The United States had control of around five million POW’s by the end of WWII. Of that number about 400,000 German POW’s were housed within the US. Most of the prisoners were spread out across the south. It was easier to house them in the south because of the milder weather; also America was short on farmhands so the Germans were put to work in the fields.
Turner Field had about 500 German prisoners that were kept here in Albany. The Germans were from Rommel’s elite Afrikakorps. They had been captured after Rommel’s surrender and had been kept first in Opelika Alabama, then here in Albany. The men worked on neighboring farms and were even allowed to make a small allowance for their labor which they could spend at their own camp PX.
There were similar groups of POW’s all through Georgia, in Macon, Tifton, Americus, Columbus and more. Few of the men were members of the Nazi party. In Lewis Carlson’s book, “We Were Each Other’s Prisoners”, former Turner Field POW, Eberhard Ladwig explained how he was given a book after he was captured entitled “Jewish Thought” and how reading the book had affected him profoundly. After coming to Albany he had befriended a Jewish Polish-American soldier and then became an interpreter for the camp. He said prisoners were allowed to read the newspapers and he would translate the stories for them. Even though they had heard rumors of atrocities committed by Germany it was a shock to read about them in the newspapers.
There were at least two escapes here in Albany. The POW’s kitchen was housed outside their secure enclosure. The two escapees hid under the kitchen and waited until dark, then made their escape. They were picked up just inside Florida. The war was over for these men; they were fed good food and treated well by guards and townspeople. There was not much reason to escape and little hope to get back to Germany if they did.
There was a major breakout attempt by German POW’s in a camp of more than 3,000 POW’s in Arizona. There was one group within that camp of Nazi U-boat commanders and their crew that tunneled under the prison, hiding the soil in their flower gardens and new volley ball courts. The attempt was on Christmas Eve of 1944. The men had planned well and even had false papers for identification. The escape caused a huge manhunt in Arizona. No one was killed or even hurt and eventually the men were recaptured. Of the more than 400,000 POW’s in the US, there were a total of 2,222 attempted escapes.
In other camps throughout the US, after Germany’s surrender, there were tales of German prisoners asking to join the American Army to help fight the Japanese. They simply could not understand why our government would not let them fight. German prisoners were treated much better in the US than the ones kept in Camps in Europe where they were given little food or shelter and were kept in a much colder climate. There were a few POW’s held in the US that were murdered or abused by other POW’s. The men that were Nazi’s considered the other prisoners to be traitors. There were no such problems with the men housed here at Turner Field’s “Camp Albany.”
It was not uncommon for the POW’s here in Albany to eat meals in private homes or boarding houses when they were on a work detail. There is an account of a camp in Virginia where townspeople there brought the prisoners in and made them home cooked meals. After the war ended the rations given to the prisoners declined. Some people had befriended their reluctant guests and fed them when possible. Some of the Germans would play the piano and sing for the American families that welcomed them into their homes.
Many of the Germans wanted to stay in America even after their release. Some returned to America after they were sent home, married American women and became citizens. Germany had been so destroyed in the last days of the war that there was little to return to. They had made friends here. Albanian William Sasman who worked as a guard at the POW camp at Turner Field before shipping out, befriended one of the Germans. The prisoner, Gerhard Algermissen even gave Sasman a photo of himself taken before his capture. Sasman was told years later that a former German POW that was working and visiting in the US had been in Albany trying to locate him. He was unable to find Algermissen to find out if it was him.
In an odd way, in the middle of a war, lifetime friendships were made between the captors and the captives.
Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.