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The following are brief descriptions of the main exhibits that comprise TRACES Center for History and Culture, located in downtown Saint Paul/Minnesota's Landmark Center: Click to download this page as a Word file.

VANISHED: German-American Civilian Internment, 1941-1948

German Americans are the largest ethnic group in the U.S. Approximately 60 million Americans claim German ancestry. German-American loyalty to America's promise of freedom goes back to the Revolutionary War. Nevertheless, during the Second World War the U.S. government and many Americans viewed German Americans and others of "enemy ancestry" as potentially dangerous-particularly recent immigrants. The U. S. Government used many interrelated, constitutionally questionable methods to control those of enemy ancestry-including internment, individual and group exclusion from military zones, internee exchanges for Americans held in Germany, deportation, "alien enemy" registration requirements, travel restrictions and property confiscation. The human cost of these civil liberties violations was high: families were disrupted, reputations destroyed, homes and belongings lost.

About Selective Internment: Pursuant to the Alien Enemy Act of 1798 (50 U.S.C 21-24), which remains in effect today, the U.S. may apprehend, intern and otherwise restrict the freedom of "alien enemies" upon declaration of war or actual, attempted or threatened invasion by a foreign nation. During WWII, the U.S. Government interned at least 11,000 persons of German ancestry. By law, only "enemy aliens" could be interned; however, with governmental approval, their family members frequently joined them in the camps. Many such "voluntarily" interned spouses and children were American citizens.

Behind Barbed Wire: Midwest POWs in Nazi Germany

 Beyond Barbed Wire explores the human context of the POW experiences. 

The first U.S. troops to enter WWII came from the Upper Midwest; the 34th Division also served the longest stint of active duty--611 days. In February 1943 some 1,800 mostly Iowa, but also Minnesota and Dakota soldiers fell prisoner to Rommel's men; they were marched to Tunis, flown to Naples, then shipped in box cars to Nazi Germany, where they spent two years as "Hitler's uninvited guests." Those who survived that living hell returned to America's Heartland forever changed. 

The exhibit consists of narrative display panels illustrated with photographs and documents, audio and DVD documentaries, artifacts and more. This exhibit will bring the stories of Midwest POWs in Nazi Germany to life, especially for young people who otherwise see WWII history as far away and disconnected from their own daily-life worlds. 

Kurt Vonnegut gave TRACES free and unrestricted use of Slaughterhouse Five, his account of having been present during the firebombing of Dresden. Having been a Midwest POW from Indiana in Germany during the war, his classic makes provocative reading for youth. 

Held in the Heartland: German POWs in the Midwest, 1943-46

From 1943-46 Camp Algona and its ever-changing roster of 35 branch camps spread across Iowa (11 camps), Minnesota (20) and the two Dakotas housed up to 10,000 German POWs. Iowa was one of only two states to host POWs from all three Axis nations. Its first POW base camp, Camp Clarinda, housed initially German, then Japanese prisoners; Italian POWs built Camp Algona before German ones then fully occupied it and remained until the camp closed. The stories of German POWs in the Upper Midwest-and, as a comparison, those of Midwest POWs in the Third Reich (see TRACES' related narrative-history books, diaries of Midwest POWs)-challenge those who encounter them to deal with the origins and the effects of dictatorships and militarism, as well as with the larger legacy of the Third Reich/Holocaust/World War II. 

To identify foci for exploring such issues, in 2001 and 2002 a TRACES team filmed over 75 hours of interviews with former German and POWs or their family members. It also collected many artifacts related to the one-time German POWs: more then 280 letters between the Upper Midwest and Germany during and after the war, over 300 hundred photos, numerous POWs' journals, religious or text or other books, contemporary films of Camp Algona and POWs at work on Upper Midwest farms, camp "money", handmade maps, numerous paintings and cartoons and sketches, chess pieces carved from stolen army broomsticks, certificates and IDs, U.S. Army checks payable to Europe-bound POWs, clothing, a pipe and toiletry bags bought in the camp canteen, razor and paint sets, woodcarvings and the tools that made them, jewelry boxes, a snake skin preserved by a POW, a varied assortment of duffel bags, sheet music, memoirs, blueprints of the POW-crafted 2/3rds-lifesize nativity scene, and copies of the two camp newspapers.

Herman Stern: Quiet Rescuer of Jews

A German-Jewish immigrant himself in the early 1900s, between 1933 and 1941 Herman Stern helped 125 Jews-mostly relatives or friends of relatives-flee Nazi Germany. Assisted by Senator Gerald P. Nye of Hermann Stern's adopted home state of North Dakota, Stern personally raised the funds to bring and found the makeshift livelihoods to support the many refugees he aided. A one-man rescue team, in large part he used unreliable, meager Depression-era proceeds from his modest dry-goods business to "buy" the lives of individuals who otherwise might have perished.

[This information is from Nowhere to Turn on the Minnesota State University at Moorhead's website http://www.mnstate.edu/shoptaug/nowhereexhibit.htm, researched by Terry Shoptaugh.]

Murals of Upper Midwest and Rural Germany during WWII

          When TRACES Center for History and Culture opened its museum in downtown Saint Paul's historic Landmark Center in fall 2005, we wished to convey to visitors a sense of the land that we Upper Midwesterners inhabit, with nuances of not only how we shape that land, but how the land shapes us, our character and our experiences. For such painstaking, individualized work we contracted Twin Cities area artist Larry Rostad, who has years of experience designing theater scenery and other creations. For TRACES' unique project Larry created two murals, the largest of which begins on the left with a scene of the rugged Northland's Great Woods landscape, which in turn gives way to the rolling fields of the fertile prairies south and west of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, as well as in Wisconsin and Iowa. Half hidden and thus almost invisible among the wheat stands a hog (lower center of the mural), while in the background a farmer on his trusty tractor crawls past stacks of straw. To the right a guard patrols the perimeters of a POW camp, accompanied by a German Shepherd and with a rifle casually thrown against his shoulder. Overhead, a bi-plane putters past (upper left), an intruding witness to the quiet life unfolding below. Who would guess that at that very same moment, hundreds of thousands of men and women are fighting the deadliest war humanity has ever known, and that millions of civilians' lives are being fractured or destroyed? The insular world of the Upper Midwest seems so quiet, so whole in that moment, yet beyond its gentle reaches a global conflagration is claiming untold victims and unleashing mass destruction. The contradictions are overwhelming, puzzling... almost imponderable, certainly sobering and humbling.

          The second mural consists of a compilation of scenes from actual photographs from the Hessian village of a former German POW, whose family was interviewed by Michael Luick-Thrams, Andres Kurth and Alfred Hoenselaer during one of the seven trips TRACES' Executive Director took across Germany, as he and a team of helpers interviewed some 55 one-time "enemy soldiers" who'd passed through the Camp Algona system. Again, the scene is pastoral, isolated -- almost surreal, when the viewer remembers that a hungry world war is raging, only miles away, devouring whole communities, not to mention the lives of the soldiers given the deadly task of waging warfare. The German Luftwaffe airplane crossing the German sky is a small, almost overlooked reminder that all is not well in rural Germany. Ironically, it hovers over the abandoned castle tower of an era now faded, but at its apex also a world punctuated by war and rumors of war, even though the technology of the time could not deliver anything comparable to the apocalyptic horror of World War II.

Midwest Main Street, early 1940s

War is never far from the minds of Prisoners of War and civilian internees, but how about people living outside the barbed wire? This small town in the American Heartland might seem a peaceful place, far from the horrors of Hitler's regime-but think again. The exhibits in this room examine some of the interactions between Midwesterners and Germans or Austrians during the Nazi era. Whether they are those of a North Dakota rescuer of Jews, Anne Frank's Iowa pen-pal, this nation's leading industrialist and anti-Semite Henry Ford, or America's homegrown Nazi party the German-American Bund, these stories remind us that the effects of hatred -- and others' indifference or resistance to it -- are never far from home.

Berlin Street Scene, mid-1930s

"Action Against the Un-German Spirit": The Burning of Books in Berlin, 10 May 1933

Book burnings are symbolic intellectual purification rituals with an ancient tradition. Both Catholic and Protestant churches regularly burned books and pamphlets they deemed heretical. In 1817 German university students gathered at Wartburg Castle near Eisenach to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Reformation and to call for German unity. During the ceremony a small group set fire to some bundles of blank paper representing the Napoleonic Code, monarchist writing and other printed reminders of Germany's political backwardness and the recent French occupation. This act prompted the liberal German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine to remark "Where they burn books, they will end up burning people." 

On 10 May 1933 two Nazi-dominated German student organizations made their voices heard in Hitler's new regime by staging a spectacular book-burning on Berlin's Opera Square. They previously had stripped the nearby University Library and the holdings of the Institute for Sexual Research of some 20,000 "un-German and immoral" volumes, such as the works of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, "relativist" Albert Einstein, disabled American writer and activist Helen Keller, writer Thomas Mann, birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger, progressive novelists Jack London and Upton Sinclair, pacifist Erich Maria Remarque, and Heinrich Heine. All were cast into the flames. Presiding over the event, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels-who had a Ph.D. in German studies-declared "The era of an exaggerated Jewish intellectualism is now at an end. 

This "great symbolic action"-which was repeated in university towns across the country-represented not only the freeing of the "German character" from "the pernicious spirit of the past," but primarily was aimed at "purifying" Western civilization from the ideals of equality, justice, critical inquiry, dissent, world peace and-above all-human dignity.

Thousands of Americans experienced Hitler's Third Reich firsthand, including hundreds of Midwesterners. This room is dedicated to their stories, with many didactic panels on the walls.

The Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees, 1939-43

From 1939 to 1943, 186 refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe found refuge at Scattergood, a hostel in what had been a Quaker boarding school near West Branch/Iowa. Among them were Jews, as well as political opponents of Hitler's regime, religious figures, artists, merchants, journalists, elderly ladies and little children. With the help of Iowa Quaker farmers and college students the refugees sought to overcome the trauma of their experiences in Europe, find a niche for themselves and build a new life in the New World. The founders of the hostel strove to rehabilitate and integrate the refugees. Reflecting their native culture and the era in which they lived, the Quakers believed that the best way to help the newcomers was to assimilate them into American society, to create "New Americans." Friends (as Quakers formally are known) sought to help their guests avoid belated suffering; the refugees sought to adapt to their new environment as a means of survival and to juggle who they'd been with new biographies they were forming. Together, Quaker and Jew, farmer and lawyer, grandmother and child shared a living community, the legacy of which lives on today, enriching those who know of and open themselves to it.

The Quaker Hill Center for European Refugees, 1940-41

Though modeled on the hostel at Scattergood, the refugee center at Quaker Hill differed from the prototype on which it was based. Sheltered in a large, white-pillared house donated by a wealthy Quaker manufacturer, the hostel was located in Richmond, Indiana-a Midwest town of 33,000 with a large Quaker population and activist heritage, as well as home to Earlham, a Friends college. Much more so than rural Iowa, Richmond suggested the milieu typical of the industrialized, relatively densely populated Lower Midwest stretching from the Mississippi River to the headwaters of the Ohio. There, paid and volunteer staff who organized Quaker Hill hoped to more easily and fully integrate that project into its surrounding community. Undertaken at the request of Jewish organizations and others working with European refugees, Quaker Hill operated on the assumption that a group of people unknown to each other before might learn to live well together, and to work cooperatively and in peace and harmony. Thus, a sound, healing balance between mental and physical activity was sought to help remedy the spiritual wounds of Nazi Germany's dejected Jews.

Aftermath: What Midwest Soldiers Found in Nazi Camps

American GIs who fought their way across Europe from Normandy and Italy into Germany were not fighting to liberate Jews in ghettos or concentration camps. Nor was that a stated war aim of the Allied Powers. The Soviets, however, opened the Majdanek Camp in Eastern Poland on 23 July 1944 and took control of abandoned camps at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka the next month. Their Red Army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, while Canadian forces liberated the abandoned Vught concentration camp in the Netherlands in October 1944 and Free French Forces entered the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace on 23 November 1944. 

The Americans and British arrived at concentration camps that remained in Germany and Austria in April and May 1945. The British opened Bergen-Belsen, near Hanover, while American forces entered Ohrdruf, Dachau, Buchenwald, Nordhausen, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, Gusen and other camps in Bavaria and Austria. 

The photos shown in this room were taken by American Army personnel from Minnesota. Many were taken with their own cameras, while others were taken by U.S. Army photographers and given to members of liberation units who wanted this as evidence of the Nazi crimes against Jews, political prisoners, Gypsies and others. Buchenwald's inmates came from 38 countries, including the U.S.A. 

Many of these photos are difficult to view. They are shown not only as a memorial to those who died, but also in order to understand the consequences of war, tyranny, intolerance and racial hatred-or indifference to them.

[This is exhibit is co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies; for details see http://www.chgs.umn.edu.]

See www.TRACES.org for more information and views of the exhibit.  

 Click to download this page as a Word file.

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