WWII POW CAMP
In Tremonton Utah, around 1933, there was a camp opened up by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This camp was built as a voluntary relief program for unemployed or single young men. During WWII the camp changed to a P.O.W. camp (Prisoners of War). The P.O.W camp engaged men of a variety of ages to help local farmers harvest their crops and plant fields. The camp was mainly for Italian and German soldiers. Taken as prisoners of war in northern Africa, many of these men spent two or three years providing a labor force in this country to fill the void when our young men were drafted. If a farmer could prove that he was unable to find enough labor to work in his fields they could apply to the government to hire the P.O.W.s As of right now, there are no buildings or landmarks to show this historical site. The only information we get is from journal entries, or people who lived through this time. The reason I chose this historical site is in hope to help them raise money for a monument placed near the camp. As of right now we are in the process of getting a grant and contacting the veterans of foreign wars to see what help they may be able to give us. The thought struck me when two months ago, while searching for a project, I came across an article and later found out the museum here is based around that time. I came in contact with people to learn and listen to stories from these times.
Backstory and Context
There are only the memories from some of the families members who helped feed and clothe these POW while they were here. As I started digging in to this story more, I was able to come across some of these memories. A lady by the name of Roberta Fronk collected these stories and was kind of enough to share these with me. These stories were also shared in the Cache Valley daily on January 12,2020. I feel like this could become a lost piece of history if I don't at least get this story out there.
Lyman and Ruth Zollinger of Thatcher shared some of their memories. Most of the men were considered to be older. The majority of them were in their late thirty's early forties. As these men left to help farmers, each bus held up to 25 prisoners with one guard. "These men didn't want trouble, and their guard didn't have anything to do," Lyman recalled. "I remember having the guard ride to the beet dump with me about a mile and a half away. He left his gun on the canal bank where the prisoners were working." These beet dumps are a long ramp onto a bridge that was over top of railroad cars where they could dump wagons of beets into the railroad cars. Lyman said, "One time the beet dump broke down and the guard was stranded away from the prisoners. When the bus came to take them back to the compound, the POWs took the guard's gun back with them." The gun was later returned to the guard.
"The POWs weren't supposed to leave the field and we weren't supposed to feed them, but I remember eating corned beef hash with them here on the lawn at our house," Robert said. "They treated me like one of their own children, and a couple of them would ask me to give them a hug. They were lonesome and missed their own families."
The workforce they provided was invaluable to the farmers," said Delbert Firth of Bothwell." Firth used them to help harvest his crop in the fall of 1943.
"All the young men were off to war, and we just couldn't get any help," he said. "there were only a few of us to dig the beets, and it was all done by hand then. The farmers banned together and tried to help each other, but we just didn't have enough man power."
Wet weather set in a Firth said he was sure his crop was lost. Then he got word his allotment of POWs had been approved. He took the prisoners through the field and pulled all the beets and had the POWs top them. But none of the beets were hauled from the field until the entire field had been topped.
A week or two later, Firth said, the weather dried up and they were able to haul all the beets to the dump site.
"I really enjoyed those POWs. It taught me a lot," Firth said. "We appreciated what they were going through, because our kids were away from home too."
"Firth said he recalls one of the few Italian prisoners who worked for him". It seems this Italian followed Firth everywhere he went in the field talking to him.
Since the prisoner could not speak English, communicating was next to impossible.
"I couldn't keep a beet knife in his hand. He just kept following me around trying to make me understand something," "He kept pointing to my house and barns and wouldn't give up."
Firth said he finally found out the man didn't want to work in the beets but had been a house painter in Italy. That was what he wanted to do here too. He was offering to paint Firth's house for a small fee. But government regulations would not permit the prisoners to work close to private homes.
Hot coffee and food was provided by both the Firths and Zollingers." Lyman Zollinger said the food provided by the government was just not sufficient for the hard work the men had to do".
Re-education of the prisoners was one of the goals set out by the U.S. government. But adequate books and supplies proved to be a problem. Prisoners were allowed to receive newspaper and magazines in German that were published stateside as well as letters from families at home. All their mail was censored to remove negative propaganda. In Tremonton the censoring center was located in the home of Rebecca Mortensen. She rented part of her home out to a couple who sorted through all the mail received by the POWs.
All of the camps were inspected by the World Alliance of the Young Men's Christian Association to make sure conditions were within the requirements set by the Geneva convention in 1929. Food and housing were found to be adequate until after the war was over. For some unexplained reason, rations for the POWs were cut in half and were restored only after a protest was filed.
Fronk, Roberta . January 20th 2020. Accessed April 23rd 2020. Personal Interview.
Boam, Rod. Tremonton History Lovers Want a Marker Placed at Former WWII German POW Camp,”, https://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/archive/2020/01/12/tremonton-history-lovers-want-a-marker-placed-at-former-wwii-german-pow-camp/#.XqReWJp7krY. January 12th 2020. Accessed March 10th 2020.
Jensen, Jody . Bear River Valley was home to P.O.W.S,, Accessed April 25th 2020. Personal Interview.
Weber state archives
Cache valley .com