On the morning of August 24, 1944, the residents of Windfall, Indiana, a small rural community located just southeast of Kokomo, gathered at the Mill Street railroad crossing, anxiously awaiting the arrival of recently-captured German prisoners of war. County officials had refused to provide details, but rumors had been circulating for over a month that an estimated one to two thousand enemy POWs would be sent to this town of just over 800 residents. The Tipton Daily Tribune had reported earlier in the week on the arrival of camp guards and military officers and that the prisoners were expected “within the next few days.” With the arrival of the train that August morning, local residents watched with mixed emotions as the first group of prisoners, under heavy guard, disembarked and proceeded to march to their camp located at the east edge of town, adjacent to the local high school.

Thousands of Americans from across the country witnessed similar scenes unfold in their communities during this period. Between 1942 and 1946, nearly half a million enemy prisoners of war—over 425,000 German, 50,000 Italian, and 5,000 Japanese—found their way to one of 511 detention camps across the country. The first surge in POWs came with the surrender of Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in May of 1943; thousands more capitulated to the Allies after the Invasion of Normandy in June of 1944. After arriving by ship at ports-of-entry in New York, Boston, and Norfolk, they traversed the country by train, disembarking at various destinations in nearly every state.

An estimated 12,000-15,000 of these wartime captives landed in Indiana, where they would live and work at one of nine POW camps across the state.

An estimated 12,000-15,000 of these wartime captives landed in Indiana, where they would live and work at one of nine POW camps across the state. Camp Atterbury, located near Edinburgh, Indiana, served as the primary center for POW internment operations, with branch camps operating at Austin, Windfall, Vincennes, Morristown, Eaton, and Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. Camp Thomas A. Scott (along with the Casad Ordnance Depot), located just outside Fort Wayne, operated under the command of Camp Perry, Ohio. And in the southern part of the state, the Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot (and nearby Indiana Ordinance Works) functioned as a branch camp of Fort Knox, Kentucky.

(For more information on these camps, click on the markers in the map below).


This massive influx of war prisoners, unprecedented in U.S. history, created huge demands for a nation and a state already stretched thin in conducting a two-front war. Over 360,000 Hoosier men and women—nearly 10% of the state’s population—served in the armed forces abroad. On the home front, hundreds of industrial firms converted their production efforts to the manufacture of war materials; and the state hosted numerous military installations, including air fields, ordnance depots, training facilities and proving grounds, hospitals, the Army Finance School, and the Atlantic Fleet’s storage depot. Price controls and the rationing of food, clothing, and gasoline further affected civilian life. And despite the persistent labor shortage, agricultural production nearly doubled.

What did Hoosiers think of these uninvited guests? How should they be treated? Did they pose a security threat? What impact would they have on the local economy? The domestic presence of a captive foreign enemy during wartime would seem to have provoked a strong abhorrence—perhaps even violent propensities—from their captors. After all, these prisoners had been responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers abroad—the sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, and cousins of countless Hoosier families. 


POWs interned in the continental United States, 1942-1946. Source: Lewis, History of Prisoner of War Utilization.

The presence of enemy POWs in Indiana certainly generated mixed reactions from the local community. Some residents worried about prisoner escapes while others expressed either intrigue or indifference. Most, however, responded with sympathy. One woman, employed at the same canning factory where German prisoners worked in Elwood, Indiana, brought candy bars to the younger ones, recalling that she “felt sorry for them.” Others from the local community empathized with their captive visitors. “They were just people like anyone else,” one woman from Windfall declared, recalling the prisoners who picked tomatoes on the family farm during her youth. “Just like our boys,” noted a man whose father-in-law also relied on POW labor at his farm in Tipton County during the War, “[n]o different.” For others, any sense of reluctance to show compassion quickly dissipated: “Many Italian-American families,” noted a retrospective piece in the Indianapolis Times, “shied away from the Italian prisoners when they first arrived at [Camp] Atterbury. But by the end of the war they were entertaining the prisoners.”

What accounts for this narrative of benevolence? And to what extent did it reflect common public sentiment at the time?

In large part, the answer to these questions lies in the international law obligations to which the United States committed itself as a signatory state to the 1929 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Under the terms of that agreement, the United States—along with 46 other nations—pledged to “mitigate as far as possible, the inevitable rigours [of war] and to alleviate the condition of prisoners of war.” With the outbreak of hostilities during World War II, all major belligerents—with the exception of Japan and the Soviet Union—deposited instruments of ratification or adherence at Geneva. Underlying this commitment was the expectation of reciprocity in the treatment of POWs held by opposing powers, and the risk that derogation from this principle could result in retaliation. 


Yet in applying the Geneva Convention, the United States seems to have gone above and beyond the mere letter of the law. Prisoners enjoyed a variety of provisional accommodations: they earned money by working on farms or in canning factories; studied literature, history, business, and economics; played leisurely soccer matches and other games; attended weekly film screenings and church services; and even developed their own musical and theatrical ensembles. Indeed, historians generally agree that POWs in the United States enjoyed a much higher standard of living than those detained in other belligerent nations during World War II. As Robert Doyle points out, “German soldiers jokingly called the ‘PW’ stamped on the backs of their shirts and trousers Pensionierte Wehrmacht, or ‘military retiree,’ meaning they considered themselves put out to pasture.”


As global conflict persisted, however, a war-weary American public became increasingly unsympathetic toward its domestic enemy prisoners. With rationing on the American home front, reports (sometimes of questionable accuracy) that POWs enjoyed a virtually limitless supply of food, clean clothes, and other amenities aroused public indignation. Periodic news accounts of POW Nazism, prison camp escapes, and work strikes provoked even further antipathy. Consequently, accusations of POW “coddling” appeared with greater frequency in the press, ultimately leading to a congressional investigation in 1944. To make matters worse, it became increasingly clear that American POWs abroad enjoyed few, if any, of the comforts afforded their enemy counterparts in the United States. Reports of abuse and inhumane camp conditions revealed gaping disparities in levels of POW treatment.

Thus, with little practical reason to follow the Golden Rule of reciprocity, the United States could easily have abandoned its obligations under the Geneva Convention; remarkably, however, it did not. In renouncing the lex talionis, Americans pursued the moral high ground in adhering to the principles of international humanitarian law.

Of course, there were limits to the American sense of humanity. The tragic irony during this period, as any casual student of history is aware, was the forced removal of over 120,000 Japanese Americans—many of whom were U.S. citizens—to internment, or “relocation,” camps following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With no charges against them, and with no right to appeal their incarceration, Japanese-American internees lost their personal liberties and most lost their homes, property, and livelihoods. With few exceptions, Americans of German and Italian descent largely avoided a similar fate of mass roundup and incarceration—a clear display of prevailing ideas of race and foreignness.

What does this chapter of history say about the United States? What import, if any, does (or should) it have on modern U.S. policy? In seeking to answer these questions, this story focuses on the State of Indiana. To be sure, the Hoosier experience departed little from that of other communities throughout the nation. However, by examining this period through a lens of state and local activity, the story aims to create an intimate, real-life perspective that broad, general studies often fail to impart.


Despite centuries of diplomacy and countless peace treaties, warfare and armed conflict has continued to plague the global community. In recognizing this reality, nations have agreed to follow certain rules limiting their conduct in war in exchange for the enemy’s agreement to do the same. The Geneva Conventions (which today consist of four treaties and three additional protocols), along with The Hague Conventions, form the basis to this agreement among nations. Known as International Humanitarian Law, or jus in bello, this branch of international law seeks to limit the use of force in armed conflicts by (1) sparing those who do not, or no longer, participate directly in hostilities; and (2) restricting it to the degree necessary to weaken the enemy’s military potential. Underlying this definition are several basic principles: (a) the distinction between civilians and combatants; (b) the prohibition on attacking those hors de combat (i.e., out of action); (c) the prohibition on inflicting unnecessary suffering; (d) necessity; and (e) proportionality.

International Humanitarian Law [is] the branch of international law limiting the use of violence in armed conflicts by: (a) sparing those who do not or no longer directly participate in hostilities; (b) restricting it to the amount necessary to achieve the aim of the conflict, which—independently of the causes fought for—can only be to weaken the military potential of the enemy.
— International Committee of the Red Cross

The evolutionary process resulting in the codification of these principles reflects an expansive history marked by shifting practices and philosophies in warfare.


Under ancient laws and customs of warfare, captured enemies enjoyed few if any rights of protected status; they were either killed or—depending on their usefulness—enslaved by the captor. Moreover, little distinction was made between active belligerents and enemy civilians. Among the very few to break with these conventions, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu raised the novel concept of benevolence toward prisoners of war. In The Art of War, he advocated the idea that “captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.”

While enslavement of captured enemy soldiers in Europe declined during the Middle Ages, the practice of ransoming high-ranking military officials persisted into the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. By then, however, leading political and legal philosophers, such as Hugo Grotius, sought ways to mitigate violence toward prisoners of war. A turning point came in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. Under its terms, which ended the Thirty Years War in Europe, all prisoners, “without any distinction of the Gown or the Sword,” were to be released and repatriated.


By the mid-eighteenth century, a clear humanitarian movement in international law had begun to take shape, resulting in increasingly better treatment of POWs. In his Law of Nations, first published in 1758 and translated into English two years later, Emerich de Vattel expounded on these emerging principles. “On an enemy’s submitting and laying down his arms,” he wrote, “we cannot with justice take away his life. Thus, in battle, quarter is to be given to those who lay down their arms.” Beyond captured enemy combatants, other groups of people were to be protected from the ordeals of war, including “[w]omen, children, feeble old men, and sick persons.” Clergy, scholars, and “other persons whose mode of life is very remote from military affairs” were likewise to be spared.

Immersed in contemporary law of nations theory, American political leaders during the Revolutionary War applied these principles of international humanitarian law in formulating prisoner of war policy. In October of 1775, a conference of delegates appointed by the Continental Congress agreed that captured enemies were to “be treated as Prisoners of War but with Humanity-And the Allowance of Provisions to be the Rations of the Army. That the Officers being in Pay should supply themselves with Cloaths, their Bills to be taken therefor & the Soldiers furnished as they are now.”

General George Washington, likewise advocating respect for the standards of eighteenth-century warfare, ordered the humane treatment of POWs held by Continental Army. “I shall hold myself,” he wrote in 1782, reluctant to retaliate against British prisoners for atrocities committed against American troops, “obliged to deliver up to the enemy or otherwise punish such of them as shall commit any act which is in the least contrary to the Laws of War.”  That same year, when Great Britain failed to supply provisions for its captured soldiers, Congress ordered the Quartermaster General to issue the prisoners “[f]ull rations” of “Bread, Beef or Pork, soap, salt and vinegar.”

The American Revolution impressed upon U.S. political leaders the importance of reciprocity in the treatment of POWs during times of conflict. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce, a peace-time agreement signed with Prussia in 1785, contained important humanitarian provisions for captured enemy combatants. Under Article 24, which sought to “prevent the destruction of prisoners of war,” the contracting parties agreed “that they shall not be confined in dungeons, prison-ships, nor prisons, nor be put into irons, nor bound, nor otherwise restrained in the use of their limbs.” Rather, prisoners were to be “lodged in barracks as roomy & good as are provided by the party in whose power they are for their own troops” and “daily furnished . . . with as many rations; & of the same articles & quality as are allowed by them.”

The American Civil War presented the Union with a dilemma over prisoner of war policy; by treating captured Confederate soldiers as traitors, it could deny them the status and rights afforded POWs. Such position, however, risked the likelihood of Confederate retaliation. On the other hand, any formal agreement entered into by the Union conceded sovereign status to the Confederacy.

Union reluctance to negotiate quickly dissipated, however, as early Confederate victories resulted in disproportionately large numbers of Union POWs. In July of 1862, following several failed attempts by both sides at dictating unilateral terms, negotiations concluded with the signing of the Dix-Hill Cartel, an agreement for the parole and exchange of all prisoners based on their military rank. The accord ultimately collapsed, however, when the Confederacy refused to confer POW status on captured black soldiers and their white officers. In response, President Lincoln, on April 24, 1863, promulgated General Orders No. 100, entitled “Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field.” Prepared by German-born legal scholar Francis Lieber, the Instructions, known as the “Lieber Code,” contained several provisions on the humane treatment of POWs. Article 56, for example, stipulated that a “prisoner of war is subject to no punishment for being a public enemy, nor is any revenge wreaked upon him by the intentional infliction of any suffering, or disgrace, by cruel imprisonment, want of food, by mutilation, death, or any other barbarity.” Article 43, an outgrowth of the Emancipation Proclamation, provided that “in a war between the United States and a belligerent which admits of slavery,” persons “held in bondage by that belligerent” would be “immediately entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman” upon their capture by Union forces or escape from the Confederacy. In reaffirming this policy, President Lincoln wrote that “[t]he law of nations and the usages and customs of war as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies.”


Yet the large number of prisoners captured on both sides—resulting in hastily organized and poorly supplied detention camps—often led to inadequate provisions.  By April of 1862, Camp Morton in Indianapolis had reached nearly five thousand Confederate prisoners. Over a thousand more arrived that summer following the Battle of Shiloh. In the two years that followed, overcrowding and lack of medical care lead to increased sickness and disease among the prisoners. Still, such inhospitable conditions pervaded POW camps on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Camp Morton, to its credit, had the lowest mortality rate among those within the Union, a feat often attributed to Col. Richard Owen’s humane treatment of the prisoners.

Rebel prisoners, Camp Morton, Indianapolis.

Rebel prisoners, Camp Morton, Indianapolis.


The Lieber Code marked the first attempt among any nation at codifying the laws and customs of war. By influencing the adoption of similar regulations in other nation-states, the measure helped lay the foundation for future efforts at advancing international humanitarian protocols during times of war.


The violence and bloodshed of the American Civil War and contemporary conflicts in Europe led to a series of multi-lateral conventions designed to mitigate human suffering. The first of these accords resulted largely from the efforts of Henri Dunant, a Swiss philanthropist and founding member of what would become the International Committee of the Red Cross. In August of 1864, Dunant—prompted by the atrocities he had witnessed at the Battle of Solferino five years prior—convened representatives from sixteen nations (including the United States) at Geneva to negotiate and ultimately adopt the Convention for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Wounded in Armies in the Field. The main principles established in the Convention (and preserved in subsequent Geneva Conventions) included relief to the wounded, without distinction of nationality; the neutrality of medical personnel and facilities; and the distinctive emblem of the red cross. The Geneva Convention of 1906, to which the United States was also a party, added twenty-one articles, which included provisions for the burial of the dead, the transmission of information, and the recognition of voluntary aid societies. 

The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907—intended to expand upon and implement the 1874 Brussels Declaration of principles concerning the laws and customs of war—included several important clauses concerning POWs. For example, Article 6 of the Annex (common to both Conventions) regulated for the first time a belligerent state’s use of prisoner labor, which could “not be excessive” and could have “no connection with the operations of the war.” For its part, the United States—despite French and British encouragement to avoid taking prisoners—upheld the moral high ground in its treatment of POWs. A report from postal censors noted that German “[p]risoners of war under American jurisdiction continue to send home glowing reports of good treatment.” Another described the “treatment accorded them as ‘ritterlich’ (princely), especially the food.”


World War I Red Cross Poster (1917). Library of Congress via Wikimedia.


The Hague Conventions signaled an important step in the development of international humanitarian law. However, the scope of devastation wrought by World War I revealed broad insufficiencies in these international agreements. Article 2 proved especially inadequate by declaring that regulations “do not apply except between Contracting powers, and then only if all the belligerents are parties to the Convention.” The lack of an express mechanism to ensure adherence to Convention terms ultimately forced the negotiation of individual treaties. 


In light of the Hague Convention shortcomings, the International Committee of the Red Cross convened in 1921 to propose an exclusive convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. The Committee’s work resulted in a draft convention designed to supplement, rather than replace, the Hague regulations. In receipt of this working document, delegates from forty-seven nations met in Geneva during the spring and early summer of 1929 to recodify international laws relating to prisoners of war. The conference produced two new documents: (1) the Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, and (2) the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick of Armies in the Field.

The Geneva Conventions advanced far beyond previous attempts at codifying international humanitarian law to limit the effects of armed conflict. Each document, to remedy the shortcoming of the Hague Convention, specified that “if, in time of war, a belligerent is not a party to the Convention, its provisions shall, nevertheless, be binding as between all the belligerents who are parties thereto.”

The Prisoner of War Convention expanded on the rules of conduct significantly. Notable innovations consisted of the prohibition of reprisals and collective punishment; the organization of POW labor; the right of neutral authorities to inspect prison camps; and the expanded responsibilities of the captor state to ensure prisoner health and safety. In addition, the Convention required each prisoner to provide only “his true names and rank, or his regimental number.” Prisoners could not be coerced into providing “information regarding the situation in their armed forces or their country.”


On June 4, 1943, U.S. Army headquarters in Washington reported that Camp Atterbury would serve as a permanent internment center for enemy prisoners of war. Just over a month prior to this announcement, the camp had received its first contingent of 767 Italian POWs. By September, that number had grown to 3,000. Colonel John L. Gammell, head of the 1537th Service Unit, served as the commanding officer. “The camp was organized as a regiment of three battalions of five companies each,” writes historian Mary Arbuckle, describing Atterbury’s complex administrative apparatus. “Each battalion was composed of one escort guard company of American soldiers and four companies of prisoners. The prisoners had one regimental, three battalion, and twelve company leaders appointed from their own ranks by the camp commander.” 

Above all, effective governance of POW operations depended on strict adherence to the rule of law. “Administration of the camps,” the Camp Crier, Atterbury’s weekly newsletter, announced “in addition to being governed by Army Regulations, must also meet the exacting rules set forth by the Geneva Convention.” 

Administration of the camps, in addition to being governed by Army Regulations, must also meet the exacting rules set forth by the Geneva Convention.
— Camp (Atterbury) Crier


The Geneva Convention consisted of several rules involving POW labor. Under Article 27, belligerent states could employ prisoners, “other than officers and persons of equivalent status,” as workmen, according to their physical fitness and ability. Officers seeking work, however, could hold supervisory positions, “unless they expressly request[ed] a remunerative occupation.” Article 31 prohibited prisoner labor directly connected with wartime operations. This precluded POW employment in the “manufacture or transport of arms or munitions of any kind,” or the “transport of material destined for combatant units.” Article 32 further proscribed “unhealthy or dangerous work.”

Under these provisions, prisoner labor fell into one of two categories: (1) the construction and maintenance of internment camps; and (2) all other types of work, including programs sponsored by the War Department and various state and federal agencies, or contract work in the private sector, typically in agriculture or canning factories.

Contract labor in the private sector proved enormously successful, due to the critical labor shortage throughout the United States, particularly in the agricultural industry. On May 19, 1943, Col. Welton Modisette, post commander at Camp Atterbury, announced that Italian POWs were available for agricultural labor within a twenty-five mile radius of the camp. Potential employers were to send requests for POW labor to the local office of the War Manpower Commission (chaired by former Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt). After confirming the unavailability of civilian labor, the WMC issued a certification of need to a camp contract officer who, in turn, drafted an agreement between the government and the employer.

A standard contract for POW labor stipulated the type and amount of work to be done, the location of the farm or factory, an estimate of working hours, and the amount of pay. The War Department was “responsible for the supervision of guarding, rationing, clothing, quartering, transporting, and providing medical attention” for all prisoners. However, “the cost of rationing and transporting” was “borne by the Contractor.”  The agreement further required the employer to supervise prisoner labor; maintain “clean and sanitary” premises; “furnish the materials, equipment, tools and other articles or facilities necessary in the performance of the work;” and “comply with all applicable Workmen’s Compensation Laws.” Governing law provisions expressly referenced the “requirements and prohibitions of the Geneva Convention of July 27, 1929.” Standard contracts also contained a dispute resolution clause, specifying that any disagreement be “decided by the Contracting Officer.” Contractors could appeal these decisions “in writing to the Secretary of War,” whose written decision would be “final and conclusive upon the parties.”

A schedule to the contract specified the amount and manner of payment to the government. Prisoner earnings reflected the prevailing local wage; however, they kept only an 80-cent per diem allowance (in addition to a flat allowance of ten cents a day from the U.S. Government) up to $13 a month in coupons exchangeable at camp canteens where they could purchase sundry goods. Any additional amount earned was kept in a trust account until prisoner repatriation.

Despite the economic benefits of POW labor, American labor unions often protested that it inhibited opportunities for civilians. Aware of these concerns, the War Manpower Commission certified that POWs not only received the local prevailing wage, but also had the same working conditions as civilian labor. Occasionally, employers ran afoul of these requirements. Morgan Packing Company, located in Austin, Indiana, employed over 1,500 German and Italian prisoners from 1944 to 1946. Morgan’s contract called for the payment of 40 cents per hour, plus overtime, and covered only common, or unskilled, labor at its food canning facility. However, during an inspection of the Morgan plant in September of 1945, WMC officers discovered approximately twenty-five POWs engaged in new construction, bricklaying, and scaffolding assembly. An additional forty prisoners were mixing concrete and paving driveways and parking areas. Inspection officers quickly suspended these operations, informing the company that it would first need to obtain a certification of need for skilled labor.


The Geneva Convention provided little guidance on dealing with insubordinate prisoners for failing to work. Article 32 simply stated that “[c]onditions of work shall not be rendered more arduous by disciplinary measures.” Article 55, in turn, permitted restrictions on food “to prisoners of war undergoing disciplinary punishment.” To help clarify these rules, the War Department issued guidelines on “Administrative and Disciplinary Measures” in October of 1943. For the commanding officer to effectively “utilize and control prisoner of war labor and to administer and maintain his camp in a satisfactory manner,” the guidelines encouraged “preventive remedies wherever possible.” Permissible administrative measures included verbal reprimands; withholding of certain privileges, “including restrictions on diet;” and “[d]iscontinuance of pay and allowances.” 

According to a report from the House Committee on Military Affairs in 1944, there had been “no courts martial of prisoners at Camp Atterbury, but 141 Italians and 19 Germans ha[d] been summarily disciplined for minor infractions of the rules and regulations.” 

In September of that year, German prisoners at Camp Windfall—“[o]ne thousand” of them, according to the Tipton Tribune—were “placed on bread and water rations . . . following their refusal to work in county canning plants and tomato fields.” And at Fort Benjamin Harrison, “[f]ifteen others [were] summarily disciplined, nine for refusing to perform work assigned them in connection with sewage disposal, and six for arranging two-toned shingles on the roof of the Billings General Hospital in the form of a swastika.” Historian Arnold Krammer notes that the “authorities [later] ordered the six men to return to the roof and rearrange the shingles, after which . . . they were all placed on a diet of bread and water for a period of 14 days.”

In an attempt to mitigate camp violence, military officials segregated the most hardcore of Nazi and Fascist sympathizers from the general POW population. Most prisoners, however, kept quiet as to their ideological views. Anti-Nazi prisoners feared trial by kangaroo court or, with rumors of German spies keeping lists of traitors, reprisals against family members back home. Although no murders appear to have taken place at any of Indiana’s POW camps, political volatility and ideological extremism occasionally led to violence and disruption of camp operations. According to the roster of POW internees at Camp Atterbury, Michele Carrubba, an Italian corporal and self-declared pro-Fascist, “[a]ttacked the Italian Company Leader” for his pro-Ally views and “[t]hreatened revenge on all US personnel.” Rinaldo Bonvini, another pro-Fascist POW, was “one of a number of agitators who signed their names to a pledge of loyalty bearing the Swastika, Rising Sun and Fascist emblems.”

The possibility of prisoner escapes generated a certain level of fear among local communities. Although infrequent—considering their conspicuous appearance and lack of English proficiency—attempted escapes were not unheard of. At Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, one POW had made such an attempt but was “recaptured within an hour.” Krammer writes of an escapee from Camp Atterbury “captured by an eight-year-old boy, who, playing with a toy pistol, ordered an imaginary adversary to come out of an abandoned shack near the boy’s home in Columbus, Indiana.” 

Two German POWs escaped from Camp Austin one night in October of 1943. They were captured the following evening in a field near Brownstown. “The prisoners,” according to the Indianapolis Star, “. . . were believed to have secreted themselves in a truck loaded with canned goods which left the [Morgan Packing Company plant]” late Friday for Bedford.

Another disciplinary problem that invariably arose involved prisoner fraternization with women. As a result, employers often took precautionary measures. At Camp Austin, for example, guards attempted “a physical separation, if possible, when PWs worked next to women.”

Overall, it seems, instances of prisoner recalcitrance—and thus the need for disciplinary measures—remained relatively low in Indiana, at least among the Italians. In February of 1944, Dr. Benjamin Spiro, representing the Legation of Switzerland, Department of Italian Interests, reported that “discipline at [Camp Atterbury] is good, but not as strict as it might be.” He continued:

There have been no court martials and few punishments. The entire camp has been placed on a limited parole basis.  That is to say, each of the prisoners is issued a limited parole card which permits him to move freely in and around the camp within certain limits.  The general atmosphere of the camp is good.  The morale of the prisoners is high. . . . The prisoners are generally well-behaved.  The parole system seems to be working unusually well.

In June of 1945, following the arrival of German POWs at Camp Atterbury, the U.S. Department of State reported that, “disciplinary action covering the three months of November, December and January shows a total of 41, who were given from three to 30 days sentence, usually on restricted diet. The principal misdemeanors were refusal to work, unsatisfactory work, insubordination, unauthorized possession of United States Government property, theft, and sabotage.” And “[d]uring the period from December 6, 1944 to March 15, 1945 inclusive, there were a total of 81 cases of disciplinary punishment at this camp. Most of these were single cases and the sentence was usually seven to 14 days hard labor without pay.” The report went on the describe specific instances of disciplinary action:

[O]n February 7, a group of 20 prisoners refused to unload a railway car when on prescribed work detail.  They were sentenced to seven days on bread and water.  On February 28, four prisoners refused to give their names to the work foreman while on prescribed work detail.  Their sentence was seven days at hard labor, no pay, with full rations.  On March 15, four prisoners were charged with laxity on “Classification Warehouse Work” detail.  They were sentenced to three days hard labor without pay, on full rations.


Under Article 16 of the Geneva Convention, prisoners enjoyed “complete freedom in the performance of their religious duties, including attendance at the services of their faith.” Prisoner religious personnel, regardless of their denomination, were “allowed freely to minister to their co-religionists.” In the absence of captive clergy, the U.S. Army appointed local religious personnel to minister services, often in the prisoners’ native language. At Fort Benjamin Harrison “[a] German-speaking Lutheran pastor from Indianapolis [was] permitted to enter the stockade every Sunday morning and preach to the prisoners.” Apparently, however, “no more than one-fifth of them attend[ed] the services. 

Construction planning for prisoner camps initially called for the inclusion of chapels. However, many of the detention sites lacked suitable structures. Some prisoners found innovative solutions to this problem. Italian POWs at Camp Atterbury received permission to construct a small chapel. According to one source, “the prisoners used leftover brick and stucco to construct the building. Inside, they used berries, flowers—even blood, it’s rumored—to create pigments for hand-painted frescos of religious figures: cherubs, Madonna, angels, the dove of peace, and on the ceiling, the eye of God."