Aug. 9, 1944, three German soldiers put a homemade raft into the Brazos
River as part of their plan for a return trip to Germany. They were
Prisoners of War at a camp
in Robertson County.
They made their Huck Finn-style raft from waterproof GI ponchos and
wood and used umbrellas for sails.
But this wasn't the mighty Mississippi they were attempting to navigate.
This was the Brazos River in August, when its flow is traditionally
at its lowest ebb. The Germans weren't from around there and didn't
know that. According to the Geneva Convention of 1929, prisoners must
be housed in a climate comparable to the one where they were captured.
These soldiers were probably captured in North Africa, but they couldn't
be expected to know much about Texas' dry season.
Meanwhile, back in the
POW camp, three paper mache dolls were substituted for the actual
prisoners, the doll attire complimented by the big blue sunhats that
the prisoners usually wore. It was three days before the ruse was
discovered. By that time, the men had made it 15 miles downstream
from where they set out. A fisherman spotted them they sort
of stood out and and alerted authorities.
An Army pilot from Bryan
on a training mission spotted the Germans from the air. By land came
American soldiers. They lined up on either side of the river and waited
for the prisoners to float by. It's a testament to how the POWs were
treated by Americans that when ordered ashore, they shook their heads
and laughed. A quick, well-placed line of machine gun fire convinced
the Germans POWs to take the matter more seriously.
The same day the three soldiers set off on their float down the Brazos,
another German soldier at the Hearne
camp named Otto Franke walked off a work detail and was soon heard
from again. Two highway patrolmen found him walking along U.S. Highway
79, "heartily singing German marching songs." An escapee from a camp
in Mexia was
found hollering for help from a tree, where a Brahman bull had him
Those adventurers, all with perhaps more courage than common sense,
were part of the thousands of German POWs in the U.S. during World
War II. By war's end, 78,982 German POWs were housed in 14 camps
throughout the state. Some of them tried to escape. Few of them made
The biggest beneficiaries of the tens of thousands of mostly able-bodied
young Germans assigned to work details were farmers. Most of America's
able-bodied men were off fighting the war, and POWs helped save and
harvest more than a few crops. The farmers and POWs got along quite
well in many instances, and some have even held reunions. Bu it wasn't
In some parts of the state, especially in areas where the population
still spoke German as either a first or second language, there were
grumblings that the German POWs looked to be in a lot better shape
than the American POWs they had seen in the news. The POWs in Texas
were usually young men who joined Hitler's Army because they were
required to by law. The hard-core Nazi sympathizers were sent to a
camp in Oklahoma.
A Nazi POW named Hans Peter Krug, who escaped from a camp in Canada
in 1942, was captured in Texas. Armed with a list of contacts to help
him reach Mexico and Germany, he made it to San
Antonio before a hotel clerk recognized him from a wanted poster.
Krug caused quite a stir when he arrived in court dressed in his Luftwaffe
uniform and belittling American authorities for being so ignorant
and incompetent that he was able to pass forged documents on at least
seven occasions. The U.S. sent him back to prison in Canada.
A month later, the U.S. brought the first treason charges of the war
against a Max Stephan of Detroit for supplying Krug with food, lodging,
and money. Stephan was found guilty and sentenced to die by hanging,
but the sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment.
Krug was returned to Germany after the war and lived out his life
there. Asked in 1992 about his feelings about Stephan, who paid a
terrible price for Krug's few weeks of freedom, Krug said only that
Stephan was a fool, the same thing he had said at Stephan's trial.
The War, The Men and Women, POW Camps, Memorials, Relics, Home Front