In the Chester area, near the end of World War II, men with “PW” emblazoned uniforms could be seen working the fields, raising barns and harvesting crops in what was then a mostly rural community.
By the end of World War II, some 372,000 German prisoners of war (POWs) found themselves imprisoned in over 660 base and branch POW camps in almost every state.
There were two POW camps near Chester: One adjacent to Defense Supply Center Richmond and one at Fort Lee, then called Camp Lee.
Over 1,000 German POWs were detained at Camp Lee, almost as many as near DSCR during the war. The interaction between the POWs and the local populations, some of whom, as German immigrants, still spoke German, at times fostered decades-long friendships. These relations resulted in positive changes that fundamentally influenced postwar German values and institutions, as well as German-American relations. A number of German POWs returned to the United States after the war to become citizens.
Their story, and their impact on American Society, is told in a traveling exhibit, Held on the Homefront: German POW’s in the United States, 1943-1945.
The traveling museum, called the “Bus-eum”, is a retrofitted school bus containing exhibit panels and videos. It is sponsored by the TRACES Center for History and Culture, a nonprofit organization created to gather, preserve and present stories about the interaction of Americans and German POW’s during World War II. It will be on site on Sept. 24, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee. More information on the exhibit can be found at www.traces.org/mobileexhibits-new.html.