September 4, 1943 to 1946
One hundred fifty German POWs sit out the war at Camp Number One near Moorhead, a branch camp of the base camp at Algona, Iowa. Farmers short of help pay the government 40 cents an hour for their labor.
Camps were located in or near Ada, Bena, Bird Island, Crookston, Deer River, Fairmont, Faribault, Grand Rapids, Hollandale, Howard Lake, Montgomery, Moorhead, New Ulm, Olivia, Ortonville, Owatonna, Remer, Saint Charles, Warren, and Wells.*
During the span of World War II, approximately 425,000 German, Italian, and Japanese soldiers were taken as prisoners of war and held in the United States. Once in the U.S., the prisoners were disbursed to about 700 camps in 46 states. The prison network had roughly 150 larger base camps, and 500 smaller branch camps.** The vast majority of these POWs were Germans who surrendered in the battlefields of Italy or North Africa. Camp Algona, in Iowa, held about 10,000 of these German prisoners who were contracted to do agricultural labor in the Midwest.***
“It was all about farm labor. Because so many young American men were overseas fighting in the war, there was a severe worker shortage. That was particularly true for agriculture, which was not considered a high-priority industry. The government offered to supply POWs on a contract basis. In accordance with the Geneva Convention, the labor could not directly help the war effort or be dangerous. Many agriculture areas took advantage, including the Red River Valley.
So, farmers Henry Peterson and Paul Horn contracted for 150 POWs to work their vegetable farms. Army inspectors at first wanted to house the prisoners in a barn near the Red River on 12th Avenue south in Moorhead, but neighbors objected and so an onion warehouse on 21st Street near 4th Avenue North was selected.”****
Algona Branch Camp Number One was created in the spring of 1944 to accommodate Minnesota farmers Henry Peterson and Paul Horn. This area, known as the Red River Valley, was renowned for its’ potato and beet production. Regional historian Kenneth Dawes said, “Local growers were in a near panic” as to how to get the crop in, and also stated that POWs “literally saved the potato and beet harvest” in the wartime years.**
Many efforts were made to protect the humanity of these detainees at Camp One. They had a plethora of recreational activities to choose from: sports, woodworking and carving, art supplies, and books. The musically inclined even gave concerts of German music to their captors. They were granted the right to attend worship services or not as they saw fit.***
Though some locals thought that POWs were being “molly-coddled”, the general consensus was that our fair treatment of Germans would be passed on to American POWs in Europe.** Yet one wonders; “What was the response of these prisoners of war to their years of captivity in America? Hartmut Lang, the Boston consulate general of the Federal Republic of Germany, gives us an astonishing testimony; ”To a German soldier then, being taken prisoner by U.S. troops amounted to winning a ticket to peace and fair treatment.”**
Now we turn to You, the Emancipator of the Human Race, and Giver of All Human Rights and ponder these stories. We humbly recall Your words that reflect Your benevolence to all; including those in prison.
“Blessed is he whose help is the G-d of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his G-d, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them- the Lord, who remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever, your G-d, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.” Psalm 146:5-10 NIV *****
We thank You today for these words of King David so long ago, and that they are forever true!
We confess to You today that we, as Americans and Minnesotans, were unable to avoid war with Nazi Germany in this era, and therefore, may have participated in the deaths of both enemies and innocents. Will You have mercy on this offense?
We confess to You today that we, as Your Church, may have failed to stand prayerfully with our brothers and sisters in Europe in spite of their subjugation and conscription to an evil Fascist dictatorship. Have we righteously hated, rejected, and opposed their government as American citizens, and somehow missed that many of the citizens of Germany were already spiritual captives of Giovanni Gentile; the father of the fascist ideology? ******
Conversely, we confess the judgments of Your Church in Europe towards the United States. Did they fail to see us also as members of Your Kingdom, or only as subjects of the political dominion of America?
Will You have mercy on Your Church and its common political and socio-economic idolatry?
Will You have mercy on Your Church and our shared misbeliefs towards each other during World War II, and taking the bait of self-righteousness held out by our common Deceiver?
Will You set us free from the pride that can assert itself within patriotism, and give make us an unpretentious United States and demütig Deutschland?
Lord, we thank You for this testimony of the character of Your human beings; whether a German POW or an American Minnesotan farmer! We are thankful for the example of Algona Camp Number One and the Peterson and Horn families. Somehow, they simultaneously held up the cause of justice as to the actions of their enemies while not judging their humanity. Yes, they were prisoners, but they were prisoners made in Your Image!
O, dear Father, we so desperately need this kind wise discernment; both here in the North Star state and abroad! Will You continue to bless us to be people who love their enemies and do good for them? Will You give us strong resolve to oppose evil and love what is good and life-giving?
Will You give Your Church the gift of recognizing our dual citizenship? Though we may experience varying degrees of captivity as citizens of our nation of origin, we are also the emancipated subjects of Your Heavenly State. We were all POWs of the Accuser of Humanity, yet You served our sentence for us so we could walk free! Hallelujah! Whether engaged in a outward political war or inward spiritual battle, give us Your eyes, sweet Jesus, to see You inside every POW until war is no more!
“When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7 ESV ******
* P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
**** https://www.inforum.com/opinion/columns/2725100-McFeely-German-POWs-right-here-in-Moorhead citing Piehl, Mark. “POWs work at Moorhead Truck Farm”. Clay County Historical Society, 1991, pp.15-17.