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Dennis Whiles at the age of 89 (Independence Day 2009)
|Birth name||Georg Gärtner|
|Other name(s)||Dennis Whiles|
December 18, 1920|
Schweidnitz, Lower Silesia
|Died||January 30, 2013
|Years of service||?–1943|
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 Whiles, and was never recaptured, though he did reveal his true identity some 40 years later.
Gärtner came from Schweidnitz, Lower Silesia (now Świdnica, Poland). He served with the Afrika Korps. He was captured by Allied troops in Tunis in 1943 and was brought to America as a prisoner of war. He escaped from his prison camp in Deming, New Mexico, several weeks after the war's end because he was afraid of being turned over to the Soviets. He created a new identity as Dennis Whiles, marrying and leading a relatively quiet life. 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, an exception was taking part of the first ski rescue team to the City of San Francisco 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.
Gärtner was never caught by the authorities, but came forward 40 years later in 1985, and, together with his wife Jean (to whom he had revealed his true identity only three years before), contacted history Prof. Arnold Krammer, a well-known authority on the history of the 371,000 German POWs held in the United States during WWII. Together they published Hitler's Last Soldier in America (1985). He also appeared on the Today Show, where he "surrendered" to Bryant Gumble. He effectively became the last World War II German prisoner of war in America.
When Gärtner went public, the government was bewildered about what to charge him with. Gärtner was not an illegal immigrant, since he had been brought to the United States against his will. He hadn't 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 if 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 an American citizen. Due to bureaucratic delays, it was not until November 2009 that he was finally naturalized as a citizen of the U.S. in South Denver.
Gärtner lived in Boulder, Colorado until his death in Loveland, Colorado in 2013. He and Prof. Arnold Krammer, of Texas A&M University, published a book about his experiences called Hitler's Last Soldier in America, available in both German and English. A popular German film, Hitlers letzter Soldat by noted filmmaker Wolfgang Schoen appeared in the late 1990s.
- TVSchoenfilm: Georg Gärtner – Hitler’s Last Soldier
- Blumenthal, Ralph (September 11, 1985). "EX-P.O.W. ENDS 40 YEARS OF HIDING". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-14.