|POWs waiting for ocean transport, from Arnold Krammer's|
book Nazi Prisoners of War in America.
According to the 1929 Geneva Convention, prisoners of war (POWs or PWs) could work for the good of their captors, as long as certain criteria were met. First, they had to be either enlisted men or non-commissioned officers. PW labor could not be used for work directly related to the war effort, and all assignments had to meet certain safety guidelines. Lastly, the PWs had to be paid for their work. Prisoners were a guaranteed product of combat in WWII, and keeping them in camps in the European war zone was problematic. The United States had never had so many war captives, and with no practical experience and only theoretical guidelines to work from, it seems they worked things out as they went. Shipping the prisoners back to the U.S. was a logical move. Rather than having to ship more food to Europe or sacrifice provisions meant for American troops, they could use the mostly empty supply ships returning across the Atlantic to ferry prisoners instead.
|Branch Camp No. 7, Timberville, Virginia. From|
Gregory L. Owen's book Wehrmacht Autumns.
After an initial meeting on June 5, 1944 to ascertain the interest in war prisoner labor, county agent Holsinger set the bureaucratic wheels in motion by submitting a certification of need in order to have prisoners allocated to the area. Branch Camp No. 7 was established on the farm of Herman L. Hollar, three miles west of Timberville, on a field full of jagged limestone that made it good only for grazing, not planting. The facility was planned to accommodate 250 prisoners, 50 soldier guards, and 8 officers. Americans and Germans alike would live in tents at the camp and have separate dining facilities. Local workers installed sewage, water, and electricity to the camp, and the first prisoners to arrive in August 1944 assembled the canvas tents, as well as 8’ barbed wire fences around the perimeter. The fence had gates in the center of the east and west sides, with a road bisecting, plus 8’ guard towers on each corner; the fences and guard towers were the only things in the camp built of wood. Soon the Timberville camp was full of German prisoners, who arrived by open truck with the town’s population lining the streets to watch. Those interested in obtaining PW labor applied to the county agent’s office. If they were assigned men, they would receive instructions about their responsibilities. Employers had to pick up PWs at the camp, though prisoners working at farms as far south as Harrisonburg and Bridgewater were trucked to the Greyhound bus station on North Main Street in Harrisonburg and picked up there. Demand for labor surpassed supply, so labor was allocated based on priorities—harvesting was priority number one. PWs also made hay, hauled in small grain, performed orchard work, cut corn, filled siloes, and worked in industry. (Zigler Canning Cooperative Inc. and Rockingham Poultry Marketing Cooperative Inc. were the two main industrial contractors for the Timberville camp, though PWs also worked at City Produce Exchange, the Harrisonburg Junk and Hide Company, and Mason’s saw mill, as well as food processing plants in the Timberville/Broadway area.) The government set three months as the maximum contract period, so a truck convoy returned the 170 prisoners to Camp Pickett on November 1, 1944. As anticipated, the year was a bumper crop for both apples and peaches, and the harvest might not have been brought in without PW labor. Because of this success, the camp opened again in 1945 from July 16 to November 16, when it served as a branch of the Front Royal base camp under the direction of Lieut. Nathan Mandel.
|PWs enjoying a drink. From Arnold Krammer's|
book Nazi Prisoners of War in America.
|PW Herman Vogt, who had fond|
memories of the Shenandoah
Valley. From Gregory Owen's
book Wehrmacht Autumns.
|Prisoners working at Fort Story, Virginia. From Arnold|
|Krammer's book Nazi Prisoners of War in America.
Compared to fighting on the front lines, harvesting apples in the beautiful Valley must have been a positive experience for German PWs. As for Rockingham County residents, meeting “the enemy” in person and seeing that the Germans weren’t much different from the locals may have been equally positive. This is a fascinating part of our county’s history, and I’m grateful to Gregory L. Owen for all the work he has done in researching and recording it. I highly recommend reading his works for more information, particularly Wehrmacht Autumns: German Prisoners of War in the Plains District of Rockingham County, Virginia During World War II, which is available at Massanutten Regional Library in the Genealogy room (GEN 940.412 O).
by Kristin Noell
 See 1929 Geneva Convention, part III, third section, articles 27-34 for more information on PW labor
 Owen, HRHS Newsletter, 1.
 Owen, Wehrmacht Autumns, 94.
 Ibid., 47.
 Ibid., 40.
 Owen, Wehrmacht Autumns, 59.
 Ibid., 24.
 Krammer, 263.
 Ibid., 267.
- “10 German PW’s at Work Here.” Daily News-Record, Jul. 24, 1945.
- “200 Prisoners of War Available in Rockingham after July 16th.” Daily News-Record, Jul. 6, 1945.
- Austin, Luanne. “On the Homefront.” Daily News-Record, Mar. 15, 2007.
- “Every Source is Being Tapped to Get Farm Labor.” Daily News-Record, May 11, 1944.
- Gansberg, Judith M. Stalag, U.S.A.: The Remarkable Story of German POWs in America. New York: Crowell, 1977.
- ICRC. Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, Jul. 27, 1929. https://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Treaty.xsp?documentId=0BDEDDD046FDEBA9C12563CD002D69B1&action=openDocument
- Jost, Scott. Shenandoah Valley Apples. Chicago: Columbia College Chicago Press, 2013.
- Krammer, Arnold. Nazi Prisoners of War in America. New York: Stein and Day, 1979.
- Mellott, Jeff. “'Migrant' Workers – Exhibit Recalls When POWs Rescued Farmers.” Daily News-Record, Sep. 22, 2010.
- Moore, John Hammond. “Hitler’s Wehrmacht in Virginia, 1943-1946.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 85(3), Jul. 1977.
- “Nazi Prisoners Come to County.” Daily News-Record, Jun. 16, 1945.
- Owen, Gregory L. “Prisoners of War in Rockingham County During WWII.” The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society Newsletter 29(2). Spring 2007.
- Owen, Gregory L. Wehrmacht Autumns: German Prisoners of War in the Plains District of Rockingham County, Virginia During World War II. Timberville, Va.: Gregory L. Owen, 2003
- Patterson, Dana L. “Church Altar a Reminder of German POWs in Area.” North Fork Journal. Sep. 16-22, 1992.
- “Timberville’s Peach Harvest in Full Swing.” Daily News-Record, Aug. 23, 1944.
- “War Prisoner Camp Meeting.” Daily News-Record, Jun. 1, 1944.
- “War Prisoners Arrive Today.” Daily News-Record, Aug. 1, 1944.
- “War Prisoners to Leave Today.” Daily News-Record, Nov. 1, 1944.
- “War Prisoners to Work Here.” Daily News-Record, Jul. 20, 1945.