Seventy years ago today, October 23, 1944, the Milwaukee Journal carried this item regarding the prisoner broadcasts that were being carried by the German and Japanese shortwave stations. The stations broadcast the names of, and sometimes personal messages from, Allied prisoners of war. Often, these broadcasts preceded any official notification.
The paper cautioned American families “not to accept” such messages, and certainly not to pay for them. The paper did note that the government monitored these broadcasts and would make official notification if warranted. But the paper did concede that these broadcasts were generally accurate, and that “well meaning persons and some well meaning busybodies have taken it upon themselves to notify friend and stranger alike when the name and address of a captured American serviceman pops up on the Berlin or Tokyo radio.”
This phemomenon was discussed in more detail in the book World War II Radio Heroes: Letters of Compassion by Lisa Spahr. As the title suggests, letters from listeners to the families were generally well received, and often represented the family’s first notification that the serviceman was captured and still alive. The author of that book wrote it after discovering 70 letters written to her great grandmother from shortwave listeners around the United States reporting that her son had been captured but was in good health. She was able to track down some of them, forming personal friendships with some of these “busybodies.”
Even though the article cautions families “not to be victimized by persons attempting to sell similar information,” I have never found reference to even a single case of anyone attempting to profit from notifying families, although one apparently asked for a postage stamp so that he could continue providing the service. The government did all it could to discourage the practice, even accusing one listener in Nebraska of being a Gerrman spy.