The April 14, 1944 headline on the front page of The Dade City Banner read, “Nazi War Prisoners Arrive in Dade City.”
The story described a camp designed and built by U.S. Army engineers for 250 German prisoners of war and 60 military police.
These POWS were veteran members of Erwin Rommel’s famed “Afrika Korps”— a name Adolf Hitler personally chose for his expeditionary force heading into North Africa in February of 1941.
As Germany’s most effective tank commander, Rommel was called “The Desert Fox.” He was the field marshal for Hitler’s Operation Sonnenblume (Sunflower).
Until the defeat of the Afrika Korps in May of 1943, Rommel had fought military campaigns for Nazi Germany in Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
But the loss of an estimated 378,000 German and Italian soldiers, who became POWs, ended Hitler’s quest to conquer the deserts of Africa.
The POWs were shipped to 500 camps in the United States and were spread throughout 45 states.
Florida received 10,000 POWs that were scattered among 22 camps, including Branch Camp No. 7, in Dade City.
The grounds of the former POW camp now are occupied by Naomi Jones Pyracantha Park, along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
During the two years the German POWs lived in Dade City, they picked fruit and built a warehouse at Pasco Packing Association.
It was not uncommon during this time for the German POWS in Dade City to receive food or clothing as equal as the U.S. servicemen who guarded them.
At the same time, German POWs in Russia were routinely slaughtered, according to historical accounts.
“Most of the prisoners are young and groups of them last evening were singing. They would no doubt be singing ‘God Bless America,’ as they seemed rather content to be here,” a Banner report said.
The good treatment inspired POW Heinz Friedmann, who was a professional artist, to create a large, aerial-view mural of the citrus plant buildings, water tower and surrounding orange groves on the walls of the executive office of the president of the Pasco Packing Association, L.C. “Mark” Edwards Jr.
Charles Arnade, a former professor of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida, wrote an account in 2003, which helps create a fuller picture of Friedmann.
Arnade, who is now deceased, wrote that Friedmann “also drew a huge orange on the company’s water tower. Mr. Friedmann also sketched local citizens’ portraits, of which two have survived in personal possessions.”
Not forgotten by the plant’s director, Friedmann later received shoes from Pasco Packing for his bride-to-be, as shortages lingered with many things in postwar Germany.
The artist also was brought back to Dade City in 1986 to take part in the citrus plant’s 50th anniversary.
Martha Knapp, a retired schoolteacher and past president of the Pasco County Historical Society, also did research involving the German POWs in Dade City.
Files at USF, from Knapp’s donated collections, include information gleaned from interviews of seven surviving Germany POWS gathered in Stuttgart in late 1997.
Plans for them to reunite in 1998 did not come to fruition.
Published March 02, 2022