A story about Camp Michaux, a camp that housed POW’s in World War 2. It is located near Pine Grove Furnace in Cumberland County PA.
In 1944 (when I was in diapers) four of my uncles were dodging German bullets in Europe, helping to liberate the French from Nazi Germany. One uncle, Nesber Gilton Brandt had already died in Italy. Two of the four, Vernie Brandt returned unscathed but Ferman McCans, returned with a steel plate replacing bone in his head. The other two, Kenneth Brandt and Robert Heller were not as lucky, they returned with minds scrambled by what they saw and did. My dad (Ralph Roscoe Brandt) was working in the food industry, he was declared vital to the operation and was deferred. That deferral carried a freeze in pay at 1941 level. Part of his job involved picking up a truck load of prisoners each day at Camp Michaux near Gardners, PA. For those who are not familiar with Gardners, it is near Idaville – the Mt. Idy Charlie Weaver talked about. These prisoners worked at the plant my dad did, Adams Apple at Aspers, PA.
During this time there was a traumatic event for him. A German soldier that he said was not an “SS” died at the plant. I am not sure any of the men there were real Waffen SS but he considered the militants SS. The man’s death was ruled a suicide but I know there was one person who was sure it was not, my dad. He had just lost a brother (Nesber Gilton Brandt) in this war and in spite of our German background he had little use for anything German. This one man somehow impressed him so that I don’t think he ever saw him as a German soldier. He saw him as a husband and father who worked hard during work hours and during lunches went off to himself, ate his lunch and looked at pictures of his family. I believe my dad saw him as a representative of the brother he lost in Italy, a farmer and mechanic who somehow wound up on a battlefield much the same as his brother. He called the man one of the best mechanics he ever knew and like me, he respected someone who was skilled in his work. It is possible the man worked to maintain his sanity.
My dad never believed the man took his own life. He felt the “SS” men killed him because he seemed to be cooperating too much.
Some time ago my two older sisters and I spent an evening together working on genealogy. My one sister mentioned that a man had spoken at a meeting she attended about the camp. I mentioned that I wondered who that German soldier was. I never expected an answer.
Two days later I talked to my sister. She checked with the man who gave the speech. He came back with an answer. He believes the man was a Private in the German Army named Georg Hartig, 38 years old, died Nov 3 1944. There is a story about it in the Aspers PA. Gettysburg Compiler. The story says he was hanged which agrees with the account my dad gave. The man made an interesting comment to my sister that puts a light on this. He observed that it would have been difficult for the man to hang himself with his hands tied behind his back. The story clearly says the man’s hands were tied behind his back! (How did his hands get tied I wondered.)
So this man in reading the story came to the same conclusion my dad did and the one the authorities ignored. I now ask a couple of questions. Is there any of this man’s family alive? Has anyone ever told them how he died over 60 years ago? Let’s face it, they could have all been killed in bombings. But I don’t know that. I don’t even have any idea what part of Germany he was from.
There is something about this that feels like unfinished business, something my dad maybe should have done but probably lacked even the place to start.
Other Articles by Ralph Brandt
Obama and Kennedy: BHO and JFK Aug 30, 2008
Christian Perspective On Hatred Feb 20, 2007