As was mentioned earlier, POW camps housing Axis soldiers were spread all over the country during World War II. Camp Aliceville was a very large POW camp in Alabama, at its peak housing 6,000 prisoners. In fact, Aliceville was the largest POW camp in the entire southeastern United States. The first German POWs to arrive at the camp were primarily from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps, beginning in 1943.
Aliceville was unique among POW camps in the United States in that the German prisoners housed there created extremely rich cultural lives for themselves behind the barbed wire and guard towers. The prisoners created a camp newspaper, entitled Der Zaungast. They also put on theatrical productions, formed musical groups, and held landscaping contests among the prisoners. Education was also encouraged at Aliceville, and faculty from the University of Alabama taught classes at the camp.
But, like other POW camps in the U.S. during World War II, Aliceville had its share of problems as well. Escape attempts occurred, and one group of 6 German prisoners broke out of Aliceville and made it more than 200 miles to Memphis, Tennessee before they were captured by the FBI for stealing a car.
In addition to escape attempts, another recurring theme in POW camps in the U.S. was the distinction between hard-core Nazi prisoners and those who were simply in the military but didn’t necessarily believe in the Third Reich’s rhetoric. Hardline Nazis in camps, including at Aliceville, harassed and attacked fellow Germans who they believe had turned their back on the Fuhrer and their country. Camp Aliceville’s doctor estimated that 2 or 3 German prisoners were murdered by every month at the camp by hard-core Nazis who believed their victims had become too comfortable with their American captors. While Camp Aliceville began as a regular POW camp, by 1944 it turned into strictly a segregation camp for prisoners who remained devoted Nazis.