BDN speaks with Newsom about Nazi POW, Passamaquoddy living conditions

The Bangor Daily News spoke with Bonnie Newsom, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Maine, for the article “Nazi POWs may have lived better at this Down East camp than their Passamaquoddy neighbors.” Seventy-five years ago, more than 200 German prisoners of war were brought to a camp in Washington County near the Canadian border, on land belonging to the Passamaquoddy tribe, according to the article. The members of the tribe were not given a say in the decision, and their living conditions may have been worse than those of the prisoners. “I think they must have had some challenges in understanding why [the German POWs] were there. It was a very complex social situation,” said Newsom, who is a member of the Penobscot Nation. Newsom and Donald Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s historic preservation officer, have conducted archaeological research at the Indian Township site, which was one of seven camps in Maine that held German POWs brought to the U.S. to address a national labor shortage from 1944 to 1946. Newsom hopes to publish a book that “would show how the Passamaquoddy Tribe fit into one of the 20th century’s largest global conflicts and offer a Native American perspective on World War II-era POW camps that were located throughout Maine,” the article states. The BDN reported Newsom recently received a $6,000 grant from the American Association of University Women to create a historical manuscript that could lead to the book. “There probably were hard feelings at the time. I hope the publication [of the manuscript] will get to some of these more complex social issues,” Newsom said. At the time, poverty made living conditions poor among members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, who also were deprived of rights like voting and membership in the Maine House of Representatives, according to the BDN. The POWs, by contrast, had regular work, heated housing and prepared meals, and were rewarded for following the rules. According to Soctomah, members of the tribe were more concerned about the presence of the camp itself than the Germans living in it. “The biggest problem the tribe had was the taking of the land. At the time, we weren’t given much choice of anything on our land. In a way, we felt like prisoners on our own land, without a barbed wire fence,” he said.