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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
Indeed, life at Crossville was not what any of the officers had thought it would be. No one could have dreamt that when they were captured in Africa that their life in America would be like this. After all, Crossville had an infirmary, bathhouse, dining hall, rec hall, fire station, post office, and store. They even had tennis and soccer fields! The Germans called their new home “Camp Country Club”.
Colonel Harry E. Dudley Papers, 1916-1966, Tennessee State Library and Archives
As the men settled into their new life, they stuck to their Nazi ideals. Many men walked around camp shouting “Heil Hitler!”, their right arms stretched out to the sky, still saluting their formidable leader from thousands of miles away. As days stretched into weeks, the men tried to make their life as normal as possible.
2015.208: Even though camp was not as bad as they thought, a few prisoners still tried to escape. Some men thought it was their “self-understood duty, to avail himself of an opportunity to escape, and take up war-service again.”
“I was a tailor before the war,” one of the men said. “I could set up shop to fix our uniforms and any new clothing.” The others nodded.
Photo of POWs working at Crossville.
“My father was a carpenter, and taught me before I left,” another added. And so, they began to fill different roles at the camp. Some helped grow vegetables. Others cooked food in the dining hall. They ate scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes for breakfast. Foods some Americans didn’t even have.
They had tailors, carpenters, builders, even doctors. The enlisted men had to work, but the officers did not. Even though the officers didn’t have to work, some still did. Either way, all officers were paid a monthly salary of $20-$40. That’s about $360-$660 today.
The men did all their own chores, like washing dishes at the mess hall.
As the Germans set to work on their tiny towns, the town of Crossville needed help. The already small town had gotten even smaller. The sons and husbands had gone to war. The crops needed planting, the cows needed milking, and there were things all over town that needed to be repaired. Who better, they thought, to help with these chores than the prisoners of war?
Infirmary: A place to care for sick people.
Avail: Help or benefit.
Ideals: A standard of perfection or excellence.
Formidable: Causing fear or awe.
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