Blinkhorn: Camp Stark
At first there were 100 German prisoners of war, eventually 250, housed in nine narrow, wooden buildings surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers in the village of Stark in the White Mountain National Forest. The buildings, part of a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, were converted in 1944 and renamed Camp Stark, the only POW camp in New Hampshire. The village itself had been named in 1832 after General John Stark, author of the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die.”
Most of the prisoners were from the infamous 999th Penal Division which Hitler himself ordered, composed of German criminals. A few were hardened Nazis from the Afrika Corps, commanded by Field Marshall Rommel, the legendary desert fox. All had been part of units defeated by British forces in Libya and North Africa. But Britain was being swamped with war prisoners and pleaded with the United States to take some. By the fall of 1943, almost 200,000 were in the United States.
Stark was remote with a small population - a good place for a camp. But the real reason this location was chosen was to provide much needed labor to cut trees in forests up to the Canadian border and into Vermont, and supply wood for Brown Company paper mills in Berlin, New Hampshire. Local unions objected but two prominent state Republican leaders, Styles Bridges and Sherman Adams, argued the case in Washington and eventually, the war department approved.
The first train load of prisoners arrived in April, 1944. As the train passed a station marked Berlin, the passengers suspected a cruel American joke.
This story is detailed in a small book by Allen Koop – Dartmouth History teacher and son of the late US Surgeon General Everett Koop.
And despite a fair amount of grumbling around the country about the humane way German prisoners were being treated under the Geneva Convention, the people of Stark seemed to take it all in stride.
Donald Croteau, now 85, has lived in Stark all his life. As a teenager, he’d wave to the prisoners in the early morning as they took horses from his father’s shed to the logging sites. His mother sometimes brought them cookies.
In 1986, the village hosted a reunion. Several former prisoners attended with their families, including one burly German who reconnected with the boy who waved.
The German consulate general from Boston, Hartmut Lange, has written that the story of Camp Stark encourages all who will believe that man can be good.