"Behind Barbed Wire"

Contact Person: Sheila Sallen, North Lee County Historical Society
P.O. Box 285; Ft. Madison, IA; 52627; 319-372-7363 (alt. phone)
or 319-372-8773

Contact Person: Michael Luick-Thrams at BUSeum Tour@yahoo.com or 515-255-4836.

BUS-eum Website

    "Behind Barbed Wire", a new traveling exhibit, housed in a converted school bus explores the experiences of Iowa prisoners of war (POWs) who were imprisoned by Hitler's Third Reich. Until the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, the most U.S. POWs in Nazi-German camps came, per capita, from Iowa. This "BUS-eum" will be in Ft. Madison from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Thursday, April 8, 2004. It will be hosted by the North Lee County Historical Society and parked in front of the Santa Fe Depot-Historic Center and Museum at 814 10th Street (near Riverview Park). The local contact person is Sheila Sallen at 319-372-7363 or 319-372-3887. The Museum also receives email at sheila@nlchs.org. The Des Moines based, non-profit educational organization TRACES created the exhibit. Director Michael Luick-Thrams and guest historians will travel with the mobile exhibit to all 99 Iowa counties through the spring of 2004.
    Early arrival is encouraged at the exhibit, as the tour is tightly scheduled and showings will begin and end promptly at the times indicated. Elderly or evening visitors may wish to bring small flashlights. TRACES seeks volunteers in each community along the 205 stop, 55 day state-wide tour, to help make each stop as effective as possible: would-be volunteers should contact the local hosts in a given town, or TRACES directly.
    "Behind Barbed Wire" poses five primary questions
    why did some Iowa POWs survive certain conditions or experiences, while others did not
     what roles did art, free time and religion play in helping those men who did survive imprisonment by the Nazi regime?
     why did some Germans or Austrians assist Iowa POWs, while others did not?
     how did the liberated POWs later come to terms with their own experiences? and,
how do countries once in armed conflict reconcile with each other; how do nations and the individuals who constitute a nation get beyond war?
    As the opening panel of the exhibit reminds viewers, "The prisoner of war experience is one few men or women know directly. Being taken prisoner is, in itself, neither dishonorable nor heroic. Capture is largely an accident; often, it comes as a complete surprise and is frequently accompanied by injury. Usually, the confinement is painful; too often, it is fatal. In war, not everyone is lucky; some lose Those taken captive are part of the unlucky ones."
    This exhibit has attracted special attention and enthusiastic support. Contributing partners include the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, the Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin, the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum and Firestone Agricultural Division in Des Moines. Former Midwest POW and best selling author Kurt Vonnegut has given TRACES free and unqualified use of his book "Slaughterhouse Five", which tells of Vonnegut's and other POWs' experiences during the firebombing of Dresden. The Iowa Arts Council granted TRACES major funding for the project and numerous individuals have donated generously.
    TRACES invites former POWs to join the BUS-eum tour at any point to talk to exhibit visitors and speak about their experiences. It also would welcome contributions of narratives about or artifacts from individuals it not yet has located. Michael Luick-Thrams, TRACES' executive director and creator of "Behind Barbed Wire" says a logical future step following the touring exhibit would be to establish a permanent memorial "A museum in Des Moines would honor former WWII POWs and preserve their legacy for the benefit of future generations."
    To confirm the complete BUS-eum itinerary or to learn more about TRACES, see www.TRACES.org You may also visit the North Lee County Historical Society's web page at www.NLCHS.org. The exhibit's introductory texts and photos of the exhibit can be previewed on the TRACES website; reading the main texts in advance will facilitate easier visitor flow in the BUS-eum.
    As the exhibit's first text explains, "There were three main waves of Iowa POWs: those captured in North Africa in 1943, those pilots shot out of the sky during the air war over Europe, and those soldiers captured at the Battle of the Bulge (a mere six months before the Second World War ended). Each wave of Iowa POWs in Nazi Germany had its own experiences. All of the men who survived them, however, left a provocative legacy for those alive today--one involving the very nature of war itself; how does armed conflict between groups of people play out, face-to face, when the guns are lowered; how 'should' humans treat each other, and ultimately, live together?"

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