- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

ALGONA, Iowa (AP) - Since being built by German prisoners during World War II, the Algona Nativity Scene is now celebrating its 70th anniversary.

When the war ended, those prisoners donated the scene, which includes 65 one-half life size figures, to the town of Algona, the Fort Dodge Messenger (https://bit.ly/1wmEOFZ ) reported.

“Until you see it, you can’t believe it,” said Nativity Board Chair Marvin Chickering.

What amazes Chickering is that six men managed to put together the scene in less than a year.

The scene was made by Eduard Kaib and five other POWs interned at Camp Algona. The prisoners took about six months and $8,000 to create the display, using their own money. Each figure was constructed by covering a wooden frame with cement, and using plaster to create the finer details.

With more than 8 million German prisoners around the world at the time, Chickering said it’s a blessing that Kaib was sent to Algona.

“To come here to Algona was a one in 8 million shot,” he said. “It was part of the Lord’s work.”

Now, people from around the world come to visit the scene.

“Over the years, they’ve come from all 50 states and many foreign countries,” he said. “We ask everyone to sign in.”

Sometimes he can tell right away when there are visitors from outside the United States.

During the narration that plays at the Nativity scene, there’s a recording of Stille Nacht, or Silent Night sung in German.

Chickering said he’s heard groups of native Germans sing along to the song as it comes on.

“They just join in and sing,” he said. “It gives you goose bumps on the back of your neck.”

But it doesn’t only get visitors from abroad. Many of the thousands of people who visit each year live in Algona.

“The locals will often call,” he said. They’ll set up appointments if they can’t make it during the hours the Nativity scene is open.

For many families, visiting the scene is an annual tradition.

“There are many families in the area that it is not Christmas unless they visit,” he said. “It’s just an annual voyage.”

To see that is rewarding, Chickering said. “It’s such a special place and we want to make it available as much as we can.”

Nancy Petersen of Estherville visited the scene for the first time this month - and she was amazed.

“It was much more amazing than I thought it would be,” she said. “It’s very, very well done.”

Petersen said she had heard about the scene before, but had never had the privilege of actually being there.

What amazed her the most was the extra things she hadn’t seen in a Nativity scene before.

“The camel and the little family behind with the mother and the children, those are added thing that just makes it even more amazing,” she said.

Chickering said he was also amazed with the attention to detail.

“They captured the expressions on faces,” he said. “That’s the test of a true artist.”

Kaib, who added those details, was an officer. He was able to spend all of his time working on the Nativity scene, since he wasn’t required to work in the fields.

“This became his full-time job,” Chickering said.

After the war ended, the prisoners offered to donate the Nativity scene to Algona, so that others could see it. But they had conditions that had to be met first.

The scene could never be sold to any organization, it had to be open for public viewing, no admission could ever be charged, donations had to be used for upkeep and the scene could never leave Algona.

The document with those conditions hangs on the wall outside the Nativity scene.

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Information from: The Messenger, https://www.messengernews.net


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