Marker Monday: Prisoners of War in Dundy County
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In May 1944 German prisoners of war from Camp Atlanta, Nebraska, were sent to a side camp near here to help area farmers complete the 1943 corn harvest. Seven farmers employed forty-four Germans, who harvested some ten thousand bushels of corn. Six tarpapered frame buildings, enclosed by a fence, housed the prisoners; a nearby windmill served as a guard tower. The Germans returned to Camp Atlanta on June 30, 1944, and the buildings were sold in February 1945.
A branch camp of the Atlanta Prisoner of War Camp was located in Benkelman during World War II. Over 300,000 Axis prisoners of war were held in America during World War II. In accordance with the Geneva Convention, these prisoners were often hired out to local farmers and businesses to replace the labor positions vacated by the war effort. To make working away from camp easier, branch camps were established around the base camps. Prisoners would be transferred from the base camp to the branch camp, where local employers would seek them out for different projects. Branch camps were usually located in existing structures. Rumors began to circulate in 1944 that a POW camp would be built near Benkelman. In May of that year, a camp was constructed. This camp served as a branch camp for the Atlanta base camp. Unlike most branch camps, it was constructed out of new material instead of repurposing old structures. The camp was welcome in Benkelman since the labor supply was so low the 1943 harvest hadn’t even been completed yet. It was constructed in a remote area away from the town and consisted of six buildings surrounded by a fence. A windmill was used as a guard tower. Within two months, the POWs helped harvest 10,000 bushels of wheat. Only 44 prisoners were assigned to the camp, and only 7 farmers used their labor. All the prisoners and guards left on June 30, 1944. The camp was evaluated later to see if it would be suitable for workers during the fall and winter harvest. Since it didn’t have any heating units, it was not used again. It was officially closed on January 26, 1945, and all the structures and property of the camp were sold. It was used for a shorter period of time than any other POW camp - Thompson, Glenn. Prisoners on the Plains: The German POW Camp at Atlanta. Holdrege: Phelps County Historical Society. 1993.
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