Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

June 23, 2013

CAMP SAN AUGUSTINE BY: NEAL MURPHY

Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:15 am

 

Most of us older folk remember when San Augustine was the home of a German prisoner of war camp.  This camp was hastily built in the spring of 1944 on the site that was the fair grounds for many years. The site is now the location of the Rodeo grounds and high school football practice field on state highway 147, just north of the high school.

war_camp

I was around eight years old when all this activity occurred.  I vividly recall the large tents which housed the prisoners, eight to a tent.  The guards were housed in smaller tents, two in each.  Captain Walter Brooks was the camp warden and was assisted by Sgt. Tony Ball and Staff Sgt. Gordon Stickel, among a number of other guards.

Camp San Augustine was a satellite of Camp Fannin, located in Smith County near Tyler.  It normally housed 331 prisoners though swelled to near 1,000 just before it was closed down in April of 1946.

In 1943 the lumber companies in East Texas suffered from a lack of male workers because these men had been drafted into military service.  The harvesting of trees was behind schedule and the saw mills were losing money.  Some hired females to work in the forests but this did not work out as most thought the work too dangerous for them.

The timber industry was further damaged due to a severe ice storm which occurred on January 13, 1944.  Thousands of pine trees were felled or otherwise damaged.  This, combined with the lack of male workers, prompted the U.S. Government to dip into the 80,000 pool of German prisoners of war and move many of them to camps in East Texas – Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Chireno, San Augustine, and in Shelby County.  Their work duty was identified as “Forestry”.  The prisoners then filled in the gap of male workers in the forests.

war_camp1

I recall that many of the San Augustine citizenry were uneasy having to live in close proximity of those “Nazi criminals”.  To add insult to injury, the prisoners were given the first batch of ice in the mornings while the locals had to wait.  The prisoners were also given packs of cigarettes before the locals could purchase theirs.  All this had a negative impact on the attitude of the community.

Soon after the camp was in operation a German translator was sent to San Augustine to work there.  His name was C. George Goetz, born 4-09-1912 in Germany.  Mr. Goetz married a San Augustine lady and eventually owned and operated a clothing store in San Augustine, and was elected state Representative.

Mr. Goetz was fond of stating that he was the most popular man in the area because beer was available inside the facility.  San Augustine was a dry county at the time, however the camp was owned by the Government.  Beer was made available to the prisoners and those who worked there.  Mr. Goetz reported that many local men would “drop by” the facility just to drink beer and discuss the progress of the war with him.

Camp security was rather lax as compared to prisons of today.  However, not many prisoners attempted to escape.  Two men did escape one night and wandered through the underbrush for a couple of days.  They began to have red bumps on their legs and torso which they mistook as the “pox”, and scurried back to the camp for medical treatment.  Their red bumps were actually East Texas chiggers or red bugs as I knew them.

On another occasion a prisoner escaped but was spotted by a young boy playing in the area.  He notified his father who called the sheriff.  The prisoner’s freedom was short lived.  It seems that the prisoners were treated quite well, on the whole, and were well behaved and good workers.

A German family living in San Augustine at the time, the Keidels, had migrated from Germany many years before.  Their brick home was directly across the street from the POW camp.  One of the Keidel daughters became friendly with one of the prisoners. She would walk across the road and visit with him through the fence as often as she could.  After the war ended, the prisoner, Otto Rinkenauer, returned to San Augustine and the couple were married.

After the war ended, the government began closing the POW camps.  Camp San Augustine remained open longer then any other branch camp. Consequently, other prisoners were housed there, temporarily swelling the number of prisoners to over one thousand.  The camp was finally closed in April of 1946 bringing to a close a unique era in the history of San Augustine County.

SOURCES:

  1. Personal Knowledge.
  2. Mr. Curt Goetz
  3. “Nazis In The Piney Woods” by Mark Choate.
  4. Photos courtesy of Tony Ball and Dorothy Mae Tannery
Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: