If there is one outstanding mistake regarding the escape of 25 German prisoners of war from Camp Papago Park in Arizona over Christmas 1944, it was that the camp’s top brass put all of the camp’s escapees together into Compound 1 A–the thinking being that if they were all together, it would be easier to keep an eye on them. Unfortunately, Compound 1 A had a distinct blind spot from the guard towers and the Germans quickly figured that out. In other words, the compound was filled with men who had escaped and would try again.
In addition to building the long tunnel, the men had lots of other things to do to get ready for the escape: gather food, canteens, clothing, fake identification and passports. By the last week of November, according to John Hammond Moore’s “The Faustball Tunnel,” there were thirty-one of the sixty POWs in Compound 1 A who had formed twelve escape teams. Each team was composed of two or three men. This number included several petty officers from Compound 1 B who wanted to join the escape, men who had passed food to those in Compound 1 A during the hunger strike. They were told they could be part of the escape if they gathered their own provisions, clothing and anything else they needed.
Two men, Reinhard Mark and Heinrich Palmer, from Compound 1 B, needed American money for their escape, so they began producing Nazi paraphernalia. They used shoe polish and sand for molds and melted toothpaste tubes for metal. The result was Iron Crosses, Eagles, and shoulder clasps, all eagerly bought by the American guards and other personnel at the camp because they thought they were real Nazi souvenirs. The fake souveniers were scuffed up to look old and authenic.
One major concern was how to get to Mexico once they escaped from the camp. For three men, it seemed easier to float down the Gila River rather than walk.
Read my novel The Swastika Tattoo. A story about a young German prisoner of war at Camp Papago Park.
Next time: Building a Boat
Copyright Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.