World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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It was May 8, 60 years ago, that World War II ended in Europe. Can you remember what you were doing on that day?

We live in interesting times.

All around the world, government emissaries are scolding each other. Nations are brandishing nightmare weapons. Here at home we're quarreling about everything; threatening to revise our constitution, deadlock our Congress, impeach our judges. Out of all this caustic katzenjammer emerge the words of good old Casey Stengel: "Can't anybody here play this game!" There was a time when somebody could.

The time was May, 1945. The disastrous World War II in Europe was over, and 9,000 exuberant ex-prisoners of war waited to be flown out of Stalag I in Northern Germany.  We had been liberated by the Russians, but we still regarded each other with cool disdain (remember the Cold War that followed?)  Still we tried hard to at least appear friendly, so when a Russian dance troupe showed up to entertain, we gathered around in respectful silence.

Russians dancing
Photo by Roy Kilminster - RAF POW at Stalag Luft I

Turned out, they were pretty good dancers, and we were really intrigued by their vigorous squatting dance with arms folded and feet kicking wildly to the beat of stringed music.

 Ah, but there was something else! She couldn't have been much past her teens, and from her front row position, she soon caught the full attention of the appreciative throng of young males. The cheers and whistles were not lost on her, and with flushed cheeks and self-conscious smile, she danced her little heart out. When the number ended to a thunderous roar of applause, there was no doubt about what the noise was all about.

Time now to show our appreciation.  Our senior POW officer, Colonel Hubert "Hub" Zemke, stepped forward to distribute chocolate bars scrounged from our Red Cross parcels to members of the troupe. When he got to our little dancer, the crowd made no bones about it: She deserved an extra token. In all innocence, Hub handed her another d-bar.

That was when all hell broke loose. The troupe director rushed forward, snatched the bar from the startled chorine, and unleashed a torrent of Russian rebuke at poor Hub. The crowd stood in stunned silence: Fighter pilots are not known for their meekness, and here was one of the most famous ones in England, commander of the aggressive "Zemke's Wolfpack", and himself an ace several times over. This was going to be something to watch!

It was. With an apologetic smile, Hub gathered more chocolate bars, distributed them diplomatically, and soon there were smiles and handshakes all around.

Hub is gone now, along with so many of those young airmen from 60 years ago.  Too bad. We could sure use a diplomat who knew how to quell a temper tantrum with a smile and a chocolate bar.

Still you gotta wonder if somewhere in Russia, a little old white-haired lady sits in her rocking chair and regales the kids around her about the time she danced for 9,000 young soldiers and almost kicked off an international incident.

                                                                                                                                Ken Covington -

Ken Covington was in Stalag I from October 1944 to May 1945. He was in the North Compound for awhile, but later transferred to South, Barracks 2, Room 11. He was a bombardier in Warren Kiley's crew, and was shot down over Merseberg on October 7, 1944.

Russian girls with POWs at Stalag Luft I
Photo by Roy Kilminster - RAF POW at Stalag Luft I

From the book
A Glider Pilot's Story by Bernard Black:

One of the highlights in the period while we were waiting for the return to England was a visit to the camp by a Red Army show. This arrived in a convoy of lorries early in the morning. An open air platform was erected in the compound and pictorial posters showing aspects of life in the Soviet Union were displayed on the sides of the huts. For several hours there followed a continuous performance of singing, dancing, orchestral music, drama, and oratorical declamation. This non-stop spectacular was attended by an ever changing audience (no longer captive) of thousands who cheered enthusiastically at the conclusion of each new offering. At the end of the day after all their belongings had once more been packed, the performing company departed in the manner in which they had arrived.


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