The War Department announced on November 21, 1945 that thousands of German POWs would be handed over to European governments for labor battalions to rebuild France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The news burst over the POW camps like a skyrocket. These men long held in America thought they were going home after the war. They weren’t. Other countries that received prisoners were the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Greece.

The men were used for work in mines, construction, farms, and forestry.  They were also used for clearing rubble from the devastation of the bombings.  Depending upon the requirements of each country, the majority of POWs served in labor battalions for about four to six months, although many thousands of them were held much longer.

However, it was the American Military Government in Germany that used most of the repatriated Germans for work ranging from hospital technicians to day laborers. Finally, after much criticism from the home front, paticularly Christian organizations, the War Department began to pull itself out of the POW-labor program in Europe.

France held their POWs the longest, much to the dismay of the German prisoners.  In fact by April, 1947, the French still held so many German POWs that the American government intervened. France was finally forced to offer all German prisoners under its control, with special exceptions, a choice between repatriation to war-torn Germany or remain in France as salaried, voluntary workers.  Only 10,000 men volunteered to stay in France, and thousands were finally returned home.

Note: I have made a chapter from my novel The Swastika Tattoo available at

Copyright Geraldine Birch.  All rights reserved.

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