Pin-point: 55-21 North latitude. 15-10/30 East longitude.
The camp is near the old Prussian-Lithuanian border at Heydekrug, 40 kilometers Northwest of Tilsit.
2,411 AAF NCO's
The camp has 3 compounds: one American another British and the third joint British-American. The Britons are all RAF NCO's. Compounds contain 10 stonebrick barracks, each with a capacity of 552 men, and 12 wooden huts each housing 54 POWs. Men sleep in double decker bunks, have new tables, stools, and lockers. Heating is satisfactory, but ventilation is bad because the shutters must be kept closed, due to police-dog patrols. A large laundry (wash house), a barrack serving as chapel and theater with 8 small rooms for study, and 7 infirmary barracks are centrally situated. With a barracks capacity of 6,168 men the camp now holds 10,400 POW. It is believed 4,000 of these are quartered in tents.
German rations are poor. The potato allowance has been reduced from 400 to 300 grams, the quality of turnips has deteriorated, and fresh vegetables are unknown. These shortcomings are critical in light of reports that Red Cross food stocks, on which POWs, are dependent were exhausted 10 May and have not been replenished. Food parcels are pooled and 2 hot meals are prepared daily in each compound's kitchen. Lack of facilities in the kitchen makes communal preparation unsatisfactory, while crowding obviates the possibility of individual preparation of food.
Furnished by Red Cross. Worn-out clothing is supplied by Germans to pws employed in camp. Sewing machines & cobblers' tools are badly needed.
Health, now fair is threatened by congestion. While good medical care is provided by 2 British medical officers, at least 2 more doctors and 1 dentist are essential. The infirmary, which should have a minimum of 150 beds, has only 70. As a result, many of the sick are hospitalized in their regular barracks. Washing & toilet facilities are satisfactory.
Three British chaplains hold services in the barrack chapel. At the request of the pws, the Camp Commandant has applied to his superiors for a Roman Catholic chaplain.
Man of Confidence: T/Sgt. Francis S. Paules.
Secretary: T. Sgt. Jos. H. Harrison.
Camp commandant: Oberst Hoermann Von Hoerbach.
Average transit time for surface mail from camp to U.S.A., is 9 weeks; airmail, 1 month. Letters to camp from USA require 2 months travel time. Book parcels have been held at camp, before distribution, for periods up to 6 months because of too few censors.
Although space for athletics in limited, POW play baseball, football & other games for which YMCA has provided equipment. Educational courses are available with POW instructors in subjects ranging from banking through foreign languages. Entertainment is provided by a band, a choir, & a dramatic group, which presents occasional shows at the camp theater. The library has 6,000 books.
Work is not required. Some PW’s work of their own volition in the carpenter shop, making clothes pins for the central laundry.
Some of the items in this description are not historically accurate. The date of the report is July 15, which is several day’s after the camp was evacuated in the face of the Russian advance. The camp was opened in September 1943 to admit British and Canadian NCO’s who were former prisoners at Stalag Luft 1, Barth. Their MOC was Dixie Deans. The first Americans arrived in February 1944 and depended on the British, who shared their Red Cross parcels until American Parcels were received in late April or May. It is most likely that the information was abstracted from Protecting Power reports. The camp strength listed reflects both RAF and AAF personnel, and the figure of 10,400 men is totally inaccurate.
T/Sgt Frank Paules (Lansdale,Pa.)
It was the second of February, when 80 of us completed a long cold ride in boxcars up to Luft VI in Heydekrug, East Prussia. There was a contingent of British already there, led by a fellow named Dixie Dean. He welcomed us and brought us into their compound.
It was colder than hell and everybody was hungry. I asked around if anybody could speak German and Bill Krebs stood up. He was a railroad engineer from Pennsylvania, whose folks were German. He answered that he spoke both high and low German... that's Austrian and Prussian. We banged on the bars, got a guard to come over and said:" According to the Geneva Convention, you're supposed to give us blankets and food!" They hadn't given us anything and it was the dead of winter on the Baltic coast. A little while later, they came back with two blankets for each guy and some food. So, the guys said to me: " OK. You're the camp leader." In May, there got to be about a thousand of us and we had an election. I said: " If 90 percent of you vote for me, then I'll continue to do it... if not,then to hell with it." Well, I got the vote. When we got down to Kiefeheide, Richard Chapman was the camp leader. They elected me again, but at that camp, it was a dubious distinction. The first night we got there, after they beat me up, a guard came into my cell. He had a message for me: "If you continue to be camp leader, you'll be turned over to the Gestapo!" I thought about that, believe me.
Up there in the northern Baltic region, it was night two thirds of the time and plenty cold. We were penned up with lots of time on our hands. You'd lie awake in your bunk and just listen in the dark to the wind blowing... trying to interpret what you heard outside. Only five wooden slats to lie on, so we couldn't sleep all that well anyway. The slightest sound would distract you; it took a while to overcome this stuff.
In that first month up at Heydekrug, all we got was a bowl of thin soup per man, per day. The British shared their Canadian Food Parcels, until we got our own. That's how we made out! At some point, in May, Mr. Berg, the Red Cross representative and the Swede, Mr. Soderberg, got into camp. Then we started getting some parcels. Those food parcels were our life line; without them we would have starved. The protecting powers were supposed to see that the articles of the Geneva convention were carried out, and that was supposed to keep the Germans in check.
According to the Geneva Convention, the German Commander and his staff would only deal with one person; the Senior American Officer or the Vertraunsmann ( man of Confidence). Anytime there was a problem, or I had a problem, I took it directly to the Commandant; or he would send it directly to me.
We had a camp council that consisted of all the barracks leaders and myself. It was agreed that I would put something up for discussion; then, we'd talk about it. But, as the M.O.C. the ultimate decision rested with me. The reality of World War Two in the U.S. Army, was that we had a lot of 90 day wonders; but the tech sergeants had been in for a while and sweated things through. As a result, the non-com's had a wealth of talented and able men, who were perfectly capable. They were in some ways, more mature in terms of discipline and the way command things worked.
Another thing was that we were raised in the depression years and had worked our butts off for five dollars a week to help the family out. We weren't used to a lot of luxury. Maybe we gained a lot by growing up at that time.
We were set up on a military basis for interrogation, security and so on. We had a chain of command with elected barracks leaders. One of their very important jobs was to distribute food, clothing and cigarettes. Smokes were the medium of exchange. The English had shown us how to organize a lot of these things, so the camp would be run smoothly. Bill Krebs was our interpreter, Joe Harrison was camp secretary and Doc Nordstrom handled security. Carter Lunsford was my adjutant.
I remember that Carter Lunsford and I were in a small building apart from the barracks at Six. He was a proper Bostonian and everything had to be just right; proper speech, proper dress. At the end of the lager, we had a slit trench, where the guys would crap. Carter would say to me: " Now Frank, I'm going to the bathroom." I put up with this for a little while, until finally one day, I said: "Damn it Carter, it's not a bathroom, it's a stinkin' slit trench" . He paused for a moment and said again: " Frank, I'm going up to the bathroom".
It was colder than hell up there and the Germans gave us four lumps of coal per day per man. They put it out in a big pile, in front of each lager. I assigned Carter to see that the Kriegies didn't take any more than four each. So, he goes out, climbs on top of the pile; the guys come over, grab as many as they can and then run like hell! Pretty soon the pile shrinks down and there's Carter, just standing on the ground.
T/Sgt Carter Lunsford (Boston,Mass)
I was a radio operator on a B-17 ( 390th Bomb Group), that was shot down on January 21, 1944. I spent the following 16 months as a P.O.W. in Stalag Luft VI and IV, then on a forced march. That lasted from February 2 until April 26th, 1945 when we were liberated by the 104th Division at Bitterfeld,Germany. During that time I served as assistant camp leader under Tech/Sgt. Frank Paules.
According to the rules of the Geneva convention on the Articles of War, they had to separate the officers and non-commissioned men. Your privates up to corporal are allowed to work in the fields, factories and what have you, as long as they don't promote the war effort. The non-commissioned flyers like myself, went to one camp while the officers went to theirs. The Germans put us on a train headed for Hydekrug on the Baltic coast. Frank Paules and I met on that boxcar trip. None of us knew each other, so we just got to talking and so forth.
Luft VI was a new camp, but the RAF had been there for several months before we arrived. Our trainload of eighty prisoners was the first American contingent to come in. The British were fascinated with us when we got there and put us in a blockhouse along with their guys.
In our training, they hadn't given us much information about what we were supposed to do as prisoners of war. We knew that we could only give our name rank and serial number, and they had told us that it was our duty as soldiers to try to escape. Dixie Deans was the British camp leader. He gave us the whole rundown. Those RAF boys had been down for several years and they knew what it was all about. Dixie himself was quite a smart boy and had the camp really well organized. He explained to us how the camps were operated. How to stay away from the perimeters where the guards were. How to elect men to the office of camp leader and barracks leader and so forth; how to set up people to handle education, a library, sports and so forth. Most importantly, how to deal with the Germans to get food, medical attention,clothing and mail.
Frank Paules was a natural leader and fellows just gravitated to his leadership. He was very intelligent and well educated, but it was more in the way that he handled himself, the way he handled us and ultimately, how he handled the Germans. Frank asked me to be his assistant and we put together a staff rather quickly. We were fortunate to have many talented men among us who we voted on. All the guys cooperated and we became the accepted leaders. Whatever we said was OK with them and that gave us leverage with the Germans. They knew we were in control and they could depend on that.
One of our key guys was Bill Krebs, from Pennsylvania, whose folks were German. Bill had been a railroad engineer before the war and he was really sharp. At these meetings we had with the camp officials, he was a great help in getting the complete knowledge of what they were saying. That was of great assistance in helping us decide what to do. For example, we'd say: " Bill, we need more bed boards. These guys are falling through their bunks." Well, he would interpret that in a way, so that it was accepted by the Germans as a proper reason to complain. He used his own head when he said things to the Germans. If we just depended on their interpreter, you wouldn't know what the hell they were saying to the Commandant... but we had Bill there all the time. We were very fortunate.
Oberfeldwebel Dumbrowski was our slightly shell-shocked lager counter. Tom Mchale was an ex-newspaperman who wrote the Barbed Wire News every week on a large sheet of paper; Frank called him " the Old Man" because he was one of several guys who were into their forties. He and Dumbrowski would walk inside the perimeter of Six for hours, hands behind their backs. The thing was, Dumbrowski didn't know any English and McHale didn't know any German.
S/Sgt. Tom McHale
A unanimous vote of confidence was given the administration of Camp Leader Frank Paules at the Camp Control Meeting, Tuesday April 18. Instructed by the vote within individual barracks during the past week, room leaders voted complete confidence in present camp officials... Thus the Emergency Group set up by the first 80 Americans to arrive in this Lager receives a definite mandate of authority backed by the entire camp.
S/Sgt Tom McHale
Fast Camp Progress:
Efficient Lager machinery has been set up here, in a very short time and many mistakes avoided through the advice and counsel of RAF men in other Lagers. This camp has worked smoothly from the start by using a proved pattern of operations. Less than two and a half months after the first Americans came to this Lager, more than 2200 men are housed in barracks and fed daily.
T/Sgt Lloyd Nordstrom (Davenport,Iowa)
They took us by train up through Poland and we were lucky to be in a boxcar because some of us could lay down; other boys had to stand up for the 2 or 3 days it took to get there. Six of us had survived from my crew and the three NCO's went to Hydekrug. When we got to Luft VI, we ended up in the second building; F block. These were four tremendous buildings, made of stone, with an alley between each of them. Later I shifted to one of the little wooden huts off the parade grounds and worked with the security committee.
I had been selling medical equipment before I got in the service, so somehow, I got the name of Doc Nordstrom. There was another lad by the name of Fink, a ball turret gunner. He was trying to do security work and form an escape committee, but he was in bad shape at the time. I had my fortieth birthday in prison camp and there was another "old timer", a newspaperman from Dallas. Tom McHale is the one who ran our camp paper.
One of our guys would get letters from a pseudo uncle in Pennsylvania. These letters would tell him what things we might expect to be smuggled in to us and when. They might be asking questions about a certain individual or about something outside the camp. Of course, being confined to the camp the way we were, we couldn't tell them much. We had to write back in code. Now I don't mean Morse code, with dots and dashes; rather it was the placement of words in the letter itself. Otherwise the Germans would never let it go through.
Stuff came back to us through our parcels. I got a radio sent to me as well as all kinds of German money. I didn't know what to do with it, because you couldn't buy anything. Cigarettes were a different matter. We had one guard completely under our thumb with cigarettes. He told us everything the Germans were doing. He was a professor in some college in Germany and got drafted into guard duty. Unfortunately, they suspected him and he got picked up. We didn't see him for a couple of months, then he came back to the camp about 20 pounds lighter.
I kept the radio in my pocket. It was a little thing, maybe a crystal or something.It had a wire that we put up at five o'clock to get the BBC. No speakers, just an earplug. The krauts knew we had it. We would fall out every morning for roll call and they'd close off one barracks and shake it down completely, just looking for it. If they'd have searched me, why I'd have been a goner!
T/Sgt Frank Paules
We were allowed one letter and two postcards a month. That's how we got messages to the United States; and how the military intelligence got messages to us. There were two guys in each squadron in the U.S. Air Corps, who were trained in code. They were ordered to report to the camp leaders. If we wanted to send something back to the United States, I'd tell one of these guys and they'd put it in a letter, in a secret code. They'd write to their mother or wife or whoever. Before it reached home, it would be intercepted by military intelligence; There it would be deciphered and sent on. When a letter came back to these code men, a message might have been added before it reached camp. By the time we got to Luft IV, there were forty or fifty of these guys.
The other way they got messages in to us, was by radio. Up at Luft VI, we had a secret radio. Every night, at midnight, there was a broadcast out of London in three parts. The first part was messages to the underground: "The silver fox will run tonight"; the second part was music. In the music was a code that told you if, in the following straight news broadcast, there would be messages for P.O.W.'s. So, our guys would be listening to pick up these messages. For instance, in June of 1944, we knew that the invasion had been successful! The Germans had broadcast on the loudspeaker, how they had hurled the allies back into the sea; but we knew more than they did.
Once, I had to lean on Tom Mchale, who ran the Barbed Wire News. He was a real newspaperman, and he was sending guys around to the barracks to tell everybody it was D-day... like we were CBS or something! We're good friends, but I got hold of him and told him: " Damn it, you can't do this! We're at war here!" Back in Dulag Luft or out in the camps, the biggest thing a prisoner had to do was learn to keep his mouth shut.
S/Sgt Fred Salemme (Mt.Vernon,NY)
I was shot down over Frankfort, Germany on February 4, 1944. I was taken prisoner near Aachen, then sent to Frankfort for interrogation. We were put on freight cars and shipped to Stalag 17. It was too full there so the cars were routed through Berlin to Hydekrug. They had us crammed into these cars like sardines, and after a while things got a bit salty. One of my crew members, Kelly, was bored and decided to amuse himself with one of the guards. He smiled at the guy and said in his southern drawl:" Why, Hello you old son of a bitch!" The guard swung his machine gun down from his shoulder and said, in perfect English: " I'm not a son of a bitch!". I remember it took me 30 minutes to convince the guard that we called each other SOB's. "Dammit, that's a fond expression ...we call each other that all the time!"
That first train brought eighty of us up to Heydekrug. We spent a month or so with the British, until they opened up K lager. There were four rows of barracks (E,F,G,and H), thirteen to a row. I became the barracks leader for F-2, and we formed a camp council.
When new guys came into camp, they filled up the barracks in order. As leaders, our job was to make sure things ran smoothly in our room, and we got what was coming to us. The council of barracks leaders became involved in a whole range of things, including escape activities. Guys were always trying to figure how to get out of the camp. You really have to give Frank Paules a lot of credit for keeping a lid on things.
There was a time at Hydekrug when we got a shipment of baseballs and softballs. We gave them out to the guys and they started playing ball. The next thing you know, an airman came to Paules with letter from his sister. He said:" Frank, this is the first letter I ever got, but it's in code". We had been trying to build a radio, and it said that we would find some of the parts in the softballs and bats. Certain individuals were briefed in code, and if they were shot down, the government could communicate with them through letters from the family. We called in the equipment and found the parts; the guys called Paules all kind of names, but we couldn't talk...we couldn't tell them the reason.
The irony is, the German Major used to sit on that radio everyday. We had a wooden chair in Paules' office that the major would sit on. Hidden in the seat of that chair was the radio!
In the spring, we had a visitor from the International Red Cross named Christiansen. Dixie Deans was the original camp leader and he was a real son of a Gun. As the leader of the British and Canadian prisoners, all the Red Cross parcels, sporting equipment and musical instruments from the YMCA were consigned to him. The food parcels were distributed fairly, but the English got first pick of the recreational items. The Canadians and Americans got the leftovers. The thing is, more and more guys were coming into camp each day, and we numbered in the thousands.
One afternoon, Paules and I were walking around the perimeter of the compound with this Red Cross representative, and we brought this to his attention: " You know, you send stuff up here and Dixie Deans picks out what he wants, then gives us what's left. Those guys have an orchestra, they put on plays... We're coming up short here!".
Mr. Christiansen turned to Paules and said:" You have the greatest number of prisoners now. If you request it, I can send everything consigned to you." Frank says:" OK." The next shipment arrived and Dixie Deans comes over to our compound, quite disturbed: " They must have made a mistake... this shipment is consigned to you!" So Paules says:" Oh yeah?... Well,I'll sign it! I guess we outnumber you now, huh?"
Things changed. We had a 14 piece band, built a theater and put on musicals... until the Russians drove us out of Stalag Luft 6.
T/Sgt. Don Kirby (Columbus,Ohio)
I was a radio-man on a B-17 when we got shot down on the way to Frankfort. That was February 8, 1944. When we got up to Heydekrug the camp was new and we had to make do without much. Our area was all fenced and we were free to roam around. There were four stone barracks with an alley between each of them; the rooms had one window and a door opening into the alley. There wasn't much inside but our bunks, a table, and a stone stove. Our room was F-6 and I was still with Clyde Tinker, my crewmate. Vanderveldon was our barracks leader; he had been in the Royal Canadian Air Force (like Frank Paules).
The space between the barracks was pretty wide - maybe 20 or 30 feet, and then it was a long straight shot up towards the latrine. Me and Tink would walk up out of F5 to get our exercise and head down the alley between E and F towards the quadrangle. I know it had to be good 275 ft across because one day I hit a softball over the fence, back behind the latrine of course. That stopped our game for a couple of days until one of the guards got good and ready to go between the wires to get the ball. That's the way things worked in a prison camp.
The main road went back to a ten hole latrine, where the water and hose were. They had showers in there but we only used them twice in six months. You could go in and wash but it was like when I went to elementary school, back in the twenties. There was a short piece of iron pipe coming up about two feet off the ground with a slow trickle - that was for you to drink or wash in. Mind you now, it was winter and there was no hot water. That, you had to make for yourself back up in your barracks.
Mom and Pop sent me some long underwear. They were for me, which I'm over six feet, but I divided them up with my buddy Clyde. Hell, he was about five feet eight inches. So they was a bit long on him. What they sent me was white, so I had to go down to that old pipe and at least try to rinse them out now and again. I hated to do it, but I had to. That Tinker! I can't recollect if he ever did wash his; I know I threatened to write home about him!
In the morning we'd have to fall out for appell and they'd line us up for the count. There were times when the weather was good and we'd try to screw the Germans up on the count. But really, it didn't always work to our advantage. One of their favorite tricks was to get us all outside and say: "Well - we're going to have to leave you here." So we'd stay out there for a good couple of hours and it was colder than Hell by the time they came back.
One time, this PW set us up. There was a little guard house out where the goons would stay and they'd come back with their counts. Somebody sneaked in there and stole their picture of Adolf and threw it in the latrine. That made people laugh. To me it was senseless... you wasn't proving anything. Actually the only thing you was going to do was get a lot of guys hurt. When the goons found it floating in the back of the latrine, we had to stand outside in that awful cold.
When rations got passed out, there wasn't much to it. The Germans came around with these bread wagons, passed the stuff out and it would be only so many loaves into each barracks. Then someone would figure out how many are you and start to divide it up. Sawdust bread it was, although up at Heydekrug it had some barley in it. The most you'd get at any one time would be about one sixth of a loaf. It might have been good for you, if you had something to go along with that. For us it was Kohlrabies or Kartofelin (potatoes).
What really got you was that they issued the biggest damn spoon! Hell, one good spoonful and you was done with your ration. I always thought: " Look at that spoon. Maybe they're going to give us something to eat!"
Food on Way:
A telegram has been received from Geneva stating that 5 Box cars were dispatched April 4 containing 10,000 Canadian RC food parcels and 150 cigarette parcels...Argentine goods will be issued this week per man: 3/4 chocolate bar, 1/2 tin milk, 1/2/ tin butter, 4/10 box boot grease, 3/4 can jam, 1 pkg biscuits, soap, sugar and the big cheese issue.
Sad Sack Award:
To the Moron Privy Decorator in Block GH...nice IQ...Add to Moron list as runners up... bright boys who tore up stage to get firewood.
There were trees outside the compound and when you was taking your walk, you might look out there and think about better times. As it was, we had to get our own programs going with the little that we had. There was supposed to be a garden ( but I don't think I ever ate anything from it). As you walked up towards the quadrangle, there was a shanty they used for a "Gym" or if they wanted to have some kind of church service.
In the summer, Padre Jackson would stop by pretty regular. He was the English Chaplain and he'd say: "Anyone who wants to come to church today, just come around and meet me by the barracks."
We'd sit on the ground and listen to him talk. It would pick up your spirits, because those English had been in the can for years already. He'd got captured early in the war and had the privilege of going home. He gave that up to stay with the PW. It seems that earlier on, he'd got in trouble for stealing a loaf of bread, and had been prosecuted for it. In some way that led him to being a Padre!
We tried to do what we could to keep up our morale. There were guys taking classes, they put on plays. We organized a Sports League. The Camp paper wrote it up like it's really something; but people shouldn't think we had all that much going. There were some good athletes there, like Barker and Hamm and Pappas, and Augie Donnatelli, (He went on to become the head National League Umpire in the Big Leagues). But you've got to keep this thing in perspective. We remember these games fondly. But is was just to have something to focus on in the middle of all this misery.
S/Sgt Don Kremper (Kingston,NY)
The third week in February we arrived at Luft VI and were unloaded from cramped boxcars. It was another bleak wintery afternoon and the cold winds blew in off the Baltic to whip the snow around us. We waited our turn to be called inside, two at a time. Each POW had to undergo a strip search, have his picture taken, get finger printed and issued a Kriegesgefangenan tag with his number. Mine was # 1394 and I was assigned to Lager E, barracks F, room 6 ( the top bunk). These were brick buildings on a concrete slab and each room eventually held sixty men, on triple bunks.
It wasn't long before I fell into the daily routine. Dawn would bring the guards, and the doors and windows would be unlocked. Not long after, they'd blow whistles for us to fall out for a head count. This was performed twice a day, regardless of the weather. Often we'd wait in the bitter cold while the ferrets searched our barracks for hidden radios, tunnels, and the like. After this annoying routine ( the count was never correct the first time!), we went to the wash house- latrine and got ready for breakfast.
Each room assigned a food coordinator to go to the kitchen twice a day and draw rations for his room. His most nerve wracking job was slicing the bread for the sixty of us. Breakfast consisted of ersatz coffee made from barley kernels or acorns and saw-dust filled blackbread with "primo" oleo or jam on it.
Two men were assigned on a rotation basis, to empty the "honey bucket" from the night before. You'd straighten out the lumps in the two blankets we were issued, then get ready for your particular kriegie routine. The walk around the perimeter of the Lager was a daily thing, regardless of the weather. There was a library, fellows visited, played cards or told combat stories. There was always someone to feel sorry for... who'd been on his twenty-fifth and final mission!
The end of the day would bring roll call around again and then supper. The kitchen furnished us with hot water to make our powdered coffee, some kind of watered down soup with strange things floating in it and a couple of potatoes. We supplemented this with items from our Red Cross parcels, which were shared among four men. A "reader" might come in with the nightly BBC newsbroadcast from the camp's secret receiver. When the guards came for lock-up, it was lights out and sack time.
S/Sgt Roy Kennett (Dayton,Ohio)
It took me and Hy Hatton, several days to go by train up to the Baltic Sea. We went first class on a regular passenger train. We had a compartment, but they didn't let us look out of the windows. It was a civilized journey, that particular ride, but it was the only one! We reached Hydekrug, our camp, at the end of the first week of May, 1944.
Frankly, the Germans didn't give us much. We had to make do on our own. We made coffee cups out of margarine cans. We took some tin and made a handle on the outside. Strips off the Klim cans were wrapped around the handle and anchored it to the cup. We used it for that peppermint tea the Germans served us. After about two weeks, those cups got pretty cruddy. The next step was to clean them out with sand and water until it got nice and shiny inside.
I'm doing that one night, just about a half hour before lockup. I'm sitting there with Hy Hatton, from my crew and talking, while I'm cleaning out my cup. The cup's about half full of sand and dirty water and I'm thinking:" I'd better get rid of this stuff." I got up and went over to the door, opened it up without looking, and flicked the water out into the yard.
Just then a German guard was coming up the stairs to put the bar on the door. Man, I got that guy right in the chest. The two of us just froze, and he stared at me like I was crazy. It took a second or two, but I said;" OH SHOOT, let me help you with that!" I started brushing his coat off frantically:" SORRY MAN!" I guess he didn't know what to make of it, because he pushed me away and locked up. He was muttering something about "crazy Americans!"
T/Sgt. Frank Paules
At Luft VI, the Commandant was Oberst Von Hoerbach, an old line Prussian officer, who was very strict, but did not commit any cruel acts. Our morning ritual was always the same: "Guten Morgen, Herr Oberst"..." Guten Morgen, Herr Pau-les!" It seemed to give him a little kick to say it that way, because one of the commanders on the Russian front was Field Marshall Von Paulus. As Commandant of the camp, he did everything he could to treat us as soldiers, according to the rules and regulations of the Geneva Convention. I believe Von Hoermann treated us well to the best of his ability.
In the beginning, Luft VI wasn't so bad for us. The events of April at Luft 3, kind of put the kaibosch on POW's trying to escape. The S.S. shot 50 officers and then came up to visit us. We were called out and they made an announcement about those events. Before that, trying to escape was a kind of pastime...digging tunnels and so forth. The Germans knew we were out there, but figured:" What the Hell, if it keeps them busy!"
The situation grew worse for us when we were evacuated down to Luft IV. The place was run by no good, cruel bastards - real Nazis! I think one of the explanations for the change had to do with the attempt on Hitler's life, by someone in the high Command. At that point, the camps were taken over by the Gestapo and S.S. What they were saying was, "There's no more of this crap where you guys run things...we're going to run it all!"
Between the guards and us it was always a game of one-upmanship. We just wanted them to know we were alert, so we assigned two guys to dog every guard; to get to know them and psych them out a bit. Then we'd ask them for something and trade for food or cigarettes. If they'd trade, we would go back again and ask for something more important, until we had enough on the guard to blackmail him. One time, just for fun, we had this Austrian guard and we swore him into the American Army!
The Germans would put plants in among us; they spoke English and tried to pass as airmen. There was a system by which we interrogated everyone as he came in: " Where were you born? Where did you train? What was your station? and so on. If we had some suspicion, we'd pass that information back to the U.S. and they'd check it out. We found several phonies and I'd send a couple of guys from security, to give them the message: "If you're not out of here by dark, you're dead!" Of course, once we knew them, they were of no use to the Germans, so they'd go.
Up at Luft 6, the guards distributed anti-Jewish hate literature to all the barracks. They were trying to separate the Jewish fellows. So, I sent out a crew to collect all that stuff. We took it out into the middle of the lager and put it in a pile, in plain sight of the guards. I lit a match to it, burned it down and that was the end of it.
S/Sgt Frank Salemme
We had an Austrian guard named Otto, who used to come to our barracks every day. Austria had thrown in with the Germans and we had a lot of them around. I got along well with him and gave him cigarettes, from time to time. I trusted him. He came in one day and I turned around and asked him:" You know Otto, we need a small resistor. Would you get it for us?" He said: " Do you want me to get killed?" I said "No. I mean it,can you get it for me?" He replied:" No, I couldn't do that. In fact, it's my duty to turn you in."
I waited a week and no one came for me. I'll never forget the day he came back over and handed me a package of sweet onions. He said to me in German: " These onions are special. I got them just for you." So I said, " Here, have this carton of cigarettes" ... He replied in English: "No, I will never take cigarettes for these onions!", and left. In the bag was the part I had asked him for!
When you put so many men together, you find all kinds of characters. Huntzinger was a short, ball turret gunner and parachuted over France. He said it took him forty-five minutes to land. He was helped by the french underground and they put him in a whorehouse in Paris. Every once in a while, they would send guys towards the Pyranees, but he'd refuse to go.
Finally, Huntzinger was caught and ended up in a forced labor camp, making paper bags. His job was to bundle them and glue a wrapper around them. His idea of making it tough on the enemy was to glue all the bags together.
In camp, he carved a forty-five out of wood, then made it black with soot. Now, we had a goon named Crowbar Pete, who was always digging around the compound with a metal bar, looking for tunnels. Any time he showed up, we'd holler: Goon's Up!"
Huntzinger waited for him to come along, then let him catch a glimpse of the .45. Crowbar Pete would follow and watch as Huntzinger buried it, then ran off. Old Crowbar Pete hurried over and got so excited, like he was ready to pounce on the fake gun. As the guard started digging, Huntzinger would be hiding behind some corner, peeking at him and laughing like hell!
We had a tunnel going from the latrine, across the parade ground to the roadway and gate that crossed the moat around the camp. We chiseled under 12 inches of concrete under the latrine and had worked our way to the roadway. Of course, the tunnel needed shoring. We had five slats on our bunks, so we told everybody they had to give up a couple of slats. If you took the straw pallet and wrapped it around the sides of the bunk, it became a hammock; you could almost do without the slats.
We used Prince Albert cans to get rid of the dirt. We must have raise that field about two inches, scattering the dirt we got out of that tunnel.
Everything was going fine, and then our luck went sour. We had this heavy rain in March and one day as we were being counted, a guard sunk into the tunnel. They kept us on parade for three days as punishment.
T/Sgt Carter Lunsford
At Luft 6, Col. Von Hoerman was our Commandant. He was a very fine Prussian gentleman officer. Very stern, very strict, but very fair. He abided by the rules of the Geneva Convention. His assistant was Hauptman Zimmerman, who was in charge of the vorlager ...that is everything outside the camp. Our lager Fuhrer was Major Heinrich, the adjutant of the camp. This guy was like Col. Klink in Hogan's Heroes, and in fact, looked like him. The Lager officer was Hauptman Voltz, and when we had the parade, we had to report to him.
One of our guards was a young guy named Feldwebel Schroeder. He's the one we got our radio parts and other stuff from. We worked through him if we needed anything. He was a smart guy and knew how to play both sides, I'll tell you...and keep his nose clean. We had tunnels and escapes going on almost as soon as we got settled. One group of four guys cut their way out and went down through a drainage ditch that ran around the perimeter of the camp. We protected their disappearance for well over a month. Feldwebel Schroeder came in and told us that half the German officers thought we had men out and half thought the men were still in camp. We had them that confused.
I used to stand and take the count at parade, twice a day. I knew just when the men were going to start jumping around to mess up the count and I could see them doing it, because I knew what to look for. The Germans would be counting and finish up one barracks. Then I'd see two or three guys get down and quickly scoot over and get into the next line. The Germans never caught us and the count would always turn up right. But we did have some close calls.
One time, a new bunch of fellows came in and were moving the men into barracks G. The Germans were all over the place and they started to make a surprise count.They told us: " Everybody out so we can make a count!" I said to myself:" Oh my... Jesus, we haven't any protection here!" The missing men were from barracks F, which was adjacent but separated by an open lane about 15 yards wide. I knew I had to do something in hurry!
I ran into H block and grabbed four of the new PW's and said: " Look...You've got to fill in for the count over there. This count's going to be all screwed up, anyhow! There's too much going on here for them to get it right." We started across the alley and this Major Heinrich, who had three soldiers with him, spotted us running. He yelled for us to stop and came tearing across the compound with those guards. Of course we came to a quick stop!
They called for an interpreter and Schroeder showed up. He was a big help. Heinrich wanted to know: "What are you doing out here? Why aren't you in the barracks?" I said:" I'm the assistant camp leader and I'm bringing these men back over where they belong. They're just in block H to see their friends who've just come in." All the while these guards are standing with their guns leveled at us and I can see Schroeder carrying on with the Major:" Yes, yes, he's bringing them here and so forth ...everything is in order." Finally, Heinrich shouts at us: " All right, get in there, and don't let me see another guy on this street!" We fell in with the rest of the guys from Block F and of course the count came out right! The fellows who'd escaped had been gone for well over a month and eventually the Germans did what was called a corral count. This is where you all get out into one big group, then they pass you two at a time past a guard. We did that for two or three days. Finally the British gave us the word : " Hey, look this has gone far enough. Just forget the count. They may have your people anyway!"
It was always cat and mouse with us and the guards, but there were times when we could understand each other. There was a propaganda newspaper up a Six that published a picture of a whole group of PW's which, they claimed, had been recently captured all at once. It was actually the entire group of British and Americans, some of whom had been prisoners for years. Some of the guards really blew up and got mad! It made them look like fools. They threw their hands up in the air as if to say...eeeeehhh!!!
T/Sgt Don Kirby
When we first got up to Heydekrug, there were a lot of nights when you'd think to yourself: "I might be here for the rest of my life. I might easily be here!" We was down before D-Day, and there weren't even Allies on the Continent. We were up at the far end of things, too! I don't know how we could think it would be over soon, when France was still occupied, and there were Germans everywhere. So, you get to thinking: "I don't want to spend my life being cooped up."
That's how I got hooked up with Sandy Cerneglia. He was a tough little Italian guy from down in New Jersey and he was forever cooking up schemes. We'd talk it over and he'd say "Kirby, I gotta get out of here. I've got to get our of here." There wasn't any situation we was in, that he couldn't see some way to "Get outta here." Up at Luft 6, on the boat over to Stettin, behind the wire at Kiefeheide - he was always on the lookout for an opportunity; and it finally came, when we were on the road in February. Sandy was a guy who couldn't stand being cooped up, and I happened to go along with him. There's guys who said: "I'm going to stay right here and do everything they say. And I'm going to get home." I can understand that, but it kept our morale up, to think about escaping.
T/Sgt Lloyd Nordstrom
During the seven months we were in Heydekrug, the British and us were always trying to get out. It didn't often work, but we kept trying. There was a stream going through one corner of the compound, with barbed wire across it. A little further up was a bridge. Two guys came to us with some kind of a rigged up wire cutter. They went out into the creek and stayed under the bridge until nite fall, then the guards left the compound. I was in the kitchen looking out a window watching, when a German officer came walking down towards them. I went out and yelled to them: "Duck down, an officer is coming!" The Kraut came down, looked around down there and took off. The stream had high banks so he couldn't see anything. Our guys finished cutting the wire and the first man went out. Before the other guy could follow him, a bunch of Germans came back into the compound. They were fooling around out there and all of a sudden, the guy under the bridge made a move. The Krauts saw him and that was it! Those guys were gone for about two weeks. When they returned, they said: " That's the best treatment we ever had."
The last Englishman that tried to get out, spoke German quite well. He got a uniform from this guard we had under our thumb. Then he went right through the gate and outside the camp. At some point, he was asked what outfit he was with, but he didn't have the right answer. Our information wasn't up to date, because a couple of days earlier they had changed outfits. So, the German's grabbed him.
A lot of guys came to us with plans, and some of them weren't too happy with our decisions. The fact is, we tried to look out for them. We had Red Cross parcel men go out to the vorlagar every day. Two guys made a plan to change places with them. Prior to the escape I told them: " If there's no chance in the world to get out, you just stay there and they'll come back for you." The guys took a chance and tried it. The Germans saw them, the dogs came up and what not; one guy got chewed up and the other put his hands up, then got shot. There names were Ed Jurist and George Walker.
S/Sgt Ed Jurist(NY)
When I first got to Luft VI, Hydekrug, I was over in "E" barracks. Later, I ended up in Barracks 15, which was a little hut at the near end of the compound ( fairly close to the gate and cookhouse). The Krauts decided to put us troublemakers in there (about 8-10 of us).
The way things were set up, E compound was American, A compound was English and K compound was Canadian. The Brits were right next to us in A and K was across the lane, about fourteen feet wide with barbed wire on both sides. The lane led out between their compounds into the Vorlager. This area held five small buildings; the hospital, the cooler and the Red Cross stores. The main gate out of the camp was in the center of the fence, along the Vorlager. The whole space was flat, sandy and sparsely covered with tundra grass.
I'd been shot down on the March 6 raid to Berlin, and got to Hydekrug with several of my crew, about mid-March of 1944. At this time, all sorts of escape activities were in progress at the camp. There were tunnels being dug, and both the British and Americans, had made successful break-outs above ground. The British actually had men leaving the camp on a regular basis. One of their famous escapees was named Townsend-Coles; he went out of the camp and never came back.
Another chap was a real pistol, named Lehman. This S.O.B. was in and out of the compounds like water; once he even showed up dressed as a goon, blue cover-alls and all. We had guys called "readers", who came periodically to the barracks. Immediately, someone was posted to the doors and windows to see that the Germans wouldn't disturb us. The reader would have the latest news from the secret radio (a receiver, not a transmitter). On this particular day, no sooner was he in the room, than the door opens with a bang! Our guys didn't even have a chance to get to the windows; this Kraut walks in and slams the door behind him. A moment passed before someone shouted : "It's O.K. Don't worry about him." It was Lehman, in disguise, wearing a German uniform. It seemed he could go in and out of that place whenever he wanted to. I always wondered what happened to him. He and Townsend -Coles were memorable characters.
All sorts of escape techniques were attempted, but they were all hollow. There were few real success's. Some of them were brilliantly devised, but impractical. We had a tunnel that was attempted under the shithouse. That was a devastating thing, because, the latrine was nothing more than a concrete trench. In order to get into that trench, you had to wade into it; but the Kriegies did it. They smashed their way through the wall of the trench, working in teams... a half hour at a time. They were headed towards the barbed wire right behind it. The distance to cover was quite short, so they were well on their way to succeeding. One problem was, of course, what do you do with the dirt? Between the barracks, we were permitted to build a basketball court. As the dirt was dug, a guy would come over to the area and dump it; the ball players would run over and stamp it down, right away. That court was getting higher and higher all the time.
Another problem is the engineering; how do you shore the tunnel up? We only had six slats under our straw sacks. Each of us would donate one to the escape committee, who'd split them up for use as shoring. In this case, another engineering problem was, maintaining a correct heading and depth. At some point,as they neared the fence, they were only a foot or two from the surface. One day, a Russian prisoner was walking around back there behind the latrine,cleaning up. It had rained the night before and he fell through. That Russian was paralyzed with fear! As he went down, he started crying and screaming and carrying on. The place was full of Krauts in no time at all. It's a shame, all that work done for nothing.
The only real mass break I know of, from the American compound at Hydekrug, involved Harvey Elwood Gann. He went out with a guy named Stapleton and a POW named Lamarcha. I know of this because Gann and I escaped later, when we evacuated Kiefeheide. They got out for 3 or 4 weeks. At the end, the guys were in a deep woods, and set up camp for the night. They built a tiny fire, so nobody could see it. Guess where they were?... Right over a German High Tech underground installation. The Krauts came up and grabbed them all.
The various committees we had were supposed to be secret, as far as escapes and security was concerned. Plans were submitted and approved, disapproved or changed.
George Walker may have been involved with them, as a mapmaker, but I'm not sure about that I had met him in camp, just as I had many other people. He was a big, heavy set guy; tall, with dark hair. Walker's home town was Spartansburg, South Carolina, and he spoke with a real southern drawl.
As I remember it, George approached me first. I was a barracks leader. We'd meet, to get away from the rest of the crowd, on the edge of the " playing" field. Sitting there in the scrub grass and looking out over the field, we started talking about escapes; How... When... Where?
I spoke some Russian and some French, so we decided to head up north through Estonia and Latvia, into Russia. My family was from there, and in fact, my dad was a Russian translator and liaison officer for the Air Corps up in Fairbanks,Alaska (At the same time I was in prison camp, half way around the world!). It was decided that we would make the attempt on April 29, 1944.
The plan was really brilliant... genius up to a point. When parcels came in, a group of American prisoners were permitted to go through the gates, from the American lager into the Vorlager, and over to the Red Cross supply building. They would pack a wooden, flatbed cart and pull it out, loaded with big, empty Red Cross boxes. Six P.O.W.'s were authorized to pull this wagon out and dump the empty boxes in the area behind the Red Cross supply house. They could return with fresh supplies. A deliberate accumulation of empty boxes was staked up.
It seemed that six guys went out, but there were actually seven. A little guy by the name of Robinson, who was a ball turret gunner, got into one of the boxes inside the camp. When they arrived at the Red-Cross shack, the Guards were deliberately distracted. While their attention was on this commotion, Walker, who was a big guy, jumped away at the moment of distraction. He hid down between the boxes. Robinson was back on the wagon in a box, so he leapt of, and took Walker's place. Six guys pulled the wagon out and six guys pulled the wagon in.
On the second run out from camp, I was up front, pulling the wagon. Robinson was back in a box. We went over to the shed, created another distraction... and I hopped behind the empty crates. Again, Robinson leapt off the wagon, and he took my place. The Krauts counted six prisoners and they returned to the compound.
That left George Walker and myself hidden in the Vorlager. We wore what was left over from our G.I. issue; a leather jacket and some pants,a sweater and homemade cap,some kriegie had knit. We were P.O.W.'s ,so civilian clothes weren't allowed. In fact there was a big, black market in A-2 jackets. The Red Cross hadn't come through with much clothing yet.
Now there's one thing that was fantastic! The Red Cross would send in balls of yarn and Knitting needles. Then our guys would knit like crazy, making sweaters and hats. What a thing, to see tough G.I.'s sitting around talking and watching a ball game, while they made scarves.
George and I were not really covered... just standing behind the shed, surrounded by those empty boxes; Neither of us were small guys, either. The back of the shed was quite broad; at least twenty feet wide. The boxes had been piled up to one side of the building,deliberately, to help us out.
Waiting for nightfall, we had spoken seldom, and in hushed quiet tones. There were guards all around us in the Vorlager and occasionally I would nudge him and point at them. During the afternoon, we stayed in absolute stillness. It was devastating to feel each minute go by, and be trapped within your own thoughts. Late in the afternoon, it started to grow chilly and the sun slipped away. As the searchlights came on, the guys in camp returned to their barracks for evening meals...then we really felt alone out there. Walker was getting jumpy.
I'd say we were behind that shed from two or three in the afternoon, until late that night... well after midnight. We were bidding our time, but you couldn't sleep under those conditions. It's not so much the cold, but the fact that you're alert to a point where it's painful. Every sound is a nerve-wracking, horrifying possibility of being discovered, and maybe being shot.
When the time finally came for us to make our move, away from the boxes, Walker wanted to blow. He didn't want to go. "Let's not do it. Look at those guards walking outside the perimeter! This is crazy...We haven't got a chance!"
By this time, I was all tensed up and ready. Any change in plans would have been disastrous. There was no way to get back into the compound. We would have to wait there until the morning to surrender in broad daylight... and hope the German's would take us back in. I wouldn't hear of it. "We're here, we can't go back...We have the wire cutters with us and the maps, it's all right. We can make it!"
The fellows in the compound thought it was a done deed and they were all set to cover for us. The escape committee had thought that, psychologically, this plan had a good chance for success. They figured the Germans would never expect an escape attempt through the barbed wire... ten feet from their barracks. That was the key to the whole thing.
It had come down to one guard in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the only flaw in the plan. The theory was that our guard was to go around the camp. He should have passed a certain station and kept going around the perimeter... maybe a total of five or six city blocks. This particular guard kept going back and forth in front of the gate. With all the tower lights on, he was getting adapted to, and could see everything.
There were rather marvelous, but complicated arrangements made inside our lager, to cover the escape. Every morning at appell, we were strictly counted... and I mean strictly counted,by our guards. Now here was a situation where the Germans would know that American prisoners had been caught trying to escape, yet the next morning, everyone would be present and accounted for. Fantastic! How could they do it?
In order to confuse the Krauts on the count, they arranged a very clever way to fool them. As each group was counted, a distraction was made. POW's were standing in groups of four rows, with maybe 60 or 70 guys in each group. One guy would slip away from the back of the ranks and run into the front of the barracks. Then they'd slip out and get back on line again. It's unbelievable,but that's what they did, on several occasions.
The boxes were piled up some six or seven feet high, so we pushed them aside, got down and started crawling. I went out and George was right behind me. We headed towards the first line of barbed wire, beyond which lay more coiled barbed wire and a ditch. Then came another fence. It was going to be a hell of a time, once we cut the first wire, because we had to go through those obstacles and up the other side. That would put us in the flats by the front gate and the German barracks. It was gruelling work to have to inch forward and stop; but we kept going until we were about 25 feet from the trench.
About that time, George was behind me and we were down on our bellies. We had no camouflage... no paint on our faces... nothing. Inside the Vorlager, the Red Cross sheds, the hospital and a confinement cell, were just dark shapes behind us. A guard was pacing back and forth, just outside the fence, and the lights were sweeping the area. My face was so close to the ground that every gust of wind, whipped dust at me and I had to turn my head away.
We waited until the light was shining away from us and then moved a few feet forward. The search light swept back across the Vorlager. By this time, the sentry was very familiar with and attuned to the rhythm of the night.
He went out about sixty yards from the main entrance, not quite as far as the corner tower, then turned back again. You could see those German barracks clearly from where we were huddled; it was just outside those gates. The escape committee had said: "They'll never dream that we would try to escape right through their back yard! " It was a gamble.
The guard passed by; he looked in. He looked right at us. It was a sandy area... the soil in that part of Prussia, just had marsh grass on it, so we had very little cover. The whole idea was to do this quietly. As we crept along, we just had to time our movements to the guard and the lights. If he'd have gone around the perimeter, the way he was supposed to... we would have had twenty minutes or more to move.
So, the Kraut guard was walking forward, when suddenly he tensed and spun around. As if to say : " ah ha!! " We just froze. He got upset, the way all Krauts did, screaming and shouting: "Raus...Raus...Raus!" The minute he started to scream, I told Walker : "Don't F___ing move! Otherwise we're dead. Just lie still... Don't Move!!!"
That son of a bitch fires. Shot right at us, not over our heads. At that point, I got up on my knees and in mixed German I said: " Schiesen nichts !! Kamerraden... Don't shoot...Don't shoot!".
The bastard shot again, so we hugged the ground. I got up and shouted, then the lights went on all over. In the commotion, I lost track of the first guard, but he fired again.
"Where can we go... what's he shooting for ? " we asked ourselves. It was pure panic. I told Walker : " Lay down, don't move,George." To this day, in my mind, in my memories, my nightmares come alive, because I said " DON'T MOVE!".
George was behind me, laying flat. Sure enough, the main gate opens up and the dogs come in. They're the one's who really found us. Behind them came the hund- posterns, the dog guards. Those dogs were vicious and dedicated to one guy; if he got sick or something, the dogs had to be shot. So, they found us and started tearing at us. After some time, a guard comes up on us - I could only see his boots and legs standing beside us... nothing more. All around was screaming and barking and more soldiers coming into the Vorlager.
The guys in the Canadian barracks were hollering in English behind us, but they were separated from us by the barbed wire; they could see every thing happening to us, because the lights from the towers had us pinpointed.
Someone pulled the dogs away, and Walker made a move. I didn't know what was happening; I was trying to understand. Walker moved and got up. And ...HE WAS KILLED... on the spot!
He fell over on me. By this time there were fourteen to sixteen other guards who'd come in. The one who first came in with the dogs, was the guy who shot Walker. I'll tell you why he did it, too. That Kraut thought I was dead. He must have figured: My God, look what we've got here! These prisoners are trying to escape, now one of them is shot." He wouldn't have done it out of malice, but I think he was trying to cover up. He thought I was killed by shots from the perimeter guard and figured :" This one's dead and maybe there's going to be an investigation!" It was cold blooded murder.
T/Sgt Frank Paules
While at the camp, there were two incidents in which two Americans were killed. During the last week of April, on the 29th, Sgt. George Walker was killed. Walker, along with Sgt. Jurist ... got from the American inner lager to the vorlagar, which was within the confines of the camp area ... They both surrendered, in German, and Walker stood up ... his hands up in the air. Several guards entered the vorlagar and one walked up to ten feet of Walker ...shot him through the heart with a pistol. I think he was a member of the Abwehr under the command of Major Gruber.
I personally checked and found that the body of Walker had been taken inside a building in the vorlagar. In the morning, I went out to see him... (along with) the British Medical officer, Capt. Pollack. The Germans claimed to me that Walker had attacked the guard who had come into the lager; But the testimony of the eye-witness stated that Walker had stood up and remained motionless until he was shot.
S/Sgt. Tom McHale
In a little burial plot on the edge of a grove of young Birch trees, six of his comrades laid to rest the body of T/Sgt George B. Walker. Thousands of miles away from his native Carolina, the only touch of home was the simple American flag that draped his bier; and the sharp notes of Taps, that drifted across his grave in a chill wind, under the clear blue Baltic sky.... just a stones throw from one of the guard towers of Stalag Luft 6.
S/Sgt Ed Jurist
They took me to solitary confinement, then I was shuffled back and forth between the little prison and the officers quarters, where they interrogated me. They could not figure out how we got from the American compound through all the checkpoints,into the Vorlager. In my cell, I had a tiny window. I remember looking out on a Monday, thinking: "Wow, this is May Day, and here I am in this cell! " That would have been May 1,1944.
There was an old man, a guard we later nicknamed " Pop " who kept me alive. One day, he opens the door a crack, gives me some bread and rations, then closes the door again. When I got out, Pop used to come and visit and he'd say:" I come to see my boy's." He'd bring us things... whatever he could. I don't know why, but he took care us.
Sgt. Robert Doherty
First distribution of American Parcels will be next week... on a split basis with Canadian...two men sharing a pool of 2 full parcels... two types of American Parcels are on hand... #9 contains Lg. Pwd milk, prunes, corned beef, 8 oz. cheese, 8 oz. biscuits, Nescafe, 2 pkgs. orange powder, margarine, salmon, choc., cigarettes, vitamin tablets and liquid coffee... cigarettes will be taken out and distributed separately.
Interlagar boxing has a color of its own. Wednesday and Thursday, under the klieg lights in K lager, G.I.'s in battle jackets mingled with Luftwaffe guards, Padres and RAF men from England and all the Dominoes, to witness two nights of fast, clean fighting. In the hush hush silence imposed by English rules, the labored breath of spent fighters on Kriegie rations was audible above the swish of leather and the quiet voice of the outside referee.
S./Sgt. Robert Doherty
Training for the Big Fight Card June 5-6 , Lager A boxers have the benefit of top flight ring experience.Foremost among the men who are grooming our youngsters is George Fiest ... During his ring career he met most of the top men in his class...Today the " Bearded Marvel" is under his wing... Ringside:
Geo. Pratt says A Lager boxers coming along in fine shape. Kirby, Weatherford, Boisvort, Red Houser getting into form.
T/Sgt. Linden Voight
While I was a prisoner a Stalag Luft VI, it was customary for the Germans to lock the doors of our barracks building around ten o'clock in the evening. The next morning, at six o'clock, they would be unlocked. During the ten to six o'clock period, none of the internees were allowed to walk about the compound area. One evening the Germans failed to lock the doors. The next morning, which was on or about (Sat. May 27,1944) Staff Sergeant Walter Nies arose; since it usually became light at four o'clock in the morning, thought it was somewhere near six o'clock. Presently, one of the other internees came into the barracks and stated that he had just been to the latrine. Nies wrapped a towel around his neck and with a bar of soap in his hand, left the barracks.
He started across the compound area on his way to the latrine. He had gone about one half the distance, when one of the guards saw him and immediately started firing. It was actually about 5:30 A.M. and when I heard the shots, I rushed to the window of my barracks to see what had happened. I saw Sgt Nies lying sprawled out on the ground. The towel was still around his neck and a bar of soap in his hand. He was approximately one hundred feet from my window. I could see that a bullet had entered his left side, just above the hip and a spot on his back where apparently, the bullet had emerged.
Everybody was immediately aroused, but the German guards came into the compound and demanded that all of us stay indoors. The German guards gathered around Nies' body, and after about thirty minutes, he was carried away on a stretcher. Frank Paules and Bill Krebs were allowed to accompany Nies to the dispensary. He was still alive when he arrived in the infirmary and was carefully examined by Dr. Pollack, medical officer, British Army. Since they did not have sufficient facilities there, Nies was taken to a German civilian hospital in Heydekrug.
Capt. Pollack was permitted to visit Nies in the hospital( on Sunday,May 28). He was given a blood transfusion, but died about 3:30 that afternoon.( on Tues. May 30,1944) Staff Sergeant Walter Nies was given a military funeral. His body was placed in a rough box, draped with an American flag. The guard who shot him was transferred immediately after the shooting.
T/Sgt Frank Paules
The German officer in charge of the security inside of Stalag Luft 6 was Major Gruber. He was 5 feet-eight inches, stocky, blind in one eye, with a patch over his left eye. He weighed about 170 pounds with thin straight blond hair. As officer in charge of security ( called the Abwehr) he had a great deal of authority; particularly concerning placement of guards, instructions issued to them, searching of PW's, (also) the detection and punishment of any attempted escapes...Also stationed at the camp, was the Gestapo man in civilian clothes, who was closely allied with the security. The Commandant's job was to act as the coordinator of the activities of the Abwehr and the administrative officers of the camp. Depending on the type of individual the commandant was, he allied himself with either the Abwehr or the administration officers. When the Abwehr took action, as they did in the case of the shooting of these two men... Col Von Hoermann apparently had to tolerate such actions...it was extremely likely that these officers would receive their orders from a higher command.
Tuesday afternoon our second funeral party marched out of E lager. This time to bury S/Sgt Walter Nies, who died late Sunday afternoon ...At 2:00 pm a party of 22 comrades left the gate. Led by Camp Leader Frank Paules... the procession marched between the barbed wire of A and K lagers to the vorlagar, where it was augmented by the three camp padres... the hospital staff... A lager leader Sgt. Deans and K lager leader Sgt Clarke...A Red Cross cart was pulled... out the main gate and down the wire past the guard towers to the camp burial plot...the entire party stood at attention as the sharp notes of taps again disturbed the silence of Beech Grove. The sky darkened overhead and thunder rumbled in the distance...
What are the chances of " the Bearded Marvel" against Kriege welter champ Jno Tracey? ...both sides of the wire are trying to get the real low down as interest rises in the big bout scheduled for next Tuesday...It looks like a big smoke cleanup for the wise money boys who guess right. Heavyweight:
Like Harry Greb, he does a lot of things wrong, but he always has his mitts in the other fellows face He is big ( 6ft. 2 in. ), tough (full back at Patterson HS of his native Columbus).An Ohio boy, Don Kirby played Class D baseball in the Kitty league... 3rd base, Johnson city, Tenn. a St. Louis Card farm team...Scott field Radio helps explain the Greb Deal. He came through via Patterson, Keesler and Moses Lake to the G.T.O.... Never boxed before he joined the stable, but he has really come along fast since he started to shadow box and work out in the Pratt Gym. Watch out!
T/Sgt Frank Paules
We had a really well developed sports program, at Heydekrug; thanks in part to the YMCA. We had a kid from the University of Kentucky Basketball team, boxers from all over America and the U.K.; and regular baseball games as well.
In wartime, whether you're in a prison camp or wherever... men and women will try to conquer their environment. I'm not sure that any of the guys at Six or Four had a chance to become great lovers, but there were times when we did have spirits. You know, in those food parcels, there were raisins and prunes and sugar. You steal a light globe or bucket, fill it with water and dried fruit; then when the lid blows off...kickapoo joy juice!
I distinctly remember putting a lot of effort into a patriotic speech for the Fourth of July, that summer of 1944...just before we left Heydekrug. We had a big crowd out on the field, watching fights and playing ball. Well, I got up on the platform to give this beautiful speech, and by God,... to tell you the truth, I don't think one person heard me out there. It seemed to me, they were all drunk. You get a group like that all together and they can make do with the damndest things... especially when you've got time hanging on your hands. You've got to cook up something!
T/Sgt Don Kirby
Sports was my thing. Aside from football and baseball, one of the biggest sporting events were the boxing matches. This led up to the grand finale. It was the Americans against the British and Canadians. Now, heading up the alley toward the quadrangle was this shanty. That's where we trained. There was no heat, no light and just a bare wood floor. The only way you kept warm was to just go at it; and as far as the thing to hit, why it was just a sack full of rags and sand. There was no light bag to work out with and that meant you just stood there and plowed into it.
Steve Swidirski was "the Bearded Marvel" and he's the one who helped me learn to fight. Steve had won the AAU Golden Belt and was the guy with the winning record, on our side of the fence. He wanted to work out with a bigger guy. I wasn't that good, but with his help, I was getting to where I could pick my spots.
Instead of having to swing so many times, I cut down on my punches and I learned combinations. My brothers (back in Columbus, Ohio) were a bunch of tough Irish kids, and they first taught me how to jab. That's what gave me a shot at this business. Now the fellows here were saying: "We'll show you how to make a series of punches; a jab, a right cross and then come back with a left hook." Well, doing it everyday and not having any distractions, it started to come naturally. In three months, I could cross that right, and buddy when it hit, it hit.
We were up in the shanty and sparring. Steve ducked down to get away from my body punch ...when boom! I socked him with my right hand. There he went, his butt bounced around a couple of times. We looked at each other and I stood there said, "Well - I didn't know that was going to happen!" Boy, when you know you can do these things you get that much more confidence. Of course, I didn't know what I was going to face.
Gene Boisevert was French Canadian. He was big. He'd gone through all the elimination fights and had everybody convinced that he was the best. Gene was going to be my big test. My good buddy Clyde Tinker had been watching me and he drags me over to the promoter of these fights, George Pratt, winner of the gold belt in 1937. Old Tink says to him "Kirby can lick him". So they said to me: "Go in there and try it." Well, as big as he was, if he hit you as hard as he could, it wouldn't hurt you. So I moved into the finals.
S/Sgt. Tom McHale
German Radio: June 6,1944... During last night the long prepared offensive against Western Europe which has long been awaited by us. Accompanied by heavy airborne attacks against our coastal defenses, he dropped airborne troops on the French Coast between LeHarvre and Cherbourge and under cover of strong Naval Forces, set troops ashore at several places along the Coast. In the area of action, bitter fighting is in progress...NOTE: Radio Reports copied from broadcasts received in A Lager Cookhouse. We present these reports verbatim as announced by Reporter from the German Broadcasts.
Sgt. Robert Doherty
Big Time Show:
Madison Square Garden moves to Heydekrug as top flight boxers from all the world converge on E lager for the greatest sport spectacle ever staged in a Kriegie Camp...Randy Villa heads a group of Big time " solid senders" slated to jam the session with hot licks... Lumberjacks from the North Woods, Steel men from Pittsburgh, Acct. and engineers, rail workers from the Pacific coast, Ohio mechanics and Texas cowhands carrying the Blue of the Pratt Stable will compete with RAF and RCAF boxers from Britain, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Five thousand spectators are expected to view the Kriegie Welter Championship Contest... Two Day Card:
Promoter Geo Pratt, presents a two day program of Feature bouts Monday and Tuesday afternoons. Climax of the meet will be...between Jno ( KO) Tracey and " The Bearded Marvel" Tuesday PM...Killer Kirby and Aussie (Perry) will push the main bout for interest Tuesday in the major heavy match... Two Extremes:v
... temperament- background and boxing style will meet Tuesday as KO Tracey and the " Bearded Marvel" face each other... A Dempsey- Tunney parallel may be enacted as the Marvel springs from his corner like a wildcat and weaves in to range of precision puncher Tracey. The background of these two men reflects even more contrast; Tracey spending his youth in Ivy Clad Cloisters of England... the Marvel sweating by a blast furnace in Smokey City...like his father and two brothers... while Tracey knows both Eastern and Western civilizations... a keen student of literature and languages, he excelled in school athletics and amateur boxing in Britain...He's won all his fights as a POW, two by knock-out.
...Shortly after noon on Monday, 5000 Kriegies made their way to Heydekrug Stadium...AAF on one side of the fence, RAF on the other...to watch... Swing opened the program and the eager crowd ate it up. Hail Heydekrug:
...Inter lager hot shots howled at each other across the wire and at the contestants and several thousand cigarettes changed hands on the big matches...Red Callahan worked the mike on the first day, Power failing on the second - music and announcements had to go out over the air on their own.
First bout: Sailor Boisvert (E) and Assasin Adams (K) both ponderous... the Sailor took on left jabs...Third: Hotchkiss (A) vs Longford (K)... a good fast bout, lots of action to a draw...Seventh..Kirby (E) vs Perry (A)... the Semi Final. Won by Kirby on power. Floored Perry 6 times. Tech KO...
Staging a grand finale to climax a great two day show, the " Bearded Marvel" , Steve Swidirski" came from behind to beat John Tracey...A great sportsman and boxer with terrific punching power, he went down before the speed and stamina of The Marvel... who took his Sunday punches and came back to win. Simple and unassuming, the new champion disclaims credit and insists ( his trainers) steered him to the title.
S/Sgt Don Kirby
The boxing ring was out on the edge of the quadrangle, over near the fence, so that the English could see it as well as the Americans. They had seats out there all around the ring and there were rows of Germans watching us; they got a kick out of the whole thing. Boy, it was a beautiful hot day, and everybody was out there hooting for "American Day".
I felt some jitters because I realized that good many of the fellows in the barracks had bet food and cigarettes on our fights. I would venture to say that most of 'em was betting on the Bearded Marvel because of the fact that they knew what he could do. Steve Swidirski was facing an Englishman named Tracey, who was good. Fact is, he floored Steve right away to start the fight, but couldn't go the distance. He told us: " I don't know how I got up, because Tracey could hit! I just knew I had to get back in there and win it."
I was facing "Aussie Perry" and I was questionable. Folks was almost sure that Perry was going to take me. He'd been around long enough to fight everyone and he'd won every match. We were betting the English we could beat them and there was a lot on the line.
When they were ready to begin the heavyweight fight, they called us both into the middle of the ring and said: "OK - Touch gloves and come out fighting. When I put my glove out there, he hit me! Boom! Instead of shaking hands.... Boom!
Well, Brother that's exactly what I needed! It made me mad. He shouldn't have done that, because before that I was just going to have a boxing match.
Once I got going, I found out the guy didn't like it at all when he was on the receiving end of things. I can tell you, it felt good to win, that day!
Lest we forget,...Blow It Out opens Monday, July 3. Two performances on July 4...
July 4. Big Events being organized by A,K and E lager. Projected program includes football, softball, boxing and wrestling matches.
S/Sgt Robert Doherty (Fall River,Mass.)
The first issue of " The Barbed Wire News" was posted on April 18 and our last issue was dated June 24, 1944. It was a single sheet of paper 12 by 17 inches, typed up on an old Swedish typewriter with hand lettered headlines. I covered the "sports beat" for Tom Mchale and the camp was bursting with preparations for the Fourth of July Gala.
Orchestras were rehearsing, and singers were vocalizing without mercy. This activity was all on the surface; everybody knew that the Russians were driving through the front in a new summer offensive. They had a column heading right for East Prussia.
The Germans didn't want us to know that an evacuation was imminent, so they went as far as Konigsberg to get our costumes. Anything to make us think things were normal. We in turn, posted stooges at every barracks door to aid our activities. Outside, prisoners played ball. Inside,men sewed shirts into carrying cases and expanded their food combines. In the Vorlagar, men detailed to unload freightcars, used every trick in the book to leave canned food unpunctured. When they showed up in the barracks for distribution, they were promptly commandeered for the evacuation. Our carefully constructed illusion of normal life, was about to come to an end.