Wednesday, November 19, 2008
He was a 22-year-old sergeant in Field Marshal Rommel's African command when he was captured by the British in tunis in 1943 and turned over to the U.S. Army. For two years he was imprisoned in New Mexico's Fort Deming - one of 500 camps holding roughly 425,000 POW's during World War II. Then, on a clear night in 1945, he slippes under the barbed wire and caught a freight train headed West. For the next 40 years, Georg Gaertner lived as Dennis Whiles, "just another immigrant worker trying to success." he says. In 1985, Gaertner, the last remaining fugitive German POW from World War II, surrendered to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service - just as his book, "Hitler's Last Soldier in America," was published.
For the last year and a half Gaertner has been working with private immigration lawyers and a historian to authenticate his story. He eluded authorities for the first five years by working as a share-cropper, traveling California by train. Later he found jobs as a tennis and ski pro; in 1952, he risked recognition when he led a ski patrol into Donner Pass in California, rescuing 200 passengers trapped aboard a snowbound train. The press carried his photo nationwide, forcing him to leave his job. He resettled in Oakland, established a career in the construction business, married and raised his wife's two children as his own.