OGDEN, Utah – A new photographic exhibit — “Prisoners of War in Ogden” — will open at Weber State University’s Stewart Library on Oct. 5.
The exhibit captures the experiences of some 10,000 Italians and Germans, interned in Ogden in 1943 44 during World War II, who not only filled gaps in the civilian workforce but also studied, worshiped and even entertained.
According to University Librarian Joan Hubbard, the photographic exhibit will surprise and fascinate viewers, and also highlight the varied resources housed in the library’s Special Collections.
“This exhibit is a perfect example of our wonderful collections,” Hubbard said. “Our longtime mission is to collect, preserve and disseminate the varied history of the Northern Wasatch region, as well as to provide academic resources and services to the WSU campus and the greater community.”
The images show barracks erected in 1943 at the Utah Army Service Forces Depot (UASF, later the Defense Depot of Ogden), and men with "PW" stamped on their outer clothing. Initially the labor performed by Italian POWs was limited to jobs unrelated to the war effort, including work in orchards, kitchens and the poultry industry. Their value in the workforce increased after Italy’s unconditional surrender in September 1943. Restricted to the compound during leisure hours, the internees drilled, attended worship services and academic classes, organized musical groups and played indoor games and outdoor sports.
German POWs, who replaced the repatriated Italians in the barracks, were at first so militant they accepted rations of bread and water rather than work. Two internees managed a brief escape, and more wore their Nazi uniforms to intimidate fellow prisoners. The POWs classified as German actually were from many nations and ethnic groups as Adolf Hitler’s conquests covered most of Europe and part of the Soviet Union.
Hubbard said that “Prisoners of War in Ogden” is also a means of introducing patrons to the striking results of extensive remodeling performed during the summer months and scheduled to be complete by the end of September. The exhibit will stand in an atrium lit by three story skylights and flanked by a “wayfinding staircase.”
“The remodeling is part of the first phase of a campus wide master plan,” Hubbard said. “We are excited about the beautiful changes, which we feel will enhance the library’s role as the heart of campus.”
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