The American public during WWII felt strongly about the ”reeducation” of German prisoners of war. In other words, with more than 370,000 men on our soil, now was the time to teach them about American democracy and individualism.
Publicly, the War Department nixed the idea because of its policy of strict adherence to the dictates of the Geneva Convention about prisoner indoctrination. However, after studying the Geneva Convention for a loophole, they found it in Article 17: “So far as possible, belligerents shall encourage intellectual diversions and sports organized by prisoners of war.”
Thus with pressure from President and Mrs. Roosevelt, a secret reeducation program based upon intellectual diverson was begun in autumn 1944 and it was not revealed to the public until after V-E Day in 1945. This program was a highly controversial effort to influence the Germans through camp newspapers, books, film, and lectures. It was an intellectual exercise that many believed failed–still it was an effort to bring American values and philosophy to the Germans.
Books introduced in camp libraries included the works of Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, and William Soroyan–books that had been banned and burned by the Nazi regime. A newspaper called “Der Ruf” (The Call) was written by prisoners of war who had been highly screened and moved to a secret location for fear of prisoner retaliation. As the war came closer to an end, movies became a propaganda weapon. Such films as Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Back to Bataan, Song of Bernadette, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo were shown.
Read my novel “The Swastika Tattoo” about life for German POWs held in a camp in Arizona.
Next time: More About the Use of Film to Reeducate German Prisoners of War
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.