August 10th, 2011 12:33 EST
World War II and Algona, Iowa: Part II The Nativity Scene
World War II and Algona, Iowa: Part I
Between April of 1944 and February of 1946, Algona, Iowa was "home" to 10,000 German prisoners of war. The average monthly population in the Algona POW Camp ranged from 2,500 to about 3000. Although the 287-acre camp had prison guards and barbed wire, and the prisoners worked for the area farmers, the American commander, Lt. Colonel Lobdell encouraged the German prisoners to participate in artistic activities during their down time. While some prisoners wrote poetry and others painted, a group of six friends built a Nativity Set that came to symbolize a sense of unity between the Americans and Germans. The Nativity now stands in the Kossuth County Fairgrounds. The 800-square-foot display includes 60, one-half life-size figures composed of cement over wood and wire frames.
"A prisoner named Eduard Kaib started to build the Nativity, and the commander asked if he could continue the project while he was a prisoner," explained Marvin Chickering, who manages the Nativity exhibit which is now operated by the First United Methodist Church in Algona. "The entire Nativity took less than a year to construct, and it became a symbol for peace and understanding in a very turbulent time."
The Nativity scene is opened in December of each year, but private tours and showings are available if people call Chickering or the church in advance. Visitor attendance is growing as more people find out about the Nativity Set and Chickering estimates that attendance will exceed 2,000 this year.
In 2004, Algona opened the doors of its POW Camp Museum which houses exhibits about the American military stationed at the camp and those serving abroad, the German POWs and their life and also how the war and the camp affected the lives of local residents.
"More than 80 percent of the POW population in Algona was Christian," Chickering noted. "Most of us here were Christian as well. The town didn`t think at first they had anything in common. But we had God, and the Nativity Scene served as a bond between the Germans and Americans."
When Kaib went home to Germany after the war, he asked that no visitor would ever be charged admission to see the Nativity. His request has always been honored, and today, the costs of the operating the Nativity are met by donations. In 1968, the town held a banquet and paid for Kaib and his family to fly to Algona from Germany. The American commander, Colonel Lobdell was also present for the reunion.
"It was a wonderful experience for them to be here as friends, not as prisoner and soldier -- but as men, " Chickering said. "In the midst of all the conflict in that war where so much hatred blossomed, Algona was able to look at her enemies and eventually see friends. When people look at the Nativity for the first time, they get that sense of awe and they understand how important it is for this Nativity to always be here."
A volunteer for the Algona POW Camp Museum and the Nativity Scene, Wendol Jarvis wants people to understand the importance of places like Algona. An entertainment executive who also sits on the Donna Reed Foundation for Performing Arts, Jarvis is working to make the POW camp museum and nativity scene a full-time venture.
"We all need to learn the lesson that history has taught us here-- that the people of Algona and the German POWS have taught us," Jarvis said. "We are all the same and for the most part, none of us are enemies. When the Germans came to Algona during the war, the townspeople were nervous. They identified the Germans with Hitler; the Germans only knew about Americans from the propaganda the Nazis distributed. Here in the prison camp and in the town, both sides learned about each other and that is a lesson that must continue to be taught."
For reservations to see the Nativity Scene, call 515-295-7519. Or email Marvin Chickering at firstname.lastname@example.org
World War II and Algona, Iowa: Part I
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