During World War II, more than 425,000 German prisoners of war were held in some 700 camps across the United States. Some of them did their duty to try and escape, but most spent the remainder of their war in these camps, entertaining themselves however possible.
For many POWs, this included the latest in Hollywood cinema, which was, of course, so much propaganda at the time. The Germans enjoyed them anyway. But when the Americans began to show them footage of the Holocaust, the good time suddenly stopped.
German prisoners, those who surrendered to the British or Americans, were shipped back to the U.S. on Liberty Ships. Most went quietly, thankful to not be killed – and avoiding capture by the Red Army. The United States followed the Geneva Conventions to the letter, paying Germans for labor and constructing camps equivalent to their own military quarters. For some, their lives as prisoners were better than their lives as civilians back in Germany. This was especially true in passing the time.
The prisoners worked, maintained their own discipline, were provided art supplies and letter writing materials. Many camps even had film projectors, and showed movies provided by the Americans. The U.S. was happy to oblige, as Hollywood films of the era could be a good way to de-program the captured soldiers from the effects of Nazi propaganda. Even War Department films such as Why We Fight were popular.
The movie nights were really popular among many of the camps, no matter what the marquee was showing. It was a great morale booster for many imprisoned so far away. Until one day, it wasn’t. After the Allies began liberating concentration camps, they began showing the footage of those camps to Nazi POWs. The films sparked rage and disbelief among many of them, including one instance where the camp detainees burned their German uniforms.
In a few extreme cases, some POWs held in the United States called on Germany to surrender. But the most stirring moment was a plan devised to create units of German troops who volunteered to fight against their onetime Axis ally, Japan, in the Pacific War.
By war’s end, only the most hardcore Nazi POWs were still against the United States. Many POWs met their wives in the U.S. and settled in the unspoiled land of plenty that had become their new home. While there were many, many resisters throughout the war, there were few incidents of escape or chaos created by the prisoners.
Feature image: U.S. Army