Newton County Prisoner of War Camp
By Jonnie Miller
During World War II, more than 400,000 German and Italian prisoners were interned in the United States. Nearly 80,000 of them, mostly Germans, were in Texas. A labor shortage in the East Texas timber industry prompted some companies to try using German POWs to supplement the usually vast work force. As a result, a number of prison camps were built. One of these was in Newton County on Hwy. 363 near the community of Bleakwood. It was located by the railroad tracks for easy access to transportation of such things as timber. The commanders of the camps were known as Bird Colonels because of their insignia of rank-a silver eagle on their uniform.
From about 1942 to 1945, the small German POW camp housed up to 73 prisoners. This was a volunteer camp so those who did not want to work were sent to other camps. The camp consisted of barracks where the prisoners stayed, surrounded by high barbed wire fences with the uppermost portion slanting inward. At the four corners were guard towers where guards stayed with guns and spotlights.
The prisoners worked in the logging industry and local men often worked with them. There were very few attempts to escape. Once a prisoner did escape and was reported to have gotten as far as Fawil before he gave himself up. It seems he was eaten up by mosquitoes and decided it just wasn't worth the effort. There were reports from local children who would ride by the camp and the prisoners sometimes gave them cookies they had baked in the camp kitchens.
At the end of the war the prisoners were moved to larger camps before being released back to their own country. Some of those prisoners did not want to return to Germany and managed to stay or return to the communities they had lived in during the war. There is a good account of the Texas Nazis in a book called, Nazis in the Pineywoods by Mark Choate, and East Texas historian and teacher.