DEMOCRACY TRAINING SESSIONS FOR GERMAN POWS

In October 1945, the War Department announced its intention to send home all of the more than 370,000 German POWs by March 31, 1946.  As a result of that decision, it was finally decided approximately 20,000 “cooperative” German prisoners of war would be put through a six-day training course that would educate the men about democracy.

After the more than 500 camps submitted the names of their most co-operative anti-Nazi POWs, approximately 24,000 men were selected, 2,000 men at a time for a total of 12 training sessions at Fort Eustis, a U.S. Army installation located at Newport News, Virginia.

The sessions included:

  • The Democratic Way of Life
  • The Constitution of the United States
  • Political Parties, Elections, and Parliamentary Procedures
  • Education in the United States
  • American Family Life
  • The American Economic Scene
  • American Military Government
  • Democratic Traditions in Germany
  • Why the Weimar Republic Failed – I
  • Why the Weimar Republic Failed – II
  • The World of Today and Germany
  • New Democratic Trends in the World Today

There were lectures conducted in both English and German with open discussions.  Films were shown, there were more round-table forums, and lessons in English.  The men were allowed access to church services, the library and the gym.  There were also counselors on hand to help the men with problems concerning their families in Germany, many of the men feeling anxious about their safety because they were anti-Nazi.

According to “Nazi Prisoners of War in America,”  the commandant of the school, Colonel Alpheus Smith, was forthright with the prisoners in his opening address.  He admitted that democracy was not perfect, mainly because Americans were not perfect.  There were, Smith said, bad Americans and bad things done in America, but that “democracy was the best thing there is in human society.”

Next time: Repatriation of German Prisoners of War

Copyright Geraldine Birch.  All rights reserved.

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