Oklahoma had 8 Prisoner of War camps during World War II, but it was at Camp Tonkawa in the north-central tip of the Sooner state that one of the more notorious POW incidents took place. Tonkawa was home to 3,000 German POWs, mostly from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, along with 500 U.S. military personnel.
While there was always plotting among German POWs about escapes, and who was or wasn’t loyal to the Nazi party, something unexpected happened at Camp Tonkawa. The Germans had a traitor in their midst: one who was supplying the American captors with information about the activities of the imprisoned Germans. The man’s name was Johannes Kunze. He was a 39-year-old member of Rommel’s Afrika Korps who was captured in Tunisia in May 1943 and sent to Camp Tonkawa. Once at the camp in Oklahoma, Kunze began to cooperate with his American captors, keeping them updated and passing them notes about his fellow German prisoners and what they were up to.
In November 1943, Kunze passed a note, written in German, to a new American doctor at the camp who was not aware of his role as an informant, and did not speak German. Believing it was some kind of mix-up, the doctor gave the note to another German prisoner. The note made its way into the hands of Senior Sergeant Walter Beyer, a hard-core Nazi. On the night of November 4, Beyer convened a court of fellow German prisoners, and Kunze was found guilty as a spy by his former comrades. Kunze’s punishment: he was brutally beaten to death.
American authorities questioned 200 German POWs in Kunze’s death and finally settled on 5 to prosecute. Among them was Senior Sergeant Walter Beyer. The 5 Germans were found guilty of murder and were executed by hanging on July 10, 1945, in Leavenworth, Kansas.