It was not until recently that I knew Michigan was home to several German POW camps during World War II. Somehow these camps were left out of every single Michigan history book I read in school and later in life. I feel a bit ignorant not knowing about these POW camps and wonder just how many other Michigan residents are unfamiliar with them as well.
I can't remember where exactly I came across this, but somehow I found this documentary, The Enemy In Our Midst. This documentary was produced by Jackie Chandonnet and John Pepin and originally aired back in 2004. The German POW camps in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are the focus of the documentary, but the premise of it intrigued me enough to dig further and see where, and how many, German POW camps were in Michigan during World War II. I was hoping to get a DVD copy of The Enemy In Our Midst, but I emailed John Pepin and he said that there are only VHS copies available. I'm buying the VHS version as I really want to see this film.
Here is a short promotion for the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlJldp92NP0
I've been unable to get a consistent number, but thanks to a handful of different websites (pimarily this page at www.gentracer.org) I was able to put together a list. One would think that there would be more information available on this subject, but so far I haven't been able to find too many sources. Depending on how you link the camps together (some camps fell under the "umbrella" of other camps) I was able to come up with 31 different camp locations. Now, some of these locations may have been consolidated under another camp name/location and some of them were strictly hospitals so sometimes you see the number of camps in Michigan listed closer to 20.
Around 6,000 German POWs were posted at the various camps across Michigan. About 1,000 of the POWs were at the five camps in the Upper Peninsula with the remainder located in the Lower Peninsula. The Red Cross made periodic inspections of the camps to ensure that the POWs had decent living conditions and were being treated fairly. Escape attempts were few and no German POW from Michigan is known to have made a complete escape from one of the camps.
A lot of the German POW camps in Michigan were formerly CCC camps and filled mainly with Germans that were forced into service in Hitler's army that fought in Africa. Therefore, they were not thought of as too terribly dangerous and were brought here to work at various camps. Of course there were some SS soldiers that were definitely in the Nazi category and locals usually steered clear of them. These camps were not forced labor camps, in fact, the POWs liked being able to go out and do something, plus the ones cutting pulpwood in Michigan's U.P. were paid $.80 per day. The work the German POWs performed was in areas where there were shortages of labor due to the war effort.
After the war ended the German POWs were sent back to Germany. Many of the prisoners would have liked to have remained here, but due to regulations they had to return to their home country. The German POW camps in Michigan were an interesting part of Michigan's history that I am glad to have found. I still can't believe it took me so long to hear about all of these POW camps and how they have been buried in our history books.
Nicely done video by students from Allegan High School about the German POW Camp near Allegan:
More information on The Enemy in our Midst:
Books offering more information on German POW Camps in the United States:
List of German POW Camps in Michigan:
- Camp Allegan
- Camp AuTrain
- Barryton, Mecosta County, MI
- Benton Harbor, Berrien County, MI
- Blissfield, Lenawee County, MI
- Caro, Tuscola County, MI
- Coloma, Berrien County, MI
- Croswell, Sanilac County, MI
- Fort Custer, Galesburg, MI
- Dundee, Monroe County, MI
- Camp Evelyn – Alger County, MI
- Freeland, Saginaw County, MI
- Fremont, Newaygo County, MI
- Camp Germfask – Germfask, MI
- Grant, Newaygo County, MI
- Grosse Ile Township, Wayne County, MI
- Hart, Oceana County, MI
- Camp Lake Odessa, Ionia County, MI
- Mattawan, Van Buren County, MI
- Mass, Ontonagon County, MI
- Milan (USFR), Monroe and Washtenaw Counties, MI
- Odessa Lakes, Tuscola County, MI
- Camp Owosso – Shiawassee County
- Camp Pori – Upper Peninsula
- Camp Raco – Upper Peninsula near Sault Ste. Marie
- Romulus Army Air Field, Wayne County, MI
- Shelby, Oceana County, MI
- Camp Sidnaw – Sidnaw, MI
- Sparta, Kent County, MI
- Wayne (Fort), Detroit, Wayne County, MI
- Waterloo, Jackson County, MI
- Wetmore, Alger County, MI