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The Not-So-Great Escape: German POWs in the U.S. during WWII

By Ronald H. Bailey 
Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: November 05, 2007 
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Late in 1944, authorities at Security Unit No. 84—one of five hundred camps on American soil housing German prisoners of war—began to feel a sense of relief. Here at Papago Park in Arizona, a difficult lot of more than three thousand officers and sailors from the German navy and merchant marine finally appeared to be adjusting to camp life. This seemed especially true over in Compound 1A, which housed the troublesome Nazi U-boat commanders and their crews.

Guards marveled at the sudden changes in 1A. The compound was much neater. The prisoners appeared in high spirits. They spent hours creating large and well-tended flower beds. With permission of the camp authorities they had even begun to build an outdoor court for faustball, or "fist ball"—volleyball. Several times a day the prisoners carefully groomed the court's surface with rakes provided by the guards. The Americans attributed all this activity to typical German organization and efficiency.

Nearly 400,000 German POWs were brought to the United States during World War II, and officials recorded precisely 2,222 individual attempts by the Germans to flee their camps. POWs scaled fences, smuggled themselves out in or under trucks or jeeps, passed through the gate in makeshift GI uniforms, cut the barbed wire or tunneled under it, or went out with work details and simply walked away. Their motives ranged from trying to find their way back to Germany (which none ever did) to merely enjoying a few hours, days, or weeks of freedom.

But none of these assorted breakouts could match in audacity, scale, or drama the plan under way at Compound 1A at Papago Park. It would trigger the largest manhunt in Arizona history, bringing in local law enforcement, the FBI, and even Papago Indian scouts.

The Christmas Eve breakout would end largely in a farce, with no one shot, hurt, or even seriously punished, but that in no way diminished the seriousness of the attempt—or the panic it spread at the time.

The first Germans arrived at Papago Park, six miles east of Phoenix, in January 1944. They were placed in a half-dozen compounds in the rough-hewn camp, which had previously housed National Guardsmen, the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, and segregated black infantry units.

As John Hammond Moore notes in his account of the escape, The Faustball Tunnel, camp officials invited trouble by concentrating the least cooperative POWs in the two sections of Compound 1. These were the troublemakers, previous escapees, and other problem prisoners: officers and seamen in section 1A, noncommissioned officers in 1B.

Only Capt. Cecil Parshall, the provost marshal, saw a problem with this arrangement. Parshall was an ex-police detective and decorated World War I veteran who, among other colorful exploits, had pulled off a bank heist while serving as a general in the Mexican army. Parshall pointed out that there was a spot in Compound 1 that could not be seen from the guard towers. "Those Germans were a fine bunch of men, smart as hell," he said later. "And it made no sense to put the smartest of them in Compound 1. I knew they would discover that blind spot."

Idleness made it worse in Compound 1. Only about one in four prisoners in the camp were gainfully employed, earning eighty cents a day in canteen credits picking cotton and doing other chores. The Geneva Convention exempted officers and noncoms from work detail, allowing them to sleep late and spend their days plotting ways to get beyond the wire. Lt. Wolfgang Clarus, who had been captured in North Africa where he commanded a coast artillery unit, recalled: "You stare at that fence for hours on end, try to think of everything and anything that can be done, and finally realize there are only three possibilities: go through it, fly over it, or dig under it."

German POWs had attempted to "dig under" without much success at a camp in Colorado and at Fort Ord, California. In Compound 1A, digging evidently began sometime in September 1944 under the direction of a team of four U-boat captains who plotted strategy while playing bridge in the barracks. "It was a challenge and an adventure," recalled one of them, Capt. Fritz Guggenberger, who had been personally decorated by Hitler for the exploits of his U-513. "The tunnel became a kind of all-consuming sport. We lived, ate, slept, talked, whispered, dreamed 'tunnel' and thought of little else for weeks on end."

The site selected for the beginning of the tunnel was in the blind spot between the nearest guard towers that Parshall had warned about. The entrance shaft was three and a half feet from a bathhouse, which was the structure closest to the outer fence surrounding Papago Park. Diggers loosened a board on the side of the bathhouse to create a passageway and positioned a large coal box nearby to conceal the shaft. They would walk into the bathhouse, ostensibly to shower or wash clothes, then exit and slip down into the tunnel's six-foot-deep vertical entrance shaft. Three groups of three men worked ninety-minute shifts during the night, one man digging with a coal shovel and small pick, the second lifting soil in a bucket to the third man topside, who also served as the lookout.

A fourth group of men distributed the excavated soil the next day. They flushed it down toilets, stored it in attics, or let it slip through holes in their pockets onto the new flower beds. As the tunnel progressed, a small cart was fashioned out of a shower stall base to haul the dirt back to the entrance.

Soil piled up at such an alarming rate that a new means for getting rid of it had to be found. Capt. Jürgen Quaet-Faslem, a cocky Prussian who had commanded U-595, came up with an idea. "Shouldn't we have a sports area in this compound?" he asked. "I think they are supposed to 'encourage' sports." Thus was born the notion of a volleyball court—on rough ground that would need to be leveled. This the prisoners proceeded to do daily, spreading soil taken from the tunnel with the help of shovels and rakes provided by the Americans. Guards got used to seeing a mound of dirt there; they assumed it was the same old pile and not a fresh supply unearthed from the tunnel.

The tunnel moved forward at up to three feet on a good night. In late November a colonel from a visiting team of inspectors declared that the camp need never worry about prisoners digging out: the soil, he proclaimed, was hard as a rock. He was standing right atop the concealed tunnel entrance at that moment; prisoners who heard him smiled as if in agreement.

The diggers intended to tunnel under two fences and a patrol road that encircled the camp. Just beyond the road stood an electric light pole in a clump of bushes. By triangulating on paper they calculated that the tunnel needed to be 178 feet long from the bathhouse to the pole. But someone wanted to double-check the distance. So he attached a small weight to a string and late one night hurled it into the undergrowth near the pole. Suddenly, a jeep with two American soldiers came along the patrol road. Capt. Hans Werner Kraus, skipper of U-199, watched in horror. "That string caught one of them right across the neck," he said. "Fortunately they were moving very slowly. He simply brushed it aside, said nothing, and the vehicle disappeared into the night. But the line broke and was still hanging on the far fence weeks later. Several times the Americans walked by, stared at the string, wondered how it got there and why."

Back in February, Quaet-Faslem had escaped by hiding on a truck loaded with plywood. He crossed the border and made it more than thirty miles into Mexico before being recaptured. From that experience he knew that stocking enough food was vital. Though German prisoners disliked commercial American white bread—"nothing but air," someone remarked, "you can squeeze it into nothing"—they decided the basic item in the getaway packs should be bread toasted and pulverized into crumbs. It was packed tightly in waxed paper envelopes saved from individual breakfast cereal boxes. Mixing the crumbs with milk or water "would make sort of a mush that might be monotonous but it would be nourishing and easy to carry," said Kraus.

Escapees also needed some kind of credentials. American photographers had taken snapshots for the prisoners to ship home to Germany in order to show how well POWs were treated in the United States, and the pictures proved useful for fake passports and other papers. The forged papers were imprinted with official-looking stamps, fashioned from scraps of leather and rubber, which would allow the escapees to pose as foreign sailors trying to get to California or the Gulf Coast.

Prisoners earned U.S. currency by creating fake Nazi paraphernalia to sell to the guards. They used sand molds and melted toothpaste tubes to turn out Iron Crosses, eagles, and other insignia. Then they painted the items with black shoe polish and scuffed them up to simulate wear as if they were the real thing.

Three other Germans were engaged in another novel scheme. Capt. Wilhelm Günther and Lts. Wolfgang Clarus and Friedrich Utzolino had no intention of hiking 130 miles to the Mexican border. Looking at an Arizona map, they saw that they could walk only 30 miles or so westward and hit a river, the Gila, which flowed southwest to join the Colorado River near the border. All they needed to float down these rivers was a boat.

The trio—dubbed the "three mad boatmen" by their fellow POWs—proceeded to build a flatboat big enough to carry themselves and their gear. From scavenged pieces of lumber they fashioned the struts of a wooden frame. Canvas and tar for the skin were obtained from the camp under the ruse that the roof of one of the barracks needed repair and the prisoners would gladly do the work. The boatmen designed their craft so that it could be folded up and carried in separate parcels, none to exceed eighteen inches—the maximum width that could fit easily through the tunnel. Much of their work was done openly: guards thought it was just another time-killing handicraft project.

The excavators, meanwhile, labored every night in the tunnel into early December. The final fifty feet were the most difficult to dig, as the tunnel plunged as far down as fourteen feet to go under a drainage ditch and the adjoining roadbed. Diggers worked by the light of a bare bulb strung on an electric wire connected to the bathhouse socket. The insulation covering the wire was badly worn in places, and everyone suffered painful shocks as they bumped against it in the tight confines of the tunnel, which was less than three feet in diameter.

On December 20, the tunnel measured precisely 178 feet long. In the vertical shaft at the far end, Quaet-Faslem and Guggenberger pushed a coal stove poker upward through the ground and into the air. Then, through the tiny hole, they pushed a stick with a little rag tied on the end. Prisoners on the roof of one of the barracks saw this flag appear in just the right place near the electric pole and let out muted cheers. The completed exit was covered and disguised with two shallow wooden boxes containing dirt and grass to blend into the landscape.

Three days later, on the afternoon and evening of Saturday, December 23, next-door Compound 1B erupted in a noisy party. The noncoms there drank forbidden schnapps distilled from citrus fruit, waved a German flag, shouted, and burst into Nazi marching songs. Ostensibly they were celebrating news of Hitler's last-gasp offensive in Belgium, the Battle of the Bulge.

Under cover of this diversion, the escape began through the bathhouse. The escapers proceeded in ten teams of two or three men each, some carrying packs laden with nearly one hundred pounds of spare clothing, packages of bread crumbs and other food, medical supplies, maps, ersatz credentials, and cigarettes. Shortly before nine o'clock in the evening, the first team—Quaet-Faslem and Guggenberger—descended the entrance ladder and began struggling through the tunnel on elbows, stomach, and knees, pushing their packs ahead of them.

The 178-foot journey took a little more than forty minutes. Guggenberger climbed the exit ladder and cautiously lifted the cover. A light rain was falling as he and his companion emerged into a clump of bushes and dashed down into the waist-deep ice-cold water of the nearby Crosscut Canal. By 2:30 a.m. all twenty-five prisoners—twelve officers and thirteen enlisted men—had exited the tunnel and were making their way through a hard rain outside the wire of Papago Park. Colleagues who stayed behind closed up both ends of the tunnel.

The general plan was to head south and move only after dark, avoiding trains or buses. Many carried the names and addresses of countrymen or sympathizers in Mexico who might help them get back to Germany. All knew that the odds of actually reaching their homeland were extremely slim. But for now, in the early hours of Christmas Eve, they were free—embarking on an adventure that surely beat life in captivity.

That night one team found a small dry stable and rested among comfortable bales of hay, celebrating Christmas Eve with a meal of roasted bread crumbs and canned milk, and listening as a Mexican family living nearby sang Christmas carols. Another team stumbled across a dilapidated shack and took up temporary residence; one of them had a harmonica, and he quietly played "Stille Nacht."

Back in Papago Park, the first real opportunity for the American authorities to discover something amiss was Sunday's four o'clock head count. The German officers remaining in Compound 1A delayed it further by demanding that the count be conducted by an American officer, not a mere sergeant. "It is only proper that as German officers, we have respect and equal treatment," one insisted imperiously.

It was about seven o'clock before Parshall was certain that a large group of prisoners was missing. He telephoned the FBI to report names and descriptions of the escapees. While he was still on that call, another phone rang. It was the sheriff in Phoenix reporting he had an escaped POW in custody. Herbert Fuchs, a twenty-two-year-old U-boat crewman, had quickly grown tired of being wet, cold, and hungry and hitchhiked a ride to the sheriff's office. Soon thereafter, a Tempe woman called to say that two escapees had knocked on her door and surrendered; the phone rang again, and a Tempe man reported that two hungry and cold POWs had turned themselves in to him.

One more call came that Christmas Eve from someone at the Tempe railroad station saying yet another escapee had been arrested. This was Helmut Gugger, a Swiss national who had been drafted into the German navy. Almost certainly under physical persuasion from the Americans, Gugger revealed the existence of the still-hidden tunnel the following day.

With a half-dozen escapees already in custody, authorities launched what the Phoenix Gazette trumpeted as "the greatest manhunt in Arizona history." Soldiers, FBI agents, sheriff's deputies, police, border patrol, and customs agents all joined the search for the nineteen Germans still at large. Ranchers and Indian scouts, drawn by the $25 reward posted for the capture of each escapee, carried newspaper clippings bearing mug shots of their quarry. "We didn't think we were that important," Guggenberger remarked later.

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, had repeatedly warned the American public about the dangers posed by escaped German prisoners. In reality, there was not a single recorded instance of sabotage or assault on an American citizen by an escaped POW. Any crimes committed were typically the theft of an automobile or of clothing needed for the getaway.

In any case, public reaction in Arizona soon focused less on any possible menace to law-abiding citizens than on outrage over all the provisions the newspapers reported found on the recaptured POWs, including rationed or otherwise hard-to-get items like cartons of cigarettes, packages of chocolate, coffee, sugar, and even ten pounds of pork fat. One Phoenix resident wrote the Arizona Republic: "Now isn't that a hell of a state of affairs when we, the tax-paying citizens, cannot get a single slice of bacon for weeks on end when we come home from working in a defense plant and then read in the papers that prisoners of war can get away with slabs of it?"

After Christmas, most of the remaining nineteen prisoners hiked south each night as far as they could. Capture was a possibility at any moment, and they were also alert to very real physical danger. During the war, no fewer than fifty-six escaped German POWs were shot to death—the great majority by authorities but some at the hands of trigger-happy civilians.

On January 1, 1945, a pair of escaped officers decided they could go no further. Captain Kraus and his second watch officer on U-199, Lt. Helmut Drescher, had been covering up to ten miles a night, but Drescher now had a swollen foot and hobbled along using a forked stick as a crutch. In the morning they approached an isolated ranch house and knocked. When a twelve-year-old boy trailed by two much younger siblings answered the door, Kraus explained who he and Drescher were and said that they wanted to surrender to local police. The boy said his parents were away but should be home soon.

The Germans made themselves at home. They brewed coffee, shared their remaining chocolate with the children, and then regaled the kids with stories about life on a U-boat. When the parents came home around eleven that morning, they found everyone sitting in the kitchen. Their son hurriedly explained the situation. The father pulled from his pocket a folded sheet of the newspaper with mug shots of the escapees. He took out a pencil, looked at Kraus and then Drescher, and drew a big X through each of their pictures.

That same day, a Papago Indian discovered another pair of prisoners as they were sleeping, less than thirty miles from the Mexican border. Four days later, bounty-hunting Papagos caught another pair asleep in the same area, and an army patrol from the POW camp at Florence nabbed three more.

The following day, the two captains who had been first out the tunnel—Quaet-Faslem and Guggenberger—were awakened by a group of Indian scouts. "And Captain Quaet-Faslem," asked one of the scouts, "did you have a good sleep?" Quaet-Faslem was astonished to see that it was one of the same men who had captured him in Mexico eleven months earlier. With the capture of yet another pair of Germans two days later on January 8, only a half dozen POWs—two three-man teams—remained at large.

One of the teams consisted of the "three mad boatmen," Clarus, Günther, and Utzolino. They thought they had made good use of their boat's canvas skin on their first day of freedom by sleeping under it and staying dry in the rain. But when they reached the banks of the Gila River four days later and started to assemble their craft, they discovered the canvas had shrunk in the rain. Then, after they shortened the wooden struts to accommodate the shrunken canvas, they found that the Gila, which had looked so large and inviting on their maps, was more mud than water. As soon as they loaded their gear into it, the boat sank to the muddy bottom. "We should have known that the Gila wasn't much of a river," Clarus said later. "Of course, everyone who lives in Arizona knows that."

Over the following two nights, they succeeded in floating the craft for only short stretches of the river. Finally, the trio abandoned the plan that had sustained them through so many weeks of labor back in camp. They destroyed the craft and set out on foot. A week or so later, near Gila Bend, some cowboys spotted one of them washing his underwear on the bank of an irrigation canal and called the police.

For the next fortnight the whereabouts of the final trio of escapees remained a mystery. The team consisted of Capt. Jürgen Wattenberg and two of his crewmen from U-162, Walter Kozur and Johann Kremer. Wattenberg had been the senior ranking officer in the compound and quickly built a reputation as the leading troublemaker by submitting extensive lists of complaints about camp food, recreation, and anything else he could think of. The Papago Park commander referred to him as "the No. 1 Super-Nazi of this camp."

After his escape, Wattenberg delayed heading south and explored the area. Kozur and Kremer even ventured into Phoenix one night, visiting a bowling alley and enjoying a few beers. The trio holed up in a shallow cave on a slope in the mountains north of the camp almost within view of Papago Park. From there Kremer pulled off the most bizarre caper of the entire escape. Every few days he joined up with one of the work details sent outside Papago Park. He exchanged places with a friend who spent the night in the cave while Kremer sauntered back into the camp with the work detail. There, he gathered news and food. He would then either join a work detail to get out of camp, or send food out with a member of the detail and remain in the barracks.

On January 23, a month after the escape, a surprise inspection revealed Kremer's presence in the camp. The following evening, Kozur left the cave and made his way down to an abandoned car where friends on work details stashed provisions for the trio. Instead of food he found three American GIs with rifles pointed at his head. Only Wattenberg was still at large.

Four days later, on January 27, Wattenberg ate his last piece of food, shaved, put on a clean shirt, and hiked into Phoenix. He had seventy-five cents in his pocket, most of which he spent on a restaurant meal. He slept for a while in a chair in a hotel lobby and then, walking the streets during the night, asked for directions from the foreman of a street-cleaning crew. The foreman thought the accent suspicious and alerted a policeman. By nine that morning, Wattenberg was back at Papago Park.

Their great escape was over except for the punishment, which turned out to be surprisingly light. Despite the egregious lapses in security, no American officer or guard was court-martialed. And though some of the escapees half-expected to be shot—rumor had it that Germany had executed American POWs in retaliation for the bombing of Dresden—they were merely put on bread and water for every day one of them had been absent from camp.

Still, it had been worth it. Years later, Clarus said of the tunnel: "Conceiving of it, digging it, getting out, getting back, telling about our adventures, finding out what happened to the others…why, it covered a year or more and was our great recreation. It kept our spirits up even as Germany was being crushed and we worried about our parents and our families."


This article was written by Ronald H. Bailey and originally published in the November 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to World War II magazine today!


39 Responses to “The Not-So-Great Escape: German POWs in the U.S. during WWII”


  1. 1

    [...] The Not-So-Great Escape: German POWs in the U.S. during WWII [...]

  2. 2

    new backseat bangers clips…

    new backseat bangers clips…

  3. 3
    Steve says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this account of a little-known incident. I'd like to find out more about German POWs interred in the states. Of course, this story greatly benefits from the bad guys getting caught!

  4. 4
    Pegasus053 says:

    Very much enjoyed this story. It was also interesting due to the fact that I never really heard about POW camps in the US even though I heard bits and pieces about them.

  5. 5
    Rick says:

    This story brought back memories of my Mother, a former WAC from Pennsylvania who passed away in 2000. She was stationed at a bomber base in Texas where German POW's did manual labor. She said that where she worked she could see POW's working in a warehouse that was attached to her office. One day she saw a crate about to fall on a POW's head, and yelled a warning to him in Pennsylvania Dutch, which saved him from harm. Weeks later, one of the guards asked her if she would accept a gift from that POW in gratitude. It was a carved rendition of a chalet, which unfortunately has not survived the years.

  6. 6
    Utzolino says:

    Hi out there.
    This storry was published in about 1972 in the book "The Faustball-Tunnel". My grandfather told us many times of this adventure….
    I like this short article. Thank's Ronald.

  7. 7
    C. Sachs says:

    My good friend, Steve Hoza, a WWII historian and expert on German POW camps in Arizona in WWII, self-published a book about the twenty-six POW camps in Arizona. There is a chapter in his book about the "harrowing" Camp Papago escape. Steve speaks fulent German and is still in touch with several of the POWs' families in Germany.

  8. 8
    snap lemon says:

    ww11 Luftaffe only prison camp in Arizona.
    I had a gun shop in phoenix and Scottsdale for about 15 years. I had a lot of ww11 artifacts displayed and some one brought in a aluminum propeller for a WW L 5 plane I could tell this had been repaired and shortened, most likely it was discarded and no longer airworthy. it was mounted on a wood plac, it had a brass plac that said presented to ?? comander of the luftaffe prisoners of ww11 maney thanks from the prisoners date??
    the brass plac disapered no idea who took it or when but i have been donating all my ww11 stufff to a aviators rest home and a museum in colorado. this included a pick up truck full of items from Joe Foss arizona
    i would like to replace the brass plac on the prop but i need to know what camp and who was the comander and when they released the prisoners. I know it would not be original but it will get the storey told and preserve the unit for all

  9. 9
    Paul Baker says:

    Does anyone know of a WW2 camp in OHIO? I have a friend whose
    Grandfather Theodore Diesslin who told him as a child of his
    experience as POW in Ohio. He was a captured soldier of the
    German Army.

  10. 10
    Second Generation says:

    My dad was first generation German-American, born in Ohio. During the war Dad served in the Army at a German POW camp in the midwest–possibly Michigan (?). He taught the Germans to speak English, and said the POWs were pleasant company. The one remark that will stay with me forever was that Dad liked serving in the Army post-Depression because it was the first time in his life that he had gotten enough to eat.

    My dad was the first in his family to have only three "American" names: first, middle, and last. All others had the traditional four German names: first, middle, middle, last. I was told that after WWI, Germans in America distanced themselves from German traditions by naming their children with Anglicized names–more specifically by giving them a Biblical or Christian middle name as my father had.

  11. 11
    Yvonne Toole says:

    Enjoyed the story. My grandfather was a german conscript who was captured in France. He then was sent to England to a POW camp for a short time, then was transferred to one in Maine. He escaped once and went and saw Niagara Falls before he was recaptured. He said a 10 year old american girl would come to the camp and pass them potatoes through the barbed wire fence.

  12. 12
    humphrey says:

    I cant believe how unmotivated most of the escapers were-giving themselves up???
    Obviously the camp was too comfortable and few of the germans really believed in the war.
    What a contrast to allied escapes in europe and the far east.
    I have read before of black servicemen riding in trains disbeleiving of german prisoners in transit in the best carriages and eating the best food at diners on route.

  13. 13
    Ralph In Kuwait says:

    That story was awesome! Thanks so much, I laughed and grinned through most of the escapee's exploits! Nice to hear they were not desperate killers when on the loose. I don't think Al Queda escapees would be so nice to those kids but I could be wrong.

  14. 14
    David says:

    There was a POW camp at Camp Perry, near Sandusky OH.

  15. 15
    cindy peters says:

    Are there any movies out about the German pows in Arisona and the "not-so great escape""

  16. 16
    Katie says:

    I just came across this site after reading about Monopoly helping American prisoners in Germany. My genealogy group just addressed this subject in our county, and it is interesting to see any other stories about escape attempts in the U.S. I don't think many people know about the POW camps, or are not interested.

  17. 17
    Ken Whitehead says:

    I saw a book in the local library about POW's in the USA. I do not remember it's name. It said that a number of German and Italian POW's escaped and moved in with local German-American or Italian-American families; and were never captured. Some married and stayed in the USA, and some went back to their home countries after the war. The book said that not a single Japanese POW made a successful escape, because they could not blend in with the local population. And I would guess that they may have been more closely guarded.

  18. 18
    Socorro says:

    I really enjoyed this story. I plan to go home and share it with my son. My mother grew up in a ranch on the outskirts of Phoenix and remembers the German POWs working in the fields on the land that they lived on, she was a little girl. She said they were very friendly and some would give her piggy back rides and candy.

  19. 19
    Ronald Eichler says:

    @ Paul Baker, who posted Nov 5 2008
    possibly I have some information for you: My dad was a pow, catched in 1944 near St. Lo in France and brought to the states via Marsaille, Liverpool and New York. He was in camp Defiance / Ohio as pow no. A 818811. Please feel free to contact me, if you think I can help.

    Sincerely
    Ronald Eichler
    ronald_eichler@yahoo.com

    • 19.1
      Jordan says:

      Hello,
      I was doing some research on the POW camp in my hometown of defiance, ohio and found your name and that your father was a prisoner there. My mother works with a woman whose father was a guard at the camp. He is still aide and I might be able to get some information about it and I would love to hear some stories you may have. Hope you are having a great Christmas.
      Cheers,
      Jordan

      • 19.1.1
        Connie says:

        Jordan, I lived in Defiance from 1950 to 1964 and NEVER heard of a POW camp there. What have you found out about it? Would love to know where it was. Thanks!

  20. 20
  21. 21
    Pat Harding says:

    I had the pleasure of running into Hans Eberhardt, who was one of the escapees, on my last trip to Germany. Hans was the first to tell me of this story. I listened and drank beer with him while sitting in a small bar in Alfeld, (Nuremberg), as he told me the story "auf deutsch".
    He found me in another bar (go figure) the next day and brought pictures of his days during his relatively short involvement in the war, then the POW camp. He was finally released in 1949, after 7 years as a prisoner.
    A genuinely nice fellow.

  22. 22
    Ronald Eichler says:

    @ Paul Baker

    please take attention to my new e-mail

  23. 23
    JOHN T. PACUSKA says:

    WHILE WAITING WEEKS FOR MY NEW SHIP ASSIGNMENT AT THE SHOEMAKER NAVAL BASE. EAST OF OAKLAND, CA IN 1946, WE WOULD BE LINED UP FOR BLOCKS IN THE HOT SUN FOR AN HOUR OR SO, WAITING TO GET INTO THE "CHOW HALL". MARINE GUARDS WOULD MARCH HUNDREDS OF GERMAN PRISONERS RIGHT PAST US INTO THE CHOW HALL.. WE LET THEM KNOW HOW WE FELT ABOUT THAT. ALSO, THERE WERE PRISONERS WORKING THERE AS BARBERS TWENTY CENTS A HAIRCUT. WITH SIGNS ON THE WALLS, "DO NOT TIP THE BARBER".. WHILE ONE BARBER WAS WORKING, TWO OTHERS WERE SITTING IN CHAIRS WITH THEIR FEET UP SMOKING CIGARS AND READING WHAT APPEARED TO BE THE OAKLAND NEWSPAPER.. IS THIS A GREAT COUNTRY OR WHAT?? JOHN

  24. 24
    gene says:

    Usually, officers were not to 'work', but to keep non-officers under
    'control'. A lot of German Officers may have been SS, and thus always
    'Hilters insiders' to the point of requiring under prisoners to always raise their arms giving the 'hile hilter salute' In south Texas camps, some
    prisoners were 'murdered' because they refused. From a book by
    a former German POW, Thrill, that eventually became a professor
    of German at Grandview College in Des Moines Iowa.

  25. 25
    gene says:

    On the east coast and golf,German subs sunk many ships, One
    sub surfaced next to a life boat, (after sinking a ship) offered any
    help they could, and giving the survivors cigarettes and food,
    disappeared below the surface. Meanwhile, after a japaneese
    sub on the west coast sunk a ship, they also came up near life boats
    and proceeded to shoot at the men in those lifeboats…

  26. 26

    [...] via The Not-So-Great Escape: German POWs in the U.S. during WWII. [...]

  27. 27
    Casual Bystander says:

    Great story, reminds me so much of the movie ""The great escape" and some of the things I remember seeing in it. ( pants with dirt in pockets, etc… )

  28. 28
    Tom George says:

    My father used to tell about German POWs from Camp Grant in Rockford being brought to the Quaker Oats Ken'l Ration plant to work for him as most American men were at war. I think they were making C Rations. He never said anything about having any problems with the men. My father's eye sight was so bad that the draft board told him that he would tie up two men to lead him off the battle field if he lost his glasses so he wasn't draft eligible. So, I guess he served by keeping the POWs busy. His second son, my brother, served during the Vietnam War and died young due to exposure to Agent Orange.

  29. 29
    B. Williamson says:

    My brother-in-law (now deceased), was a German POW that spent the war in POW camps in Arkansas and California, befor being returned to Europe after the war for a total of near 7 years as a POW.

    Upon his release, Karl contacted people in the US who had befriended him when he was a POW and they sponsored his imigration to the US, where he became a citizen and attained the position of World Wide Travel Director of Triple A in Houston.

    Karl told me that his father enlisted him in the German Air Force when he was 16 yoa, (to keep him from being sent to the camps) and that he was captured in his first battle! "The best thing that ever happened to me!" he would exclaim in his German accent.

    Karl loved people and he loved America. He talked about how well he was treated as a POW in America and how many friends he made. He had little to say about the addtional five years spent in Europe after the war.

    He did say that he went back to California, where he had been a POW and was presented a wrist-watch by the base commander. I don't know if he did this on his own or wether it may have been some kind of reunion or something. Karl entered our family latter in life 50 yoa or so when he married my sister-in-law. He was a great guy and fun to listen to. He had no animosity and nothing but love and respect for this country.

    I guess it just goes to show how end results might be influenced when you whip someone with kindness.

    • 29.1
      Faye Taylor says:

      Since you said your brother-in-law was a POW in Arkansas would it be possible he was housed in the camp at Lake Catherine State Park near Hot Springs. In researching this camp I found out that there were 8 pows there and they were transported to Malvern, Arkansas to work at Acme Brick Company six days a week.

      They must have been treated well because there were no attempts at escape even though there were no fences around the camp. It is quite remote which may have helped. Also there were many bears in the area at that time. They were paid a small sum for working at Acme and a gentleman who told me the story has since passed so I only have what he told me.

      He said he was a young boy and his dad had a stake truck which he used to transport the POWs to Acme in the morning and back home again late in the day and he could ride with his dad on Saturdays and days off of school. He said the men were very friendly and he had been told all the men returned to the states either alone or with their families. I do believe his story is true but have no way of finding out if all the men came back. Just wondered if your relative could have been one of them.

      Faye Taylor

  30. 30
    Bob Correll says:

    Great stories from all. In 1942 i was an air man at Morrison air base west palm beach fl. We had a number of africore soldiers there. They seemed to be happy to be out of the war and didnt give us any problems and in fact they seemed to have pretty much run of the base without guards. On one ocassion though six of them left the base some how and the mps found them drinking beer in a bar about half a mile away. I dont think these guys were trying to escape where they had such good food and medical treatment.

  31. 31
    Leneto Wr says:

    Hey.Iould like to know the science of allowing a prisoner-of-war to eat before the African-American soldier. I just want to know about loyatly to your fellow man or the facts of standards of what is a man who is African.

    European thinking of unity goes above war; when Africans are fighting for country.

    Please help me understand why the African gets the European short end of the stick; even when the African is just being himself. It appears without an artificial support; most europeans would fall without oppressing others.

    leneto.

  32. 32
    JOHN PACUSKA says:

    IN EARLY 1946 AFTER COMPLETING NAVY BOOT CAMP TRAINING, I WAS SENT TO THE NAVAL "OUTGOING UNIT" AT "SHOEMAKER", CA. FOR ASSIGNMENT TO A SHIP.. I UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS NOW A TRAINING CENER FOR THE ALAMEDA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT. IN PLEASANTON, CALIF. TALKING ABOUT GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR BEING ALLOWED TO EAT BEFORE THE AFRICAN AMERICAN TROOPS, I SPENT TEN DAYS THERE WAITING TO BE ASSIGNED TO A SHIP. IT WAS WINTER, RAINY, COLD AND MUDDY, THERE MUST HAVE BEEN "HUNDREDS" OF US, MOSTLY CAUCASIANS AS I RECALL, STANDING IN LONG LINES OUTSIDE AT EACH MEAL, WAITING TO GET INTO THE "CHOW HALL". WE HAD BEE STANDING THERE FOR CLOSE TO AN HOUR, FREEZING AND GETTING WET, WHEN MARINE GUARDS BEGAN MARCHING LARGE GROUPS OF GERMAN POWS AHEAD OF US INTO THE HALL. THIS HAPPENED AT EVERY MEAL EACH DAY AND I REMEMBER THE "CATCALLS" FROM THE RANKS AND SOME NOT TOO PLEASANT COMMENTS ABOUT THE "NAZIS".. THE BARBERS I RECALL WERE ALSO GERMAN POWS. I REMEMBER THE ONES WHO WERE NOT BUSY WERE SITTING RELAXED IN A BARBER CHAIR, SMOKING CIGARS AND READING GERMAN "ZEITUNGS" (NEWSPAPERS). WHERE THEY COULD HAVE GOTTEN THEM I HAVE NO IDEA?? THERE WERE ALSO SIGNS ON THE WALLS: "HAIRCUT, SHAVE" – A NICKLE AND A NOTE SAYING "DO NOT TIP THE BABER".. I DON'T THINK THAT ANY OF THESE GUYS WERE FANATIC ENOUGH TO TRY TO EXCAPE. ALTHOUGH I HEARD THT SOME OF THEM WOULD GET OUT AND GO INTO TOWN TO THE GERMAN SECTIONS AND LOOK FOR GIRLS, WHO I UNDERSTAND WRE QUITE FRIENDLY TOWARD THEM…. WHAT A WAY TO FIGHT A WAR.. JOHN P.

  33. 33
    Leneto Wright says:

    Hello. I was just wondering; if U experienced African American soldiers being forced to eat after the European (white) Americans and the POW's from the war. Yes. I will repeat it. Did you know of AA soldiers being forced to eat after the POW's. I was wondering; did any of these things happen under your experience.

    The situation appears unbelievable for this to have happened during the POW camps in America. I think the African American soldiers have been insulted by the military establishment and the US government officials who allowed violations to the Equal Protection of the US Constitution or even war clauses.

    The racism in American has caused many a AA families to do without the GI bill or any other earned benefit for serving in the military. I was made aware of this tragedy by a WWII veteran from the East coast.recently and my brief research on the GI bill shows gross infractions by the righteous to take earned bread from the AA's, I cannot imagine the offspring from these great soldiers who did not get their rightful due and their plight these days.

    There is no question why many AA's families are without real wealth of equity and property ownership.

    The great society of Tom Brocall was isolated to a great few and the total group of Great Americans who fought; just as hard, got the unrighteous treatment by his fellow country man.

    Where does this leave us; well. America could of been more prosperous, but God only knows all the evil that was placed on our (AA) soldiers as they tried to make a life after war. The research looks bad and depressing for our country.. Again; One wonders where all the poverty came from for the AA's in my great country America.

    Please reply.

    Leneto.

  34. 34

    [...] 1944, a murder of German U-boat sailors (well, what would you call them? A flock?) tunneled out of the Papago Park prisoner-of-war camp in Arizona. Their plan wasn't exactly movie material, but it was daring enough to make even Steve [...]

  35. 35
    Dirk Tempel says:

    Hi, I just read your comment. My great uncle was part of that escape. His name was Johann Kremer. He told me so many things about the escape, the situation, the motivation, their attitude towards the regime in Germany etc. I think that a difference in viewing and judging things differently between american and german POW may be down to the way the stories are presented in Hollywood films e.g. We all need to be very careful in judging people as all of them were in a terrible situation at the end as they were missing their families and country. The were also frightened because they did not know what happened to them. Believe me, those POW at Papago were not less motivated than others to get home.

  36. 36
    Ronald Eichler says:

    Hi Jordan,
    Thanks for the wishes. I just have overseen it for a whole year. :-))

    My dad is now 87 years old; as he came to Defiance, OH he was 17 or barely 18. Meanwhile dementia had taken over. Nevertheless he told many things about the years as POW, actually he still lives in the world of 1944 over there.

    Would you contact me via email, please? I am interested in having some photographs of the camp, best taken in 44, to hold my dad`s reminds at status quo.

    Hope this reply reaches you in good health, looking forward to your answer.Sincerely
    Ronald Eichler



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