Leaking Fire - Camp Owosso
The Owosso Speedway has been active all but two years since 1939 when the track first opened as a ¼ mile dirt track. Those two years in question, 1944 and 1945, pretty much all motorsports across the country shut down. This was, of course, the final two years of World War II.
For the Owosso Speedway, being shut down was for a very different reason than the other tracks in Michigan. The Owosso Speedway had been converted into a Prisoner of War Camp, one of 25 camps that were set up in the State of Michigan. May 30, 1944 was the first date which can be traced back to when the camp was active.
The prisoners were primarily composed of German troops captured in North Africa to begin with. The prisoners were housed in tents with six men each. Thanks to the provisions of the Emergency Farm Labor Act, the German POWs were allowed to enter into the community, many working at a local canning factory, many also went to work on local farms, with the young male working population depleted due to the war effort.
By most accounts, the German prisoners were upstanding members of the community. Most did not seem to fall in line with the thought process of the Nazi party, but were soldiers due to conscription into Hitler’s army.
One instance reported in the Argus-Press, in July of 1945 a Mrs. Eva Worthington, home recovering after giving birth, was rescued from her burning home by a team of the German POWs, who not only rescued Mrs. Worthington and her young child but also helped put out the fire and managed to rescue some of the family's belongings before the fire brigade arrived.
But not all was smooth sailing. Officially, the Owosso residents were not supposed to fraternize with the Germans, but they would in typically innocent manner, providing lunch or drinks for the Germans working on their farms. But, Kitty Case and Shirley Druce, two local young ladies became embroiled in controversy when they helped conspire with two of the German men to escape from their assignment at the WR Roach Canning Company.
Gottfried Hobel and Eric Classen, along with Case and Druce were caught with Case proclaiming she was in love with one of the German men. Hobel and Classen were returned to the Camp, but Case and Druce would both receive sentences of over a year in prison.
Over the years, reports have varied as to the exact number of prisoners hosted on the grounds of the Speedway, somewhere between 200-1,000 seems to be the agreed range. But all prisoner records were sent to Germany after the war, and administrative records were discarded in the 1950s.
Article Credit: Chris Fobbe
Submitted By: Chris Fobbe