Prisoners of War
May 1, 2002
The story of the German prisoners of war in Oklahoma surprised some listeners. Most people knew that POWs spent time in Oklahoma during World War II, but almost no one realized that Oklahoma held so many of them or had so many POW camps scattered throughout the state. To our credit, the accounts of Germans held here always reflect favorably on their time spent in the Sooner State. At times it seems that the prisoners almost considered themselves lucky to have been captured because it allowed them a chance to see at least a small part of the United States.
All material for this almanac came from the Chronicles of Oklahoma. Spring
Prisoners of war make the news this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, I'm your host Steven Knoche Kite.
When a country goes to war one of the obvious questions that arises is what to do with the numbers
of enemy troops that will inevitably be captured. As the United States entered World War II it soon had
to deal with the issue of prisoners of war. During the early period of the war most prisoners taken were
German. The U.S. government wanting to keep the prisoners as far from the front lines as possible situated
the great majority of the camps for German prisoners in the mid-western United States.
Oklahoma held a fair share of the captured troops and eventually there were over thirty camps scattered
throughout the state. While almost all of the captured troops had fought in the German army not all of
them were German, records show that there were Russian, Danish, Polish and Czechoslovakian soldiers in
Oklahoma all of whom had been captured while fighting for the German army. It seems that the prisoners
while held in Oklahoma were given a reasonable amount of freedom. Captives were allowed to grow private
gardens, hold theatrical productions and were even furnished with menus from which they could choose a
variety of meals all carefully selected to replicate European cooking. Musical productions were also common
pastimes at prison compounds in the state.
According to The Geneva Convention regarding treatment of prisoners of war
soldiers held captive were to still receive their usual pay. Captured soldiers of the German army earned
a nominal salary but could earn up to $1.20 a day at certain industrial and agricultural occupations.
Despite the pains taken for their comfort most prisoners, it has been found, reported experiencing extreme
homesickness, and there were quite a few attempted and actual escapes. Punishment for escaping from the
prison camps was slight, and some prisoners reported escaping just to see what the rest of the United
States looked like.
Unused to the vast geographical scale of the U.S. so different from the compact European countries,
most escapees after a few days would come straggling tired, hungry and thirsty back to camp or give themselves
up to the nearest available official. It was in this week of 1943 on April 29th that a train pulled into
the station at Madill carrying the very first of the Oklahoma German prisoners of war.
Mandatory vacations in the Sooner State this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.