Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 3, 2005

Museum with ties to Howard Lake opens

The TRACES Center for History and Culture will celebrate its grand opening Sunday, Oct. 16 at its permanent new home at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul.

The museum documents encounters between Midwesterners and German/Austrians from 1933-1948, which includes the Wright County Fairgrounds in Howard Lake, where German prisoners of war were kept during World War II.

Previously, researchers involved in the TRACES Center visited Howard Lake in 2001, touring the fairgrounds and interviewing locals.

The day’s events run from noon to 5 p.m. and will include over 20 guest speakers, including a former German-American internee, former American and German POWs, Anne Frank’s Iowa pen pal, refugees from the Holocaust and liberators of Nazi concentration camps, as well as officials from the St. Paul mayor’s office.

The museum will open its doors to the public for the first time. The Minnesota Humanities Commission and Minnesota Landmarks are co-sponsoring the grand opening.

According to Stephen Feinstein, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, “Minnesota has no permanent museum dedicated to the events of World War II and the Midwest’s resolve to fight Nazism. This new space is partially devoted to that story, but also to some of the complicated issues that affected Midwesterners in the context of that war.

“The TRACES Center is a step toward establishing a larger museum space to engage all of the issues associated with World War II and the Holocaust, and to honor Americans who fought in that conflict.”

Included in TRACES’ new 2,300-foot museum is the story of Anne and Margot Frank’s correspondence with their Iowa pen pals, as well as stories of Midwestern journalists or diplomats working in Nazi Germany.

The museum also will be home to the first permanent exhibit that tells the little-unknown story of 11,000 ethnic Germans from the U.S. (including citizens) and Latin America who vanished from their communities when the U.S. government interned them between 1941 and 1948, under the Alien Enemy Act of 1798.

Also told are the efforts of Midwestern Quakers and college students who took in 186 refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, and of Herman Stern, who saved 125 of his relatives and friends from his native Germany by bringing them to North Dakota.

This multi-media museum will showcase re-creations of POW camps, a Midwest small-town Main Street of about 1944, a Berlin cityscape, and the Black Box (a co-project with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies), showing what Midwest soldiers found when they liberated Nazi concentration camps. A dozen specially-made films will document various components of these stories.

Despite having a new permanent base, TRACES will continue to send two mobile exhibits around the Midwest, with plans to create a third one in 2006. Since March 2004, its BUS-eum has taken “Behind Barbed Wire: Midwest POWs in Nazi Germany” to 405 communities in six states, bringing its multi-media exhibit to more than 37,500 people.

“The mobile component of our work is a key part of our overall efforts to bring quality programming and tangible resources to a wide and diverse audience” explains TRACES executive director, Michael Luick-Thrams. “We literally ‘bring history to life’ to people from all walks of life, where they are. It is for them to decide what some of the lessons entailed in these legacies are.”

Cultural events complement the project’s impact.

The TRACES Center for History and Culture Grand Opening and History Marathon runs from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, at Landmark Center in downtown Saint Paul. The history marathon is free, and the public is welcome to attend.

TRACES’ exhibits will be open for viewing during the celebration, on a donation basis. Related narrative-history books and other resources will be available for purchase.

TRACES is a non-profit educational organization created to gather, preserve, and present stories of people from the Midwest and Germany/Austria who encountered each other during and immediately following World War II. It is hoped that these personal stories help us rise above, and eventually defeat, the prejudices, fears, and conflicts that otherwise demean and destroy us.

More information on the museum and its grand opening events can be found at www.TRACES.org.

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