On iconic U.S. Route 66, German and Italian POWs lie in Oklahoma graves

Thu Jun 5, 2014 10:34am EDT
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By Heide Brandes

EL RENO Okla. (Reuters) - Along America's most fabled road, Route 66, lie the almost forgotten graves of German and Italian prisoners of war brought to Oklahoma some 70 years ago and who now rest in the red soil of a former Wild West pioneer outpost.

All but ignored by the thousands who travel Route 66 each year on nostalgic tours in search of bygone America, there are few signs and little fanfare surrounding the cemetery housing the remains of 62 German and eight Italian soldiers.

As many as 20,000 German POWs were brought to Oklahoma during World War Two and held at eight main camps and about two dozen branch camps chosen for their remoteness from urban areas for security reasons.

Germans made up the bulk of the POWs, who were put to work at tasks such as picking cotton and clearing fields. Most had been captured in fighting in North Africa but never made it home when the war was over after dying of pneumonia, appendicitis, accidents and, in one case, murder.

In the Fort Reno cemetery, separated by a low wall from the graves of those who died in the Wild West days, lies Hans Siefert, who suffered fatal wounds from a boiler explosion.

The most contentious among the dead is Johannes Kunze, who was murdered by fellow POWs who thought he passed Nazi information to U.S. doctors at a camp in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, said Karen Nix, director of the Fort Reno Visitor Center and Museum, about 40 miles (65 kms) west of Oklahoma City

"The die-hard Nazi prisoners killed him – beat him to death. Those four Nazis were hung, and Kunze was buried here," Nix said.

A few years ago, someone wrote "TRAITOR" on his tombstone in spray paint.   Continued...

Gravestones of German and Italian prisoners of war are seen at the Fort Reno Prisoners of War Cemetery in El Reno Oklahoma in this picture taken May 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Heide Brandes