Articles

Arnold Krammer is professor of history at Texas A&M University, specializing in modern European and German history. He is the author of several books including Nazi Prisoners of War in America (New York: Stein & Day, 1979, Scarborough, 1983, 1996). His essay, "When the Afrika Korps Came to Texas" examines the history of the nearly eighty thousand German, Italian, and Japanese prisoners of war held in Texas during the Second World War. The essay, which is excerpted here, is included in the book Invisible Texans: Women and Minorities in Texas History (McGraw-Hill, 2005), a collection of eighteen essays exploring those who have been under-represented in previous writings about Texas history.

The full text of Arnold Krammer’s essay "When the Afrika Korps Came to Texas" is here available for dowload as a PDF.


Just a year and a half after the attack on Pearl Harbor that embroiled America in the world war, more than 150,000 German prisoners poured in after the surrender of the Afrika Korps in the spring of 1943. After that, an average of 20,000 POWs arrived each month, and following the Normandy invasion of June 1944, the numbers soared to 30,000 per month. During the last months of the war, prisoners poured in at the astonishing rate of 60,000 per month. By the end of the war, the United States found itself holding more than 425,000 prisoners of war: 372,000 Germans, 53,000 Italians, and 5,000 Japanese. Some 90,000 spent their war years in Texas.

But where to put them? The United States had never held large numbers of foreign war prisoners before. The War Department moved fast and together with the Corps of Engineers began scouring the country for temporary camp sites. County fairgrounds, auditoriums, abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps, and hastily erected tent cities were held in readiness. At the same time, in mid-January, 1942, Washington DC commissioned a study for potential sites for large, permanent camps, although it frankly did not know if the prisoners were going to be enemy troops or so-called "Enemy Aliens"—dangerous German or Italian or Japanese citizens living in the United States. (Indeed, within months, three separate government programs would evolve, each with its own network of camps: the Justice Department's Enemy Alien Program, which rounded-up some twenty-four thousand enemy citizens and their families; the War Relocation Program, which arrested a whopping 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, largely from the West Coast and Hawaii; and finally, the Prisoner of War program, under the control of the Army's Provost Marshal General's Office).

When considering places to construct POW camps, Washington looked to the South. First, there was lots of available land in the southern United States, more than could be found in the crowded North. Second, Texas, in particular, was located far from the critical war industries on the East and West Coasts. Also, the mild climate assured minimal construction and operation costs. Eager Texas businessmen and farmers lobbied vigorously for camps in their labor-starved state, with the idea of using the incoming prisoners to fill the huge gap left by the military's needs. Finally, there was the precedent of the Geneva Accords of 1929. Created after World War I, the Geneva Accords established the rules of war, and contained guidelines on matters ranging from the prohibition of explosive or dum-dum bullets to the care of prisoners of war. Of interest to the War Department were the passages that guaranteed prisoners' treatment equal to the conditions of the army in charge, and the recommendation by the Geneva Accords that prisoners be taken to a climate similar to that in which they had been captured. Since the climate most similar to that of Tunisia, where the Afrika Korps surrendered in early 1943, was the American South and, in particular, the state of Texas (although dozens of camps sprang up in Louisiana, New Mexico, and surrounding states), construction began in the Lone Star State.

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Nearly all six permanent camps [Camp Huntsville, Camp McLean, Camp Mexia, Camp Brady, Camp Hereford, and Camp Hearne] were finished and ready for occupancy by January 1943. Each was expected to hold about 3,000 men, with the possibility of expanding the number up to 4,500. Admirable as this early planning and construction was, it quickly became evident that six permanent camps, holding between 3,000 and 4,000 POWs would not account for even a quarter of the incoming prisoners. The War Department decided to authorize a second type of POW camp on sections of existing Army bases. The advantages were many: these POW sections could be easily guarded since sentry towers and fences were already in place; the prisoners could be used to help maintain the bases, thus freeing numerous American soldiers for shipment overseas; and nearby communities would be calmed to know that the thousands of possibly hostile enemy captives were surrounded by many more thousands of armed American soldiers.

Four military bases in Texas were enlarged to receive POWs in 1942—Camp Swift (Bastrop), Camp Bowie (Brownwood), Camp Fannin (Tyler), and Camp Maxey (Paris), with the largest having the whopping capacity of nearly 9,000 men. Three more camps were authorized in 1943: Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio), which was little more than a tent-city with 170 six-man tents for both POWs and their American guards; Camp Howze (Gainesville); and Camp Hood North (Killeen). With the expected invasion of France in 1944 and the prospect of many thousands of new prisoners, seven more POW camps were built on military bases in 1944, at Camp Wolters (Mineral Wells), Camp Wallace (Hitchcock), Camp D. A. Russell (Marfa), Fort Bliss (El Paso), Camp Crockett (Galveston), Camp Barkeley (Abilene), and tiny Camp Hulen (Palacios), which could hold only 250 POWs. In 1945, German POWs were farmed out to work in Harmon General Hospital in Longview, Ashburn General Hospital in McKinney, Camp Cushing in San Antonio, Biggs Air Field in El Paso, Ellington Air Field in Houston, and in work camps in Lubbock, Childress, Amarillo, Dumas, Big Spring, Pyote, Alto, and Dalhart. Even after the war was over, in August 1945, one last camp was created at the Flour Bluff Army Air Field in Corpus Christi.

Together, the fifteen camps could hold an impressive 34,000 enemy prisoners, but there was still not enough space for the arriving thousands. The problem of overcrowding was solved by creating satellite camps attached to the major camps, which served the additional purpose of bringing the POWs closer to the agricultural worksites where they were most needed. There were more than thirty satellite camps in Texas. Most were located in the coastal rice-producing area in an arc reaching from Orange County to Matagorda County, and in East Texas. Branch camps sprouted up in Kaufman, Princeton, Navasota, Alto, Chireno, Humble, Denison, Milam, Kirbyville, Liberty, Orange, Anahuac, Alvin, Rosenberg, Angleton, Forney, Wharton, El Campo, Ganado, Eagle Lake, Bannister, Patroon, Kenedy, Mont Belvieu, Center, China, Lufkin, Bay City, and Garwood. Even remote El Paso County hosted four agricultural branch camps at Ysleta, Fabens, Canutillo, and El Paso.

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Texans didn't have to wait long. The Afrika Korps surrendered in April 1943, and the first POWs from North Africa arrived aboard Liberty ships the following month. The prisoners were unloaded at Camp Shanks, New York, and transported on heavily guarded trains southwest across the country to their new homes. When they arrived at their camps, entire towns turned out to watch. For example, on June 4, 1943, the anxious residents of Mexia, Texas, lined Railroad Street to stare open-mouthed at the 1,850 Afrika Korps veterans as they jumped down from railroad cars and marched in orderly rows to the camp four miles west of town. Young men had become a rare sight since the war began, and suddenly here were several thousand tanned, healthy enemy soldiers marching in defiant cadence down the main street of town. Moreover, they weren't even all Germans. The incoming prisoners contained Frenchmen, who had been pressed into the German Army, and a platoon of Arabs from the North African campaign. Among the rest were three hundred naval officers, almost one thousand German Army officers, an admiral, and four generals.

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Camp Hereford had a different experience. The Hereford camp was designated strictly for Italian prisoners, all captured during the African campaign. From early June 1943, until its closing in mid-February 1946, Camp Hereford was home to some 850 Italian officers and an average of 2,200 enlisted men. Italian POWs were also held in Fort Bliss, Dalhart, and various other camps.

While they were no less troublesome than the Germans, nor particularly good agricultural workers, or less likely to escape, the Italians were in a peculiar position. Italy changed sides in the middle of the war, and its leader, Mussolini, was shot. Technically then, the Italian POWs in America were no longer enemies. Yet many were dangerous fascists whose loyalty to Mussolini and fascism remained undaunted. The solution depended largely on the experiences of each American camp commander: some Italian POWs were shifted from camp to camp to prevent trouble; others were worked as before; and still others were given wide latitude to take college correspondence courses, participate in escorted sight-seeing day trips to nearby cities, and even hold dances and social events with local women's groups!

While the three thousand German POWs in Fort Bliss lived in spartan conditions and were mistrusted by the guards and American and Mexican populations, the one thousand Italians at the nearby Coliseum branch camp, near El Paso, swam in the Washington Park pool, attended Mass, consumed record amounts of beer, and chatted with girls at the fences. Young girls often threw notes wrapped around stones over the fences, until such antics prompted the passage of a city ordinance prohibiting "loitering within one hundred feet of the enclosure of the El Paso war prisoner sub-camp, or throwing or passing any object into or against said enclosure. . . ." Very few Italians left America after the war with complaints.

Texas had only a few hundred Japanese prisoners; most of the five thousand soldiers brought to the U.S. for interrogation were held at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and Camp Clarinda, Iowa. However, the best-known Japanese captive, referred to as "POW No. 1," was interned at Kenedy, Texas, in an old Depression-era CCC camp which held three separate groups: Germans, Japanese, and civilian Alien Internees. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki had commanded a midget submarine, part of the attack force at Pearl Harbor. His submarine was damaged and he swam ashore at Waimanalo Beach on Oahu. Sakamaki was grabbed by patrolling American MPs and went into the history books as the first American POW of World War II. Other Japanese prisoners were also held at Kenedy, Camp Huntsville, and Camp Hearne.

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Within two months of their arrival the Germans had decorated their mess halls with paintings, chandeliers, and Christmas ornaments, and had adorned their walls with family photographs. They transformed the appearance of the camps by planting grass, adding attractive flower beds, constructing beer gardens, staking out soccer fields, and making picnic tables. At Camp Hearne, Texas, the prisoners even constructed a complicated concrete fountain and a waist-high castle, complete with turrets and a moat, which still exists today.

In some camps, POWs even kept pets, something harmless that they had found in camp or smuggled back from a work detail. And the food! From their first meals, the incoming prisoners sat down to see foods that most of them had not tasted in years: meat, eggs, tomatoes, green vegetables, milk, and real coffee—sometimes even ice cream. Not only that, but they found that cigarettes and, in some camps, beer and wine were available at the camp PX, purchasable with the canteen coupons with which the government paid their military salaries and wages for daily work.

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Many camps tried to maintain a regular Sunday chapel program for Catholics and Protestants, although, because of language difficulties and boycotts by the Nazis in the POW population, attendance was disappointingly low. More successful was the authorized publication of mimeographed German-language POW newspapers in many camps, most quite sophisticated, with in-depth articles, soccer scores, and even classified ads. Washington generally encouraged these newspapers for two reasons: the German prisoners experienced freedom, many for the first time in their young lives and, at the same time, the American authorities could gauge mood in a given camp by monitoring these weekly newspapers. . . . In addition, most camps were permitted to maintain subscriptions to American newspapers, magazines, and a New York-based German language paper called the Neue Deutsche Volks-Zeitung, unless the camp was being punished for refusal to work or for excessive Nazi activities.

As if the good food, religious services, and newspapers were not enough to preoccupy the enemy prisoners, most camps offered educational courses taught by qualified experts among the POWs. If there was a strong demand for a course about which few prisoners were knowledgeable, say, American history or politics, the course might be taught by an approved civilian living or teaching nearby. Prisoners could enroll in basic courses in physics, chemistry, history, arts, literature, carpentry, foreign languages, mathematics, veterinary medicine, and stenography, depending on the size of the camp. In traditional German style, the professors required examinations, conducted classroom discussions, issued final grades, and gave graduation certificates. At Fort Russell, for example, prisoners could enroll in any of twelve different courses and, by January 1945, a total of 314 POWs had done so. Many German prisoners returned home after the war with mimeographed graduation certificates from "The University of Howzie" or "The University of Wolters"—which, since the courses were taught by German experts, were accepted for full credit by German universities.

The War Department even arranged for extension courses through local universities for POWs who wanted courses that were not available inside their camps, a program which benefitted both the POWs and cash-strapped colleges. . . . Numerous graduates of these college arrangements rose to become prominent political, artistic, and industrial leaders in post-war Germany.

Sports were especially popular. Smaller camps might boast only a circular track and perhaps a volleyball court and a high-jump bar, while larger camps maintained a breathtaking array of athletic programs. Camp Brady, for instance, had an outdoor bowling alley, four regulation handball courts, a track, twelve regulation volleyball courts, and more—all built by the prisoners themselves. But large or small, every camp was crazed about soccer. Team try-outs were anxiously awaited and the games themselves became weekly holidays. Guards bet on their favorite teams, and it was not unusual for local Texas families out on a Sunday drive to pull up along the fence and cheer the teams on.

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Mail could be freely sent and received and, at one point, the prisoners at Camp Brady received twelve thousand cards, letters, and parcels in a single week. Radios and phonographs, donated by the YMCA or purchased by the prisoners themselves, could be found in every camp, and their favorite record, Bing Crosby singing "Don't Fence Me In," could be heard well into any evening. Almost every camp maintained a library of donated books and magazines, some large enough to do justice to an average high school. Camp Fannin, for example, maintained a well-stocked library of over 2,500 books with an 80 percent circulation rate. Movies were shown on Saturday nights, often the same film for weeks, and several hundred POWs would recite the well-known lines from favorite Western movies or break into cheers and wolf-whistles if the movie had a scantily-clad, or for that matter, any reasonably attractive female.

On Galveston Island, a section of Fort Crockett was allocated for the German prisoners. It was built along the present boundaries of Avenue Q on the north, Seawall Boulevard on the south, 53rd Street on the east, and 57th Street on the west, an area about four blocks wide and eight blocks long. The compound fence went across Seawall Boulevard, across the beach, and into the water. Galvestonians sweating in mid-summer frequently watched the German prisoners cavorting in the surf.

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To make sure that conditions in the POW camps remained adequate, teams of Swiss inspectors and International Red Cross representatives visited each camp every several months. The inspectors usually stayed for a day or two investigating POW complaints and checking basic services. The American camp authorities were understandably anxious about these visits since the Swiss reports were forwarded to the German authorities and might jeopardize the treatment of the ninety thousand American POWs in their hands. The prisoners on the other hand, used these inspections to vent their spleens and elevate petty concerns, but the resulting reports were generally fair to both sides, and most camps passed their inspections with flying colors.

Ultimately, the conditions in each camp as well as the attitude and cooperativeness of the POWs, depended largely on the American camp commandant. At Camp Mexia, for example, one commander was so lax that he allowed prisoners to wear civilian clothing, to eat and drink in their barracks, to post Nazi signs on the outside walls of their barracks, to censor the incoming mail of other prisoners, and to ignore military courtesies to American officers. He was eventually transferred to another camp, where he presumably continued the same practices. A different commander at the same camp was a no-nonsense career military man who eventually had four POWs brought up on morals charges (the exact nature of their crimes is not known), court-martialed, and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. For the prisoners at any camp, it was the luck of the draw.

Townspeople were not always pleased to have the camps right outside of town. Every Texas town had a small minority who were understandably disturbed at the thought of having "dangerous" Nazis in their midst while their sons and husbands were overseas fighting Nazism. What if they escaped? Or murdered decent Americans in their sleep? People locked their doors and fathers warned their daughters to be on their guard. Over time, however, most people grew cautiously optimistic about having a prisoner of war camp in the neighborhood, especially since the camps and their American staffs relied heavily on local carpenters, repairmen, grocers, gasoline stations, florists, and taverns—funneling welcome money into local economies. As the war progressed and the humanness of the nearby prisoners became evident, even the nervous minority came to realize the logic of taking care of the German prisoners as a way of protecting American captives in Germany. Where POW labor was available, farmers grew dependent on the nearby camps and actually protested their closing at the end of the war.

The use of POW labor started soon after their arrival. The labor shortage had reached crisis proportions since every able-bodied young American man was in the military, and there was no one to plant or harvest. By the peak harvest season of 1943, Texas had a shortage of over three hundred thousand workers. The War Department, after serious consideration about issues like potential sabotage, escapes, and the effect of our policy on American captives in Germany, finally authorized the use of POWs. Tens of thousands of German prisoners were mobilized to work in hundreds of Texas industries, factories, hospitals, and state agencies, but most important, in agriculture. Texas farmers were delighted. The Germans chopped cotton, harvested fruit in the Rio Grande Valley, cut sugar cane, and tended fields all over the state. Enlisted men had to work but sergeants, NCOs, and officers were not required to do physical labor, and only about 7 percent volunteered. Enlisted POWs who refused to work, whether as a political protest or out of adolescent defiance, quickly felt the weight of Washington's "No Work-No Eat" policy.

When a few POWs refused to work, punishment was routine: loss of privileges, time in the brig, suspension of pay—but when the sit-down strike involved a large part of the prisoner population, camp officials had to become resourceful. Punishment for all was common, with the hope that the cooperative POWs would force the others back to work. Sometimes the working POWs were rewarded with a truckload of watermelon or a barrel of ice cream, while uncooperative POWs looked unhappily on. Most often, the offending prisoners were simply marched to the open soccer field and forced to strip down to their underwear. There, under a boiling sun, there were made to contemplate the seriousness of their cause. Usually, after only a few hours of sitting in the hot Texas sun, they reconsidered and went back to work. At Camp Wolters, the commandant created a fenced-in pen, where protesters were dutifully marched to sit in view of their happier (working) fellow prisoners.

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The relationship between the German POWs and American farmers was often quite close, and it was not unusual for the POW to eat lunch with the farm family, or for the prisoner to give the farmer a hand-made gift. A number of friendships lasted well past the end of the war, with the farmers sending CARE packages and even acting as official sponsors for those immigrating to the United States. At Camp San Augustine, a POW named Otto Rinkenauer fell in love with a local girl, Amelia Keidel; after the war he returned from Germany, and they were married. They built Keidel's Motel in San Augustine, which stands to this day. On one notable occasion, a farmer who died many years after the war left his farm to his former German POW worker.

But not all the POWs were happy. Prison was still prison, after all, and the monotony brought out numerous complaints, real and contrived.

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Mostly the Italian prisoners escaped. They dug numerous tunnels from beneath their barracks to distant corn fields. The largest tunnel was five hundred feet long and big enough to stand in, with a sophisticated ventilation system. They dug so many tunnels, in fact, that local residents continued to discover them as late as 1981. The Italians tirelessly repeated the same cycle: escape, get caught a day or two later, be returned to camp to rejoin their cheering comrades, and escape again.

Regardless of the camp, the escapees were a mixed lot. Career militarists among them believed that they were under orders to escape, others were wild-eyed about the safety of their families in war-torn Europe, some were simply homesick and wanted desperately to find their way home, and still others just wanted to tour the United States and meet girls. Since there was no serious punishment involved beyond several weeks in the brig and loss of pay if the effort failed, escape became a game. Stronger punishment, it was felt, would jeopardize the safety of American prisoners in enemy hands who would doubtless escape if possible.

And escape they did. The POWs burrowed under the fences and pole-vaulted over them; they hung underneath laundry trucks that entered and left camp, posed as American guards and walked out the front gate, and slipped away from work details. Escape attempts were always in progress and their uniqueness was limited only by the imaginations of the prisoners and the tools at hand. At Camp Brady, as at Hereford, the prisoners dug and maintained a tunnel under the floor of their barracks into a nearby field. Local legend in Brady has it that some of the prisoners used the tunnel to visit around town for a few hours and return undetected. Whether fact or fiction, a suspicious guard alerted the authorities and the Brady Volunteer Fire Department came out and flooded the tunnel.

Most of the time, the escapes were mundane and short-lived. At Camp Mexia on February 7, 1944, for example, the 5:15 p.m. roll revealed the absence of five German officers. Camp authorities hastily notified the FBI, the Texas Rangers, the Texas Highway Patrol, and local law enforcement officers in the surrounding areas. Scores of agents and officers combed the countryside, checking all roads, highways, and train boxcars—to no avail. Two days later the Germans were spotted by a route carrier for the Waco News-Tribune, and three of the escapees were picked up as they walked along a moonlit highway between Mount Calm and their destination, Waco. The remaining two had hopped a freight train four hundred miles to Corpus Christi. There they tried to check into a tourist motel, in full German uniforms and unable to speak English, and were startled when the clerk called the police. They were back at Camp Mexia the following day where they were greeted like heroes by their fellow prisoners. On October 8, 1944, after much preparation, two other POWs escaped from Mexia. They had spare uniforms, cigarettes, surplus food, and compasses, but they were caught the following day about ten miles from the camp. Another escape attempt, this also from Mexia, involved several home-made dummies, which the escapees had taken their places at roll-call while they drifted away. Everything worked fine until one of the dummies fell over. The Germans were back in camp by nightfall. Two final examples of escapes from Mexia: in one case, an escaped POW was found after two days, huddled and hungry, in an old railcar on an unused spur line in downtown Mexia. He had been waiting for the out-of-commission railcar to speed him away. On a different occasion, an escapee crossing a pasture was run up a tree by an angry Brahma bull. The American guards searching the nearby roads were alerted by his cries for help. He was grateful to be escorted back to the safety of the POW camp.

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Overall, most of the escapees were captured within three days, often sooner, and few remained at large for more than three weeks. One of the longest escapes involved the Italian POWs at Camp Fabens, about thirty miles south of Fort Bliss. On the evening of July 3, 1944, two Italians escaped and eluded capture for an entire year. After recapture both were transferred to Camp Hereford. A week later, on July 9, 1944, six other Italians escaped from Fabens, and made it across into Mexico. Three were arrested separately two weeks later in Gomez, Palacio, and Durango, and the other three in Villa Ahumada, Chihuahua. When they were finally arrested, all gave the straight-arm fascist salute and were taken back to camp, vowing to escape again.

Punishments ranged from loss of privileges to fourteen days in the cooler on a diet of bread and water. Only in the case of theft or outright sabotage could an escapee face prison time, as happened to two Germans from Camp Fannin who stole a skiff to paddle to safety and exchanged the good life at Camp Fannin for eight years of hard labor at Fort Leavenworth. At Camp Hereford, three Italian prisoners escaped on Christmas 1944, and stole a Plymouth from an area resident. The men were soon recaptured tooling down the back-roads like a bunch of high school kids, tried for theft, and were sent to Leavenworth for a three-year stint.

The largest and best-organized mass escape attempt in the Texas POW system occurred at Camp Barkeley, a branch camp of Camp Bowie, located about seventy miles northwest of Brownwood near Abilene. It was one of the ugliest and most primitive camps in Texas, made up of fifty-eight wooden, one-story, black tarpapered barracks. Two coal stoves heated the quarters during winter, and the POWs slept on canvas cots topped with straw mattresses. The barracks had no waterproofing, and the strong West Texas wind and rain penetrated even the best constructed buildings. The 550 POWs escaped at every opportunity. MPs frequently found POWs sleeping in the gazebo at the Abilene court house or napping in the old band stand in Abilene's central park. The big break occurred after lights-out on March 28, 1944, when a dozen German prisoners escaped through an impressive tunnel eight feet deep and sixty feet long, with electric lighting, timber shoring, and air bellows to blow fresh air down the length of the tunnel. Each man had a tissue-paper map showing the major highways, rural roads, railroads, and area ranches. Each also carried a pack with a change of clothing and a ten-day supply of food. Once out of the tunnel the twelve separated into small groups and fanned out in a general southwest pattern toward Mexico. The sirens went off, and the chase began. City and county officers, state highway patrolmen, Texas Rangers, FBI men, and military personnel shifted into high gear. The Abilene Army Base sent up five light observation planes.

Four of the Germans walked twelve miles to Tuscola, hid in the underbrush for two days, then stole an automobile and drove to Ballinger. A Ballinger night watchman, Henry Kemp, became suspicious as he watched four men in German uniforms, screaming directions at each other and "driving crazily." Our heroic Mr. Kemp jumped into his car, chased them down and forced them off the road. He collared all four and marched them to an all-night service station where he called the sheriff. Within days, the four Germans were back at Camp Barkeley.

Seven others were caught within a few days. Of the seven, two spent a day in Abilene State Park, and then went to Winters, where they were arrested by the local constable and returned to Barkeley. Two others were arrested by a night watchman as they strolled along a railroad track in San Angelo. The last of the seven spent their first night in Ovala and then walked to Bradshaw. Ten miles west of Bradshaw they broke into an abandoned house on the Melvin Shaffer Ranch. They were still there; fast asleep, when Mr. Shaffer came out to feed some animals the following afternoon. Back they went to Camp Barkeley.

The final two escapees, Gerhard Lange and Heinz Rehnen, walked at night and slept in cornfields during the day. In Trent, they caught a freight train to Toyah, near Odessa. There they managed to hop aboard another freight train, this one to El Paso. The Mexican border was within sight when a detective from the Southern Pacific Railroad bagged them. Like all the others, they surrendered meekly and were soon reunited with their comrades in Barkeley's guardhouse, lamenting their diet of bread and water but pleased with their camp notoriety.

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As the war wound down in the spring of 1945, small branch camps began to funnel their prisoners to the larger camps, as the large camps readied their POWs for shipment east and eventual repatriation to Germany. But the American general in charge of German post-war occupation, Lucius Clay, didn't want to see four hundred thousand healthy German POWs return to Central Europe, nor, for that matter, did America's farmers want to see them leave. On the other hand, American labor unions demanded that they leave the United States to make jobs available to returning U.S. soldiers. The new president, Harry S. Truman, never one to mince words, simply ordered the War Department to ship them out of the United States, to whichever country wanted them. Consequently, most German POWs spent the next two to three years in the unfriendly hands of the French and British. The last German POW was returned home in mid-1948, three years after the war was over.

Arnold Krammer, professor of history at Texas A&M University, presents a lecture on the turning points of World War II in Europe at a teacher professional development workshop in Austin.
Prisoners of war marching in a single file line. The "PW" on their uniforms denotes their status as prisoners of war. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.
A temporary prisoner of war tent camp in Huntsville, Texas. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.
An officer and prisoner of war tending his garden at Camp Bowie. Photo number 208-AA-308K-4. National Archives and Records Administration. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.

World War II Prisoner of War Camps in Texas

Camp Barkeley (SW of Abilene)
Camp Bowie (Brownwood)
Camp Brady (Brady)
Camp Bullis (NW of San Antonio)
Camp Fannin (Tyler)
Camp Hearne (Hearne)
Camp Hereford (Deaf Smith County)
Camp Hood (Killeen)
Camp Howze (Gainesville)
Camp Hulen (Palacios)
Camp Huntsville (Huntsville)
Camp McLean (McLean)
Camp Maxey (Paris)
Camp Mexia (Mexia)
Camp Swift (Bastrop)
Camp Wallace (Galveston County)
Camp Wharton (Wharton)
Camp White Rock (Dallas)
Camp Wolters (Mineral Wells)   
Corpus Christi Naval Air Station (Corpus Christi)
Fort Bliss (El Paso)
Fort Crockett (Galveston)
Fort D. A. Russell (Marfa)
Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio)
McCloskey General Hospital (Temple)

Prisoners of war at work in an olive company near Alvin, Texas. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.
Prisoners of war working for an olive company near Alvin, Texas. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.
Prisoners of war repairing American uniforms. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.
The choral theater group comprised of prisoners of war at Camp Mexia. National Archives and Records Administration. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.
Prisoners of war were inspected for blood-group tattoos under their arms in order to identify any SS men hiding amongst the lower-ranking soldiers. National Archives and Records Administration. Courtesy of Arnold Krammer.
A building of the former prisoner of war facility at Camp Mexia, which is now Navarro College. Photo by Rebecca Hinrichs, Texas A&M University Department of History.
A lone fire hydrant in an open field, a remnant of the prisoners of war facilities at Camp Hearne. Photo by Rebecca Hinrichs, Texas A&M University Department of History.