps…….

World War II was truly a world war. All of the major countries and a large number of small nations were drawn into the fight. Even countries that tried to remain neutral found themselves in the conflict either by conquest or by being in the path of the campaigns of the major powers. For example, in 1940, more than a year before the United States entered the war, the major powers — Britain, Italy, and Germany — fought important battles in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya in North Africa.

Not until November 1942, almost a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, did American forces enter the fight in North Africa. U.S. forces made amphibious landings at the North African cities of Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. German and Italian forces in Libya were then caught in a vise — Americans advanced from the west along the North African coast to Tunisia while British troops advanced from the east out of Egypt. The Germans and Italians had to defend on two fronts — the British front on the east and the American front on the west. (See the maps on the left.)

After we talked about this situation I got to thinking…where else in the US were German POWs held?

So I went into full research mode and came up with a simple answer….

Internment camps themselves were a new concept for the U.S. government. Sure, there had been forcible relocations of Native Americans for centuries prior to World War II, but none of those horrific crimes involved strategically removing American citizens and their families from one area of the country to another until a war ended (when the removed citizens would then – in theory – be allowed to return home). The Roosevelt administration eventually created three types of camps for prisoners: temporary camps, internment camps, and detention centers. The detention centers, run by the Department of Justice, housed the most suspicious prisoners, and it is the detention centers that deserve the most focus. So, without further ado, here are the ten harshest WWII prison camps in the U.S.:

The old professor hopes that this answered any question that my reader has about this subject……

I love it when my granddaughter visits!


10 thoughts on “The POW Experience

    1. Camp Shelby was not nearly as progressive…..they treated the Germans with a form of respect…after all it was the South and they were dealing with what they saw as a sub-human population…sad to say….chuq

  1. One of the burbs I lived in when I lived in the Chicago metro area was the City of Des Plaines; adjacent to O’Hare Airport. There is essentially a creek called the Des Plaines River that runs 133 miles from Wisconsin to Joliet… and it goes through town. It’s no way a “real” river.. as I said.. more like a creek that meanders through an urban area you could literally jump across with a good running start. In some spots forest preserves and nature centers were created over the years along the hugely wooded shoreline. Located within the boundaries of one of these smaller picnic preserves is the remains of a couple wood frame buildings that were temporary barracks that were part of the WW2 POW sub-camp system. Most folks are unaware that the POW camps often had sub-camps, often many miles away via train. that served as bases for POW labor being used for the public good or for the use of businesses (that paid a fee to the government). Largely it was agriculture related labor.
    In Des Plaines there is a popular florist/garden center called Pesches.. a family owned operation. Back when the area was still undeveloped I think they owned many acres and many greenhouses. Now their outlet location is the size of a large Walmart located adjacent to a railroad track spur. As the story goes, during WW2 German POW’s would be transported by train to the location for the purposes of tending to greenhouse plants, flowers, and other needs. Much of the local help was off fighting in the war.. so manpower was provided by what was available… but not free to businesses. After the war.. during the 1960’s, a few POW’s came back to the garden center (much smaller by that time) in some form of reunion.

    It’s important to note a couple POW tidbits. One is that generally speaking all the POWS across the country were fed VERY well compared to average Americans in the day having to have food products rationed. The POW’s got the pork chops and beef ribs, and the better cuts… and vegetables. Two theories at work here… feed them well and they will less likely want to escape. This worked in most cases.. as POW’s were treated far better than would be generally expected during wartime. Even at that, there were some very notable POW escapes during the war by determined soldiers.. but that was fed more out of a sense of duty rather than incentive from poor treatment.
    The second theory is that sooner or later it was felt that the good food and kind treatment would get back to Germany and they would treat our guys in their prisons with more compassion. That part did not work.

  2. It was a long way for them to escape home, let’s face it. That might explain why most behaved so well, as well as the good food.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. Fascinating, thanks for posting! It may interest you to know that I am currently retracing the route my Step Grandfather was taken after being captured after heavy fighting in Torbruk, Libya. He was taken to Benghazi and then taken to Brindisi, Italy. I started my trip there, went to Bari, where he was held at camp PG75 and then moved to PG70 Monturano, the camp still stands and I was even able to look around inside- I’ve written about it in my latest post… eventually he was moved north through Austria and into Germany, that’s the next leg of my trip…

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