The Work They Did
200 Axis soldiers – Germans, Polish and? Austrians – housed on Bull Hill as prisoners
Approximately 200 Axis prisoners were held at the Bull Hill CCC camp during World War II.
Photos and information from the camp were recently donated to the Warren County Historical Society. The items were initially part of Bill Kerr’s estate. Kerr worked in the lumber industry and worked directly with many of the prisoners. A 1968 article tells about his experiences with the camp and prisoners.
“Bill Kerr scaled the woodcut and supervised the work of prisoners from both camps (Bull Hill and Red Bridge). Joe Strauss assisted him in the Red Bridge area. The Armstrong Forest Company paid the government the going rate per cord for woodcut by the German prisoners. In addition, the Company had to haul the men from the camps to the job and furnish the tools used in the woods. Harry Jefferson trained the German saw filers and the Company paid the government the going rate for saw filers.”
The column details that each prisoner was required to meet a daily quota.
“As long as he met this quota, he was paid forty cents a day. If for no good reason, he failed to meet the quota, he was put on bread and water in solitary confinement overnight with wooden slats to sleep on. Very few failed to meet their daily quota of wood.”
$.40 per day translates to approximately $6.18 in purchasing power in 2019.
“When the prisoners worked in the woods, armed guards furnished by the government went with them,” the article continues. “The usual wood crew consisted of six prisoners of war and one guard. During the peeling season, the prisoners worked in pairs. Many of the prisoners talked good English and so each crew had one of these men to act as interpreter and straw boss.
“When the prisoners of war arrived, the Bull Hill Camp took on a different appearance than when it had been Camp 13 of the C.C.C. Something new had been added – a high wire fence with strands of barbed wire on top, and armed guards. The guards were American soldiers who had been in combat overseas. Many of them had been wounded.”
Stotz, noting that the camp held Austrian and Polish soldiers in addition to Germans, wrote that he asked Kerr if the men were good workers.
“Some were very good workers, some were poor. There were some who didn’t care how they did things, and there were a few who just didn’t know how,” Kerr said.
“Bill recalled many incidents in his association with the prisoners. Some proved exasperating; others were amusing. One day Bill had set his scale stick down in the woods, and while he was gone a prisoner sneaked up and cut a four-inch piece from it,” Stotz wrote. “A little later, another prisoner cut off a small piece. He was followed soon after by a third prisoner who had the same idea. He too cut off a short piece from the scale stick. Not one of the three who had shortened the scale stick knew that the others had had the same idea. The end result was that it didn’t require a second look to convince Bill that there was something radically wrong with his scale stick.
“One frosty morning, Bill recalled, he had been waiting along the road for prisoners from the Red Bridge Camp. This camp was close enough to the cutting areas to make it feasible for the prisoners to walk to work. Suddenly, far off in the distance, he heard singing. It got louder and louder and finally, the prisoners rounded the bend and came into full view. They were in perfect military formation and goose-stepping down the road as they sand a rousing German marching song. In (perfect) step, their feet thundered in perfect unison on the frozen road. They did this just to try to get Bill’s goat. But it didn’t work.”
While World War II ended in 1945, many Axis prisoners continued working into 1946 before they were repatriated to their home countries.
The camp didn’t last much longer.
The Feb. 6, 1947 edition of the Times-Mirror reported that “work of dismantling the buildings at the Bull Hill Camp, last used for the housing of Germany prisoners, is professing in a rapid way. The buildings were put up to bids and sold. Several contractors in this area secured some of the lumber and George W. Peterson, of Sheffield, bought a large quantity. The Bull Hill Camp was erected for the CCC boys brought into the area to work in the woods and aid in cleaning up the forest.”
Little remains today at the Bull Hill Camp beside