PW INTERROGATION: THE GERMANS MEAN BUSINESS
Deprived of opportunities for extensive air reconnaissance, the
Germans have come to depend increasingly on prisoner-of-war
interrogation for information about the strength and dispositions
of Allied forces, as well as about new weapons, military
installations, Allied morale, and other vitally important matters.
German interrogation, which was skillful even at the beginning
of the war, today is a highly developed technique in which every
move is deliberately calculated to serve a purpose. The latest
procedures, as practiced by an enemy Army Group now
engaged in combat, should be more widely known. Although
German interrogators still like to get their hands on an Allied
officer whenever they can, they seldom miss a chance to put an
enlisted man through the mill.
The Army Group in question does not make a practice of
commencing interrogation immediately after capture. It recognizes
that any attempt to get an Allied soldier to talk at such a
time is almost certain to fail. As a rule, then, the "preliminary
interrogation" begins soon after the prisoner reaches a
THE PRELIMINARY INTERROGATION
The interrogating officer launches an extremely general
conversation. In the course of this, he casually requests the prisoner
to fill in a personnel form. This form of course goes much further
than "Name, rank, and serial number." Any information
already available concerning the man's unit and its mission is
used as a check on the accuracy of the statements made on the
personnel form. The Germans know that instead of stopping
at "Name, rank, and serial number," an overconfident prisoner,
intending to have a little fun at his captor's expense, may
answer the questions incorrectly. (Official U.S. Army comment
on this misguided effort to be clever is "Don't attempt to give
any answers at all!")
If a prisoner lies, or loses his temper and behaves in an
undisciplined manner, "a rougher treatment (within the limits
of the Articles of the Geneva Convention) or a lengthy solitary
confinement may be of help," this Army Group has been told.
Such treatment even may be accorded a prisoner who observes
the rules of military courtesy, but who scrupulously refuses to
tell more than his name, rank, and serial number. However,
the prisoner who conducts himself with absolute propriety is
the winner in the end; the Wehrmacht, if not the SS, entertains
a certain respect for the Allied soldier who says, "In obeying
orders, I am behaving with the same correctness that you
would expect a German soldier to display in the same circumstances." Loyalty
to one's own military organization inspires a grudging
admiration in the German mind.
During the preliminary interrogation, the interrogating
officer is likely to express doubts as to the effectiveness of U.S.
weapons—introducing the subject offhandedly, as part of a
seemingly friendly conversation. The purpose, of course, is to
lead the prisoner to contradict the interrogator and supply further
information unwittingly. Or the interrogator may go to
extremes in boasting about the effectiveness of German weapons—again
with the hope that he will be contradicted and that the
truth will be forthcoming.
The Germans know that it is useless to assume that an Allied
soldier harbors any sympathy for National Socialism. Interrogators
generally refrain from introducing politics into the conversation,
although they sometimes probe around to find sore
spots—telling a British prisoner that the Americans are letting
his people do all the fighting, and vice versa. Or remarking to
a British or American soldier that the Soviets are merely using
the Western Allies as pawns. Since Allied prisoners usually are
quick to recognize the motive behind such slurs, the Germans
are likely to talk about sports, instead, knowing that Allied
prisoners are genuinely interested in this topic. It is not
unusual for the Germans to ask something like "What do you
think of the St. Louis Cardinals?" as a possible tongue-loosener
before touching on military matters in a casual fashion.
German interrogating officers have been warned that clumsy
or premature questions do more harm than good.
When dealing with prisoners of war who have been discovered
among the civilian population or who have been found
wearing items of civilian clothing, the Germans usually threaten
to treat such prisoners as sabotage agents unless they prove
their identity by naming their units and giving many sorely
needed details about these outfits.
After the preliminary interrogation, the examiner writes out
his impressions of the prisoner's personality, mentality, and so
on, and, if possible, indicates what kind of information possibly
can be extracted from him in the course of the main interrogation.
During the first few days, prisoners are permitted, and even
encouraged, to write to their relatives and friends. The Germans
always hope that such letters not only will contain descriptions
of events preceding the capture, but will dovetail with other
prisoners' letters and thereby reveal much useful data.
THE MAIN INTERROGATION
The main interrogation is based on the results of the first
questioning, on information derived from documents recently
captured and evaluated, and on a summary of all information
already known regarding the prisoner's unit as well as of the
most important questions which need to be answered.
An interrogating officer best suited to the character and
temperament of the prisoner is detailed to perform the job, on
the theory that the prisoner's reserve possibly will thaw in an
atmosphere of congeniality. Sometimes this necessitates the use
of a second interrogating officer for the more highly specialized
Although, on the surface, the main interrogation may seem
much like the preliminary interrogation, the two differ greatly;
in the second questioning the enemy has much more data on
which to base queries, and can work toward more definite
objectives. To their annoyance the Germans have found the
average U.S. soldier security-conscious and extremely stubborn
about refusing to talk. He has been very well trained in this
respect," an official German source observes.)
The way a prisoner will react depends on the individual
method of treatment, the Germans believe. This is why so
much emphasis is placed on judging each man's personality
beforehand. Having analyzed each case as carefully as
possible, the interrogator tries to decide which of the following
approaches will yield the most favorable results:
1. Speedy, exact, and pointed questions.
2. Cordial introductory conversation about personal interests—family,
profession, sports, weapons, reminiscences about
military experiences, and so on.
3. Casual revelation of information at hand about Allied
units, with the implication that, since everything is already
known, there is no need to bother about concealing anything.
4. Indication—whether true or false—that the prisoner's
officers already have given information.
5. Comment that, if the prisoner refuses to talk, documents
which have been found on him and which he should have
destroyed (marked maps, and so on) may be shown to other
prisoners of war—thus suggesting subsequent unpleasantness in
store for him.
6. Offer of cigarettes or a drink, and a promise to see to
it that the prisoner's relatives will immediately be informed of
his capture, either by mail or over the radio.
This Army Group makes a great point of not allowing an
interrogation to seem what it really is. The atmosphere of a
voluntary and pleasant conversation is sought. The interrogating
officer is alone with the prisoner, and does not take notes. Under
no circumstances is a stenographer permitted to take
down, in a prisoner's presence, the information that he gives;
if necessary, however, the stenographer will take down the
information while remaining out of sight. (The usual procedure
is for the interrogating officer to write down, as soon as
the questioning is finished, all the information he has obtained.)
Sometimes a prisoner is questioned during the course of an
outdoor stroll—after he has been in solitary confinement long
enough to make him well disposed toward the person who
apparently has arranged for his release.
Persistently stubborn prisoners of war may be quartered with
stool pigeons, or with prisoners from the same Allied unit so
that their conversation may be picked up by microphones. However,
an interesting development has restricted this particular
Army Group's use of stool pigeons. Double-crossing has been
so prevalent that permission to use this method now is granted
only in very special cases. [It is not stated whether the trouble
has been caused by anti-Nazi Germans or by Allied prisoners
determined not to aid the enemy.]
To summarize, the Army Group pursues a policy that a
sympathetic, but clear and methodical, approach should be the
standard operating procedure when dealing with U.S. prisoners
of war. "The better the interrogating officer can put across the
idea that he already has an abundance of information about
the prisoner's unit and about the Allied forces in general, the
sooner the prisoner will talk. It has proved helpful to discover
and memorize the names of prisoner's immediate superiors, and
to introduce into the conversation plentiful allusions to what
the man's outfit has been doing in recent months."
Leading questions (such as "Your outfit sailed from Boston,
didn't it?" and "Your commanding officer really didn't know
his stuff, did he?") are avoided, since it is believed that they
lead prisoners to make deliberately vague and incorrect replies.
Knowing that the enemy uses such interrogation methods as
the foregoing, the U.S. soldier who is taken prisoner must be
doubly on his guard, and must on no account permit himself
to go farther than giving his name, rank, and serial number. The
cigarette may look too good to be true. and so may the
shot of schnapps—the interrogator may sound like a good guy
and really know his World's Series—the alleged opportunity
to get word to the family right away may seem like a lucky
break—the opportunity to talk big and pull the wool over the
interrogator's eyes may be tempting—
It's still got to be "name, rank, and number" and "That's all
I can say, sir."