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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       Easter at Stalag Luft I         


From Robert Swartz YMCA War Log:

Padre Mitchell’s Easter sermon was one of the finest I have ever heard.  To achieve the full significance of this speech you must picture the speaker.  A man with Rev. Mitchell’s dynamic personality is most difficult to describe.  Picture a tall, six foot, New Zealander; a powerful speaker; a man who has been a POW since the fall of Tobruk in 1941; one who has more than once refused repatriation because, “I can do more good here.”  If you can see that picture, you have a partial impression of the speaker, Rev. H.A.M. Mitchell.  The following is not a complete text of the sermon.  It is simply the speakers rough notes, but it will give you some idea of this excellent sermon.


Easter Sermon  1945

Rev. H.A.M. Mitchell          Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany

Romans 6: 3-5  Do you not know that all of us who were baptized unto Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Well, then, by our baptism we were buried with Him in death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we also should live an entirely new life.  For if we have become one with Him by sharing in His death, we shall also be one with Him in sharing His resurrection.

That great passage has some technicalities in it.  I’m not going into them.  What it means by and large is simply this: Accepting the Christian faith means dying to the old life and resurrection into a new life of power & beauty & peace.  The death , burial & resurrection of Christ are historical facts, but more, they are timeless realities which have a meaning in all great living.  That’s my theme.  Death, burial, & rising into new life.  Those are elements in every life which has the seal of eternity on it.  But here is the trouble.  We want the triumph of resurrection without the committal of ourselves to the burying of the old things in us which can’t stand in any resurrection day.  Why will we think that we can have worthwhile victory without the battle, great life without sacrifice? I’ll come back to that.

To me, this whole week has had the wonder of resurrection in it and perhaps more so for you.  Here is resurgence of life.  A week ago men were duller, whiter, weaker.  Now they are in the verve and energy of life again.  There is food.  There is more.  All are conscious from the news we have received, that the day of homecoming gets nearer.  There is hope.  Add to it all the pulsating life of spring, with the warmer days, the power of growth going on, and the aliveness there is in the springtime, and go worlds beyond all I have said, and remember that it is today – Easter day – the day of the triumph song of the church, which has to do not with passing things of yearly phases of nature, with full or empty stomachs, but with our eternal destinies. 

The Church, because Christ rose, has the final reply to all sorrow, sin and death; and the joy supreme beyond all passing joys, for defeat on this day was turned into victory for the world.  Think of it: Good was it that day to be alive, and to be young was very heaven.  

But look, have you noticed that it is all, all based on death and sacrifice?  Good war news, how many dying to make it possible?  Red Cross parcels:  sacrifice in every bit of it. How much we just don’t know, and the name?  Red – blood, Cross – after the Cross of Christ.  The country's blossoming and alive with life, but at the root of every plant there is a burial and a death.  Except the grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

 Resurrection is glorious, food is glorious, but it all goes back first to giving up of life.  It means that for us, it means that for the world, if a new era is to dawn and there be a resurrection of all we hope for.  There is no other way. 

But it is a sacrifice which is as nothing to the glory of the resurrection, like the seed dying gives birth to millions; it’s the sacrifice makes to become fit.  He doesn’t call it sacrifice at all. It is rather accepting fitness and health then a giving up. 

 Why will we remain spiritual invalids? No great nation can be built that way. Why remain in winter with its cold iciness, when springtime, when great destiny is awaiting the soul of man?  And resurrection power?  Remaining there we see only a little bit of life, and think we see the whole. 

He stops short of Easter Day in the cross and grave of life, and wondering whether there be a resurrection.  We are like the disciples between Good Friday and Easter Day.  To illustrate this, “Wellington defeated – the French.”  The second half has less letters in it, but is changes the whole message. 

 What life needs at it's spring is an infusion of the new in springtime.  We’ve tried long enough to be merely men, but man is contaminated by sin.  We’ve got to try a cross so that there can be resurrection and the power of an endless life. 

We have fooled about with life, as men and nations, and thought aspirins would do instead of the surgeon’s knife, with the result we all know too well.  Aspirins didn’t work this time, and we got war.  It will always be so.  It has always been so, unless we include God in His own world.   

 We really do think we can grab at God’s gifts and leave out God.  Ask Him in our extremity to lead us through war, and then when led through, ignore Him once again, thinking we are sufficient ourselves for the task of doing an even greater thing than winning a war, and that is winning the peace, proving worthy to be victors.  It won’t work!  Ah!  But someone says: “Why should we include God,” and then another adds, “I know as many good people outside the church as inside, and I know a man who gave up going to church and he’s not a bit the worse for it.  So what’s all your talk about the need for God.”  For every man who quit going to church and is none the worse for it, I can show you ten who are the worse, etc.

Look, the moral and spiritual life of man can have no real meaning apart from God. And without Him, there is no real resurrection.  I simply appeal to history. A man may give up the faith, or never have had one for that matter.  But he can’t give up his responsibilities as a man.  Now where does that lead to?   The giving up the faith means always that he never had real faith.  No man can ever give that up.  But he stops going to church say.  He can still feel that good is good, can still help his neighbor, and so on.  But where is that going to end in the next generation or the one after?  Answer that from history!  You see though there is no intake, there is a reserve, a capital to work on.  But when that is finished, what then?  When his children grow up without a home example in leading to the source of all life, what then? 

Well, we’ve seen “what then" enough.   You see a railway engine does not stop as soon as the driver shuts off the steam, nor does a potato die quickly as soon as it is pulled out of mother earth.  No indeed, it wins prizes when out of the earth.  But eventually it dies.  And such a man can go on for a long time and exhibit the fruits of life.  No the fruit of nature, out freshly is still infused with something of the life of the living tree from which it came.  And it can be preserved even longer on ice. 

But sooner or later – and sooner rather than later – the fruit grows woody and  withers and we have to return to the living tree for more.  So with many, the ice of habit, discipline, moral education, etc. keeps for him – tho he has cut himself off from the creator and sustainer of life – some of the flavor of life.  But his life will become woody and lusterless in the end unless he gives back to the living God. 

And I mentioned responsibility of a man.  The 19th century opponents of Christian belief largely shared the Christian estimate of moral values.  They may not have believed in God, but they did believe in justice and mercy in honor and truth, in the rights of the weak, and in the existence in all men of a spiritual birthright which had preference over all differences of race and color and blood and nation.  Very high morality indeed.  

But those very people looking out today on this country and seeing those great truths thrown overboard, war and moral laxness and the life, and they are appalled.  And so are all 20th century people who share the 19th century unbelief.  What they do not understand is their own responsibility in the matter.  It is they and people like them who have produced this cataclysm.  They didn’t understand the inevitable nature of this disastrous result. 

And the modern so-called “food Pagan” doesn’t understand either that inevitable disaster involved in his outlook.  You demand the impossible when you push the cart over the hill, then let it go and expect it to stop halfway down -  Prof John Baillie.  You can’t have fruit without root – no, not even fruit to put on the ice & preserve.

Here it is then a sentence or two.  Crucify the evil, and inevitably there is a resurrection of good.  But then, only if life is rooted to its source as the tree to the earth and the branch to the tree.  Crucify the good and you get hell.  God has made the world and us that way. 

 Well, in the great days of flaming banners of world opportunity, of spring at the heart what shall be our choice?  And you especially, men, going back with a reputation, because you have been defenders of your country.  You’ve given the sacrifice, and were prepared to do. 

 But is there to be a resurrection?  The greater influence you now have is a terrific responsibility.  How are you going to use it?  Unless you go back to the source of all life, “the living God, it will vanish away, become icy, and disappear, and you with it."

I challenge you to be as big as the hour demands and as this wonderful time in history gives opportunity.


From Bruce Bockstanz POW diary:

At morning roll call, our bugler played “Easter Parade” . Really sounded fine in the clear morning air.

A fine Easter service was conducted by Padre Clark and Padre Mitchell. The latter’s sermon was the type that one will long remember. He stressed the responsibility that rests with men like ourselves in the construction of a better world. I took advantage of the communion service.



Happy Easter

The Clergy at Stalag Luft I

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