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