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POWs in America

Front Gate

They Were Here 


Between the end of 1942 and 1946 there were approximately 400,000 Prisoners of War (POWs) in camps located in all 48 states. POWs came from the Axis nations against whom the United States fought.

Camp Algona was built in 3 months and was open from April of 1944 to February of 1946. Even though the war in Europe concluded in June of 1945, it took time to organize the disassembly of the extensive camp system.


How It Worked


 The base camp in Algona supervised a total of 34 branch camps, which stretched north into Minnesota and North Dakota and across most of the state of Iowa. The POWs engaged in a wide variety of work: serving farmers; working in canneries, nurseries, milk processing plants, and a barrel factory; detasseling corn; cutting timber; and constructing silos. POWs could not be hired instead of Americans, but where no American labor could be found, they represented a labor force that could be hired to fill in for Americans serving in the war. The POW’s were paid for their labor, per the Geneva Convention. They could spend their wages to purchase items at a prisoner operated canteen.

The front portion of the camp (left side of the the image below) was for the Americans and was used for administration. The back portion (the right side of the image below) is where the POWs lived. No more than 2,000 POWs were housed at Camp Algona at any given time.


 Timeline of Camp Algona


  • August 1943 - Construction Begins

  • April 1944 - First German Prisioners of War Arrive

  • December 1944 - Camp Commander Lt. Col. Lobdell notices Sgt. Eduard Kaib's nativity scene

  • May 1945 - Construction begins on the half-life sized nativity scene

  • November 1945 - Scene installed

  • December 1945 - Kaib's nativity scene is displayed for the first time

  • February 1946 - Camp Algona is disbanded