A walk through the past at Camp Algona
ALGONA — The Camp Algona POW Museum shows its visitors how German prisoners lived in the United States during World War II in addition to the prisoners’ importance to the American economy, according to Jerry Yocum, vice president of the Camp Algona POW Museum Committee.
It’s a story that not everyone is familiar with, Yocum said.
“There’s only about five of these museums across the United States,” Yocum said. “This story is not very well told. Many times people don’t even realize we had prisoners or that prisoners were here.”
Yocum began his involvement with the Camp Algona POW Museum when it opened for the first time in July 2004.
“I was on the original committee that developed the museum,” Yocum said.
The Camp Algona POW Museum is open for the season. It features photos, paintings, clothing and other artifacts from that time period.
Its hours are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from April through December.
Starting May 29 through August 19, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
From January to March, the museum can only be visited by appointment only.
The POW Camp was started in 1944. It held 10,000 German prisoners from 1944 to February 1946.
Yocum said the prisoners worked wherever needed while many Americans were overseas fighting the war.
“Mainly they worked on farms for people, not only in this area, but also in Minnesota, North and South Dakota,” Yocum said. “There were a number of branch camps that were set up where prisoners would be taken.”
One example was along the Red River Valley in Minnesota during harvest time, Yocum said.
Yocum, a former Algona High School history teacher, said the work of the prisoners helped the American economy stay afloat.
“That allowed our economy to continue going at full speed because of course we had a number of men and women in the military,” he said. “Without that work being done it would shortened us on food supply.”
The prisoners were paid for their work.
“They worked about 44 hours per week and were paid at the rate of 10 cents an hour,” Yocum said. “That was very much below the minimum wage at the time.”
Yocum said the prisoners were paid in scrip.
“They could spend those at the post exchange at the camp,” he said. “They had their own room and board.”
Yocum said the museum also focuses on what the prisoners did in their spare time.
“They were able to be involved in music, art, drama, and a lot of those things,” he said. “Many of these guys had been in military combat for several years, so while they were here as prisoners, they were allowed to recover physically, but also recover emotionally.”
Allowing the prisoners to live outside of their work was a benefit, according to Yocum.
“It’s a whole lot better, once the war was over, for them to have had this experience than be bitter about their experience of sitting around doing nothing,” Yocum said.
Yocum added that many of the American prisoners, held in either Germany or Japan, were not treated as well.
“A lot of them were forced into labor and were paid nothing,” Yocum said.
In general, prisoners were treated fairly across the United States.
“It was this kind of treatment really all over the country, not just Algona,” Yocum said. “Of the 48 states we had then, there were prisoners held in 46 of those states and they were all treated about the same as they were here. The prisoners would be taken wherever there was a labor need. We had more of a labor need here in the summer for planting and then harvesting.”
One particular display at the museum shows the struggles of American soldiers from Kossuth County.
“We have a portion of our museum that tells the story about the 2,500 men and 100 women from our county who were involved in Word War II,” Yocum said. “It’s a companion story where they were overseas fighting and we had the German prisoners here. We wanted to make sure that we commemorate their contributions.”
More than 100 men were killed from Kossuth County and 28 men were held as prisoners, according to Yocum.
If you go: Camp Algona POW Museum
Where: 114 S. Thorington St., Algona
Hours: April through December, weekends 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Starting May 29 through August 19, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday
Cost: Adults $3, students $2, children under 10 free, yearly membership $10
For additional information call the museum office: 515-395-2267