Nazi Prisoners of War in America Analysis

Nazi Prisoners of War in America (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

Arnold Krammer, a Professor of History at Texas A & M University, has selected a sound research topic for his book Nazi Prisoners of War in America. His is the most comprehensive treatment yet published of the story of the incarceration of some 400,000 German prisoners of war at internment places across the United States from the arrival of the first of them in 1942 to the departure of the last in July of 1946. Krammer has worked extensively with archival records, primarily those of the War Department, and with other United States government materials and documents. He has also used the gleanings of interviews and correspondence with former German prisoners of war, materials which are generally revealing, although a highly demanding reader might wish that they had been gathered even more extensively, and reviewed, analyzed, and exploited in an even more systematic way—perhaps, as would be possible, by quantitative analysis of such data.

Many readers will be most interested in what became of these former prisoners of war once they were repatriated to Germany, and Krammer clearly sets the stage for this inquiry. He does not, however, pursue it, making mainly random comments on the post-war fates of individual former prisoners of war. The main body of his book is concerned with the actual operations of the camps and internment centers and with the political and ideological issues at hand in confronting a vast number eventually to be returned to a new German society, even though the nature of that society was not yet clearly envisioned.

The narrative history of the camps themselves is handled deftly. It would appear that the United States government and the War Department, in particular, were quite unprepared to encounter the issue of prisoners of war at almost any level. Clearly, there were few Americans trained in the German language and no preestablished policies for dealing with prisoners of war; and there were logistical problems as well. Krammer maintains that in the earliest stages, when prisoner-of-war matters were the concern strictly of the army, problems were kept to a minimum. When the War Department and other governmental agencies became involved, however, inefficiency and contradictions grew. Early in his account, however, Krammer cites the major dilemma which plagued the prisoner-of-war program throughout its entire existence: “The final and most important problem . . . was America’s failure to plumb the degree and intensity of the prisoners’ ideological feelings and to segregate those prisoners whose attachment to Nazism was transitory and opportunistic from those whose beliefs were deep-seated and unalterable.” The problems of making this distinction or, more fundamentally, the issue of perceiving that such a distinction needed to be made, seems to have eluded United States authorities.

In Chapters II, III, and IV, Krammer presents a thorough, readable narrative about the founding of the camps and the various aspects of their daily functioning. The reader is provided with a comprehensive, accurate portrait of day-to-day activities, recreation, education, and, as it was eventually established, the labor program for German prisoners of war. Krammer suggests that prisoner-of-war experiences were quite unique and highly individualized. The different camps varied enormously in terms of personnel, programs, work details,...

(The entire section is 1386 words.)