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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

Nazis in East Texas

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Slightly more than sixty years ago, a German prisoner of war, known only as “Rothammer,” carved his name on the gates of a POW camp beside U.S. Highway 69 north of Lufkin.

In doing so, he left an almost indiscernible link between World War II and East Texas.

In September, 2005, as America celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Allied forces’ victory in World War II, the old Lufkin camp will be among seventy POW facilities to be recognized by the Texas Historical Commission.

The POW camps, along with 65 army airfields, 35 army posts, nine naval installations and some 136 auxiliary army airfields, will be a part of a Texas tribute to the 750,000 Texans who served in uniform during the war. Of that number, 22,500 lost their lives while in service.


The first German prisoners arrived in Lufkin on the afternoon of November, 1943, when seventy-six POWs and eight guards arrived at the U.S. 69 site and started building a camp. Until the barracks were completed, the prisoners and guards slept in tents.

The arrival of the prisoners was a closely guarded secret and it wasn’t until weeks later that Lufkinites knew they had prisoners among them. A few venturesome families drove to the camp to see the Germans. As time progressed, several hundred more prisoners arrived and the number of curious visitors increased.

The prisoners were sent to Lufkin to help keep one of East Texas’ principal industries operating.

Southland Paper Mills, Inc., began producing newsprint in 1940 and, when the war erupted in Europe, productivity began to decline because of labor shortages that reduced wood deliveries to the mill.

Southland officials Ernest Kurth, S.W. Henderson and Arthur Temple soon came up with the idea of using POWs as laborers. The War Manpower Commission concurred with their need.

From Camp Lufkin, the prisoners were delivered to the forests where they harvested pines and hauled them to Lufkin on pulpwood trucks. The work crews usually consisted of twelve prisoners, a driver provided by Southland, and a single guard with a submachine gun or Browning automatic rifle.

The prisoners were so productive that other POW camps were established in the vicinity. A second Lufkin camp, which eventually housed 500 prisoners, was opened on the present site of Lufkin Middle School, and another camp was opened beside the Angelina and Neches River Railroad between Chireno and Etoile in Nacogdoches County.

Other POW camps soon popped up in other East Texas communities, including Lufkin, Alto, Center, Tyler, Chireno, Riverside, and San Augustine. Most of the camps reported to Camp Fannin in Tyler and almost all of them were connected in some way with the wood products industry.

Escapes from the POW camps were rare, probably because the prisoners were far from their homelands and unfamiliar with Texas geography.

One incident related in Mark Choate’s excellent book, “Nazis in the Pineywoods,” tells the story of a German prisoner who slipped away from a Chireno work crew. Searchers found the prisoner holding a little girl and petting calves in a cow pasture. The prisoner said he approached the little girl because she was standing too close to a passing train, picked her up and carried her to the safety of the pasture.


All Things Historical January 1, 2005 Column
Published with permission
(Distributed as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a member of the Texas Historical Commission and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)

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