Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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"The Fritz Ritz" Volume 50 Number 3, May/June 1997
by Jessica E. Saraceni

[image] The remains of Camp Hearne, Texas (Courtesy Michael L. Waters) [LARGER IMAGE]

A cement-lined pond that surrounded a flower garden and a moated miniature castle with clay figurines are among the decorative remains of a World War II prisoner-of-war camp recently excavated near Hearne, Texas. As many as 4,800 soldiers of Germany's Afrika Corps, divided into pro- and anti-Nazi groups, were housed here from 1943 to 1945. The site was cleared when the army closed the camp after the war. Michael Waters of Texas A&M University's department of anthropology has also found concrete slabs that supported the mess hall, storerooms, and lavatories, in addition to a concrete-lined brick fountain along the walkway to the mess hall.

In 1942 the citizens of Hearne petitioned the federal government to build the camp, believing that the prisoners could work on local cotton, onion, and peanut farms while the town's regular fieldhands went off to war. Only about 20 percent of the prison population agreed to work, the rest being preoccupied with softball and soccer games, language classes, reading, and the architectural embellishment of the facility, according to camp records. Among the prisoners were members of a German military orchestra captured in Tunisia who gave concerts to locals. Some residents interviewed by Waters and his graduate students felt that the POWs were treated too well, referring to the camp as the "Fritz Ritz." Others remember sharing rationed sweets and supplies with the young men, recognizing that they were frightened and far from home, just as American soldiers were.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America