ALICEVILLE, Ala. (WBRC) - We once again honored Veterans who served our country through the observance of Veterans Day on November 11, but this is a different kind of war story. It’s about a place called Camp Aliceville which helped play an integral part in the war effort during the 1940′s.
It’s also the story of a group who referred to themselves as The Guests Behind The Fence because for a period during World War II 6,000 Germans were held at a Pickens county POW camp. It’s a little known but integral part of the history of that day and time.
“I’m not sure why we don’t tell the stories about the POW Camps more often because they’re positive stories and it’s something the United States can be very proud of, what we did at the POW Camps all those years ago. It’s something that still benefits this country,” notes John Gillum, Director of the Aliceville Museum which displays memorabilia from Camp Aliceville.
“About 10% of our visitors annually come from Germany and they all have ties to the POW Camp whether it was their father or their grandfather or an uncle who was in the camp here and they come to see the place where they were held prisoner. We treated them so well they left this country with positive attitudes toward the United States and now we see that in their children and grandchildren.”
The Aliceville Museum is more than a collection of relics from bygone days. It’s a preserved piece of history from a time when the world was at war.
“By the end of the war there were over five hundred camps in this country. There were 26 in Alabama and Aliceville at the time it was built in the Autumn of 1942 was the largest camp in the country.”
The museum itself is housed in the old Coca-Cola building, another preserved piece of history while part of the history of the camp is documented in the camp newspaper published by the prisoners.
"The newspaper was called Der Zaungast. It translated, ‘A Guest Behind A Fence.’ "
Recently the family of one of the former Guests Behind The Fence donated an assortment of toys from a company started by a former POW.
John remembers, “Last February a semi-truck pulled up out in front of the museum and the guy comes in and he says I’ve got seven pallets of toys for you from Germany and they donated them to us for us to be able to sell in our gift shop as a fundraiser for the museum.”
“Many interesting people from all over the country, all over Alabama come here and it’s just a pleasure to visit with them and share the story of the Aliceville POW Camp.”