POW’s in East Texasby
intriguing slice of history long overlooked is finally getting the recognition
In the late 1940s, during World
War II, the U.S.. government established seven camps in East
Texas to house German prisoners-of-war captured by Allied forces in Europe.
the efforts of the Texas Historical Commission and the Pineywoods Foundation of
Lufkin, historical markers are being placed at the sites of each camp at Lufkin,
and San Augustine.
marker inscriptions are based largely on Mark Choate’s excellent 1989 book, “Nazis
in the Pineywoods.” |
Most of the German prisoners came to East
Texas when the East Texas timber industry nearly ground to a halt when its
employees were drafted for the war. Others were used for agricultural work.
L. Kurth, who ran a sawmill and paper mill in the Lufkin
area, and Arthur Temple, Sr., who owned a sawmill in Diboll, persuaded the government
to locate German prisoners in East Texas
to harvest timber.
When brought to East
Texas, the Germans did not mind the work because it alleviated the tedium
| By the end of the
war, some of the prisoners wanted to stay in Texas,
but government policies sent them home. A few did return to the pineywoods. One,
a German national who served as a camp translator, even assumed a role as an economic
political figure in San
about the POW’s abound in East Texas.
When a little girl wandered away
from her home in Chireno, townspeople
searching for her found her in the arms of a German. They were petting a cow.
It turned out that the prisoner, Hans Klepper, saw the little girl standing too
close to a railroad track as a train rumbled by. He gently picked her up and,
as they walked toward Chireno,
they stopped to pet a cow. That’s where the searchers found them.
only shovels, German prisoners built at Center
an Olympic-size swimming pool that was used for years by the town. Center Mayor
John Windham, who helped dedicate Center’s historical marker in January, recalled
that County Agent John Mooseburg was instrumental in bringing the POW’s to the
town as labor for agricultural work.
With a peak capacity of 700 prisoners,
Camp Center was the largest POW camp in the U.S.
prisoners tried to escape from the East Texas camps and, as time passed, most
of the Germans established good relationships with East Texans.
Otto Rinkenhauer, fell in love with an girl living with her family near the camp.
The two married after the war and made their home in Shreveport.
POW left his mark on East Texas in
Known only as Rothhammer, the German etched his name and
the date 1944 on a stone gate leading into a POW camp at Lufkin.
The signature remains today as an enduring reminder of a unique time in