Arno Mayer: His job during WW II was to befriend the enemy

Historians in the News

In times of war, the last thing a soldier wants to do is befriend his enemy — unless it's his job.

Arno Mayer, an emeritus history professor, had to do just that during World War II, taking care of Nazi prisoners as if they were sick friends. For a year and a half during the war, Mayer was stationed at Fort Hunt, Va., where the U.S. Army brought some Nazi German scientists and generals for interrogation.

"I was to keep them happy because we were trying to entice them to work for the American army," Mayer said. "I was to provide them with newspapers, liquor and, one time, we came close to providing them with women."

"[The goal] with the German scientists was primarily to get them to work for us and with the German officers, who primarily were generals ... the main purpose was to get information about the order of battle of the red army," Mayer added.

Mayer went back to Fort Hunt earlier this month for a reunion for World War II veterans who served there. His 60-year-old memories — the secrets that he and his fellow soldiers had promised to keep — received media attention.

Reports from The Washington Post and The Seattle Times, among other papers, implied that the occasion was the first time that the veterans broke their silence and spoke of their experiences at Fort Hunt. Mayer said that this was not the case.

"They said that we were sworn to secrecy until we met that weekend," Mayer said. "I gave an interview for a book which came out in 1984, and I'm not the only one to have talked before. The thing is that when you swear to secrecy you don't really know when the oath expires."
Read entire article at Daily Princetonian

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