From the Editor, 9/9/21
At the height of World War 2, US and Allied forces took thousands of German and Italian prisoners. The jails and camps of the United Kingdom quickly reached capacity. Military leadership started sending those captured in Europe and North Africa to the United States using Fort Drum as one off the first holding facilities.
As the allied forces campaign against Hitler and Mussolini progressed the number of POW increased past the capacity of military bases. State Parks become the next logical location to house prisoners and both Stony Brook and Letchworth became POW camps. Stony Brook was noted for housing Italian prisoners and Letchworth held over 200 Germans in very basic work camp. The facility was built in a hurry, near the “Lower Falls” area of the park today.
The prisoners were forced to work producing canned foods in contract with the Letchworth Farmers’ and Canner’s Cooperative. The Nazi soldiers were forced to work in the fields harvesting vegetables or in the factory on the canning production line. They provided Americans with a very important workforce as many farmers were deployed and factories converted to weapons manufacturing.
It is said that the accommodations and treatment of the Nazi prisoners was exemplary. The men were happy to be farming and working a normal job instead of fighting in a losing war. Escapes were rare but did happen, sometimes because another nearby camp was home to an all woman workforce. On more than one occasion, prisoners were smuggled out of the camp for romantic interests!!