Did you know that the Fort Hays Experiment Station, located south of Hays, was once used as a German prisoner of war camp? Farmers in the area were facing a serious farm labor shortage around August 1943 due to many of Ellis County’s young men being at war. Arrangements were made to contract for labor using prisoners of war at the Concordia camp beginning in September 1943. Before the men could be brought to the Experiment Station, modifications to the buildings had to be made. A large feed barn was converted into barracks and a meeting house was made into a mess hall. The two buildings were enclosed in a 6 foot high fence with floodlights around the area.
A farm labor association was set up to assist the farmers in getting men from the camp to do labor. L. C. Aicher, who was superintendent of the Experiment Station, was named chairman of the association. The Experiment Station was also needing labor for the work around its grounds.
Guards from the military and the prisoners arrived on September 11. The men began working on September 13, and farmers were charged $3.25 a day for each man. The cost to the association was $2.82, and the extra monies went to help pay for the modifications and transportation costs. Most labor was used by farmers, but there were some businesses and schools that also had the prisoners work for them. Fort Hays Kansas State Teachers College was among the schools which hired the prisoners to do labor.
Two German prisoners working with a college employee on removing trees south of Picken Hall in the autumn of 1943.
Picture from the University Archives – Wooster Photo Collection.
The German prisoners of war were used as laborers in Ellis County up to the end of the war in 1945. The camp closed in November 1945.
The Special Collections and University Archives received a collection of pictures that were taken by L. C. Aicher during the fall of 1943. The collection of 17 photos was donated to us by Tom Osswald, whose father served as a military guard at the camp in September-November 1943. These photos are donated in memory of Lawrence E. Osswald (Corporal US Army 480th MPEG Company, Ft. Hays, Kansas, September-November 1943) by his son and family. Corporal Osswald was from Wilmington, Delaware.
The photos have been added to the library’s digital collection and you may view them at http://contentcat.fhsu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15732coll14
Much of the historical information in this blog was found in “At Home in Ellis County, Kansas 1867-1992 Volume 1.”