World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I

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Stalag Luft I Conference and Reunion - September 8, 2001

Barth, Germany

by Alfred Jenner - RAF ex-POW

  The small north German town of Barth up on the Baltic coast would seem an unlikely place in which to experience a remarkable manifestation of reconciliation between old enemies. Yet that was true of the occasion on September the 8th this year,  when men who were hating, hurting and killing sixty years ago were now greeting one another in the spirit of true friendship, warm handshakes for the men, hugs and kisses for the women and children.

   This extraordinary transformation has been brought about by a small group of German men and women belonging to the Association for Documentation and Dialogue at Barth who, above all, seek the unvarnished truth about man's inhumanity to man during the 1939-45 war. They aim to initiate and support research and educational work into the local history of National Socialism (Nazism), the Second World War and consequent injustice between 1945 and 1989.

  One focus of that quest by is the site just outside the town of the memorial to Stalag Luft 1, the first of the prisoner of war camps for allied airmen shot down over Germany and the Continent.

   Although those attending from outside Germany were largely American and British veterans, the occasion was in no sense just another reunion.  On the contrary, all the delegates had been invited to a “conference”  at which the lessons of the past would be discussed not just by the old warriors, but also by their wives, children, grandchildren, German dignitaries and civilians and their children, a former Russian Army sergeant who was involved in the fighting in the area at the end of the war, and his interpreter grandson.

   The conference was just as concerned about the hardships endured by German civilians and the inmates of the concentration camp set up outside Barth later in the war as with the inmates of Stalag Luft 1.

   In fact, the all pervading spirit of reconciliation was probably best epitomized by the attendance of a German woman whose father, "Henry the Butcher”, a member of the camp intelligence staff, was shot dead at the end of the war by a newly-liberated, but enraged American.

   She was in tears at the conference banquet, mystified about how such a tragic loss for her could have happened, yet her very presence bore eloquent witness to her lack of animosity for the rest of the Americans .(Her father derived his nickname from his civilian occupation and not from any activity in the camp)

   The banquet was in honour of Helga Radau who worked so hard to make the conference a success and whose work for the association deserves wider understanding 

  Such a unique gathering had to have a deeper significance  than merely to afford old airmen the chance to exchange memories of wartime exploits and consequential hardships. Equally involved was that Russian soldier, the German survivors of the last battle in which he fought, and, most importantly, children from the local school.  Time may well prove their participation to be the most significant outcome of all the effort being put into this unique quest for international understanding. Few who were there will easily forget the session at the school at which groups of 12 to13 year-olds eagerly questioned the veterans who had fought against their grandfathers.

  The conference agenda was equally international.  After a welcome by the burgomeister there were in depth talks by:

·        Helga Radau (Germany): "Behind Barbed Wire at Barth”

·        Alfred Jenner (Britain): "Tribute to Dixie Deans of Stalag Luft"

·        Irwin Stovroff (USA): ”The Separation of the Jewish POWs at Stalag Luft 1 in 1945”

·        Vasily Bezugly (Russia): "My Deployment at Barth in May 1945”

·        George Lesko (USA  "Colonel H.R. Spicer's Defiant Speech"

·        Stephan Scherer (Germany): "My Father was the Commandant of Stalag Luft 1”

·        Mary Smith and Barbara Freer (USA): ”Why we created a website for our Father and other Kriegies.”

   The conference found time to pay respect at three memorials---that for Stalag Luft 1, the memorial for the victims of the concentration camp, and that for the dead of the Red Army, the youngest of whom was nineteen and the oldest fifty.

  Later, basking in the glow of goodwill, the delegates said their farewells---totally unaware that within 48 hours international understanding would again be sorely tested by the deadly attack on the World Trade Centre in New York

Former American Prisoners of War attending Conference in Barth:
Bruce Bockstanz
John Bryner
Earnest "Perk" Chumley
Ben Core
Sanford "Sandy" Groendyke
Jesse Hizenski
George Lesko
Ernest Johnson
Bill Kaplan
Paul Kaufmann
John Kirkham
C. Walker Limehouse, Sr,
Ben Livesay
John "Jack" McCracken
Anthony Pope
Nathaniel Raley
Joseph Reus
Jake Simonitsch
Irwin Stovroff
L.C. Tipton
Former Canadian Prisoners of War Attending Conference:
Ken Blyth
Former British Prisoners of War Attending Conference:
Eric Butt
Alfred Jenner
Roddy McKitrick
Ron Winton
Former 8th Air Force Crew Evacuating the POWs in May 1945 Attending Conference:
Maurice Boultinghouse
Former Russian Red Army Liberators Attending Conference:
Vasily Bezugly
Former Prisoners of War represented by their next of Kin Attending Conference:
Bill DiRosario
Wendell T. Dunn
James Richard "Dick" Williams
 N. C.  Wilbur
Former German Administration represented by their next of kin Attending Conference:
Oberst Willibald Scherer- Commandant
Heinrich Haslob - Intelligence Officer and Guard in North 2
Barth Dignitaries and Officials Attending the Conference
Mathias Loettge - Mayor
Sigrid Gotsch - Chairwoman - The Association for Documentation and Dialogue at Barth
Helga Radau - Stalag Luft I Historian
Dr. Andreas Wagner - Politische Memoriale e.V. , Schwerin
Sven Uentzelmann - Translator

Here is a link to an article that appeared in  "Stars and Stripes" on September 9, 2001 reporting on the Conference/Reunion.

To September 2001 Conference and Reunion Photos

To September 2001 Conference Speeches

 To April 2000 Conference and Reunion Report and Photos

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This site created and maintained by Mary Smith and Barbara Freer, daughters of Dick Williams, Jr.