Fremont County, Iowa

"P.O.W. Camps"
Fremont County Historical Society

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of April 26, 2010

During World War II, Tabor housed prisoners of war in one of the old college buildings, Woods Hall. Clarinda housed German prisoners of war as well. The prisoners did not just sit in these compounds; they were used for work throughout southwest Iowa. There is little mention of Japanese prisoners working in the area. Newspaper accounts and personal stories are always about Germans.

In April of 1944, Germans were part of the workforce in the McPaul area trying to stop the flooding of the Missouri River. In 1945, guidelines for farmers utilizing prison labor were established. The farmer had to fill out a certificate of need with the county extension director, Harley Walker (in Fremont County), who helped draw up a contract with the war department. The farmer's eligibility in securing prisoner help was the need to replace labor not available due to the war--a son serving in combat, to just the general lack of available able bodied men. Once the need was established, the farmer signed a very precise contract stating the exact number of days the prisoners would work. If it rained, there could be a pause for the prison labor, but as soon as it quit raining they had to be back in the field. If the labor was not used according to the contract the farmer had to pay back $1.50 a day per man per day to the government.

The prisoners worked for Interstate Nurseries and local asparagus and sweet corn growers. Detasseling of corn was another area where the Germans worked. Rosie Hall, Sidney, remembers that during her teen years she helped with detasseling. One day she and other young people were bussed from Sidney to the cornfield. A bus load of prisoners was also brought to the field. The teenagers were told not to speak or go near the prisoners. Rosie talks about her group being very curious and very interested in seeing them. She recalls they were young and seemed happy. They joked and laughed as they worked in the fields.

In 1945, the Fremont County Emergency Labor Association was formed by 51 signers to simplify securing farm help. The Board of Directors were Oliver Stevenson of Hamburg, Paul Kellogg of Nebraska City, both involved with canneries. Carl O. Sjulin of Interstate Nurseries; Warren C, Gregory and Harry Schroeder, both stockmen, were the final members. The Association cleared the red tape and made it easier for framers to get help. One of their rules was the work party had to be a least 11 men. The farmers were responsible for providing food. Milton McCarthy used the prisoners to help with pea vines and pea harvesting. Their family told stories how quickly the men could devour a chocolate cake.

As time went on, the Germans adjusted to the community and there was less concern by the local residents of having them in the County. It became apparent the precautions made to keep the prisoners from escaping were unnecessary. They became part of the work force and worked side by side with local residents. During the effort to keep McPaul from flooding, the farm wives set up makeshift tables at the Clarence Schooley farm and the Germans ate along with the others working to strengthen the dike.

Material for this View was found in "Thumbprints in Time" the history of Fremont County, a book available at the Fremont County Historical Museum.

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau