5Q :: Novel explores Minnesota’s POW campsDo you know that there were 21 POW camps in Minnesota during the closing months of World War II? Author Karl Vanghen does, and his new novel revolves around one of them.
Shoreview, Minn., author Karl Vanghen knows a thing or two about our state’s history.
For example, of the 21 POW camps in Minnesota during the closing months of World War II, he told us, four of them were up in our area. They were near Remer, Grand Rapids, Bena and Deer River to help with the harvest of trees for the paper industry, he said.
If you’re as intrigued by this information as we were, you might be interested in Vanghen’s new book, “My Enemy, My Beloved,” which combines his two biggest loves: history and fiction.
The author was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the new project:
Budgeteer: What was your first exposure to historical fiction, and what made you want to start writing books in that genre?
Vanghen: My first exposure to historical fiction came when I was a boy, about the age of 13. My mother received a thick book in the mail one day titled “The Outline of Great Books.” Among the many titles was the historical account of Francisco Pizarro’s amazing conquest of Peru. I read it, and I was hooked.
It so intrigued me that I said I would write my own book about it one day, and I did: When I was about 35 and settled in my graphic arts career, with some time on my hands, I took up the challenge. After an entire year of research and nine years of writing, I completed “Graced With a Sword.” I ended up self-publishing it after turning down an agent’s request to add more sex to the story.
You can find “Graced With a Sword,” along with my new book, “My Enemy, My Beloved,” on Amazon.com.
Without giving too much away, what can readers expect from “My Enemy, My Beloved”?
They can expect an honest interpretation of what German POWs experienced while in the United States, especially those fortunate enough to be transferred to smaller work camps in Minnesota, where they received excellent treatment.
My story follows the events of one such prisoner who happened to end up in New Ulm, Minn., where he falls in love with a local farm girl.
While most of the events in the book are written from careful research, the liaison between the German POW and the farm girl are purely fictional. However, such liaisons did exist, and some POWs did return to marry the girls they met while incarcerated in the United States.
I’m not much of a history buff, granted, but I had no idea German POWs were housed in our country during World War II. How did you find out about this?
I found out about it rather unexpectedly.
While talking to my cousin one day, whose father was from New Ulm, he mentioned going to the German POW camp, or what remained of it, while visiting there.
Of course, like many Minnesotans — and many Americans, I might add — I was not aware of any POWs being in Minnesota during World War II. While my cousin elaborated on the subject, my creative juices began flowing.
It was the beginning of an interest that would eventually bring me to the TRACES Museum in St. Paul, a small, but extremely interesting, site that contained letters, articles, photographs, mementos and artifacts from the POW camps.
The trip there solidified my interest, and soon afterward I began outlining the story. It took me approximately six months to write the story, a bit more time to edit and refine it, and to find a publisher.
Fortunately, North Star Press of St. Cloud extended a contract right after they read the story.
Do you feel the German POWs were treated humanely during their stay here?
I was amazed at how well the German POWs were treated here in America — especially in Minnesota, where they helped with canning, forestry and farm work during the harvest season. Many of them formed lasting relationships with the residents, and some of them returned to America following their repatriation to Germany.
My story is about one such POW. Incidentally, the POW camp in New Ulm is still there, almost as it was, available now to anyone who wants to reserve one of its cabins for a vacation or a weekend.
Finally, on a lighter note, what do you like most about Shoreview? If someone were coming to visit for the first time, what would you recommend they do down there?
Shoreview is lovely, convenient and up to date, with lakes and parks and beautiful neighborhoods to complement its charm.
We are close to both St. Paul and Minneapolis, cities filled with activities.
The Twin Cities can boast that they have been selected as one of the best places to live in America.
NEWS TO USE
Karl Vanghen’s “My Enemy, My Beloved” is available now through North Star Press of St. Cloud. Visit www.karlvanghen.com for more information.