Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:

Lesson 5: German Prisoners in Alabama

Background Information for Teachers

By the late fall of 1942, British prisoner of war camps were filled to capacity with captured Axis soldiers. With the Allied victory in North Africa in November of that year, the United States became the new destination for an increasing number of German and Italian war captives. Most were shipped to the American South and Southwest, where the winter climate was temperate and there were sparsely inhabited areas ideal for camp construction. Alabama was the site for four major P.O.W. camps beginning in 1943, hosting some 17,000 prisoners over the course of World War II. Aliceville, in west Alabama's Pickens County, was the first and the largest of these camps.


Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
  1. Identify the need for additional labor during a war effort.
  2. Describe the obligations that Alabamians and Americans had to the safety and well-being of the POWs.
  3. Synthesize a writing which would the reflect the experiences of a POW.
Suggested Activity
  1. Make copies of the newspaper article, photographs of the POWs, the map of Alabama showing the locations of the POW camps in Alabama, and the letter concerning prisoner of war camp security for each student.


  2. Ask the students the following questions:
    1. What kinds of work would the POWs perform?
    2. Why was the POW labor important to Alabama?
    3. What kinds of requirements did the employers of the POWs have to fulfill?
    4. Look at the map of Alabama showing the locations of the camps. Why do you think these locations were chosen for the POW camps?
    5. What was the purpose in designing a plan concerning POW break outs?
    6. Why would it be important for the commandant of the POW camp to know about air raid drills?


  3. Writing assignment:
    You are a German prisoner of war. You have been placed in a camp in Alabama in America. Write a letter home telling your family what your life is like in the camp. Be sure to tell them about the weather, the food and your assigned work. Describe and name your camp. The camp you chose to be in may determine the type of work you will perform. (Give each student a copy of a photograph and allow him/her to write his/her letter using the photograph. The student may want to write a caption or message on the photograph.)
  • Document 1: "WMC Approves Five More War Prisoner Camps for Alabama." The Birmingham News, 19 December 1943. ADAH Public Information Subject File - General Files, SG 6993, Folder 1654, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.


  • Document 2: Photographs from the Aliceville Prisoner of War Camp Photograph Album and Scrapbook, LPP7, Container 1, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.


  • Document 3: Map of Major World War II POW Camps in Alabama. Education Section, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.


  • Document 4: Lt. Joseph E. Vincent, Aliceville, Alabama, to Carl Griffin, Montgomery, Alabama, 18 October 1943. Alabama State Council of Defense (1941-1946), Program Administrative Files, SG 19845, Folder 19, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.