World War II (1942-1945)
POW Camp, Alva, Oklahoma
WWII Prisoner of War Camp
Looking south down Washington Avenue
(Photo taken October, 1999, Operational 1942-1945
Located South of Alva, Oklahoma, Woods County
It was called Nazilager (Nazi Camp)
"The First 100 Years of Alva, Oklahoma" states that the Prisoner of War (POW) camp during WWII was best known to POW's in other camps as, 'Devil's Island' or the 'Alcatraz' of prisoner of war systems in the United States.
It was built to hold only Nazi's and hard-core sympathizers. It stood south of Alva (Oklahoma, USA), westside of highway 281 and is in the area now used by the Airport on the east and the Woods County Fairgrounds on the west.
Little remains except for a lonely chimney that some proclaim to be a bakery chimney and others say was the smokestack of the POW hospital. BUT... I've found in other articles that the POW Hospital was west of the main street, Washington Avenue, that ran to the POW camp.
Whatever the case, it stands amongst the VFW Post and the old concrete water tower that remain as reminders that Alva, Oklahoma was home of a German POW camp during WWII from the Summer of '42 when it was authorized to November of '45 when it shut down after the WWII.
This picture was taken October, 1999 and shows the Woods County Fairground buildings in the background. The Concrete Water Tower sets across another road to the south and east while the VFW Post sets just east (or to the right) of this picture. The road you see running by the westside of the alleged smokestack was the main street called Washington Avenue that ran south from the Section Line Road to the POW camp.
This military looking building and tower to the left are the Old Officers Quarters & Club and which now is used as the VFW Post. The Quarters of American Personnel and camp administrative buildings were north of the POW's compounds and east of Washington Avenue.
All buildings were considered temporary and constructed of wood in those days during WWII. This building left was the Officers Club and Quarters and stood across the street and to the east of the prisoners compounds.
Here is a better view of the smokestack and water tower. The water tower used to hold a large wooden tank on the top and the four POW compounds for the prisoners set back south of the water tower.The camp was authorized on June 30, 1942. September 15, 1942 it was under construction by civilians. November 15, 1942 the Army took over from the civilian contractors and the American troops started to arrive. On December 15, 1942 an announcement of it's opening was made. By July 31, 1943 the first 19 German POW's arrived by truckload. Later the POW's started arriving by train and they were quietly marched from the railroad station up Seventh Street while guards lined the streets and Alva Citizens stood back behind the guards to get a curious look as these hard-core Nazi POW's marched quietly to the camp south of town.
What the Citizen's of Alva only knew that some type of military post was going up. They learned later that they were getting a POW camp to hold the most mad of German POW. They were unaware and kept in the dark until an announcement was made by the camp commander that the POW camp would be opening December, 1942.
November 15, 1942 - After the Army took over from the civilian contractors, the first American troops that arrived were 25 men of the Quartermaster Corps under the command of Lt. Luther Guess and Oscar B. Cruell. Six men of Medical Corps under the command of Lt. Ephraim Lubritz also arrived at that time.
December 15, 1942 - Lt. Col H. R. Roberts was Camp Commander, but there was still NO sign of American guards or German POW's.
January 3, 1943 - Lt. Joseph Moses and Lt. Dwight Slovens arrived from Ft. Bliss, TX with 140 men of the 401st MP Escort Guard Company.
April 18, 1943 - The Second MP Escort Guard (MPEG) Company arrived (391st from Camp McClain, Mississippi under command of Lt's. Ryper Powell, Terry Wise, and Lewis A. Erbs). Still NO German POW's had showed up yet.
May, 1943 - The second opening date was set for May 2, 1943. Lt. Col. Roberts transferred to camp at Ft. Reno, Oklahoma. Col. A. M. Risdon brought in as commander for a short time and then was transferred to a camp at Hereford, TX. Col. Ralph Hall was the 3rd camp commander and during that time a Col. Cecil E. Tolle of Medical Corps arrived to take charge of the hospital.
July 13, 1943 - The first 19 German prisoner's arrived by truck to the camp. When the rest of the POW's started to arrive by train, they had a regular marching path from the railway station, up Seventh Street to the POW camp in the south part of town. Long columns of POW's marched up Seventh Street in complete silence and looking only straight ahead and carrying personal belongings in a small bag. The only sound that was heard was the clop-clop of their boots and commands to turn when a corner was reached. They had not had a bathe and carried the smells of the battlefield and strong odors when they first arrived.
September, 1943 - The capacity of the camp increased by 1000 when 117 new buildings to hold the German Officer's prisoners of war was built east of the three compounds for the non-commissioned and enlisted POW's.
POW's arrived slowly, but steadily. By December 12, 1943 there were 1,035 in camp. By February 23, 1945 there were 1,002 officers, 2,477 non-commissioned officers, and 1,478 enlisted men confined at the Alva POW camp.
Each compounds were identical and contained 32 one-story wooden barracks; mess halls; other buildings used by the POW's. Each barrack held 50 men and gave camp the original capacity of 4,800. Officers compound contained 100 or more buildings as compared to only 52 in each of other compounds. The POW Officers barracks only had capacity for 1000 officers. The officers had much more room. Space was assigned in accordance of their ranks.
The original three compounds were surrounded by two 8-foot high fences that were separated from each other by a single 8-foot fence. Officers compound also surrounded by two 8-foot high fences. There were 13 guard towers arranged along the fences. The compounds extended 700 feet to the west and 1100 feet to the east and 700 feet to the south of the concrete water tower. The hospital stood just north of the prisoner compounds and west of Washington Avenue with service and supply areas between it and the Section Line Road.
POW's were permitted to retain and wear their own uniforms and insignias. Obsolete and repaired American uniforms were provided for the prisoners to wear, but the POW's at the Alva camp wore their own uniforms and officers wore their high boots. All outside clothing was marked with a "P" or "PW" to denote prisoners.
On September, 1943, the army issued a directive to allow the POW's to be contracted out to work on farms and other jobs away from camp as long as they did not compete with the local labor. This directive did not apply to Alva's POW camp. The only POW's who worked away from the camp were a group of 80 or 100 whom were trucked to Waynoka to ice rail cars. On May, 1945, a small camp was set up in Waynoka, Oklahoma to house them and daily truck movements ceased. The POW's did work outside of camp, but only under guard in camp or at railway stations.
November, 1943 - The third MP Company (650th) arrived and two more 454th and 455th under the command of Capt. Fred Staedler transferred to Alva from Ft. Custer, MI, before the end of the year.
The camp was built to house five guard companies. The army acquired the prime farm land for the camp from local farmers in the Alva area. The north 320 Acres was acquired from the Wiebener family and the south 320 Acres from the Peterman family. After the war, neither family was given chance to regain their land. It was given to the City of Alva.
The buildings covered less than half of the north Section and were sold and removed after WWII. The land not used for the camp was left under cultivation.
The Recreation Hall of the Alva POW camp was moved to Kiowa, Kansas after the war and used by Kiowa American Legion as a meeting hall.
Stories of Guards.....
Some guards experienced unpleasant duties while guarding the POW's. Non-commissioned officers and enlisted men could be pleasant at times, but the German Officers seemed to show the hatred in their eyes and were the threatening ones. A doctor (Dr. Clifford Traverse) was quoted as saying, "The glaring eyes of some German officers were permitted to watch me operate on one of their own. I was warned not to wear a necktie in the camp."
It seems that the POW's often stretched trip wires across the nightly path of the guards who made bed checks.
Pow's went on hunger strikes that were broken only by throwing tear gas grenades into the barracks.
Cries of help could be heard at night by tower guards from the POW's who strayed from the Nazi line. The Wiebener's farm house was turned into a "safe house" to hold POW's who were removed from camp for their own safety and transferred to the other POW's camps. There was no evidence that any POW's were killed by other POW's in the camp, but it did occur at Camp Tonkawa and two unexplained suicides at the Alva camp were suspect.
The Geneva Convention...
The Geneva Convention on escaping POW's was accepted as the duty of POW's to escape and was not a crime. The only punishment was slight unless some real crime was committed during the escape. Maximum penalty was 30 days in solitary confinement, bread and water, but at Alva it was 8 days. recaptured POW's were confined in the guard house that stood between the POW compounds and the hospital.
For committing a real crime, POW's were sentence to the federal prison. At the end of WWII there were 162 POW's in those establishments. It was unknown if any came from the Alva POW camp. Some crimes warranted execution and some were executed. Mainly those POW's from the Tonkawa Camp.
POW's not recaptured until after the war and other POW repatriated could only look forward to being deported as undocumented aliens. Oklahoma Newspapers accounted for approximately 21 escapes from the Alva Camp and there were probably more. None were free for long. Some got as far as New Mexico, Kansas City and at the US border patrol at the Rio Grande.
The first escape was by Karl Heinz Zigann and Heinz Aulenbacher, April 1944. They were recaptured three days later in Emporia, Kansas. Max Wolff and Franz Holm escaped that spring and were recaptured in New Mexico. Three more escaped a week later and were caught in Wellington, Kansas. Werner Wolf and Heinz Roth escaped May 20, 1944 and were recaptured in Kansas City.
Son of Werner Wolf adds this message... "I enjoyed reading your page WWII-POW Camps. I just would like to correct one or two little details... My father Werner Wolf was POW in Camp Alva after having surrendered as officer of the Afrika Korps (10. Panzer division) in Tunesia 1943. Indeed he managed to escape, as is mentioned in your article, but he was not recaptured in Kansas City but in a little town just before he attempted to cross the border towards Mexico (he had the idea to reach Argentine in order to search for a possibility to get back to Germany). My father re-entered the german army in postwar 1955 as Major and ended his military career as Colonel at the NATO Headquarter in Brussels 1971 (were I used to go to school), he died 1973. I would like to add that as far as I know the POWs of Camp Alva, weren´t all 'Nazi´s and hard core sympathizers'. Instead, it might be true that the camp exclusively contained officers of the Wehrmacht." -- Contact Michael Michael Wolf
Five escaped on July 4, 1944... Burgmann von Schwinicher, Heinz Homme, Eberhard Wilms, Karl Heinz Zigann (2nd time), and Max Wolff (2nd time). Escapes by POW's continued later that summer with Paul Jahn and Heinz Schutz. On January 20, 1945, Georg Hornauf, Otto Kanich, Anton Sheffer, Fritz Pueschel, and Erich Wolf escaped.
Usually, the fence was cut, climbed over, or the POW's just walked away from work detail. A long tunnel that led under the fence was discovered before it was used. The POW's scurried out of it when the tunnel was threatened with flooding by the guards. There were no theatrical type escapes like in the movies at the Alva camp.
Jack Martin is quoted as saying, "A POW dug a hole under the building and equipped it with comforts of home, including a supply of homebrewed applejack. He would mingle with the other POW's during the day and hide in the hole at night. When he missed roll call, a search was made. No sign of him could be found outside of camp. It was decided that he was hiding somewhere in the compound. The guards found a POW who agreed to point him out to them, if he could do it from a guard tower while wearing an America uniform and be transferred away immediately."
POW's deaths were from natural and other causes. Klaus Eberhard Bork died from peritonitis, August 24, 1944. Enlbert Mayr died of a heart attack, April 23, 1945. Two questionable suicides were Erwin Grams who was found hanged, November 17, 1944 and Erich Schindler who was found in the same condition September 17, 1945 as camp was being closed. Emil Minotti was shot and killed during escape attempt July 6, 1944. He was the only one killed in escape attempt in Oklahoma. The two guards who shot him were tried, acquitted and transferred to another camp.
A small cemetery at the camp for the dead POW's was located on the westside of Washington Avenue and south of the last fence of compounds. After the war the dead were permanently buried in the Post Cemetery at Ft. Reno. It holds 66 POW's (German and Italian) as well as two German aliens who died in one of the Oklahoma alien interment camps. Not all buried at Ft. Reno died in Oklahoma camps, but were moved from POW camps in nearby states.
After VE Day, the POW's were shipped home, but 2,192 remained at the Alva POW camp on September 16, 1945. The bulk of them were shipped out October 1, 1945 then there were only 45 remaining.
September 20, 1945, Col. H. S. Richardson (camp commander) announced the camp would be closed. On October 15, 1945, all POW's were gone. November 15, 1945, Capt. Pat Arnim (final camp commander) closed camp. A large number of guards at the Alva POW camp have connections with Alva to this day. Some were from Alva before the war and others married women from the Alva area and settled down there after WWII.
At the termination of the war, the POW camp was vacated and the land turned over to the City of Alva for control purposes. The deed transfer specified that the land would be used primarily for an airport, however, none of the land could be sold in as much as it still belonged to the US Government. buildings were sold and all except one that houses the VFW Post were removed.
The VFW Post purchased the Officers Club in 1946 with four persons (Wm. T. Crenshaw, Wm "Bill" Stites, Charlie Trenfield, and Mr. Ensor) each donating $200 for an $800 downpayment. Legal description of the property sold was the NE/2 NW/4, Section 35-TWP27-Range 14, Woods County (approx. 40 Acres).
Over the years the VFW land diminished to 8 Acres. At different times, there was a Supper Club housed in the VFW building. Now the fairgrounds; a softball field; a weed grown racetrack (used by the fairgrounds and local horse enthusiasts) occupy the grounds with the lonely chimney or alleged hospital smokestack and the concrete water tower. Little else remains of the past remembrances of Alva's German prisoner of War camp era between June 1942 thru November 1945.
Another POW camp called the Papago Park POW camp in Phoenix, Arizona was a small, high-security compound built to hold especially troublesome and escape-prone POW's. It got the name of "Little Alva" because of Alva's POW camp reputation during WWII.
Other camps in Oklahoma... One neat Tonkawa and at Ft. Reno. There was also one around Concordia, Kansas and another near a small town in McClain, Mississippi. if you run onto any links on the web concerning these and other WWII POW camps, I would love to hear from you. Just EMAIL Linda.