War museum shows how POWs lived in Nazi camps


NEW ORLEANS — A vi­o­lin made from bed slats, a bomber jacket, and jour­nals filled with hu­mor, nos­tal­gia, sor­row, and bore­dom help to tell the sto­ries of the 92,820 Al­lied sol­diers held in nearly 100 Nazi pris­oner of war camps.

“Guests of the Third Re­ich,” an ex­hibit open­ing to­day at the Na­tional World War II Mu­seum, is about those “Krie­g­ies,” as they called them­selves — short for “Kriegs­ge­fan­gener,” Ger­man for “pris­oner of war.”

Items on dis­play through July 7 are among those to be shown in the Lib­er­a­tion Pavil­ion planned for com­ple­tion in 2016. That pa­vil­ion will also have a sec­tion about POWs held in bru­tal Jap­a­nese POW camps where more than 40 per­cent of the 27,465 Amer­i­cans cap­tured in the Pa­cific died. But of 93,941 who sur­ren­dered to Ger­many, 92,820 sur­vived.

Japan had not rat­i­fied the Ge­neva Con­ven­tions for hu­mane treat­ment of POWs. Ger­many had, and gen­er­ally fol­lowed its re­quire­ments.

Not al­ways. One part of the ex­hibit is about POWs who were sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps or ex­e­cuted. Those in the con­cen­tra­tion camps in­cluded 350 Amer­i­cans sent from Sta­lag IXB to the slave la­bor camp in Berga be­cause they were or “looked” Jew­ish, and 168 Al­lied air­men sent to nearby Buch­en­wald. Another 362 Amer­i­can POWS and more than 100 Bel­gians were killed in groups, in­clud­ing 84 shot in the “Malm­edy Mas­sa­cre,” a mass kill­ing first re­ported by As­so­ci­ated Press war cor­re­spon­dent Hal Boyle.

The ex­hibit is di­vided in five sec­tions: Cap­ture, Camp Life, Lib­er­a­tion, Global Con­flict — which in­cludes the “War Crimes” area — and After the Camps.

Camp Life in­cludes seven “war­time logs” — di­a­ries pro­vided by the YMCA to be sent in Red Cross pack­ages for POWs. Their con­tents have been scanned and put on iPads so vis­i­tors can page through them.

Early Amer­i­can POWs were air­men, who hit the ground at a rate of about 400 a month in 1943. Then came the Bat­tle of the Bulge, when nearly 23,000 Amer­i­cans, most of them in­fan­try, were cap­tured in Decem­ber 1944.

Some de­scribed lighter mo­ments.

“There are a num­ber of ways we spend our spare time. As I sit here writ­ing this, there are two across from me study­ing French, some are play­ing cards, oth­ers are read­ing books, the rest have the two gui­tars, any­thing to keep your mind oc­cu­pied and not think of home,” wrote Bruce L. Wor­rell, cap­tured in Italy in May 1994 dur­ing ser­vice with the 85th In­fan­try Divi­sion’s 359th In­fan­try Reg­i­ment and held at Sta­lag IIB.

There also are pro­grams and even pho­to­graphs of plays put on by POWs, col­lec­tions of cig­a­rettes and of mil­i­tary patches, and a lot of verse. There are song par­o­dies and also verses clipped from mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers. Some may have been writ­ten by the POW; oth­ers are writ­ten from mem­ory. Some were cop­ied and re­cop­ied from log to log.

The flight jacket was worn by Paul Hay­slip, the only crew­man on the B-26 bomber “Ram­blin’ Wreck” who was able to para­chute to safety be­fore it crashed. A pho­to­graph shows him and his crew at Lou­i­si­ana’s Barks­dale Field, now Barks­dale Air Force Base. The vi­o­lin’s neck was whit­tled from a chair leg by Clair Cline, an Army Air Corps pi­lot cap­tured in Hol­land and held in Sta­lag I af­ter his B-24 was shot down in Feb­ru­ary 1944. He and oth­ers scraped glue from chairs to hold it to­gether.

The ex­hibit runs through July 7, 2013 at the Na­tional WWII Mu­seum, 945 Mag­a­zine St., New Or­le­ans, www.na­tion­al­w­w2mu­seum.org or 504-528-1944. Adults, $21, se­niors, $18, chil­dren 5-12, $12. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.