Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 14, 2003

German POW researcher plans to return to Howard Lake with program

By Lynda Jensen

German POW researcher Dr. Michael Luick-Thrams, Ph.D. will return to Howard Lake once again to revisit the subject of German POWs housed at the Wright County Fairgrounds.

Previously, Luick-Thrams visited the area and toured the fair grounds in 2001, as well as interviewing locals.

Many German POWs based at the fairgrounds camp worked for local farmers or at the canning factories in Cokato.

Another interesting fact is that Minnesotans were some of the first POWs in Germany, Luick-Thrams said.

This program will give everyone the history of the lives of both Minnesota POWs in Germany and German POWs in Minnesota, he said.

In fact, most Minnesotans are probably unaware that despite its geographic isolation, the state had numerous and significant connections to Nazi Germany.

Luick-Thrams who grew up on a farm in Iowa, hopes to change this and many misconceptions about POWs and Minnesota.

The historian and author, who has collected stories, photographs, letters and other documentation about this forgotten history, is sharing this rich legacy with people across the region.

"The more we understand about the past, the better prepared we are to handle the future," Luick-Thrams said. "And, as the United States launches a war with global reach, related historical precedents take on heightened value ­ as models and as warnings ­ about possible costs and effects of such undertakings."

He invites Minnesotans to learn more during a multi-media presentation he is planning at the Howard Lake Public Library Community Room, at Highway 12 and Sixth Avenue, 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 22.

"If you have stories or photographs about the POW camp in Howard Lake or the POWs, please bring them with you," he said.

"All ages are welcome to this free program!" he said.

German roots

"The Upper Midwest was at the heart of so much activity during the Third Reich's existence," recounts Luick-Thrams, who is living in the region after having lived eight years in Berlin.

"First, there were the refugees: diarist Anne Frank wrote to her Iowa pen pal some two weeks before the Germans rolled into the Netherlands. Why, even the Familie Von Trapp of 'Sound of Music' fame sang here" noted Luick-Thrams, who has written "Out of Hitler's Reach: The Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees."

The story is about 186 refugees who fled the Nazis and found haven with Upper Midwest Quakers from 1939 to 1943.

The book includes information about staff who came from Mankato and refugees who settled in Duluth and the Twin Cities.

Then, due to the sudden capture of some 1,800 mostly Iowa and Minnesota soldiers from the 34th division in Tunisia in February 1943, the book continues until the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. This group constituted the most American POWs imprisoned in Nazi Germany, per capita.

The 34th division is highlighted in the TRACES book, with the help of Iowa and Minnesota POWs' diaries and art.

Another book, "Enemies Within" details continuous combat days in the European theater than any other U.S. Army division.

If this amazing and mostly forgotten history is not enough, from 1943 to 1946 about 10,000 German POWs were at Camp Algona or its 34 branch camps in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas.

"I've talked to Shirley Hamer" Luick-Thrams said, "who remembers POWs at Camp Hollandale working on her family's farm. She still has a wooden jewel case made as a gift from Wilhelm Paecher, who 'adopted' her as a little girl."

"There are many people with many stories; you just need to find and listen to them," he said.

"Why, my own mother used to drive past the front gates of Camp Algona as a girl, on her way with her parents to visit relatives," Luick-Thrams said, who is passionate about his work.

Catching his eye

His interest in the subject began as a young boy, when his maternal grandparents brought a former German POW into their home for several years and helped him settle in the Midwest.

"I used to play with Heinz' kids when I was growing up" he remembered.

Luick-Thrams currently serves as executive director of TRACES, at TRACES.org on the Internet, an American-German non-profit organization.

Last year, a TRACES research team filmed 45 hours of interviews with 50 POWs or their family members.

In the process, they collected a wealth of related artifacts including 350 photographs, a 1945 film of Camp Algona, 275 letters to and from Germany, journals, paintings and much more.

These items are currently on display in an exhibit, "The Third Reich in Minnesota: German POW Art and Artifacts" at the Brown County Historical Society Museum, beginning in fall 2003.

By World War II's end, some 400,000 German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war were imprisoned in several hundred U.S. camps; millions more Axis and Allied POWs were imprisoned in camps in Europe, the Soviet Union, Canada, Australia, Asia and Africa.

"Soon, the last members of the generation to have experienced WWII no longer will be with us," said Luick-Thrams. "It is imperative that we save these last traces of WWII-era POWs' experiences, as well as apply the stories' lessons to today's critical situation."

The program is coordinated by the following hosting institutions: Buffalo Public Library, Cokato Historical Society, Howard Lake Historical Society, Howard Lake Public Library, Wright County Historical Society Sponsors:

This program is made possible in part with the funding from the Minnesota Humanities Commission in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Minnesota State Legislature.

The Minnesota Humanities Commission provides resources that advance the study of the humanities.

Presentation set about German POWs in WW II

A program will be presented 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 22 about WWII era POWs in Minnesota and Germany called Hitler Comes to the Heartland: Minnesota's Connections to Nazi Germany at the Howard Lake Public Library Community Room.

Those who may have photographs or other information about the POWs are encouraged to attend, bringing items with them.

Call for more information: 763-682-7323 or 800-362-3667, ext. 7323.


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