BROCTON - Did you know that during World War II, Chautauqua County was the location for hundreds of Italian and German Prisoners of War? Why were they sent here? How were they treated? And how long did they stay?
The answer to those questions and more will be provided during the Chautauqua County Historical Society's next lecture and presentation on Aug. 13 at the J. W. Dill Post No. 434 of the American Legion in Brocton.
The presentation will be given by local history teacher Ryan Corbett who will focus on the POW camp at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds in Dunkirk. There will also be information provided of other satellite camps that were in the county, including one in Westfield. In addition to the discussion being led by Corbett, he'll also show a video documentary he and his students produced, featuring interviews and first-hand accounts of local residents who were alive at the time the POW camps were in operation.
"At the end of World War II, there were hundreds of POW camps containing over 425,000 prisoners of war in the United States," explains Historical Society trustee and programming chair Jason Sample. "The camps were located mostly in the South but there were also some in the northeast and even right here in Chautauqua County. We thought it would be great to do a program on these camps and what better person to have lead the discussion than Mr. Corbett who's spent a significant amount of time researching the subject."
The primary reason why POWs were brought into our area was labor. Like today, Chautauqua County during World War II was largely a rural area with agriculture serving as a major industry. The big concern of the farmers and food processors was manpower to harvest the crops and help in the processing plants. Because demand for labor was so great, additional workers had to be imported to help during the busy harvest season.
From Ripley to Silver Creek, there was a shortage of labor and as a result, prisoners were sent to various camps along the lake shore. In Westfield, for example, the local processors organized the Westfield Food Commandos, Inc. and built a camp on Nichols Ave. where shelter, health and sanitation facilities were constructed along with a high fence built to provide security. Other camps were located in Brocton, Silver Creek and Ripley. The most well-known camp was at the fairgrounds in Dunkirk.
As one would come to expect, there were rules by which local residents had to abide: civilians were not allowed in or near the POW camp and they were instructed not to talk or fraternize with the prisoners.
The work of the prisoners in area fields and food processing plants helped save valuable crops to be packed for later use by both the allied forces and our civilian population. Without the aid of the POWs, millions of dollars in fruits and vegetables would have been lost.
To learn more about the POW camps in Chautauqua County, make plans to attend the lecture and presentation on Aug. 13, 2013. The event will begin at 6 p.m. and will take place at the J.W. Dill Post No. 434 of the American Legion (110 W. Main St., Brocton).
There is no cost to attend. Light sandwiches and refreshments will be provided. If possible, please RSVP by Friday, Aug. 9 by calling (716) 326-2977 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.