HEARNE, Texas--- Off a dusty and poorly traveled road in Hearne, Texas is Camp Hearne. It’s nestled between what looks like a farm and a steel manufacturing plant. And, while its off the beaten path, the history that Camp Hearne has to tell is captivating.
In the early 1940’s, at the height of World War II, the camp was a POW detention facility, housing mostly German prisoners of war.
The German Afrika Korps surrendered to the Allies in May of 1943, after Hitler stopped supplying them. The German soldiers, turned prisoners of war, were sent to POW camps in Texas. Many ended up in Camp Hearne.
The camp mixed Nazi Non-commissioned officers with average rank-and-file soldiers; not to mention the garrison of American guards patrolling the grounds. In the camp’s first 6 months, a power struggle ensued, Nazi sympathizers cracking down on anti-Nazi POWs
“The Nazis basically took over inside the barbed wire,” said Melissa Freeman, Camp Hearne’s Program Director. “Prisoners got here in June and in December a man was murdered.”
A young German soldier named Hugo Krauss was labeled a traitor by the Nazi higher ups that controlled the camp’s inner-workings. Krauss made the mistake of listening to American radio in front of fellow prisoners and expressing doubts that the Germans would win the war.
“In a Kangaroo Court, he was accused of treason and convicted,” said Freeman. “Seven guys went into his barrack and they waited until they knew he was asleep. And, then he was very brutally murdered.”
Krauss’ murder was what Nazi sympathizers called a “Holy Ghost,” according to the book “Lone Star Stalag” by Michael R. Waters. It was a midnight beating, meant to instill fear in those POW’s who were waving in their support of Hitler.
“I called them blockheaded guys,” says Karl Blumenthal, a former POW who spent time in Camp Hearne. “I was only 10 years old when Hitler came to power. We only knew that one way. But, we learned during that time that we had to respect what people were telling us to do.”
But, the camp could also be a pleasant experience. In fact, with the expectation of the Nazi sympathizers stronghold on inner-politics, camp activities seemed to delight a majority of POW’s.
“We entertained ourselves by playing anything. Basketball, baseball, everything you gave us,” said Blumenthal.
“They formed theater companies almost as soon as they got here,” said Freeman. “Then, they started converting barracks into theaters.”
The camp has ruins of one of the theaters, called the Compound 3 theater. But, much like most of the camp, that theater is in ruins. Much of the vibrant history at Camp Hearne is relegated to storytelling. Many of the buildings have crumbled, reduced to modern-day ruins.
That said, the camp’s lasting legacy is the stories it has to tell and the people it’s lives helped shape.