Camp Concordia, which offered housing, mess facilities, recreation, and hospitalization, was among the largest of eight main prisoner-of-war (POW) facilities in Kansas. When the U.S. entered World War II, the country became a key player in the housing of prisoners to support the Allied effort. The U.S. established 150 main camps and 340 branch camps that eventually handled about 360,000 prisoners. They were located in mostly rural areas in nearly every state, away from critical war industries. The Cloud County camp, which opened in June 1943 and contained 300 buildings on 158 acres, was among those not associated with a military base.
The first 400 prisoners arrived in Concordia on July 15, 1943; most had served under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and were captured in Africa. Many local residents came to the Concordia depot to catch a glimpse of the Germans before they were transported by truck to the camp. Camp commanders quickly separated enlisted men from officers to break chains of command. Those deemed to be “hard-core Nazis” were separated from general populations. They assigned enlisted men 50 to a barracks; officers were kept in separate barracks with four men to an apartment. There were only a few incidents of violence at the camp; mostly between prisoners.
The U.S. army philosophy was to reeducate prisoners with the hope of reducing Nazi sympathies. All reading material was controlled; college coursework was available through the University of Kansas. The prisoners published their own German language newspaper, and had access to art supplies, a gymnasium, athletic field, and their own gardens. They could watch movies and music programs, participate in a band, and attend church. In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, officers were not required to work. They were allowed to leave camp without a guard and enjoy a walk in the country. Enlisted men could be required to work only if they were paid. They were accompanied by a guard when sent to work at area farms when labor was needed.
Elaine Walser was a recent graduate of the Sisters of St. Joseph nursing school when she accepted a position as supervisor of surgery at the Camp Concordia hospital in August 1943. “I had two weeks of orientation,” Walser said, “which included being the target of much teasing by the American boys, scaring me of the Germans. But the American and German ward staff worked together and had become friends.”
“The Germans were given all the food they wanted,” Walser said, “much to the dismay of the American boys when they started coming back from being prisoners in Germany, even though they knew the German soldiers were not getting enough food either.”
When the Germans celebrated Hitler’s birthday, they lost their privileges for several weeks; forced to cook their own food and perform their own kitchen duties. German medics and surgeons who assisted in the hospital were given a priority status. When German prisoners required surgery, a German surgeon operated with an American surgeon assisting. The Germans assisted during surgery on Americans. “I had two Germans assigned to surgery,” Walser said, “and although at the beginning we didn’t understand the other, we made a good team. In our two years we learned each other’s language.”
The camp population peaked in November 1943 with 880 American soldiers, 179 civilian employees, and 4,027 German prisoners. That Christmas the German government helped provide Christmas presents for their POWs. Each compound had a Christmas tree and turkey dinner, plus a freight car of food from Germany.
When the war ended the German prisoners were shipped out to be exchanged for American prisoners. In 1946 many of the buildings were transferred to the Federal Public Housing Authority, slated for removal they were offered to governmental agencies and organizations. Only a few of the buildings remain today as reminders of Camp Concordia.
Entry: Camp Concordia
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: February 2017
Date Modified: February 2017
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.