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Etchings on Fort Knox chimneys may be work of German POWs

Apr. 7, 2013 - 11:27AM   |  
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FORT KNOX, Ky. — Small etchings of a palm tree that appear on dozens of chimneys at Fort Knox are believed to be the work of German prisoners of war held during World War II.

Matt Rector, Fort Knox historic preservation specialist, tells the News Enterprise that he’s counted 39 such drawings on residential housing on the Kentucky installation, but says there are probably more.

“These are predominantly located along Fifth Avenue,” Rector said, referring to an area where housing units date back to the 1930s and remains a residential area of the Army installation.

“There are nine duplexes that have both chimneys tagged,” he said.

Fort Knox opened a POW camp in February 1944 and the first POWs to arrive were Italians. It wasn’t until later in 1944 that German POWs first arrived at Fort Knox. Many of those German prisoners were sent to prison camps in Texas and some were moved to Kentucky.

During the time the camp was open, Fort Knox saw some 2,000 German POWs before the camp was closed in 1946, Rector said.

A group of German POWs from the Afrika Korps captured in Tunisia in 1943 were among those who eventually arrived at Fort Knox and provide a key to the mysterious palm tree drawings, Rector said.

Rector said the Afrika Korps used a symbol of a palm tree overlaid with a swastika, although none of the palm tree sketches found at Fort Knox have swastikas.

But Rector cannot say for certain how the drawings were left on chimneys, although Rector says they are “up there for some reason.”

He thinks the same individual may have been responsible for all the drawings and believes it may be possible that one of the POWs created the drawings while performing work on the roofs.

The POWs were put to work in and around Fort Knox, but they were mainly used for off-post work, Rector said. He said not all the work orders from that era still exist.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have an inventory,” he said.

For now, the Fort Knox palm trees and who put them there remain a mystery to Rector.

“I’m hoping one day I’ll find out more of the story, or ‘the rest of the story,’ as Paul Harvey used to say,” Rector said.

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