The Enemy in Our Midst: Nazi Prisoner of War Camps in Michigan's Upper Peninsula received a "Good News" Award in June 2005.
The "Good News" Awards are distributed for articles and programs that portray positive values and uplift the human spirit. The awards are sponsored by the religious leaders, called Judicatory Heads, of the United Methodist, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian and Catholic Churches in the Upper Peninsula region.
The documentary, locally produced by Jackie Chandonnet, Bell Memorial Hospital, and John Pepin, journalist for The Mining Journal, first aired on Public TV 13 in August 2004.
About the Program: From 1944-46, roughly 1,100 German prisoners of war were held in the remote north woods at five prisoner of war branch camps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Across the United States, there were about 375,000 German POWs at more than 655 camps. But despite these staggering numbers, sixty years after the fact, the story of their captivity remains largely untold.
This documentary reveals the story of the U. P.’s POW camps in great detail, capturing an aspect of World War II history that many feared would fade into obscurity without being recorded.
"From what we can tell, not many people in the Upper Peninsula even know there were German prisoners in this area," Chandonnet said. "It's an unknown story that we felt should be preserved."
The project, which took two years to complete, contains many scenes shot throughout the Upper Peninsula. Also included in the 161-minute documentary are hundreds of historic photos, vintage film and interviews with local residents who had encounters with the POWs. In addition, the program features reenactments by local actors, area singers and musicians. Chandonnet and Pepin both host the program.
From 1944 to 1946, the German prisoners called five POW camps in the Upper Peninsula home: Camp AuTrain and Camp Evelyn in Alger County, Camp Raco in Chippewa County and Camp Sidnaw and Camp Pori in Houghton County. Brought in under a cloak of secrecy by the U.S. Army, the prisoners eventually encountered local residents, who were reluctant to accept the POW's. Across the United States, there were about 375,000 German POWs at more than 500 camps.
"Our filmmaking was a race against the clock," Pepin said. "We tried to capture this story before those able to tell first-hand accounts of the historical events passed on."