He thought about the recurring conversation among his fellow POWs about Camp Papago Park. It was not strictly run, at least to their Germanic way of thinking, so the Nazi officers chose to test how far their men’s behavior would go with the Americans. Two weeks ago, the camp leader, Captain Jürgen Wattenberg, gave the order to stop saluting the American flag when lowered at the end of the day. Rudolf and his fellow inmates stood straight and tall as the flag moved slowly down the pole, then they stretched out their right arms and yelled in unison, “Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil!”
The Americans responded to this test of wills with reduced rations in the mess halls. The prisoners, who were used to full bellies, went back to saluting the Stars and Stripes.
It was a game, Rudolf thought, like a hard-fought faustball game—a form of volleyball introduced into Germany in the 1890s—with all of its intricate strategies.
Rudolf worked mindlessly in the cotton field, hoeing the interminable weeds, day-dreaming about his escape from the prison camp. It was only one-hundred thirty miles to the Mexican border, a fact the Germans knew by heart because they stole maps regularly from unattended military vehicles.
Rudolf considered what he would have to do before hand: hoard food, gather clothes without the hated “PW” printed on them, and find a way to earn some American money. Above all, he needed several canteens filled with water to keep him going until he reached Mexico. Finally, and most important, his plan of escape had to receive approval from the highest German officers who really controlled the men at Camp Papago Park. The Americans thought they ruled the POWs, but Rudolf knew otherwise. All of those factors seemed daunting on this hot September day, and he was bored. He forced himself to focus on what he was doing, wondering how the obstinate weeds could have such a tenacious hold
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