One of my own female relatives served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War 2. She worked at a German POW camp, at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, MI. Because she was able to speak German fluently, she was a valuable “liaison” between the camp staff and the prisoners. She died in 2011, and her cremated remains were partially interred at a veteran’s cemetery in Southeast MI.
A group of soldiers at Fort Custer, 1942.
Many people can say they have “veterans” of war in their family. But few can say that their veteran family member had the experiences my Aunt Virginia did! I wish I’d been able to actually collect her stories about serving at Fort Custer, this source and this source can help fill in the details…
In general, the German POW’s were treated very well at Fort Custer. They were paid for the work they performed, which included helping to work the land and working in canneries. Prisoners were also fed well, and had to write to their families back home to stop sending food!
Here’s an excerpt from Lauren Hahn’s Germans in the Orchards: Post-World War II Letters From Ex-POW Agricultural Workers to a Midwestern Farmer:
The farmer’s son, Herbert Teichmann, remembers that for each 8-10 hour working day, the men were paid 80 cents in canteen coupons, which could be spent at the camp store on candy bars, cigarettes, and toiletry items.
Farmers from the heavily German areas of Michigan – Vassar and Frankenmuth in particular – bonded well with the German POWs.
By 1946, the prisoners were all sent back, but not all went back to their families right away. There was much work to be done in rebuilding areas ravaged by war in France and the United Kingdom, so a good number of German POW’s were sent there to help rebuild.
Fort Custer is also home to a state-run recreation area, where people can camp, fish, swim or rent cabins.