Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Saturday, August 7, 2021

German Prisoners of War Work the Farms in Minnesota


Section of a letter written by H. C. Byson
to his daughter Dawn with exciting details
about POWs sighted in Elk River.
Prisoners of War in Minnesota during World War Two often worked the lumber mills and the farms in the northern and central parts of the state.  Although not often seen in Sherburne County, POWs worked the potato harvest in Princeton in 1943, and possibly again in 1944.  At times, residents of Elk River and eastern Sherburne County witnessed these POWs being transported or working the potato fields.

The casual sighting of POWs in Elk River, like other small towns in Minnesota, generated a certain amount of excitement witnessed in family letters such as the letter from H. C. Byson to his daughter Dawn Byson (later Moyer), in the summer of 1944.  Byson wrote to his daughter:

Bruce came home this morning from downtown with those expressive eyes of his telling us an exciting story.  He and several other people watched German prisoners eat and then be loaded into trucks and hauled toward the city.  Bruce said that there was a guard at each table and as the prisoners came marching out one told the group in broken English that they were captured in Africa and had worked on farms there for a few months before being brought to this country.  Some of them were still wearing their German uniforms two of which Bruce thought were officers because of the caps and ornaments that were on their clothes, straps, and pockets. 

This letter from the Byson family serves as another bit of evidence documenting the activities of German and Italian prisoners of war in Central Minnesota.  With an estimated 426,000 POWs in the United States during World War Two, only a small number of these men found their way to Minnesota to work in the lumber camps and the farms of Central Minnesota.  In small towns, such as Elk River, their temporary and brief presence created an exciting stir within the community.

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