German POW Folk Art Signs, ca. 1944
During World War II, my father was stationed at a prisoner-of-war camp in Como, Mississippi. And these are representative of that period of time when the German prisoners were at Camp Como. At the camp, they organized the prisoners according to whatever area of Germany that they came from. And the prisoners were allowed to make signs. At the end of World War II, when the camp was being closed, my father and the... what would probably be the private in Germany were closing up the camp, and the private said, "These really are nice. "I'd hate to see them destroyed. You really should take them." So I have about 20 to 24 of them, and these are representative of it. So they were organized by region.
So we have here is Weser, we have Oder, and the Elbe regions.
And a lot of folks don't realize that there were close to half a million German and other POWs in the United States during the war. There were camps almost in every state of the country. Many of them were in the south because of the issues with heating the camps. It was easier to just have them in the warmer climates. Now, the tradition for POWs to be making things in prison camps dates back to the Napoleonic era, when Napoleonic prisoners would make things out of sheep bone and things like that, and trade for favors. And it continued from World War I and World War II, and most often you see them making things like souvenir boxes or plaques or paintings and things like that. These were on posts. If we turn this one around, we can see the shadow of this one that would have been on a post. The others have indications that they were also on a post. This one even has a pen inscription, a lieutenant's name and a date of 1945. That might actually have been put on maybe towards the end afterwards as an indicator of who made it, because it's unclear if that would have survived being outside for so long. But either way, it helps us put it into context. So now, these things transcend really POW artwork or folk art that would have been made for trade and become a physical part of the camp. And they do kind of cross the worlds between folk art and military collectors.
Look how whimsical they are and how detailed they are. Here's the Pied Piper. They're really quite beautiful.
Right, and the little mice down below.
So charming to see the mice down here. Did your father ever have photographs taken of the camp?
Yes, we have eight-millimeter films.
Can you see the signs in the film?
We can see the signs, and I was down there too. I mean, the whole family was down there, so I remember the signs and I remember the camp.
That's very important, to put these into context. To have period photos of the signs in situ would just add to the value and make them a complete unit. While I've seen many, many POW things, these really would be, like, at the top of the market. I would suggest that in an insurance or in a retail environment, these would be easily $1,000 apiece, and maybe even a little bit more for some of the ones that have more detail.
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