Sunday, October 3, 2010

Please come visit my new blog!

If you are still checking in here for information about prisoners of war and about my two books, Guests Behind the Barbed Wire and North Across the River, please mark your favorites for my new blog site and come visit.

You will now find us at There are a number of new posts I think you will find interesting. Just click from right here and see the latest posts.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Beginning this week, the Geneva POW blog site will move to a new location. Please visit us at later this week. All of the old posts will be available and can be checked by topic, and new posts will begin shortly.

Thanks to all who have been loyal readers. I hope to continue to provide useful information about his topic beginning in mid-August.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Review of Horst Freyhofer Visit to the Aliceville Museum

Horst Freyhofer has been retracing some of his father's footsteps during WWII, and that project led him to the Aliceville Museum on March 11. Christian Freyhofer was a German POW at Camp Aliceville. He had been drafted to fight for Germany in Russia in 1940. Later he was taken prisoner by the British in North Africa. After recovering from serious injuries, he was shipped to the US and spent time in POW camps in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.

Freyhofer's children remember him telling stories of how hot is was and how he worked hard "in the swamps." He said he was treated well and even respected by American soldiers and some civilians he encountered, at least until after the German surrender in 1945.

During Christian Freyhofer's time in Camp Aliceville, he was able to pursue his love of acting, and he performed in plays the POWs put on, including Heinrich von Kleist's Der Zerbrochene Krug (shown in photo at upper right). Later, Freyhofer was sent to Camp Gordon Johnston in Lanark, Florida, which was a training camp for American amphibian soldeirs as well as a POW camp location. (NOTE: Hermann Blumhardt also spent time in this camp.)

"It is astounding how much freedom and opportunities POWs had expressing themselves...," said Christian's son Horst in an April 9 thank you letter to the Aliceville Museum. Horst and his brother Udo left Germany for the US to pursue opportunities in "the new world." They were both inspired by their father who told them about the decent treatment and material comfort he experienced at Camp Aliceville. "Descriptions of the food he ate made our mouths water," wrote Horst. "Emaciated kids, that we were, we could only marvel at his descriptions of things we had never heard about, such as pineapples, avocados or shrimp. No wonder we eventually came over here to see for ourselves."

NOTE: The above information is based on an article in the May 2010 issue of Museum News.

The Aliceville Museum, like many other wonderful historical locations, is experiencing difficult times during the current economic challenges. If you are interested in helping preserve WWII history, which the Aliceville Museum is doing so effectively, please consider becoming a museum member. An individual membership is only $25. You can also become a sponsor for a contribution of $100 or more. Contact the museum at

In addition to monetary support, the Aliceville Museum always welcomes donations of artifacts. Here are some of the things currently on their wish list:






Saturday, April 24, 2010

The family of Dr./Major Arthur J. Klippen (shown left at Camp Aliceville in 1944) has donated a painting of the Camp Aliceville Station Hospital to the Aliceville Museum in his memory. Earline Lewis Jones, a former civilian employee with the camp's Quartermaster's office, has verified that the painting depicts the Station Hospital.

For additional information about Arthur J. Klippen, please see the blog entry for December 15, 2009.

The museum has received another painting recently--a portrait of Elsie Milhelic Ruzic who worked as a civilian employee of the US Corps of Engineers while her husband served in the US Navy in the Pacific. This portrait was donated by the subject's daughter, Susan Ruzic Newshelier.

Both of these paintings were created by German POWs held in Camp Aliceville during WWII. They are on display at the Aliceville Museum in Aliceville, AL

Friday, April 23, 2010

Remembering Daisy Earle Day

I had a telephone call a couple weeks ago from a ninety-eight year old woman who lives not far from me. She had read Guests Behind the Barbed Wire and was inquiring about one of the Aliceville residents mentioned in the book--Miss Daisy Earle Day. Miss Day's father owned a grocery store in Aliceville during WWII, and she taught school there at that time.

The name was familiar, but I didn't remember anything else. The woman who called explained that she had gone to Judson College with Miss Day and wondered what had become of her.

When I checked my notes, I knew why I remembered the name. Those of you who have read Guests will remember Mary Lu Keef, the little girl whose father brought the family from New York state when he took a job at Camp Aliceville during the war. Pickens County, Alabama was a strange new world for Mary Lu, who attended Aliceville Elementary School while both of her parents worked at the POW camp. In interviews, she often referred to her third grade teacher as an encouragement and inspiration to her when she came to Aliceville. Turns out that teacher was none other than Miss Day. Mary Lu thought so much of Miss Day that she sought her out for a visit when she returned to Aliceville for one of the POW camp reunions after she grew up.

I sent an e-mail to Mary Bess Paluzzi, director of the Aliceville Museum, to see if she knew the whereabouts of Miss Day, who would also be 98 years old now. Mary Bess remembered her well and noted that she had been the organist for the Aliceville First Baptist Church for fifty years. Her nephew had moved her to a nursing home in Brewton in 2003, and she passed away there in 2008.

I called the woman back and told her what I had been able to find out. Although she was sad to hear that her college friend had passed away, she was pleased to know of the many memories others had of her.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sylacauga Hosts Second Annual Marble Festival

This post doesn't have much to do with POWs or with my first two books, but I have been working for a year now on a research project that deals with the history of marble quarries in the Sylacauga, Alabama area. I thought my readers might like to see some views of the marble festival that was held there last week.
Sylacauga sits almost on top of a 32 mile long vein of mostly white marble. This sugar-white stone only appears in one other location in the world--Carrera, Italy, which is where Michaelangelo's marble came from.
This was the second annual marble festival in Sylacauga, and sculptors came and worked in the town park where visitors could watch as they coaxed incredibly beautiful images out of the stone. One such piece that my friend Marianne Moates Weber fell in love with and purchased last year shows a highly polished heart emerging from the rough marble.
If you look closely at the piece in the foreground of the lower right photograph above, you will see that it shows the heads of two girls facing in opposite directions. I was told that these are the daughters of the sculptor and that one went to Auburn and one to Alabama, which explains why they face in "opposite" directions.
I am continuing to gather information and interview people who grew up in the marble industry company village of Gantt's Quarry. Anyone who is interested in this story or has information to share is welcome to leave a comment. One thing I am especially looking for at the moment is a photograph of the Gantt's Quarry Methodist Church.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Freyhofer Visit Postponed. North Across the River Sold Out.

Yesterday I made the announcement that Horst Freyhofer, the son of a former Camp Aliceville POW, would visit the Aliceville Museum this Thursday, March 4. That visit has been postponed until Thursday, March 11, at 10 a.m.

If you have not yet explored the Aliceville Museum, it is well worth the trip to Pickens County, Alabama. Many artifacts from Camp Aliceville are there, along with correspondence from former POWs and former MPEG guards, and items pertaining to other aspects of World War II.


I'd also like to notify my readers today that my first book, North Across the River, is officially sold out. I am extremely grateful to all those who took an interest in this little known tale of the Civil War. This blog will continue to post new information about Roswell and Sweetwater Creek when it becomes available, so please continue to share.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Pete Mayhall Photos from May 1944

Bruce Mayhall visited Alabama recently and collected some family pictures from Camp Aliceville days. The photos shown here were processed on May 5, 1944 and show a group of young people--MPEG guards stationed in Aliceville and local residents enjoying a picnic outing on a spring weekend.

Bruce's mother Ruth kept the photos and put captions on the backs of many of them. She often referred to this fun-loving group as "the Aliceville Gang." It included Pete and Ruth Mayhall, Billie Frances Pate, Kathryn Pate Johnson, Olga Gibson Robinette, Hugh and Dot McCall (at left), Billy Mouchette, and a soldier named Jake.

Many of the MPEG guards who came to Aliceville enjoyed dating Aliceville residents, and quite a few married and settled in the Aliceville area after the war.

ANNOUNCEMENT: On Thursday, March 4, Horst Freyhofer, the son of a former Camp Aliceville POW, will visit the Aliceville Museum. Freyhofer was captured in North Africa in 1943 and was interned in Camp Aliceville before being transferred to other POW camps. Museum Director Mary Bess Paluzzi will welcome Mr. Freyhofer to the museum, and we hope she will share some of his insights with us in the future.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A One to One Connection in the Midst of War

I had the pleasure yesterday of giving a talk about Guests Behind the Barbed Wire to a wonderful audience of library supporters in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. Among those who attended were several people who grew up in the Aliceville area and shared their memories of the German POW camp experience in their town. Also in the audience were several American veterans who had seen combat in Germany and one man who spent time in Stalag Luft III during the war.

I hope to share more of their experiences in future blog entries, but one story I heard yesterday touched me deeply, and I wanted to share it today. One dark night on the front lines in Germany, an American soldier was in his foxhole, staring out into the night and wondering what would happen next. He heard a rustling behind him and, with chills up his spine, turned to see what had caused the noise. To his surprise, a German woman quietly handed him a freshly baked loaf of bread. "I thought maybe you had nothing to eat out here," she said.

A simple story, but one that reminds us that people care about each other, one or one, in even the most difficult and hate-filled circumstances.

That story reminded me of one I told in Guests Behind the Barbed Wire, too. A woman in Aliceville offered a German POW a glass of cold sweet tea while he was cutting her grass on a hot and humid summer afternoon. When her neighbors criticized her for "aiding the enemy," she responded quietly that her son was serving somewhere in Germany and she hoped that, if he were thirsty, a German woman would give him something to drink.

If you happened to see last weekend's edition of CBS Sunday Morning, you already know that Steve Hartman's video essay echoed this same theme some 60 years later. He sent an inflatable globe up with the last astronaut crew and asked them to randomly point to three places on the globe. He then traveled to India, Latvia, and Oman and randomly picked out three people from the local telephone books and shared their life stories.

Steve shared the common life experiences of these three people and noted that, on an individual basis, people around the world are pretty much the same as far as family concerns, ambitions, and cares. He ended his piece with a comment about how the world might improve if we could all know each other's stories.

It has been my experience that the people of Aliceville and many, many of the soldiers I have met from both sides of World War II have enriched their lives by taking time to learn each other's stories.

Friday, February 5, 2010

POW Camp Highlights from Owosso, Michigan

Although it was one of the largest, Camp Aliceville in Alabama was certainly not the only prisoner of war camp in the United States during WWII. One of my readers sent a link to the Shiawassee District Library website in Michigan for more information about Camp Owosso. Events at Owosso were the basis for Gary Slaughter's novel Cottonwood Summer, which I mentioned in a previous blog. (See October 1, 2007 blog entry.)

Camp Owosso was a much smaller operation, but like Camp Aliceville, its first prisoners came from the battlefields in North Africa. Later, prisoners from the European theater were added. In all, it is estimated that Camp Owosso held between 200 and 1,000 prisoners. They were held inside a fenced compound with tents pitched in rows. Each tent could hold six prisoners.

Most of the prisoners at Camp Owosso worked at the W. R. Roach Canning Company, but they could also be hired by local farmers. Although there were rules against fraternizing, many of the farmers included the prisoners with their family at lunchtime.

Many folks in the area remember the prisoners as "well-behaved," but there were two escape attempts. One involved some help from two local girls, and the other involved walking away from farms. In both cases, the prisoners were caught and returned to camp.

There was also a case where a group of prisoners saved a woman from a fire. The wife of the superintendent of the canning factory had just gone home after giving birth to her tenth child. A group of German POWs entered her house, wrapped her in a mattress, and carried her to safety. The POWs also helped fight the fire and saved some of the family belongings from the fire.

You can read more about this camp at the Shiawassee District Library website The photos above, showing POWs registering and playing soccer, are from that website. You can also read a fictionalized version of some of the Camp Owosso events in Gary Slaughter's book, Cottonwood Summer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wendell Parrish interviewed for Library of Congress Veterans Project

Wendell Parrish was an American armorer and waist gunner shot down over Germany in 1944. He spent time in Stalag Luft IV as a prisoner of war and participated in the long, forced march of American POWs near the end of WWII I used his experiences in Guests Behind the Barbed Wire to compare and contrast American and German POW treatment during the war.

Wendell is a native of Selma, Alabama, but now makes his home in Aliceville. (See the April 21, 2009 blog entry for additional information.) The two photos above, which were shared with me by Selma resident Bill Porter, through reader John Coon, show Wendell in the job he is best remembered for in Selma. He was the much loved and admired Director of the YMCA, and Bill Porter worked with him there for many years. I should add that my husband, Barney Cook, who is also from Selma, has many great memories of experiences at Camp Grist and at the YMCA under Wendell's guidance. In both photos above, which were taken at Camp Grist in the 1960s, Wendell Parrish is on the far right in the top row. In the photo on the right, Wendell's son, Wendell, Jr. is the first boy from the left in the first row. Bill Porter is third from the left.

During the Veterans Day observance at the Aliceville Museum this past November, Libby Shaw conducted an interview with Wendell that has been submitted to the Library of Congress Veterans Project Libby Shaw, sister of Aliceville Museum Director Mary Bess Paluzzi's, said all those in attendance had tears in their eyes when Wendell told how he learned of the birth of his first child while exchanging information over a fence with other POWs on Christmas Day in Stalag Luft IV. (For one version of that Christmas story, see Guests Behind the Barbed Wire, p. 439.)

With the people of Selma and of Aliceville, we continue to honor the accomplishments of "this great American patriot," as John Coon called him in a recent e-mail.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Walter Buettner, Puppeteer of Camp Aliceville

When I wrote Guests Behind the Barbed Wire in 2007, I knew that the German POWs in Camp Aliceville had had a puppet theater and wooden marionettes. I knew that they had staged puppet plays, but I had no names or personal stories to put with the few black and white photos.

Recently, through information shared by Mary Bess Paluzzi from the Aliceville Museum, I have been able to translate additional materials and put together a fuller picture of Camp Aliceville's puppeteers and puppet plays.

Walter Buettner (1907 to 1990) was a career puppeteer like his father August. By 1929, he had taken some of the old puppet plays his father had presented at carnivals and fairs, refined them a little, and was presenting them at schools as well as fairs.

In 1933, as the Third Reich was gaining power in Germany, puppet plays were banned, and Walter went to work first as a construction laborer at an airport building site between Celle and Lueneberg, then later at the Nobel glycerine works near Geesthacht. In 1940, he was drafted into the marine artillery of the Wehrmacht (the Germany army). There, he found a superior officer who gave him an opportunity to give puppet play performances for his fellow soldiers as a kind of morale booster at the front. Walter worked with his puppets as part of the framework of German army welfare in occupied France until he was captured in 1944.

He was captured by the British and sent to the United States, where he and many other prisoners of war ended up at Camp Aliceville. As Astrid Fuelbier describes his experience in her book, Handpuppen-und Marionetten Theater in Schleswig-Holstein 1920-1960 (Kiel: Ludwig 2002), Walter Buettner did not enjoy working in the compound kitchen, so he set out to search for others in the camp who might work with him to set up a puppet theater.

He was successful in his search. The painter Ernst Hummel was a POW from Karlsruhe. Hummel had once cared for the props and costumes of a marionette theater kept by a Frankfurt dentist (W. J. Caesar) in the attic of his home, and he laid out a plan for a similar theater in the POW camp.

Franz Vernahmer, a POW from Dortmund, was a puppet maker and used his creativity to fashion tools for puppet making from things on hand like rusty files. Herbert Wille had been a sheet metal worker and an electrician, so he became the general handyman for the puppet theater. Others who helped were Karl Heinrich, a teacher and musician from Ebenrode in East Prussia, and a POW from Magdeburg who became the stage manager.

The first puppet production at Camp Aliceville was Indienfahrt (Indian Journey), which Walter had performed earlier in Germany. Later, the group entertained with Schloss Elmenor, based on Oscar Wilde's short story, "The Canterville Ghost." Once the group had acquired actual wooden marionettes (like those of Mephisto and Faust in the photo at top left), they presented other plays, including "The Goose" by Hans Steguweit.

When Camp Aliceville closed, Walter spent additional POW time picking cotton in Mississippi before returning to Germany. His puppets, which had been left behind, were packed up in a large packing case and eventually shipped to him in Germany through the International Red Cross.

After the war, Walter returned to puppet theater as a career. He settled not far from Hamburg in 1951 and built his Kasperhaus (Punch and Judy-type puppet theater) and became known worldwide as Der Heidekasper (The Pagan Punch).

NOTE: The photo of puppets (Faust and Mephisto) used by Walter Buettner and some information in this article are from the Wikipedia article about Walter Buettner. Translation by Ruth B. Cook

Friday, January 15, 2010

Former Camp Aliceville POW Sends New Year's Greetings

Wilhelm Schlegel was born in Asslar, Germany in March 1918. He studied in Wetzlar and returned to his hometown to be hired as a bank clerk in 1937. Two years later, as Hitler plunged Germany into war, he was called up to six months of mandatory service in RAD, the German National Work Service. Then, as required, he joined the German army, received training in wireless communications and participated in military campaigns in Russia and France.

By May 1942, Wilhelm was in North Africa with the 4th Panzer Division wireless unit, and it was in North Africa, on the fertile Tunisian peninsula of Cape Bon, that he was captured by the British in May 1943.

Wilhelm arrived in Camp Aliceville near the end of the summer in 1943. He was assigned to Company 19 in Compound E. Although he left the United States after the war in March 1946, Wilhelm was transferred to French custody, and it was not until January 1948 that he was able to return home, resume his banking career, marry and raise a family. (See my book, Guests Behind the Barbed Wire (Crane Hill, 2007), for the rest of his story.)

Many years later, Wilhelm returned to Aliceville, Alabama with his family for reunions of the POW camp staff, prisoners, and townspeople. During visits, he often gave a speech about world peace and the value of freedom. He and his family became houseguests and fast friends of Chuck and Jane Gwin. Chuck is a banker in Aliceville, and the two men had much in common. The photo at left above shows a kindergarten class helping Wilhelm celebrate his 85th birthday at the Aliceville Museum. His grandson Philip enjoyed the company of the other children. In the background of this photo, you can see former Aliceville POW Hermann Blumhardt playing German and American folk songs on his accordion for the children.

This week, across the miles and the memories, and in among the legacies of war and peace, I received a wonderful New Year's e-mail from Wilhelm Schlegel. In addition to personal wishes for health and joy of life in the coming year, Wilhelm wrote the following (translation follows):

Wir leben in einer Zeit der Ungewissheit und bangen um den Frieden in der Welt , die nicht zur Ruhe kommt. Gerne denke ich an die Zeit in Aliceville und die lieben Freunde, die ich gerne wiedersehen moechte, zurueck--aber in meinem Alter sind die Strapazen zu gross. So lebe ich gerne mit guter Erinnerung an Alabama.

TRANSLATION: We live in a time of uncertainty and are concerned about peace in the world, which does not come. I think with pleasure about the times in Aliceville and the dear friends that I would like to see again. However, at my age, the strain would be too great. So, I live with my good memories of Alabama.

I, too, have good memories of Aliceville and of the many friends, both German and American, that I have met there and with whom I have shared good times and hopes for world peace.

With Wilhelm, I wish all of my readers herzlichen Gruessen und den besten Wuenschen for the year 2010.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Four Positives Scheme to Remain Positive

On December 4, 1943, German POW Hermann Blumhardt wrote in the small diary he kept that his friend Walter Felholter was being moved to the Camp Aliceville hospital because he had diphtheria.
Walter remembers that his sore throat had become worse and worse. "I couldn't swallow, and it was swollen," he has said. At first, he was very sick, but his condition gradually improved and he found, as time went on, that he liked the camp hospital. The food prepared by Elma Henders was excellent, no work details were required, and there was plenty of time and solitude for reading and learning English.
In February 1944, Walter and a number of other prisoners who had been diagnosed with diphtheria were moved from the camp hospital to a quarantined area in Compound B. They were moved because influenza had hit the camp, and the hospital beds were needed for new patients. Because these men were still considered contagious for diphtheria, they could not have close contact with other POWs. They ate their meals together in the Compound B. mess hall after all the other POWs were finished.
Every Wednesday and Saturday morning, camp nurses came into the compound to collect throat cultures so they could determine the status of the POWs. If a prisoner tested negative for diphtheria three cultures in a row, he was considered cured and returned to his regular barracks and his regular duties.
Because Walter Felholter and others had heard stories about POW transfers to labor camps, they came up with a plan to continue their quiet and pleasant status in Compound B for as long as they could. Whenever they had their throats swabbed, the four men would switch their glass slides before the nurse came in to label them. This allowed them to make sure that no one who had already received two negative evaluations would receive a third (confirming that he no longer had the disease). In this way, the last "four positives" (pictured above) were able to remain in Compound B until late May.
"We liked to stay in the hospital," Walter has said, "because we didn't have to work then. Otherwise, we had to truck somewhere to pick cotton or something else."
A SIDE NOTE: If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the neat wooden shingles and the base of a window box behind the bench where the men are sitting. There is also some shrubbery to the left of the bench. During their first few months in Camp Aliceville, the German POWs transformed their bare tarpaper-covered barracks into somewhat pleasant surroundings with shingles, awnings, flower boxes, and landscaping. They used their canteen money to purchase the materials needed.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Information About Camp Aliceville Diphtheria Epidemic

The photo at left shows "the last four positives" who were treated for diphtheria at Camp Aliceville in the fall of 1943. Although I have not identified all four German POWs in the photo, the man on the far right is Walter Felholter, who is quoted frequently in Guests Behind the Barbed Wire.

I have just finished reading an article by Captain Stephen Fleck, Captain John W. Kellam, and Major Arthur J. Klippen who were the American medical officers at Camp Aliceville when the diphtheria outbreak occurred. The article, "Diphtheria Among German Prisoners of War" was published in The Bulletin of the U. S. Army Medical Department in March 1944 (pp. 80 to 89).

Apparently, the diphtheria was brought to Camp Aliceville by the first wave of German POWs who were captured in North Africa in the spring of 1943 and arrived in Aliceville that summer. In all, 51 diphtheria patients were admitted to the camp hospital during September and October. Later prisoners arriving from North Africa had been immunized for the disease, and no new cases were reported after October. The medical officers concluded that the POWs brought the diphtheria with them because camp inspections indicated sanitary conditions and because, although both POWs and guards obtained their food and water from the same sources, no American personnel became ill.

The POWs received excellent care, including antitoxin and other treatments. The article notes the assistance of the hospital registrar, Lieutenant George L. Runyon, and the laboratory staff, which included Norma Klippen, Helen Klippen, Laura Downer, and Sergeant C. W. Terry.
In the next blog entry, I will share Walter Felholter's amusing story about the period of time that he was quarantined in Compound B while being tested for diphtheria.