Foreign Prisoners of War
During times of war, Georgia military installations have served as internment camps for enemies taken prisoner, World War II (1941-45).
During the Spanish-American War (1898), Fort McPherson, on the southwest side of Atlanta, held sixteen Spanish prisoners of war who were captured in Cuba. Their stay was short because of the war's brevity. They were housed in the post guardhouse, which later became the post chapel.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the War Department established a camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, at the site of the Battle of Chickamauga, just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This camp initially held German merchant seamen whose ships were captured in American harbors as the nation entered the conflict. (At this time there were three other prisoner of war camps in the United States: Fort McPherson, Georgia; Fort Douglas, Utah; and Hot Springs, North Carolina.)
By mid-1918 the seamen were removed to Fort McPherson, where another camp of more than 1,300 men was established. Six hundred of the enlisted men at Fort McPherson were then sent to satellite labor camps to work on farms. Those who remained caned chairs or worked on road construction. Officers and the wealthy were never forced to work. Fort Oglethorpe was left largely with the German cultural and intellectual elite. This civilian group, while complaining frequently to the Swiss observers about their internment, found intellectual and creative stimulation in their associations with each other and produced remarkable performances ranging from a musical rendition of Beethoven's symphony Eroica to a dramatic production of Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts. They also printed a newsletter, the profits from which were given to poorer prisoners, and they established a school in which courses ranging from Japanese to physiology were taught.
Though the war ended in 1918, many inmates in Georgia camps were not freed and deported until May 1919. Some 300 were detained at Fort Oglethorpe until April 1920.
During World War II prisoners of war were again interned in Georgia. By 1943 German, Austrian, and Italian POWs were held at Fort Oglethorpe, Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Camp Stewart (later Fort Stewart), and Camp Wheeler near Macon. The Italians were usually housed separately from the Germans and Austrians. The larger camps were constructed to house 2,000-4,000 prisoners. POWs were treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, a circumstance that, according to numerous anecdotes, was surprising to them. They were supplied with adequate food, sleeping quarters, and medical care,
As in World War I, installation camps had satellite camps of from 250 to 750 men that supplied workers for labor-poor southern industry and agriculture, and prisoners received half-rations and experienced activity restrictions if they refused to work. At one time before the War Department streamlined the camp system, Camp Gordon had satellite camps as far away as North Carolina and Florida. Workers harvested cotton, tomato, and peanut crops, and they worked in numerous industries, including pulpwood and lumber. By mid-1944 the shirts emblazoned with the large letters "PW" were a common sight in Georgia. Some German and Italian POWs befriended soldiers and farmers, and they were invited into Americans' homes for meals and entertainment.
With the war nearing an end, in 1944 the War Department began a reeducation program, which included photos and films of Nazi atrocities, to reorient inmates' thinking. Some prisoners also received lessons in reading English and in American history and government. When the war ended in 1945 all prisoners of war, with the exception of those serving sentences in U.S. penal institutions, were sent home. Some applied in their home countries to return to Georgia, and a few began to return during the 1950s, both to escape the devastation in Europe and to pursue employment opportunities.
Media Gallery: Foreign Prisoners of War