Matthew Schott POWs
4-ti THE BAY 1OWN SUN Sunday, January 8, 19*4 Louisiana Prison Camp Like 'Hogan's Heroes' LAFAYETTE. La fAP> _ Snhntt ^n/V D«^«K_J jr.-i._. ,,~ . _ . ^•"^ LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) "Hogan's "Hogan's Heroes" — the TV comedy comedy about American soldiers in a German prison camp during World War II — might have been true to life had it been set in a Louisiana camp for German prisoners of war, says a professor at Southwestern' Louisiana University. At a camp in Gueydan, prisoners are said to have manned manned the machine guns in guard towers while their American guards enjoyed a Christmas party, party, said Dr. Matthew Schott, a history professor who began research about German POWs three years ago. Schott said he also has heard that POWs ordered to pick 100 pounds of cotton a day in Ruston got off more lightly by training a big dog to jump into their bags before weighing. Schott and Rosalind Foley, a Lafayette novelist who suggested the project when she was collecting collecting background material for a book, interviewed 25 of the former Lousiana POWs in Germany last October. "We went there ... to see how much the verbal accounts we collected collected from Louisiana people had been exaggerated," Schott said. "Frankly, we were skeptical about stories of prisoners of war guarding themselves and sneaking sneaking out of camp to meet the local girls. "But after asking the Germans, •Did it happen? 1 and hearing their responses, we can only conclude: Such things did happen." Schott said up to 50,000 German prisoners — including many who had been in Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps — spent time in Louisiana. "Only Texas and California harbored more of them," said Schott. "There were never more than 20,000 in the state at one time, but the authorities moved prisoners around the U.S. frequently frequently during the war." He said camps at Livingston, Ruston and Fort Polk housed 4,000 to 4,500 POWs each, and 50 side camps around the state held 100 to 1,150. The Germans, whose field work placed them side-by-side with black fieldhands, often reacted to condemnation of Hitler's belief in Aryan supremacy and anti- Jewish policies by pointing out that white Americans discriminated against blacks, said Schott and Ms. Foley. "Ironically, the Germans developed quite a rapport with the blacks, and we've learned that they sometimes had sexual relations with black women," said Schott. He said Ms. Foley interviewed, the former camp guards and planters who had employed them, and got in touch with the former prisoners who had returned to Germany, as well as interviewing them. Schott found and went through written records and reports, including including those by the groups such as the YMCA which regularly inspected inspected the camps to make sure the rules of the Geneva Convention Convention were being upheld. As a matter of fact, many U.S. civilians and soldiers complained that the POWs got more and better better food, drinks and cigarettes than they did, Schott said. At Camps Polk and Ruston, the prisoners reportedly dined on delicacies including excellent German pastries. Camp Liv- ingston had a library of 10,000 books, most of them German textbooks. Camp Polk, where the American actor George Montgomery Montgomery was an officer, had a big orchestra and an elaborate theater where Helmut Wildt, a leading actor in Berlin's Schiller Theater, got his start. Most of the wilder stories came out of the smaller camps, where POWs were sent to help harvest rice, sugar cane and cotton and do other jobs that ranged from kitchen kitchen chores to helping maintain Louisiana's levees, said Schott. The reports included stories that Germans regularly slipped through the barbed "wire at Franklin for romantic trysts with local girls, and that men in several camps brewed liquor and made radios. "With a few exceptions, the prisoners felt they were treated better as prisoners by the U.S. Army than they were in their, own army," Schott said. One dark side of the prison camps was that camp commandants commandants sometimes allowed hard-core Nazis to discipline fellow prisoners, and Nazis persecuted anti-Nazi Germans. There were four murders Camp Livingston, "where the Nazis seem to have been power," Ms. Foley said. But most of the memories were fond — both among the POWs the people who hired them at cents an hour. They more than upheld the idea behind Ms. Foley's book: a Louisiana Louisiana rice farmer of German descent descent who had been poorly treated as a POW in Germany "comes home to find well-treated Germans Germans working for his family farm."