If you have never visited the Camp Atterbury Prisoner of War Chapel or have not seen it in a while, you should make the trip! This is another exciting place for history located in the southern end of Johnson County.
Built in 1943, the modest chapel measures about 11 by 16 feet and was constructed from left over building material by Italian POWs (prisoners of war), who were skilled artisans. The interior religious symbols and paintings were done by mixing berries and flowers in order to create the pigments for the paint.
The floor was painted red to represent carpet and the altar was painted in such a way as to give it the appearance of marble. The chapel was used by the POWs for daily services as well as Sunday Mass.
The prisoner-of-war compound sat on 45 acres at the far western end of Camp Atterbury. The compound could hold up to 3,000 prisoners at one time and was used from May 1943 to June 1946. Commanded by Lt. Col. John Gammell for the duration, the camp began receiving Italian prisoners on April 30, 1943 who were captured during the African Campaign.
The military unit given the responsibility of running the camp and securing the prisoners was the 1537th Service Unit. Formed on Dec. 15, 1942, the unit received specialized training on how to operate a POW encampment. They were then moved to the facility on Feb. 10, 1942, in order to make preparations for the incoming prisoners.
A prisoner's work detail could include grounds keeping of the compound, kitchen and laundry detail, decorative construction and working on a 220-acre farm located inside Camp Atterbury. Prisoners also worked on civilian projects located outside the compound and could travel no farther than a 25-mile radius from the camp.
It is estimated that there were 15,000 POWs interned from 1943 to 1946, mostly Italians and Germans. After Italy surrendered on Sept. 8, 1943, the U.S. Army began moving the Italian POWs out of the camp beginning in January 1944 with the move completed by May 4, 1944. Four days later, German POWs were being placed in the camp, which reached a maximum of 8,898 prisoners by October of 1944. The prisoners were not released until a little over a year later, after Germany's surrender on May 7, 1945. The last prisoners left Camp Atterbury on June 27, 1946.
You can find the Chapel by traveling toward Nineveh on Hospital Road. Follow the signs for directions to the Chapel.
For further reading at the library:
Taulman, Larry and Don G. Wertz. The Atterbury File. Franklin, Ind. (101 Hwy. 44, Franklin 46131): School, 1983. Print. -- Call Number 977.2515 ATT 1999
Pam Caito is the assistant to both the Historical Room and Marketing and Communications Department. She believes history connects the past and the present to give us a feeling of being at home. There are places and activities right here in Johnson County that help us to step back in time for relaxed, off the grid adventures. Email Pam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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