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Our Back Pages: The “Cracker Jack Box”

A Memory of German Prisoners of War in Arlington, Virginia

The following is an excerpt from an oral history with Walter R. De Groot, from the Center for Local History’s oral history collection.  

In reply to a question regarding POWs in Arlington during WWII:

INTERVIEWER: Where did they stay?

NARRATOR: They came from Arlington Hall.

INTERVIEWER: That’s where they were incarcerated?

War Bonds rally at Clarendon Circle, circa 1943.

War Bonds rally at Clarendon Circle, circa 1943. Rector’s Florist, seen in the background, is now the location of Spider Kelly’s, a bar and restaurant.

NARRATOR: Well, they had some in camps around but I believe they were held, incarcerated, at [the] Arlington Hall area. They had a place over there. In fact, that takes [me] to the story when I was stationed in Germany in ‘54.

We as kids we used to take things from home like maybe cigarettes or candy or stuff like that and we’d go over to this prison camp. We kids called it the “Cracker Jack Box.” These prisoners in their off time didn’t have anything better to do and they would cut up tobacco cans and tin cans and they’d bend them and twist them and make them like something, like a horse or a bird or a carving. They would carve things. So we never knew [what we’d get] if we threw [something] and it was sort of like, “okay it’s your turn.” I’d go over to the fence and one of the prisoners would sort of meander over that way and let’s say I had gotten a few cigarettes. I would throw them over the fence and then he would show up and he’d throw something over the fence. We never knew what we were going to get. So that’s why it was called the “Cracker Jack Box.”

Now when I was in Germany I met a man who it turns out he had been incarcerated there and he had a young wife. Many of the young German girls spoke English. Why I don’t know other than they got that much of an education as a second language. But I had mentioned [this] to this fellow.   I said something and he said, “My wife does not speak English but I do.” And then we got talking about how did you learn to speak such good English and he said, “I was a prisoner in America.”

And I said, “Oh, where?”

He said, “Oh, you wouldn’t know this place. It was a little town called Arlington.”

I said, “Oh my goodness. You came from the”Cracker Jack Box”!

He said, “You know the town”!

INTERVIEWER: Isn’t that amazing? What a story.

Walter R. De Groot Oral History, Series 3, #193, Center for Local History Oral History Project

Read this entire interview, or view all oral histories in the Project.


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