intriguing slice of history long overlooked is finally getting the
recognition it deserves.
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
Through 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
Ernest 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.
Using 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.
One POW, 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.
Another POW left his mark on East
Texas in another manner.
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 East Texas.