Often overlooked in the history of World War II was the presence of P.O.W. camps throughout the United States filled with prisoners from the armies of Germany, Italy and Japan. About 155 base camps processed nearly 400,000 prisoners in the last two years of the war when camps in England and the Pacific could no longer accommodate the demand.
Eduord Kaib was a German officer captured by U.S. forces near Nice, France who found himself transported to the middle of Iowa farm country in 1944. An architect in civilian life, Kaib cheered himself and others that first holiday by constructing a tabletop sized crèche – a traditional German holiday decoration.
Building the POW Nativity
The camp commander saw the creche as an opportunity to improve the morale of American and German soldiers under his supervision. He encouraged Kaib to design and construct a much larger nativity for the next holiday season.
The Geneva Convention of 1929 required that prisoners of war be paid ten-cents an hour for their labor and have access to recreational activities. So Kaib and a small group of prisoners used their earnings from working on area farms to purchase wood, concrete, chicken wire and plaster of paris. It took them more than four months, working during their free time, to build 65 figures at half of life size. Their detail and life-like quality, along with enduring construction techniques, are remarkable.
Visiting the Algona Iowa POW Nativity
When the camp was dismantled in 1946, the Junior Chamber of Commerce took possession of the nativity, putting it on display in a small building at the Kossuth County Fairgrounds. In 1958, the United Methodist Men’s Club took possession of the nativity, opening it for public viewing each December ever since.
Kaib, a successful entrepreneur in Germany after the war, returned to Algona with his family in 1968 and was treated as a celebrity, as he should have been. His is an enduring story of peace on earth, good will toward men for all generations.