In Wisconsin, the German-speaking immigrant population was sufficiently assimilated by the outbreak of hostilities and stressed enough by labor shortages that war prisoners became trusted farm workers.
During the war years, one-third of the state’s population was of German descent, with many first- and second-generation families still speaking their native language at home. That was reason enough for U.S. military leaders to look to Wisconsin as a place to hold German POWs — that and a desperate need for help at farms and in canning factories. As the nation's military-age citizens went off to war, the agricultural labor shortage grew severe, especially for fruit and vegetable growers who depended on hired hands.Take the nationality tag off people, and you have ... common concerns and common hopes. "Despite their countries being at war for vastly different reasons, some in the two groups recognized a common humanity in one another."
Wisconsin had three times more POWs working in rural farm fields than neighboring Minnesota. The captured soldiers labored side-by-side with their Wisconsin hosts and were largely credited with saving the crops during the 1944 and 1945 growing seasons, according to Betty Cowley, author of "Stalag Wisconsin: Inside WWII Prisoner-of-War Camps." The Eau Claire-based historian's work features more than 350 interviews, and serves as a comprehensive history of Wisconsin camps.
Apparently, Wisconsin civilians recognized that a few farmhands on loan from the Wehrmacht weren't going to be much of a security threat.
A Fond du Lac beer manufacturer was reported to have delivered 25 cases of beer shortly after the prisoners arrived and made deliveries every other day during their stay. Another article concerned a POW missing from camp. He was located at a downtown bar, having “a few beers with the local boys.”There's a screen shot of the newspaper reporting the arrest of the bar-hopping escapee. The article also reports on fraternization of the more traditional form.
Women in the town baked pies and some POWs were treated to sit-down meals by the farmers and their families, despite being sent to work with sack lunches. At times, women competed to serve them the best meal, in hopes of drawing the POWs back to continue their work, Cowley says in her book. These acts could have led to charges of treason, she said.
After the War, the Geneva Convention required the repatriation of all German war prisoners to Germany. Thereafter a number of them returned to the United States, more than a few with the sponsorship of their employers.