INDIAN TOWNSHIP, Maine — Seventy-five years ago, more than 200 young men arrived from Europe in this remote Washington County town near the Canadian border. They did not know how long they would stay.
They were German soldiers the U.S. had taken prisoner during World War II, and they were housed at a guarded camp next to Route 1 on land that belonged to the Passamaquoddy Tribe. The nearby residents, members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe whose living conditions may have been worse than the prisoners’, were not given a say in whether they wanted a Nazi prisoners of war camp in their community.
“I think they must have had some challenges in understanding why [the German POWs] were there,” said Bonnie Newsom, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Maine. “It was a very complex social situation.”
Newsom has conducted research at the Indian Township site in cooperation with Donald Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s historic preservation officer. The pair have documented their findings from a 2013 archaeological dig at the mostly bulldozed camp site, and Newsom hopes to publish a book about the camp. It would show how the Passamaquoddy Tribe fit into one of the 20th century’s largest global conflicts and offer a Native American perspective on World War II-era POW camps that were located throughout Maine.
A $6,000 grant Newsom recently received from the American Association of University Women will pay for the creation of a historical manuscript that could lead to that book.
The 6.5-acre camp in Indian Township was one of seven such camps in Maine — the largest was in Houlton — that held German POWs from 1944 to 1946. Prisoners at the camps — which also were located in Augusta, Bangor, Presque Isle, Seboomook, and Spencer Lake — had been brought to the U.S. to address a national labor shortage caused by the war. In Maine, they typically worked on potato farms or in forestry operations while they were held captive. Many even were paid for their work.
In Indian Township, remains of the local camp were bulldozed decades ago into a berm in the trees behind where a small group of homes now stand on Raven Road. Parts of wood stoves, broken glass cream bottles, bits of metal barbed wire fencing, old forestry tools and other items used by the prisoners have been found in the mound over the years. Soctomah has moved many recovered items into storage at the nearby Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Museum.
A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....
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