The Nazis invaded Winston-Salem on October 24, 1944. They didn’t goose-step down Fourth Street. There were no armored cars, Tiger tanks, Stukas or Messerschmitts. They arrived quietly in the back of a few trucks, 210 of them. Two days later, 24 reinforcements arrived. Hardly anyone saw them.


There were no blazing headlines accompanied by pictures of death and destruction…just a couple of small articles in the local papers. The articles were intentionally bland. They explained that they could not give the number of POWs for security reasons. They stated that it was anticipated that the POWs would be here for 90 days, which turned out to be wrong. They did name the place where the POWs would be housed, but asked people to stay away from the area.


By then, the Third Reich was in its death throes. The Soviets had been grinding up the Nazi war machine for over a year and the Americans, Brits, Canadians, Free French, Australians and others were mopping up on the road to Berlin. The Germans who came to the Twin City were part of a defeated army.

The first German prisoners of war in North America were rent-a-troops, soldiers leased by the British from their overlords in Hesse during the American Revolution. About 20,000 of them came, but not all were actually from Hesse. Most were conscripts, nothing like today’s mercenaries. They were poorly paid and not much better treated. When Lord Cornwallis led his army across the Yadkin River into what is now Forsyth County in 1781, his Hessian mercenaries were surprised to discover the German speaking Moravians all around. Some of them took the opportunity to desert and disappear into the Germanic background.


The Hessen region today

A small colony formed in the area between Pfafftown and Bethania. There is a tiny Hessian graveyard in the woods off Balsom Road, with about seventeen recognizable graves. There used to be a few more, but vandals have been at work. The best headstones, which contained interesting geometric images, are gone. From the remaining ones we know a few names, but little more:

Surveyed by Phyllis Hoots and others. Submitted by Peggy Taylor in February 2011.

George, Andrew   (b. 25 Dec 1750 – d. 14 Feb 1841)  Aged 91 Yrs 10 Mos 11 Days. Death in Stokes County (now Forsyth County). Married Mary “Betsy” George, she was born 1753 died Aug 19 1813 in Stokes County (now Forsyth County)

George, James   (b. – d. ) His Child (no dates)

George, James Aldene   (b. 5 Aug 1795 – d. 17 Mar 1847)  Aged 48 Yr 7 Mos 12 Days. The original stone states death as 1847. The new stone has 1844. Per Moravian Diaries the original stone is correct. James Aldene George, son of Andrew George, born Aug 5, 1795 in Stokes County (now Forsyth).He died March 17, 1847 in Stokes County ( now Forsyth). He married Leah Stub Aug 2, 1819 in Stokes County. She was born Oct 1, 1799 in Bethania, Stokes County and died Dec 12, 1880 Forsyth County.

George, Johannas   (b. unknown – d. 6 Jun 1854)

George, John A.   (b. – d. )

George, Lorann   (b. – d. Jun 1845)

George, Mary   (b. 1753 – d. 9 Aug 1813)   Aged 60 Yrs. Wife of Andrew George.

Henning, Elizabeth   (b. unknown – d. 20 Nov 1858)   Granny. Lived and died in Stokes County (now Forsyth County) Actually died in Forsyth County, estab 1849

Henning, Johann Adam   (b. 1759 – d. 5 Jan 1824)   Lived and died in Stokes County (now Forsyth County)

Klyne, Jemes   (b. – d. 14 Dec 1809)   Aged 3 Yrs 8 Mos 3 Days

Malcom, Thomas   (b. – d. )

Stroop, Adam   (b. 1765 – d. 8 Jan 1814)   Stone missing at later visit. Photo was made by surveyor. Birth year and death year are not clear.

Stroop, Joel   (b. – d. )

Unknown, ??   (b. – d. )   Field stone

Unknown, ??   (b. – d. )    Field stone

Unknown, ??   (b. – d. )   Field stone

Unknown, ??   (b. – d. )   Sunken spot with field stone

Across Balsom Road and a little down the hill, there is a Waldraven grave which once was in the middle of a road. The road no longer exists. There are other Waldravens in Valdese, near Hickory.

An old story says that Adam Henning was in charge of Lord Cornwallis’s commissary. On the way across the Yadkin he lost the Lord’s favorite teapot. Fearing retribution, he deserted on February 9, 1781. James Aldene George, a second generation Hessian, became the miller at Abraham Conrad’s mill in Bethania, on what is now the Long Creek Golf Course across from Dr. Beverly Jones’s plantation on the Bethania-Tobaccoville Road. According to the Bethania Moravian Church diary, on the morning of March 17, 1847, he got up out of his bed and keeled over on the floor, dead. His funeral was held at the mill.

Most educated people are aware that the United States government interned thousands of Japanese-American US citizens during World War II. German descended American citizens have also suffered the same fate. During World War I German POWs and German-American citizens were confined to camps in several places in the US. The first of these was on the grounds of the Mountain Park Hotel in Hot Springs, in Mitchell County, NC up on the Tennessee border.


The facility housed about 650 US citizens and 2,200 POWs. The internees built their own village and put together a symphony orchestra.


The first World War II German POWs in NC were the surviving crew members of the submarine U-352 which was sunk by CGC Icarus off Cape Lookout on May 9, 1942. They were held for a time at Ft. Bragg, but spent most of their time at other camps in Virginia where they were interrogated by Naval intelligence regarding submarine operations. See pix and story here:

Sailors from U-162 and U-595 were later held there briefly. 24 members of the U-595 crew later participated in a spectacular escape near Phoenix, AZ which required more than a month to resolve.


POW camp at Williamston, NC

In the early years of the war, POW camps were mostly in interior areas of the nation because of fear of escape or even rescue operations. The first permanent camps in NC were not established until the spring of 1944, at Ft. Bragg and Camp Butner, about 14 miles northeast of Durham in Granville County.


Italian POWs at Camp Butner

At first, all prisoners, ot whatever nationality, were put in the same place, but officials soon discovered that mixing German and Italian POWs lead to problems, including outright fighting, so the facility at Butner was opened to house Italians. Even that did not solve the problem, because northern and southern Italians frequently fought each other.


German POWs harvesting lettuce on an NC farm


German POWs building a sidewalk at Moore General Hospital, Swannanoa, NC

As the POW population grew, Butner became the main camp and was expanded by opening branches in other locations. By 1946, there were 16 branches in addition to the main camps at Bragg and Butner.


The only known photograph of German POWs in Winston-Salem…apparently they are getting ready to leave.

The Winston-Salem facility opened on October 24, 1944 when 210 German POWs were transferred from Butner to the Twin City. An additional 24 arrived two days later. They were housed in the National Guard Armory on Patterson Avenue at West Ninth Street. The building was originally the second North Winston Graded School, which was converted for use as an armory in 1935.


Reynolds warehouses, 1943. Whitaker Park would later be built at lower left. Indiana Avenue runs across the top of the picture.

Most of the first group were young enlisted men, and most of them were put to work on area farms or in local tobacco facilities, many at the #2 leaf house of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Eventually, some of them were housed in temporary quarters located on Reynolds property downtown and in a metal building at the corner of Indiana Avenue and 30th Street, near Reynolds warehouses in that area.


The same area today. A few of the warehouses still remain. Whitaker Park at lower left.

There was one known escape in Winston-Salem, but there is no information about it. Because of local citizen fears, the FBI and the military kept a tight lid on escape information. The only ones we know any details about are those in which local law enforcement caught the escapees before the federal authorities knew about the escapes.

My favorite story happened at another one of the Camp Butner branches. According to some of the prisoners, one of their number bribed some guards. One morning in 1944 he walked out of the barracks carrying a suitcase, strolled through the gate as the guards studied something elsewhere, got into a car and vanished. Fifteen years later, he walked into the FBI office in Cincinnati and gave himself up. He told the FBI agents that he had been working as a bartender in Chicago, but that he had made no friends for fear of discovery, and that now, suffering from arthritis, he wanted to be among friends. The FBI wanted to punish him, but the statute of limitations for escape had expired, so they settled on illegal entry into the US, except, of course, he had not entered the US of his own free will, so they simply deported him. He died some years later in Spain.

The Winston-Salem camp was deactivated on February 26, 1946. During their stay here, many of the prisoners made friends with local people. In the years after the war, a number visited the city, including Gunter Shikora in 1995, Erwin Sommerfeld in 1997 and Werner Lobback in 2004.


Werner Lobback as a Wermacht officer


Lobback, left, with Sion Harrington of NCArchives and History during his 2004 visit to NC. Officers were not required to work, but Lobback’s group volunteered.



The two biggest US wars, “The Great War” and World War II, involved Germany as the primary enemy. Ironically, Germans, at 49.2 million, make up the largest ancestry/ethnic population in the USA. That amounts to about 15%. The second largest group is black/African American at 41.3 million, about 12%.

The other top groups, in order, include:

3. Irish   35.5 million, about 11%

4. Mexican 31.8 million, almost 10%

5. English  26.9 million, about 8%

6. Italian   17.6 million, about 5%

7. Polish   9.7 million, about 3%

8. French   9.1 million, about 2.8 %

9. Scottish   5.7 million, a little less than 2%

10. Scotch-Irish   4.9 million, a little over 1%

11. American Indian/Alaska Native   4.9 million, a little over 1%

“American” is a new reporting category which was intended to accommodate those whose pre-American ancestry is mixed or uncertain, but the vast majority of those reporting this category are white southerners attempting to make some sort of political statement. 19.9 million reported in this category in the 2010 US census. Their ancestry is mostly Irish, English, Scottish, and German, so those categories and a few others should be adjusted slightly upward by maybe a percentage or two.