Sixty years of movies, books, plays and TV shows would seem to have exhausted the number of stories that can be written about World War II, but Tom Morrow may have found a fresh twist on an old subject. “Nebraska Doppelganger” ($15.95, Old Warrior Books) may be the first book to tell the story of America-born men of German ancestry who returned to Germany and fought for the Nazis.
“Almost every writer and every historian I talked to about this said they’d never heard of it,” Morrow said. “They said this is a whole new aspect of the story.“
But Morrow said he had a hunch it did happen, which led him to raise the question to someone he knew in U.S. Army Intelligence.
“I said, ‘Is this possible?’ He looked at me and started laughing and said, ‘There were hundreds of them.’”
Morrow, a newspaper reporter for 38 years and writer for the Blade-Citizen and North County Times for the past 13, is a World War II buff who grew up listening to war stories from veterans in Iowa and Nebraska. Yet despite all he knew about the war, Morrow had never heard of German-Americans fighting for Nazis until reading a passing reference in Steven Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers.”
In the book, American soldiers meet a captured German soldier who speaks perfect English. To the Americans’ surprise, they discover the man actually is from Oregon and had been sent to Germany by his parents, who emigrated from there to the United States.
Morrow couldn’t find any documentation about American-born Nazi soldiers, but he trusted Ambrose’s account because it was based on the recollections of actual American soldiers. The American who told the anecdote about the Oregon soldier is still alive and even appeared in the film version of “Band of Brothers.”
But even if it didn’t happen, Morrow said, “It’s still a hell of a story.”
As outrageous as the premise may seem, he said, conditions in both countries at the time make it likely that some German-Americans did fight for the Nazis.
Thousands of Europeans immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and among those were many Germans who settled in the Midwest. Their new country did not always treat kindly the Volksdeutschers, or Germans living outside Germany, and many of them faced discrimination after World War I.
By the 1930s, though, Germany was emerging from an economic depression and had a new nationalistic pride and a booming work program instigated by Adolf Hitler. Some German-Americans returned to their homeland, and others sent their children there to continue their education.
“They couldn’t get jobs in the States, so they went to Germany,” Morrow said.
The central character of Morrow’s book, John Krauss, is one of those young men sent to Germany to help rebuild the country.
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“I had to go,” the character tells his granddaughter early in the book. “A good German son doesn’t say ‘No’ to his parents or to the call of his country.”
In the book, Krauss is an unwilling soldier for the Germans and is eventually captured and brought back to the United States as a prisoner of war.
“That’s when the story really gets rolling,” Morrow said.
While reading from his book at a recent publicity event, Morrow said many people in his audience were surprised to learn that the United States was home to some prisoner of war camps during World War II.
Growing up in the Midwest, Morrow said one of his first memories of World War II was seeing a POW camp in Clarinda, Iowa, while riding in a car as his father drove to his job in a Goodyear rubber plant.
Morrow, 67, joined the Navy in 1958 and stayed for four years, missing both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He retired from the Coast Guard Reserves after 24 years.
He never forgot the World War II stories he heard as a child, though.
“It certainly wasn’t the defining moment of my life as it would have been in the service, but it certainly has defined my life,” he said.
“Nebraska Doppelganger” is available at http://www.OldWarriorBooks.com.
Contact staff writer Gary Warth at email@example.com or (760) 740-5410.
Author to sign books
Tom Morrow will be reading and signing books July 9 at 2 p.m. at Lee Booksellers Edgewood, 56th Street and Nebraska 2.