KS History – Group D

blogs about KS history

Prisoner of War Camps November 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — melon19 @ 4:47 pm

When I was twelve my grandfather took me to a former WWII Prisoner of War camp. Some of the old buildings were still standing and there were many old pictures of the men in the camps. The camp we went to was in Nebraska and so it’s activities were quite similar to those in Kansas.

There were many places in Kansas that housed prisoner’s of war (POW); Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth, Camp Concordia and Camp Philips are just a few. There was even an overflow prisoner of war camp from Fort Riley to Lawrence. A building was constructed on 11th St and Haskell and then it open April 30th of 1945. Around 100 POW’s were housed there. It was only open until November of the same year.

While here, the men worked on various construction projects. As it was mentioned briefly in class, one of the projects was to build Danforth Chapel. Another project was to plant hundreds of crab apple trees on campus. Citizens of Lawrence remembered the men as being friendly. The feelings were apparently mutual as one former POW wrote a letter saying, “With this letter I want to express my thanks to all the Americans who were kind to us, who didn’t treat us as enemies or Nazi criminals but as human beings.”

This is what interests me, that sentence written by a POW. While I was at the camp with my grandfather he pointed out all the activities that the men did while imprisoned. Not only did they do hard manual labor, they also enjoyed other things. They had an acting troupe that the prisoners formed and they would put on plays periodically. Some of the men were taught how to be chefs, some of them made beautiful pieces of artwork. My grandfather told me how upset he had been he had first gotten back from the war and learned about the POW camps in the United States. While he was on the beaches of Normandy, German soldiers learned about the arts and about cooking. He told me years later his attitude changed. He realized that by treating the German soldiers with kindness, the United States was showing true humanity.

Having this experience with my grandfather taught me a lot about the scope of human emotion and reaction. To me, that letter written by a former German soldier speaks leagues.

Madeline Johnson

Text Sources:

“Good Afternoon Mrs E,” University Daily Kansan,

http://www.kansan.com/news/2007/feb/01/good_afternoon_mrs_e/ (accessed Novemeber 19, 2009).

“Lawrence was Site of POW Camp,” Lawrence Journal World,

http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/oct/16/lawrence_was_site_pow_camp/ (accessed November 19, 2009).

“POW Camps in Kansas,” Gen Tracer,

http://www.gentracer.org/powcampsKS.html (accessed November 19,2009).

Photograph Sources:

“Danforth Chapel.” Photo. Danforth Chapel 19 November 2009. <http://tv.ku.edu/media/news/images/2007/09/danforth.jpg&gt;


12 Responses to “Prisoner of War Camps”

  1. AJ Brenn Says:

    The firsthand account provided by your grandfather is a great addition to what was discussed in lecture. I had not previously known how many POW camps were in Kansas during the course of WWII and did not know that the Danforth Chapel was constructed because of these programs.


  2. mdunson Says:

    Great post! I never would have guessed that so many POWs were housed in the midwest and I was shocked to hear how many were in Kansas alone. I was also surprised to learn that they contributed to work done on campus. I’m glad to hear that the United States treated these POWs with humanity as well. It seems like that would be a rare thing to happen today.

    -Michelle Dunson

  3. Carlos Mashek Says:

    I really enjoyed this blog. I had heard about a prison camp somewhere in the Lawrence area before but could never really find much on the camp itself. This is a rich part of the history of the town that seems like it has all but been lost if it not for blogs like yours and our class disscusion. thank you

  4. shells85 Says:

    Thank you for posting about this! It’s amazing how many times we walk by something like Danforth Chapel and not give it much thought. It is so interesting that it was built by the POWs. Do you know if any of the former camps are open to visitors?
    -Shelley Stroh

    • melon19 Says:

      I know Camp Concordia is open for tours. Though online it said it does not have a regular schedule so to call before hand. (785) 527-5576.

      I do not think the Lawrence camp is still standing. I have not been able to find any pictures of it or museum websites.

  5. jfinkly Says:

    The sentiments that your grandfather passed down to you are really fantastic. There is little doubt in my mind that by treating POW’s w/ compassion (at least some, and some of the time) the US had an opportunity to mod the opinions that would be carried back home with the former prisoners after the war. A good deal of the history relating to the treatment of both Japanese Americans and Japanese POW’s leads me to question how much the physical characteristics might have contributed to the differences in treatment.
    -Beyond those points however I really find this history interesting as I had never had any knowledge of the numbers of POW’s in Kansas, much less that ther where some so close to the campus.
    -Jeff G.

  6. Micah C Says:

    Wow. Great post, loved the personal story. Before this class, I never realized that German POW’s were working on this campus around WWII. It is interesting to note the differences between actual German POW’s and the Japanese camps that housed Americans of Japanese descent. I wonder if the Germans were treated better because they shared similar physical features with many Midwesterners. It is much easier to be cruel to someone who looks different. Maybe this was a cause for their humane treatment. Good post, it got me thinking.

  7. Brittney Visser Says:

    Great post Madeline! 🙂
    I think it’s really interesting that we had POW soldiers here and treated them so well while our soldiers were still fighting hard like your grandfather did. But you are right, actions speak louder than words. Our country showed great kindness to the German POW’s. My dads in the army and in Iraq right now and so while reading your post and how your grandfather was angry when he came home, I began to reflect on how I would feel if that situation was happening today. I wonder if I would be able to treat Iraqi POW’s with kindness and patience if my dad was still being shot at by their army. I really hope I would be able to..but I don’t know. I just think its an interesting thought. It shows great credit upon Americans that they were able to do that.
    I also never knew Lawrence housed them until in class the other day. What an interesting piece of our college towns history 🙂

  8. djhistory Says:

    I really like some of the comments you make in this blog and I share your viewpoint when you say that by showing compassion to the POWs Kansans were able to show humanity and the virtues our country is built on. It reminds me of Japanese soldiers in WWII that were indoctrinated to believe that all US troops were ruthless killers only to be shocked when they were treated with (relative) compassion by our service men and given cigarettes, food, etc. upon their capture.

  9. Travis Jackson Says:

    I really enjoy hearing the history of Lawrence and KU campus. Danforth Chapel is a great addition to our campus, several of my aunts and uncles who are KU alumni had their weddings there. I really like how you mentioned how your grandfather’s attitude changed towards the POW camps over time. It is easy to get caught up in anger and treat POWs badly, but hearing about how these German POWs enjoyed their lives while imprisoned is super cool. Nice post.

    -Travis Jackson

  10. Jeff Shull Says:

    I really enjoyed this post and did not knoe that there where prison camps all over Kansas like that. It puts in perspective taking modern day pow’s and putting them into US prisons, even though they were not giver US rights. I think if more people realized this there would be less of an argument over doing such, what do you think?

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