“Holy Smoke, I am a Prisoner of War”

A German POW held in Texas in the ‘40s, 92-year-old Karl Blumenthal now makes Asheville his home

A German POW held in Texas in the ‘40s, 92-year-old Karl Blumenthal now makes Asheville his home

A German POW held in Texas in the ‘40s, 92-year-old Karl Blumenthal now makes Asheville his home

Karl Blumenthal, a native of Germany, brought his family to Western North Carolina in 1970 for a job and never left. Years before, Texas had been his first introduction to the United States. He was a POW, part of the first wave of men captured and brought to the states during WWII. Even though he’s a nonagenarian, the experience is as fresh to him as his morning coffee.

Drafted in Germany in 1941, Blumenthal spent the next year in boot camp. Then he was sent to Africa, and eventually brought to the United States as a prisoner.

Bold Life: Was the training difficult?
Well, when you are young, you don’t care.

How old were you then?
Nineteen.

Why did they send you to Africa?
Truck driver.

When Africa surrendered, I assume that meant when the German forces in Africa surrendered.
It was on May 8, 1943.

That was two years before the end of the war.
At this time, I was ‘Holy Smoke, I am a prisoner of war. I cannot help Germany to win the war.’ Today, I say it was the best time of my life.

That you were a prisoner of war?
Yeah, the war was over (for me), I don’t have to go anymore.

You were done.
Yeah, I was done.

What was the day like when you got captured? What actually happened?
I was ordered to take supplies some places and when I tried to come back to my unit, the American(s) came up and blocked the road and that was the end of it.

Do you remember what you were feeling at that time when it happened?
(brief silence)

Were you scared?
I was scared. So, when I was interviewed at the end of the war with the Legion of Foreign Wars, and they asked me this story and what did you do when you got captured, I said, ‘Well, I give them the key to my car.’ (chuckle) It was true. Then we spent about ‘til September in Africa. We were 21 days on a ship, a convoy. We were brought to New York. And the way they handled us, the same way like American soldiers would have been shaked out, deloused for lice, and we were six days trip to United States sight-seeing tour.

You were driven across country.
By train. Pullman car.

When you arrived in New York, did you know where you were destined to go?
No. They took everything away from us. The only thing I had was what I was wearing.

How many other people were with you at the time?
I don’t know. Whole bunch. Whole trainloads full. When we ended up in Hearne, Texas, there were about 400 of us.

When you got to Texas, did you know that was where you were going to be for a while?
Well, we didn’t know. The only thing I remember was that I had a bed on my behind and a pillow and a blanket. And the next morning, I smell real good coffee. We hadn’t had any coffee before. We had maybe a liter, a quart of water. This we had to shave ourselves, and we have to drink it.

What were the conditions like?
It is hard to describe. Really hard to describe. When we were traveling in Europe with Germans, we were loaded in boxcars … and here, we come in Pullman cars.

So, much nicer.
Oh yeah.

And you stayed at that camp for – ?
For about four weeks. We went to Huntsville, and from Huntsville we went to Fort Sam Houston.

So how long were you in Texas altogether?
From 1943 to January-February 1946, then they sold us to France. Put us on a boat. And they gave us or they put us under French command. But I cannot complain. I knew, I spoke a little bit of French in France. It was happy for me.

Did you feel like you were just trying to survive, or did they give you something to do to occupy yourselves?
I volunteered to work. I worked in the kitchen. … I was released as a POW in October the sixth, 1948. Two weeks later, I got lifetime. Got married two weeks later. Another story.

What was your most distinct memory from being in the states?
Well, we all wanted to go back home, okay? We were only allowed to write two letters a month back home. My wife and myself, we divided this time, and after the war, she was deported.

That must have been hard.
You must come back to me when I speak better.

 

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