Hitler's Soldiers in the Sunshine State: German POWs in Florida

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Hitler's Soldiers in the Sunshine State: German POWs in Florida. By Robert D. Billinger Jr. The Florida History and Culture Series. (Gainesville and other cities: University Press of Florida, c. 2000. Pp. xx, 262. $24.95, ISBN 0-8130-1740-8.)

It has been more than two decades since the publication of the first general history of the German prisoners of war (POWs) in America during World War II. Interest has burgeoned since then, and there are now more than a dozen state and local studies, numerous oral history projects, three novels, two excellent POW museums (one in Ruston, Louisiana, and another in Aliceville, Alabama), a variety of master's and doctoral theses and dissertations, and one scurrilous book that accuses Eisenhower of ordering the mass starvation of a million German prisoners. The newest and one of the best state studies, Robert Billinger's Hitler's Soldiers in the Sunshine State, concerns the German POWs' experiences in Florida.

Of the 378,000 German soldiers incarcerated in the United States during the war, about 10,000 spent part or all of their time in Florida, and not in the tourist bureau's Sunshine State, but rather in the rural Florida of swamps, woods, sugarcane fields, and old-time county sheriffs with shotguns and dogs. Aside from the U-boat crews who arrived as prisoners in September 1942, the Germans came in two waves, starting with tough Afrika Korps captives in late 1943. Most in this first wave went to one of two large POW camps: Camp Blanding, near Starke, and Camp Gordon Johnston, on the outskirts of the isolated Panhandle town of Carrabelle. Each base camp sustained smaller branch camps, ultimately twenty-five in all, that brought the POWs closer to the sugarcane fields and the local pulpwood and citrus industries. A fortunate few became maintenance personnel at the Army-commandeered Miami hotels that were being used for recuperating American soldiers. …

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