In the back corner of Finn’s Point NC is a small row of 13 white headstones, marking the final resting place of German prisoners of war held during World War II. These 13 German POWs died while imprisoned at Fort Dix.
|The German POW corner at Finn's Point National Cemetery|
In the United States, at the end of World War II, there were 175 Prisoner of War camps containing almost 425,000 prisoners of war (mostly German). The camps were located all over the US but were mostly in the South, presumably because of the expense of heating the barracks. Eventually, every state in the Union, with the exception of Nevada, North Dakota, and Vermont, had POW camps.
Since I know where most of the readers of this blog reside, I’ll answer the question that will be forming in your mind.
“I wonder if there were any German POW’s in my state?"
South Carolina: Camp Croft (Spartanburg), Fort Jackson (Columbia)
North Carolina: Camp Butner (Butner)
California: Camp Ashby (Berkeley), Camp Angel Island (SF Bay Area), Camp Beale (Marysville), Camp Cooke (Lompoc), Camp Lockett (Campo) , Camp Ono (San Bernardino), Camp Pomona (Pomona), Camp Stockton (Stockton), Fort Ord (Monterey)
Florida: Camp Blanding (Orange Park), Drew Field (Tampa), Eglin AF Base (Valparaiso), Whiting Field (Milton)
|German Prisoners of War|
The American POW camps did more than simply detain captured soldiers—they helped fill a vital gap in the American society during the war, helping to fill labor shortages in agriculture, construction and factories across the nation. For the most part, they were a quiet and peaceful group. Although security wasn’t especially tight (it varied according to location), there were relatively few escape attempts. However…..
Harry Girth was born in Breslau, Germany (now part of Poland), and enlisted in the German Army at the age of 17. He went on to become a paratrooper, but 3 days into his first combat tour, was captured near St. Lo (France) during the Normandy invasion of 1944. Along with 4,000 other German POWs, he was sent to Fort Dix, where he would spend the rest of the war.
The Germans were held captive in an isolated camp off of Range Road. (Note: I routinely travel Range Road to access many of Fort Dix’s training areas.) When the war ended, the POWs waited to be repatriated to their home country….but Harry had another idea. Over the past few months, as the war was obviously coming to an end, Harry had been stashing supplies for his eventual escape….civilian clothes, shoes, and other essentials he would need. Two days before he was to be shipped back to Germany, Harry slipped into his civilian clothes, walked out of the camp, and became Henry Kolmar.Henry took a train to Philadelphia and worked a series of temporary jobs on Market Street. Eventually, he moved to Atlantic City, found work as a house painter, a contractor, and later became a successful interior decorator. While a contractor, he was actually hired to construct a project on Fort Dix, where he had been held and escaped. Eventually, Henry met the young Judy Godel and got engaged. He did all of this while evading the Military police, civilian police, and the FBI.
Shortly thereafter, Judy’s mother-in-law-to-be spotted his photograph in a magazine article on five German POWs still at large. Persuaded by his family, Henry turned himself into authorities on 8 May 1953. Henry Kolmar / Harry Girth was deported to Mexico (not before marrying Judy) and entered the United States legally (since he had married an American) six months later.
After his marriage and lawful return to America, Henry / Harry went on to raise a family, and continued to live in the Atlantic City area until he passed away in 2000.
If you are interested, I’d recommend an article from the “San Antonio Light”, which on 19 July 1953 published a story with the catchy title: “I Married My Enemy: The heartwarming story of a woman who became the bride of an escaped German prisoner of war—now to get his chance to be a good American”.
|Article from the San Antonio Light; 19 July 1953|
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that here at Fort Dix, on 3 March 1960, SGT Elvis A. Presley was discharged from active duty in the US Army.
|Special Order 63, releasing Sgt E.A.Presley from active duty at Fort Dix, NJ.|
|Sgt Presley, wearing the path of his unit, the 3rd Armored Division.|
Apparently, I’m sitting in an epicenter of American history.
That’s it for the history lesson….come back next time and I’ll fill you in on what I’ve actually been doing.