Prisoner of the Swiss
A World War II Airman’s Story
Daniel Culler and Rob Morris
Casemate, Philadelphia, 2017, 144 pages
Book Review published on: February 16, 2018
The Nazi concentration camps and Axis prisoner of war (POW) camps of World War II featured in The Great Escape capture the imagination and attention of many people. However, lesser-known internment camps existed in neutral Switzerland. Authors Daniel Culler and Rob Morris tell us about 1,516 Americans interned in Switzerland during the war. In accordance with Swiss policy, Switzerland forcibly defended its neutrality by enforcing its laws vis-à-vis foreign belligerents. This defense included shooting down both Axis and Allied planes that penetrated Swiss airspace. The internees in Switzerland generally received better treatment compared to most World War II POWs. In fact, upon return to Allied lines from Switzerland, it was common to hear how lucky the internees were. The exceptions to this rule, however, prove that wartime geopolitics and practical necessity can lead to horrible, inhumane conditions; this was particularly true for Sgt. Daniel L. Culler.
At face value, Prisoner of the Swiss is a personal story that, with many other personal accounts, adds to the understanding of World War II; however, it does not stop there. This book paints a multilayered picture, a coming-of-age story of a Midwestern boy from Indiana transformed into a combat hardened B-24 Liberator flight engineer who conducted twenty-five combat missions in the European theater of operations. It shows the desperate, horrible situation of Culler’s experience in Switzerland’s now infamous Wauwilermoos internment camp run by a sadistic, criminal Swiss officer; his daring escape; and his return to skeptical American military superiors about his treatment. Beaten, battered, and ailing from tuberculosis, he returned to the United States and was unceremoniously discharged. The story culminates with the author’s reflections about his internment, summarizes his cathartic return trip to Switzerland, and describes his receipt of the Prisoner of War Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross in 1996 (more than fifty years after his actions during his twenty-fifth combat mission and his internment).
Following the main story, Dr. Dwight Mears contributes to the book by providing further information on the sometimes arduous, circuitous route the internees (or their family members) took to receive acknowledgment for the internees’ service. Mears’s grandfather, a World War II aviator, was also interned at Wauwilermoos. Through Mears’s work, the 143 airmen interned in Wauwilermoos were awarded the Prisoner of War Medal (of which only eight were alive at the time of the presentation).
In the end, reading this book will leave the reader wanting more. It will invite readers to learn more about the service members interned or captured in World War II in general and the operations conducted in the periphery that do not typically get the attention the larger operations receive, and it will intrigue those interested in the individual stories of World War II POWs. The Black Hole of Wauwilermoos, the original work by Culler from which this was adapted, provides more detail for future reading as well.
Book Review written by: Maj. Charles David Ausman, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas