Brothers in Arms? African American and Jewish American Prisoners of War in World War II Europe
Anderson, Anna Marie
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Movies and television series such as Stalag 17 (1953) and Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971) have shaped popular perception of World War II prisoner of war camps. Under this conception prisoner of war camps fell into two main categories: German run camps where mistreatment was rare and men were adequately housed, fed, and clothed, versus Japanese run camps where prisoners were abused, malnourished, and did not have proper living quarters or clothing. Following this trend, the few scholarly works on prisoners of war tend to focus on Japanese run camps or daring escape attempts in Europe. This study analyses the treatment of African American and Jewish American prisoners of war held in World War II Europe on the part of fellow prisoners and German camp guards. Tracing their experiences with racism and anti-Semitism through the interwar years, basic training, and combat it demonstrates how minority prisoners based their responses to capture on their history with prejudice. Both groups recalled fear of being held as captives within a racialized society. Jewish Americans noted a significant increase in anti-Semitism from guards, but most fellow prisoners tried to protect them. African Americans remembered that little changed in their treatment from white prisoners, but German guards treated them as equals to other prisoners. These men then returned home to find that U.S. society was unreceptive to minority experiences that did not fit with the widespread conceptions of prison of war camps.