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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Emilee Dehmur
The American soldiers were shouting louder than they normally did, and their tones were harsher. “Hurry up. Get in there!” they yelled as they led all the prisoners into the movie theater. They were forced to sit on the floor. The lights dimmed and the clacking of the film reel hummed behind them as it began to play.
The images on the screen were gruesome. It was from allied liberators in Germany. They were filming their entrance on the Jewish concentration camps. Places like Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The same places the Germans had named some of their tiny camp towns after.
Colonel Harry E. Dudley Papers, 1916-1966, Tennessee State Library and Archives.
German Caption Reads: This is Josef Kramer, the commander of the German concentration camp in Belsen. It was used by English troops. The Army-captured Kramer was previously commandant of the Auschwitz camp.
German Caption Reads: Clare Booth Luce, American Ambassador, speaks to a Czech prisoner from Buchenwald. Deputies from the American Congress, the British Parliament, and the press have found irrefutable evidence of Nazi brutality in the camps.
As the film showed the frail bodies of Jewish prisoners and panned over all of those who had been murdered, many of the Germans began celebrating. They cheered and clapped for their Fatherland. Until it was shown again. And again.
German Caption Reads: Female members of the SS supported the male supervisors in a number of Nazi concentration camps. Released prisoners testified that the women participated.
The German Officers stared at the emaciated bodies and the empty eyes of those who had survived. They were forced to watch as the ovens, where bodies were burned, were shown over and over. By the end, most of the officers sat silent and cried.
It wasn’t long after the film was shown that they got to go home. Germany had surrendered. Many of the prisoners did not want to return home. Their life in America had been good. Their future in their war-torn country was uncertain. While they tried to stay in America, all POWs had to be sent back to Europe. So they went.
Some would come back to America in the future. Others stayed in Germany. Many men used the skills they had learned at the Crossville Internment Camp University to start new jobs and new lives. Whatever they did, they never forgot their time at Crossville.
The tear down of the camp started shortly after the Germans left. The University of Tennessee later purchased the site. It became a 4-H camp for kids that is still used today. Not many of the original buildings are there. All that’s left of the POW camp today are the photographs and the memories of the time the enemy came to Tennessee.
Harsher: Severe or mean, not kind.
Gruesome: Causing horror or disgust.
Allied Liberators: The people on the side of the United States who freed those who had been captured by the Nazi’s (Germans).
Concentration Camps: A place where the Nazi’s (Germans) would keep people they did not like, like Jewish people. The place was dirty, unsafe, and the people were starved and murdered. Thousands of people died in these camps.
Emaciated: Very thin because of hunger or disease.
Surrendered: To give up.
What was something that surprised you about how POWs were treated at Crossville?
How do you think Americans felt about the way the POWs were treated? Why do you think they felt that way?
Why would it have been important for Americans to treat German POWs so well?
Crossville is now a 4H Camp for kids. You can watch a short video talking about the history of Crossville here.
This Tennessee Crossroads also talks a little about Crossville and the POW Camp at the Military Memorial Museum, also located in Crossville.
Duane Marsteller. “Camp Crossville”. The Historical Marker Database. Accessed Nov. 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=150187
Letsgoplateau. “Camp Crossville”. Edge Trekker. Accessed Nov. 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJqPD-w9e9U
“The Clyde M. York 4-H Center has quite a history…”. UT Institute of Agriculture. Accessed Nov. 2020. https://clydeyork4hcenter.tennessee.edu/camp-history/
Jeff Roberts. “POW Camps in World War II”. Tennessee Encyclopedia. Accessed Oct. 2020. https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/pow-camps-in-world-war-ii/
Gerhard Hennes. The Barbed Wire: POW in the U.S.A. Hillsboro Press. Oct. 30, 2004