The film branch of the Special Projects Division–the bureaucratic entity that was given the directive to reeducate the 370,000 German POWs held in the United States during WWII–wanted to show ideologically positive feature films to the prisoners. But the entire program almost died a premature death, according to Ron Robin in “The Barbed Wire College:Reeducating German POWs in the United States During WWII.”
Many of the heads of the powerful Hollywood Studios were Jews, who expressed outrage that German POWs were being “entertained.” Harry Warner of Warner Brothers was vocal about his feelings. In an irate letter to Lt. General W.D. Styer, Chief of Staff of the Army Serice Forces, Warner wrote: “…These men have been trained to believe that we are soft, muddle-headed idiots. They have been taught to believe that their cruelty and brutality is a virtue, and that our humanity is a fault…I just received a letter from one of my family who was liberated (from a concentration camp), and this is what he says: ‘This little unreadable note is just to let you know I have been at last liberated. The true story of what the Nazis did to us is simply unbelievable. All I can say is that I weighed about 84 pounds when set free.’ AND WE WANT TO ENTERTAIN THEM!” (the capital letters were written by Harry Warner).
Since Warner Brothers was the first studio to take a strong anti-Nazi stance with its release of “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” in 1939, Harry Warner was accorded a special status in government circles. His displeasure posed a difficult problem for the reeducation program.
Read my novel “The Swastika Tattoo” about life at Camp Papago Park
Next time: American Films: A Successful Reeducation Tool
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.