History of Idaho's Largest WWII POW Camp Preserved Near Paul

History of Idaho's Largest WWII POW Camp Preserved Near Paul

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ASHLEY SMITH • TIMES-NEWS A view of the location of Camp Rupert, where in World War II German and Italian POWs lived and worked in the 172 buildings and local farm fields.

PAUL • The largest POW camp in Idaho sprung up five miles west of Paul — but for years left nothing in its wake.

In August 2012, a historical marker was placed along the roadside at 1100 W. 100 S. Idaho Highway 25 to identify the location of World War II POW Camp Rupert.

"It is history that needs to be recorded,” said Arlo Lloyd, who helped with the project. "You don't find many people who have ever heard about his history and it's important to Minidoka County.”

The camp was one of 21 camps located in Idaho and operated as the base camp for the Idaho camps, as well as camps in Montana and Oregon. Built by 1,500 workers in 1943 on 300 acres of sage brush the 172 buildings included a field office, hospital, barracks, mess-halls, chapel, commissaries, recreational facilities and warehouses.

"There was a small city out here," said Anne Schenk, historical society member who helped compile the history of the camp. "There were no young men here during the war and they needed the prisoners for harvesting and planting crops. It was a huge boon to the area."

Prisoners also had books, musical instruments, sports equipment and art supplies and they established libraries, theater groups, orchestras and choirs. They also published a camp newspaper.

In an undated South Idaho Press article written by Arvetta Savage, she interviewed Agnes Anderson who was a civilian worker at the camp and witnessed the arrival of the first prisoners.

"It sent chills up and down our spine seeing the large group of soldiers marching goose-step as they entered the POW property from the railroad," the article reads.

Anderson told the paper the work was not difficult but the atmosphere unpleasant for a woman and most female workers did not stay long.

She said the prisoners took a lot of pride keeping the barracks neat and the Italian soldiers were her "favorites" and tended to be happy and congenial.

One American soldier who had been a POW overseas visited the camp and was outraged because the POW received so many amenities.

Minidoka County Historical Society Museum Curator Ginger Cooper said the museum has letters from former POWs at the camp, many who say they were treated well.

Rupert resident Loretta Kingenberg, 90, who grew up in Minidoka County said her family worked with the United Service Organizations and at times took soldiers from the POW camps to their home.

"I know my dad had groups of POWs come in to work at the farm also," Klingenberg said. ""They were very nice young men when they were here. I hope they were good where ever they went."

According to news articles and historical documents stored at the Minidoka County Historical Society Museum, the POWs at the camp constructed a miniature German village inside the walls of the camp and help many theatrical performances.

One playbill depicts the program written entirely in German.

Local businesses and farmers were able to purchase man-days using the prisoners for farm labor.

Elsie Martsch talked about how hard the POWs worked in her husband's family fields in a 1990 Times-News article written by Donna Schorzman.

"There was always a guard with them," she said.

Martsch said one guard told her to keep her distance "because they hadn't seen a woman in a long time," the article reads.

The camp also trained a K-9 Army Corps and photos of many of the dogs are in books at the museum.

A museum photo captures part of a fence with the sign posted "Danger War Dogs, Keep Out."

The camp was dismantled and everything put up for bid with the last of it being sold or hauled off by July 1947.

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