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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Exhibit examines an unknown story

By Katie Friedman
Times Reporter

Between 1941 and 1948, the U.S. government rounded up anddetained 15,000 German-American civilians, disrupting thousands of homes.(Photos courtesy of the Traces Museum.) A traveling museum, dubbed the Buseum 2, will visit the Monticello Library Monday, Nov. 6.
A traveling exhibit scheduled to visit Monticello next week tells thestory of a dark chapter in America's history, of a time when thousands of American citizens were forcibly captured and contained by agents of their own country.

Between 1941 and 1948, the United States government rounded up and interned 15,000 German-American civilians. Some disappeared under the cover of night, while others were taken during raids on their places of employment. About a third were kidnapped by U.S. agents in other countries and brought here against their will. In the Twin Cities, law enforcement officials helped the federal government arrest 11,000 German-Americans and nationals. None had a lawyer-or was charged with, tried for or convicted of-a war-related crime. But many were imprisoned for the duration of that global war, and for years after its conclusion. Internees found themselves surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers at more than 60 detention centers across the country.

It is perhaps the least-known chapter of American WWII history. But the Traces' mobile museum - a retrofitted school bus christened the Buseum 2 - has been working to rectify that, bringing an innovative exhibit to the people of the upper Midwest, with stops in about 100 communities across Minnesota, both Dakotas, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa.

"We've reached a wide variety of audiences this way - seniors, veterans,students," said Traces executive assistant Eric Brandt. "It's a good way to get the message out. We like to take the exhibit to communities farther out, where people might not get to see it otherwise."

The mobile museum uses 10 narrative panels, an NBC Dateline documentary and a 1945 U.S. government color film to share the story of a historical event that is not without modern ramifications. As Buseum driver-and Traces' executive director-Michael Luick-Thrams told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, acknowledging the internment of 15,000 German-Americans is key to preserving civil liberties today.

"Certainly, over 50 percent of Minnesotans and Iowans are of German ancestry, so it hits close to home," he said. "If you can be interned-and are part of the majority-anyone can be interned."

The Traces Center for History and Culture, located on the second floor of the Landmark Center in St. Paul, covers a number of WWII subjects, most of which have a Midwestern angle. These exhibits include information on the Midwestern soldiers held in prisoner-of-war camps in Nazi Germany, German POWs held in the upper Midwest and Holocaust survivors who fled to the Midwest.

But the internment section is perhaps the most striking. So far, it has largely gone unacknowledged by Congress, which in 1988 voted to apologize and pay compensation for the wartime internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans and nationals, and in 2000 also acknowledged violating the civil liberties of Italian-Americans, an estimated 2,500 of whom were interned during wartime.

Monticelloans will have just a few short hours to explore this exhibit in their own back yard. The Buseum will be parked at the Monticello Library Monday, Nov. 6, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Admission is free.

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