An 18 year old German soldier captured in France by partisans in Kaew who ended up in U.S. captivity spent eight months with a group of prisoners of war before arriving in New York, then going to Brady, Texas, and on to Denison, where he became a prisoner at Camp Denison near where the Denison Dam now stands.
Last week, he sent me a message translated into perfect English by his granddaughter on social media telling of how he kept a diary during his years in captivity and how he was treated at the various camps where he was transferred.
Manfred Just of Rodeberg, Germany, was looking around on the internet and came upon a column that I had written some time ago about the Denison prisoner camp. The letter he wrote was completely out of the blue and the first such information to have been sent to Denison to my knowledge by a German POW.
Now a 93-year-old, Manfred even made a return trip back to the states and to Denison in 1997 while on a vacation with his family with the hope of visiting the dam to see the area of the POW camp. However, he could not find a trace of it or any of the people whose names were familiar. He said he talked to many who were not even aware that there was a POW camp at Denison.
I have been looking for that location and think I have it pinpointed, but have several people to talk to before I can write a third column about Camp Denison. Possibly I will have a picture of the location of the camp too. I’m working on it.
Meanwhile, Manfred summarized his stay here from May 1945 to January 1946, then on to Fannin, Texas, just north of Tyler, and other camps before being taken to Shanks, near New York to board “Alhambra” and head to England in May of that year.
From Liverpool, he was taken to Birmingham, then to Byfield/Woodford Halse before boarding a train, then a bus to Bury/St. Edmunt then Harwich where he boarded “Antwerpen” en route to Hook, Holland, then Muster Camp in Germany. Once in his home country, he landed in Friedland near the zone border then to Kirchgandern/Thuringia in the Russian zone for a train trip to Leipzig before being released in March 1948 to go home.
In my first column about Manfred and his life in captivity, he related a great deal of his time at Camp Denison that he had kept in his diary while here. He told about the food, work he did removing brush and scrub on the land side of the Denison Dam, getting to known guards and working groups and even how the hot weather and Texas sun affected the prisoners, mostly because they were not drinking enough water.
After three fell out from the heat on one day, the men were made to drink plenty of water and to take two salt pills every day.
After I received his email, I responded and asked a few questions, the first of which was whether he knew that Denison was the birthplace of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower at the time of his captivity. He responded that the foreman of the Texas Nursery where he did some work told him about Eisenhower and this being his birth town. He said the nurseryman was proud about Eisenhower because he started the building of the Interstate Highway System.
However, when he made the vacation trip back to the U.S. in 1997 and came back especially to Denison, he did not visit Eisenhower’s home. He said that they rented a car and drove more than 7,000 miles during five weeks through the U.S., visiting as many interesting places and as many places he had been held beginning in Miami and ending in San Francisco.
I regress briefly here as I talk more about Manfred’s time at Camp Denison.
“We often had security checks and on our days off from work the barracks were closed. All resident of a barrack had to line up for muster and undress. Pants shirts and jacket were checked while guards thoroughly checked the barracks.”
He said that prisoners rarely were assigned to work on the dam proper, but they removed brush and scrubs on the land side. Guards and working groups got used to each other pretty quickly, he said. Every truck was accompanied by two soldiers and at the worksite, they were handed over to the foremen. The guards stayed close by. There were many work sites, but Manfred said he could only report his view about the tasks to be done by the work areas because they didn’t differ much.
Manfred got to know the nurseryman where he worked here. He said in six groups of two there they grafted peach trees. He enjoyed this work. He and his buddy were the best crew, he said, as they finished double the workload before the other crews. Their kind foreman (his best greetings sent to him!) marked their rows and it became obvious that they were not only faster, but more accurate. Their rows required the least touch-ups. At the end of fall, they prepared the trees for the export to Great Britain.
The Red Cross sent a huge stack of books for the prisoners and Manfred said he took everything to brush up on his high school knowledge, however he was not bored. A booklet with lectures by Professor Buchmann from Danzig University in 1943 was interesting, he said, because it covered nuclear fission and the possibility to use it to generate power and for destruction. He stressed that the research must happen covertly and hopefully wouldn’t lead to the destruction of the Occident.
They were asked if someone could operate a movie projector. Manfred was the only one who volunteered. He was taken to Camp Howze in Gainesville to practice all morning on two movie projectors. Then he received unlimited lunch and passed the movie projectionist exam in Dallas. Back in Camp Howze, he took over the two projectors and the first movie. That same night he showed “Mask in Blue” to the guards. When he showed it in camp, everyone was happy.
For Manfred, it was pretty stressful though as he also had his day job at the nursery. When he talked about it with the translation officer, he got a new job the next day. He was given a tractor to cut the lawn and kept the area outside the camp fence clean — without guards.
After the movie showings in the guards’ cafeteria, most of the tables were not cleaned. Dishes with slices of ham and cheese were on them. Some guards passed them to Manfred while others threw them in the garbage. In return he collected the cigarette buds from the ash trays and traded three of them for one slice of bread.
Manfred said when he walked over to the camp, he was patted down. This was annoying because he was carrying the film reels. But when the guards got to know him they dialed back the procedure.
I think that is enough of the information for today. I will have a third column next week that will include that personal information and the last of Manfred’s remembrance of prisoner of war camp. I hope to even have a picture of the location where the camp was located.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.