In fact, visitors are often surprised to learn that the majority of the German prisoners at Camp Algona were not “hard core” Nazis. According to a letter from Camp Algona Colonel A.T. Lobdell written January 9, 1947, about 40% of the prisoners were Catholic, 40% were Protestant, and the rest were “Hitler worshippers” as he termed it or “Anti-Christ.” Therefore, the majority of prisoners did not fully adhere to Nazi belief system. They had been drafted to fight in a bloody war and wanted to return home to see their families, friends, and live peacefully. Garner W. Hughes, who worked for a company that supplied Camp Algona with produce, stated “I met many German prisoners and they were people just like us, not wanting war, strong family connections, and for the most part were energetic and friendly people.”
However, this did not mean that Camp Algona experienced no problems with Nazism. Often, the prisoners who had been part of the S.S. and Gestapo in Germany caused many of the problems. For example, in January, 1944 Colonel A.T. Lobdell reported that 91 S.S. arrived at the camp. Lobdell stated that these men were “insolent, insubordinate, and it was evident that the P.W.’s in our camp feared the new arrivals.” Many refused to work. In response, Lobdell came out with the “no work, no eat” rule. The majority became compliant within a week and a half. After 3 ½ weeks, the rest agreed the work.
Even though it seems that the majority of German POWs at Camp Algona (and in the United States) for that matter, were not full blooded Nazis, this perception of Germans seems to have lingered in the American mind, especially in pop culture. Take, for instance, the new film, Pitch Perfect 2. The film centers on a female a cappella group (The Barden Bellas) that goes to an international competition, where they discover their biggest rivals are a German team named Das Sound Machine. You can few footage from the movie and become introduced to the music, appearance, and portrayal of this German team by viewing this short featurette “We Are Das Sound Machine” by clicking on the following youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X49hx02UHqg.
It is poignant that the film writers chose a German team (as opposed to a team of another nationality) to act as intimidating, scary rival that the Barden Bellas must face. The German team (in my opinion) is portrayed as frightening, militaristic, and draws on Germany’s Nazi past to instill fear. Why does this vision live on, while the image of the “energetic and friendly” people George Hughes encountered seems forgotten? How does Pitch Perfect 2 inform us of modern American perceptions of Germany and its people? Please comment below with your thoughts and view points.
Note-All the quotes and statistics gathered in this blog post were found in Camp Algona POW museum’s book A Collection of Memories of the Algona Prisoner of War Camp 1943-1946 by Wes H. Bartlett. For more information about the book, please comment below as well.