In the 1944 presidential election, 47,977,063 Americans voted, including individuals in service overseas, who were sent 85,000 Federal ballots. Even though some service members overseas were not able to have their votes counted in the presidential election, they felt the need to exercise their civic duty, or at least to speculate on the candidates.
On Election Day, November 7, 1944, the American POWs in Stalag Luft IV organized their own absentee voting system. Stalag Luft IV was located in Gross Tychow, Pomerania, now Tychow, Poland, and held roughly 8,000 Americans at its peak. The POW voters tallied their own selections in an attempt to forecast the results back home. And indeed, the POW poll projected the defeat of Thomas Dewey by Franklin Roosevelt, by a much larger margin than was seen back in the United States. The “Kriegies” (“Kriegie” was English slang for the German Kriegsgefangenen or prisoner of war) voted overwhelmingly for the unprecedented fourth term of President Roosevelt. This is not surprising, as Roosevelt had held the office of President since 1933 and was the only president that most POWs (whose average age at capture was 25) had ever known in their young adult lives.
The POW straw vote was described in a hand-lettered issue of the Stalag Luft IV POW newspaper, Kriegie Kronikle from the service of 96th Bomb Group POW Sgt. Willard C. “Boo” Miller, “Man of Confidence” in Compound B, Stalag Luft IV.
"On November 7, some of our enterprising friends in the Lager decided to take a “Gallop” pole [sic] & attempt to find who we would elect as President of the U.S. Our opinions probably being a typical cross section of Amer. sentiment during this history making epoch. It might be pertinent to state here & now that the Keystone State (PA.) forwarded ballots to her Kreigies in Germany, & we got the info therefrom. After taking the vote which we feel will materialize into a true forecast of the actual election returns if & when we receive them from the homeland, we discovered not to our amazement that the now President Franklin D. Roosevelt carried the pseudo vote by a veritable landslide. Roosevelt & Truman polled 1810 votes against Dewey & Brickers’ 277. Evidently, we had some (only a few thank the good powers that be) would be “hooch peddlers” in our midst for the Prohibition count tallied to 62 pledges.
The Socialist Party collected only 13 votes and believe it or not, we seem to have one man who expects to work when he returns as he indicated, by voting for the Labor Party!!!
Looks as if somebody is expecting to return to the “Land of milk and bonuses”!!
Well, cheer up gang, maybe we’ll be home in time for 1948’s voting. Who knows? The Kriegie Kronikle article specifies that Pennsylvania sent the state’s POW voters absentee ballots."
Although we do not know if these votes were able to be counted, we do have another reference to Pennsylvania’s voter outreach. The Museum’s collection also contains the journal of a Philadelphia POW Captain Harold Romm, which he kept in Stalag Luft III. Romm noted on October 17, 1944, that he received a letter “from the election board to vote via mail.”
Another Stalag Luft III POW, Lt. David Howard, who had been shot down in 1942, remembered, “In the fall of 1944 we followed as best we could the U.S. elections. At least one kriegie wrote home requesting an absentee ballot, but the request was perfunctorily rejected. This offhanded dismissal of kriegie voting rights did little to offset our growing discouragement and bitterness.”
POW Bill Livingstone, who was shot down the day after election day, recalled learning the election results from his interrogator. When Livingstone asked about the election’s outcome, his German interrogator said, “Roosevelt won” and followed up with ‘Is that good?’ to which Livingstone replied, “I think so.”
The presidential election straw vote was a civic practice, but was also speculative. Wagering and betting on all sorts of pursuits and propositions was a way to pass time in the camps. For POWs also fighting against the hourglass, speculation on the date of the war’s end was the most popular subject of debate.The 1,800 POWs who bet on Roosevelt’s election demonstrated the President’s popularity within the camp. Six months later, President Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945 had a damaging effect on POW morale. Many Kriegies heard the news from German captors who gladly shared the news of the American leader’s passing. Even though the end of the war was close at hand, the Germans tried to portray Roosevelt’s death as a turning point that portended America’s defeat. Roosevelt’s policies and leadership had long been the subject of Nazi propaganda. POWs held memorial ceremonies in the camps, including one staged in the mess-hall/church at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, which POW Sgt. Robert Faulkner recorded in his diary. Faulkner wrote that the men were gathered at attention and saluted the deceased Commander in Chief. Faulkner wrote, “He is remembered by us as one of the 3 greatest Presidents in the history of our nation & we pray to our ‘Lord’ that he shall live Happily & peacefully in the great beyond.”
Kimberly Guise holds a BA in German and Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also studied at the Universität Freiburg in Germany and holds a masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University. Kim is fluent in German, reads Yiddish, and specializes in the American prisoner-of-war experience in World War II.