Gunter Habock was imprisoned in Gettysburg, but rather than considering it a trial, he enjoyed his time here as a prisoner. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that he returned to Gettysburg in 1970 to show his wife and son where he had spent part of World War II.
“He was a boy of 15 in 1939 when Hitler’s Brown Shirts demonstrated for possession of the Polish Corridor and remembers the Polish army in the city,” The Gettysburg Times reported.
An 18-year-old Habock was in Danzig in 1943. He was studying architecture when he was drafted into the German Army.
Habock had served in the war as a paratrooper in the German army, but he had been transferred to infantry when the Germans lost all of their planes at St. Lo, Normandy, after the Allies strafed the location. He was sent to fight in July 12, 1944, and captured along with 24 other paratroopers on July 28.
The captured Germans were taken to Le Havre, where 42 ships waited to sail to the U.S. These ships were loaded with 2,000 German prisoners.
The ships docked at New York and the prisoners were off loaded onto trains to be transported to various prisoner of war camps in the U.S. Several hundred were put on a train to Carlisle. At Carlisle, trucks were waiting to take about 100 of the prisoners to Gettysburg.
Gettysburg housed German prisoners of war from May 31, 1944 until February 1945. It was one of hundreds of POW camps throughout the country during the war.
The early POWs had to build their own camp at Gettysburg. They constructed a 400-foot by 600-foot stockade surrounding the camp along Emmitsburg Road next to the old Home Sweet Home Motel. During this construction phase, the prisoners were housed at the National Guard Armory on Confederate Avenue.
They were primarily put to work supplementing the work force at nearby orchards and canneries. Habock spent a lot of his time working at Peach Glen.
“I ran the cider press and drank lots of apple juice!” Habock told The Gettysburg Times.
Later, he would work at a fertilizer plant in York and loading pulpwood onto trucks and railroad cars in Ortanna.
For their efforts, the prisoners received 80 cents a day. The remaining amount of their daily earnings, which was usually between 50 and 60 cents an hour, was sent to the federal government. According to the National Park Service, the federal government received $138,000 from the Gettysburg POW camp from June 8 through November 1, 1944. On days that a prisoner didn’t work, he received 10 cents a day. The prisoners were paid in coupons, which they could use as cash in the camp exchange.
Habock left Camp Sharpe in February 1946 and was sent to Indiantown Gap, then to Ft. Meade, Md., and finally to Camp Shank, N.Y. From there, he was returned to LaHavre in June 1946 and discharged in Babenhausin, Germany.
He returned to his hometown of Danzig, but found that the Russians had expelled all Germans from it so he and his family had to be relocated to Hanover, Germany.
He earned his degree and became a contractor building apartments and homes. The married in 1947 and went on to have three children.
The Habocks flew into Ontario on vacation and visited Niagara Falls before visiting the sites where Habock had been as prisoner.
“They visited the Peach Glen plant today, where Habock found many changes,” The Gettysburg Times reported.
While in Gettysburg, he met with Eugene Clapper who had also been captured at St. Lo. However, Clapper had been captured by the Germans and sent to a German POW camp. As the two compared notes on their POW experiences, Habock told Clapper, “It was much worse for you than for me. I had enough to eat and the work was not like that.”
At its peak in July 1944, the Gettysburg POW camp held 932 prisoners of war, some of whom, like Habock returned after the war to visit Gettysburg as guests.