My parents met at Camp Edwards
She was a volunteer typist; he was a prisoner of war
Since reading the fascinating article, “Prisoners on the Peninsula: During WWII, Cape Cod had a busy POW camp,” in Cape Cod LIFE’s 2016 Annual Guide, I have been researching my father’s story. Karl Rudolf Manner was an Austrian conscripted into the German army, who then spent 1944 to 1945 as a prisoner of war at Camp Edwards. He was repatriated at the end of the war, in late 1945. As a child, I knew my father had been a POW, and had met my mother at Camp Edwards, but we never discussed the details of his war/POW experiences.
My mother, Mina (Urann) Manner, was an amateur oral historian, and she interviewed my father on a tape cassette in 1975. These informative tapes have been in my possession since her death in 2008. In 2016, I heard my father’s story for the first time when the cassettes were transferred onto a CD. He died on May 30, 1978, so it was an emotional reunion to hear my father’s and mother’s voices.
In October 1941, my father was drafted at the age of 19, and headed to sniper training. The following February he broke his leg while training. His unit was deployed near Kiev, Russia. Fortunately, Dad stayed behind to recover and was sent to driver school in Grafenburg, Germany. The troops all thought they were headed to the Russian Front, but instead they boarded freight trains to Italy. From there, in January 1943, they flew to Tunis to join Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
In May, the unit surrendered in Cape Bon, Tunisia. The war lasted only three months for Dad, a huge relief for a farm boy reluctantly drafted. After their surrender, the officers were segregated from the enlisted men, and Dad never saw a German officer again. From Cape Bon, the POWs were sent to Oran, Algeria, aboard a British transport ship. It was there that my father was first interrogated by American Intelligence. Due to a Red Cross presence, Dad was able to notify his mother in Germany that he was a POW.
After an aircraft-carrier-led convoy to Glasgow, Scotland, they were detained at the national soccer stadium for interrogation. It was during this period my father first observed, as he stated on the tapes, the brutality of the Polish, the indifference of the British, and the kindness and humanity of the Canadians and Americans. Six days later, the prisoners were transported by train to the port at Gourock, Scotland, for passage on the Queen Mary, which had been converted to a troop ship for the war. Upon arrival in New York City, the POWs were detained in large warehouses. From there, my father was taken to Philadelphia, then Oklahoma, by train. The landscape of Oklahoma was one my father could not have imagined, marveling at prairie grasses four feet high. This all took place between June and July 1943.
My father was incarcerated along with 3,000 other POWs at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. This was a U.S. military POW prison camp complete with barbed wire fences and armed guards, where the prisoners were allowed to develop a community that included an art group, theater troupe, religious services and holiday observances. For the next 10 months, he would march four to five miles to a quarry to cut flagstones—working side by side with civilians—to be used to build drainage ditches to mitigate destructive flooding in the region during heavy rains. At first, the POWs worked one day on, two days off. Later, they worked two days on, one day off. My father was paid 70 cents a day for his work, which the Army kept until repatriating him.
In May 1944, my father was transported to Camp Edwards on Cape Cod. His English was good, and he became an interpreter for other POWs when they sought medical attention at the infirmary. It was there that he met my mother, a volunteer typist, who worked in the infirmary. By the end of 1945, my father was repatriated to Germany.
In 1946, my mother and father began a trans-Atlantic correspondence that eventually led my mother to Vienna, Austria, to reconnect with my father. They were married in occupied Vienna on May 20, 1949, and returned to the United States with the help of my mother’s family’s political connections. In July 1949, they arrived at “Raven Brook,” my grandparents’ home in Middleboro, Mass. Two weeks later, they moved to Nantucket, where they spent the next year. Dad found employment as an electrical engineer and my parents moved off island to Foxboro to start a family.
During my mother’s interview, my father spoke of the compassion that all American soldiers showed him during his captivity. His exposure to the American culture, while detained as a POW, resulted in his wish to return and become an American citizen. He achieved this goal on January 21, 1952, one of the proudest moments in his life.
Karla (Manner) Butler