The Barbed-Wire College: Reeducating German POWs in the United States during World War II

By Ron Robin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
Variations on the Theme of
Reeducation

DURING the spring of 1946, the German POWs in the United States prepared for their long-awaited departure to Europe. For many, however, the final destination was not Germany. Much to their dismay, most prisoners were assigned one final act of penance; they were being shipped to France as members of labor battalions. Home, and the end to their journey through purgatory, had elusively moved out of their grasp.

It was under these circumstances of disappointment and resentment among the POWs that the U.S. Army decided to poll a large sample of over 22,000 prisoners gathered at embarkation centers in order to assess the achievements of the Provost Marshal General's (PMG) ambitious reeducation program. Much to the satisfaction and surprise of the pollsters, the departing prisoners dutifully completed their anonymous questionnaires with politically correct answers. Resentment over their shipment to France did not seem to induce displays of rebelliousness.

The figures appeared to be quite impressive. Seventy-eight percent of the polled prisoners disavowed the idea that individuals existed only to serve the higher authority of the state. They declared acceptance of the “American” concept that the “state exists to serve the people.” Only 6 percent still professed that “Germans are a superior master race destined to rule the world”; 79 percent rejected this central premise of Nazi dogma, while the remaining 15 percent chose not to answer. In question after question, an overwhelming majority expressed sympathy for democracy and rejection of National Socialism. Democracy was the preferred form of government, and Germans, they declared, were already prepared for, or at least willing to experiment with, a new political order. 1

The question, “Knowing what you know now, if Germany could fight THE SAME WAR over tomorrow and win, and you know that you would come out alive, would you be for it?” planted in the middle of the poll, induced 83 percent of the prisoners from the 36–40 age group to declare a reluctance to fight another war. The “determined aversion to fight another war” was significantly weaker among the younger prisoners. Twenty-nine percent of the prisoners from the crucial 26–30 age group expressed some degree of willingness to fight the same war all over

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