German POWs in Oklahoma

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A passing mention by Skye of German prisoners of war in Pennsylvania reminded me that a fair number of them -- tens of thousands -- were held here in Oklahoma, too, during World War II, at places like Ft. Reno, Ft. Sill, and Camp Gruber. Here are some links (with an excerpt or two) for learning more:

Oklahoma Journeys story on German POWs in Oklahoma

Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture entry on Prisoner of War camps

By May 1943 prisoners of war began arriving. Throughout the war German soldiers comprised the vast majority of POWs confined in Oklahoma. Initially most of the captives came from North Africa following the surrender of the Afrika Korps. After the Allies invaded France in 1944, the camps received an influx of soldiers captured in Europe. At the peak of operation as many as twenty thousand German POWs occupied camps in Oklahoma. Seven posts housed enlisted men, and officers lived in quarters at Pryor. At each camp, companies of U.S. Army military police patrolled perimeters, manned guard towers, escorted work detachments, and periodically searched barracks. Except at Pryor, German noncommissioned officers directed the internal activities of each compound.

"For the Duration: Behind Fences in Oklahoma" tells of the POW and enemy alien internment camps "that existed in 26 counties around the state." Oklahoma hosted mainly German POWs, but also Japanese, Italian, and German aliens "picked up in Midwestern and north central states, South and Central America." Ethel Taylor compiled the information from the Chronicles of Oklahoma and newspaper accounts.

A program was in effect to segregate the Nazis and Nazi sympathizers from the general camp population, that was never fully successful. The Nazi and their sympathizers that were segregated were sent to camps with higher security. They tried to keep the general population from wavering on the Party line, using fear and physical punishment to achieve this. The pressures were great and several of the POWs that committed suicide were thought to have done it under pressure. The "hard liners" carried out some "executions". One such case was at Tonkawa, where Johannes Kunz was "tried" and found "guilty of treason". His body was found in the compound the next morning. The five leaders of the group that had "tried" Kunz, were courts martialled by the US Army and executed at Fort Leavenworth Military Prison in Kansas. Any prisoner that could read or speak English had to be especially careful when reading an American newspaper or talking to an American. They could never be sure just who to trust, and above all, they had to survive.

A separate page provides details on each of the camps, its size, and the types of prisoners it held. The closest one to Tulsa was north of Bixby.

BIXBY -- Located west of S. Mingo Rd. at 136th St and north of the Arkansas River from Bixby, this branch of Camp Gruber opened April 1, 1944. There could have been POWs in the area earlier, being trucked in daily from another camp. It confined 250 prisoners and closed Dec. 15, 1945.

An interesting note from the entry on the Pryor camp:

It was amazing to the local guards as to the number of cars with tags from the N/E states who came each visiting day-- prisoner's family members who were U.S. citizens.

The history of Camp Gruber, from the Three Rivers Museum website, includes much about the POWs held there:

Camp Gruber had its own celebrities. In civilian life, Private Arthur Johnston, 88th Division, 351st Medical Detachment, was the Hollywood composer of hits such as "Pennies From Heaven," and "Just One More Chance." Another notable soldier stationed at Camp Gruber was actor William Holden. Ironically, Holden was stationed at a camp where Americans held German POWs, but one of his most famous roles was as an American POW in Stalag 17....

Camp Gruber made local headlines on June 5, 1943, when the Muskogee Phoenix released an army disclosure of plans to establish a prisoner of war camp at Gruber. When completed, the facility had a capacity of 5,750 prisoners, with branches located at Bixby, Haskell, Morris, Okemah, Okmulgee, Porter, and Wetumka. In 1944, Glennan General Hospital in Okmulgee was added as a branch for the treatment of POWs.

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3 Comments

Yogi Author Profile Page said:

I love this kind of stuff. The comment about relatives visiting the POWs is very interesting.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Makes me think of the arguments regarding bringing the enemy combatants from Guantanamo to the U.S.

Giant Bob said:

My older cousin fondly remembered the German POWs who worked in the community around Roswell, New Mexico. Some were invited into her parents' large farm house at Christmas, and she remembered they sang carols in German for the family.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 26, 2009 11:41 PM.

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