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Prisoners of War

May 1, 2002

Historian's Notes

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.

Resources

All material for this almanac came from the Chronicles of Oklahoma. Spring 1986.

Almanac Transcript

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.

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