Weingarten POW Camp
Weingarten was the location of a large prisoner of war camp during WWII. The camp had no pre-war existence, and unlike the other major camps in the state, it never served any military function other than a pen for Italian POW’s.
The first POW’s, all Italian, arrived on May 7, 1943. The camp was enlarged to the point that some 5,800 POW’s could be held there, and approximately 380 buildings of all types would be constructed on an expanded 950 acre site. This assortment of buildings included a hospital, a theater, a fire station, kennels, a blacksmith shop, bakery, in addition to numerous administration and barracks building.
By September 30, 1943 there were 992 officers and 3,515 enlisted prisoners of war housed at Weingarten.
The POW’s established a shoe repair operation on the camp grounds. They started repairing three hundred- four hundred pairs of Army shoes each day. The prisoners also worked outside the camp, mainly as farm labor in the area.
Having such a large population of Italian soldiers just seventy-five miles from St. Louis was a great source of interest for those living in St. Louis’s Italian American neighborhood, the Hill. Many of the residents of this tightly knit community had been born in Italy and so naturally had an affinity toward the POW’s. In some cases they sought out the interned soldiers for friendship, visiting them at the camp and taking them to St. Louis for weekend visits.
By August of 1945 the process of shipping the Italian prisoners home began and moved quickly. It was closed completely by October 1945.
Most of the structures and buildings were sold off. What remains is merely pasture ground. However one magnificent rock fireplace left from the officer’s quarters still stands. The fireplace is a sentinel for those who live here and those who visit. It represents a period of time when lives were in a upheaval. Families who had lived a generation or more were evicted. Strangers who had never seen the wilds of Missouri before were transported here to live out several years of their lives.