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American enthusiasm from a German soldier captured during World War II
Recently I read about the the horrible atrocities committed by Hitler's Nazis at death camps during World War II. Many of the Allied Forces taken prisoner by Nazis also were in some instances not treated well. In stark contrast to how the German forces treated many prisoners of war (POWs) I wanted to relate a story of a German soldier taken prisoner by allied forces towards the end of the campaign in Europe. His name was Robert and his impression and views of America might surprise you as they did me years ago when I met him.
First let me tell you how I met Robert. I was fortunate enough to live in Germany for several years. To be exact, I lived in a beautiful little Bavarian spa town about 35 miles southeast of Munich called Bad Aibling. I had an American made car in while in Germany. It was a Ford that for some reason kept breaking the radial belts on the rear tires. Maybe I was driving to fast on the Autobahn? Ford told me I should take it in to the local authorized Ford mechanic located near Bad Aibling in a little burg called Kolbemoor. That's where I met Robert.
At the shop, I was greeted with a hearty Gruss Gott, the traditional greeting in Bavaria, by a mechanic when I entered the door. Then upon being recognized as American, an even heartier hello! The shop was a family business and luckily, even though I had two years of German under my belt, they spoke English. I soon discovered that the mechanic was the owner's son. I related the problem I was having with car. He wrote a few things down and told me they would take a look. Then out of the blue he asked me if I was an American. I told him I was and I lived in Bad Aibling working in the United States Air Force. He kind of smiled and said " my father was a POW in America". Uh oh!
So my first thought was, "I am screwed"! These people do not like Americans and I am probably going to get charged an arm and a leg for the repairs! Or worse my car would be sabotaged and I would have a horrible fiery crash on the autobahn! Maybe that was extreme, but I was thinking worst case scenario here! The mechanic walked away into the office area and I could hear him talking in German to some one. The next thing I hear is a booming voice saying, " An American?! An American?!! Where is he?!" Now I am thinking bigger uh oh! Maybe I was on track with the fiery car crash!
An older German man then came out of the office, and boomed in very good English "You are an American?" I answered yes and he enthusiastically said, "America, I love America!" Not quite what I expected! This man was Robert and every time i went there after that he treated me like his best friend! Over time I learned why Robert loved America even though he spent several years as a POW.
Robert was a young man during WW II and was drafted into service to be an infantryman. I don't really know the specifics of where and how it happened, but he was taken prisoner by allied forces sometimes toward the end of the war in Europe. Most likely he served in the Afrika Corps and was captured in 1943 along with a large number of troops serving in North Africa. Like about 400,000 other axis prisoners he soon found himself being processed and transported to prisoner of war camps in the U.S. The fact that he ended up in Texas makes it even more likely he was captured in North Africa. According to the Geneva Convention POWs had to be housed in conditions based on the conditions they fought under. He ended up at a destination about 11 miles southwest of Abilene, Texas named Camp Barkeley. This camp was activated in February 1944 and at one time had over 800 German POWs interred at the site.
He started out at the camp on a work party doing manual labor and got to interface occasionaly with locals. The locals treated all the prisoners extremely well. He claimed the living conditions were actually better than what he had experienced in the German army! Good food, nice barracks, and he was treated with respect. Robert was soon "promoted" to driving a food truck delivering meals to the work parties at various locations around and outside the camp. A job which he told me loved because it was a "kuchen" job! He was less restricted and the guards and locals began to talk to him more. He saw little by little the freedoms Americans enjoyed and somewhere along the line he realized the Nazi propaganda about Americans wasn't true. I'm sure the Americans exposed to Robert also realized that all Germans were not Nazis. Robert was a very personable guy and I am sure he was like a German ambassador to Texas whenever he got the chance to talk about his beloved Bavaria.
I asked Robert once if he ever tried to escape? I got a loud, "Baaaaaaaaah!!!" and a dismissing wave of the hand! He said, "where would I go to? Back to Germany?" So I never mentioned it again. As for Germany, the end of the war came and several months later Robert was sent to Fort Hood for evidently some type of out processing. There he was asked if he would like to participate in a special program for prisoners being repatriated. He agreed and was given the opportunity to learn about the automotive business. This is where Robert truly realized his love for America's people and opportunity. He stayed in America for several years and learned many skills that would help him succeed in life. Robert eventually returned to his home in Germany and owned and operated his own automotive business turning what could have been a very negative experience into a big positive. He believed America had enabled him to be prosperous and was thankful.
Despite coming to America under less than desirable circumstances, Robert realized what America was all about.... Freedom and opportunity. Two things he truly appreciated after growing up during the height of Nazi Germany. Although I only knew Robert a short time, and my interaction with him was short, I learned not to assume everyone will have the viewpoint that you might expect! He seized what made America great and took it back to his homeland. If a German soldier held captive in the middle of Texas can develop that type of love for America, it should really be no challenge for those of us born and raised here. I still remember his enthusiasm for America to this day!