Sunday, October 26, 2008

Carolina Newspaper Columnist Questions "Escape" Shooting of German POW

At left is a photo of Werner Meier, a sergeant (Feldwebel) in the Luftwaffe, who flew a Stuka Junkers 87 bomber in France and Russia before being sent to serve with German ground forces in North Africa. He was captured in early May 1943 and became one of the first 600 POWs sent to Camp Aliceville in Alabama. He spent almost a year in Aliceville and then was sent to Camp Sutton in North Carolina, where records show he was shot and killed on July 11, 1944, while trying to leave the camp. He was buried with military honors at Camp Buttner on July 13.

My friend and correspondent Gunther Wening, a relative of Meier's who lives in Holland, sent the above photo and other information while I was working on Guests Behind the Barbed Wire. This week Gunther sent me copies of two newspaper articles, written by Louise Pettus, that appeared in Carolina Gateway. Read together, the two articles add some puzzling details to the brief mention of Werner Meier in my book.

Pettus wrote that, during WWII, a man named Robert Vaughan drove a truck that was outfitted with benches and covered on top. It picked up POWs from Camp Sutton and took them to a farm near the village of Van Wyck that was owned by a Mr. Sachenmaer who owned a hosiery mill in Charlotte. One of his sons remembers the POWs tossing small bags of candy and gum to the local children. One POW gave Vaughan a handcarved replica of the ship that had brought him to America.

A man named David Alexander says a relative named Glenn Alexander, the farm manager at that time, told him it was prisoners who pointed out Werner Meier walking on the road--walking toward the work area, not away from it. Guards were patrolling the road in a Jeep. They fired twice, and Meier was killed. Mr. Alexander always believed Meier was trying to return to the camp, not run away from it.

A woman named Betty Broome, who was ten years old at that time, says she remembers being told that the prisoner had tried to escape, but she didn't think that made sense because he didn't know anyone in the area and didn't have any place to go.

Meier's relative, Gunther Wening, teaches German to students in Holland. He is thinking about writing short articles about World War II in his own region in Holland. He had this comment about the newspaper articles he sent:

"I am really astonished by the circumstances of Werner's death. Until now, everybody in the family had a picture in their mind of a fleeing and running away Werner Meier, who gets shot. I can hardly believe that somebody gets shot dead who walks on a street. I have been a soldier myself and can't understand why they shot immediately and there was something like a warning shot, but then again, I don't know the instructions the guards had and the exact situation."

If any of my readers would like copies of the two newspaper articles, please send me a comment with your e-mail or snail mail address, and I will send them along. If anyone has additional information about Werner Meier or about the circumstances of his death, please share that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

THICKET Magazine Features Aliceville POWs

The October/November issue of the new THICKET magazine has a story on page 75 entitled "Behind Enemy Lines." Based on my friend Stacey Torch's visit to the Spring 2007 reunion of former POWs, their guards, and members of the Aliceville community, the article includes interviews with Hermann Blumhardt, who was captured in North Africa in 1943, and Thomas Sweet, who served as a guard at Camp Aliceville during World War II.
Stacey quotes from letters written by POWs, thanking Aliceville residents for care packages sent to them and their families when they were desperate after the war. As Thomas Sweet told Stacey, his experience in Aliceville made him understand that "although other people may have a different nationality, they're the same as us. It never pays to judge people before you get to know them."

Looking back during the reunion, Sweet expressed what many people there were thinking and feeling when he said, "I've always said I have a soft spot in my heart for the people of Aliceville. You had to have been here to experience it to understand why."

If you'd like to read this article or others about "Alabama Redefined," as THICKET characterizes its theme, you can go to the magazine's website at

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Encyclopedia of Alabama Is Excellent Resource

At left is a photo of German prisoners of War arriving in Aliceville, Alabama in June 1943, after their capture in North Africa. The photo, which appears in the article titled "WWII POW Camps in Alabama," is from the collection of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

I am so pleased that the newly launched online Encyclopedia of Alabama lists my book, Guests Behind the Barbed Wire, as one of the references for its excellent article on the four major camps and the many satellite labor camps that housed German POWs in Alabama during World War II. The article offers an interesting overview for anyone interested in this subject.

I was fortunate to attend the recent Alabama Humanities Foundation luncheon that signaled the launching of this wonderful online resource. Held at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, it was attended by educators and humanities-oriented members of the community as well as Governor Bob Riley and Senator Richard Shelby. Alabama author and historian Wayne Flynt deserves tremendous credit for shepherding this project to completion. The effort was monumental, and so are the results.

Be sure to visit soon to explore the wide range of information about Alabama--its history, its culture, its industry, and many other facets. A good place to begin your exploration is with Wayne Flynt's excellent essay on the heritage of the state--especially if you don't know a great deal about Alabama. The site is colorful, easy to navigate, and loaded with useful information.

I've added the Encyclopedia of Alabama to my Linked list over to the right, so you can click to it any time you visit my blog.