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Presentation shone a light on fascinating local history

A fascinating journey through time was offered — virtually, of course, these days — in the form of a presentation by LouAnn Wurst, a professor of archaeology at Michigan Technological University, hosted by the Marquette Regional History Center.

The topic of great interest? Camp Au Train, which was located just southwest of Munising. It was one of five POW camps in the Upper Peninsula during World War II.

Camp Au Train served both as a Civilian Conservation Corps and Prisoner of War Camp.

It was in the spring of 2018 that Wurst began fieldwork at the camp with a team from MTU, researching about the camp’s two by-gone purposes.

As detailed in a front-page story Monday by Journal Staff Writer Trinity Carey, Camp Au Train was established on June 10, 1935, one of many CCC camps throughout the nation. These camps were designed to provide conservation-centered work for American men between the ages of 18 and 25.

The CCC was a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and was geared toward handling the labor crisis during the Great Depression, Wurst explained.

Wurst said enrollees moved to the camp in July and lived in tents while they built the barracks. Day to day work included erosion control, wildlife management, planting trees and more. Workers were paid $30 a month for their labor, $25 of which was sent home to their family. Roughly 200 men occupied the CCC. The camp officially closed June 30, 1941.

Labor shortages in the states continued during WWII as able-bodied men went off to war and less than three years after the CCC program left Camp Au Train, POWs brought there were used to help with said labor shortages.

The first POWs were brought to Camp Au Train in February of 1944. Most were Germans who were captured in North Africa. The men were considered volunteers and paid just 80 cents a day for their labor all of which was in canteen script.

“The argument there is quite obvious if a POW had a lot of cash in his pocket then they were a flight risk, they’d have options if they escaped,” Wurst said. “If the only thing they had in their pocket was a handful of canteen script, you can’t get very far with that.”

Work at all the POW camps in Michigan was largely agriculture-based including the work of the men at Camp Au Train who performed timber work.

The POWs stayed more than six months after the war’s end.

Then in March 1946, Camp Au Train was deactivated.

Many fascinating facts about the camp were detailed in Wurst’s presentation, shining a light on a part of U.P. history of which many are unaware.

To learn more about programs offered by the MRHC visit www.marquettehistory.org.

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