German Tourists Visit the WWII PoW Camp at Belle Fourche, South Dakota


70 years ago, nearly 600 German soldiers were sent to Belle Fourche–a World War II PoW camp. This camp was located near the Orman Dam.

On Wednesday, a tour group from Apolda to learn more about the Belle Fourche camp. They were going to learn about the prisoners and the farmers who spoke German who put the PoWs to work.

The tales from those years were discussed  at the Tri-State Museum program that was held for the visitors. More than a dozen residents who lived in Apolda had heard the German-American connection that many were aware of from the Northern Hills.

Ingo and Birgit Knobbe were a part of the tour group. They read from a letter that was a part of a small collection of artifacts that came from the PoW camp.

Two men, Dave Rathbun and Harold Brost, shared childhood memories of German soldiers who would work in the wheat and beet fields. The men who were from Belle Fourche represented local families who had German ancestors who still spoke German during 1940.

Brost tells the Rapid City Journal his father acted as an interpreter for the guards stationed at the camp.

Rathbun recalled the first PoWs were members of the Waffen SS–a battlefield arm of the Nazi party. He said that those who were more vicious of the SS soldiers were taken to another camp after a murder.

The future prisoners near Belle Fourche would be ordinary German Soldiers who were much kinder than the SS soldiers.

The head of homeland security of Thuringia, Anton Wahlig, said he thought those prisoners were probably relieved to have been captured by the Americans and be out of the war. It is said that many of the German soldiers who were captured by the Soviets never returned home.

Those who were PoWs at Belle Fourche had opportunities to go outside, work on the grounds of local farms, and would enjoy home cooked meals.

While meals weren’t looked kindly on, Rathbun said the PoWs worked harder when they knew they could eat fresh food rather then the C Rations the military provided.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE