The United States was in the midst of conducting two wars–one in the Pacific and the other in Europe, thus the camps for German prisoners of war held in the continental U.S. did not have a high priority. Besides, since this country had never had prisoners of war in modern times–yes there were POW camps during the Civil War–there wasn’t much precedence for how to handle the prisoners.
Thus, camp control was really through the prisoners’ hierarchy of command. According to the Geneva Convention, the camp at large was obligated to appoint a representative to deal with camp administrators and inspection teams–and that opportunity was seized most often by the most aggressive Nazis. True to German thinking about order, the Nazis who controlled the POW camps did not disrupt the camps. In fact, they became models of efficency.
According to Nazi Prisoners of War in Americaby Arnold Krammer, “The Nazis realized that an orderly and well-run camp would give them the continued backing of the American authorities and, therefore, the continued control over the camp. As a result, they were given an almost free hand, and without an effective intelligence system and adequate guidelines, the War Department moved slowly to counter the Nazis influence.”
Next time: How the Nazis Controlled the Camps
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.