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This article appeared in the StarTribune newspaper in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota on
February 12, 2006

Museum shows remembrances of WWII, people on both sides

The exhibits on display in downtown St. Paul's Landmark Center focus on the Midwestern and German encounters.

Strands of barbed wire hang over the entrance to a new World War II museum in St. Paul's Landmark Center. Pass beneath and you step back more than 60 years in time to see encounters between people from the Midwest and Germany during the war.

The small museum, the TRACES Center for History and Culture, includes exhibits on several phases of the war, including prison camps on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are also sections on internment camps and small-town America's reaction to the war. In another area, a 12-foot-high Nazi banner helps illustrate the mood in Berlin.

Historian Michael Luick-Thrams, the museum director, grew up in Iowa but spent many years in Germany researching aspects of the war.

His interest was piqued years ago when he learned of an old Quaker boarding school in Iowa that had been transformed into a refugee camp for Europeans fleeing the Nazis. He eventually wrote a book about the Scattergood Hostel, which housed 185 refugees near West Branch, Iowa, between 1939 and 1943.

Later, he interviewed 50 Germans who had been prisoners of war in American camps, hoping to learn how their country was led into war and disaster.

Then he interviewed 50 Americans who'd been prisoners of war in Germany.

Sections on Main Street America and on the Berlin street scene add context to the museum, Luick-Thrams said.

A final section of the museum features stark photographs of concentration camp victims taken by soldiers from Minnesota.

During the war, thousands of German nationals were detained in camps around the United States, including at Fort McCoy near Sparta, Wis., and they were often held without trials. Some were briefly held in the Ramsey County jail, Luick-Thrams said.

Because FBI agents often interrogated Germans in St. Paul's Federal Building (now Landmark Center), it's appropriate that six decades later the museum has found a home in the same building, he said.

And he sees many parallels between World War II and the current war in Iraq, including fear and distrust.

"We must see what we can learn from the experiences of our grandparents and others who lived through World War II," he said. "This is a case study of what happens in war, and we can find clues on how to be better people."

Joe Kimball    651-298-1553    joek@StarTribune.com

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