Algona POW Camp | Algona, Iowa
In 1943, Algona city officials received notice that the US government was going to purchase land close to the city for a prison camp. Two hundred eighty seven acres of land was purchased from four owners, 1.5 miles west of the junction of Hwy. 18 and 169. The cost to the government was one hundred twenty dollars per acre. The United States Corps of Engineers was in charge of the actual construction of the camp, but many sub-contractors were employed from the area. In less than three months, the camp was built at a cost of $1,215,968.
At the peak of the camp’s existence, there were seventy nine civilians working there. Many married American officers and enlisted men lived in Algona or the surrounding area. This many extra renters created an unprecedented housing shortage in the area. Camp personnel spent $120,000 in rent, food and utilities in the city of Algona during their time here.
Today, nothing is left. The buildings were torn down or sold, as is, in early 1946. A series of auctions provided many in the area with some cheap lumber as well as electrical and plumbing fixtures. Today the site is owned by the City of Algona and serves as the location of the city airport.
One item from the camp that continues to leave a memory of the prisoners time in the camp is the Algona Nativity Scene. It was constructed by Eduard Kaib, Horst Wendlandt, Eric Knoll and 3 other friends who were prisoners at Camp Algona. When the war ended, they donated the Nativity to the city of Algona. It includes 65 one half life size figures. To the POWs who made it and POWs interned at Camp Algona, it was a way to remember and connect to the family they could not be with back home. To the people of Algona, it represented a common faith and humanity shared with the German captives living outside their town.
Since 1945, the Algona nativity scene has attracted people from far and near. It has become an enduring symbol of unity for the people of Algona and reminds visitors of the impact of war and the presence of the POWs held at Camp Algona decades ago.
After the camp closed, the scene was taken in by the Algona Jaycees and is now cared for by the Men's Club of the First United Methodist Church in Algona, Iowa.
Today, although nothing remains of the camp, visitors to Algona can visit the Camp Algona Museum, which hosts exhibits of life in the camp.
The Camp Algona museum serves as a reminder to the importance of the camp to the area, one that is permanently etched into its history.