Two of the German escapees decided by the end of December 1944 that they could not go on. One of them had injured his foot in the escape and it was terrribly swollen. The men ate a good meal of bacon sandwiches, coffee and chocolate. They approached a farm house and when they knocked on the door they found a frightened 12-year-old boy taking care of his siblings. They explained they were unarmed German officers who had escaped from Camp Papago Park and they wanted to surrender. With constant reassurances, the youngster let the Germans inside, explaining his parents would be back soon. The officers shared the last of their chocolate with the children.
When the parents got home, the boy told them who was sitting in the kitchen. The father, reached in his back pocket taking out a copy of the “Phoenix Gazette” which had photos of the twenty-five escapees. He wet a pencil with his tongue and put an X over the faces of the two men sitting in his kitchen.
Two other German prisoners celebrated New Years Eve only thirty-one miles from the Mexican border. The next day, they found a jackrabbit recently killed by a vehicle, so they skinned it, cooked it and sprinkled pulverized salt tablets on the meat for seasoning. Contented, they curled up and went to sleep under some bushes, but a Papago Indian who was walking toward Sells, Arizona and saw the two sleeping figures. He thumbed a ride to Sells where he reported what he saw to the U.S. Customs Service. When the men woke up they were surrounded.
When the men were taken to Sells, the entire village turned out to look at them, one woman exclaiming that the Germans looked just like Americans. Then a strange thing happened, the men were aked if either one of them them could play chess. When they said they could, the Americans brought in a disabled boy who played chess, but he had no one in the town to play the game with. Seeing the boy was terribly nervous, the Germans decided to let him win for the sake of international relations.
The last escapee to be rounded up was the German leader of Camp Papago Park, Captain Jurgen Wattenberg. He had been hiding in a cave near the prison camp and when he ate the last of his food near the end of January 1945, he cleaned himself up and walked into Phoenix where he spent a few hours sitting in a a hotel lobby. He decided to walk outside and asked a street cleaner where Van Buren Street was. He was told he was on Van Buren Street. The street cleaner became suspicious by Wattenberg’s accent and ignorance of his surroundings, and he told a passing police officer. Wattenberg was questioned and then he simply admitted he was the last of the twenty-five prisoners of war who had escaped from the camp.
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Next time: Fallout from the escape.
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.