The Midnight Massacre: A WWII Rampage at a POW Camp…In Utah

We’re all familiar with the vast network of concentration camps and Prisoner of War camps the Nazis operated during World War II. Unthinkable suffering and tragedy befell millions of men, women, and children in camps all over Europe. Soviet work camps, known as gulags, also imprisoned countless unfortunate souls who were sent to the far reaches of Siberia to toil away under harsh circumstances.

It might surprise you to learn that there was also a large collection of Prisoner of War camps scattered throughout the United States that primarily housed German soldiers. In fact, over 400,000 German soldiers lived in 700 POW camps in the U.S. during World War II. These camps stretched from California to Maine.

Old Ones Dream
MS History Now

German POWs were forced to work in the U.S., but the consensus among these prisoners was that the camps in America were “firm but fair.” Prisoners worked in fields and in factories, toiling away and hoping and praying for the war to end. Many German soldiers settled down in the United States after the war ended in 1945 and created a new life in America.

Unfortunately, there is one large historical black mark on the legacy of Prisoner of War camps in the United States, an isolated incident that claimed the lives of 9 German POWs. The tragedy occurred on July 8, 1945 at a camp in Salina, Utah. The war in Europe had ended two months earlier in May, and the roughly 250 Germans being held in Salina were working the fields for the upcoming summer harvest. The Nazi soldiers lived in tents on the edge of Salina, and were waiting to be sent home to Germany.

OV Guide
Wikipedia

Guard duty at a POW camp was not seen as a desirable job among U.S. soldiers. One historian concluded that men who were assigned such duties were typically “of low mentality, non-intellectual, who could neither understand nor see the reason for the Geneva Convention. Many drank and went AWOL. They read comic books rather than listening to news. They liked to think of themselves as heroes, their one desire being ‘to shoot a Kraut.'”

Army Private First Class Clarence Bertucci had not seen combat action during World War II, but he had a deep seated hatred toward Germans. His overseas military experience during the war consisted of an 8-month stint in England. Bertucci was born in New Orleans in 1921 and was a sixth-grade dropout. He enlisted in the Army in 1940.

Bertucci had been court-martialed on two separate occasions during his time in the Army, and he was known to have a discipline problem. Bertucci admitted to people that he had felt “cheated” out of his chance to kill Germans during the war, and that he said, “someday I will get my Germans; I will get my turn.”

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  • Charles W Raymond III

    German POWs built the golf course at the US Military Academy at West Point NY. I remember seeing a few of them also working around the post doing landscaping work, while living there as a kid. Dad was assigned as the XO of troops on post.

  • Clark Burdine

    My father had a small farm near Washington DC, in Maryland. He had two German POWs work there twice weekly. My dad said they were model workers, happy to be out of the war.

    When I was stationed in Germany in 1968, I wet from my base in Baumholder to Christmas Mass in Saarbrucken. I had about six dollars, US in my pocket. I arrived about 3 PM and had 9 hrs to kill before Mass. I wandered around town, observed the numerous street vendors and awesome Christmas window displays. I entered a gasthaus ( bar) to get a sandwich. A patron Ed me, we chatted. He invited me to his apt. And promised to get me to the church on time. He lived in a single room with a huge collection of reel to reel tape recordings of American country and blue Grass. He explained he got hooked on such music as a POW in Utah during WW II. He said he admired the Americans and especially Mormons… Little more that two years later, I was Less and attended college in Utah. I also met the manager of the Base Exchange who had been a POW in the US. He had served against the French and Russian armies but was recuperating in Normandy as a convelescent unit when D-Day drew him into combat again. He was captured in late June. He said he was elated and loved Americans because of his experience in the POW camps.

  • Peter Gunn

    We had a camp in our town. One of only two to house all three Axis prisoners. German, Italian and Japanese.

    • Sherman West

      I live in SE Texas and was surprised to see a historical marker in Orange Tx marking the site of a WWll German POW camp…

  • Jessie Smith

    Fortunately, nothing like that happened in Central Louisiana that we know of. In my home parish of LaSalle they were used as “lumberjacks” and cotton pickers. They were also paid small wages to use at Canteen (sometimes they were allowed to go to town under escort to shop) They couldn’t wear their uniforms in this part of the country though. They were issued a gray uniform with a large “P” or “POW” on the shirt or coat.

  • Stan Caldwell

    You can still hike to the decaying remains of a German POW camp back in the woods in northern Harrison County, near Gulfport, Mississippi. Also, old-timers on the Coast still recall standing on the beach watching merchant ships burning in the Gulf of Mexico after a U-boat attack. Most people don’t think of the Gulf as a front in WW2, but the mouth of the Mississippi River was a target-rich environment for the packs of U-boats for about 6 months in 1941-42.

    • According to a NATO treaty, the German officer POWs had to receive the same accommodations American officers had at the POW camp in Northwest Mississippi. I lived on a farm that had a POW camp nearby. The officers were allowed to have a (black) servant for housekeeping or valet and cocktails. Pretty cushy for a POW.

      • Brian Adair

        How can it be a NATO Treaty, when NATO was formed after WWII

      • Joe LaCour

        Geneva Convention. The guards could not live in barracks if the POW barracks were not completed. The officers had the same accommodations as their equivalent rank US officers.

  • Leftykook

    A German POW was assigned to the US Forest Service in Eldorado National Forest. He was a stonemason and there are stone buildings that he built still standing.
    He built a stone tower for the fire lookout atop Bunker Hill, a remote hilltop west of the Sierra Crest. You can jeep or bike there….

  • ReadingThruHistory

    Lunatic.

  • Bob O’Connor

    There is a nice chapel standing on the grounds of Letterkenny Depot in Chambersburg, Pa. built by Italian POW’s during WW2. Recently a 9/11 memorial was erected next to it displaying one of the beams.