Traces of POW History
When Americans tell stories about surviving in Prisoner of War Camps during World War II, some of their descriptions of cruelty at the hands of the enemy are terrible to an extreme. Many of their comrades didn't survive to tell their stories.
But, in America, prisoners of war were kept in camps that met the standards of the Geneva Convention. These POW's not only received humane treatment, they were surprisingly involved in their local communities.
Many German and some Italian and Japanese prisoners were held in the Midwest, coming in by train to Algona, Iowa, where they would be deployed to satellite camps.
The Midwestern prisoners spent time working on farms, in factories, and in forests. Their spare time included a wide array of artistic expressions: performing music, playwriting and acting, wood carving, and painting.
Long-forgotten stories of the best side of a difficult time have been turned up recently by amateur historians, and showcased by a non-profit organization with Iowa and German connections, a group called "TRACES." The leader of "TRACES" is Michael Luick-Thrams, of Mason City.
In the past few years, Luick-Thrams has interviewed Germans who were once ushered through the Iowa POW camps. In the summer and Fall of 2002, he ushered some of these Germans and their families through the Midwest so they could explore the remains of these camps and walk in their ancestors' footsteps.
Living in Iowa spent several days with these visitors, and discovered that while the remnants are hard to find, the TRACES of interpersonal connections are alive and well.