Historian sheds light on German POWs in Dade City

The recent death of Eva Martha (Goddard) Knapp has sparked memories of the work she did to trace the history of German prisoners of war who lived and worked in the Dade City area during World War II.

Knapp, who died on June 20, 2015 in St. Petersburg, was a noted historian in the Pasco County Historical Society.

This photo was taken during the 1995 dedication of a historic marker to record the fact that German prisoners of war lived in Dade City during World War II and served as laborers. They were paid the prevailing wages, but the U.S. government deducted money to cover expenses for housing and feeding them. (Courtesy of Fivay.org)

This photo was taken during the 1995 dedication of a historic marker to record the fact that German prisoners of war lived in Dade City during World War II and served as laborers. They were paid the prevailing wages, but the U.S. government deducted money to cover expenses for housing and feeding them.
(Courtesy of Fivay.org)

She was particularly known for the research she did about the German POW camps, including a camp housed in an area now known as Pyracantha/Naomi Jones Park.

Knapp donated many of her materials to the University of South Florida, according to local historians Madonna Wise and Eddie Herrmann, who put together some background information about Knapp, following her death, which they shared with The Laker/Lutz News.

According to their research, a biographical excerpt on Knapp in the USF collection details Knapp’s involvement in collecting information about the German POWs.

The USF excerpt says that during the 1991-1992 school year, Knapp was teaching English at Hernando High School in Brooksville, and her 10th-grade class read Betty Greene’s novel, “The Summer of My German Soldier.”

Eva Martha Knapp, former president of the Pasco Historical Society, did extensive work to trace the history of the German prisoners of war who lived in Dade City during World War II. (Courtesy of Madonna Wise)

Eva Martha Knapp, former president of the Pasco Historical Society, did extensive work to trace the history of the German prisoners of war who lived in Dade City during World War II.
(Courtesy of Madonna Wise)

After reading the book, Knapp’s students interviewed family members and acquaintances that were old enough to remember World War II to see if they knew if German prisoners of war had been held in Pasco County, the excerpt says.

During those interviews, they heard that some German prisoners had worked at the Pasco Packing Company, the excerpt adds.

So, two students visited the company and learned from company executives that German POWs indeed had worked there.

The class also was able to locate some of the men who had been prisoners in Florida camps, and who had remained in Florida after the war.

The class received a letter from a former prisoner, detailing some of his experiences.

Ludeke Herder, a prisoner who was a Protestant, shares his memories of one Christmas in a letter dated Jan. 9, 1992.

Because it was Christmas, the prisoners were allowed to go to a “Protestant-Lutheran Church in Tampa,” he writes.

“Our guards were inside the church too, without guns. After the worship, our guard told us to leave the church through the same door, like we came in, but the vicar told us to go through the door at the side of the church. Our guard was mad, but allowed us to take the other door,” he adds.

The story of the German prisoners of war who lived in Dade City is recorded on this historic marker. (Courtesy of Fivay.org)

The story of the German prisoners of war who lived in Dade City is recorded on this historic marker.
(Courtesy of Fivay.org)

As they came through a small door, he continues, “the people gave us cakes, candy and coffee and it was a wonderful Christmas day and I never can forget such a kind gesture.”

Letters such as this one are the types of items contained in the collection at USF, which resulted from the students’ and Knapp’s research efforts.

The archive also contains photocopies of material gathered by Knapp during her research, including copies of official documents from the National Archives, correspondence with former German prisoners of war, photocopies of Der P.O.W. Zeit-Spiegel (a publication) and other materials.

Knapp worked extensively with Herrmann to archive the information.

Herrmann shared some of his knowledge about the German prisoners during a recent interview.

The men lived in the Dade City camp, but went out to do jobs, Herrmann recalled.

“They went out every day. They rode a bus to go to work in Brooksville,” he said. They dug lime rock at a mine that was used in building construction.

“They worked in the orange groves,” Herrmann added. “They got to be friendly with people. They even worked in people’s yards.”

Additional details of the prisoners’ experiences in Dade City are contained on a historical marker Branch Camp No. 7, placed there in 1995 by the Pasco County Historical Preservation Committee.

The marker explains that the demands of World War II created a shortage of agricultural workers here at home.

To reduce that problem, the United States Army established about 500 prisoner-of-war camps to supply laborers.

Camp Blanding, near Starke, was headquarters for the 22 camps in Florida, with the Dade City camp being designated Branch Camp No. 7, according to the marker.

The Dade City camp began in March 1944 and housed about 250 men, many who had been involved with Rommel’s famed AfrikaKorps.

The camp was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It had a three-tent mess hall, which was also used for church services, classes and movies.

It also had a canteen attached to a small day room; a larger day room with table tennis and a piano; sleeping quarters and latrines, according to the marker.

The prisoners handled a variety of jobs, according to the marker. They worked at the McDonald Mine in Brooksville, where they made limestone bricks for Pasco Packing Building No. 7, and at Cummer Sons Cypress Mill in Lacoochee.

The prisoners’ spiritual needs were attended to by a minister of the Zion Lutheran Church of Tampa and by priests from nearby Saint Leo Abbey.

Knapp developed lasting friendships with the prisoners and even traveled to Germany to visit them.

She was long-time member of the Pasco Historical Society, where she served as president of the society in 2002.

She presented to the society in May of 1995 on her research about the prisoner of war camp and Pasco Packing.

She also participated as a costumed docent, demonstrating, and teaching spinning and weaving skills at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village.

She is survived by two sisters, Margaret Allen and Jane McDavitt; three children, Diana Neff, Roberta Stalvey and Howard Knapp; eleven grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

Memorial donations may be made to the Pasco Historical Society or the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village.

More information is available at EastPascoHistoricalSociety.com/pascomurals.html or WarLinks.com/memories/knapp.

Published July 22, 2015

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