borrowed that title from Mark Choate's book on the prisoner-of-war
camps in East Texas
War II. Mark wonąt mind. His book began as a master's thesis at
Stephen F. Austin State University, which Mark asked me to direct.
His thesis was published by Best of East Texas Publishers of Lufkin
and is yet available for those who want "the rest of the story."
Mark's interest in German prisoners of war was born of the experience
of his father, McCoy Mickey Choate, as a prisoner of war in Germany.
Choate served in the 35th Division, Third Army, and spent four months
as a prisoner before his liberation just a month before Germany surrendered.
Mark chose this research topic because he knew his father's story
"over there" and wanted to know more about our own nation's
policy and practice. Mark learned that the problem of dealing with
enemy prisoners did not begin in World
War II. Even in the American Revolution, maintenance of prisoners
of war presented logistical problems. During the Civil War, many were
paroled until exchanged, meaning they could just go home until a one-for-one
paper exchange occurred. Then they were eligible for service again.
II was different. Captured Germans or Japanese could not be allowed
to "go home" or our G.I.'s would be fighting them again
soon. So it was decided that they be detained in America until repatriated
at the end of the war. Texas hosted 29 such camps, including a major
depot located in Huntsville.
Work brought the German prisoners to Deep East
Texas. Faced with a labor shortage during the war and a devastating
ice storm that made rapid harvest of damaged timber imperative, Ernest
L. Kurth, founder of the Southland Paper Mill in Lufkin,
convinced the government to "loan" him some of Huntsville's
German prisoners of war.
The prisoners were willing to work, a better alternative than the
tedium of incarceration. Their arrival in camp in Chireno
raised the anxiety level of native East Texans at first, but in time
the system worked well. Amid war-time rationing, some East Texans
resented the good chow -- including ice cream! -- enjoyed in the camp,
but mostly they were just curious about these strangers from the Rhine
There were few escape attempts -- where would they go? One left in
the woods at the end of a day's work waited patiently until picked
up the next day. Some liked the area sufficiently to request permission
to remain in America at war's end, but all were sent home.
Perhaps Mark's title overstates the issue. It wasn't as much a case
of real Nazis -- with all the arrogance and cruelty the name implies
-- in East Texas,
as just folks from a different culture. When one got to know them,
fear faded away.
All Things Historical
28 - May 4, 2002 Column
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association
and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)