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Driving History: Bus-eum Reminds US How to Treat Enemies

Sages say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. And that may be why the TRACES traveling exhibit, or "bus-eum," roves the US on a dual mission. Objective #1: To tell the story of German POWs who were held in camps across the U.S. during WWII. The important lesson illustrates that as a nation we can make enemies, or we can choose to make friends out of enemies.

By the end of World War II roughly 372,000 German prisoners of war (POWs) were imprisoned in over 660 camps in almost every U.S. state and the territory of Alaska. Held in U.S Army-operated work camps, they harvested crops, built roads and waterways, felled trees, roofed barns, erected silos, laid city sewers, constructed tract housing, and did other practical wartime tasks--even the U.S. Army laundry.

Because many 19th-century Germans had immigrated to America, many who worked with the POWs could speak to them in their native tongue. In the process, they formed significant, often decades-long friendships with "the enemy." The POWs changed considerably as individuals and as a group, and the relationships they formed influenced post-war American-German relations. A number of POWs even chose to immigrate to the United States after the war.

TRACES' mobile museum, called the Bus-eum 3--a retrofitted school bus painted fatigue green--is touring the US through June 2010, reaching schools, libraries and historical societies. Its narrative panels and films tell the story.

"The main lesson we want people to take away is how you treat people," Kellman told The Edmond Sun. "You create friends, or you create enemies. In our treatment of the German POWs, we created 370,000 friends. ... Word got back to the German army itself that if you surrender to the Americans, you won't be harmed and you'll be taken care of, so the men would be more willing to lay down their arms and less willing to fight - and that saved American soldiers' lives."

TRACES' motto is "We bring HISTORY to LIFE!" The Bus-eum 3 is not going let people make mistakes because they don't know history. After six years, they've got 20 states, 1,400 towns and about 150,000 visitors to prove it.

And they are driving forward toward a future of human rights, international reconciliation and conflict avoidance through education.

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