Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Fritz Ritz Reconstructed
February 25, 2012 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Deep in the heart of Texas, a decrepit German POW camp is reconstructed.

The camp was one of many throughout rural USA known as a "Fritz Ritz", and prisoners were deliberately treated well with the hopes that they would be goodwill ambassadors upon their repatriation. Researchers from nearby Texas A&M and local residents began to reconstruct the remains of the camp in 1995 decades after most of the buildings were demolished and the site vacated. Coincidentally, the camp was located near an area of Texas that saw many German settlers in the 1800s.

[Previously]
posted by Burhanistan (22 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
What is particularly shameful is that the Nazis were often lent out as laborers to surrounding farms, where more than a few married into them and were immediately treated like family. Many of them would return from Germany after the war for periodic reunions. At the same time, Black American soldiers who came back home were treated awfully.
posted by Renoroc at 11:52 AM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


My (very German) grandfather worked at one of these in Fredericksburg. It wasn't just about lending the soldiers out to area farms - they would throw dances for them and all sorts of things. Really weird aspect of WWII.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:08 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Non-commissioned officers and those of higher rank were not required to work.

all enlisted men were required to work 5 days a week on local farms and other physical labor sites

No justice in this world.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:13 PM on February 25, 2012


Meanwhile, a few hundred miles to the southwest. almost as many American citizens were being held in the internment camp at Crystal City. I wonder how the conditions at the two camps compared. It's kind of interesting to contemplate that plenty of ranking Nazi officers probably lived in much better conditions than German Jews who had fled to the United States and become legal citizens only to find themselves interned because of their former German citizenship.
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 PM on February 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


> No justice in this world.

Yeah, one of the more surprising things I learned from this was that the Geneva Convention has a bit of built-in class warfare.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:17 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course German POWs were treated better than Japanese-Americans. They were just like us! (Maybe a little too much...)

commenter is a part-German American who lost all pride in his 'home country' when a little genealogical research turned up a distant-cousin high-ranking officer at Auschwitz
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:21 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think many people realize just how German the US is. German-Americans currently make up about 1/6 of the country's population, and it was a lot higher sixty-five years ago.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:25 PM on February 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't help but compare this to conditions for enemy combatants at Guantanamo today, and what that says about the decay of our moral authority in the US.
posted by darkstar at 12:31 PM on February 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Italian POWS were treated at least as well as Germans. I grew up near Cucamonga, Ca and knew several families with fathers or grandfathers who had been interred nearby. During the war, the only eligible Italian men were the POWs and they were considered (and treated as) part of the community.
posted by buggzzee23 at 12:43 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eligible means bachelor in this instance
posted by buggzzee23 at 12:44 PM on February 25, 2012


What is particularly shameful is that the Nazis were often lent out as laborers to surrounding farms, where more than a few married into them and were immediately treated like family. Many of them would return from Germany after the war for periodic reunions. At the same time, Black American soldiers who came back home were treated awfully.

Yeah, it just burns me up that we don't treat everyone equally poorly.
posted by michaelh at 12:58 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Italian POWS were treated at least as well as Germans. I grew up near Cucamonga, Ca and knew several families with fathers or grandfathers who had been interred nearby. During the war, the only eligible Italian men were the POWs and they were considered (and treated as) part of the community.

Similar things happened in Britain, where Italian POWs were kept in the Orkneys/Shetlands. There is a church there that was built from scrap materials by one POW who, after the war, returned to finish it.
posted by acb at 12:59 PM on February 25, 2012


That part of Texas has a long and deep German heritage. It seems a bit odd to have held the German POWs there, honestly.
posted by Nelson at 1:04 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Germans were held as POWs up near Tule Lake, CA. There was also an internment camp there for Japanese-Americans. Locally, it is understood that you do not talk about the internment camp. Talking about the POWs - who, as elsewhere in the U.S., had pretty free movement to work and socialize - is okay.

We are weird.
posted by rtha at 1:19 PM on February 25, 2012


Ten thousand Japanese were held in the single largest internment camp in Minadoka, Idaho. Conditions there were appalling, considering America was/is supposed to be the land of the free, the melting pot.

Chauvinism sucks, but seems to be our default value.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:44 PM on February 25, 2012


Non-commissioned officers and those of higher rank were not required to work...
all enlisted men were required to work 5 days a week...


It's nitpicky of me, I know, but "non-commissioned officers" most definately are "enlisted men", no matter what army! Army non-coms are sergeants; in a navy, they're called petty officers.
posted by easily confused at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2012


This feature-length (NFB) documentary looks at German POWs from WWII who were housed in 25 camps across Canada.
posted by infinite intimation at 2:10 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


TL:DR

My mom's parents were farmers and also ran a grist mill. Her three brothers went off to war in '41. Things got very tough on the homestead. After the North African campaign ended in Tunisia, my grandparents rec'd three Germans with farming experience. It was pretty cordial by all accounts, even after one of my uncles was sent home with a "million dollar wound."

I'm also told that the only reason I could eat anything Grandma cooked was because of the "German Intervention."

My dad was an E-6 in the artillery. His unit was overrun, destroyed, and disbanded in 12/44 and he wound up supervising a group of Axis prisoners in a small factory that made dried coffee. There were Germans, Italians, and lots of folks from the Soviet Union who had been in German construction battalions. The Germans and Italians got to go pretty much where they wanted after the peace. The Soviet prisoners were forced home, (Yalta Agreement, I think) and never heard from again.

One of my dad's brothers was captured just outside of Aachen. He was born in Poland, spoke fluent German, hated them for what he'd seen the Freikorps do in '19. When the guards evacuated the prisoner camp and the SS came around to shoot the POW's, a German family hid him until French units had control of the area.

So Germans were graded C+ by my previous two generations. They blamed the leadership and not the culture. But the Japanese? Nanking? Pearl Harbor? They could not comprehend the Japanese mindset at all. Bushido, Kamikaze, complete contempt for prisoners? It was the culture. The Philippine Army was still killing Japanese holdouts years after the war ended.

If you don't have any sense of the zeitgeist of the 40's, none of it is going to make any sense.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:35 PM on February 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


they would throw dances for them and all sorts of things. Really weird aspect of WWII.

I dunno, it's not that surprising shared ethnic roots would lead to relatively friendly treatment, particularly given that almost no one in the US knew how awful German concentration camps were. The first link also claims the Army had something of a plan to win the hearts and minds of the German people after the war, and intended the good treatment to have an effect once the prisoners were sent home: "It was pretty obvious we were going to win the war, and we wanted those Germans to go back and be beacons of democracy."

It also probably helped smooth things over that most folks living near the prison camps had no idea what was going on in German prison camps. Which is why this part was interesting:

The American attitude toward the prisoners changed, however, as the depths of depravity inside German concentration camps came to be revealed....Work details at Hearne became harder. Daily food rations were dropped from about 2,000 calories a day to about 1,200 calories, Lazarus said. German prisoners were forced to look at films Americans were making of POW camps in the fatherland.

Sounds about right. Anyway, one of my favorite customer stories came from an extremely pleasant and friendly WWII buff who'd buy books whenever he and his wife could find time to drive into town. He told us one day that his grandfather had been a reluctant pilot in the German air force who decided to defect. He and his crew flew to England and had a harrowing landing as they 1) tried to communicate why they were the only enemy plane in the area and 2) waited to be shot down. Grandpa was sent to a camp in the U.S. (North Carolina had a couple), where he made connections and ended up marrying a local girl and settling down after the war.

I have no idea how much of this story is true and how much embellished family legend, but I really like it.
posted by mediareport at 4:03 PM on February 25, 2012


You mention former Soviets who ended up in construction battalions. Down the street from where I grew up in Germany was a Lithuanian labor service battalion. Its members were formerly in those construction units. After the war, my dad told me, the American army learned that those who returned to Lithuania were being shot. So the army made a unit out of them, put them to work cleaning ammo and stuff like that.
They had a neat little fish pond that I lost a flipper in at about age 5 or so. I remember going in to get it back from their Colonel, who scrutinized me in what I remember as a very creepy way. I guess now that maybe not all of them were in construction units in the war.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:31 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is particularly shameful is that the Nazis were often lent out as laborers to surrounding farms, where more than a few married into them and were immediately treated like family.

Cite?

I mean, the links say only 20% of the prisoners worked outside the camp, and that voluntarily. (Not that this was bad thing. Farms don't farm themselves, there was a war on.) No breakdown as to how many were Nazi and how many plain wehrmacht, much less how many Nazis (or even just plain wehrmacht) married and were immediately treated like family.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:54 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a German POW camp on Lake St Mary's near where I grew up in Ohio. The area was almost exclusively settled by German immigrants in the late 19th century. Most of the people there "gave up" speaking German when WWI rolled around, but there were enough around during WWII to be able to work at the camp. I don't think it was such an uncommon thing for them to set these camps up in areas with a high population of German immigrants.

My uncle once told me that he knew someone that was an interrogator (or maybe an interpreter, I can't remember). He said the methods of interrogation methods were extremely different for officers and enlisted men. Apparently the officers were apt to reveal far more if treated with respect privilege and small kindnesses, while the enlisted men were treated more "roughly".
posted by WASP-12b at 1:16 PM on February 26, 2012


« Older Reaction shots of losing (and winning) an Academy ...   |   Theramin Badger... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments