German Prisoners In Maysville

When the United States went to war in 1941, what to do with enemy prisoners of war was among the last considerations of a country reeling from a Japanese attack and preparing for war in Europe. The nation had never held large numbers of foreign prisoners and was unprepared for the many tasks involved, which included registration, food, clothing, housing, entertainment, and even reeducation. But prepared or not, the country suddenly found itself on the receiving end of massive waves of German and Italian prisoners of war. More than 150,000 men arrived after the surrender of Gen. Erwin Rommel's Africa Corps in April 1943, followed by an average of 20,000 new POWs a month. From the Normandy invasion in June 1944 through December 30,000 prisoners a month arrived; for the last few months of the war 60,000 were arriving each month. When the war was over, there were 425,000 enemy prisoners in 511 main and branch camps throughout the United States.

During WWII German prisoners were housed in a fenced in lot in what now is known as Wald Park. During the week during the summer they worked in Mason County tobacco fields. The following is Father Al Fritsch’s recollection of a Sunday. Father Fritsch is a Mason County native.

The only time I ever had a formal birthday party was when I turned ten in late September, 1943. My mother proved to be one of the first soccer moms. She took a car load of my classmates, after ice cream, down to the Limestone Park on the creek flats behind Maysville to sit on the bluff and watch the German prisoners of war. The camp was quite confined and held about a hundred men They played a modified type of soccer or "football" where they used their heads and feet, but no hands. They were quite animated and enjoyed being far from the front and having an afternoon off. This soccer playing was fascinating for the respectable crowd with little else to do on Sunday afternoons in pre-tv days. In the morning prisoners had services led by a German-speaking Presbyterian minister from Maysville and a similarly talented Catholic priest from Mayslick.

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