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Prisioner of War Camps in Oklahoma
Article from the "Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture"

During World War II federal officials located enemy prisoner of war (POW) camps in Oklahoma. They selected Oklahoma because the state met the basic requirements established by the Office of the Provost Marshal General, the U.S. Army agency responsible for the POW program. Guidelines mandated placing the compounds away from urban, industrial areas for security purposes, in regions with mild climate to minimize construction costs, and at sites where POWs could alleviate an anticipated farm labor shortage. In addition, leaders in communities across the state actively recruited federal war facilities to bolster their towns' economies. Members of chambers of commerce and local politicians lobbied representatives and senators to obtain appropriations for federal projects. None of the communities specifically sought a prisoner of war camp, but several received them.

Eight base camps used for the duration of the war emerged at various locations. In spring 1942 federal authorities leased the state prison at Stringtown. Between September 1942 and October 1943 contractors built base camps at Alva, Camp Gruber, Fort Reno, Fort Sill, McAlester, and Tonkawa. In autumn 1944 officials obtained use of vacant dormitories built for employees of the Oklahoma Ordnance Works at Pryor. In August of that year a unique facility opened at Okmulgee when army officials designated Glennan General Hospital to treat prisoners of war and partially staffed it with captured enemy medical personnel.

Workers erected base camps using standard plans prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Each compound contained barracks, latrines, and mess halls to accommodate as many as one thousand men. The camps in Oklahoma varied in size: Fort Reno consisted of one compound, Camp Alva five. Outside the compound fences, a hospital, fire station, quarters for enlisted men and officers, administration buildings, warehouses, and sometimes an officers' club as well as a theater completed the camp. POWs received the same rations as U.S. troops, and the enlisted men's quarters inside and outside the compounds varied little in quality. Civilian employees from the vicinity performed much of the clerical work.

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 Africa 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.

After the captives arrived, at least twenty-four branch camps, outposts to house temporary work parties from base camps, opened. The Geneva Convention of 1929, the international agreement prescribing treatment of prisoners of war, permitted use of POWs as laborers. Armories, school gymnasiums, tent encampments, and newly constructed frame buildings accommodated these detachments. Clothed in surplus military fatigues conspicuously stenciled with "PW," German soldiers picked row crops and cotton, harvested wheat and broom corn, manned the Santa Fe Railroad's ice plant at Waynoka, cut underbrush and timber in the basin of Lake Texoma, served as hospital orderlies, and worked on ranches.

The prisoner of war program did not proceed without problems. Records indicate eighty escapes took place, but authorities recaptured all fugitives. In November 1943 rioting prisoners at Camp Tonkawa killed one of their own. At Camp Alva a maximum-security camp for Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, disturbances occurred, and in July 1944 a guard fatally shot a prisoner during an escape attempt. These incidents, combined with war wounds, injuries, suicide, or disease, took the lives of forty-six captives. Most POWs who died in Oklahoma were buried at the military cemetery at Fort Reno.

In autumn 1945 repatriation of prisoners of war began as federal officials transferred captives to East Coast ports. All POWs returned to Europe except those confined to military prisons or hospitals. By mid-May 1946 the last prisoners left Oklahoma. Most of the land was returned to private ownership or public use. Few landmarks remain. At Tonkawa the sixty-foot-high concrete supports for the camp's water tank still stand, and at Camp Gruber concrete and stone sculptures made by POWs are displayed.
Article from the "Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture" from the OK Historical Society website
Submitted by Linda Craig


"Corbett presents history of Oklahoma WW II Prison Camps"

By Patti K Locklear
pub. by Woodward News, February 26, 2006

Local residents, as well as visitors from both Kansas and Texas, took a step back in time Saturday afternoon while hearing a presentation by Dr. Bill Corbett, professor of history at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, about the Oklahoma prisoner of war (POW) camps that hosted thousands of German prisoners during World War II.

“This afternoon we will turn back the hands of time to talk about the prisoner camps in Oklahoma,” said Corbett. “The POW camp program was very important during the war, as well as after the hostile time was over.”

Corbett explained that around 1937, before the United States even entered the war, the government began to plan for these camps, therefore when the war broke out, these plans were already in place. During the 1929 Geneva Convention, specific guidelines were set concerning the humane conditions that were to be required for prisoners of war - they were not to be treated as criminals, but as POW’s - and these requirements distinguished the differences between the two.

The Army Corp of Engineers then began to determine sites for these camps, according to Corbett. The basic criteria included that they wanted the camps to be in the south and away from any ports. The government also wanted the camps to be in rural areas where the prisoners could provide agricultural labor. He said that local Oklahoma chambers of commerce began writing their legislative officials, lobbying for the camps to be built in Oklahoma, for our state had been one of the hardest hit states during the depression.

“In 1939, the German troops invaded Poland,” said Corbett. “Then in 1940, the Italian troops in Libya invaded Egypt, wanting to take control of the Suez Canal ... the British Army in Egypt repulsed the Italian attack and soon after, Hitler sent German troops to help out the Italians.”

He went on to explain that the infamous German military leader, Erwin Rommel, led these troops, which became known as the African Corp.

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II and President Franklin Roosevelt, along with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, decided to strike northern Africa, Corbett said.

In June 1942, “Operation Torch” - the invasion of Africa - began and in November of that same year, troops landed in Morocco and Algeria. At the same time, Corbett said, the British were still in Egypt.

“They wanted to catch the German Army in the middle,” said Corbett. “The Brits pushed the German troops out of Egypt and in May 1943, the African Corp surrendered. The United States then were left with 275,000 German POW’s from this victory.”

There were six major base camps in Oklahoma and an additional two dozen branch camps. The base camps were located in Alva, Fort Reno, Fort Sill, the Madill Provisional Internment Camp headquarters, McAlester and Camp Gruber.

Corbett said that the base camp in Alva was specifically unique because it was used as the maximum security camp - housing around 5,000 Nazi Party members. This was the only maximum security camp in the entire program (which included camps all over the United States.) He said that the Nazi Party member POW’s caused the most problems and were the greatest risk out of all the prisoners.

Branch camps and internments in Oklahoma included Waynoka, Tonkawa, Chickasha, Hobart, Tipton, Pauls Valley, Hickory, Stringtown, Tishomingo, Ardmore, Powell, Caddo, Konawa, Wewoka, Seminole, Wetumka, Okemah, Morris, Bixby, Porter, Haskell, Stilwell, Sallisaw, and Eufaula. There were army hospitals located in both Chickasha (Borden General Hospital) and Okmulgee (Glennan General Hospital) as well.

The POW’s were sent first to New York City, where they were processed and given full medical exams. They were then given their files to carry with them wherever they went. They were then sent from New York on trains to various camps all across the nation.

“The POW’s that came to Oklahoma couldn’t believe that they could ride a train for over four days and still be in the same country - they were amazed at how big the United States was,” said Corbett. “During the train rides, they took notice of how Americans were living normal lives - driving their cars, working the fields, etc. The German propaganda had tried to convince them that the United States was on the verge of collapsing. They then understood that the United States was not what they had been told it would be like.”

The POW camps were all constructed with the same lay-out and design. They included both guard and prisoner barracks, a canteen, recreation area, a fire department and other necessary buildings. The camps were essentially a little town. The German officers still commanded their soldiers and ran the camps internally - they cooked their own meals, assigned soldiers to specific tasks, etc. The Army kept the prisoners contained and started educational programs to teach the Germans about democracy, civil liberties and other beliefs that our country was based upon.

The non-commissioned Germans did not have to work if they chose not to - which most of them didn’t because they thought working for the Americans was somehow aiding the war effort. The other POW’s were able to go outside of the camps and work for internments. Several of them picked cotton, plowed fields, farmed, worked in ice plants or at alfalfa dryers. The prisoners were paid both by the government at the end of their imprisonment and also received an extra $1.80 per day for their work.

“The program, of course, did not function without hitches,” said Corbett. “The Nazi’s caused a lot of problems in the camps they were imprisoned in. In November 1942, at the Tonkawa camp, a prisoner was killed by the other prisoners because they accused him of giving army intelligence to the Americans (which he in fact did). They held a ‘kangaroo court’ one night and found him guilty. The prisoners then became outraged with him and started throwing dishes at him.”

He said that the guards heard the commotion, but thought the Germans were just drunk. Around midnight, someone informed the guards that there was a riot going on and when they got into the camp, they found the man beaten to death. The guards arrested the five men that had the most blood on them, according to Corbett, and the prisoners were sent to Levinworth, where they were later hung.

After the war was over, the POW’s were sent back to Germany, in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

“The most important thing about the post-war period was that many of the POW’s went back to Germany and became professionals, bureaucrats and businessmen,” said Corbett. “They remembered how they had been treated and trusted the United States after that. We created allies out of our enemies.”

He said that many of the German POW’s came back to the United States in the 80s and 90s and always visited the sites of the camps in which they stayed. In 1985, he said, a group visited the Tonkawa camp site and the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) invited the men to a pot-luck dinner, where the retired soldiers all visited with one another about the war.

“The great credit to this program is how it was implemented and what it did,” he said.

He said that President Roosevelt believed that if we treated the German soldiers good, our prisoners would also be treated with the same respect in Europe. In a sense, this theory worked because although our troops were not treated as good as we treated the German POW’s, they were treated a lot better than the Russian and other POW’s that the Germans took as prisoners.

Corbett then showed the audience several photographs that were taken at the Tonkawa camp. Some of the structures of the camp still stand, although not very many.

The presentation was sponsored in part by the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum, which is currently hosting the traveling Schindler’s exhibit (until March 4), the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about this and other programs and exhibits, contact the museum at 256-6136, or visit them at 2009 Williams Avenue in Woodward.
Source: Woodward News Published: February 26, 2006 - Submitted by Linda Craig




Camps in Oklahoma

Alva PW Camp... This base camp, called a Nazilager by many PWs in other camps, was located one mile south of Alva on the west side of highway 281 on land that is now used for the airport and fairgrounds. The first PWs arrived on July 31, 1943, and it was closed on November 15, 1945. It had a capacity of about 6,000, but never held more than 4,850. The Alva camp was a special camp for holding Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, and there are accounts of twenty-one escapes. Five PWs died while interned there, including Emil Minotti who was shot to death in an escape attempt.

Ardmore Army Air Field PW Camp... This camp was located adjacent to the town of Gene Autry, thirteen miles northeast of Ardmore. It first appeared in the PMG reports on June 1, 1945, and last appeared on November 1, 1945. It was a branch of the Camp Howze (Texas) PW Camp, and between 200 and 300 PWs were confined there.

Bixby PW Camp... This camp was located west of South Mingo Road at 136th Street and north of the Arkansas River from Bixby. It first appeared in the PMG reports on April 1, 1944, and last appeared on December 15, 1945. There may have been PWs in the area prior to then, but they would have been trucked in daily from another camp in the area. A branch of the Camp Gruber PW Camp, it held about 210 PWs.

Borden General Hospital PW Camp... This camp, a branch of the Ft. Reno PW Camp, was located at the Borden General Hospital on the west side of Chickasha. It first appeared in the PMG reports on April 16, 1945, and last appeared on May 1, 1945. Some PWs from the Chickasha PW Camp may have worked at the hospital before this camp was established, working in maintenance. About 100 PWs were confined there.

Caddo PW Camp... This camp, located in the school gymnasium at Caddo, was a work camp sent out from the Stringtown PW Camp. Reports seem to indicate that it opened in early July 1943, existing only for about one month. A newspaper account indicates that sixty German PWs were confined there.

Camp Gruber PW Camp... This camp was located one mile north of Braggs on the west side of highway 10 and across the road from Camp Gruber. The first PWs were reported on May 29, 1943. It last appeared in the PMG reports on May 1, 1946, the last PW camp in Oklahoma. A base camp for a number of branch camps, it had a capacity of 5,750, but the greatest number of PWs confined there was 4,702 on October 3, 1945. Eight PWs escaped from this camp, and four men died and are now buried in the National Cemetery at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.  During the course of World War II Camp Gruber provided training to infantry, field artillery, and tank destroyer units that went on to fight in Europe. Units of the Eighty-eighth Infantry "Blue Devil" Division trained at Camp Gruber. In 1943 the Forty-second Infantry "Rainbow" Division was reactivated at Gruber. In 1945 the Eighty-sixth Infantry "Blackhawk" Division was stationed there pending deactivation at the end of the war. Ultimately, more than 44,868 troops either served at or trained at the camp, which also employed four thousand civilian workers and incarcerated three thousand German prisoners of war. On June 3, 1947, Camp Gruber was deactivated and soon became surplus property, with 63,920 acres placed under the authority of the War Assets Administration (WAA). In 1952 the General Services Administration assumed authority over 31,294.62 acres from the WAA, and between 1948 and 1952 the U.S. Army regained control of 32,626 acres. By 1953 virtually the entire 1942 reservation was in federal hands. During the 1950s and 1960s most of Camp Gruber's original buildings and facilities were removed or destroyed. In 1967 the Oklahoma Military Department, Oklahoma Army National Guard (OKARNG), acquired 23,515 acres to establish Camp Gruber as a state-operated training area under a twenty-five year federal license from the Tulsa District of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. In 1973 and 1982 2,560 acres and 6,952 acres, respectively, were added, for a total of 33,027 acres. The present camp covers eighty-seven square miles. The cantonment area covers 620 acres, and ranges occupy 460 acres. At the end of the twentieth century Camp Gruber still served OKARNG as a training base for summer field exercises and for weekend training. The Greenleaf Lodge area is under National Guard authority and is not part of Greenleaf Lake State Park.

Chickasha PW Camp... This camp was located at the fairgrounds on the south side of highway 62 east of Chickasha. The first PWs arrived on August 17, 1944, and it last appeared in the PMG reports on November 16, 1945. Originally a branch of the Alva PW camp, it later became a branch of the Ft. Reno PW camp. From 250 to 400 PWs were confined there. Reports of nine escapes have been found.

Eufaula PW Camp... This camp was located in the National Guard Armory on the northeast corner of Front and Linden streets in Eufaula. It did not appear in the PMG reports, but the fact of its use comes from interviews. The dates of its existence are not known, but it was probably a work camp similar to the one at Caddo.

Ft Reno PW Camp... This camp was located one mile north of the El Reno Federal Reformatory and one mile east of Ft. Reno. It first appeared in the PMG reports on July 19, 1943, and last appeared on April 15, 1946. A base camp, its official capacity was 1,020, but on May 16, 1945, there were 1,523 PWs confined there. Reports of two escapes and one PW death have been found.

Ft. Sill PW Camp... This camp was located on the far west side of the Ft. Sill Military Reservation and south of Randolph Road. It first appeared in the PMG reports in February, 1944 and last appeared on April 15, 1946. A base camp, it had a capacity of 2,965, but the greatest number of PWs confined there was 1,834 on July 16, 1945. Reports of three escapes and one death have been located. Three separate internment camps were built at Ft. Sill. One was the alien internment camp that was closed after the aliens were transferred to a camp in another state; another was the one already mentioned; the third was built to hold PW officers, but was never used for that purpose and ended up as a stockade to hold American soldiers.

Glennan General Hospital PW Camp... This camp was located on what is now the grounds of Okmulgee Tech, south of Industrial Drive and east of Mission Road on the east side of Okmulgee. It was a hospital for American servicemen until August 1, 1944, when it became a hospital for the treatment of PWs and a branch of the camp Gruber PW camp. The staff consisted of PWs with medical training. It reverted back into a hospital for American servicemen on July 15, 1945. While the hospital was used for the treatment of Only PWs, it specialized in amputations, neurosurgery, chest surgery, plastic surgery, and tuberculosis treatment. Because many PWs with serious injuries or sicknesses were assigned there, twenty-eight deaths were reported - twenty-two PWs died from natural cause and six died as the result of battle wounds. Reports of three escapes have been located.

Haskell PW Camp... This camp was locatd in the National Guard Armory on the southwest corner of Creek and Spruce streets in Haskell. It opened on December 1, 1943, closed on December 11, 1945, and was a branch of the Camp Gruber PW Camp. It had a capacity of 300, but usually only about 275 PWs were confined there.

Hickory PW Camp... This camp was located four miles east of Hickory at the Horseshoe Ranch. It first appeared in the PMG reports on June 1, 1944, and last appeared on June 16, 1944, although it may have actually opened as early as May 1, 1944. It was a branch of the Camp Howze PW Camp. Thirteen PWs were confined there, and one man escaped.

Hobart PW Camp... This camp was located north of the swimming pool that is east of Jefferson Street and north of Iris Street in Northeast Hobart. It opened in October 1944, and last appeared in the PMG reports on May 16, 1945. A branch of the Ft. Sill PW Camp, it held as many as 286 PWs.

Konawa PW Camp... This camp, a work camp from the McAlester PW Camp, was located in the National Guard Armory, three blocks north of Main Street on North State Street in Konawa. It opened on October 30, 1943, and closed in the fall of 1945. Seventy-five to eighty PWs were confined there.

Madill Provisional Internment Camp Headquarters... Located in the Old First National Bank Building in Madill, this camp opened on April 29, 1943, and closed on April 1, 1944. It was not an actual PW camp, but was the administrative headquarters for several camps in the area, including the ones at Powell and Tishomingo. There were no PWs confined there.

McAlester PW Camp... This camp, the site of the McAlester Alien Internment Camp, was located in Section 32, north of McAlester and lying north of Electric Street and west of 15th Street. Opening on June 3, 1943, it closed in October or November, 1945. A base camp, it had a capacity of 4,920, but never held more than 3,000 PWs. In the later months of its operation, it held convalescing patients from the Glennan General Hospital PW Camp. Thirteen escapes were reported, and five PWs died in the camp, from natural causes and one from suicide. Three of the men are still buried at McAlester.

Morris PW Camp... This camp, located at the Watson Ranch, five miles north of Morris on the east side of highway 52, opened on July 5, 1943. It last appeared in the PMG reports on august 1, 1944. Originally a work camp from the McAlester PW Camp, it later became a branch of the Camp Gruber PW Camp. Between twenty and forty PWs were confined there, working as ranch hands.

Okemah PW Camp... This camp, a branch of the Camp Gruber PW Camp, was located in the National Guard Armory on the northwest corner of 6th and West Columbia streets on the north side of Okemah. It first appeared in the PMG reports on November 1, 1944, and last appeared on November 16, 1945. About 130 PWs were confined there.

Okmulgee PW Camp... This camp was located at the old fairgrounds east of Okmulgee Avenue and north of Belmont Street on the north side of Okmulgee. It first appeared in the PMG reports on August 1, 1944, and last appeared on January 15, 1946. Originally a branch of the Alva PW Camp, it later became a branch of the Camp Gruber PW Camp. About 300 PWs were confined there.

Pauls Valley PW Camp... This camp, a mobile work camp from the Camp Chaffee (Arkansas) PW Camp, was located at North Chickasha Street north of the Community building in what is now Wacker Park in Pauls Valley. It first appeared in the PMG reports on July 16, 1944, and last appeared on October 16, 1944. About 270 PWs were confined there.

Porter PW Camp... Located in the Community Building in the center of Porter, this camp first appeared in the PMG reports on September 16, 1944, and last appeared on November 16, 1945. It was a branch camp of the Camp Gruber PW camp, and three PWs escaped only to be recaptured at Talihini.

Powell PW Camp... Located a short distance south of Powell, a small community about three miles east of Lebanon and about eight miles southwest of Madill, this camp was originally a branch of the Madill Provisional Internment Camp Headquarters, and later became a branch of the Camp Howze PW camp. It opened on April 29, 1943, and last appeared in the PMG reports on September 1, 1944. It had a capacity of 600 and was usually kept full. The PWs cleared trees and brush from the bed of Lake Texoma which was just being completed.

Pryor PW Camp... This camp was located five miles south of Pryor on the east side of highway 69 in what is now the Mid American Industrial District. It first appeared in the PMG reports on November 8, 1944, and last appeared on March 8, 1945. It was a base camp that housed only officer PWs with a few enlisted men and non-commissioned officers who served as their aides and maintained the camp. There were two escapes, probably the reason for the closing of the camp. Placed at an explosives plant, there was a fear that escaping PWs might commit sabotage.

Sallisaw PW Camp...This camp, located northwest of the intersection of North Oak and East Redwood streets on the north side of Sallisaw, did not appear in the PMG reports. The only word of its existence comes from one interview. The number of PWs confined there is unknown, but they lived in tents. This may have been the mobile work camp from the Camp Chaffee PW Camp that moved across Oklahoma and appeared at several locations.

Seminole PW Camp...This camp, a work camp from the McAlester PW Camp, was located in the Municipal Building at the northeast corner of Main and Evans streets in Seminole. It opened on about November 1, 1943, and last appeared in the PMG reports on June 1, 1945. About fifty PWs were confined there.

Stilwell PW Camp...This work camp from the Camp Chaffee PW Camp was located at Candy Mink Springs about five miles southwest of Stilwell. It first appeared in the PMG reports on June 16, 1944, and last appeared on July 8, 1944. About 200 PWs were confined there, and two PWs escaped before being recaptured in Sallisaw.

Stringtown PW Camp...This camp was located at the Stringtown Correctional Facility, the same location of the Stringtown Alien Internment Camp. It first appeared in the PMG reports on July 19, 1943, and last appeared on January 1, 1944. The camp had a capacity of 500 and was generally kept full.

Tipton PW Camp...This camp was located north of the railroad tracks between 2nd and 3rd streets on the southeast side of Tipton on a four acre tract that had been a Gulf Oil Company camp. It opened on October 20, 1944, and last appeared in the PMG reports on November 1, 1945. It was a branch camp of the Ft. Sill PW Camp and held 276 PWs. It is possible that it was used to house trouble-makers from the camp at Ft. Sill. Four men escaped.

Tishomingo PW Camp...This camp was located on old highway 99 north of the Washita River and south of Tishomingo where the airport now stands. it opened on April 29, 1943, and closed on June 13, 1944. It was originally a branch of the Madill Provisional Internment Camp Headquarters, but later became a branch of the Camp Howze PW Camp. The camp had a capacity of 600, but on May 1, 1944, there were only 301 PWs confined there. Two PWs escaped.

Tonkawa PW Camp...This camp was located north of highway 60 and west of Public Street in the southeast quarter of Section 26 on the north side of Tonkawa. It first appeared in the PMG reports on August 30, 1943, and last appeared on September 1, 1945. It started as a base camp, but ended as a branch of the Alva PW Camp. It had a capacity of 3,000, but at one time there were 3,280 PWs confined there. Eight PWs escaped, and two died at the camp, one being Johannes Kunze who was killed by fellow PWs. The other died from natural causes.

Waynoka PW Camp...This camp was located one-half mile north of Waynoka in the Santa Fe Railroad yards at the ice plant. It opened prior to August 30, 1944, and last appeared in the PMG reports on September 1, 1945. A branch of the Alva PW Camp, it hosed about 100 PWs. One PW escaped.

Wetumka PW Camp...This camp was located at the old CCC Camp north of Wetumka along the south edge of Section 15. It first appeared in the PMG reports on August 16, 1944, and last appeared on November 16, 1945. A branch of the Camp Gruber PWs Camp, it held as many as 401 PWs at one time.

Wewoka PW Camp...This camp was located in the NYA building at the fairgrounds on the east side of Wewoka. The first PWs arrived on October 11, 1943, but the closing date is unknown. About forty PWs were confined at the work camp from the McAlester PW Camp.

Will Rogers PW Camp...This camp was located at what is now Will Rogers World Airport at Oklahoma City. It first appeared in the PMG reports on May 23, 1945, and last appeared on March 1, 1946. It was a branch of the Ft. Reno PW Camp and about 225 PWs were confined there.

There are still seventy-five PWs or enemy aliens buried in Oklahoma. The greatest number of these are in the Post Cemetery at Ft. Reno, but three are buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery at McAlester and two more are buried at Ft. Sill.

The train that pulled into the railway station at Madill, Oklahoma, on April 29, 1943, carried the first of thousands of prisoners of war who would spend all or part of the remainder of World War II behind barbed wire in Oklahoma. By 1945 the state would be home to more than thirty prisoner of war camps, from Caddo to Tonkawa, and each would have its own unique history.

The story of prisoner of war camps in Oklahoma actually predates the war, for as American leaders anticipated World War II, they developed plans for control of more than 100,000 enemy aliens living in the Untied States, all of whom would have to be interned in case of war. To prepare for that contingency, officials began a crash building program. permanent camps were put under construction or remodeling at Alva, McAlester, Stringtown, and Tonkawa. In addition, a temporary camp was set up at Fort Sill. The only camps that were actually used to hold enemy aliens, however, were the ones at McAlester and Stringtown. The other two would become PW camps from the start.

Not all the seventy men buried at Ft. Reno were PWs who died in Oklahoma. Two of the burials are enemy aliens who died in Oklahoma and 29 are PWs, both German and Italian, who died in PW camps in other states. The Ft. Sill Cemetery holds one enemy alien and one German PW who died there. One other enemy alien who died at Ft. Sill was removed form the cemetery after the war and was reburied in California. The only PWs who died in Oklahoma and who are not buried in this state are the four men who died at the camp Gruber PW Camp and are buried in the National Cemetery at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.

None of the alien internment camps and PW camps in Oklahoma still exist, and the sites of most of them would not give any hints of their wartime use. Most of the pre-existing buildings that were used at some of the branch camps still stand, but it is difficult to imagine them as being used as a PW camp. A few of the buildings at the Tonkawa PW camp are still standing, but they have been remodeled over the years. Buildings at the sites of the PW camps at Alva, McAlester, and Tonkawa were being used up to a few years ago as VFW club houses. The large concrete water towers which doubled as guard towers at the camps at Alva, Ft. Reno, and Tonkawa are still standing at the sites of those camps. A few buildings at Okmulgee Tech were part of the Glennan General Hospital PW Camp. After the war many buildings were sold and removed from the camp sites and some of these are still in use around the state.

The only PW camp site where it is possible to visualize how a PW camp would have looked is near Braggs at the location of the Camp Gruber PW Camp. The fences and buildings have been removed, but the streets, sidewalks, foundations, gardens, and a vault that was in the headquarters building can still be seen. Some of the concrete and stone monuments that were built by the PWs are also still standing there.

Alien Internment Camps

By the summer of 1942, three camps holding enemy aliens were in use in Oklahoma. These camps were at Ft. Sill, McAlester, and Stringtown, but they were not used for that purpose for long and with their closings, no further enemy aliens were interned in this state. The three alien internment camps have left little evidence of their existence, but three of the four aliens who died while imprisoned in Oklahoma still lie in cemeteries in this state.

Ft. Sill Alien Internment Camp...
This camp was located northwest of the intersection of Ft. Sill Boulevard and Ringgold Road on the Ft. Sill Military Reservation. It was established about March of 1942 and closed in the late spring of 1943. Japanese aliens who had been picked up in midwestern and north central states, as well as in South and Central American, were confined there; it did not hold any of the Japanese-Americans who were relocated from the West Coast under Executive Order N. 9066. The capacity of the camp was 700, and no reports of any escapes have been located; two internees died at the camp and one of them is still buried at Ft. Sill.

McAlester Alien Internment Camp...
This camp was located north of Electric Street and west of 15th Street on the north side of McAlester in what would later become the McAlester PW Camp. It was opened on May 1, 1942, and closed on May 22, 1943. It held primarily Italian enemy aliens, but the Provost Marshal General (PMG) reports show that at least one German alien was confined there. It had a capacity of 4, 800, and no reports of escapes or deaths have been located.

Stringtown Alien Internment Camp...
This camp was located at the Stringtown Correctional Facility, four miles north of Stringtown on the west side of highway 69. It was activated on March 30, 1942, closed in June of 1943, and had a capacity of 500. It held primarily German aliens, but some Italian and Japanese aliens also were confined there. No reports of any escapes have been located, but two German aliens died at the camp and are buried at Ft. Reno.
Sources used:
[written by Richard S. Warner - The Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. LXIV, No. 1, Spring 1986]


Five Nazis Sentenced to Death For Killing Companion in State
Source: Daily Oklahoman Feb. 1, 1945 Page 1
New York. Jan 31-(AP)-Newsweek magazine says in its Feb. 5 issue that five German prisoners of war have been sentenced to death by court-martial for killing a fellow prisoner at Camp Tonkawa, Okla., Nov. 5, 1943, and are awaiting "their doom in a federal penitentiary." The five non-commissioned officers, the magazine says, "proudly admitted at their trial -- the first American court-martial involving a capital offense by German prisoners of war -- that they killed Cpl. Johann Kunze, who was found beaten to death with sticks and bottles.  "Under the articles of war the court had no choice but to pronounce the death sentence," the magazine adds.  "The Nazis appeared entirely satisfied."  Newsweek said other prisoners at the camp regarded Kunze "a traitor to the Reich and to the fuehrer: because "some of them had seen a statement Kunze had given American army officers information they believed had been of great value to the Allies in bombing Hamburg."  The magazine continues: "Held from Jan. 17 to 18, 1944, the trial leaned over backward to be fair to the five non-commissioned officers accused: Walther Beyer, Berthold Seidel, Hans Demme, Willi Schols and Hans Schomer.  The Geneva convention entitled them only to court appointed counsel, but in addition they were permitted a German lawyer, selected from among their fellow prisoners." 
Newsweek also says that two other German Prisioners of war, Eric Gaus and Rudolph Straub, were convicted June 13, 1944 of the slaying near Camp Gordon, Ga., of Cpl. Horst Cunther.  The magazine adds Gunther also had been denounced as a traitor.


FORT RENO POW CEMETERY
Data from the "Oklahoma Genealogical Society Quarterly", Vol. 11, No. 2, June 1966.
Read in June 1964
by
Mrs. John A, Ashworth, Jr.
Mrs. John Witherspoon Ervin
Julia Ervin
Woods Ervin

Submitted to Genealogy Trails by Linda Craig

 

The above pictures are of the Fort Reno Cemetery and headstone of Johannes Kunze (German) and Giulio Zamboni (Italian)

BURIALS

LAST NAME

FIRST

DEATH DATE

RANK-NATIONALITY

 1 ALLENDORF ANTON 22 Aug 1944 PVT- GERMAN
 2 ARNHOLD JOHANN 23 Jul 1945 CPL- GERMAN
 3 ASKAROW OSMAN 21 May 1945 PVT -GERMAN
 4 BAUMGARTNER KARL 29 Jun 1945 PVT -GERMAN
 5 BAUR KARL 15 Aug 1945 CAPT -GERMAN
 6 BECKMANN HERMAN 05 Feb 1945 CPL- GERMAN
 7 BEYER HERMAN 06 Dec 1942 UK-GERMAN
 8 BIELING GUENTER 10 May 1945 PVT -GERMAN
 9 BO GIOVANNI 22 Mar 1944 Cpl -ITALIAN
10 BORK KLAUS EBERHARD 24 Aug 1944 UK-GERMAN
11 CASTELLAN GEORG 27 Apr 1945 PFC -GERMAN
12 CHLBECK OTTO 24 Nov 1944 MAJOR - GERMAN
13 CZAPAJ ZAGAL 19 May 1945 PVT -GERMAN
14 DISTLER JOHANN 28 Dec 1944 CPL -GERMAN
15 EGEMANN HEINRICH 08 Dec 1944 1st Lt -GERMAN
16 ENGLADER FRANTZ 19 Feb 1945 UK- GERMAN
17 ERNST DIETER 30 Nov 1945 MAJOR - GERMAN
18 EVARISTO FAVA 17 Oct 1944 2nd Lt - ITALIAN
19 FRANCISCO ERRIQUEZ 13 Jan 1944 Pvt - ITALIAN
20 GALINSKI JOHANNES 28 Oct 1944 PVT - GERMAN
21 GASCHKA HEINRICH 18 Jul 1945 UK-GERMAN
22 GERATH HARRY 29 Jan 1945 SGT GERMAN
23 GOERTZ KARL 18 Oct 1945 CPL GERMAN
24 GOETZ ARTHUR 19 May 1945 PVT GERMAN
25 GOETZE HERMANN 16 Apr 1945 SGT - GERMAN
26 GRAMS ERWIN 17 Nov 1944 UK - GERMAN
27 GRASSOTTI CARLO 05 Sep 1945 SGT - ITALIAN
28 GRUDOWSKI PAUL 18 Nov 1944 PVT GERMAN
29 GRUNDWALL JOHANN 25 Nov 1944 SGT - GERMAN
30 HALSCHEIDT WERNER 24 Sep 1944 UK-GERMAN
31 HEMMANN GUENTHER 13 Feb 1945 UK-GERMAN
32 HILLE RUBEN 20 Mar 1946 PVT- GERMAN
33 HINZ FRANZ 06 Apr 1945 1st Lt- GERMAN
34 HOLLDORF FRITZ 20 Jan 1946 SGT - GERMAN
35 HORNUNG EUGEN 20 Dec 1944 L. CPL- GERMAN
36 KARL MICHAEL 20 Jan 1945 T SGT -GERMAN
37 KAUFFMAN ENGLEBERT 13 Jul 1944 UK-GERMAN
38 KAUP JOHANN 18 May 1945 UK-GERMAN
39 KERSTEN RICHARD 30 Jan 1945 CPL - GERMAN
40 KOELLER WERNER 22 Mar 1946 UK-GERMAN
41 KUNZE** JOHNANNES 04 Nov 1945 UK-GERMAN
42 KUNZE PAUL 22 Jan 1944 UK-GERMAN
43 LIEBMANN HEINZ 20 Feb 1945 SGT -GERMAN
44 MAEGE ERICH 04 Aug 1945 1st Lt -GERMAN
45 MARGANUS WERNER 11 Apr 1945 2nd Lt -GERMAN
46 MAYR ENGLEBERT 23 Apr 1945 PFC - GERMAN
47 MESENBURG WERNER 20 Jul 1945 2nd Lt - GERMAN
48 MESSINGER FRIEDRICH 19 Nov 1944 Cpl -GERMAN
49 METZGER KARL 04 Jul 1945 PVT -GERMAN
50 MINOTTI EMIL 06 Jul 1944 UK-GERMAN
51 MOEBUS BERNHARD 24 Mar 1945 UK-GERMAN
52 ORTELLI INNOCENT 02 Aug 1943 ITALIAN
53 PIACSEK JOHANN 03 Oct 1944 PFC GERMAN
54 PIERLUIGI BERTICELLI 08 May 1945 ITALIAN
55 POLTE KARL 20 Apr 1945 PFC - GERMAN
56 RAFFEL UWE 15 Dec 1944 SGT GERMAN
57 REDEMANN KARL 16 Jan 1944 UK-GERMAN
58 REISER GEORG 29 Nov 1944 CPL - GERMAN
59 RENZO BANZI 26 Jul 1945 CAPT - ITALIAN
60 SCHARF HEINZ 25 Nov 1944 T SGT -GERMAN
61 SCHARIDOV GADO 02 Jan 1945 PVT -GERMAN
62 SCHINDLER ERICK 17 Sep 1945 UK-GERMAN
63 SCHMIDT PAUL 04 Jan 1946 UK-GERMAN
64 SCHNEIDER GUSTAVE 03 Nov 1942 UK-GERMAN
65 SCHWOEBEL KARL 18 Mar 1944 UK-GERMAN
66 SEIFERT HANS 09 Oct 1945 SGT - GERMAN
67 SMYTSCHEK PAUL 14 Jan 1945 CPL- GERMAN
68 STANG BRUNO 12 Jan 1944 UK-GERMAN
69 WODETZKI FERDINAND 05 Nov 1944 PFC - GERMAN
70 ZAMBONI GIULIO 11 Oct 1945 SGT MAJ - ITALIAN


Gefreiter (Lance Corporal), German Army.
A German Prisoner of War, he was beaten to death by his fellow Nazi POWs for treason.

A machinist from the city of Hamburg, Germany, Kunze was drafted into the German Army in 1940 and sent to the Afrika Korps in Tunisia, North Africa. Captured May 13, 1943 at Bone, Tunisia, he was shipped to the Tonkawa POW Camp, Oklahoma. Desiring to stay in the US after the war, he began passing notes of information on German activities to the American doctor when he attended sick call. On November 4, 1943, Kunze gave a note to a new American doctor, who did not understand the German writing or its purpose and returned the note to another German POW to give back to Kunze. Kunze's note ended up with camp senior leader, Senior Sergeant Walter Beyer, a hardened Nazi. Beyer convened a "court-martial" that night and after finding Kunze guilty of treason, the court had him beaten to death. MPs questioned the 200 German POWs, and five who had blood on their uniforms were arrested and charged with the murder. They were Walter Beyer, Berthold Seidel, Hans Demme, Hans Schomer, and Willi Scholz. The men were found guilty and sentenced to death. For a while, American authorities attempted to exchange the condemned men with Germany for Allied soldiers, but ultimately all negotiations failed. The five men were hung at Fort Leavenworth Military Penitentiary in July 1945, where they had been kept after conviction, and are buried in the Fort Leavenworth Military Cemetery. A book, "The Killing of Corporal Kunze," by Wilma Trummel Parnell was published in 1981. (Bio by Kit and Morgan Benson). 




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