Prisoners of war: not your average miniature artists

With a lot of time and little space, they made miniatures.

Below is a video of German prisoners of war in the US in 1944 making a complete model town…for turtles. Shirtless and smoking, they take turns adjusting miniature items and prodding the animals. Dare I say, looks like fun?

Meanwhile in Mississippi around the same time, German prisoners helped make the Mississippi River Basin Model, the largest small-scale model ever built. The finished product allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to experiment with different levee systems. It involved a lot of labor, for which the prisoners were given 90 cents for every 8 hours.

A postcard showing the Mississippi River Basin Model, which became a tourist destination. You could actually cross from state to state.

But these Germans aren’t the only POWs in history to take on miniature projects. WWI had its fair share of crafts as well. This figurine, for example, was carved by a prisoner at a camp in Scotland in 1919:

A figurine made by a prisoner in 1919 at Stobs camp in Scotland before prisoners were released at the end of the same year

As far as artistry goes, though, the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) outshine the rest. French and other prisoners living in camps in England sculpted models, dollhouse miniatures, and other objects, mostly from bone they collected from their food rations. Cash earned from the sale of miniatures helped them battle poor living conditions. Here’s one prisoner-crafted, working replica of a French guillotine:

A working replica of a French guillotine made by a French POW during the Napoleonic Wars  (1793-1815)

The prisoners also made dollhouse accessories, like this tiny dominos set:

Each domino in this set made by a Napoleonic-era prisoner of war measures half an inch long and 1/4 inch wide. The set is available on ebay.

And they capitalized on high demand for dollhouse furniture depicting lavish interiors:

Dollhouse furniture made by Napoleonic-era prisoners of war between 1793-1815. The chair in the photograph is available on ebay.

Crafting miniatures allowed POWs an escape, a refuge from an otherwise dreary camp life. It was a natural choice of artistry under their circumstances, as it required few supplies and little space. And it gave many of them a chance to earn pocket money as they awaited repatriation.

Making a model town for turtles, though? That may have been just for fun.


Via Atlas Obscura and POW Crafts

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