When the Afrika Korps Came to Texas
ARNOLD P. KRAMMER*
EARLY MORNING IN A SMALL TOWN, NOT UNLIKE ANY SMALL TOWN IN
the country. People are eating breakfast, businesses are opening their
doors for their first customers, and city traffic is coming to life. In the dis-
tance one suddenly hears the crisp, guttural commands of military German,
and busy townspeople stop, shading their eyes against the bright morn-
ing sun, to stare at the columns of young men-deeply tanned, and
healthy-as they march through town to harvest the crops in the sur-
A rural town in Nazi Germany? Oldtimers in Texas know better.
This scene could have taken place in Tyler, Mexia, Hearne, Kaufman,
Crystal City, Marfa, El Campo, Gainesville, Bastrop, Abilene-in over
a hundred other cities and towns across the state.
The United States was in its second year of World War II-I943-
and the people were adjusting to the scarcity of certain products and
to the daily barrage of war news. The population was exhorted to produce
at Stakhanovite levels; rural people were moving to the city to get
higher-paying jobs in war industries; the scarcity of tires, gasoline, and
batteries was patriotically endured; OPA ration books were the house-
wives' bibles; and "Mairzy Doats" was at the top of the record charts.
Young boys avidly followed the course of the war by shifting pins on
their bedroom wall maps; people were amused to find that "Kilroy"
(whoever he was) had been there ahead of them; and every advertisement
reminded readers to buy war bonds.
No one remained untouched by that second year of the war, but for
many Texans, the first contact with the military reality of the conflict
came with the appearance in their communities of large numbers of
German and Italian prisoners of war.'
*Arnold P. Krammer is a professor of history at Texas A&M University. He is the
author of a forthcoming volume, The Captive Enemy: German Prisoners of War in the
1Although not all the German POW's in Texas were from the Afrika Korps, a sub-
stantial number were-hence the title of this study. Astonishing little has been written
about the German (and Italian) POW experience in the United States, and the com-
plete history is yet to be published. Aside from newspaper accounts and several immedi-
ate postwar recollections, the interested researcher is directed to the large amount of
raw data in the National Archives in Washington. The War Manpower Commission
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 80, July 1976 - April, 1977. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101204/. Accessed April 25, 2015.