Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Herbert Jogerst POW Sculptor

A few weeks ago I heard from Michael Rutherford, a historian in Tell City, Indiana who shared a great deal of information about the Indiana Cotton Mills in Cannelton, Indiana, when I was working on my first book, North Across the River. Rutherford had read my new book and sent along an interesting packet of information about a German POW named Herbert Jogerst who was held at Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky.

Jogerst had studied art and sculpture in Strassburg before being drafted in WWII. His military service in the German army took him to Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and eventually North Africa, where he was captured near Metaches El Bab. In an interview conducted by Gerhard Auer and translated by Sister Ruth Ellen Doane, Jogerst describes his first treatment as a POW. "We were loaded into stockcars....We were collapsing of thirst. There were comrades who were willing to give away their entire fortunes if they could only have a drink. Some soldiers became insane due to thirst."

He describes being transported in this manner through North Africa. "Sometimes we were shot at through the closed wagon (train car) or our guards pushed their bayonettes through the slits in the wagon walls. That was hell. In Casablance we were handed over to the English. Then, for the first time, we were treated as people."

He was sent by ship to Canada and then by train "in Pullman-type cars which were comfortably equipped express train cars" to Kentucky. At Camp Breckenridge, he and 3,000 other POWs kept the streets and barracks clean at a military installation where thousands of American soldiers were being trained.

Jogerst says camp life was monotonous at first. Because he could draw good letters, he became a sign painter and also tried to paint portraits when he had paints. "As the Americans noticed that I was able to paint, my fortune changed," he told the interviewer. One day a guard came to him and said, "The wall in our Mess Hall is so bare. Could you paint something for it?" His fellow prisoners asked him to paint scenery for a theatrical play, which he did in secrecy at night until guards discovered him missing at late hours from his barracks. When these watchmen saw his work, however, they gave him permission to paint without restriction and even commissioned him to paint the altar in the camp chapel.

During his time in Camp Breckenridge, Jogerst was given a barracks to use as a studio and instructed other POWs in calligraphy and figure drawing. When a music pavilion was built by the POWs for their concerts, he built a fountain for it. While others played chess in the evenings, he worked with piles of stone to built the fountain.

One of his most interesting encounters was with the well-known press photographer Alfred Eisenstett (who was Jewish and had worked for the Berliner Illustrierte magazine in Germany before emigrating to the US). Eisenstett was creating a picture report about German POWs for Life Magazine when he visited Camp Breckenridge. When shown the many paintings Jogerst had created, the photographer asked the artist what he planned to do with them. Eisenstett wrote in his article that Jogerst replied, "One day someone will take them away from me."

Among the responses to this article, Life received letters from more than 2,000 readers who wanted to help this German POW preserve his work. As a result, Life placed six overseas trunks at Jogerst's disposal. He was able to send more than 300 of his paintings and carvings home to his mother for safe keeping.

Monks at the Monastery at St. Meinrad (in southern Indiana) http://www.saintmeinrad.edu/ also saw Jogerst's work and took him to the monastery to work as a sculptor until he was sent back to Germany in 1947. When he returned to Germany, Jogerst bought his mother a house and helped her start a grocery business. Then he returned to the US, where he remained until 1962, doing sculpture work at St. Meinrad and also creating statues, baptismal fonts, and altars that can now be found in 28 American states. See also http://www.ctk.org/church-history.htm and http://www.stspeterandpaul.net/parish/history/historical-society/487.php.

Herbert Jogerst died in Germany on April 3, 1993, shortly before a large group of tourists from his hometown of Waghurst came to the US on a trip. Among them was his son Elmar who was able to see much of his father's work for the first time. That work includes an eleven-foot, 6,200 pound statue known to southern Indiana residents as "Christ of the Ohio" because it stands on Fulton Hill at Troy, Indiana, overlooking the Ohio River.

I have in my files the translation of the entire interview with Jogerst, along with excerpts from the History of St. Meinrad ArchAbbey, which contains photos of some of Jogerst's work, and also news clippings from his son's visit. If anyone would like copies, please let me know.


Genevieve said...

That's a very interesting bit of history. Thanks for posting it.

Nona said...

I volunteer at a museum in Southern Indiana called the Dubois County Museum. We are putting together an exhibit about German prisoners, specifically about Herb Jogerst. If you still have copies of the interview transcript, I would be very interested in obtaining them. You can email me at nona.capps@gmail.com.
Thank you so much for your time!

Ron Flick said...

I live in Jasper, Dubois County, Indiana and have recently become fascinated with the life and work of Herbert Jogerst. His work is exceptional. What I find intriguing is the fact that he came from the village of Wagshurst, in northern Baden. In the mid 1800s, roughly 30 to 40 families from Wagshurst, comprising 180 or so individuals, settled in Jasper, which is only twenty or so miles from St. Meinrad, where Jogerst did much of his work. I wonder if he ever discovered he had so many distant cousins living just a few miles away.

Harry said...

I am preparing a photo booklet documenting the statuary created by Herbert Jogerst for St. Bernard Abbey, Cullman, Alabama. The Abbey's last e mail contact with his son, Elmar, was March 2003. If anyone has any more recent contact info I would appreciate receiving it. I would also like a copy of the interview transcript.
Harry... harryreich@msn.com

intelect13 said...

This is an old blog, I hope this message finds you well. I live in Tell City, Indiana and the statue "Christ of the Ohio" still stands between Troy and Tell City. I have been trying to locate any information on the sculptor and history of the statue. Unfortunately there is little information available on this statue.And very little information about the sculptor Herbert Jogerst. I am very interested in the interview transcript. Please email me at antoniawilson38@yahoo.com. Thanks!

John Mason said...

I have some paintings that were done by H. Jogerst and by G. Ebbrecht. I am trying to find more info on them.

John Mason said...

I have some paintings that were done by H. Jogerst and by G. Ebbrecht. I am trying to find more info on them.

AnAmerican said...

I would very much enjoy the transcript.

AnAmerican said...

I would very much enjoy the transcript.
Carol at

AnAmerican said...

I would very much enjoy the transcript.

Kimberly Prohaska said...

I am interested in the transcript you mention regarding Herbert Jogerst. We the sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, have a statue of St. Scholastica on our former academy building. She was initially facing west until her removal from that section of the building to accommodate a breezeway for the junior gymnasium in 2001. Just today 11/2/15 the Jogerst statue of St. Scholastica was returned to the building but she now faces north. She is 4.5 tons and 14 feet tall. She is an amazing work which is a treasure to our sisters and alumnae.