Prisoners of War

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“Italian Prisoners at Camp Wheeler,” 1943. Courtesy of the Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library via the Digital Library of Georgia.

In 1942, the War Department ordered that all prisoners of war be relocated to the United States, to reduce the challenge for US military forces to supervise them overseas. Prisoners were processed on the front lines of battle, and transported on ships and trains guarded by military police for their eventual arrival in the United States.

The first prisoner of war camps were situated in rural facilities. As the war progressed, and the number of prisoners exponentially increased, standards were eased to include camps in more densely populated areas. POW labor was often used to build these facilities.

More than 425,000 prisoners of war were brought to the United States by 1945 and were held at more than 490 different facilities across the United States. Forty of these camps were located in Georgia.

The treatment of prisoners of war was governed by the Geneva Convention, which instructed that enemy soldiers be treated respectfully, and asserted that their humane treatment would ensure the protection of American prisoners of war overseas. Standards were enforced by members of the International Red Cross, the International YMCA, Swiss diplomats, and United States government officials, who visited the camps.