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Belle Glade, Clewiston camps held German POWs in WWII

Last week’s Memorial Day column referred to World War II. Frequent contributor L.J. Parker of the Lake Park Historical Society wrote to say he recently read Robert Billinger Jr.’s Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine State and asked us to revisit the topic. Here’s a 2002 Post Time column:

During World War II, more than 9,000 German prisoners-of-war went to 22 Florida camps, including facilities in Belle Glade and Clewiston. Prisoners went out to work in fields in and around the camp before 8 a.m. and were back about 3 p.m.

Some prisoners bolted for freedom. But Florida was not an easy place to be on the lam, and they were caught. Prisoners weren’t punished for trying to escape.

The military charged farmers the going rate for labor, but they were able to show a profit by paying prisoners 80 cents a day in coupons they traded for items such as cigarettes and beer.

Access to such treats led to a showdown with local distributors in early 1945. They halted supplies to Morrison Field, now Palm Beach International Airport, when they learned it was sharing them with the POWs.

Liberty Point, near Clewiston, operated from February 1944 to September 1945. The Belle Glade camp ran from March to December 1945.

Almost immediately, the Germans put Belle Glade on the national map when they held a two-day strike over a cut in cigarette rations.

The American public, press and politicians angrily painted word pictures of coddled Germans whining over cigarettes at a time when GIs were stumbling across Nazi concentration camps. Thirty-nine prisoners considered troublemakers were transferred and the Army handed down a stern “no work, no eat’’ policy that allowed only bread and water for sloths.


In this 1944 photograph, 1st Sgt. Tom W. Malone gets a light from a German prisoner of war at the Liberty Point POW camp near Clewiston. (Photo courtesy of the Clewiston Museum)

Update: Our May 24 column mentioning the “bucking” horse sculpture in Lake Park caught the eye of one reader who wrote: “Please note: These horses are not bucking. Horses buck with the other end. These horses are rearing up! We horse people got a good laugh.”

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg June 7, 2012 at 11:14 am.

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