Exhibit tells unknown story of German POWs

By the end of World War II some 425,000 German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war found themselves imprisoned in over 660 POW camps in the United States, including one near Sherando. POW experiences on all sides embody ageless and timely themes of war and peace, justice under arms and issues regarding human rights, international reconciliation and future conflict avoidance.

The roughly 372,000 German POWs held in U.S Army-operated camps across the United States were sent out to harvest or process crops, build roads and waterways, fell trees, roof barns, erect silos, work in light non-military industry, lay city sewers and construct tract housing, wash U.S. Army laundry and do other practical wartime tasks.

With the high rate of 19th-century German immigration to America, many of those who worked with POWs spoke to them in their native tongue. In the process, they formed significant friendships with “the enemy” and underwent considerable changes as individuals and as a group – thus fundamentally influencing postwar German values and institutions, as well as American-German relations. A number of POWs even chose to immigrate to the United States after the war.

Using ten narrative panels and films about this story, TRACES’ mobile museum (a retrofitted school bus called the BUS-eum) is completing a tour of the Eastern Seaboard this spring.

On Saturday, April 16, the BUS-eum will be at the Staunton Public Library from 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and Waynesboro Public Library from 2-5 p.m. The BUS-eum driver, Irving Kellman, will tour with the exhibit and is available for phone or live interviews.

TRACES Center for History and Culture is a Midwest/WWII history museum located in St. Paul, Minn. Each of its more than two dozen exhibits about Midwesterners’ encounters with Germans or Austrians between 1933 and 1948 forms part of a larger mosaic, a fuller image of a war that is often misunderstood or seen in clichés.

To learn more about this traveling exhibit, see www.TRACES.org, where exhibit texts and photos can be previewed. More information can be obtained about the BUS-eum’s stop at the Staunton Public Library by calling 540.332.3902 or the Waynesboro Public Library by calling 540.942.6746.