By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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.
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
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 even tried to track down a few.
Many prisoners earned canteen "money" by doing farmwork for Americans trying to overcome the manpower shortage caused by the war. In many cases, the two sides became friendly with each other, to the point that in the decades after WWII, reunions were occasionally held. Many prisoners wanted to stay in the United States and petitioned to do so — some no doubt having lost their families, and all facing privations back in ruined Germany that America was blissfully free of — but all were sent back.
2. The "Fritz Ritz"
Krammer says that camp life for the prisoners was hardly strenuous, and the facilities were built well enough that some locals would occasionally complain about the luxuries at the "Fritz Ritz."
Discipline was handled by the German officers, and diversions were plenty:
Every camp had an impressive selection of POW-taught courses, ranging from English to engineering, a POW orchestra, a theater group, a camp newspaper, and a soccer team. Some prisoners even took correspondence courses through local colleges and universities, and their academic credits were accepted by the Germans upon their return. Apparently the majority of German prisoners who spent the war years in Texas remembered their experience as one of the greatest adventures of their lives.
1. Texas was the end of the line for one almost-successful escapee
Oberleutnant Peter Krug escaped from a POW camp in Canada in 1942 with names of contacts who would help him reach Mexico and the German Embassy there. He got as far as San Antonio.
"Krug became a bit arrogant after this encounter with US authorities," one author writes. "He caused a stir when he appeared in court dressed in his Luftwaffe uniform and belittling American authorities for not catching him after he had passed forged documents to different levels of authority on no fewer than seven occasions without suspicion."
Arrogant Nazis. Ya gotta love 'em.
Lawyer Drops Engagement-Ring Suit
Craig Fischer, the doctor who sued his ex-fiancée for allegedly refusing to return a $73,000 engagement ring, among other high crimes, has apologized and dropped the lawsuit.
In a statement provided by the ex-fiancée's attorney, Tony Buzbee, Fischer writes: "I apologize for filing a lawsuit against Nichole Johnson. It was a big mistake on my part. I was wrong and should have never done it. I am immediately dropping the case and will pay Nichole $100,000 as attorney's fees. I also want to thank Nichole's attorneys for helping me understand the mistake I made. Again, I am sorry. I will have no further comment."
It's quite a sobering statement from a guy who accused Johnson of agreeing to marry him only for his money while simultaneously dragging his good name through the mud on Facebook.
But actually, what got our attention even more — we did that cartoony thing where our eyes bugged out and our tongue unrolled down to the floor as an old-timey car horn ah-ooogha'd in the background — was the $100,000 in attorney's fees. This was such an extremely quick, frivolous case that we can't quite fathom how many billable hours were necessary in order to shut it down. We're guessing it was a way to let Fischer save face and not have to say the bulk of the $100,000 was a sort of idiot tax.