Thursday, April 18, 2013

Answer: POWs in the US?

I started part one by looking up Priest Lake, ID.  A quick look at shows that it’s in the upper part of Idaho, about 30 miles from the Canadian border.  The closest big towns are Coeur d’Alene (ID) and Spokane (WA). 

Next, where were the POW camps in the US during WWII? 

      [ POW camps United States WWII ]

I used “WWII” as the most common way to write the abbreviation for “World War Two.”  (But I was prepared to use other versions of the concept if this didn’t work.  It did.) 

There’s a great Wikipedia page on this topic (as I guess there would be—it’s the kind of thing that Wikipedia is good at), and it lists two camps (Camp Algoma and Camp Rupert) as located in Idaho. 

Once you know about camps Rupert and Algoma, it’s easy to see that Camp Rupert (which I found using Google Maps) is some 600 miles away, not exactly a nearby camp.  I doubt that they’d send POWs to work on trails that far away.

But finding Camp Algoma is a little harder. 

     [ “Camp Algoma” Idaho ]

This led me (as it did for Ramon) to a page put up by about German POWs in Idaho.  (It’s part of their Grade 8 state history lessons!)  This page told me that the Wikipedia page is incomplete!  There’s another POW camp:  Camp Farragut.  This page ALSO had a link to a page in Germany (with a .DE domain name) that told me a new word—Kriegsgefangene—this is German for POW.  “This,” I thought, “will come in handy later.   

In any case, we still have to find Camps Algoma and Farragut. 

Problem is, the only Algoma I was able to find in Idaho is in the town of Sagle, about 60 miles from Priest Lake.  (A LOT closer than Camp Rupert.  Plausibly close enough.)   Was it a camp?  Don't know. 

When I searched for

     [ “Camp Farragut” Idaho ]

I found a lot of information on the camp.  In particular, I found that in February 1945, a POW camp was attached to Farragut Naval Training Station on Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille  (near Athol, ID) received 750 German and Austrian POWs. They were given light work as gardeners and groundskeepers and forestry related tasks. 

This Camp was about 80 miles from Priest Lake, and as I found in document (which is a transcribed short memoir of Joachim Oertel, a German POW at Camp Farragut), the internees did a lot of manual labor of the kind seen in the above photo, but that life in the camp was pretty pleasant. 

The answer:  Well, it’s either Camp Algoma or Farragut.  But the documentation on Algoma is really thin. I just haven’t been able to find much.  (I did, though, find many references to Camp Algona in Iowa which even has a museum web site h, so I wonder if there hasn’t been a transcription error somewhere on the way.) 

Camp Farragut today (Google Maps image).  Now it's a State Park.

(Note the white square in the middle of Farragut State Park?  That’s the old brig for the camp.  The ovals seem to be left over from the days when the camp had 6 major housing/training sites.)

Part 2:  What did the Germans think about US POW Camps?

As commentor Andreas said, “it’s difficult to quantify” this kind of question.  There were propaganda issues on both sides (German and American), so this question requires getting beyond the official pronouncements.  And then there’s the difficulty of discriminating between POWs held on American soil and POWs held in Europe.  Andreas is right—this is a big, difficult, complex topic.  Luckily, we don’t need to write a thesis on this, but try to figure out HOW we could find this information.

I wanted to start by searching German resources—books, newspapers, magazines—for accounts about POWs (or, using the term of art we discovered above, “Kriegsgefangene”). 

The obvious query:

     [ Kriegsgefangene ]

quickly points out the difficulty here—there were MANY POWs (German, Austrian, US, English, Soviet, etc.) and the results are large and complex. 

Adding in the term “America” changed my results to be ALL from a single site: which is a site dedicated to German POWs from WWII.

 This is a great find, but I want to get more than just one site (which clearly has an advocacy position on this topic).  It does bring up a twist that I hadn’t known about beforehand.  American treatment of German POWs in Europe was apparently VERY different than German POWs in the US mainland. 

Doing the obvious Wikipedia search:

     [ Wikipedia Kriegsgefangene ]

Gets you to their page on POWs in WWII, with a breakdown by country of internment and origina of soliders.  (See the German Wikipedia article on this:  - "POWs of the Second World War") 

I have to admit I had no idea that over 3 million German soldiers were interned in the US during the war.  (There were a LOT of POW camps.) 

But from a SearchResearch perspective, the Wikipedia article also has links to writings by German authors.  One of those links looked promising:  Hans-Erich Volkmann (eds.): End of the Third Reich - the end of the Second World War. A perspective review . Published on behalf of the Military History Research Institute, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-492-12056-3 , page 278.  Interesting:  This book is hard to find until I realized that the title would be in German.  “Ende des Dritten Reiches - Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges : eine perspektivische Rückschau.” Once I realized this, I thought I’d try to find a scanned version of the book…. But no luck.  It doesn’t seem to be scanned!

So I had to back up and try another strategy.  This time around I thought I’d try a direct approach—that is, search for German content in German magazines.  My new query was:

     [ Kriegsgefangene in a...  ]  

Note:  This isn’t my whole query, and I didn't type the ...  I just got this far when typing and the moment I typed the a of what-I-thought-would-be “America” I stopped.  This is what I saw.  (BEFORE I finished typing anything else.) 

Notice that the completion that looks like correct German to me is [Kriegsgefangene in amerika ] (that is, America with a “K”).  I WAS going to spell it as I would in the US—America with a C. 

But once that suggestion was shown to me, I took it (by clicking on it)… completing my query as

    [Kriegsgefangene in amerika ]

Looking through the results I was able to easily find magazine articles (e.g., from Der Speigel) and books written in Germany (e.g., Kramer, Arnold: German POWs in America 1942-1946. Tübingen 1995; or Reiss, Matthias: The blacks were our friends. German POWs in American society from 1942 to 1946. Paderborn 2002) about the experiences of Germany POWs. 

Answer.... I don’t want to write a thesis about what Germans thought about internment in the US, but the summary seems to be that by and large, opinion of people who knew what internment conditions were regarded the POWs as being fairly lucky to escape the madness and deprivations of Europe. 

 Search lessons:  The first challenge was reasonably straightforward, except for the false lead of Camp Algoma.  (If anyone figures out what actually happened there, let me know!)

On the other hand the second challenge really was tough.  In this case, you HAVE to look for content in the language of choice (in this case, German).  Another lesson was to use the term of art IN the target language (in this case, Kriegsgefangene).  Once I found that term, and started searching in German, it became a relatively straightforward problem.  (Actually doing the complete analysis will take some time, but now you know how to do it.) 

Search on!

(And many thanks to CarolynM!) 


  1. Hi Dr. Russell

    [Pow Camp Idaho] and found

    There mentions these POWS Camps there: "The known camp locations are: Blackfoot, Franklin, Emmett, Farragut, Filer, Fort Hall, Idaho Falls, Marsing, Payette, Pocatello, Preston, Rigby, Rupert, Shelley, Sugar City, Thomas Upper Deer Flat and Wilder. Farragut and Rupert were the base camps." and no "Algoma". I believe you are right and it is in another state.

    In the same page also comes information of Farragut:

    Have a great day!

  2. Daniel, I followed you motto: “Search on!” and found the following:

    The brig you mention on the Google Maps image is nowadays a museum: “Museum at the Brig”.
    From a brochure:
    (German POWs - Beginning in 1945, FNTS also housed Prisoners of War (POWs) in nearby Camp Farragut. The POWs were German soldiers captured by U.S. troops in Europe and Africa. The POWs were treated as soldiers and not criminals. At FNTS POWs did maintenance, landscaping and even served as cooks at the Brig).

    On the ovals:
    The Naval training base consisted of six recruit camps. Each of the self-contained camps was designed to house, feed, and train 5,000 men at a time. There were six main camps. Each camp was laid out in the form of an oval with a huge drill field in the center.
    See also some maps in the book: “Farragut Naval Training Station” on page 17 and 18

    The camp was named after David Glasgow Farragut, the first Admiral of the United States Navy who is famous for saying, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

    Full speed ahead for the Search Challenge of next week.

  3. Hi Dr. Russell

    I have some questions about How to do queries.

    I noticed that you used "Kriegsgefangene in a..." you did not use "german" before Kriegsgefangene to narrow even more the query. That is because of the term of art? and because it is already in german?

    After reading your answer. I tried [german prisoners of war america] and then used translated foreign pages in german. Results of your query are much better than my query.

    I just found: and

    My question is: When is useful to use translated for foreign pages?

    Thank you, Dr. Russell and fellow SearchResearchers

    1. Ramon -- This is a great question. I'll write up a regular post about this.

    2. Thank you, Dr. Russell. Have an excellent week. See you on Wednesday in the new SearchResearch Challenge

    3. May I add to this topic. I know better now after this challenge that we could use 'translate pages' using 'Google translate'. Also your comment about using the german word for pow is so valuable. I should know better because I am trying to learn spanish and was advised to check in spanish for specifics eg. Spanish holidays, don't look for them in English.
      I found a number of german search engines or search engines that could handle german.I used ones that I could do in English. I tried doing some searches using german guesses and using google translate. Not too successful but I could have spent more time. By doing all of this I was left wondering- Is there a crossover/link between various search engines? Does google search look into the indexes of other search engines thereby making this whole point mute? Do I need to know about different search engines in different countries or different languages? I hope you understand my question.

      And for anyone that read my reply to this challenge somehow my part one went amiss and my part two may have been confusing. I don't know how I did that. Not that it changed the outcome.

    4. For the record, Google does all of its own crawling. It most emphatically does NOT crawl the indexes of other search engines. (They all add the NOCRAWL flag in the robots.txt file anyway, but the point is that we create our own indexes.

      On the other hand, Google DOES crawl all of the web pages it can find, in all languages we can find. Each page is crawled and then a language recognizer is run and the language is identified. Chinese isn't indexed the same way that English is (nor should it be).

      Google does this to simplify your search experience. While search engines in other languages (e.g. the Chinese engine Baidu, or the Russian engine Yandex) might have a slight advantage in their language models, I don't believe they crawl more content than Google does nor make it all available to you in a single search experience. (Or, to put it another way, I know about other search engines and use them on occasion, but it's almost never worth the effort for me as a professional researcher. I might feel differently if I was doing an intensive Chinese language search for medical reference items written in Chinese, but that's a task I never do.)

  4. Dan, My daughter and I had another go at this challenge and found a page we believe not previously mentioned:

    From this well researched entry we find that there were not 3 million POW in the US: "The Office of the Provost Marshal General (OPMG) supervised[11]:8 the 425,000 German prisoners"

    What did the Germans think of it all? Same page: “When I was captured I weighed 128 pounds. After two years as an American POW weighed 185. I had gotten so fat you could no longer see my eyes. ”
    —A German prisoner of war[13]:208. There are more happy thoughts recorded.

    Just a few more ideas on a fascinating topic.


    1. @jon -- I saw that one too, but I was *also* looking for journals and diaries published in Germany (which would likely have a slightly different slant).