WW II Sodus Point P.O.W Camp

 

In 1923 the Wayne County Health Department had purchased five acres of land from Glenn Proseus at a cost of $1500. The department then established a camp for underprivileged children from Rochester. Located approximately one quarter of a mile west of the village of Sodus Point, the camp was built about two hundred yards from the Lake Ontario shoreline. Two dormitories and an office were constructed along with another large building that contained dining and recreation areas. The latter building was built on steel pillars to prevent the building from sinking into the clay embankment. Attendance had declined by the late 1930′s and the camp buildings were boarded up.

In September of 1944 the government rented the land from Wayne County. This camp was to be called Pine Camp. At the time there was some apprehension and wariness on the part of Sodus Point residents. Clean up and renovation began with ten prisoners from the Clyde camp who were brought to help with repairs. Arthur Boller helped clear the overgrown bushes, trees, and stumps with a bulldozer. William Beach was in charge of repairing and tarring the roofs. He returned to the camp one day to find the prisoners had tarred a large swastika on the roof of one building. Mr. Beach made sure the swastika was quickly covered up.

Two thirty by sixty foot prefabricated buildings were brought from Buffalo.  A twenty-foot high barbed wire fence surrounded the area.

 

There were three guard towers, two of which were outside the gate and were fifteen feet high while the third was thirty feet high and on the left of the road leading into the camp. One of the smaller towers also contained a siren.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The camp office was converted to barracks for the guards. This was located outside the barbed wire area. The dining/recreation building contained a dining area, a kitchen, a chapel, a stage, an infirmary and a barbershop. A porch was also added. It cost about $2300 to winterize the camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to written materials, sanitation at the camp at Sodus Point consisted of a large hole dug for latrine wastes and septic drainage. Chlorine was thrown on top to break down the waste into nutrients for the soil.

The Sodus Record reports one hundred fifteen German prisoners-of-war arrived from Florida on September 7, 1944. Morton Adams’ main task was placement of the POWs at various farms and factories. Fifty-five of the prisoners went to work immediately. The others stayed in the camp to help fix up their quarters. Fifteen prisoners were trained at the Boller Farm under one guard to prune trees and pick fruit. Arthur Boller’s 140-acre farm later became the Ashberry Farm and is now owned by the Burnaps and is located on Maple Avenue, Sodus. Others were trained for specific jobs in canning factories such as Alaska Packing Company in Webster, Alton Canning, and Jaybee Packing Company.

The camp at this time was under the leadership of  Lt. Arthur Ditchfield. The prisoners ate German style food cooked by German prisoners. They had their own barber, prayer leaders who conducted Lutheran services in the chapels and a German doctor who was in charge of the infirmary. Dr. Thomas Hobbie of Sodus came to the camp every six months to give the men physicals. He also brought a truck filled with medical supplies for the infirmary. The prisoners called Dr. Hobbie  “Tootsie”.  There were always eighteen guards on duty with four hours on and four hours off. They not only guarded the prisoners but also patrolled the perimeter of the camp. Prisoners were awakened at 5:30 a.m. Breakfast was at 6:00 a.m. and by 6:30 the prisoners were on trucks headed for farms or canning factories where they would work that day. Lunch, brought from the camp, was eaten at noon and by 12:30 p.m. the men would be back on the job. Prisoners were back on the trucks at 4:00 p.m. and returned to the camp. They had some free time until dinner at 6:00 p.m. with more free time after dinner until lights out at 10:00 p.m. Prisoners worked 6 days a week.

The men filled their free time with various activities. They planted small gardens with seeds, shrubs, and flowers supplied by Jackson Perkins.

 They carved donated wood scraps into pipe racks, drawing compasses, suitcases, and small figurines. The figurines were fastened to a large scroll that was used for a backdrop for plays. One of the guards Don Kelly, a Brooklyn boy, was given a small child’s dresser for his infant daughter. A prisoner had made it from an apple crate. ”Spike” Ameele owns a beautiful liquor cabinet also made by a prisoner. The Rochester Public Library supplied German language books and films. The men could play ping pong, horseshoes, and swim in the lake.

Every few days guards would march 30 prisoners down the road to the west where they played soccer on a field belonging to the Proseus Farm.

 

The prisoners had cleared the field of stones so they might play there. Glenn Proseus has commented that he wished they had moved the soccer field around to various parts of the farm, and doing so would have cleared more rocks from the property. He also remembers that as a boy he would accompany his father to the camp to get the camp garbage for their pigs. The prisoners also did yard work such as raking for nearby neighbors.

Although it no longer exists, the prisoners built a round concrete fountain on the Northwest corner of the camp. Small goldfish were etched in the sides of the fountain.

Caroline Boller McKee recalls that after the war a prisoner wrote to her father, Arthur Boller, asking if he could come back and work on the farm. Art Boller was manager of the Horn Farm also known as the Cohn Farm, which was owned by Herman Cohn of Rochester. Myron Whitcomb was foreman on the farm and in the spring of 1944 he and his wife Mary Whitcomb (now Bushart) lived on Munson Road, Sodus. There was a cherry orchard across the road and Art Boller brought six or seven prisoners with a guard to work in the orchard. The prisoners picked up brush into windrows and Myron would push the brush into piles to burn.

Also across the road a short way from the Whitcomb house was a hand pump on a wooden platform. In the spring black snakes would lie or curl up in the sun on the platform. Mary, in her house, heard the men laughing and hollering and went out to find the prisoners picking up the snakes and throwing them alive into the fire. She found her husband who yelled at the prisoners to stop. Mary wasn’t fond of the snakes but saw no reason for them to be killed in that fashion.

The prisoners also worked at other jobs on the farm. Some of the men had relatives who lived in Rochester. Mary remembers some of them coming with food to the Cohn Farm and enjoying a picnic with a number of the prisoners.

While in high school George Dennie of Williamson worked part-time and weekends at the Forman Pickle and Sauerkraut Factory located on North Creek and Waller Road in the town of Palmyra. About a dozen prisoners worked there. Philip Trautman also worked at the factory and could converse with the prisoners. It is memorable to Dennie that many of the prisoners were quite intelligent but antagonistic with one-track minds. They could not believe they (the Germans) were losing the war. Others were just very ordinary men anxious for the war to end. A few knew some English and could communicate somewhat crudely. Ken Trautman, Philip’s son, remembers the prisoners wanting rabbits to make hasenpfeffer. He also recalls his father telling him of one POW trying to show how tough he was. He would take a spike and with his hand drive it through the bottom of an oak barrel.

Lt. Ditchfield tried to discourage friendships between the German prisoners and the guards. He felt respect for the guards would be lost. Friendships did exist but the prisoners did not lose their respect for their guards. After the establishment of the camp townspeople accepted the prisoners and did not feel threatened by them. Virginia Warnick tells of driving on Lake Road after a trip to Sodus. Several prisoners were walking along the side of the road near the highway barns. She and her mother gave the men a ride back to the camp. Although Virginia and her mother could not understand German it was obvious the prisoners were appreciative of the ride. Virginia mentioned the prisoners were not heavily guarded.

A blinding snow squall in the winter of 1944-45 made driving nearly impossible. The regular supply truck that came from Pine Camp (now Fort Drum) was delayed. Camp personnel went on snowshoes to Sodas Point to purchase dry milk. In the meantime, forty- three prisoners were being trucked back from the Webster Packing Company. The trucks made it as far as the Sodus High School. That building now houses the Dynalec Corporation.

Mrs. Fred Button, Mrs. Arthur Boller, Mrs. Charles Fox, and other Red Cross volunteers purchased ground beef at Austin’s Market in Sodus. They then prepared a hot meal for the prisoners in the school cafeteria. The POWs then spent the night sleeping on tumbling mats in the school gym. The next morning they were able to return to the camp.

 

In the spring of 1945 twenty more POWS arrived at the camp.

On the night of December 8, 1945 Hans Brunn, 30, a former mechanic and Willy Hammerschag, 35, an electrician climbed over the fence. They had hoped to find some work in order to send money back home to their families. The State Police under Lt. Russell Mansfield began looking for the men who had headed towards Lyons. Obvious places such as barns and haystacks were searched and German Shepherd dogs were used also. The two men were found twenty-two hours later in Lyons. Several villagers reported two strangers hanging around in downtown Lyons. Patrolman Rudolph Heitzenreder took the two men to the Lyons jail. Lt. Ditchfield and Lt. Mansfield came to pick them up and returned the two prisoners to the Sodus Point Camp.

Early in 1946 the prisoners were trucked from Sodus Point to Virginia where they were put on ships. Some went to England and others back to Germany. The camp was deactivated on April 30, 1946 and the property sold to Eugene Cook and Walter Grosz. They planned to make the property into a summer camp for families. The Cook family moved into one side of the guards’ barracks and the Grosz family into the other side. Four months later a fire forced the Grosz family to move into the “u”’ shaped building closer to the lake. Mr. Cook moved to Sodus. The burned building was later torn down and a concrete block building built over the hole where the foundation had been.

Sometime after this the two men decided to tear down the building by the lake that had been a dining hall and recreation area. They discovered wires running through the walls, which indicated the prisoners had hoped to set up radio communication. Although searches of the prisoners were conducted nightly ten to fifteen silver table knives were found in a compartment beneath the dining room floor. The men also decided to have the wire fence removed. Invitation was extended to anyone who wanted the wire to come and retrieve it. Farmers had to drive around the perimeter with a horse and cart to wind up the wire. There were approximately 120 sheets of wire around the camp. Wood from two of the towers was also given away. Mr. Grosz demolished the third tower around 1960.

Robert and Margaret Meisenzahl later purchased the property. There were several rental cottages surviving from the barracks.

Sixteen years ago, William Hawkins was on a fishing trip with his sons and was renting a cottage from the Meisenzahls. Several men were burning a large pile of debris from a building that was being razed. One of Hawkins’s sons saw a door that was to be burned and quickly called his father. Hawkins salvaged the door as at that time he was redecorating a bathroom, outfitting it as a barbershop. He put a door between two mattresses, took it home to Trout Run, PA where he eventually installed it in his bathroom. The door had apparently been part of the POW camp complex. “’Barbershop”’ is printed in English across the top of the glass section of the door, On a diagonal is written “Frisiersalon.”  The salon may have been added, as it was a door in the United States. Across the bottom of the glass is the name Jupp Hermanns. Hawkins also saved some army issue pencil sharpeners from that site. Interesting also is the fact that Mr. Hawkins had a neighbor, now deceased, named Hazelmeyer who had been a guard at the Sodus Point Camp.

If one were to drive by this site today there is no indication that a POW camp had been located there other than the historic plaque that marks the location.

 

Information courtesy of Annette T. Harris in her book entitled:

World War II Prisoner of War Camps In Wayne County, New York And Their Prisoners

 

Photos courtesy of Glenn and Nancy Proseus