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German Prisoners of War in Mississippi, 1943-1946 lesson plan

OVERVIEW

Mississippi’s support of the war effort in the 1940s was similar to that of most states in the Union. Thousands of its citizens, male and female, black and white, voluntarily enlisted or were drafted. Military bases across the state became centers of training and deployment. Those who remained behind as civilians did their part as well: purchasing war bonds; adjusting to a lifestyle dictated by ration cards; working in factories modified to produce war materials; and praying for victory over the enemy. Yet, in another most unusual way, Mississippi played a role in the war by serving as home to a number of prisoner of war camps. The camps were scattered throughout the state. By mid-1946 all the prisoners were gone, leaving behind altered landscapes in some places, stories of attempted escapes, and surprisingly for some, deep and abiding friendships with their American captors. As they study this fascinating story, students should think about the following questions:

Why were POW camps located in Mississippi?

Who were the prisoners and how were they treated?

What tangible evidences remain of the camps and/or the work assigned to the prisoners?

Imagine how you would have felt living close to one of the camps.

CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies, 1, 3, and 4

TEACHING LEVELS

Grades 7 through 12

MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT

1.

Mississippi History Now article, “German Prisoners of War in Mississippi”

2.

Class set of world outline maps

3.

World atlases; Mississippi road maps

4.

Butcher or newsprint paper

OBJECTIVES

Students will:

determine why the United States constructed prisoner of war camps within the country and suggest reasons for the selection of Mississippi as one of the sites;

trace the route of German/Italian prisoners of war from their capture in Africa to camps in Mississippi (based on diary entries);

construct a Mississippi map showing all base and branch camps in Mississippi;

examine the relationship between the “work” of each camp and the physical geography of the region in which the camp was located; and

describe life in a POW camp in Mississippi.

OPENING THE LESSON

Using a large wall map of Mississippi or a map transparency, show students the LOCATIONS of Hattiesburg, Clinton, Grenada, and Como. Ask students to speculate what the areas have in common. Continue to give a series of “clues” to stimulate student interest. Have students share what they know about POW camps—some may even know of family members who were interned in camps. If students haven’t already “guessed” the significance of the four locations to the topic, inform them that World War II POW camps were found in each of these areas of the state. Ask students to think carefully as they study the camps in Mississippi and compare what they learn to what they thought they knew about prisoner of war camps.

DEVELOPING THE LESSON

1.

Students will read the first few paragraphs of the Mississippi History Now article to gain an understanding of Objective 1. Ask them to share with a partner what they learned. In a large-group discussion, teacher will determine that students understand why prisoner of war camps were built in the United States. Lead students to speculate about why Mississippi was one of the sites chosen for the camps: its rural nature, availability of cheap land, warm climate, good transportation facilities, lack of German/Italian communities, etc. Have students once again review with a partner what they have learned.

2.

Distribute a world outline map to each student who will, with the help of atlases, trace the route of German prisoners of war from Africa to Mississippi. Ask students to make their maps colorful and creative. They may wish to “name” a particular prisoner and show his journey rather than the whole group. Ask students to take their maps home and explain them to a family member.

3.

Ask students to recall the four locations of POW camps used in opening the lesson. They should now write the names of these sites in their notes along with the name of the base camp at each. At this point, the teacher will list for students the remaining 15 branch camps.

4.

Working in groups, students will construct a large butcher paper map of Mississippi which shows the location of all prisoner of war camps in the state. Ask students to indicate in their key which were base camps and which were branch camps. They should also indicate the populations of the various camps.

5.

Ask students to write the following structured paragraph in their notes and to fill in the blanks after carefully studying their maps and reviewing what they know about Mississippi’s physical geography.

“Most soldiers in the camps often worked outside the compound and receive a payment of _______ per day. (Take a guess!) The kinds of work assigned to them depended on the region where they were located. For example, prisoners in branch camps in the Delta region would often be found tending the ___________ fields. This type of work included:

________________________________

These ten camps were located at:

________________________________

In the pine land region of Mississippi, prisoners did another type of work, usually involving __________________. In this work they would ___________________
________________________________

They also worked to complete Lake Shelby, a small lake a few miles from the base camp. Branch camps located in the pine region were:___________________"

After students try to complete the paragraph based solely on their maps and their prior knowledge of the state, let them read the Mississippi History Now article and check/correct their answers. Ask students to add additional sentences to their structured paragraph detailing the work of prisoners at Camp Clinton.

6.

Ask students to now read where life in the camp is described and to construct a chart or web detailing camp life in these areas: HOUSING; FOOD; MEDICAL SERVICES; EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES; and ENTERTAINMENT. Once students complete their work, they should use the information they have gathered to write a paragraph describing life in a POW camp. Students should also indicate whether or not their earlier perceptions of life in a POW camp matched those described in the Mississippi History Now article.

CONCLUDING THE LESSON

Allow students to read the rest of the article and to discuss in large group other interesting information they learned.

Ask students to share aloud differences in their pre- and post-lesson perceptions of life in POW camps.

Explain the significance of the Geneva Conventions. Lead students to discuss whether or not the Conventions were always upheld by warring nations.

Reread the OVERVIEW questions for students to consider.

ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING

1.

Teacher observation of group and class participation

2.

Individual and group map construction

3.

Structured paragraph completion

4.

Accuracy/completion of chart/web

5.

Paragraph construction

6.

Teacher-made objective test

7.

A written essay responding to the OVERVIEW questions

EXTENDING THE LESSON

1.

Collect data on the physical geography of Germany, including climatic information. Students will compare/contrast Germany and Mississippi.

2.

Students may wish to depict life in the POW camps by making drawings, sketches, or models.

3.

Contact local historians for additional information on POW camps in your area.

4.

Locate old newspapers printed during the time period to assess community attitudes regarding the POW camps.

5.

If any physical evidence remains of the camps or of work done by the prisoners, such as the Mississippi River Basin Model at Clinton, a field trip would be instructive.

6.

Some students may wish to research life in German/Japanese POW camps for American soldiers. If a report is given, students will likely wish to discuss differences in treatment.

7.

Students can role play a POW by submitting diary entries detailing their capture and subsequent imprisonment in Mississippi.

8.

After viewing the Clinton P.O.W. site, a Web site for Camp Clinton, students may wish to set up a site for camps in their local regions.

9.

A field trip to the Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg would be instructive.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Allard, Mike, Master’s thesis on Camp Clinton housed in Mississippi College Library, Clinton, Mississippi

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