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Cokato Library and Museum hosts ‘Held in the Heartland’
APRIL 5, 2010

German POW camps in Midwest to be topic Thursday, April 8

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

COKATO, MN – The Cokato Public Library is hosting the presentation, “Held in the Heartland: German POWs in the Midwest, 1943-46” Thursday, April 8 at 7 p.m.

The presentation will discuss the 372,000 German prisoners of war that were held captive in 250 camps around the Midwest.

In conjunction with the presentation is a display at the Cokato Museum, with each panel identifying the life of German POWs in the American camps.

“When people think about World War II, they don’t often realize there were POWs from our enemy nations being held as close as five miles away,” said Mike Worcester, Cokato Museum director.

The exhibits and speakers are organized by TRACES, a non-profit educational organization created to gather, preserve and present stories of people from the Midwest and Germany or Austria who encountered each other during WW II.

From 5 to 7 p.m., people can view the BUS-eum “Behind Barbed Wire: Midwest POWs in Nazi Germany” illustrating this history through narrative texts, multi-media and artifacts.

This same BUS-eum visited in 2005, and the second BUS-eum titled “Vanished: German-American Civilian Internment, 1941 to 1948,” visited the Cokato Museum in 2006.

Then, from 7 to 8 p.m., TRACES Director Michael Luick-Thrams will be giving a presentation regarding the POW camps.

In the Cokato museum display, there is a map of the Midwest indicating where each POW camp was located, including those in Howard Lake, New Ulm, Bird Island, Olivia, Moorhead, Faribault, and several more across Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

One of the reasons so many of the POWs were housed in the Midwest was to utilize their labor, especially in the fields during harvest.

TRACES explains how the German POWs held in US Army-operated camps were used: “[POWs] 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 US Army laundry and do other practical wartime tasks.”

In 1944-45, German POWs were used at Northland Canning during its corn pack (see photo).

The museum display is a chronicle of the lives of German POWs in the Upper Midwest and includes images, artwork, capture papers, postcards, and more.

The presentation is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Great River Regional Library through money funded by the Legacy Act of 2008, which dedicated funding to preserve Minnesota’s arts and cultural heritage.

The museum display, which features collages put together of German POW images and artifacts, will be available for viewing through Monday, May 31.


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