Friday, March 1, 2013

Strange Baseball - The Great German Pastime?

There were hundreds of thousands of German prisoners of war held on US soil.  As the war was being brought to a successful conclusion there began to be concerns about whether the prisoners would upon their repatriation, incline towards democracy, communism, or a revival of National Socialism.

To this end a special program was established by the Office of the Provost Marshal, the authority that was in charge of POW camps on our soil

This Special Projects Division set out to, as rapidly as possible, steer the Germans towards all things American.

There was a system wide camp newspaper called Der Ruf which gave a pro-Allies spin to the news of the day.  There were classes on the principles of democracy.  There was circulation of books banned in Germany.

And as one facet of the program there was an attempt to teach the German POWs how to enjoy the "American" sports of baseball and basketball.

The entire program was a dismal failure.

Der Ruf was a more or less unreadable work, written by and at the level of, university professors.  The books were not widely read.  And the prisoners wanted to play German games.  Mostly football, or to us, soccer.

In fact when researching my book on POW baseball the only shred of surviving evidence of the program I encountered was this odd relic generously loaned to me by a fellow named Royse Parr.

At first glance this is unremarkable, just a major league guidebook from 1945.  But look at that odd stamp over the 1945...

It reads:

 CENSORED (illegible) of the Camp 
                   Camp Gruber

And on the inside we find:

Over the picture of Paul Trout and Hal Newhouser are the words:

Nicht verkauflich Erworben durch den POW Fond.  Fuer Barrack Um (illegible)ch

And the more helpful translation: Purchased through the POW Fund.  For Barrack distribution only.  Not to be Sold.

Camp Gruber was near Muskogee, Oklahoma, and was home for about 3,000 German POWs.  It also held a US Army training base.  One of the soldiers who passed through it was William Holden, later to star in the movie Stalag 17.

Although the attempt to turn German POWs into baseball enthusiasts was a resounding flop, they did gain some appreciation for basketball.  Indeed, the post war popularity of the sport in Europe may be due in part to the effort.

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