Stories from Camp Frederick: German World War II POWs in Frederick, Maryland (Part 3)

By Amelia Cotter on Email

This is the third post of a five part series that will be appearing on German Pulse over a five week period.  Many of the primary sources in this work come directly from the archives at The Frederick County Historical Society in Frederick, Marlyand.  Links to the other parts of this series will be placed at the end of this post.

POWs at Camp Frederick

Above is a general overview of the camp life and activities that most German POWs in Maryland experienced. Now Camp Frederick itself will be specifically discussed, with information both supporting and adding to that which was previously presented.

In the fall of 1944, the September 4 issue of The Post announced in a brief article that the former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, which was built in 1933 and located just west of Frederick, would soon become home to about 350 German POWs. This was followed by another small article shortly after, which informed citizens that 30 POWs were already on site preparing tents for the camp, and it would open within two weeks under the command of Captain Eugene Messner. A large crowd reportedly gathered to watch the prisoners arrive by train and be ushered onto buses that headed to Camp Frederick, located off of old Route 40.

The men, whose average ages ranged from 17 to 45, were mostly privates and non-commissioned officers from the Afrika Corps. Many had been initially captured by the British troops, but Britain—dependent at the time upon imports—was unable to feed or support its POW population, and so many ships carrying supplies or troops from England to the U.S. delivered prisoners as well. They would be staying in large six-man tents on the four-acre plot of land that had formerly belonged to the Klein Farm and is today a residential neighborhood on the fringes of the supermarket, gas station, and restaurant filled west end of the “Golden Mile” on Route 40.

The public was told in an article in The Post in 1979, entitled “What’s in the Name? Old Camp Road,” that the average stay of the men would be anywhere from two weeks to over a month, and the camp was cleverly termed a “detainment center used to hold captured soldiers until the necessary papers could be processed for their return home.”

Also according to the article, the men’s daily activities consisted of being transported from the camp at 7 a.m. to a nearby farm and being picked up again around 5 p.m. A single guard might watch over five to ten prisoners while they worked. Wales explained that “when only a few prisoners were sent out for work there was usually no guard sent along with them. Larger groups were sent with a guard.”

There is some evidence that suggests that the seemingly low-key publicity surrounding the coming of the POWs continued throughout its existence until well after the war was over. According to “What’s in the Name? Old Camp Road,” the camp had maintained a low profile throughout its operation and “some senior citizens [could not] recall its existence. The only Fredericktonians to come in direct contact with the camp or its detainees were a handful of civilian drivers and a dozen or so farmers.” This is exaggerated, as many of the family members and friends of farmers who hired the POWs came into contact with them on a regular basis.

At any rate, in 1967, a little more than 20 years after the war ended, a sudden surge of interest in the German POWs hit Frederick after an article in The News on February 15, 1967 spoke of a “frantic search for the location of any German prisoner of war camp” in Frederick. The article, entitled “Where, Oh Where, Was That German POW Camp?” was in response to a letter the paper received in 1949 from a former POW, Peter Siegfried Muetzel. The letter, recovered 20 years after Muetzel’s escape from Camp Frederick and recapture in Hagerstown, expressed Muetzel’s gratitude to the people of Frederick, who he explained were “extremely kind to him.” According to the article, several historians were also questioned about the camp, and “several people said there were several camps in the area,” but oddly, they did not know or remember the location of the camp.

The next day, the newspaper printed an article called “County Residents Recall Camp For POWs Here,” about how several residents actually did remember the camp and its inhabitants, including Cyril Klein, whose father had owned the land that the camp was located on. Another article was printed the same day, called “‘Lost Prisoner Camp Was Located Near City,” and claimed that because of “nearly 100 phone calls from interested citizens,” the location of the camp could finally be identified as off old Route 40 near the Klein Farm. Clearly many citizens remembered Camp Frederick after all.

The day after that, February 17, The Post ran an article with photos in response to inquiries about the “now dismantled camp,” called “POW Camp Revisited 20 Years Later.” Author Nelson Brooks actually ventured out to the location of the former camp and discovered an empty pasture with a series of “concrete floors minus any walls or shelter facilities.” He also noted inlaid brick walkways, old rusty nails lying in the grass, latrines with household items tossed into them, and old shoes. The most interesting artifact he found was a six-foot semicircle carved into the concrete with a man swinging an axe at one end, and a man with a pick on the other, both with a ball chained to their legs. He found no sign of a 600-foot deep well rumored to have been used on the property, but did locate a dam across the creek between the camp and the highway, with a large metal pipe that once carried water from the stream to a nearby pond.

The next day a new article, “POW Camp Near City Part of Fort Meade,” was published, which announced that the paper had gotten in touch with Pentagon spokesman Charles Romanus, of the Reference Branch of the Military History Department at the Pentagon. Romanus confirmed the already obvious existence of Camp Frederick and asserted that 336 prisoners alone were sent there in 1946.

Why, 20 years later and not sooner, was such interest in the POWs rekindled? It seems that in spite of many citizens’ lack of knowledge of the camps, there were also many people who did come in contact with the POWs and who had not forgotten about them. As stated before, many more civilians than anticipated had observed, worked with, or were host to the prisoners.

 

Read more from this 5 part series:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 (current) | Part 4 | Part 5

Photos Courtesy: David Rathbun