Growing up in Wisconsin, DW Hanneken was privy to a piece of American history that many others do not have access to. His mother worked in a German POW (Prisoner of War) camp during World War II.
However, unlike most POW camps, Hanneken explains, “Her stalag was not in Belgium, France or Germany, it was actually located just outside Rockford, Illinois, and was one of the hundreds of German POW camps located in America during WWII. Over the years, my mother humanized a group of people we all think had horns on their heads and pitchforks in their hands. She marveled at how young they were, and how they wore expressions of relief to be out of the fighting. They seemed grateful to be safe and appreciated how they were treated by the American guards. Even as a child, I knew this would be the perfect backdrop for a piece of historical fiction.”
Starting his career as an award-winning advertising executive, DW Hanneken has always been able to tell a story. Making the transition to novels with The Home Front, Hanneken deals with contemporary and relevant issues such as domestic violence, racism, addiction, single-parenthood, and facism. This fascinating debut novel shares modern-day lessons with readers. Hanneken is hopeful that The Home Front can remind us all that we need to love and care for one another as human beings, especially during a time when hate and conflict are rife throughout the world.
Hanneken recounts, “I’ve always liked to tell stories, and find great happiness when I can share a good story verbally or in the written word. What’s more, I am a student of culture, and for as long as I can remember I’ve loved to “people watch,” whether it’s in the airport, sitting on a park bench, watching folks move about on a busy street in the Chicago Loop, or picking people out of a crowd at a sporting event or in a grocery store – I enjoy trying to decipher not only what their lives are like, but I like to watch how they interact with each other, and even try to predict what sort of mood they are in. All of those characteristics and behaviors find their way into my stories.”
The novel follows the story of American farmer Maggie Wentworth and her relationship with Adam, a German Prisoner of War. “I grew up in a house with five women, so to me Maggie is a bit of an amalgamation of all five of them. She’s one part empath, one part peacemaker, perhaps a little naive at times but through it all she’s incredibly strong,” Hanneken explains.
It is not commonly known that there were POW camps in America during World War II. “Winston Churchill was running out of places to put the captured German soldiers, and Franklin Roosevelt needed to fill labor shortages on farms, in canneries, lumber yards and on road crews. In the early 1940s, American supply ships often returned from Europe empty, so the U.S. took the Germans back on their return voyage. It was a true win-win for both sides” says Hanneken.
While historical accuracy was of the utmost importance to him, Hanneken encountered some difficulties while researching the novel. Luckily, he was able to use his own father and mother as primary sources in order to gain more insight into farming during the 1940s. His father shared many stories during his time growing up on a farm between 1925-1945 and his mother was also able to provide ample information on life in the POW camp as well as female friendships and relationships with their spouses during this time period.
Hanneken described his biggest challenge as “finding proper data pertaining to German POWs in America, as the US military destroyed most of the records about these “tent cities” in order to minimize any hostilities they may have received from servicemen who returned from the war. I eventually found what I needed in several books and in newspaper articles that are just now bringing this piece of whispered history to light.”
To read Homefront for yourself, purchase the book here.