Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

To My Former Captor

November 8th, 2012 · 3 Comments

As I learned so long ago in the mind-blowing Summer of My German Soldier, thousands of Axis prisoners-or-war were housed in Arkansas during World War II. Upon their release at conflict’s end, many of the former captives kept in touch with their American bosses—the men they were forced to pick cotton for, in exchange for meager wages. As this amazing collection of letters demonstrates, there was a certain odd affection between the ex-POWs and their Razorback taskmasters:

Destruction here in Western Germany is unimaginable. Living conditions are awfully bad. Food is very scarce. My imagination very often goes back to those lucky times when we were working for you. Of course I am glad I am a relatively free man again, but there is hardly a possibility to enjoy one’s freedom. We are all working very hard to help to overcome the terrible destruction and emptiness left by the Nazi regime; it will take years and years, however, before there will be normal conditions again. In general, the German population is very willing to try to correct its faults. There are, in this zone at least, no signs of unrest and trouble, as far as I know. Maybe some day there will be a truly democratic Germany. That is the political aim I’m working for. I am glad I had the opportunity to learn to know parts of the American Way of Life; I hope that is the aim for Germany in political respect.

The letter-writers did seem to have an ulterior motive in many instances, though: Several of the epistles includes not-so-subtle requests for cigarettes and, more important, food. Apparently there was a time when Berlin wasn’t chock full of scrumptious doner-kebab stands.


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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Captain Button

    I read an article years ago about German POWs in the US. They talked about various escapes, including one guy who not only escaped, he made his way back to Germany and resumed a civilian life.

    Then sometime in the 1960s the US caught up with him and arrested him. They let him go soon, but I always wonder what was the legal justification for that, arresting a German in Germany for escaping from a US prison camp decades before.

  • bette greene

    “If you forget everything else, I want you to always remember that you are a person of value and you had a friend that loved you enough to give you his most valuable possession,”

    Bette Greene— Summer of My German Soldier

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @bette greene: Absolutely loved that book when I read it in the 5th grade. Thanks a mil for writing it.

    For some reason, the detail that has always stuck in my mind is the one nice memory the girl had of her father: the time he insisted that she order a real steak in a restaurant, rather than just a ground-beef Salisbury steak. Such a great way to humanize an otherwise odious character.