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Buseum Captures the Experience of German POWs Held in the Midwest

CANTON, MI—Get a first-hand look at the life of German prisoners of war in Midwest camps as the mobile exhibit Held in the Heartland rolls into Canton on May 22.

Housed in a converted school bus, this rolling buseum paints a picture of POW life as captured soldiers experienced it. Using artifacts, photographs, documents, audio and DVD documentaries, it focuses on the experiences of the roughly 372,000 German POWs held in U.S. Army-operated camps across the United States.

Prisoners were sent out to harvest or process crops, build roads and waterways, fell trees, roof barns, erect silos, work in light non-military industry, lay city sewers and construct tract housing, wash U.S. Army laundry and do other practical wartime tasks. With the high rate of 19th-century German immigration to the Midwest, many of those who worked with POWs spoke to them in their native tongue; some even had relatives or former neighbors among them. In the process, they formed significant, often decades-long friendships with “the enemy” and underwent considerable changes as individuals and as a group – thus fundamentally influencing postwar German values and institutions, as well as American-German relations. A number of POWs even chose to immigrate to the United States after the war.

The Canton Veterans Memorial Association and Friends of the Canton Public Library are sponsoring the buseum’s to visit Canton. Admission to the exhibit is free and visitors can also stop in the Canton Public Library for a reception and a special book sale. The buseum will be stationed on Veteran’s Way near the clock tower, immediately west of the library, from 9:30 a.m. to noon on May 22.

John Spencer, president of the Canton Veterans Memorial Association, “The Canton Veterans Memorial Association is pleased to help sponsor the buseum visit. While there is quite a bit of information about American soldiers held prisoner in WWII Nazi Germany, less is known about captured Germans soldiers held prisoner in America during the war. This exhibit tells their story.” By the end of World War II some 425,000 German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war were imprisoned in over 660 base and branch POW camps in the United States. Millions more Axis and Allied POWs were held in other camps in Europe, the Soviet Union, Canada, Australia and Africa. While Axis and Soviet POWs were both the perpetrators as well as victims of dictatorial governments and state-sponsored violence, POW experiences on all sides embody ageless and timely themes of war and peace, justice under arms and issues regarding human rights, international reconciliation and future conflict avoidance.

Using ten narrative panels and films about this story, TRACES’ mobile museum will tour six Midwest states reaching schools, libraries and historical societies. TRACES exhibit driver, Irving Kellman, will tour with the exhibit and is available for phone or live interviews as the tour progresses. T

RACES Center for History and Culture is a Midwest/WWII history museum in downtown Saint Paul/MN’s historic Landmark Center. Each of its more than two dozen exhibits about Midwesterners’ encounters with Germans or Austrians between 1933 and 1948 forms part of a larger mosaic, a fuller image of a war that is often misunderstood or seen in clichés. At TRACES, WWII is a case study to learn from for today and future generations.

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