Note: This story is from the July-August 2012 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
One fact that a lot of people never think about in warfare is the often overwhelming task of dealing with enemy troops who have been captured or who have surrendered. They must be moved away from the battle lines, and it can require a significant investment of materials and manpower to house, feed, and care for them.
During World War II, many German POWs were brought to America and housed in prison camps in the middle of the country, as far from the coastlines or borders as possible, to make escape difficult.
One such facility was Camp Concordia, an internment camp for German POWs that was established two miles north of Concordia, Kansas. Hastily built in the spring of 1943, the camp covered 157 acres and consisted of more than 300 buildings, including a 177 bed hospital, post office, mess halls, PX, restaurants, fire department, and barracks. The camp had a 100,000 gallon water tower. Total cost of building Camp Concordia was $1,808,806. The first 400 prisoners, mostly enlisted men from Field Marshal Rommel’s Deutsche Afrika Korps, arrived on July 15, 1943.
At its peak, the camp held over 4,000 prisoners, many of whom were officers who remained fiercely loyal to the Nazi party. Even though these were hardcore POWs, the camp saw only two escapes and eight prisoner deaths from its opening in 1943 until it was closed in November, 1945. It was suspected that at least some of those deaths, which were claimed to have been suicides, were actually at the hands of fellow prisoners when they believed that one of their own was no longer loyal to the party cause. Other prisoners were beaten severely.
Eventually 44 of the worst of the Nazi troublemakers were identified and moved to another camp, and things became calmer. As measures of restoring order to the camp, the library removed Nazi reading material and instituted college coursework for prisoners under the jurisdiction of the University of Kansas. Many of the prisoners took advantage of the educational opportunities offered.
The prisoners were made available as farm laborers, a program that some local citizens were opposed to, believing they should not be allowed outside of the camp. But faced with wartime labor shortages, the farmers were thankful to have additional help. Many of the prisoners came from rural backgrounds and enjoyed working on the local farms, and the home cooked meals they received. Over time, warm bonds formed between many farm families and prisoners. Other prisoners worked in the camp as cooks, laborers, and hospital aids.
The prisoners who worked were paid $1.60 per eight hour day, with half going to the prisoner and the other half to the government. Those who did not work received $3 per month. Prisoners could use their money to buy snacks, cigarettes, and personal care items from the canteen.
When they were not working, prisoners had many activities to keep them occupied, including sports, movies, reading, crafts, and they also organized orchestras and bands.
When the war ended, many of the prisoners were taken to Washington, D.C. for a crash course in democracy, American style, in the hope that they would take those lessons back to Germany to help rebuild their nation.
With the war over, the prisoners returned to their native land, many of them with apparent good memories of their time spent on the Kansas plains. Several returned over the years to visit, and a few actually immigrated to America and settled around Concordia.
Today not much remains of Camp Concordia, and most of the land is once again used for agriculture. Many of the buildings were torn down, and others were moved. Some are still being used as homes in nearby Concordia. A few remnants of the past, like Building T-9, still stand. The T designation in each of the camp buildings’ names stood for Temporary, because they were not built to be permanent structures. At 7,680 square feet, T-9 was the largest of five warehouses built near the southern boundary of the camp. Two slightly smaller warehouses stood to the west of T-9, and two others in a direct line to the north. Only the concrete slabs of those structures remain. Like the other warehouses, T-9 was a one story, wood frame construction, with a concrete foundation and floor.
Once the POW camp closed, Building T-9 was on a list of buildings acquired by the Federal Land Bank in l947. In October, l947, the City of Concordia purchased 166 acres of the POW camp, including buildings, with the intent of establishing a park and re-locating the Cloud County fairgrounds to the site. Plans for the park never came to pass and the City eventually sold Building T-9 as well as other buildings and acreage. T-9 was subsequently used as a skating rink, hog farm, canoe factory, and during the l960s, a horse racetrack used the building for hay storage. In 2009, the building was purchased by the POW Camp Concordia Preservation Society, which is working to preserve it.
A reminder of the POW camp days is a reconstructed two story stone watchtower where sentries were stationed during the war. Guard Post 20, also known as building T-64, is a small wood framed building that once was the guard shack at the entrance to the POW camp, and now has a small display of photographs from the war years. An upright concrete column was the base for the camp’s water tower.
The Cloud County Historical Museum in Concordia has two rooms of POW camp items on display, including art work, crafts, and letters from the German prisoners.
Today the POW Camp Concordia Preservation Society is working to preserve the old camp. While the buildings are not normally staffed and open to visitors, the grounds of the old camp can be toured. The camp is located at 15500 Union road, two miles north of Concordia on U.S. Highway 81, and one mile east on Union Road. There is not much room for RVs, and visitors would be advised to stay at the very nice city owned Airport Park, which has a number of RV sites.
Several blog readers have asked where they can find pictures and information on the 2002 Winnebago Ultimate Advantage motorhome we are selling. I have set up a page for it, with lots of info and photos. You can access it here at this Motorhome For Sale link.
Congratulations Ronald Brazell, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Point Taken, the tenth book in my friend Ben Rehder’s excellent Blanco County mystery series. We had 65 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon.
Thought For The Day – Never grow a wishbone where a backbone should be.