To the editor:
I appreciate Chad Lawhorn’s story on the Douglas County German prisoners of war who did agricultural work in 1945. Nearly 400,000 German prisoners of war found refuge in the United States, and Americans gave them liberties far beyond that required by Geneva treaties. Many prisoners returned home with fond memories of their treatment in Kansas and the United States; some even returned home with new skills and college degrees earned here.
Yet their experience contrasts sharply with that of some American citizens. Any discussion of prisoner-of-war treatment, the work they did and the liberties they enjoyed, should be placed within the context of the experiences of some less-privileged American citizens, those without the benefit of white skin, who found themselves less welcome in Lawrence and other communities. German prisoners of war, accompanied by guards or minders, could enjoy Lawrence restaurants, barbershops, movie theaters and stores. Yet the overwhelming majority of local facilities barred black Americans. On the West Coast, Japanese-American citizens lost their homes, farms and liberty as the government forced them into and confined them to concentration camps during the war.
If Americans were at their best in their humane acceptance and treatment of German prisoners of war, they were at their worst in their treatment and exclusion of fellow citizens, black Americans and Japanese Americans.
To paraphrase Chad Lawhorn: “It is amazing who was not allowed in our fertile fields.”
As we have reconciled with former foes, I believe we still have reconciliation work to do among ourselves.