When the POWs harvested the Hollandale crops
Published 12:00 am Friday, September 24, 1999
Using a high school newspaper as the prime source for information to be included in a book is rather unusual, Yet, that’s exactly what Anita Albrecht Buck of Stillwater did for her book, &uot;Behind Barbed Wire: German Prisoners of War in Minnesota During World War II,&uot; published in 1998 by North Star Press of St.
Friday, September 24, 1999
Using a high school newspaper as the prime source for information to be included in a book is rather unusual, Yet, that’s exactly what Anita Albrecht Buck of Stillwater did for her book, &uot;Behind Barbed Wire: German Prisoners of War in Minnesota During World War II,&uot; published in 1998 by North Star Press of St. Cloud.
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The newspaper was the Nov. 16, 1944, issue of Ahlahasa, published by and for the students at Albert Lea High School. Their front page article still ranks as the most concise information I’ve yet found about POW Branch Camp No. 16 at Hollandale in 1944. Their article said:
&uot;Has anybody wondered about all those tents one mile east of Hollandale? They make a German Prisoner of War Work Camp, which was organized Oct. 9, 1944, to help supply farm laborers. … These 117 German prisoners, under the command of Lt. Robert T. Cumback, were sent to Hollandale from the main base at Algona, Iowa.
&uot;While in Hollandale, they are topping onions, picking up potatoes and doing other such work as is done there each fall. However, German prisoners in similar camps all over this country are working in factories, doing construction work and generally helping to relieve the manpower shortage.
&uot;P.W.’s are not paid in cash but with ‘canteen checks’ which are redeemable at the camp canteen for candy, cigarettes and beer. Incidentally, no one is allowed more than two beers a day. …
&uot;The P.W.’s do all their own laundry, cleaning and cooking. They have their own mess sergeant and do K.P. (Kitchen Police duty). Fort Snelling is the supply center for this camp.
&uot;The prisoners will be returned to their base at Algona as soon as the harvesting in Hollandale is completed.&uot;
The Ahlahasa article clearly indicates that the 1944 POW camp was located between Hollandale and Maple Island. The 1945 camp was located a mile south of Hollandale, then a half mile to the east. (There’s no trace of the camp at this site now.) I was able to locate this place thanks to Shirley Hamer. And thanks to her, I obtained information used for a Tribune article in the Aug. 13, 1995, issue.
The article was based on Olin and Winnie Hamer (Shirley’s parents) and one of their 1945 POW farm workers named Wilhelm Paecher of Hofgeismer, Germany. With this article were two photos. One was of Wilhelm with a very young Shirley standing in one of her father’s fields near the outlet of Geneva Lake, and the other was Paecher’s official POW I.D. photo. (Both photos were reproduced in Buck’s book.) Shirley wondered if Wilhelm was still living in 1995.
One of the people who read this article was Christiane Scheib. She had grown up in Germany, married an American soldier named Stan Scheib in 1967, and later moved to Albert Lea. She went to Germany in January 1996 to visit relatives and used the information operator to contact Paecher by telephone. What resulted was an article in the Tribune’s March 10, 1996, issue, an updated photo of Paecher and his family (which was also used in Buck’s new book), and continuing correspondence between Wilhelm and Shirley.
Also, thanks to this new book, I became aware of the fact that Al and Doris Reynen supplied information and several rare photos to Mrs. Buck about the Hollandale POW farm workers.
Will Wilhelm Paecher ever return to visit the Hollandale area? That’s hard to predict. However, one of the 1945 group did come back to the U.S. in 1976. His name was Ernst Kohleich. He and his wife and two children made a special trip to Hollandale to visit Mrs. Jean Nienoord who had befriended the POW. This reunion resulted in a Tribune article written by Lois West in 1976.
The book, &uot;Behind Barbed Wire,&uot; is now available for checking out at the Albert Lea Public Library, or for reference use at the Freeborn County Historical Society Library.