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

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

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

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


"The Barbed-Wire College is a fascinating account of the Army's attempt to re-educate German POWs during World War II. Ron Robin's well-documented study brings to light this virtually unknown chapter in World War II history."--Edward M. Coffman, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Emeritus)

"By studying a crucial episode that historians have overlooked-the United States' effort to 're-educate' 380,000 German prisoners of war-Robin illuminates the fascinating relationship between humanistic scholarship and government policy in the years during and immediately following World War II. His analysis, based on superb archival research, is at once thoughtful and persuasive."--Richard Polenberg, Cornell University

"A well-written and thoroughly researched study.... Anyone with an interest in the state of American culture during the war years will have to read this book."--William L. O'Neill, Rutgers University


On June 15, 1945, about a month after V-E Day, the Office of the Provost Marshal General (OPMG) declassified the reeducation program for prisoners of war. the general public officially learned of the covert American program to rehabilitate German soldiers in the some two hundred pow camps throughout the United States. in a series of press releases the pmg informed a hitherto critical American press that the government had not, as many feared, shirked its duty. Enemy POWs would return home well prepared for the new world order, having received the necessary exposure to American values.

The prisoners, of course, were not caught off-guard by the announcement. the existence of the program was common knowledge within the camps. the efforts to disguise its presence had been awkward, perhaps purposefully so. As for the staff of the Special Projects Division (SPD) who ran the program, they were quite relieved. the clumsy veil of secrecy had evoked a mixture of confusion and derision among the prisoners. Few inmates had accepted the argument that such central projects as Der Ruf operated without an American guiding hand. Moreover, the SPD's cautious policy of avoiding any head-on confrontation with National Socialism merely beclouded the clarity of the American creed as relayed to the prisoners. Now that Germany had finally fallen, the spd was absolved of the need to navigate a circuitous path to the hearts and minds of the prisoners. the reeducation staff began plotting a new and bolder course for the program.

A sense of urgency characterized the restructuring of reeducation. War Department policy called for the departure of all POWs by March 31, 1946. All military personnel involved in the program were anxious to demonstrate tangible and positive results prior to repatriation. Accordingly, the spd set about revising its syllabus, timetable, and objectives.

As a point of departure, the spd abandoned its effort to influence every facet of prison life. Instead, the program officers sought to identify the noncommitted and “moderate” anti-Nazis, expose them to a crash course in American democracy, inform them of American objectives in occupied Germany, and send the graduates of this program back to Germany before the remaining POWs.

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