Monday, May 30, 2016

A Different Side of World War II: Camp Concordia

On this Memorial Day, amidst the images of flags and celebrations, I've remembered a lonely tower in the middle of a Kansas field.

Earlier this month, Randy and I participated in the Discover Kansas trip with the Kansas Master Farmer-Homemaker group. One of our stops was at Camp Concordia. Before the tour, I didn't realize that Kansas had a number of POW camps during World War II. One of them was Camp Concordia, located 2 miles north and 1 mile east of the Cloud County town.

From May 1, 1943 through November 8, 1945, more than 4,000 German soldiers were transported to the north central Kansas camp, located on 157.5 acres just outside Concordia. The camp was built at a cost of $1.8 million and consisted of 313 buildings, including a hospital, post, restaurants, fire department, and barracks.

Of course, some 815 of our U.S. military personnel were stationed at Camp Concordia during World War II, guarding the prisoners and interacting with them.
Photo from the Camp Concordia website. This picture of Camp Concordia was taken from the water tower in the fall of 1945.
Since Camp Concordia was strategically located in the heartland of America, many of the prisoners were employed on local farms.
Army trucks transported the POWs to the surrounding farms, where they earned a small wage from the farmers for their work.
From www.powcampconcordia.org
Though some local citizens were against prisoners being awarded freedom beyond the confines of the camp, farmers were thankful to have additional help, especially with so many young locals away in service to their country. With the passage of time, warm bonds formed between farm families and prisoners. The "education" both "sides" forged in the course of these working relationships was perhaps more enduring than any college curriculum could offer.
This picture is of an army truck with a POW work detail and their guards passing through Concordia. Photo from the Camp Concordia website.

While most of the old Camp Concordia has been returned back to farmland, a few of the original buildings still remain, including one of the stone guard towers, the water tower base, a Main Gate Guard post and officers club. In July 2015, Camp Concordia's warehouse building - called T-9 - opened as a museum.
During World War II,  nearly every state in the nation had at least one POW camp. An estimated 360,000 POWs were held on U.S. territory during the war. Camp Concordia was the largest of 16 camps in Kansas. It mainly housed German prisoners who'd been captured in battles in North Africa.
Camp Concordia was built as a model POW camp, but because approximately 50 of the first prisoners at the compound were Nazi officers, the atmosphere quickly turned oppressive and threatening. After a number of violent episodes, the Army transferred 44 Nazi leaders away from Concordia. As measures of restoring order to the camp, the library removed Nazi reading material and instituted college coursework for prisoners under the jurisdiction of the University of Kansas.

POWs were housed, fed, clothed, allowed mail and paid for work. The camp was run by the rules set forth in the Geneva Convention of July 1929, which required the humane treatment of prisoners.

The POWs at Camp Concordia had several bands and orchestras, among them the 47th Grenadier Band. The POW dance band played for USO dances.
 Photo from the Camp Concordia website.
During its two years of operation, the camp saw only two escapes and eight POW deaths.
On May 7, 1945, the German officially surrendered. The last prisoners departed Camp Concordia on October 31, 1945, and the camp closed for good on November 8, 1945.

Camp Concordia is open by appointment only. Contact Cloud County Tourism for guided tours: 785-243-4303.

Camp Concordia was just one stop of several in Cloud County. My favorite was the historic Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. I love stained glass windows and their chapel was full of them.
Their gardens were nearly as colorful as the stained glass windows.
The Whole Wall Mural is also impressive. It's the longest sculpted brick mural in the U.S. It was on the eastern wall of the Cloud County Historical Society Museum, which was packed to the brim with artifacts from the county and region.
Bob's Toy Barn in Clyde had aisles and aisles of farm toys and other well-displayed vehicles from Bob Condray, who has been named to the National Farm Toy Hall of Fame.
Besides collecting ready-made toys, Bob makes his own in an attached workshop. I would challenge anyone to figure out which are which.
And we ate supper that night at the LCL Buffalo Ranch.
The Discover Kansas events are a good reminder that we have plenty of tourist-worthy attractions in our own backyard. Summer vacation doesn't have to mean leaving the state. It could be as close as a tank of gas and a little time.

More later on the Republic County portion of our Discover Kansas tour!


  1. I didn't know there was a POW camp at Concordia. Thanks for telling of your visit there! Very interesting!

    1. I didn't either. Good to see you back in our part of the country after your travels.

  2. Such an interesting read Kim.