Nazis in the US South

One of the things that I try to keep in mind of is how people can be blind to things and how placing them in a different context can make them realize things that they might otherwise be unaware of. If I talk of Nazis in America, people might think of neo-nazis and some might be aware of this element of the American past. However, what I'm thinking of in this case are Nazi prisoners of war sent to live in camps in the US, specifically as described here, and more specifically the weird sort of situations that might arise when you expose Nazis to some of the conditions in the US South at the time.

The POWs also found friends in the most unlikely of places, as they worked alongside African Americans hoeing and picking cotton, talking away long days in the hot sun. African American field hands were painfully aware that white Americans treated Nazi prisoners far better than they did people of color. African Americans waited on POWs when they were transported in Pullman cars to their camps, and prisoners were also allowed to eat in whites-only cafeterias. At the camp, they were dealt the most menial jobs, including spraying the prisoners with delousing foam. The slights hurt all the more because African-American soldiers fought diligently during WWII in all-black units such as the renowned Tuskegee airmen.

Yet, on an individual level, they got along with the Germans. And Germans were fond of them, in part because African American soldiers had protected them from the mobs of people who wanted to kill the POWs.

Surprisingly, given the blatant racism of the Nazi party, some of the German soldiers were also shocked by the shoddy treatment of their fellow farmworkers. “The blacks…didn’t do much better than us,” remarked one POW. “They were just in front of the wire, and we were behind the wire.” Another German soldier, who was a farmer in his civilian life, noted that African American were expected to pick two to three more times the cotton required of the POWs. “You have to see how they lived,” he said after the war. “These people were so exploited.”

Put Nazis in a different context and they might start to think differently... at least to an extent. That said, there are limits particularly when it comes to things too close to home:

Listening to American radio news reports eventually convinced Daumling that the films weren’t propaganda, but unvarnished truth, but he was the exception. Fewer than half believed that the Holocaust was real by the end of the war, according to a poll conducted by the U.S. government.

I wonder what fraction of those former Nazi soldiers who then had disbelieved the Holocaust changed their minds by the end of their lives.