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Stephen F. Austin State University

Local Prisoner of War Camps (April 2013)

Local Prisoner of War Camps
By Jonnie Miller

During WWII nearly 80,000 German and Italian prisoners were interned in Texas. Because of the war there was a labor shortage in East Texas, especially in the lumber industry. Companies were forced to explore using unusual means to rebuild their work forces. A number of prison camps were built and maintained for this purpose. One of these camps was located near the Bleakwood area in Newton County on highway 363. The area was near a railroad track and between Kirbyville and Bleakwood. It was small with only 73 prisoners and was totally for volunteer German prisoners of war. The prisoners worked on a volunteer basis since POWs could not be forced to do any work of a military nature for the enemy.

The camp consisted of a barracks where the prisoners stayed and was surrounded by a high barbed wire fence with the uppermost portion slanting inward. At the four corners were guard houses where guards were stationed with guns and spotlights. Only once did a prisoner escape from the camp. Reportedly he got as far as the Fawell community before gave himself up. It is reported that after the war some of these prisoners asked to stay in Texas.