I recently came across a local newspaper headline from May 18, 1945, noting, "German Prisoners For Farm Work."
The idea that Carroll County was the home of German prisoners of war during World War II was nothing new to me. I had heard many oral histories, tall tales and folklore passed down from previous generations about German POWs in Westminster during the war.
The combination of our heritage of German settlers — mostly in the northern part of the county — as well as the large number of canning factories that use to dominate our agri-business foundation, made Carroll perfect as a place for German POWs to work.
Moreover, as you may imagine, a shortage of farm workers was a persistent challenge throughout World War II. It was a problem that only got worse as the war wore on.
According to the 1945 article in the now-defunct Democratic Advocate, "More than 5,000 German prisoners will be among approximately 15,000 laborers recruited to work this season on Maryland farms and in food processing plants and canneries..."
The 1945 article explained that the POWs were going to be assigned to dairy farms, and that a Westminster camp for the POWs was "nearing completion."
Another yellowed newspaper history article in my files, from Sept. 3, 1984, confirms that, "Just outside of Westminster, on Old New Windsor Road, where the entrance to the Wakefield Valley Golf Course now sits, was a prisoner of war camp during World War II."
Further, a June 23, 1944, article noted, "Prisoners of war recently brought to Carroll County to work in canneries are now available for farm work. Groups of five or more may be obtained by contacting the office of the County Agent, City Hall, Westminster."
Historical Society historian Jay Graybeal also wrote about his research a number of years ago and reported that the Democratic Advocate had run a front-page story under the headline "German Prisoners Harvesting Pea Crop," on June 30, 1944, and that the German prisoners were also used to harvest tomatoes, corn and spinach in nine local canneries that were shorthanded.
"More than 200 Nazi prisoners of war … appeared in the fields of Carroll. Their presence here has caused comment … (and) there has been some concern on the part of some adults over the presence of the aliens," the newspaper had reported.
"Despite stories revolving around the possibility that the Nazis might escape …or cast 'spells' (on) little children … nothing has occurred to disturb the program of using (POWs) to help the production of food."
Apparently the prisoners were treated well and, in acordance to the Geneva Convention, were paid — 80 cents per day.
Graybeal wrote in his article that, "Despite the concerns that the prisoners might be dangerous, their stay in Carroll County was without incident. In fact, some local farmers made friends with the workers."
When is not working in his wife's vegetable garden, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at email@example.com