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WWII POW ‘BUS-eum’ coming to Toledo

March 4, 2009
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald


Editor's Note: A prisoner of war camp for Germans was located at Toledo Heights during World War II. Read Marie Vileta's account in accompanying article

A retrofitted school bus called the BUS-eum 3 telling the story of German POWs held in midwest camps- is touring six states reaching schools, libraries and historical societies.The BUS-eum 3 will be in Toledo from noon. to 7 p.m. on Monday, April 13. It will be parked in front of the Toledo Public Library, 206 E. High St. For more information on the Toledo stop, contact Jenny Bledsoe, Toledo Public Library director, 641-484-3362 or

Article Photos

Early photo of Toledo Heights buildings. A German POW Camp was located here during WW II. Photo is from the Toledo Sesquicentennial History Book - 2003.

The TRACES' mobile museum uses 10 narrative panels and films to tell about this story.

By the end of World War II some 425,000 German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) found themselves imprisoned in over 660 base and branch POW camps in almost all of the then-48 United States and the territory of Alaska. Millions more Axis and Allied POWs were held in other camps in Europe, the Soviet Union, Canada, Australia and Africa. While Axis and Soviet POWs were both the perpetrators as well as victims of dictatorial governments and state-sponsored violence, POW experiences on all sides embody ageless and timely themes of war and peace, justice under arms and issues regarding human rights, international reconciliation and future conflict avoidance.

The roughly 372,000 German POWs held in U.S Army-operated camps across the United States 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 U.S. Army laundry and do other practical wartime tasks.

Fact Box


This is Marie Vileta's account of the German POW Camp at Toledo Heights during World War II. A traveling museum devoted to midwest WW II POWs is scheduled to make a stop at the Toledo Public Library in April.

From Out Of The Past. . . . . . Marie K. Vileta

POW Branch Camp No. 27 - 1945 In the late summer of 1945 the United States Employment Service and the War Manpower Commission declared that no American labor was available to harvest crops in the Tama county area. Because of the shortage, it was possible to use German Prisoners of War from the Algona POW camp. Branch Camp No. 27 was established at Toledo based at the old Sac and Fox Sanitarium. The prisoners could not be used as laborers without the consent of the government agencies.

In preparation for the coming of the workers, a contingent of thirty-five German prisoners preceded the move from Algona to Toledo by a couple of weeks. These men were occupied in building barbed wire stockades, checking and repairing the wiring, heating and plumbing systems. The two main buildings on the sanitarium grounds were made ready for the arrival of 123 prisoners and 13 enlisted U. S. military personnel who would be quartered there for only a few weeks.

The prisoners were to assist in harvesting crops on local farms and in the sweet corn cannery in Toledo. They were able, willing workers and caused no discipline problems. By the terms of the Geneva Conference, they were first fed the same diet as American soldiers enjoyed. That was often better than the civilian population was having because of rationing. When this was pointed out, the diet of the POWs was planned according to the caloric content and although these men had not had butter for at least nine months, they had hearty meals of cabbage, turnips, potatoes and other unrationed food. They did not complain about their meals or the amount of food they were served.

About 500 prisoners were working out of the Algona camp, some in Iowa and some in Minnesota and the Dakotas, wherever there was a shortage. Most had been captured in Africa and Italy and a few in Normandy. Their average age was 25 and since they were well-treated and well-fed, few attempted to escape. To wander away from the POW camp and be undetected was almost impossible.Their clothing was blue denim and on their sleeves were the letters POW. Very few could speak English and so escapees were not a problem.

Prisoners were allowed to subscribe to newspapers and magazines if they wished and if they had the means. They were paid the prevailing wage scale but they personally only received 10 cents per hour. The difference between the prisoner-pay and the total amount earned was paid to the U.S. Treasury. This branch of the services was able to pay for itself. When he did "piece work" such as picking corn, the prisoner might earn up to $1.20 per hour which was the current wage.

American treatment of POWs was with consideration and the Germans were not anxious to return to their native land. Many wanted to learn to speak English. Among the ones quartered at Toledo was one who spoke fluently and was the interpreter and spokesman. In spare and idle moments he was he was teaching others to speak. They were allowed to view some movies and they were interested in them because it was an opportunity to hear the language spoken.

Medical treatment of the prisoners did not pose a problem. One of the enlisted U.S. military men who was stationed at Camp No. 27 was a pharmacist and tended minor illnesses and mishaps. A German medical man was one of the prisoners and local doctors could be called in an emergency. Hospital care was allowed as well.

None of the prisoners would admit to being a Nazi and some were not eager for their release and return to Germany. Branch Camp No. 27 existed for less than two months in 1945 and is said to have been operated the shortest time of any of the satellite camps.

With the high rate of 19th-century German immigration to the Midwest, many of those who worked with POWs spoke to them in their native tongue; some even had relatives or former neighbors among them. In the process, they formed significant, often decades-long friendships with "the enemy" and underwent considerable changes as individuals and as a group thus fundamentally influencing postwar German values and institutions, as well as American-German relations. A number of POWs even chose to immigrate to the United States after the war.

TRACES Center for History and Culture is a Midwest/WWII history museum in downtown Saint Paul, Minn., historic Landmark Center (formerly 1896 Federal Courts Building). Each of its more than two dozen exhibits about Midwesterners' encounters with Germans or Austrians between 1933 and 1948 forms part of a larger mosaic, a fuller image of a war that is often misunderstood or seen in clichs. At TRACES, WWII is a case study to learn from for today and future generations.

To confirm the BUS-eum's itinerary or learn more about this exhibit, see The exhibit's texts and photos of the exhibit can be previewed at that web site; reading the narrative in advance facilitates speedier visitor flow in the bus. Educators are welcome to utilize any teacher material on our web site.



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