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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Joe Flieger's Trip to Barth

From Morris J. Roy's book "Behind Barbed Wire"

May we introduce Joe Flieger, of the family of Fliegers (or flyers), a typical member of the famous group who made life so miserable for Adolf's chosen people?

Joe's flight plan did not call for a sudden change in his air­borne status. The doctors had said he could continue flying, but who are the doctors to argue with an ME-109! In any case, Joe suddenly found himself traveling in a vertical position, suspended only by a few strings and a piece of silk.

Exchange of greetings

He floated peacefully earthward. How quiet, how serene, life had suddenly become. Then he looked down! That was his mistake. Gathered together (with a wicked look in each eye) was a mass of local yokels. Evidently they were farmers and woodsmen, for no other group of Germans could assemble so many pitchforks, hatchets, rope, and clubs in so short a time!

Fortunately, Joe's arrival coincided with that of the military police. Although he did not know just what treatment they would accord him, the doubt at least left room for hope; the men in the mob had made their intentions only to plain. Never was he happier to see an M.P.!


Pitchforks Below!


Before being shoved into a waiting car, Joe received his first German search. They didn't miss much of anything, taking what few valuables Joe had not been able to destroy during his downward journey. Off they rode to the local jail, and further adventures for Joe.

Joe's lonesomeness was soon eased by the arrival of four of the other nine crew members. It was a relief to listen to their voices rather than the "squeak-squeak-squeak" of tiny animals. The whereabouts of the other five flyers was indeterminate.

Have you ever lived through an experience so odd that you could not make yourself realize it was happening to you? So it was with the five airmen sitting in a German prison, not knowing what would happen next. They felt that it might have been a movie, in which they were the principal actors. The room, with its single wooden table, two small benches and rough cement walls, was like nothing the men had ever seen.

As dusk approached, the now hungry and weary men were removed from their cell to a German Prisoner of War Deten­tion Center some miles distant. Tramp! tramp! tramp! Marching had never been Joe's best sport, and the badly wounded leg of his bombardier didn't improve with the exercise.

What would happen when they arrived? Was this to be their introduction to the dreaded Gestapo? Would it be possible to send a message home soon? Would they ever eat or drink again? What had happened to the other five crew members? These, and countless other questions, ran through their minds and found no answer.

Search and Seizure


Forward March!


Finally they saw the barbed wire of the Detention Center in the distance. Not far now! Slowly they approached it, heralded by the baying of the many watchdogs. After passing through the gate, they were placed in a waiting room of what was obviously the Headquarters Building.  

"I'll be darned! There are Adolf Schmidt and Hermann Schultz from home!" said Joe. Adolf had baked bread in a shop near Joe's home; Hermann's father ran the butcher shop at 33rd Street and Broadway. Joe swore he'd check on those boys if they ever showed up in the old home town!

Joe was first to be called for an interview by the Hauptmann (German officer), and with quickened heartbeat he entered the interrogation room. He was pleasantly surprised to see no brass knuckles, cat-o'-nine tails, or other evidences of brutality. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.

The interview was short, but proved to be only the fore­runner of a much more thorough questioning which Joe was to receive at Dulag Luft (transit air camp) before being assigned to a permanent Stalag Luft (air prison camp). Only sufficient information was requested (name, rank, and serial number) to prepare records for the disposition of the new "guest."

The interview completed, Joe was taken to his overnight quarters for some badly needed rest; that is, if he could rest on a solid wooden platform. He was joined by the other four flyers, equally tired and hungry.  

Knowing his journey to Dulag Luft was to begin early the following morning, Joe sought sleep, but this was long in coming. However, his mental anxiety was overcome by his physical fatigue, and he slept.

“Raus, raus!”  rang out.  This remark meant, “Let’s go!” as Joe was to learn. It awakened him on his second day in Deutsch­land.

So began Joe's tour of Europe. He had often wondered, as he gazed at the earth below, just what Germany looked like. He was soon to learn.

The same stars Joe and his four comrades had seen the night before were still shining, for it was only 0500.. Evidently the Germans never slept, for the guards of the night before loaded the group onto the bus which would take them to a railway station in the city of Oldenburg, then on to Frankfort-on-­Main, and the feared Dulag Luft.

As they approached the once beautiful city of Oldenburg, they had their first glimpse of the destructive power of the Allied Air Forces. It looked like San Francisco after the famous earthquake.

Arriving at 0900, the men learned their train was late; an hour's delay faced them. It was quite evident that they weren't to stroll around, for the ugly appearance of the mob who surrounded them made even the guards wonder about their safety. It was a question, though, who was the more curious - the prisoner or the civilian! Joe's natural inquisitiveness caused him to return stare for stare.

The American soldier is not the only one who enjoys the fair sex. Despite their responsibility for the prisoners, the guards huddled them into a convenient corner, and then concentrated on monopolizing the time of the local belles in the crowd. Much to Joe's relief, the arrival of the train cut short this romantic interlude. The tension of the crowd had increased, and trouble was expected. This was evidenced by the verbal abuse and spitting the airmen received as they marched to their car.

Heils from the Heels


The prisoners were ravenously hungry. One of the five had been able to talk the guards out of a glass of water, which was shared by the men and constituted breakfast - they were to learn!

As the train left the city, they saw the remnants of a huge aircraft plant. Parts of the production line spread for blocks. Joe learned later they'd changed that particular plant to an aircraft parts factory!

Something had definitely happened to the railroad system of Germany. As the day slowly passed, Joe noted the erratic route followed, the long layovers in marshalling yards, the strewn wreckage of railroad equipment. French, Russian and prison labor gangs of other nationalities were repairing bombed roadbeds.

By evening, Joe didn't know which part of his anatomy was the sorest. The straight-backed wooden seats were anything but comfortable, and his stomach seemed to have shrunk unbelievably. The guard advised them that Frankfort would be reached early the following day, and Joe hoped someone would give them something edible soon.

The minutes dragged into hours, as the men endeavored to sleep, huddled together to keep warm. The third day dawned, bleak and dreary; the men sat up and surveyed one another. What a sight they were! The "Terror Fliegers" certainly looked as mean as the characters Goebbels had painted to his people.    

The people of Frankfort were definitely not friendly; the men learned when they arrived at the battered and torn railway station. Again threats and saliva greeted them. Fists were shaken, and several individuals attempted to vent their wrath on the prisoners. Their attempts were parried by the guards, and the trip continued.

Leaving the train, the Americans transferred to streetcars, for Dulag Luft was some distance north of the city. The ride to Dulag proved very interesting, as the sight of wrecked buildings, huge bomb craters, and destroyed factories met the eye.

With quickened breath the flyers saw the low-slung buildings of Dulag Luft ahead. They were soon to match wits with the expert psychologists of the German Intelligence.

Dreaded Dulag Luft! No captive airman passed through the gate without some trepidation. American Intelligence had sufficient information to warrant long lectures on the mental task which would confront a prisoner at Dulag. For him, physical warfare had ceased; it was now a war of the cleverest minds of Germany against Yankee tenacity and training.

Hour after hour passed as the men waited for their individual interrogation. Knowing that dictaphones were conveniently placed in the too small room, the men sat silently awaiting their turn. Though many men had left, they had never returned! Joe began to wonder about their fate when the guard called, "Lt. Joseph Flieger. Come wiz me!"

Waiting Our Turn






Who?  WhatWhen?  Where?



Down corridor after corridor, Joe followed the diminutive figure of the guard, which he saw dimly in the shadows of the hallway. The guard wasn't Joe's conception of a "superman"; he was about five feet four, and looked worn from the years of suppression. He was at least fifty-five years old. Joe looked far more fearsome and dangerous.

They reached a door marked "Hauptmann." A knock; and a voice said, "Enter!"

Behind a desk, centered in a room measuring twenty-five feet by twenty, sat a short, stocky German.. Thick-lensed glasses, a high forehead, stubby nose, and thin gray lips. The Hauptmann's smile tended to temper the severity of his countenance. Joe wondered how the man would look if angry.

The contents of the room fairly took away Joe's breath. The latest American navigation instruments, complete in every detail, were on a desk to his right. Maps of every description adorned the walls; the exact location of each Allied Group was marked. And he was shown files containing records of each flight, squadron, and group. The room resembled a well equipped operations office in England, but with much more detail.

"Lt. Joseph Flieger?" "Yes, sir."

"Please sit down."

"Cigarette?" asked the Hauptmann.

"Yes, sir!" answered Joe, reaching for it the way he'd reached for his parachute rip cord a few days before.

"Please fill out this form, Lt. Flieger."

Joe looked at the form before him, and noted the blanks for “Squadron,” “Group,” “Crew Members,” etc., thereon. Filling in only his name, rank, and serial number, he ignored the space for signature, and returned the form to the Hauptmann. The Hauptmann's disapproval was apparent.

"Was anyone on your crew killed?"

 "I don't know," said Joe.

"Who were your crew members?"

 "I can't tell you."

"Lt. Flieger, we have no way of knowing you are not a spy. We must know who your friends are. We have to notify your Base as to your whereabouts. Now-who was on your crew?"

"I can't tell you!"

"You mean you won't, is that it?"

"Yes, sir."

"What was the number of your ship?" "I don't know."

Walking to the map, the Hauptmann held out a ruler "What was your target?"

"I don't know."

"Lt. Flieger, we know you're a navigator and that you do know these things. Why won't you tell us? We will eventually learn them. See those files; we know everything."

"In that case, you don't need my information," Joe said reasonably.

"Lt. Flieger, you will stay here until you tell us your target, Group, and anything else we wish to know. Now go back to your room, and tonight 1 will come by to see you. I will listen to your dreams, and tomorrow tell you all about your mission!"

Silently Joe followed his guard to a small, ill-equipped room which represented "solitary." A single wooden bed, the inevitable straw mattress and no covering, were his furnishings! The obsolete radiator by the small, barred window gave off no heat.

Nothing to do but think! He craved water, food, and a cigarette. He hadn't washed or shaved for days, and what a treat a shower would be! His thoughts turned to the interrogation just completed. How did those Krauts get all that information? How had they procured the instruments? So many questions for his tired mind.

As night approached and the shadows of the bars lengthened, Joe was called forth for another personal search. The previous searches Joe had been subjected to were as nothing compared to the Dulag search. He was stripped to shorts, and his clothes were minutely examined. The seams of his flying suit were double checked; his shoes were removed and the soles and heels examined. The Germans didn't miss a trick.

Returning to his "private quarters," Joe lay down, hoping his tired muscles would respond to nature and lull him to sleep. His hopes were realized. He awakened to see daylight streaming in his window. His watch having been taken, he had no conception of time. Reviewing the events of the day before, he judged he'd fallen asleep rather early. He felt refreshed, but ravenously hungry.

Calling the guard, Joe learned it was 0800, and-wonder of wonders-he was to get some bread and coffee for breakfast!

Clasping his cup in one hand, and a hard brown crust of substance resembling bread in the other, Joe prepared to eat. The "coffee," though cold, strong, and definitely a substitute, tasted great. However, hungry as he was, Joe was unable to eat the bread. It was dark brown, hard as wood, and vile tasting. He hid it in the mattress.

He was taken out again for interrogation. The Hauptmann greeted Joe with a cordial "Good morning," and a hoped-for cigarette.

"Did you know you talked in your sleep last night, Lieutenant? Yes, I know your crew members; I know all about your mission except one thing. If you tell me that one thing, you can leave Dulag and go to your permanent prison camp. Your bud­dies left last night! Now, what was your target?"

Questioning his hearing, Joe asked, "I dreamt all about the crew, all about my ship, Group, eh?"

"Yes, I watched you last night. You told me everything. Answer my question and you can go. Otherwise, you stay here until we learn it. It may take weeks!"

"The man is mad," thought Joe, but reasoned that he'd picked up the information from the wreckage of their aircraft. Much of the material in the files before him had probably been gathered that way.

"I'm afraid you'll have to listen to my dreams again, then, for I won't tell you," he said.







Joe could not be swerved from the decision he had made. He was returned to solitary.

He was not there long, however, before a guard entered, and said, "Let's go. You're leaving." Joe couldn't figure but was glad to be leaving. With several others, Joe was removed to the transient quarters close by to await the forming of a group sufficiently large to be sent on to a Red Cross Reception Center in the center of Frankfort. From there, he would be sent to a permanent prisoner of war camp somewhere in Germany. Evidently he was of no use to the German Reich as a source of information.

Twenty-four hours later, a sufficiently large group had been assembled to warrant moving. During that time, Joe had received surprise after surprise. Friends he'd known at flying school arrived; buddies he'd flown with on bombing missions limped in; fellows he had trained with and hadn't seen for months joined his party. Of all places to have a reunion - Dulag Luft, in the heart of Germany.

As Joe sat on his bunk in the Red Cross Reception Center that evening, he reflected on the many events of the day. What a day it had been!

After leaving Dulag, the prisoners had again boarded street­cars and toured the city, eventually arriving at a small, well­guarded camp. The barracks were surrounded by thick barbed wire fences, and patrolled by many guards. Outside the barricaded area was a large warehouse, which served as the reception building for incoming prisoners and as a storehouse for Red Cross supplies.

When Joe had entered the warehouse, he had been lined up for counting and a lecture by the American Senior Officer. He had learned that every German prison camp operating in conjunction with the Red Cross authorized the selection of an Allied officer as the representative of the prisoners. The lecture by the American officer was followed by one made by a Ger­man sergeant. Imagine Joe’s surprise when his bombardier stepped out of formation to exclaim to the sergeant:

"Well, I'll be darned! So this is where you went when you suddenly left Northwestern in '41?" They'd been classmates at college!

Following the lectures the men received another interrogation and search, and were photographed and fingerprinted. After this they were given a Red Cross Capture Parcel and taken to their barracks. Joe could hardly wait to open his parcel. The contents of the package fairly took Joe’s breath. Clean underclothing, outer garments, cigarettes, gum and shaving equipment. The Red Cross had thought of everything a fellow would need.

"Showers! Hot showers - right now!"

Joe had to be forcibly removed from the shower room. The luxury of the hot water left him tingling with happiness.


In the communal mess hall, a mail box met Joe’s eye. Now he could let his folks know of his safety and whereabouts.

Nothing ever tasted so good to Joe as the cold corned beef, boiled potatoes, tea and crackers served. To be able to smoke a good American cigarette afterwards made the picture complete.

Much to Joe's relief, his bombardier was finally given first aid. The infection in his leg wound was checked, and suffi­cient medical care given to permit his taking the long trip to his permanent base without danger of further infection.

Reunions with more friends, a review of the mission with his crew members, and relaxation in his "sack," completed Joe's fourth day. What a difference a few clean clothes, a shower, a shave, and mental relaxation can make for a person! Joe slept peacefully until-

"Air raid! Into the shelters!" Thus began Joe's first experience being on the other end. The heavy thud and boom of bombs striking near by made the ground shake, but those cement shelters gave a measure of security. The sixty hours spent at the Reception Center found Joe and his companions seeking shelter on five separate occasions.

Boxcar Blues

The balance of Joe's stay was spent in reading, sleeping, and relaxation. Where he was to go from Frankfort was a big question to him, and he was eager to start for his permanent camp. When his turn came, he was ready to go.

A biting wind chilled Joe as he rode the German "G.I." truck from the Reception Center to the railway station. They'd all been taken from the camp early in the morning and kept in empty German barracks pending the arrival of trucks. The influx of new prisoners had necessitated their giving up their own barracks earlier.

Joe's mode of transportation was a small German boxcar about half the size of the American freight car. Twenty prisoners and half a dozen guards piled into the car, the Ger­mans using half the limited space for themselves.

There were two bales of straw; these were broken up and strewn over the damp floor. The Capture Parcels, together with the shoes and belts of the prisoners (removed to prevent escape) were stacked under the two small ventilators. An ancient coal stove, which gave no heat, was in the center of the car.

The guards were belligerent at the beginning of the four­day journey, challenging the men to attempt escape in order that they might have an opportunity to shoot them. Joe didn't particularly like their attitude, but he didn't plan to offer him­self as a target for shooting practice, and he called little atten­tion to himself.

A favorite pastime of the long journey was singing. It lifted the boys' morale; but the German car commander was not musically inclined, and he displayed his lack of appreciation by ordering them to cease singing. Only one song, a popular dance melody, would he hear, and this the captives refused to sing, thereby incurring his wrath. The car commander's slight build, buck teeth, and belligerent attitude earned him the nickname "Tojo."  Tojo directed his anger at his prisoners; he never tired of ordering them to assume awkward attitudes for lengthy periods of time, of interchanging their positions, of taunting them with the thought of freedom, and brandishing his gun in their faces. Whether it was through fear of his numerically superior prisoners or of his own superior officers that Tojo confined his efforts to minor discomforts, or whether his little mind conceived no greater torture, isn't known. In any case, Joe and his friends didn't find their hardships too terrifying; and there were moments of laughter at the Krauts' expense. The Germans understood no English, but several of the Allied airmen spoke fluent German and acted as interpreters. When the conversation turned to Allied might, the Russians, or an Allied victory, the Germans' discomfiture became evident.

Food for the trip had been provided by the Red Cross, and Joe spent time planning each meal. Though the food was cold and consisted of snacks, Joe hadn't forgotten his five-day starvation period, and ate with relish.

Despite the dampness and cold, many hours were wiled away sleeping and talking. The two standard topics of conversation, women and flying, always found a ready ear. Women are not the only gossips!

The sanitation was poor, in fact, nonexistent. The guards refused to obtain any water for drinking, to say nothing of washing. Elimination had to be timed, for the men were not permitted to get out of the car except when the train was standing in marshalling yards. In spite of spectators (railroad workers), there was a wild scramble when the train stopped. Nor were the onlookers masculine!

Cold Coal Stove

It was a long dreary ride; the cars rocked and swayed, jolted and bounced their slow path to northern Germany. Long waits in marshalling yards were not conducive to ease and comfort. The prisoners knew only too well the desire of the Allied Air Forces to eliminate all German marshalling yards, including all that was in them.

On the morning of the fourth day, the little "Toonerville Trolley" chugged its way into the station of Barth, Germany, a small village on the Baltic Sea. With little ceremony, the men were ordered to line up for the two mile march to camp.

Surrounded by guards and hungry looking hounds, the group moved through the streets of Barth to the tune of hisses, boos, and other indications of welcome by the natives. Evidently, the population never tired of staring at visiting firemen.

A huge camp loomed in the distance. Guard towers, barbed wire, roaming guards, and the large Nazi flag flying over the buildings left no doubt in the minds of Joe and his companions that their freedom was lost.

And so it was that Joe Flieger and his crew arrived at Stalag Luft I, one of the largest Prisoner of War Camps for captured airmen in Germany.

Arrival at Barth


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