Part III - Not Just a Name or a Number
By Marvin Mayer
In Part I, we saw the "birth" of a POW camp as an adjunct to a U.S. Military training post just a few miles outside of Tyler, Texas. In Part II, we discussed some of the activities of the prisoners, and how those activities kept prisoner morale high. An inspection report conducted by an independent member of the Swiss Legation confirmed the "successes" achieved by the prison commandant in keeping the prisoners active and relatively content. We also took a look at relations between the citizens of Tyler and the soldiers of Camp Fannin, and how the civilian townsfolk were somewhat oblivious to the fact they were so close to German soldiers. In this article, we want to distinguish between Nazi and German prisoners, and in so doing, remove the propagandized image of this group of World War II soldiers. We'll take a closer look at some specific individuals whose lives were changed by having been detained in Camp Fannin.
Before going any farther, a disclaimer is in order. This series of articles in no way is intended to glamorize war, the enemy, prison camps, or any of the events that took place in a prison camp. Camp Fannin was real. It served two purposes; to train American combat troops, and to incarcerate enemy combatants captured during the war. Although I never wore a military uniform, nor did I serve our country in any military way, I have the greatest respect for those who did and still do. These articles are intended to show how we were able to "make lemonade" out of the "lemons" that grew out of military conflict. Much has been written about Camp Fannin and the troops trained there. Without offending any of them, I want these articles to focus on the "other" Camp Fannin.
As has been said in earlier articles, the prison camp was equipped to handle 1,000 men. Over the course of its limited existence, as many as 80,000 prisoners were housed and/or processed there.1 In the paragraphs below, I want to focus on two, perhaps not so typical, German prisoners.
George Metz. Non political, Metz had been drafted into the German army, trained as a cannoneer, and sent to fight the Allies as part of Germany's Afrika Korps. He was captured by British soldiers and shipped to the U.S. where he was one of the first to be housed at Camp Fannin. As reported in POW Kaleidoscope: First Glimpse by Gayla H. Lawson, he used his privileges as a Sergeant not only to landscape and beautify the entire base, including the POW compound, but also to grow vegetables and flowers. Then ranking American NCO, Sergeant James Oliver frequently found two dozen roses in his car, a gift to Oliver's mother.2
After the war, Metz returned to his home town in Germany. Using the money earned as payment for his POW tasks - POWs were not permitted to receive money; they were paid about 80 cents per diem in script for work performed3 - he began a nursery business on land he and his family owned before the war. The nursery business thrived until, due to ill health, George retired and, with his wife, moved to another German town.
Walter Maximilian Kattwinkel. A native of Cologne, Kattwinkel was educated in German grammar school in Shanghai, China where his family had moved. He learned German, English, and Chinese while in Shanghai, but returned to Germany in 1938. He was drafted, sent first to Poland and then to Russia, was wounded and sent to a German hospital. When he recovered from his injuries, rather than return to Russia, he volunteered for the Afrika Korps where he served in the Combat Engineers of the 99th Panzer (Armored) Division until captured in Tunisia. A circuitous route eventually landed him at Camp Fannin. Like George Metze, he was among the first to arrive and the last to leave.4
Kattwinkel's ability to type and his fluency in English, along with his Sergeant's rank allowed him to work in the personnel department while also serving as a mail clerk for the POWs.5 In a letter of recommendation written by Lt. Col. Sam H. Burchard, Kattwinkel is described this way; "This prisoner has, from the beginning, indicated that he was definitely anti-Nazi and in complete agreement with American principles of democratic government. He assisted in organizing an anti-Nazi Democratic League at this camp on January 1944 and has been of great help to the camp authorities in intelligence activities."6
Toward the end of the war, Kattwinkle was sent by the army around to many camps in Texas, showing the film, "Why We Fight." He served as interpreter, but expressed the following opinion: "But more than anything, I observed people. It impressed me so much. America at that time was the most beautiful country in the world. … The people impressed me so much that I said, 'this is where I want to live; the is what I want to be part of.'"7
His dream came true. After the war, he was repatriated to Germany, but with the help of Americans (as we shall see in a future article,) immigrated to the United States, and came to live in Tyler. Later, he would move to Dallas. He and his wife became U. S. citizens in 1958, as soon as it was legally possible.8
1 Mark Choate, Nazis in the Pineywoods, (Best of East Texas Publishers, Lufkin, TX 1989), Pg 96
2 Gayla H. Lawson, Kaleidoscope: First Glimpse, Chronicles of Smith County Texas, Vol 22, No 2, Winter 1983, Pg 14
3 Ibid, Pg 14
4 Ibid, Pgs 15-17
5 Ibid, Pg 16
6 Ibid, Pg 16
7 Ibid, Pgs 16-17
8 Ibid, Pg 17
Note: Ibid - in the same book, chapter, page, etc. as previously cited.