The POW Camp Up the Road

Italian POWs and U.S. Army staff during construction of a POW chapel at the Camp Atterbury WWII internment camp. Photo—Indiana Historical Society

Thirty miles up the road from my home in Bloomington, Indiana, is a military base operated by the Indiana National Guard.

Constructed in 1941, Camp Atterbury originally spanned over 43,000 acres.

During World War II, troops from across the United States were sent to the camp for basic and advanced training before being sent to overseas battlefields. Four U.S. Army infantry divisions were located on the camp.

In the 1940s Camp Atterbury had the largest hospital in America, spanning 47 two-story buildings. As many as 85,000 wounded soldiers were treated there.

In a quieter 45-acre compound on the west side of the camp, Italian—and later German—prisoners of war were interned. In April 1943, the first prisoners to arrive were Italians captured in North Africa. Internment of Italian prisoners was relatively short, as they began leaving soon after Italy’s surrender in September 1943.

The story of the internment of Italians in southern Indiana, and the importance POWs as laborers on local farms, was told in a 2016 blog post by Annette Scherber for the Indiana History Blog (Indiana Historical Bureau of the Indiana State Library).

I’m pleased to share a link to: “Corn, Tomatoes, & POWs: Hoosier Agriculture During World War II.”

The Camp Atterbury compound held up to 3,000 POWs, making it similar in capacity to P.G. 59, which during the Second World War held as many as 2,000 Allied prisoners.

A note of explanation to those outside of Indiana: the term Hoosier is a nickname for a person who is a native of Indiana.

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