Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 29, 2001
Germans visit Howard Lake about POWs at fairgrounds
By Lynda Jensen
Two German researchers visited Howard Lake Tuesday to gather information about the World War II prisoner of war camp located at the Wright County Fair in Howard Lake in the 1940s.
One of the two researchers, Dr. Michael Luick-Thrams, spent the last year interviewing more than 40 veterans in Germany about their experiences as POWs, and is now visiting locations in the United States to reconcile and continue his research into the subject, he said.
Luick-Thrams is a historian, and has written a number of books, one of them called Out of Hitler's Reach, pertaining to POWs and the Holocaust.
Both men are graduates from the University of Berlin. Dr. Luick-Thrams is in the middle of a speaking tour for his books.
First Luick-Thrams, and his colleague, Andres Kurth, visited a number of Howard Lake establishments, including the Old Town Gallery, the Herald, and Ittel's Meats.
The men also visited the Cokato Museum, and Faribault Foods.
From there, Irene Bender gave a tour of the fairgrounds, which is where the camp existed.
The men visited with several locals, asking questions about those with first-hand knowledge of the camp. Those who are interested in making contact with Dr. Luick-Thrams may contact him at his e-mail address: michaelluick_ firstname.lastname@example.org
POWs in city limits
The Wright County Fairgrounds camp housed about 60 to 70 POWs in 1944 and 100 POWs in 1945, according to news reports printed by the Herald at the time. There are no newspaper records of POWs there either in 1943 or 1946.
The prisoners were brought to Howard Lake in order to pick corn for the Northland Canning Company.
They would sing German songs while they worked because they were homesick, Dr. Luick-Thrams said.
German veterans remember how friendly the community was, just the same as it is now, Dr. Luick-Thrams commented.
Longtime Howard Lake resident Verna Glessing, who met with the German researchers, indicated that she remembered the POWs, along with her husband, Omar. The POWs picked corn for her husband's father, Henry Glessing.
Sweet corn was considered food for animals by the Germans, and not fit for humans to eat, Kurth said. This is in contrast to the Corn Carnival in Cokato, which was started five years later in 1950, where Americans would stand in line for hours - and still do - to eat sweet corn.
The prisoners came from a much larger camp near West Branch, Iowa, called Camp Algona.
The canteen where the prisoners meals were served was under the grandstand, and their bunks were in the agricultural building, according to the following clip from the Aug. 10, 1944 edition of the Howard Lake Herald:
German War Prisoners here to pick sweet corn;
The first group of German war prisoners, 26 of them, were brot to Howard Lake Monday and are housed at the fairgrounds. More will be brot in this week and it is expected there will be between 60 and 70 in all.
They have been at Algona, Iowa, and will start picking corn for the Northland Canning Co. on Friday of this week.
Sgt. Carl Tisthammer is in charge of the prisoners here and he is assisted by seven other military police and guards. There will be four details of 25 to 30 men, with one guard for each detail.
These men were taken prisoners in the Cherbourg area in Normandy. There are a few young fellows, some 17 years old, while the others are older men, up to 50. They were in labor battalions and were not in the front lines when captured.
The canteen where the prisoners' meals are served is under the grandstand and their bunks are in the agricultural building. These men are paid in coupons to the amount of 80 cents a day and they can purchase 3.2 beer, cigarettes, candy and other items in the canteen.
Speaking to the prisoners is technically treason, unless authority has been given by the commanding officer.
O.P. Jungclaus and H. W. Vogel will act as interpreters between the truck drivers and the prisoners.
The camp where the prisoners came from - Algona - held about 10,000 German POWs from 1943 to 1946, Dr. Luick-Thrams said.
Although the POWs were not allowed to interact with the public at large, apparently Minnesotan women "didn't care about this," Dr. Luick-Thrams said with a smile.
With the lack of local men, who were away in the service, women would take POWs dancing, and even to the movie theater, which is where the Herald office is located today along Highway 12.
Although the Germans were paid 80 cents a day for their work, the US government kept 70 cents for costs associated with housing the prisoners, Dr. Luick-Thrams said.
Another Herald clip, dated Sept. 14, 1944, reveals other activities by the POWs in the community:
Special services for prisoners
For the past two Sundays Father Wey, pastor of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church at Winsted, has held a special mass for the Catholic war prisoners housed at the fairgrounds here. There are about 35 of them and they are taken to Winsted in the Army trucks, under guard. No civilians were present at the service. Father Wey also preached a special sermon for them and the Sisters sang German hymns. (Note: Father Wey died in December 1944).
Use of the fairgrounds conflicted with the county fair on one occasion, causing the fair to be early in 1945 because of their presence there, according to the following clip of the Herald dated July 12, 1945:
All frounds available for county fair
When the new members of the Wright County Fair Association took over this spring, the county commissioners had leased part of the fairgrounds to the Northland Canning Co. for housing war prisoners, who will occupy the grounds after Aug. 1.
In order to stage a fair, the board was forced to set the dates of the latter part of July - Friday, Saturday, Sunday, July 27, 28, and 29.
For a time it was feared that the only part of the grounds would be available for the county fair, but arrangements have been made where all the buildings and grounds will be used this year.
Although the complete entertainment program is not available at this time, the fair board announces that Slim Jim and His Rodeo will be here Saturday and Sunday, afternoon and evening. On Sunday afternoon, the Army Show from Camp Ripley will give an exhibition. Several other attractions are practically booked for the two days and evenings.
Following this special arrangement, the prisoners arrived as recorded by the Aug. 23, 1945 edition of the Herald:
German POW's at fairgrounds
Sgt. Carl Tisthammer and military police, accompanied about 100 German prisoners of war to Howard Lake the past week where they are housed in the fairgrounds and will pick corn for the northland Canning Co.
Sgt. Tisthammer was in charge of the prisoners here last year. He is a veteran of the American campaign in North Africa.
When the time came to go home, many prisoners of war were not exactly anxious to return to Germany, since they knew that it was in "soot and ashes," that the post-war situation would not be good, Dr. Luick-Thrams said.
By the time the war ended, some 400,000 German, Italian and Japanese POWs found themselves imprisoned in 511 camps across the US, from which they had been sent out to harvest crops, fell trees, build roads and waterways, etc., Dr. Luick-Thrams said.
To complete his research, Dr. Luick-Thrams is looking for items that were carved, created or otherwise associated with the POWs to become part of a traveling museum to display this part of history, he said.
The items will be added to a collection that is held by a non-profit group called "Traces of 400,000," Dr. Luick-Thrams said.
Currently, the collection contains 300 photographs, a 1945 film of Camp Algona, 250 letters to and from Germany, camp "money," handmade maps, numerous sketches and art made by POWs, certificates, identifications, chess pieces carved from a stolen army broomstick, three duffel bags, sheet music, memoirs, among other items.
Dr. Luick-Thrams has traveled to South Africa, Australia, Urugauy, and the US speaking about German POWs, those who fled to other continents to escape Hitler, and the Holocaust.
Other countries he has traveled include: Israel, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Vienna, Greece, Turkey, the Balkans, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Vietnam, Indonesia, among others.
He is an Iowa native that speaks fluent German, and has lived in German for the past 11 years.
Howard Lake-Waverly Herald & Winsted-Lester Prairie