How 2 Nazi POWs Escaped Into the Wilds of Minnesota

They were among 13 who escaped in Minnesota during WWII
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 25, 2015 8:46 AM CDT
Updated Aug 25, 2015 8:57 AM CDT
How 2 Nazi POWs Escaped Into the Wilds of Minnesota
A soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of Nazi prisoners; this is a stock photo.   (Office of War information via Wikimedia)

Nazi Cpl. Heinz Schymalla, 22, and fellow captive Walter Mai, 21, were among some 200 Germans cutting timber for Minnesota's pulp industry in a prisoner-of-war camp in 1944. Both captured in Tunisia in May 1943, they gained momentary notoriety when, moved to act in part by news that Schymalla's 60-year-old father had been conscripted to join the withering Nazi forces, they managed to escape by boat. Having dug their way under a wire fence just before midnight on a Saturday in late October, they set off from Algona-Branch Camp No. 4 near Bena, Minn. Their plan: Follow Lake Winnibigoshish to the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where they hoped to catch a ride home, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. They had a head start in their journey thanks to the lack of a Sunday-morning count; the search began more than 24 hours after their escape.

In a 1994 article for Minnesota History magazine, historian George Lobdell wrote that having been in the state since February, the men knew they needn't fear "wild animals or Indians." Unfortunately, the three small maps they found in a dictionary "apparently gave no understanding of the distances involved" (as evidenced by the great number of things they packed, including shoe polish and a cigarette-rolling machine). They made it 20-odd miles south in the first few days, then hit a snowstorm and ultimately took a wrong turn into Jay Gould Lake on Friday. There they were spotted by a resort owner who called the county sheriff, and they were ultimately caught hiding in bushes. Their punishment: 30 days in confinement. The men were among 13 German POWs who escaped during WWII in Minnesota. (A "Great Escape" survivor told of his attempted WWII escape.)

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