in East Texas
by Bob Bowman
more than sixty years ago, a German prisoner of war, known only as “Rothammer,”
carved his name on the gates of a POW camp beside U.S. Highway 69 north of Lufkin.|
In doing so, he left an almost indiscernible link between World
War II and East Texas.
In September, 2005, as America celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Allied forces’
victory in World War II,
the old Lufkin camp will be among seventy POW facilities to be recognized by the
Texas Historical Commission.
The POW camps, along with 65 army airfields,
35 army posts, nine naval installations and some 136 auxiliary army airfields,
will be a part of a Texas tribute to the 750,000 Texans who served in uniform
during the war. Of that number, 22,500 lost their lives while in service.
first German prisoners arrived in Lufkin
on the afternoon of November, 1943, when seventy-six POWs and eight guards arrived
at the U.S. 69 site and started building a camp. Until the barracks were completed,
the prisoners and guards slept in tents.
The arrival of the prisoners
was a closely guarded secret and it wasn’t until weeks later that Lufkinites knew
they had prisoners among them. A few venturesome families drove to the camp to
see the Germans. As time progressed, several hundred more prisoners arrived and
the number of curious visitors increased.
The prisoners were sent to Lufkin
to help keep one of East Texas’ principal
Southland Paper Mills, Inc., began producing newsprint
in 1940 and, when the war erupted in Europe, productivity began to decline because
of labor shortages that reduced wood deliveries to the mill.
officials Ernest Kurth, S.W. Henderson and Arthur Temple soon came up with the
idea of using POWs as laborers. The War Manpower Commission concurred with their
From Camp Lufkin, the prisoners were delivered to the forests where
they harvested pines and hauled them to Lufkin on pulpwood trucks. The work crews
usually consisted of twelve prisoners, a driver provided by Southland, and a single
guard with a submachine gun or Browning automatic rifle.
were so productive that other POW camps were established in the vicinity. A second
Lufkin camp, which eventually housed 500 prisoners, was opened on the present
site of Lufkin Middle School, and another camp was opened beside the Angelina
and Neches River Railroad between Chireno
and Etoile in Nacogdoches County.
Other POW camps soon popped up in other
East Texas communities, including Lufkin,
Riverside, and San Augustine.
Most of the camps reported to Camp
Fannin in Tyler
and almost all of them were connected in some way with the wood products industry.
from the POW camps were rare, probably because the prisoners were far from their
homelands and unfamiliar with Texas geography.
One incident related in
Mark Choate’s excellent book, “Nazis
in the Pineywoods,” tells the story of a German prisoner who slipped away
from a Chireno work crew. Searchers
found the prisoner holding a little girl and petting calves in a cow pasture.
The prisoner said he approached the little girl because she was standing too close
to a passing train, picked her up and carried her to the safety of the pasture.
Things Historical January 1, 2005 Column|
Published with permission
(Distributed as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob
Bowman is a member of the Texas Historical Commission and the author of more than
30 books about East Texas.)