By Jennifer Gallus
Many may already know that during World War II, Howard Lake hosted German prisoners of war at the fairgrounds, but many may not know how those prisoners of war felt about the area.
Floyd Sneer of Winsted found out when he visited Germany in 1980 and unintentionally met one of those past Howard Lake POWs.
Sneer and his wife, the late JoAnn, traveled to Europe to watch their son, Timothy, perform with his choir group, the Central Lutheran Choir, at The Dom, a big Catholic cathedral with “beautiful acoustics,” Sneer explained.
In addition to the performance, the Sneers traveled the Eurorail from Austria to Copenhagen, making several stops in between, and spending “a lot of time in Germany,” Sneer said.
As the Sneers signed a guest book at the Glockenspiel im Rathausturm, a greeter noticed their Winsted address and said, “Winsted! Do you know Ollie Lachermeier?”
It turns out that the greeter was a past German POW who was held in Howard Lake during WW II.
Sneer can’t recall his name, but said that they carried on a conversation for quite some time so much so, that the tourists behind the Sneers were getting annoyed with them.
The German POW told Sneer that he and the other POWs really liked the area, and that the people of Howard Lake were very friendly.
Howard Lake and Winsted were largely German towns and many of the townspeople spoke German something that the German POWs found comforting.
The POWs worked in the canning factory in Winsted, where Lachermeier used to be a supervisor, which is why he had asked about him.
Sneer said that the POWs liked working at the canning plant.
The POW also told Sneer that once they got to Howard Lake, they didn’t want to escape, which is what they were instructed to try to do if they were to be captured.
“It was like heaven, and we didn’t want to escape,” the POW told Sneer. “We had it too good,” he also said.
Back then, Howard Lake had a movie theater that the POW told Sneer he fondly remembered because they were allowed to go there and watch movies.
The German POW said that he was in the German army and was captured in France the day after D-Day. He also said that he was glad he wasn’t an officer because all the officers were shot to get rid of the leaders.
The POW informed Sneer that most of the POWs in Howard Lake were from the same area of fighting, but that some were added to the camp from other areas, as well.
“He was a well-educated young man,” Sneer said. “He even spoke three languages German, French, and English.”
“I’ll never forget his reaction when he saw where we were from,” Sneer laughed.
This Sunday, Sept. 14 a traveling exhibit called a “bus-eum” (a museum in a bus) will stop in Howard Lake and will highlight German POWs held in the heartland during the war.
The “bus-eum” runs from 3 to 6 p.m., and features a bus that has been converted into an exhibit about the WW II German prisoners held in the Midwest from 1943 to 1946.
The exhibit is sponsored by the Friends of the Howard Lake Library. It features 15 display panels with photographs and documents. A 21-seat theater is also on-board for participants to view a movie about the subject.
The bus will be parked by the St. James School, located at 1000 6th Ave. in Howard Lake. This is an open house style exhibit.
Veteran B-29 bomber pilot Loren Zander of Howard Lake will speak at 2 p.m. and plans to give a brief history of events leading up to the war, how an airplane works including facts about the B-29 bomber he piloted, and will share his service experiences.
Refreshments will be served.
For more information, go to www.hjorgs.com/hl-libraryfriends/ or call the library at (320) 543-2020.