The Roanoker - May/June 2020 - 11

NELSON HARRIS is a former mayor of Roanoke and author of a dozen books on
the region's history. He is the minister at Heights Community Church in Roanoke
and a past president of the Historical Society of Western Virginia.

COURTESY OF THE SALEM MUSEUM

how the fighting was going in Germany and if
these prisoners had shot any Americans. The
Germans would always laugh good-heartedly and
say, 'Oh no! We shot only Ruskies!' "
At the Crumpacker Orchards in Botetourt
County, the prisoners were occasionally offered a
home-cooked meal, allowed to eat at the family's
dining room table. Even years after the war, some
prisoners corresponded with the families on whose
farms they had worked.
By all reports, the German soldiers were quite
pleasant and in some ways glad to be out of combat
zones in North Africa and working orchards,
raising barns, and clearing timber in the Roanoke
Valley. A few returned to the Roanoke Valley in
the decades that followed to revisit the camp sites
and work locations.
Werner Krauss was 19 when he came to the
POW camp at Catawba. In 2000, he made a trip
back to the camp. By that time, the property had
been acquired by the Roanoke Valley Baptist
Association and converted into Ward Haven
Retreat Center, as it is today.
Krauss recalled the farmers coming with their
pick-ups and requesting two or three laborers for
the day. After the war, Krauss eventually returned
to Germany, but finding it in ruins tried to become
an American citizen. With his application denied,
Krauss went to Canada.
During his 2000 visit, he said, " It's kind of ironic
that you wanted to go live in a country where you
were a POW because you were treated so well. I
think it's a wonderful compliment to the American
people. "
While writing my recent book The Roanoke
Valley in the 1940s, I became well-acquainted
with the POW camps and the various work the
prisoners did in the valley, making certain to
include all such details in the book. What I lacked
were photographs of the camps, as none existed
with any local museums or libraries.
Literally days before my publisher's deadline, a
man visited the Salem Museum whose father had
TheRoanoker.com

FACING PAGE: The
German POW Camp at
Catawba in 1944.
AT LEFT, CLOCKWISE:
POW Camp at Catawba,
1944; POW Camp
transport near Salem,
1944; POW Camp at
Catawba, 1944.

served as a guard at the POW camp in Catawba
and shared photos his father had taken while
stationed there. They are in the book and a few
accompany this article, thanks to the museum's
Library Committee alerting me to their existence.
As for the emergency of late October 1944, the
escaped prisoner was Hermann Neumann. On
the lam for two days and with little command of
English, Neumann was spotted along a highway
near Coyner Springs.
Roanoke police, the local Virginia Reserves
unit, and camp guards searched in vain for the
21-year-old. Finally on October 29th, Neumann,
hungry and tired, walked up to the front door of
Sam Smelser's farmhouse and surrendered. With
his arms held high, Neumann identified himself
to the farmer and said he was ready to go back to
Catawba.
There were a few other escape attempts by
others, none successful. The German soldiers
remained in the Roanoke Valley until April 1946,
when what few were left at Salem were transferred
back to Camp Pickett. The two camps were sold a
year or two later by the War Assets Administration.
-NELSON HARRIS

MAY/JUNE 2020 11


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