Fort Niagara became a
prisoner of war (POW) camp
on June 12, 1944, to house Axis captives fromincreased Allied victories in World War II.One of 500 such camps in the United States,Fort Niagara became the central command postfor 13 branch camps throughout westernand central New York. Although the campcould hold up to 3,000 prisoners, there werenever more than 2,200 here at one time.
Prisoners were put to work on farms and in food processingplants to combat labor shortages. Fort Niagara prisoners were treated fairly. They were allowed to organize their own school, orchestra, choir, sports activities, and pursue artistic interests. Fort Niagara began to release prisoners in late 1945, some stayed until 1946.
Ernst Wills was born on September 28, 1916. He was captured by Canadian forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944, during the Allied invasion of France in World War II. While a prisoner of war at Fort Niagara, he painted a mural entitled American History for the Bachelor Officer Quarters. He also painted portraits of officers and inmates at Fort Niagara. After the war he had great success as an artist in Europe. American culture, especially jazz music, influenced his painting style.