German Prisoners of War at Camp Cooke, California - Geiger Jeffrey E.
In 1943, the first great wave of Hitler's soldier's came to America, not as goose-stepping conquering heroes, but as prisoners of war. By the time World War II ended in 1945, more than six hundred German POW camps had sprung up across America holding a total of 371,683 POWs. One of these camps was established at the U.S. Army's training installation Camp Cooke on June 16, 1944.
The POW base camp at Cooke operated sixteen branch camps in six of California's fifty-eight counties and is today the site of Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. Compared to other prisoner of war camps in California, Camp Cooke generally held the largest number of German POWs and operated the most branch camps in the state.
A large number of the prisoners were from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, as well as from other military formations. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, the prisoners received comfortable quarters and excellent care. They filled critical wartime labor shortages inside the main Army post at Cooke and in the outlying civilian communities, performing agricultural work for which they were paid. On weekends and evenings, they enjoyed many recreational entertainment and educational opportunities available to them in the camp. For many POWs, the American experience helped reshape their worldview and gave them a profound appreciation of American democracy.
This book follows the military experiences of fourteen German soldiers who were captured during the campaigns in North Africa and Europe and then sat out the remainder of the war as POWs in California. It is a firsthand account of life as a POW at Camp Cooke and the lasting impression it had on the prisoners.