Georg Gärtner

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Georg Gärtner
Dennis while.jpg
Dennis Whiles at the age of 89 (Independence Day 2009)
Birth nameGeorg Gärtner
Other name(s)Dennis F. Whiles
Born(1920-12-18)December 18, 1920
Schweidnitz, Lower Silesia
(now Świdnica, Poland)
DiedJanuary 30, 2013(2013-01-30) (aged 92)
Loveland, Colorado, U.S.
Service/branchWehrmacht
Years of service1940–1943
UnitAfrika Korps

Georg Gärtner (German pronunciation: [ˈɡeːɔɐ̯k ˈɡɛɐ̯tnɐ]; December 18, 1920 – January 30, 2013) was a German soldier of World War II who escaped from a prisoner of war camp in the United States, took on a new identity as Dennis F. Whiles, and was never recaptured, though he did reveal his true identity some 40 years later.

Biography[edit]

Gärtner was from Schweidnitz, Lower Silesia (now Świdnica, Poland). He enlisted in the Wehrmacht in 1940 at age 19, and fought in the North African Campaign with the Afrika Korps. He was captured by Allied troops in Tunis in 1943 and was taken to the United States as a prisoner of war.

At the end of the war, Gärtner was terrified at the thought of being repatriated to his hometown, which was now occupied by the Soviet Union, and decided to escape. Several weeks after the war's end, he escaped from his prison camp in Deming, New Mexico, on September 22, 1945. After crawling under two gates, he jumped aboard a passing freight train whose schedule he had calculated. The train took him to California.

He moved between various towns on the US West Coast, working as a lumberjack, dishwasher, or laborer. Having studied English as an officer candidate, he perfected his command of the language, created a new identity as Dennis F. Whiles, obtained a Social Security card in that name, and invented a biography in which he had been raised in an orphanage after his parents had been killed in a traffic accident. He eventually settled in Norden, California, where he worked as a ski instructor in the winter and in construction and sales jobs during the summer. While attending a YMCA dance, he met Jean Clarke, and the couple married in 1964. He adopted her two children from a previous marriage.[1]

Following his escape, the US Army launched a search for him, which it did not discontinue until 1963. The FBI issued wanted posters for him in 1947. According to his book, a ski expedition was formed to rescue the City of San Francisco, a train stranded in a blizzard in the Sierra Nevada in January 1952, immediately after which Life magazine took his and the group's picture. Meanwhile, FBI wanted posters for him were in most post offices. For 40 years Gärtner was listed as one of the FBI's most wanted persons. However, since the authorities correctly surmised his reason for escaping, to avoid repatriation as opposed to a violent goal such as seeking revenge for Germany's defeat, he was not designated "Dangerous," which would have resulted in a more intense manhunt.[2]

Gärtner eventually moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he worked as a construction estimator and architectural consultant, and as retirement approached, relocated to Hawaii. Although he led a quiet life, his wife became increasingly frightened by his blatant refusal to discuss his past. In 1984, after she was about to leave him, he confessed his past to her. At her urging, he went public the following year. He contacted history professor Arnold Krammer, a well-known authority on the history of the 371,000 German POWs held in the United States during World War II. Together they published Hitler's Last Soldier in America (1985).[3] He also appeared on the Today Show, where he "surrendered" to Bryant Gumbel. He effectively became the last World War II German prisoner of war in America.[4]

When Gärtner went public, the government was bewildered about what to charge him regarding his escape. Gärtner was not an illegal immigrant, since he had been brought to the United States against his will. He had not really escaped from prison because all German POWs were to be repatriated to their original homes and he was due to be sent back to his hometown in Silesia, which had been occupied by the Soviets. Moreover, as he had escaped after the war had ended, there was some question of whether he was still a prisoner of war. Because of this, he was not charged with any offenses. The FBI announced that it had no further interest in him, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service confirmed it had no interest in deporting him. Gärtner was invited to become a U.S. citizen. Due to bureaucratic delays, it was not until November 2009 that he was finally naturalized as a citizen in South Denver.

Gärtner continued living in Boulder. After he went public, he was able to visit Germany again. While he was there, his wife Jean filed for divorce.[5]

Gärtner died in Loveland, Colorado in 2013.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1985-09-11/news/mn-7392_1_camp
  2. ^ Schoen, Wolfgang. "Georg Gärtner – Hitler's Last Soldier". tvschoenfilm.com. tvschoenfilm W.Schoen & H. Hillesheim GbR. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 16 July 2007. German prisoner of war, Georg Gärtner, flees from a POW camp in New Mexico, USA, goes into hiding, takes on the name of Dennis Whiles. He is one of the FBI’s most wanted person for 40 years. 1985 “Hitler’s last soldier” turns himself into the authorities.
  3. ^ New York : Stein and Day, 1985. 184 p. & [16] p. of plates.
  4. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (September 11, 1985). "EX-P.O.W. ENDS 40 YEARS OF HIDING". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-14. Officials said yesterday that it was unlikely that Mr. Gaertner would face Federal charges or deportation because of questions over which Federal statues, if any, might apply. We're not going to lock him up, said John Belluardo, a spokesman for the Immigration Service in San Pedro, Calif. He confirmed that Mr. Gaertner was the last known fugitive prisoner of war, calling him definitely unique from a historical standpoint. He said Mr. Gaertner's fate would be announced, in his presence, at a news conference by Harold Ezell, regional commissioner of the immigration service this morning in San Pedro.
  5. ^ "Georg Gärtner (alias Dennis F. Whiles)". German prisoner of war in America. Find a Grave. July 23, 2012. Retrieved March 28, 2019.

External links[edit]

  • 1952 Life article on rescue of the City of San Francisco train, which Gärtner mentions in his book