Wisconsin World War II P.O.W. Camps
How did Wisconsin end up with 20,000 German P.O.W.’s?
Wisconsin played her part in World War II and the people of the state certainly sacrificed with it’s dearest blood. Over 322,000 Wisconsinites served during World War II. Of those who served, 8,149 died and 13,600 were wounded in service. Wisconsin, however, was experiencing a period of bumper crops during the war. With canneries and field workers in short supply, getting these crops canned and available was not an easy feat.
At the same time Great Britain was in the mist of devastating bombing raids at the hands of Nazi Germany. Fearful that Germany would airdrop weapons and supplies to the German prisoners of war and with a general lack of housing for the P.O.W.’s, Great Britain asked the United States to house them. Begrudgingly, the U.S. accepted the prisoners. They Figured it would be cheaper and easier to house the German P.O.W.’s in existing military facilities stateside. The U.S. shipped them in to areas around the country away from coastlines and military points of interest. They kept them distant from factories who supplied items for the war.
During the war 425,000 German prisoners of war were incarcerated on American soil. At the end of 1945 Wisconsin was home to 20,000 prisoners in 36 branch and base camps around the state. The majority were sent to the smaller branch camps for work in the fields and canneries to aid with the agricultural needs.Only the die hard Nazi’s remaining at military base camps. All the camps were compliant with the Geneva Convention.
There were also Japanese and Korean P.O.W.’s incarcerated in Wisconsin. They were restricted to the base camps.
The P.O.W.’s were paid in scripts that were used in the camp’s canteen for toothpaste, razor blades, reading, writing materials, and even beer. They also had the opportunity to open savings accounts to be collected after repatriation post war.
Although there were some ill feelings towards the P.O.W.’s, the majority that encountered or worked beside them had no issues and considered them good workers. The prisoners themselves were amazed at how well they were treated. After the war some wished to stay,as Germany was in tatters. Their families and homes either suffered or were destroyed. Some returned to Wisconsin to start a new life.