We Were Each Other's Prisoners: An Oral History of World War II American and German Prisoners of War

We Were Each Other's Prisoners: An Oral History of World War II American and German Prisoners of War

by Lewis H. Carlson
     
 

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During the Second World War, Germany captured nearly 94,000 American soldiers, while the Allies shipped almost 380,000 Germans to the United States. We Were Each Other’s Prisoners compares, for the first time ever, stories of POWs from both sides of the conflict: From the anti-Nazi German soldier who tried desperately to turn himself in rather than

Overview

During the Second World War, Germany captured nearly 94,000 American soldiers, while the Allies shipped almost 380,000 Germans to the United States. We Were Each Other’s Prisoners compares, for the first time ever, stories of POWs from both sides of the conflict: From the anti-Nazi German soldier who tried desperately to turn himself in rather than fight for Hitler, to the U.S. prisoner who thrice escaped his German captors—the last time to join Russian troops in the Battle of Berlin, to the Jewish-American prisoner who was sent to a slave labor camp.Culled from more than 150 interviews with 35 American and German surviving POWs, the book addresses larger political and psychological issues:• What does it mean to be a prisoner, especially for men whose cultures prize individual heroism?• Why did conditions differ so dramatically in American and German camps? How were these men received upon their return to their homeland?• How have they coped with the long-term effects of incarceration?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To survive as a POW is an act of heroism, despite the accusations of cowardice often associated with being taken prisoner, according to Carlson, a history professor at Western Michigan University. In this fiercely personal work, Carlson includes 35 oral histories resulting from more than 150 interviews that he conducted over five years. A brief headnote to each history places its subject in the context of WWII. The American accounts describe the often ghastly conditions these men endured, which contrast starkly with the more placid prison routine of the Germans in U.S. camps. How each man coped is a story in itself, but universal for the Americans were hunger, fear, brutality and torture, while German POWs were often subject to abuse by fanatic Nazi fellow prisoners. Carlson chronicles the effects of imprisonment on both Americans and Germans, showing that whereas Americans often tried to escape, many German soldiers deserted to the enemy, preferring prison life in the States to the chaos at home. The interviewees were eager to talk to Carlson, and many unlocked painful memories of the dreadful events they had repressed for years. One of the most dramatic accounts is by an American POW who, along with fellow POW Kurt Vonnegut, helped dispose of dead Germans after the fire bombing of Dresden in 1944. The revelations of the prisoners make riveting reading; some speak of still trying to obtain veteran's benefits. Carlson has done a service to history and to the reader with his compilation of these wrenching accounts. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
An affecting wide-angle overview of the POW experience during WW II.

Drawing on interviews with more than 150 US and German soldiers who were interned, Carlson (History/Western Michigan Univ.) offers a judiciously organized survey that lets a host of exprisoners of war speak for themselves. He first addresses the severe mental shock sustained by combatants who were taken captive on the battlefield or (in the case of downed airmen and D-day paratroopers) behind the lines. The author next focuses on the physical hardships, short rations, and other privations endured by Americans confined in the Third Reich's typically primitive camps; by contrast, their German counterparts who sat out the fighting in Stateside lockups had a far easier time of it. In some instances, moreover, American POWs identified as Jewish, or incorrigible, or suspected of being spies were sent to concentration camps; over 50 years later, their matter-of-fact recollections of the ghastly events they experienced bear eloquent witness to humankind's infinite capacity for inhumanity. Carlson goes on to debunk the Hollywood myth that escape was a preoccupation of either Allied or German POWs; precious few ever made it beyond the wire, or even tried. Covered as well is the grisly fate of informers as well as undercover agents who tried and failed to infiltrate inmate populations on either side of the Atlantic and, the Geneva Convention notwithstanding, the dilatory pace of repatriation from the US. While almost all American interns were freed by their own or Soviet troops before V-E Day, fewer than 75,000 of the 380,000- odd Germans held in the US were sent home in 1945; in addition, many of those who made it back to Europe in 1946 spent another three years as POWs in England or France.

A scholar's illuminating rundown, complete with telling anecdotal detail, on a great war's largely forgotten men.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465091232
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
06/26/1998
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
1,160,900
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile:
1050L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Lewis H. Carlson is professor of history and director of American Studies at Western Michigan University.

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