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
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 industries operating.
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.
Southland 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 need.
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
The prisoners 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,
Augustine. Most of the camps reported to Camp
Fannin in Tyler
and almost all of them were connected in some way with the wood
Escapes 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.)
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