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Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by newspapercowboy, Nov 19, 2010.
I will place Nebraska POW Camps on my reading list.
Thank you so much!
(also posted in the "What Are You Reading Thread")
I just finished "Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland" by Melissa Amateis Marsh - our fellow FL member AmeteisGal - and wrote the below review to encourage everyone to go out and buy a copy because (1) it is an outstanding book, (2) it is great to support one of our own and (3) it will inspire people to write more histories.
"Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland" by Melissa Amateis Marsh (aka AmeteisGal to us here at Fedora Lounge)
If you aren't familiar or, like I was, are only vaguely familiar with the who, what and why of POWs in the United States during WWII, then you'll find "Nebraska POW Camps" enlightening and enjoyable. If you are well versed in the mainstream WWII history books, then this book will add a niche element of the story to your overall war narrative.
As Amaties points out, the book is neither a straight scholarly study nor general history, but a combination of the two. As a reader, you'll notice that some parts are fact-based like scholarly papers and can be, not boring, but more "dry", while other parts sing with the anecdotal stories and personal observations that make history come alive.
While the scope of the POWs in the US - about 400,000 Germans, 51,000 Italians and 5,000 Japanese - wasn't small, the detailed historical record, as Amateis highlights, is thin, especially as she focuses on just those POW camps in Nebraska. That said, her diligent work brings out the details needed to understand the story behind why they were brought here - the UK was running out of room and resources (could not have been fun for the British official who had to call and ask the US for one whopper of a favor) - and the logistical and political challenges of housing POWs in the US.
As you move through this relatively short book, you'll learn how the camps were built, who commanded them, who guarded them, the day-to-day lives of the prisoners and the US military's compliance with the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of POWs (overall, taken very seriously, if for no other reason than the US wanted American POWs treated well in Axis POW camps). You'll also learn about the work the POWs did while here - mainly much needed agricultural, but also, at least one example of - and in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions - munitions factory work. Further, the book analyzes how the system dealt with the hardcore Nazis (mainly by corralling and isolating them from the rest of the POW population) and what efforts were made at re-education (sincere, inconsistent and lacking the necessary records to make conclusive statements as to their effectiveness).
Away from all that, you'll get an intimate feel for the life of the POWs and their interactions with the local populations that they were, quite often, working for day in and day out. Here is where the fun stories and humanity come through the loudest: despite the rules, farm families were constantly giving the POWs extra food during long work days (strawberry shortcake parties were a hit) or having marksmanship competitions (yes, shocking, but it highlights the trusting bonds that were formed). Ameteis also relates how many POWs kept in touch for decades with their American friends and some - when able - emigrated to the US and moved to Nebraska to start new and successful lives after the war.
This last fact is less surprising -- Ameties points out that she could find no instances of prisoners complaining about their imprisonment. It seems that many POWs were happy to spend the duration of the war in POW camps (escape attempts were rare), the US military, largely, played by the rules and the local populations who employed the POWs were good to and happy with (actually, desperate for) the added manpower.
While WWII histories are usually about colossal battles, ideological and philosophical conflicts writ large, massive loss of life and treasure, geopolitical machinations and out-sized personalities and leaders, "Nebraska POW Camps" provides a poignant view into a very human, somewhat removed and, at times, quixotic corner of the 20th Century's defining war.
Wow. I am absolutely humbled.
Thank you SO MUCH for this review! I wish I had noticed it earlier, but life has been incredibly busy the last three weeks - but I'm so glad I checked this thread out!!!
THANK YOU AGAIN!
Very excited and also very humbled that my book, Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland won in the nonfiction-Nebraska history category of the Nebraska Book Awards. No monetary prize, but that is ok by me. The recognition is enough!
Congrats AmateisGal! That is awesome.
I am a new member of the Fedora Lounge. If this is not appropriate here, please remove the post. As an avid pipe collector/smoker and fan of science fiction, I have written a number of short stories that fall under the category of the "Emperor Leopaldo Saga". The stories combine my interests. They are not Pulitzer prize winners and were written for my enjoyment. The Greater Kansas City Pipe Club serialized them in their newsletter. They can all be found on pipedia (a pipe related wiki). This is their home: http://pipedia.org/wiki/John_Seiler
Hi, all. And thanks for all the fine information and chat. I'm happy to announce our new holiday cocktail booklet, Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings, is out. It contains drink recipes from annual “Bartender of the Airwaves” appearances on WFMU’s “Fool’s Paradise with Rex,” plus other assorted cocktail jabber. (For those not hipped, WFMU is 91.1 in the tri-state area, and online at wfmu.org.) More info on our Grade "A" Fancy website (Hark! link) and fb page. (If you're familiar with Herb Lester Associates map guides, we write some NYC and the new DC guide for them. ) Seasons drinkings!
I just found this review on Amazon, which I assume you've seen already, in part:
One thing that I especially didn't like or agree with was her statement saying the guards were chosen because they were unfit for any other duty.
Now I have no idea if that's really in the book, but I would take exception against that as well. My wife's grandfather was very much fit for other duty (in fact, he was heading out to the ETO after some time in the PTO as a machine gunner when Hitler capped himself). I spent some time talking with POW camp guards in the South and all I've talked with were fully fit for frontline combat anywhere.
Yes - I saw that review, but I never stated that "all guards were unfit for other duty." That is simply false.
This is from my book:
Another area of contention was the caliber of the U.S. enlisted men who worked in the POW camps. The U.S. soldiers who were transferred to POW camps were altogether different than those who were at the front lines in Europe and Asia. The majority of the personnel was made up of those who were found “unsatisfactory” for combat, “physically and psychologically unfit, recently retired officers…combat veterans recycled home; and raw recruits.” Major Maxwell McKnight of the OPMG stated in 1942, “We were pretty much dredging the bottom of the barrel. We had all kinds of kooks and wacky people.” Of course, the caliber of guards differed from camp to camp, but as historian Arnold Krammer points out, even the official historian of the Army Services Forces, John Millett, said that the POW camps “tended to be a dumping ground…for field grade officers who were found to be unsatisfactory.”[ii]
After being injured in service, Steve Sorok was assigned to work as a mail carrier at the Scottsbluff POW Camp. “The signature of the camp was Service Command Unit 4752,” he remembered, “but we always ridiculed it as ‘Sick, Crippled, and Useless’ because most of these (American) men were either of limited service or limited assignment.”[iii]
“Unsatisfactory” U.S. soldiers brought about a host of problems, but one of the biggest was how they treated the prisoners. Some men, after being in combat, simply hated the Germans. Others were disgruntled with being assigned to a POW camp instead of in the thick of fighting. A field service camp survey taken at Camp Scottsbluff in February, 1945, asked, “What is the general attitude of the guard personnel towards prisoners of war?” Scrawled in pencil beneath it are the words, “Bunch of Krauts and bastards.”[iv] According to a Special Projects report from the Office of the Provost Marshal General, there was no doubt as to the caliber of the American guards. “…the quality of this personnel is, as in other camps, very low. Fifteen or twenty of them are psycho-neurotics.”[v]
Again, the nation took notice. An article appeared in the Boston Globe that revealed the overwhelming incompetence of the U.S. guards, from their poor treatment of the POWs to their complete inefficiency. The War Department immediately launched into training mode, creating a three-week training program and a reference manual on the proper treatment of POWs.[vi]Thereafter, conditions improved.
Judith Gansberg, Stalag USA: The Remarkable Story of German POWs in America. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1977), 42.
[ii] Krammer, Nazi Prisoners of War in America, 40.
[iii] Recollections of Mr. Steve Sorok. Unpublished. Undated. POW File. Legacy of the Plains Museum.
[iv]Headquarters Army Service Forces, Office of the Provost Marshal General. “Field Service Camp Survey. February 12-13, 1945.” Prisoners of War Special Projects Division, RG 389, Entry A1 459A, Camp Scottsbluff File, NA.
[v] Major Paul A. Neuland, “Report on Field Service Visit to Prisoner of War Camp, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, 12-13 February 1945.” March 1, 1945. Office of the Provost Marshal General, Prisoner of War Special Projects Division. RG 389, Camp Scottsbluff File, NA.
[vi] Krammer, Nazi Prisoners of War in America, 39-40.
Fair enough. That's why I asked, thanks for clearing that up. I agree with the points you made there.
My turn for some shameless self promotion!
Like a number of my fellow loungers, I'm an old school pulp nut. The dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, and just plain strange stories pioneered by Lovecraft, Smith, Howard, and their contemporaries remain some of my favourite fiction. So awhile back I began writing my own, part for fun, part as a learning experience, but most of all because I wanted to keep the spirit of the genre alive. So with that, I've recently begun selling my work on Amazon; I currently have multiple short stories available and have more, along with a few collections, on the way.
That's awesome! Congratulations!!!
Congratulations, AmateisGal, on publishing your book. An intriguing title. Elmore Leonard, in the Hot Kid, and Up in Honey's Room, fictionalizes the stories of a couple of Germans who did escape. I suspect that most Germans were quite happy in Nebraska, and there were probably plenty of German speaking farmers in the vicinity.
And yes, indeed there were lots of German farmers who interacted with the POWs working on their farms. The POWs were treated very well and in far superior conditions to their counterparts held in Germany.
I also read Leonard's Up in Honey's Room (while I was working on my thesis, I believe!).
May I ask what your thesis subject topic is?
My thesis topic centered on the Intellectual Diversion Program (Re-Education or Denazification) at the Fort Robinson POW Camp in World War II. I used that thesis (I completed my master's degree in 2004) as a springboard for the book.
My latest article for America in WWII magazine (Feb/March issue) is out. I wrote it on the women war correspondents of WWII. Great fun to research and write. These gals were amazing!
Recently, an article I wrote for The Nostalgia Digest Magazine has been published in the Spring, 2017 issue with William Powell & Myrna Loy on the cover. This magazine with my piece, And Me, Harlow Wilcox, can be found at the above link or the magazine rack of your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.