Claire Zollinger of Tremonton goes through a scrapbook of letters and ledgers from Prisoners of War his mother kept during and after WWII.
TREMONTON – Folks at The Bear River Valley Museum want to put a marker at the site of the World War II German Prison Camp, also known as the War Camp, in Tremonton. They want people to take note of that historic value in the city’s history.
The POW camp was on a 10-acre plot where the old Bear River Valley Hospital and Box Elder Nursing Home was located on the block of 440 W. 600 N. The camp was built for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a voluntary public work relief program for single young men that operated from 1933 until 1942.
Roberta Frank, a member of the Bear River Valley Museum, said she would like to see some kind of marker put on the site so people would know about it and how the WWII effected the families in Tremonton at the time.
“I’m not sure there are many people today that know a POW camp was here,” Frank said. “I think people need to know about those kinds of things, don’t you?”
As World War II went on, the United States began to take a large number of prisoners in the conflict. As the prisoners from Europe and Japan were captured they were sent to the states for internment.
Tremonton resident Claire Zollinger remembered watching the POW’s work in the fields. He said there was generally a prison camp labor force wherever there was a sugar factory.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. They would all work in the sugar beet fields,” he said. “That is where most of the labor was needed.”
He said people were scared of them when they first arrived. They had one guard with a gun for every two dozen POW’s.
“We thought they would run from the guard because there were so many of them,” Zollinger said. “They never did.”
He was four years-old but had a clear recollection of what the POWS were like. What he can’t remember his mother had a record of every letter written to her family from a POW after the war and every penny spent feeding them.
“The prisoners worked hard and come noon there was no lunch,” he said. “My mother and dad tried to get supplies from the war depot with no success so they bought what they needed.”
His mother Ruth would buy and cook a big aluminum pan about 3-foot square and 4-inches deep of corned beef on the stove. She would make five gallons of coffee, potatoes and several loaves of bread and take to them when they were in the fields.
POWs were so crucial to the crops, especially the sugar beets, because the labor force was fighting the war. They started thinning beets with a hoe in May, weed them all summer long and harvest them in the fall.
There would be eight of them on each side of the truck when it was harvest time.
“I was young and I couldn’t heave the beets up over the edge of the truck bed,” Zollenger said. “It took an older man. The POWs were 21 to 25 years old and they could lift 40 to 45 pounds into the truck.”
Around 20 to 24 POWs were bused from the camp in Tremonton and taken to different farms to work daily.
“The townspeople began to warm up to them a little,” Zollinger said. “The POWs missed their families and loved ones. They would try to hug the children they came in contact with.”
They POWs were taught English, put together their own camp orchestras and were even allowed to watch movies.
“The more English they could speak the easier it was to communicate what they were asked to do,” Zolllinger said.
The friendships that were made carried on after the POWs went home.
“After the war was over, we thought all contact would stop,” he said. “The people in Germany were starving and they didn’t have medical supplies.”
He said some wrote back to his mother and dad after the war and asked them to send clothing, food, bandages and medicine.
“My father and mother sent boxes and boxes of stuff to them for a couple of years,” Zollinger said. “My mother kept all of the letters and put them in a scrapbook.”
There are a lot of interesting stories about the Germans and Italians that were here as POWs, she said.
“Anything historical is important, and when it’s Tremonton and the Second World War it’s important. People need to know how we took care of our poor and they knew how to treat people,” Frank said. “The prisoners were treated with dignity, respect and they were loved.”
Frank said those young men were hungry and they were fed, they were looked out for and they were treated with respect like they were human beings.
Between 1942 and 1946, nearly 426,000 captured German and Italian soldiers were interned in 500 camps across the United States.
Besides Tremonton, POW camps in Utah were located at the Naval Supply Depot in Clearfield, the Deseret Chemical Warfare Depot, Hill Field in Layton, Tooele, Utah Army Service Forces Depot in Ogden, Bushnell General Hospital in Brigham, Dugway Proving Grounds, Logan, Orem, and Salina.
Troubled prisoners were sent to Ft.Douglas east of Salt Lake City.