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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Lt. Aaron Kuptsow - 1943 - Radar Navigator on B-17

2nd Lt. Aaron Kuptsow
Philadelphia, PA
398th Bomb Group, 600th Bomb Squad
Radar Navigator - (Mickey Man)

Stalag Luft I, North I Compound, Block 11, Room 13 .  POW camp nickname was "Little Beaver".

Shot down on November 26, 1944 on a mission to Misburg, Germany


E-mail Aaron -

After the war Aaron returned to Philadelphia and attended medical school. He graduated 4th in his class and went into General Practice. He loved every minute of it and had his own practice for 39 years until he retired and sold it.  He occasionally works part time for the VA - performing physical exams.  He met his wife Anita shortly after he returned from the war and they have 2 children, a son and a daughter and 4 grandchildren. 

Dr. Aaron Kuptsow, the radar navigator or "Mickey Man" on Dad's plane relates his thoughts and remembrances of their fateful day and his experiences at Dulag Luft (the interrogation center) and Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany.

Aaron Kuptsow's Dulag Luft prisoner of war photo - 1944

On Nov. 26th, 1944 our target was Misburg, Germany.  There were three Mickey planes - we were in # 1.  Flight over was uneventful, no enemy planes, near target was "socked in" so radar took over. We saw the target, dropped our bombs, turned quickly to make a fast withdrawal, and then we were hit several times. Pilot announced that he could not control the plane and ordered everyone to bail out. 

Lt. Kuptsow's POW photo

Radar was still a rather new secret modality so I had instructions (if I had time) to smash the tubes and equipment prior to bailing out. I was wearing flying boots (bulky, fleece lined, ill fitting), so I used my GI shoes to smash the tubes. The tail gunner and I were the last to leave the plane. I tied the GI shoe laces to the parachute harness before jumping. I'd never had parachute training, so when I jumped, I pulled the rip cord, then remembered that I was supposed to count to ten first, but anyhow, everything went well. I had no idea how to land, but God was on my side - I hit the ground on a back swing, did a somersault, pulled out of the harness, then realized that my GI shoes had broken off with the impact of the parachute opening. They were gone! I was in a field, pulled off my dog tags and threw them away (Jews were instructed to do that), started to run, then heard bullets whizzing past me - stopped, put up my hands and was taken prisoner. The farmer marched me to a road and there I saw that the other nine crew members were already there. I was the only one without a dog tag. They started to accuse me of being a spy. However, shortly another farmer came walking up with my dog tags and, when they saw that it had an "H" for religion, he proceeded to sock me in the jaw. This is probably what your father remembered about one Jewish crew member. Only one of the crew was injured - he landed in a tree or on a fence and lacerated a hand.

WWII Bomber crew uniform 1943-1945

We were taken to a farm house temporarily until the police came. Then we had a forced march which I think was about 17 Kilometers. That was the worst experience of my life. I think we had 3 policemen and two German Shepherds walking with us. I was wearing the flying boots. My feet were killing me but we could not slow down or stop under threat of being shot. We finally got to the Police Station, where I could take off the boots - the feet were a mass of blisters and blood. One of the guards saw this, went out and got a basin of cold water and soaked my feet (I could have kissed him - I'll never forget that act of kindness).

The March to Detmold was quite an experience - the guards and dogs kept us in line - the dogs nipped at us or the guards prodded us with their guns if we slowed down. As we marched down the road, people jeered, swore and spit at us. God only knows what would have happened to us if the guards had not been there to protect us. That night was bitter cold and we kept being awakened as they brought more prisoners in - some were badly wounded.

The next morning we were transferred to Dulag Luft,  the Interrogation Station at Oberursel near Frankfurt.  Each of us had a "private suite". The room measured about 5' by 10' with one small blacked out window. There was a small electric radiator on one wall.  Furnishings consisted of a wooden frame of a bed - mattress was of burlap filled with straw (when fluffed it was about 2" high but it ended up about 1/2" once you lay down, springs were wooden boards. No bureau - we had nothing to store anyhow - I had my woolen GI shirt and pants, dirty socks, and they did get me shoes - a couple sizes too big but I wasn't going anywhere  There was a small 2' by 2' table for dining. There was a large jug for a urinal. Once a day, a guard would escort us to a bathroom for BM's. - by the way, there was no such thing as toilet tissue - we used pages of smooth paper such as from Life or Look.

2nd Lt. Aaron Kuptsow - 1943

Lt. Aaron Kuptsow

The food was catered - breakfast was a cup of hot but vile black coffee. Lunch was a slice (about 1/4" thick black bread which was half bread and half sawdust) with a pat of cheese and a cup of coffee. I used to keep the cheese at one end and save it for the last bite so that the flavor would linger. Dinner was the highlight of the day - slice of bread with cheese, cup of coffee, and a bowl of Sauerkraut soup - they bulked the soup up by adding a generous portion of grass and an occasional worm. To this day, I can not stand the sight or smell of Sauerkraut. (A serving of this from my wife would mean automatic divorce, even after 52 years). 

There was nothing to read, no radio, nothing to do but think. Every couple of days, I would be escorted to a large building for interrogation.   My interrogator was a very handsome officer, with a beautiful uniform, and had the voice similar to Ronald Coleman - a very famous actor of our generation.  He claimed that he had been educated at Oxford. The only information I offered was name, rank and serial number but I was taken aback when he informed me that he knew that my father was a grocer in Philadelphia., that I had attended Univ. of Pennsylvania. and that I was the Radar Navigator of the plane. However, some of his information was incorrect - it was only my third mission out of England so he thought that I had only recently come over from the States Actually, I had been flying out of Italy with the 15th Air force for some time - I developed Yellow Jaundice as an intolerance to Atabrine - a medication we took to prevent Malaria. I had nausea, vomiting, intense generalized itching and yellow skin. They decided to transfer me to England so that I could get off the medication.  Apparently, the frequency of the Radar had been changed in recent months so he thought that I had knowledge of the new frequency.  I had no such knowledge.  When I continued name, rank and serial number, he would get disgusted and send me back to my suite. On some of my visits to him, he would show me a map with the battle lines displaying proudly a bulge to the left (this was the time of the Battle of the Bulge). He claimed that the tide of battle had changed and the Germans were now victorious - so I might as well give him the information he wanted. To no avail.  Back to my room.  It ended up that I was in solitary from Nov. 28th to Dec. 24th. From time to time, I heard adjacent rooms being emptied and refilled. Occasionally, I would tap on the wall and ask my neighbor how the war was going.  To this day, I don't know if the length of my stay in solitary was because he really wanted that information or if it was because I was Jewish.  After several weeks of wearing the same dirty shirt, I developed a rash with severe itching at both wrists - it was a case of Scabies.  They treated me to my first shower (if I had known then how famous they were for their showers, I might have been scared to death).

I left there on Dec. 23rd and went to Wetzlar (the transit camp) where I stayed until Dec. 27th. Then  I was put on one of those famous boxcars for a three day trip to Stalag Luft # 1, arriving at Barth on December 30th.  That trip was also a revelation . The boxcar was packed solid with POWs, no seats, just a lot of hay on the floor.  Several times a day, the train would stop, the doors would open and we would be ordered to jump out to relieve ourselves. We were surrounded by armed guards and dogs - then back in the train. We disembarked at Barth on the Baltic apparently at what had been a seashore resort town.   As we were led through the station, mobs of German civilians tried to attack us but again the guards and dogs came in handy.  

Dr. Aaron Kuptsow - 1999
Dr. Aaron Kuptsow - 1999

I was assigned to Compound 4 which was the newest section of the camp. (To the best of my knowledge, officers and enlisted men were segregated which may explain why Dad was in Compound 3).  Was given some clothes, toiletries, etc. from the Red Cross and assigned to as room. Trying to recall, I think there were 8-10 in a room, double bunk beds with the same kind of burlap mattresses, and a woolen blanket.  Room was heated by a charcoal stove - which also was used for cooking. We were given work details - cook, laundryman, supplyman, breadman (this was an important position - we got a loaf of that hard brown bread and the idea was to get as many thin slices as possible out of one loaf - usually the slice was about 1/8th of an inch thick - but, psychologically, it was a slice) and other duties.  Food was mostly from Red Cross parcels supposedly one to a man, but mostly, one was shared by two of us).  The barracks were on stilts, so there was a crawl space underneath for the dogs (German shepherds and rottweilers) to roam through after dark.  Also, ferrets (guards) would crawl in there and listen to our conversations in the rooms above.  Barbed wire fence surrounded each compound with guard towers, each with several armed guards, at each corner. Daily routine - outside for roll call early each morning, wash up at sink and shave, breakfast, talk or read a book, lunch, talk or read a book, roll call, dinner, talk or read a book until taps and light out and doors locked.  Then talk until you fell asleep. (there were plenty of books (paper bound) to read - think I finished almost 100 during my stay). I remember one day, before breakfast, Red Cross came in and gave us Typhoid shots - then had us stand in formation - many of us keeled over. They let us lay there until we felt strong enough to stand up and go back to the barracks.

One morning, in early February, at roll call, they called out a bunch of our names and told us to remain after dismissal.  After the others left,  we were marched through the camp to another barracks and were told that was our new home.  I was in a room with 13 others - and after talking for a few minutes, we realized that we were all Jewish. Checked with other rooms - the same thing. We then realized that this was a Jewish barracks - we were in a distant corner of the camp, our own barbed wire, and sort of isolated.  Rumors started to spread that, during one night, we would probably be marched out and sent to death camps and no one would know. Decision was made to notify the Geneva Convention of our situation through our camp American top officers (Col. Zemke and Lt. Col. Gabreski - both of these were "Ace Pilots" and our highest ranking officers). The process could take months, but there was nothing else we could do.

Meanwhile, it worked out to our advantage - we were now attached to Compound 1, which was the oldest section of the camp. POW's were there from the time of Dunkirk and the early years of the war - some as long as seven years. Over the years, they had built a mess hall and a recreation hall. Food for the whole compound was pooled and there were many cooks who prepared the food and we ate in the mess hall. The food situation was much better there. (Later, Red Cross parcels became scarce because the Germans refused to mark the Red Cross trains and our pilots were shooting up the trains and destroying the parcels through no fault of their own).  Our compound had food, while there were reports that other POW’s were scrounging through trash cans looking for food. Sharing with other compounds was not allowed. If they had thoughts of eliminating our barracks, it was probably forgotten once the Battle of the Bulge was over and the Germans realized that they were going to lose it all. Things went smoothly. Occasionally, a horse drawn cart would pull into the center of the compound and would dump a large load of rutabagas or potatoes on the ground - there was always sauerkraut soup (grass, worms, and all).  My notes mention that on April 3rd, Max Schmeling, former boxing champ, toured the camp (big deal).

When we initially got into Stalag, the Red Cross issued us certain supplies - among which was a small blue notebook and a pencil. This was to be used as a diary - but we were warned that it was subject to censorship.  As I recall, no one ever went through the book but nevertheless, I was careful about what I wrote. That diary is the source of some of the events and the dates that I am forwarding. In addition to the events, the diary contains some Kriegie recipes, a list of the many books I read, and a diagram of our room and the names of the people in our room. Six or seven of the guys were from the New York City area - and, due to the fact that we were usually hungry, once the lights went out at night, the conversation seemed to center on food and the New Yorkers constantly talked about the delicious foods at the many posh eating places in the BIG CITY.  That's how I usually fell asleep, sometimes to dream of devouring a big filet mignon and a world famous "Lindy's" cheesecake.  We promised that someday we would all meet in New York for a reunion and make a round of as many places as we could until we were stuffed (it never happened).

Another interesting thing about the camp was that we kept getting BBC news reports.  Usually, each evening at about 7 PM, a paper was passed from room to room, typed as I recall, with the latest news reports relative to the progress of the war.  To this day I have no idea who had the radio nor who made up the report and put it into circulation - but there it was practically every evening.  From time to time, the guards would make us remain outside at roll call while they sent in a detail to ransack our rooms looking for the radio - I don't think they ever found it. There were rumors that a guard was sneaking it in.  Regardless, we appreciated being kept current with what was going on outside.  Usually, after lights out, someone with a particularly loud voice could be heard yelling "Come on Joe" (referring to the fact that we knew Joe Stalin's troops were the closest to us). On Tuesday, March 28th, Red Cross parcels poured into camp ending 6 weeks of strictly German food. That was cause for celebration.

On Wednesday, April 4th at 4 AM we were awakened to sounds of a fire alarm.  Our mess hall was ablaze. It was a horrible fire. We formed a long line and established a bucket brigade. There were no hoses nor was there a Fire Dept.  The water source was some distance from the fire so the buckets were passed forward from person to person.  By the time the bucket got to the front, it was at least half empty.  How it happened I don't know, but, unfortunately, I ended up near the front of the line as a tosser of the water.  When it was all over, I found out that most of my eyebrows and eyelashes were singed and absent - they do not grow back. Needless to say, most of the structure burned down.  We had to make other arrangements for our meals.

On Thursday, April 12th we got the news that President Roosevelt had died. That was cause for great sadness and quite a few of the men actually burst into tears.  We heard that someone named Truman was now President - no one seemed to know who he was.  Meanwhile, we could hear the sounds of the big guns getting closer and closer.  In the middle of April we were told to be prepared to evacuate the camp.  We were instructed to stitch up our shirts so that they could act as a duffel bag and that we were going to have a forced march toward Munich. Fortunately, it never got to that point.  Meanwhile, they sound of gunfire kept getting louder - we could even hear small arms fire.  On Monday, April 30th, we were ordered to help the guards dig slit trenches for a last ditch fight with the approaching Russian troops. Later that day, we noticed that the guard towers were empty and there was no sign of Germans.  Military installations were blown up and the Americans took over the camp at 11 PM. On Tuesday, May 1st, we were told that Col. Zemke had made contact with the Russians, who were three miles from the camp.  The Burghermeister of the town committed suicide and most of the German men had fled in fear. The Russians arrived at 10 PM and took over command of the camp.  On May 1st, when Col. Zemke notified us that the camp was now under his control and the Russians were about 3 miles away, he also advised to stay put in the camp.  It would be a lot safer until we were sure it was OK to travel beyond the fences.  We were also notified that Hitler was dead. On May 2nd, most of us left the camp and wandered into town.  We raided the "flak school" and I picked up some souvenirs.  As I walked along the road, an elderly German civilian motioned me over, said "Allus Kaput", reached out his hand and gave me his pistol - a German Mauser. It was unloaded. (I did bring it home with me but years later my wife convinced me to give it to a gun-collector friend of ours).

That night, the Russian troops came in and that was quite an event.  We watched from the side of the road. The advance forces seemed to be mostly Asian (Mongolian), the roughest, toughest bunch I have ever seen.  They were mounted on horses that looked eight feet tall.  They wore crossed bandeliers across the chest. At intervals, there were horse drawn wagons carrying some women and men, plenty of bottles of vodka.  At times, the march would stop and the women picked up ocarinas and harmonicas, music started and they would sing and dance and drink.  Shoot their guns into the air. It was fascinating and yet frightening.  But we cheered and urged them on. After all, they had liberated us. I don't recall exactly but I think we were under Russian control for either 13 or 19 days. We now had plenty of food, but certainly not gourmet. It's interesting to note - remember me telling you about conversations that mainly dealt with food - now, suddenly, the interest was in women.  Some wandered into town looking for female companionship and this caused a few skirmishes with Russian soldiers who had similar desires.  Meanwhile, negotiations were going forward on returning us to Allied control. Apparently, one of our Jewish colleagues had a Russian background and could speak the language.  He became the interpreter.  It seemed that all meetings were accompanied with plenty of vodka because it was not unusual to see him come home in the evening staggering.  Then, the world news caused us some concern.  It seemed that there was a conflict brewing between the U.S. and Russia over the partitioning of Poland; and there was talk of war between the two. There we were caught in the middle - we could end up as POW's in a Russian prison. Fortunately, it didn't happen and eventually we were flown to Laon, France. The rehab center was called Camp Lucky Strike.  Apparently, all of these centers were named after popular cigarettes at the time.

Before I start on that camp, I forgot to mention the mail situation at camp.  We were supposedly allowed to send a certain number of pieces of mail to our immediate family.  Most of us did that figuring that the mail was being forwarded to the States.  Most of the mail that I had written had never been mailed and the letters were found after liberation and were given back to me. Unfortunately, my memories of Camp Lucky Strike are not too clear.  Maybe it was the more relaxed frame of mind but whatever, it didn't etch significant events in my mind.  I don't recall when we got there, where we were billeted or too much of what went on.

I do know that we were happy. The idea was to rehabilitate us prior to going home.  We saw a lot of movies. We carried our mess cups with us and wherever we went there were tubs of egg nog which we were encouraged to drink to gain back some of the weight. One of the highlights of the stay was a weekend pass to Paris on June 3rd - saw a lot of the sights in a short period of time, but it was post wartime and a lot of the museums etc. were not open to the public.  But, I really enjoyed those few days.  The days were rather boring and most of us were anxious to get home.  Eventually, we were told that some high ranking personnel would be coming to the camp to explain the cause of the delay. Lo and behold, who should show up but Gen. Eisenhower and a group of politicians. He announced that we would have to be sent home by sea and that, even though officers were technically entitled to first class accommodations,  if we agreed to any type of accommodations, he would be able to speed up the process.  There was a loud roar of approval. After his talk, we were lined up as he and the others passed.  I have always had a lot of freckles, so one of the Southern Senators stopped to ask where I was from - I told him Philadelphia.  Directly behind him was Senator Hugh Scott from Penna. so he heard and said a few words to me.  Then the thrill came, when Ike came up, shook my hand, and hoped that I would be getting back to Philly very shortly.  Mentally, I vowed that I would never wash that hand again.

Well, he was true to his word because a short time later we found ourselves on the USS Admiral Mayo (I still have a copy of the daily newsletter that was published on board).  The trip back home took six days but I'd rather forget the first 3.  We were assigned below deck in a rather stuffy level of the ship, sleeping on hammocks. I became seasick - but I mean really seasick. Several times during those first few days, I tried to get up on deck to go the mess hall, but as soon as I smelled the food, I had to head for the ship railing.  Throwing up isn't too bad if there is something there to get rid of, but when the stomach is empty, the retching is awful.  Anyhow, all things come to an end and after three days I was fine.  Victor Mature was one of the sailors on board the ship and I saw him a few times, swabbing the decks and doing daily chores around the mess hall.  Apparently there were about 6000 troops on board.

We landed in Boston, and then boarded trains to Indiantown Gap and Fort Dix.  Arrived at Fort Dix on the afternoon of June 23rd. (Background - in one of the letters that I wrote while at Stalag, I had written that I hoped to be home for my birthday - it was never sent and I got it back after liberation.).  My birthday is on June 23rd.  As the train pulled into the station, the P.A. system was paging Lt. Kuptsow repeatedly.- report to the platform.  As I got out, there was my brother and his wife telling me to hurry, get my gear, and come with them or I'd miss my birthday party.  What a shock! (Background - my older brother's wife, Jackie, is a very aggressive, determined individual who is famous for getting the impossible done - she had learned of time of arrival, contacted the CO at Fort Dix and convinced him that I be allowed to get home for my party and that they would bring me back first thing in the morning.)  Well, I had my party - the whole family was there and I think I cried like a baby, but I was happy.

Lt. Aaron Kuptsow's YMCA wartime log book as a POW

Dr. Kuptsow YMCA issued  POW diary. 

Diagram or Dr. Kuptsow's room at Stalag Luft I

Diagram of Dr. Kuptsow's room
 Stalag Luft I


The following letter was written to Aaron by his mother exactly one month after he had been shot down.  You will note that she still had not received the telegram advising her that he was "Missing In Action".  Of course Aaron never received this letter and it was returned to his mother at some point.

Aaron states that his "Mother had never had any formal education so the spelling, grammar and handwriting can be difficult to make out, but you can get a feel for the anxiety and her love for her three boys - I still get tears in my eyes whenever I read that letter." 

Letter from Lt. Kuptsow's mother page 1          Letter from Lt. Kuptsow's mother page 2 and envelope

                                                                      Dec. 26, 1944

My Dear Son Aaron,

we are all well, hoping to hear the same from you. didn't get any mail from you 3 weeks. its more than a month we didn't hear from you, we are voryed.  Aaron if you wont me to stop vorying please write and write soon as I don't know what to thing of what hapened  as I been getting mail regular from you now I don't.  you know your mother is voring kind please Aaron if you have any love for you mother and father send me just a few words that you are allright and all well please do that for me your mother as I don't know what  to write to you just now.  when I'll get mail from you I'll write more. we received the souvenoirs  Preston Kuptsow didn't get his yet. you had said  you send it out did you didn't get mail from Joe. did you get your chrismas packages.  Aaron please write soon.  God be with you my child. God shall safe you from the enemy and you shall be with me home soon.  all the luck in the world to you my boy.   God bless you my Son.  the good God will be with you.   your loving mother and dad. dad says write soon.  I love you my son.  God bless.  regards from all.

mother and dad

take care of yourself
mother   I love you




Certificate of Appreciation

Aaron Kuptsow

     I cannot meet you personally to thank you for a job well done; nor can I hope to put in written words the great hope I have for your success in life.

     Together we built the striking force that swept the Luftwaffe from the skies and broke the German power to resist.  The total might of that striking force was then unleashed upon the Japanese.  Although you no longer play an active military part, the contribution you made to the Air Forces was essential in making us the greatest team in the world.

     The ties that bound us under stress of combat must not be broken in peacetime.  Together we share the responsibility of guarding our country in the air.  We who stay will never forget the part you have played while in uniform.  We know you will continue to play a comparable role as a civilian.  As our ways part, let us wish you God speed and the best of luck on your road in life.  Our gratitude and respect go with you.

Army Air Forces - Certificate of Appreciation for War Service

(signed H. Arnold)

Commanding General
Army Air Forces


Listed below are the names of his roommates at Stalag Luft I: 

 Mort Bauman
 Henry Safer
"Hap" Galfunt
"Russian" Stovroff
Jack Labowitz
Richard Edgar
Max Kattef
"Oppy" Oppenheimer
"Bwana" Davis
"Fink" Finklestein
"Esky" Eskanazi
Melvin Rubin
Harold Scheer

Aaron and Anita Kuptsow
 September 20, 2000

Aaron Kuptsow in the POW exhibit at the 8th Air Force Heritage Museum

Entrance to 8th Air Force Heritage museum in Savannah, GA.

Dr. Kuptsow at the POW Exhibit in the 8th Air Force Heritage museum in Savannah, GA.

Dr. and Mrs. Kuptsow at the entrance to the museum.

Mary Smith, Megan Smith, Aaron Kuptsow and Anita Kuptsow

Mary and Megan Smith with Aaron and Anita Kuptsow at the 398th Bomb Group Reunion in Savannah, Georgia - September 21, 2000


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