Most Edenton residents may not know, and perhaps never knew, that Edenton housed as many as 300 German prisoners of war during the 1940s.
Locals will soon be able to get a history lesson next month about Edenton’s World War II POW camp that was located on the grounds of the former military base where the Northeastern Regional Airport sits. Some 100,000 German POWs lived among 18 camps in North Carolina during the war and Edenton had a branch camp under the larger Camp Butner. Typically, branch camps housed from 250-350 prisoners. The 65-year old story is coming to Edenton by bus, officially dubbed BUS-eum.
Held on the Homefront: German POWs in the U.S., 1943-46, will be on display for free visits on Saturday, Sept. 18, in a bus in the parking lot opposite the Shepard-Pruden Library, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The driver, Irving Kellman, is also a docent for the BUS-eum, and knows many stories about the camps across the state. The Edenton visit is sponsored by the Friends of the Library and the Edenton-Chowan Tourism Development Authority.
“Had we only knew to go back 65 years for a time all but forgotten,” said Bill Haley, Friends of the Library. “I think it’s important to know how we got started.”
Held on the Homefront is an unusual, rich story brought to life in the BUS-eum, a 40-foot school bus converted into a mobile classroom and museum. The exhibit consists of 10 narrative display panels illustrated with dozens of photographs and documents, DVD documentaries, artifacts and much more.
Some 380,000 prisoners, not all German but recruited for the Nazi military service, were held in 660 POW camps across the country. Location of the camps was kept secret from all but camp employees and contractors who used them for work in agriculture and in logging related industries. POWS were used for similar work here, such as farming and forestry.
Linda VanSistine Yost, Shepard-Pruden librarian, said the display would be educational, particularly for residents that enjoy history.
“We’ve learned that quite a few people didn’t know there was a POW camp here,” Yost said.
There were over 20 attempts of POWs attempting to escape, but only one was successful, and that prisoner turned himself in years later. Most were repatriated to Germany following the end of the war in 1945, some making a stop in Britain or France to help rebuild those countries.
In 2009, Dana Mueller, a teacher of photography at the Art Institute of Boston, came to Edenton and found remains of some of the buildings used in Camp Edenton. Her purpose in compiling a collection from various camps was to preserve the experiences of prisoners of war from her native country (she was born in East Germany). The photographs bring back memories of prisoners who once were involved in destruction in Europe but now were contributing to work on the American home front. The Edenton POW camp was located on land owned by the Marines and Navy during and immediately after WWII. Two others were located at Williamston and Ahoskie.
BUS-eum was assembled by TRACES, the Center for History and Culture in St. Paul, Minn. It began touring North Carolina in August. Thus far a quarter-million persons have viewed the exhibit in some 3,000 communities across the country.