Tables Turned on Them: Jews Guarding Nazi POWS Held in the United States
As the systematic murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators was taking place, Jewish soldiers in the United States Army participated in guarding, healing, and reeducating of some of the four hundred thousand German prisoners of war (PW) held in camps scattered across the United States. History has paid little attention to the participation of Jewish GIs at these camps and the role they played in preparing PWs to return and participate in a postwar democratic Germany. Very little is known about the experiences of these Jewish soldiers that prepared them to go face-to-face with German PWs, some of which were hardened Nazi party members. In addition, little is known about how the tour of duty in these camps affected the GIs' postwar lives. It was fifty years after the German PWs returned home that I found an unexpected gift my late parents left me that became a portal to discover stories of individual Jewish men whose deeds should inspire future generations on confronting anti-Semitism and racism. These men did not feel sorry for themselves being assigned to PW camps, did not request transfers, and embraced the change and focused on the things they could control. They viewed their roles not as custodians or babysitters of prisoners but as role models of Jewish men who were fit, trim, educated, held rank, and wanted to do more than just "ride out the war" in the zone of the interior. Their stories are about affecting positive change in the PWs' thinking and behaviors. Their mission of tikkun olam—"repair of the world"—is the subject of this book. How, where, and when they started and completed this mission is unique to each Jewish GI despite them having common basic training in Jewish upbringing and values. It is hoped that this book will inspire other Jewish soldiers who served at PW camps or their family members knowledgeable about their service to step forward and share their experiences. This could lead to a future updated edition of this book.
JUF News Article