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Season 4, Episode 3 · 1 year ago

Episode 403 - In The Shadows of Cobbs Hill


A local Rochester park with an unconventional history. What happened on these grounds between 1943 and 1945? Join us as we attempt to uncover the mysterious relationship between Rochesterians and these unlikely residents in Cobb's Hill Park during World War II.

Here you are, cobbs Hill in Rochester, New York. It's a beautiful park right off of the eye four hundred ninety freeway. On a sunny day you can find local Rochesterians playing basketball, tennis, baseball and on playgrounds. Lake Riley sits across from cobbs Hill village, a retireing community. Further up on the hill is another water feature, the city's local water reservoir, which has been there since one thousand nine hundred and nine. My name is caden down. I'm do you know whom I see? And I'm Kaala win. And this is here you are, Rochester, retold season four, episode three, in the shadows of cobs Hill. From flower that's Flo you are to code at cameras and bashing loom lenses. Rochester has always been an industrial city. These urban factories have made Rochester the hub for manufacturing wartime equipment and also providing food rations to soldiers on the front line. And as a city filled with World War One veterans, Rochester's involvement in World War Two was inevitable. One of these World War One veterans was Colonel John M McDowell. Colonel John m McDowell has been named commander of the western New York Military District, which includes Rochester. He will assume his new duties today. As commander of the district, he will control all military activities in western New York outside Fort Niagara. McDowell, the commander of the western New York Military District, led the war effort at home, which is a battlefield of its own. Woman, children and those who are not drafted looked at the colonel as the leader and spokesperson. In the summer of one thousand nine hundred and forty three, the farms surrounding Rochester were readying for their first harvests of the year. In normal...

...times, a combination of seasonal and migrant laborers would collect the produce that Fed New York state and the surrounding region. In wartime, however, things were different. The military draft and attractive working conditions in factories that were producing war equipment caused extreme labor shortages. While women and children had volunteered to fill in the labor supply gap, they were not enough to make up the shortfall. The war effort had diverted. Rochester's farms needed help, or the produce of an entire growing season would rot on the vine. The United States has taken fiftyzero prisoners of war as captives. These prisoners could prove themselves as a valuable asset to the farmers and canners of upstate New York. In accordance with the Geneva Convention, Agricultural Farm Work was not considered war related and therefore acceptable and safe for prisoners for convention genpw. The Geneva Convention, La took to the treatment as prisoners of war as the name of SAS this convention, prisoners of wars rights, duties and treated. Rochester needed the crops to be harvested to not risk more food going to waste. With its dwindling labor force, Rochester not only had a need but also the spaces to host the prisoners in vacant military barracks. On a warm fall day in late September, one thousand nine hundred and forty three sixty Italian captives in army vehicles were escorted by state troopers through Monroe County. They were driving to where they will spend the remaining days as prisoners of war in Rochester. Their final destination cobbs Hill Park. The old military barracks had become the makeshift war camp. It was located in a public park cobbs Hill and surrounded by a greater residential area. The prisoner camp...

...and cobbs Hill was strategic in many ways. It had existing housing, a military bunker and the Ho Jack Railroad directly connecting the agriculture will farmlands and surrounding canneries. In trucks, the prisoners arrived at cobs Hill ready to work. With three meals a day, he clothing medical attention. The conditions at Cobbs Hill met the basic human necessities. McDowell and city officials assured the treatment of the Italian prisoners had met the expectations regarding prisoner handling laid out in the Geneva Convention of one thousand nine hundred and twenty nine. Colonel McDowell announced provisions for recreation and for religious council have been made for the prisoners. The convoy included several Catholic chaplains and in many communities local priests were called on to persist. Not only did cobbs hill provide religious accommodations, but also English classes, Christmas packages, radio access and paid working wages of eighty cents an hour. which is equivalent to almost thirteen dollars an hour. Today, right now, the farmers are not even sure of getting the same amount of prisoners before Labor they have this fall. For my part, I'm wholly convinced that, with the help of Italian war prisoners, New York farmers in one thousand nine hundred and forty four can produce even in excess from this year's bumper crop. The prisoners were praised with their work in the fields and canneries. Trucks and the Hojo Jack of railroad transported the prisoners to the work and brought them back to camp at night. McDowell and the media continually praise the work of the prisoners. Their work maximize the year's harvesting season, but also set of excess crops for the next year. The Italian prisoners exceeded the expectations of work for McDowell, food manufactures and others. Their work was able to turn the tide for Rochester's fragile future in the war. Treat the prisoners with respect, not as jail...

...prisoners. However, don't fraternize with them. We are still at war with Italy. Until peace is finally settled, the prisoners were prohibited from interacting or fraternizing with the civilians, and vice versa. The military barracks were not only in a public park but surrounded by a greater residential area. This meant having the enemy down the block, across the street or as a neighbor. Rochesterians were curious. The citizens and Italian prisoners still found ways to interact and communicate. Many Italian immigrants living in Rochester were eager to meet their fellow countrymen. What would they be like? which part of Italy did they come from? Somebody close to home maybe? Numerous Rochester locals would take a stroll past cobbs Hill and visit the Italians living in the old military police barracks. One visit turned into many. Food would be exchanged through the barbed wire fence and weekend dances organized. Slowly it dawned on the Rochesterians that the Italian prisoners of war didn't seem much different than their American counterparts. They were young men fighting in the war, residents of Altos with Italy has been concluded. It was October the thirteen, one thousand nine hundred and forty three. Italy declares war in Germany. Word spreads quickly to America and there's a dramatic shift in the tone of the war. Is there finally a light at the end of the tunnel? The local newspaper at The Times Union noted the Italian prisoners of war at Cobbs Hill were transformed into visitors, were the hospitality and friendship, and their status as prisoners of war would be revoked soon. However, this meant that, according to the Geneva Convention, the Italians would therefore no longer be forced to work in the farms and canneries. With the sudden loss of labor, farmers and canters were again in desperate need of help. The success of the Italian prisoners of war had left Rochester with an even greater bounty of crops.

However, Rochester was hesitant about using an alternative workforce. Germans. The Great Italian community in Rochester had made a similation and acceptance of Italian prisoners of war easier. But the Germans, the Nazis, pressure from canners and farmers encouraged McDowell and other city officials to finally accept help from German prisoners of war. But, unlike their Italian counterparts, Germany was the primary antagonist and enemy. The procedure for bringing new prisoners of war was different for Germans because they had a different reputation, disobedient, prone to escape, attempts in violent we will tolerate no German prisoners in Rochester, should be the cry of every soul in the city. No one need be reminded of the atrocities inflicted upon millions of defenseless people. Our boys are tortured and mowed down in a brutal, wanton list to kill, while the Germans in this country are fed on stakes, pork chops and fancy foods. The media portrayed them consistently as the cobbs Hill Nazis, led with headlines of disapproval. But for German prisoners, life at Cobbs Hill was in fact similar to the Italians experience. Despite extra media tention and guards, German prisoners had many of the same responsibilities of the Rochester Harvest and we're granted the same privileges of the Italians at cobbs hill, such as heat, food and wages. The following winter in one thousand nine hundred and forty five was shipped by extreme weather conditions due to a lot of snowstorms, streets were closed and people stayed inside for warm for the German prisoners, these developments came with a new task. Under tight guard, a handful of Germans worked on snow removal after a blizzard had covered all the streets of Rochester. For Rochesterians, the struggle of Snow is an act that many can empathize with.

These unpopular prisoners did a great deed for Rochester. Public opinion reflected less harshly more approvingly afterwards. Almost like their Italian predecessors, as the weather got warmer, German prisoners sang songs from their home country. The prisoners drew crowds of hundreds of curious local citizens to gather and enjoy the sounds and cobbs Hill Park, thus solidifying their relationship between prisoners and locals. Finally, on May eight one thousand nine hundred and forty five, the war in Europe officially ended. Approximately four thousand German prisoners now working in the district or screen and processed from returned to their homeland. After their departure, depending on the amiability, the Rochesterians say their goodbyes as the former prisoners are ship back to Germany on the first day in November. When you walk around cobbs Hill today, there are no signs, no plaques, no real evidence that these camps existed. In our journey to investigate cobbs Hill we ask the experts to explain why there are no signs of the preserves of war. So I'm Brandon fast, I'm the special collections librarian at the Rochester Public Library. It is about the sunny. No, Demanda, I am the Italian coordinator, and Rochester in set of technology, where they ignored, where they forgotten what happened. But in the whole I wouldn't say it's being ignored so much as it's just a rather small moment in Rochester's history and like so many small moments, it doesn't get a ton of recognition. We barely hear about prisoner war being German or Japanese or Italian in United States. In generally just a piece of the study. They's kind of under the carpet. was more a curiosity than anything else. Even when we talked about industrial production in Rochester during World War Two, people...

...tend to remember a handful of things much better than others. So, for example, rolled about loam played directly and indirectly with Norton bomb site is reasonably well known. But on the flip side, I don't know many Roch Sterarians at all who are aware of the fact at six Hundredzero m one car beans were made here. Italians really wanted to identify with Italian American. He wanted to identify when United States. They wanted to be belongier that group. That population fed the integration was very important to them, right. So anything controversial like that they could lead to political discrepancy between Italians and an Italians and also Italians within themselves. They never any conversation that entails politics. In my experience of twenty plus. Ye're working with Kaz Italiana. Older generation never ever heard an account on prisoner war. So that tells something, right. was there any cultural contact, cultural exchange? That may have happened. It's the loss of that level of personal detail, personal experience it could be really challenging, for talking about history is something more than just a chronology. It's just a statement of facts. I'm working on a second documentary that is focusing on language. What language the Italian community spoke at the time of migration? The bottom line of the investigational language is really to discuss what is Italian identity in the construction of Italian identity in this nation. When bringing this out, it is because I think the discussion of the prisoner wars is part of the same conversation. Become oversation that he's a bit uncomfortable with the tenant community in the conversation...

...we need to have. What is our identity? Even though Rochester's prisoners during World War Two where a small segment of the city's history, over time they are significant as part of a larger story, a story which reveals what it means to be a Rochesterian. For sum's of story that reinforces a century old belief that you can't avoid uncomfortable topics. The neglect, for others serves as a warning of a historical loss. The fact that the prisoners of war history is not well known among the broad public was surprising for us, considering the great impact the prisoners presence had on the civilian population. For Rochesterians, loyalty to your country would have to be redefined when the opposing enemy was suddenly in their midst. Polite interactions became an expected necessity for the war effort. Forest Coexistence developed in name, really bonds of shared culture, respect and wartime strife, the Rochesterians hospitality was brought to light, even for prisoners that were the enemy in war. Despite at times feeling threatened because the enemy was practically living in their backyard, Rochester locals made an effort to connect with the Italians and Germans. Telling Rochester's prisoner of war history sheds light on the special character of Rochesterians and shows that for Monroe County, those who share the same air fight, the same fight enemies, are not are all treated like Rochesterians. Rochester's prisoner of war history is a story about personal and cultural connections that were lost. How we remember is what makes history more than facts on paper. This concludes episode three of who you are, season four, a podcast created by...

...students at the University of Rochester. Lead researcher for this episode it was Gino Romanazi. It was produced by Kaden Dowd and sound engineered by Kayla Lynn. Here you are is created using faders, a collaborative online audio production workstation. We would like to thank Brandon Fest and Professor Diamanda for sharing their insight in our interviews Derek Scala and Michael Alanc for their voice acting. The coordinating producer for this season of here you are is Celia canno. The executive producers are Thomas Fleischman and Steven Restner, and be sure to check out the other episodes of here you are, season four, Rochester retold at here you arecom thank you for listening.

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