I have visited Concordia, KS more times than I can possibly recall. It is where both of my parents grew up, and is currently called home to most of my extended family. I still remember from my youth visiting my grandparents and listening to their childhood stories. My grandfather, Tim, has lived in Concordia his whole life. One of the most memorable stories he would explain occurred during 1944. My grandfather was a young boy, probably no older than six years old. He and his family would travel around the town in their cars after church on Sunday. During his family drives, he saw men in the farm fields dressed in matching uniforms. His parents would explain to him that those men were bad. As my grandfather grew older, he started to realize that the men he saw in the farm fields were fighting with the Nazi’s, and were called prisoners of war (POWs).
Camp Concordia was a POW camp outside of Concordia, KS. Located off of Highway 81, this camp was built in February 1943 and turned over to the United States Army on May 1st, 1943. Although it was a quick build (3 months), the camp cost $1,808,860 to construct. Running $40,000 over budget, the camp was quick to fill and start operating. This POW camp was built upon 160 acres with 304 buildings that included 177-bed hospital, fire department, warehouses, cold storage, an officer’s club, barracks, mess halls, and administrative buildings for both the German POWs and American soldiers. The POW camp also offered up some new employment positions for the American public, hiring and employed around 180 civilians.
The majority of POWs found within the walls of Camp Concordia were members of the German Army. Most were captured in Africa and brought to Kansas POW camps to be put to work on farms. Although some assume that prisoners of war are treated like slaves, the prisoners at Camp Concordia were not. Farmers, railroad companies, and even some ice plants employed the POWs. They were paid a normal salary for their labor and could buy items form the post exchange. They also were allowed to have their own band and newspaper in the camp.
At the camp’s peak, there were 4,027 POWs, 880 soldiers, and 179 civilian employees. Camp Concordia closed on November 8th, 1945. Most of the buildings and original structures have been torn down. There are weeds growing between the concrete foundations existed, and most of the land returned back to farmland. The guard tower and Guardhouse 20 still exist.
Many people do not realize that there were POW camps located in Kansas. I am curious to know if there were other reasons why the US Army decided to place POW camps in Kansas. It makes sense that the camp prisoners were here to help farm, and thus in a ironic way help feed their enemies across seas. But could it also be because Kansas is in the middle of nowhere?!? It would be difficult for the POWs to escape and return to Germany. Any thoughts?!?
Information & Pictures found from:
“Concordia.” Concordia POW Camp. http://www.kansasphototour.com/concordia.htm (accessed November 18, 2009).
Stokes, Keith. “Camp Concordia.” Camp Concordia WWII POW Camp. http://www.kansastravel.org/campconcordia.htm (accessed November 18, 2009).