In one of our most moving You Are There exhibits to date, talk to Italian prisoners of war in the chapel they built at Camp Atterbury – their home away from home.
In 1943, approximately 3,000 Italian POWs were held at Atterbury during World War II. That it held prisoners of war is surprising to many, but the legacy of this time period lives on as part of the camp’s history and through the descendants of prisoners who still gather in Indianapolis.
“This story surprised me,” says Angela Wolfgram, exhibits researcher. “Kindness is a big part of it. Interactions were friendly, unlike what we picture for a POW camp. Also, I was struck by how much the Italians appreciated their time at Atterbury. It wasn’t summer camp, but they enjoyed the food, the interactions with Central Indiana residents, recreation time and even religious freedom. I think this is a hopeful story, and we need hopeful stories.”
You’ll step into a recreation of the still-existing “Chapel in the Meadow” as POWs are completing the paintings on the walls and marbleizing the altar. They can tell you about the symbolism of the art, World War II and their living conditions. In addition to the prisoners, you may come across American soldiers, including Chaplain Maurice Imhoff and Lt. Col. John Gammell, commanding officer of the internment camp.
After your experience, visit the adjoining room to discover the history of Camp Atterbury through photos, learn about its role today, and uncover the meaning of Italian iconography and religious art for those abroad.