Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Germans Have a Long History of Contributing to Minnesota Agriculture — Including as Prisoners of War

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Germans Have a Long History of Contributing to Minnesota Agriculture — Including as Prisoners of War

Article excerpt

During World War II, prisoners of war helped relieve a severe labor shortage in many rural areas of the U.S. In Clay County, Minnesota, POWs worked on farms to plant, tend, and harvest the crops that otherwise might have been lost.

During the later years of World War II, many rural areas experienced a severe labor shortage after local young men joined the war effort. To help ease the pressure, the federal government shipped prisoners of war (POWs) to the United States to work as laborers. One of the major POW camps was in Algona, Iowa. From April 1944 to August 1946, Camp Algona was home to over 10,000 German POWs, most of whom were enlisted men who had surrendered to allied forces in Africa and Italy. They worked at branch camps throughout Minnesota and Iowa until the end of the war.

From the base at Camp Algona, POWs were distributed to communities that requested help. To get POW laborers, locals would submit a contract detailing how many workers they needed, the job they would be doing, and the housing that would be provided. International rules governing the treatment of POWs required that their work could not be dangerous or related to the war effort; further, they had to be paid and given one day of rest each week. If the contractors met these rules, their request would be approved.

In the spring of 1944, Moorhead-area farmers Henry Peterson and Paul Horn contracted for 150 prisoners to work on their vegetable farms. The first site selected for their housing was in town near the Red River. Locals objected to having the prisoners so close to their homes, so an old onion warehouse on the edge of town was finally chosen. The Moorhead site became known as Algona Branch Camp Number One.

The first forty Germans arrived in Moorhead on Sunday, May 28, 1944. They spent the night in Moorhead in tents on a farm south of town. Afterward, they transformed an onion warehouse into barracks and built an eight-foot barbed wire fence around the camp. …

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