The average German soldier was not an ideologue. He was, of course, a nationalist who loved his country and was caught up in the war–conscripted just like American soldiers. Most of the men, however, were captivated by the power and omnipotence of Adolf Hitler.
Unfortunately, it was not until late in the war that several serious studies were undertaken to determine how many hardened Nazis there were in the American POW camps. Approximately 40 percent were considered pro-Nazi (about 8-10 percent were fanatical, about 30 percent were deeply sympathetic to National Socialism). According to Nazi Prisoners of War in America by Arnold Krammer, “…these survey’s indicated that confidence in Adolf Hitler was not synonymous with an attraction to National Socialism; nor did blind obedience to military orders and tradition indicate a sympathy for Nazism.
However, since many of the captured German officers and non-commissioned officers were Nazis, the camps were run in that vein. In Krammer’s book, he reports that one German soldier reported his job was to comb through American newspapers and report the war news at the evening mess hall. When he said that the American troops had landed in Italy, an officer came up to him and told him that he was a traitor. Dumbfounded, he asked why. The response was that he was repeating enemy propaganda. From then on, he stopped reporting the news and let the officers do it instead.
Other political pressure was subtle. Books banned by Hitler were hidden by stalwart camp librarians who adhered to the teachings of the Third Reich. Often an outwardly cooperative POW was given an administrative job at camp headquarters and records were lost or routine forms were altered. One Nazi posted himself outside of a POW compound church and wrote down the names of the men who attended Sunday services, saying they would discover the consequences when they got back to Germany.
Next time: Other Stories of Nazi Control
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.