History: Prisoner of War Camps (1945)

Contact: Diane Klinke
Email: dianegeorge6@hotmail.com

----Sources: Excerpts from: STALAG WISONSIN Inside WW II Prisoner of War Camps, by Betty Cowley copyright 2002 by Betty Cowley Published by Badger Books, Inc

Camp Marshfield 1945

...Local residents first learned of the plan to use PW's in a Marshfield News-Herald story: "German War Prisoners to work for Central State Pea Canners". On May 26. 1945, the story revealed that Marshfield had been selected as a site for a PW camp. The number of prisoners to come would be determined later based on results of local employment recruiting. The military planned a tent city on Marshfield Canning Company grounds, where the Army would control and feed the prisoners. The article assured local readers that prisoners would be well screened before being shipped to a work station such as this. Furthermore, the Germans would be well-guarded, remain in their compound when not working, and segregated from civilian employees as possible when on the job. The announcement noted these prisoners would supply labor for the Marshfield plant and the cannery at Stratford.(Actually, some worked at Loyal instead of Stratford.) Finally, in the story authorities asked area readers to stay away from the camp, reminding them of the "no fraternizing" rule and that "the curious only get in the way". In a later announcement, the military explained that 50 percent of the Marshfield cannery output was consigned to the armed forces and that supply must continue. The U.S. government contracted the prisoners at a standard wage of fifty-five cents an hour for those employed at Marshfield and fifty cents an hour for those working at Loyal. The canners paid this money to the military, which in turn paid the prisoners their eighty cents per day in canteen scrip. Captain Detmars, the military spokesman, reported that the Army spent about thirty-five cents a day to feed a prisoner of war as compared to an average of fifty-eight cents a day for a member of the American military. Detmars also addressed reader concerns when he noted the food served the prisoners required only about 50 percent of the red and blue ration points alloted to civilians. The meat for the prisoners generally included less desirable cuts such as sausage,carp,pickled herring,hearts and liver. Prisoners received no butter and were allowed only four pounds of sugar per 100 men per day.

Under camp commander Captain Kopps, an advance party of forty prisoners and guards set up the six acre camp. First, they used snow fence and barbed wire to enclose the Golden State property at the rear of the local canning company. Then, two guardhouses, one sentry house,showers and latrines went up. Tents provided shelter for the mess and sleeping. Mostly young English speaking members of the Afrika Korps comprised this advance group of PW's. On July 8, the rest of the Germans arrived in ten army trucks. More than 243 prisoners guarded by Captain Jack Lyle and thirty-nine guards pitched additional tents and moved in. Captain Lyle reported that 125 of these men worked at the local cannery, 100 at Loyal and 18 maintained the camp doing the cooking, laundry and other chores.

The following day a military convoy picked up the extra prisoners and headed toward Milwaukee. But along highway 13 on the south edge of town a car driven by 20-yr old Elmer E. Kumm from Pittsvile struck the truck. The truck carreened ito the nearby ditch, rollig on it's side. Four prisoners remaind hospitalized at St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, one with serious chest injuries. Six others from the overturned truk returned to camp after being checked and released. Also checked and released, the passengers in the car, twins Ila and Ina Hartnett, sustained oly minor injuries. Uninjured, Kumm was cited for failing to stop.

With an abundant crop, new equipment, a new system of air dusting the pea fields, and plenty of workers, the pea pack set a local and state record. As the bean pack neared completion, all but fifty PW's moved out to an unnamed locations the second week of September. Captain Thomas Ryan, the new camp commander, and the remaining PW's stayed to help finish the bean crop and warehouse work.

This last contingent of PW's and their guard left after disbanding the camp October 1, 1945. As the last of the PW's moved out, plant manager Rudolph Benzel felt very satisfied. There had been no unpleasant incidents involving these prisoners employees in the area. Very pleased with the work and behavior of the Germans, he and other plant managers noted that the PW's had helped harvest and process the record pea crop and helped with the beans as well. In putting forth that effort the PW's housed at Camp Marshfield earned $32,649 in wages paid to the military, accordig to the September, 1945, report from Fort Sheridan.

RECOLLECTIONS

Vern Vollrath, Janesville, Wi (formerly of Loyal) "Back in Germany that would never be allowed!" remarked a surprised PW as he watched the peas washed down the drain. The peas had spilled on the floor when a sealing machine had jammed. Vern Vollrath worked on one of the machines while the PW's loaded the sealed cans into baskets headed for the cookers. He spoke enough German to get the gist of the conversation among the PW's. From their exchange, Vern noted even the older ladies working in the Loyal Canning Plant looked pretty good to these female-starved young prisoners. The same guard always accompanied the PW's in the stake-truck they arrived in from Marshfield each day, but often seemed to vanish. Rumor had it the guard went uptown to a local bar.

BARBARA SEE, Spencer, Wi

Fluent in German, Barbara See's mother learned from conversations with them that the PW's ranged in age from 14 to 20. As she visited with them, she learned some had been in the Hitler Youth since age 10 or 11 and no idea if their families were still alive or not. Barbara's brother, Phillip, had been killed in April fighting Germany. these prisoners were surprised to learn that Germans were fighting Germany and they didn't seem to know what Germany was fighting for. The PW's also marveled at the size of the farm and number of buildings all belonging to one family. The See family hired several PW's to pitch peas for four days. A canning factory truck dropped off the prisoners for the day's work about 9 a.mm and picked them up again about 5 p.m. No guard accompanied them. Finding shade by the barn for noon break, the prisoners ate their sack lunch. Barbara's mother brought them water and visisted with them.

LEATRICE SEEFLUTH MEIER, Wisconsin Rapids, Wi

My mother, Emma Seefluth, and I ran the Loyal Cafe at the time and had been hired to feed the PW's their noon meal. The prisoners worked nearby at the Loyal Canning plant. At the designated time, they came to the back door where we handed out their lunches. NEver allowed in, they always ate outside.

DELMER CAPELLE, Loyal wis

Perhaps he came from the grape growing area of Germany because one PW who worked on our farm outside Loyal took great interest in our grapes. Phillip Capelle and that PW had a very extensive conversation about raising grapes in this climate.

ROGER LIEBZEIT, Greenwood, wi

A ride in an Army Jeep thrilled young Roger Liebzeit whose folks had eight or nine prisoners on their farm loading the peas. The MP sergeant guarding them gave young Liebzeit a ride one day. Roger remembered that a truck with large, metal containers of food came out each day to serve the prisoners lunch. "My family was German and still spoke the language. Mother usually brought out cake or some other treat in the evening to the men who generally worked untill dark. At the end of the harvest, the sergeant allowed the PW's to go into the barn to see the twenty-five or so cows and the four horses. The prisoners looked closely at the cows, petted the horses and checked out the harnesses and other equipment."

End of excerpts. Some of the recollections were left out as the people were from Wood county cities. The complete chapter can be found in the book, of course. I also omitted the opening paragraph in the interset of space. In reading the entire book, you will pick up other tidbits of how the camps were run, PW's and civilians interacted, etc. The book makes fascinating reading. Diane Klinke

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