German Prisoners of War in Colorado During WWII
Following the conclusion of the North African campaign in World War II, thousands of German and Italian men were captured by the Allies. The United States agreed to take approximately 425,000 POWs, of which 375,000 were German. From 1943 to 1946, Colorado maintained 3 large camps and more than 40 additional branch camps. The major camps were located at Trinidad housing 2,500 prisoners, near Greeley with more than 2,000 men and Camp Carson at Colorado Springs holding 12,000 POWs. The large camps included a series of buildings surrounded by watch towers, spotlights, barbed wire fences, guards and dogs. Accommodations for men working outside the main camps took a variety of forms from school gymnasiums to warehouses.
After arriving by ship on the east coast, the prisoners were assigned to the various camps. In Colorado most of the POWs were used as agricultural laborers during the planting and harvesting seasons because of the labor shortages on the farms during the war. Some were sent to the mountains to cut telephone poles, railroad ties, or ice for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad refrigerator cars. When the prisoners were out in the field, security was sometimes lax as there was little temptation to escape with Germany thousands of miles and an ocean away. Sometimes men would temporarily escape to go into the nearby town to acquire food or supplies. Occasionally more serious escapes were attempted as when U.S. Private Dale Maple helped two German POWs to escape to the Mexican border from Camp Hale. Maple was court-martialed for treason and sentenced to life in prison.
Life in the camps was regulated by the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929 which governed the treatment of prisoners. Boredom was perhaps the most common complaint by prisoners in the camps. Classes were offered in German and English and books were available from libraries. Correspondence courses were even taught through either Colorado University or the University of Minnesota which accepted work in German. For entertainment prisoners could watch movies, participate in sports, organize singing and theater groups and play musical instruments supplied by the YWCA. The Germans did their own cooking at the camps, but in the field the farm families often provided additional meals and sometimes invited them in to the house for a home cooked meal.
Camp 202 in Weld County near Greeley housed approximately 2,000 German soldiers from March, 1944 to February, 1946. The first occupants were prisoners captured during the African Campaign commanded by General Rommel. One of these prisoners was Rommel's personal car mechanic. Many men from this camp worked in the sugar beet fields around Greeley. The prisoners published newsletters with news of home, articles about the camps and often times poems, short stories and cartoons. The selections below were taken from one of these newsletters, Unsere Zeitung, August 19, 1945 available at the Colorado State Archives.
"Home" sing our hearts
Like a fine lovely sound
And the waves of tones
Musing I am looking to the
PWs Home Again
"Did you chop carrots in Colorado also?"
"No, my sweetheart! I was the project manager!"
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