Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hobo Jungle

I pass the turn off for Fort Getty almost everyday here on Conanicut Island. The village is on the main chunk of the island and my place is at the tip of Beavertail, an almost separate island, connected by a little neck of land at Mackerel Cove. On the right, just after you pass the beach at Mackerel Cove, is the turn off for Fort Getty. Although I've been passing it for over thirty years, I've never had the urge to drive out and see it. My research on Alfred Andersch changed that.

It turns out Andersch wasn't just at a POW camp; he was in a very secret and very specialized "re-education" camp set up by the Americans to develop a core of pro-democracy, anti-nazi leaders to run Germany after WWII. POWs were screened very carefully before being accepted into the program and Andersch was a great candidate. The Nazis had put him in a concentration camp as a communist for several months before the war began, and he surrendered himself to the Americans while he was serving in the Wehrmacht in Italy. Although the American military government in Germany ultimately tired of him after the war, there seems no doubt about his anti-Nazi credentials.

It's been fun doing some research on the guy and learning more about U.S. policy and Rhode Island history along the way. My desire to ride out to Fort Getty and see the place has been growing, but we've been so busy with guests the past week, I just couldn't find the time to follow through. Finally there's been a break in the visitors and we're in the final five days before we leave for Germany, so Diane and I took some time to ride out and see Fort Getty. It was a pretty big disappointment. There is an American flag there, but it's ringed with dumpsters. There's nothing I could find to mark the site of the POW camp or acknowledge what I consider to be a pretty fascinating chapter in our history. There is a rather large RV campground there and a beautiful view of Dutch Harbor. But I had to be satisfied with an archival photo I found at the Jamestown Philomenian Library for any record of the camp during the war.

Saturday we leave for Germany, where presumably it might be easier to find information about Andersch and his contemporaries. I'll miss Jamestown, but the swallows are gathering on the telephone wires and I can see that summer is ending here whether we leave or not. And I'm looking forward to getting back into the studio.

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