Less than a week after the celebration of Victory in Europe (May 8, 1945), American prisoners of war began returning home. An article in the New York Times recorded the arrival of the 1,300 men who arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. According to the article, they were in a glum mood, with little horse play and hardly any conversation. It was only after a hearty meal of steak, potatoes, ice cream and cake that they began to talk of their experience.
The Times said: “One man told of how sick Americans were forced to march 500 miles through rain and snow from camp to camp; another of eating cats and fighting for potato peelings when the ration of a bowl of sour soup a day became unbearable; a third spelled out slowly the name of a German officer who had left starving American prisoners to die by the roadside.”
In front of a reporter, another American POW, furious, shredded a magazine that had been given him on the troop ship. The magazine had a picture of two American girls shaking hands with German prisoners of war at a railroad station. “Shaking hands! Shaking hands!…The Germans didn’t shake hands with their rubber hoses!” he said.
The men showed a significant loss of weight and were dispirited. As they told the stories of being marched hundreds of miles to escape the Russian onslaught, most of them told of eating nothing but weak coffee and bread.
One man, who would only identify himself as “Snuffy,” told about being packed in a boxcar after one march and then the Germans lit flares around the train so the Royal Air Force could see it during a bombing run.
“They beat it when the bombs fell, but eight of us were killed,” he said.
Information for this blog came from the New York Times, May 13, 1945, “Arrival of Two War Prisoner Groups Provides Vivid Contrast: Our Soldiers Bitter at Brutality, Enemy Plainly Well Treated.”
Next: The Last of the German POWs Arrive in America
Read my novel “The Swastika Tattoo” about life for German POWs held in a camp in Arizona.
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.