Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2015

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 2020-02-23

Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)

Degree In


First Advisor

Getz, Christine

First Committee Member

Harvey, Trevor

Second Committee Member

Heineman, Elizabeth


The internment of over 375,000 German prisoners of war has become a footnote in the broad history of the United States’ involvement in World War II. Yet for Algona, a small town in north-central Iowa, a POW camp allowed the community to contribute to the war effort and to have a real encounter with “the enemy.” The memory of Camp Algona, which housed over 10,000 German POWs during the war, has been preserved in the archive of the Camp Algona POW museum. Among the historical and military documents held in the archive is an extensive collection of material related to the activities of the camp’s choir, orchestra, and theater troupe. The archive holds extant concert programs, photographs, concert reviews from the camp newspaper, and the choir director’s scrapbook, which together document fifty-nine concerts given between October 1944 and December 1945.

Archival documentation suggests that music, especially German music, was a prominent feature of Camp Algona’s culture, distinct from other artistic and creative endeavors. This suggests a narrative that conflicts with existing assumptions in the most comprehensive histories of German POW camps in America (such as Arnold Krammer’s Nazi POWs in America and Judith Gansberg’s Stalag, U.S.A.), which generally categorize music-making as one of many popular recreational activities. One commonly accepted view is that music, like other leisurely activities, was evidence of the United States’ adherence to the Geneva Convention of 1929, which stipulated that captors must provide adequate time and means for recreation and “intellectual diversion.” Yet, first-hand accounts, newspaper reviews, and other archival documents from Camp Algona suggest that the music performed by the choir and orchestra had myriad layers of meaning and functionality for the POWs.

Camp Algona’s archive holds the largest known collection of music and music-related artifacts from a German POW camp in the U.S. Thus, assumptions or oversimplifications in existing literature are likely products of the lack of existing scholarship specifically related to music. The archival evidence from Camp Algona suggests that music-making by German POWs functioned as a facilitator of communal expressions of emotion, nationalism, and cultural pride. It also served as a cultural bridge between Iowans and POWs in the context of Christmas concerts and religious services involving civilians. Through critical exploration of this relatively new archive, it is possible to offer the first musicological perspective on the lives of German POWs in American during WWII, one that contributes to the existing historical literature and invites further scholarship and comparative study on music in POW camps in America.


Iowa, Prisoners of War, World War II


vii, 160 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 152-160).


Copyright 2015 Kelsey Kramer McGinnis

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