Mexia host of POW camp during WWII

Keeley Wright, Staff Writer

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At the outset of the war, foreign prisoners of war (POW) were not a major consideration for the federal government, but as the war progressed, tens of thousands of foreign prisoners needed to be placed all over the United States. Texas had about three dozen camps, counting an average of 3,000 people in each camp. Many of Texas’ prisoners of war were German prisoners who surrendered in North Africa and Texas was deemed to be an appropriate site for them. With the exception of watchtowers and perimeter barbed wire fences, most camps resembled military bases. Farmers were charged $1.50 per day and prisoners were paid $.80 per day in chits or canteen coupons that could be spent in the camp canteens. Although the facilities were clearly operated as prison camps, the prisoners were allowed to organize their own craft and education programs in which they might learn conversational English, play musical instruments, perform theatrical productions, participate in sports, publish newspapers, and take college courses.  A great many of the POWs were Germans, followed by fewer Italians and even fewer Japanese.

The Mexia State Supported Living Center originated as one of these camps. The Mexia camp was the largest of the 70 POW camps in Texas housing 5800 German POWs. The camp opened in 1943, and according to preserved records, letters, and diaries, the prisoners lived a virtuous life. “The day I was captured by the Americans was the best day of my life,” said one prisoner. Many of the prisoners in Mexia reported learning how to plant peach trees and citrus fruits. They also recounted enjoying taking literature, mathematics, art, and historical classes taught by fellow prisoners.

A couple of the buildings that hold these memories still remain at what is currently the Mexia State Supported Living Center. One of the buildings was converted into a mini prisoners of war museum; however, due to the MSSLC taking stricter security over the past couple of years, it is difficult to be granted access to visit the museum. Fortunately, former POW can be granted to visit the museum, and some still travel overseas to visit their former home.