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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 Dehmer
The first of a five-part series.
Captured. The heat from the African sun made them sticky with sweat. Their uniforms stuck to their bodies as they marched in line. Their captors walked alongside them with guns to make sure they did not escape. One of them asked, “Was warden sie mit uns machen?”
“I don’t speak German,” a soldier with a gun replied.
“Where are you taking us?” the captured soldier asked again, only this time in English.
"Oh,” the gunned soldier snorted, “we’re sending you to Tennessee.”
Colonel Harry E. Dudley Papers, 1916-1966, Tennessee State Library and Archives
These are an example of tags that identified the POW soldiers.
For seventeen days they travelled. Most of the Germans had been serving under General Erwin Rommel in the Afrika Korps. One man had been shot down from his plane on a bombing mission. Another, slumped in the back, had a chest wound that he had been carefully nursing along the way.
At exactly 7:30 p.m. on November 28, 1942, the train slowly pulled into the station at Crossville, TN. The train car they were sitting in smelled. Lice and fleas covered the men. The hunger they felt showed on their skinny bodies. They were prisoners of war, or POW, and were at the mercy of the Americans.
American soldiers flung open the doors and started unloading the prisoners. “Silence!” one of them shouted. “Obey or you will be shot,” he added as the prisoners filed into the trucks that were waiting to take them to their POW camp.
The road was bumpy and dark. They continued deeper and deeper into the woods until it seemed like they were miles from civilization. Around one sharp curve, where many accidents happened, a sign read Prepare to Meet Thy God. The prisoners shifted uneasily in their seats. One near the front of the bus gulped loudly as he whispered, “we’re here.”
The walls were too tall to see over and were wrapped in barbed wire. Guard towers stood tall and served as a reminder that they were prisoners, always being watched. As they unloaded from the bus, they looked around again and saw how far from home they really were. Miles from any seaport, with dangerous roads, on a mountain 2,000 feet high. No hope in sight.
Photo of one of the guard towers at the Crossville POW Camp.
General Erwin Rommel in the Afrika Korps: A well-known Military General for the German Army under Adolf Hitler. This group of soldiers fought in Africa.
Prisoner of War: A person, usually a soldier, captured in war.
Civilization: A town or city, place with many people.
Uneasily: Filled with worry.
In what Tennessee city did the German prisoners first arrive?
Where had most of the captured Germans been fighting in the war?
What descriptive words would you use to describe how the German POWs would have felt arriving in Tennessee?
Why do you think Tennessee was used as a place to house POWs captured during WWII?
Visit here to see the historic marker placed to show where the camp was located in Crossville, TN.
Click here to see what that area looks like today.
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