Nazi POWs in Texas: Five Facts, Including the Most Inept Escapes Ever

Categories: Texas

A scale model of the POW camp in Hearne.
Texas used to be dotted with prisoner-of-war camps in World War II, a temporary home to thousands of Germans and Italians.

Texas had far more prisoners than any other state, mainly because the first batch came from the North Africa campaign, and the Geneva Convention said prisoners should be housed in a climate similar to where they came from. Eventually camps were set up in more German-esque climates like Minnesota and Wisconsin.

5. Not-So-Great Escapes
Most Axis POWs, especially after things started going badly for their side, were content to be a long, long way from the fighting, being treated tolerably well. Others tried to escape. Arnold Krammer, who wrote a book on Texas POW camps, notes that the escapees weren't exactly Steve McQueen and crew:

Motivated by boredom, the need for privacy, or a desire to meet girls, the prisoners often simply wandered away from their work parties and were picked up within a few hours, confused and helpless. Most escapes were comical affairs: a prisoner from Mexia calling for help after having been chased up a tree by an angry Brahman bull; three from Hearne who were found on the Brazos River in a crude raft hoping somehow to sail back to Germany; and another from Hearne who was picked up along U.S. Highway 79, near Franklin, heartily singing German army marching songs.

Of the raft escape, a Web site dedicated to U-Boats is more admiring:

Six German prisoners spent part of every day constructing a makeshift boat in a hidden area along the nearby Brazos River; it was a remarkable craft made of waterproof GI ponchos with umbrellas for sails. One night they escaped and sailed their improvisation down the Brazos, hoping to reach the Gulf Coast.

"It was an ambitious project, but they were apprehended less than five miles downriver from the camp," the site says.

4. They're all but gone

Foundation supports for Camp Howze near Gainesville.
Once the war ended, there was little use for the camps. Some survived by becoming state health facilities or parts of schools, but most just faded away. The PBS show History Detectives tried to track a few.



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