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The German POWs of Texas

Between 1943 and 1945, captured German soldiers were often sent to POW camps in the U.S. because, well, Britain and most of Europe was pretty torn up and not equipped to feed or house them. Many ended up in Texas, where they were offered the chance to work outside the camps and generally lived better than they would have elsewhere.  

Camp Huntsville was the first to be set up in Texas. Construction across 837 acres took place for nearly a year, and its 400 buildings were ready for occupancy by the spring of 1943. Texas would eventually see twice as many camps (with a total of 78,000 occupants) as any other state, and for a simple reason: the Geneva Convention of 1929 specified that POWs must be placed in a similar climate as the one they were captured in. Because so many Germans surrendered in North Africa and lacked clothing or supplies for colder weather, many were sent to Texas.

The curiosity of locals quickly gave way to resentment. Even though these men had orders to kill brothers, fathers, and friends, accommodations in Huntsville and other camps were surprisingly comfortable. Prisoners were allowed to sunbathe, play soccer, and stretch out in 40 square feet of personal space with sheets and blankets. (Officers got 120 square feet.) Food was fresh and showers were warm. College credits earned would count at universities back in Germany. They even got bottles of beer.

It certainly beat getting killed in battle or being captured by the Soviets. Some of those prisoners worked hard to become American citizens after the war. Read about the World War II POW camps in Texas at mental_floss.

(Image credit: Arkansas History Commission)


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I grew up in Syracuse and my father would tell us stories regarding the German POWs as well (seeing them through the fence of their camp). I have many German ancestors that lived in Syracuse - which I've tracked on Ancestry.com - who arrived around 1900; I've often wondered what their impression was of seeing their fellow countrymen in that situation.
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Though it'd been gone for some twenty five years or so, I grew up about ten miles from the former location of Camp Weingarten (75 miles South of St. Louis, MO). It once housed some five thousand Italian POWs. All that's left of the camp now is a stone fireplace from the officer's lounge and the old officer's tennis courts.

I grew up with the impression there were German prisoners, as the county has a large German-immigrant populace; some recent enough to speak German and fraternize with those prisoners. Not sure if that's true -- just something I was told once or twice while a teen.
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It wasn't until I was older and had a grasp of history that I realized those guys were probably worried that they would ever get home. They may not have had any idea of the devastation of Germany at that time. I read that many who were farmers and worked on farms in CNY came back and bought land and farmed it after the war.
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Considering that Germany was utterly pulverized by bombs, economically crippled, and largely earmarked to be transferred into Russian hands at the end... I'm not so sure anyone really wanted to go home. It's quite a different thing when a devastating war is being waged right on top of your home. Even Texas might look like a small improvement...
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