Nazis in the Heartland

German POWs working a farm in Minnesota. Image courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

My father, Dean, was raised on a small farm in Eastern Montana. As a small child in the early 1940s, he worked in his family’s sugar beet fields and tended to chickens and cows, no doubt carrying out countless other chores along with his two young brothers. I’m sure he wasn’t much help, but despite his age, was required to chip in.

From time to time during the latter parts of World War II, my staunchly Protestant grandparents accommodated Nazi POWs, who labored in the fields alongside my father. The soldiers received no pay, but were rewarded with fresh Lucky Strike cigarettes at the end of the rows they harvested. Guards were always nearby, rifles in hand, ensuring there was no drastic escape for the POWs. Years later, my grandmother, Lydia, would tell me these young Germans were always good workers and kept to themselves. She was never afraid of them, she admitted, and when I would often confront her, “but they were real live Nazis!” she would always counter with something like “they were just young kids, and didn't know any better.”

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JOSHUA FRANK is the managing editor of CounterPunch. He is the author of the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, published by Haymarket Books. He can be reached at You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.

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