Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Enemy Among Us: A book review

photo from amazon.com

Ever since I started volunteering at the Historic Society, I've taken more of an interest in books on local history. I'm primarily interested in western United States history and of the environmental impact man has had on the land but books on local and state history have begun to grab my attention. I plan to submit this review to the Historic Society newsletter but wanted to share it on the blog in case any of my readers are history buffs and I welcome comments and suggestions on this review.

The United States played host to German and Italian POWs during World War 2 and before the war’s end, every state except New York, North Dakota and Vermont had POW camps.  Local author David Fiedler covers the history of Missouri’s POW camps in his 2003 book, “The enemy among us”.  Through interviews with former POWs, camp staff, citizens, personal letters and newspaper articles, Fiedler recreates this aspect of World War 2 that occurred in our backyard.

Each chapter covers several aspects of a POW camp from the time it was on the drawing board until it was closed and disassembled.  From the military standpoint, Fiedler examines the risks government officials took in contracting the POW soldiers out to nearby farmers short on help, the pressures they faced maintaining the rules of the Geneva Convention’s treatment of POWs and public scrutiny in treatment of these prisoners, keeping order in the camps and educating the POWs on American democracy. Fiedler gives the viewpoint of the camp from the prisoner’s eyes, writing of the homesickness and worry for their families still in the war zones, their job duties at the camp, the tension and camaraderie between fellow prisoners and their US captors, and the dangers for the prisoners being confined with die hard Nazis and Fascists. Fiedler also covers the assortment of responses from the communities that ranged from gratitude for the employment the camps provided, fear of having POWs in their backyard, resentment over the treatment of the prisoners and the lasting friendships created. 

Fiedler does a good job providing an objective view while keeping the subject matter interesting.  The photographs and illustrations give the reader a good feel for what life was like during that time in history and it was interesting to note how many POW camps there were in Missouri (over 25). Many aspects of the war have been covered in a multitude of books: military, leaders, specific battles and theaters of the war, to name a few. Finding a book that covered how WWII affected the towns of Missouri brought the war closer to home and made the subject more interesting. A good book for WWII buffs and local history aficionados alike.


  1. I'm not much of a history buff. But I do know that Weingarten was a POW camp. It's practically in my back yard, give or take about 30 miles.

  2. Hillybilly Mom the Weingarten camp had a huge chapter. The book makes me want to take a tour of the POW camps in MO, although most of them are long gone. However Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis County and Fort Leonard Wood still have remnants of their POW history.