THE TEACHING OF DEMOCRACY TO GERMAN POW’S

With more than 300,000 prisoners of war in the United States during WWII, the American government did not take the opportunity to teach them about democracy until 1945.  According to information from Arnold Krammer’s book, “Nazi Prisoners of War in America,” there was concern that word would get back to the Third Reich that we were indoctrinating German POWs in democracy and that the Nazis would therefore indoctrinate American POWs in National Socialism .

The War Department struggled to find a way to re-educate the men under their control, and after examining the Geneva Convention for a loophole, it finally settled on Article 17 which states, “So far as possible, belligerents shall encourage intellectual diversions and sports organized by prisoners of war.”  Thus, the War Department and the State Department came to a tacit understanding that there could be selected media that were made available for the prisoners.  This included literature, motion pictures, newspapers, music, art and educational courses.

It was hoped that if these facts about democracy could be presented convincingly, perhaps the German prisoners of war would begin to understand historical and ethical truth as generally conceived by Western civilization.  Through that, then perhaps they would come to respect the American people and their ideological values.  Once that happened, then perhaps these precepts would be taken home with them to Germany to form the nucleus of a new German ideology and the rejection of militarism and National Socialism.

Books that began showing up in the concentration camp libraries were For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway, The Human Comedy by Saroyan, and several works by Thomas Mann, including The Magic Mountain.  Movies included Young Mr. Lincoln, Going My Way, Wells Fargo, and the film version of The Human Comedy.  In particular, Frank Capra’s film series, Why We Fight was shown to the POWs.

Finally, a newspaper called Der Ruf (The Call) was put together by a Special Projects Division team of university professors and hand-picked prisoners of war.  Its first issue was in camp canteens on March 6, 1945, and the prisoners had to purchase it.  Its aim was to have academic sophistication in intellectual matters and scrupulous honesty in reporting war news and POW problems.

What the camp authorities found through monitoring of the prisoners was that the newspaper became increasingly popular the longer it was published and that the appearance of the newspaper caused the prisoners to take sides which identified their views on Nazi ideology.

Next time: A 6-day training session in democracy for 20,000 German prisoners of war.

Note: An exerpt from my YA novel can be previewed here: http://amzn.to/wosWZa.

Copyright Geraldine Birch.  All rights reserved.

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