collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I
If you are a former Prisoner of War or a next of
kin of a POW, we invite you to sign and leave your email address so others that
come may find you. Please mention camp, compound, barracks and room numbers if
Speeches at Conference in Barth
September 8, 2001:
Helga Radau (Germany): "Behind Barbed Wire at Barth”
remembrance, how many memories can a society stand?” – This issue was raised
in a study by Zygmunt Baumann. There, he also discusses whether the last
century has to be remembered as “the century of camps” from the point of
In Nazi-Germany, there were at
least 16 different categories of camps, leading to the legitimate term of “campism”.
Among these categories were the “prisoners of war”-camps.
Germany, then, was organized
in 17 regional army administration areas with an overall number of 47 camps
for POW-officers (“Kriegsgefangenen-Offizierslager” or in short
OFLAGs) and 80 POW-camps for “ordinary” POWs (“Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschaftsstammlager”
In addition, there were also
camps for handling the distribution of POWs (“Durchgangslager” or
DULAGs), for returning soldiers (“Heimkehrerlager”, HEILAGs), internment
camps (“Internierungslager”, ILAGs) and a few air force and navy camps (“STALAGs
/ OFLAGs LUFT” or “MARLAG”).
On the national level,
especially for those areas far away from the frontlines (in German dubbed “Heimatkreisgebiet”),
General Hermann Reineke of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (“Oberkommando
der Wehrmacht”, OKW) was responsible for the administration of the
POW-camps, distribution etc. through the Armed Forces General Office
(“Allgemeines Wehrmachtsamt”, AWA). In combat areas and behind the
frontline, the Supreme Command of the Army (“Oberkommando des
Heeres”, OKH) was in charge of the business.
The increasing number of POWs
lead to the introduction of a special task force within the Armed Forces
General Office (AWA), which from 1942 was called “Head Office for
Prisoner of War Administration” (“Chef des Kriegsgefangenenwesens”).
In July 1943, the Fuehrer (Adolf Hitler) ordered the introduction of
another office in charge, the General Inspector of the Prisoner of War
Administration (“Generalinspekteur des Kriegsgefangenenwesens”,
KGW) within the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (OKW). It only
remained in place until 1 October 1944 and its main purpose was to quell the
increasing number of escapes of prisoners of war.
Following an order of Hitler
on 25 September 1944 the KGW was handed over to the Reichsfuehrer of the
SS (RFSS), Heinrich Himmler, since he was the official commander of the
reserve forces. The most important point in favour for this change of
responsibility from the armed forces to the SS was the unsuccessful attempt
to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944 (which was organized and staged by several
high ranking army officials), another was the spectacular mass escape of 80
officers from STALAG LUFT III – among them a group of former inmates of
STALAG LUFT I!
The name of the city of Barth
has become a synonym for imprisonment, forced labour, continuous hunger,
illness, terror and painful death for thousands of women, men, and even
children. Between 1935 until the end of WW II, the picturesque
Western-Pomeranian town developed into a garrison with airfield, air defense
school, and a site of the weapons industry.
In 1938, a branch factory of
the Walter Bachmann airplane factory of Ribnitz was established here. The
following year saw the building of the ammunition factory in Barth’s town
forest. The Pomeranian Industry Works, a company owned by the Reich and
which in the years to come would exploit the labour of thousands of forced
labourers and soviet POWs, established the production of chemical weapons,
plate mines, and grenades. The workers were held in barracks not far from
STALAG LUFT I.
When, in 1942, the RAF flew
bomb raids against Rostock, in which the Heinkelwerke Rostock (an airplane
factory) were severely damaged, a set of branches was introduced all over
Mecklenburg and Western Pomerania, including the biggest one of them right
on the territory of the Barth airfield. Eight hangars were converted into
production lines in the autumn of 1943, and 6 air force barracks were
converted into a concentration camp.
Due to the lack of success of
the “Blitzkrieg”-strategy, it became increasingly important to increase the
production of the weapons industry. From then on, not only forced labourers
and POWs but also inmates from the concentration camp were taken on. Between
November 1943 and 30 April 1945, there were approximately 6 to 7 thousand
male and female prisoners from more than 20 nations in the Barth
concentration camp. Among them were hundreds of European Jews, Sinti and
Roma (dubbed “Zigeuner”, gypsies). There are estimates that state the
number of those who did not survive the camp as being 2000. Until today,
however, there are no detailed figures, no exact knowledge about the number
and location of forced labour camps in and around Barth. Nonetheless, it can
be estimated that the population of Barth (then around 15.000) was easily
surpassed by the number of forced labourers, concentration camp inmates and
prisoners of war.
In order to protect this
obviously important site from allied air raids, the first STALAG for
captured members of the air forces of the allies, RAF and Commonwealth Air
Forces, was opened on 7 July 1940 right next to the air defense school. This
was a violation of the Geneva Convention of 1929 about the treatment of
prisoners of war.
STALAG LUFT I was the biggest
camp in Barth, comprising about 10,000 inmates. Until April 1942, officers
and NCOs of the RAF were imprisoned in two separate units within the camp.
Between October 1942 and November 1943, 1,200 NCOs only were taken into the
camp. They were deported to STALAG LUFT VI at Heydekrug in Eastern Pomerania
in November 1943.
From then on, STALAG LUFT I
was a camp only for officers, which had to be extended several times. On 30
April 1945, it finally consisted of four part camps with approximately 2,000
officers of the RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces, including 200 to 300 NCOs
and other ranks serving as officers hands, plus 8,000 members of the US Air
Force. Their treatment in the camp by the Germans is seen as generally
The administrative and
logistic command structure of STALAG LUFT I was the “Kommandantur”.
It was headed by the “Kommandant”, his deputy and his second in
command plus a defence officer.
The “Kommandants” of the camp
18 March 1940 to 14 June 1940
Colonel Hartwig von Winckler
14 June 1940 to 6 May 1941
Major Roland von Oertzen
6 May 1941 to April 1942
October 1942 to end of 1944
January 1945 to 30 April 1945
The heads of the defense section were Major August von
Miller zu Aichholz (October 1942 to end of December 1944) and Major Henke
(January 1945 to 30 April 1945).
Responsible for guarding the POWs and manning the watch
towers was mainly the so called staff company (“Stabskompanie”); the
pendulum guard between the towers and the responsibility for guarding the
POWs outside the camp was with the “Landesschützen”, a unit, that
comprised able men who were not seen as fit for the frontline due to their
age or the state of their health. What kept the organization of the camp
working, however, was mainly the more or less forced work input of POWs.
They had to work in several areas, such as the sick bay, different
workshops, the preparation of the meals, the transport of red-cross parcels
or religious affairs for the other POWs.
For the “dirty” and more tiring jobs inside and outside
the camp Soviet POWs were used. They lived in barracks in the German area
of the camp. According to the Nazi’s racial ideology, they were seen as
“carriers of the Bolshevism” and the “outmost attention, greatest care and
maximum distrust” was ordered when in contact with them. Their guards had to
react at the slightest bit of opposition or disobedience, and to do this
with reckless brutality and force.
addition to comments from former Western POWs, their existence is documented
through photographs and entries of a member of the defense section: Heinrich
Haslob wrote in his diary in January 1942 that “1,000 Russians have
arrived.” His pictures show groups and individual POWs in a bad physical
state, wearing wooden clogs instead of shoes.
Funeral lists of St. Mary, the church at Barth, list a
number of cases of typical reasons for the deaths, which also point to
starvation: general weakness, total exhaustion, weakness, tuberculosis etc.
However, there are no lists stating the places of origin
or previous stations in the camp-system. In addition, their later fate,
after the Red Army had liberated the camp, is unclear. Nevertheless, it can
be supposed that many of them ended in Stalinist forced labour camps since
they were seen as traitors by Stalin and his supporters.
their western inmates the main gate of the camp opened finally on 1 May
1945. After the disappearance of the Germans during the night, STALAG LUFT I
went into the hands of the camp officers in charge, first to mention are
Colonel Hubert Zemke (USAF) and Group Captain Cecil Weir (RAF).
Contact with the Red Army units was established, the area around Barth was
patrolled, and, while doing so, the concentration camp on the site of the
airfield was discovered, hiding hundreds of starving, dead, dying and
severely ill prisoners. The majority of the prisoners had been sent on a
death march towards Rostock by the SS on 30 April 1945.
During the night of 2 May 1945 and in the presence of American and British
officers from STALAG LUFT I the town of Barth agreed on an unconditional
surrender to a representative of the Red Army, whose troops moved into Barth
that day at 10 o’clock.
took several days, until 12 May 1945, before “Operation Revival” started.
Headed by Brigade General William Gross, Commanding Officer of the 1st Air
Division of the 8th US Air Force, thousands of happy former camp inmates
were flown out to France and Britain with B-17 and B-24 bombers.
Only then STALAG LUFT I did no longer exist.
However, it has not been forgotten, and never will be.
Alfred Jenner (Britain):
"Tribute to Dixie Deans of Stalag Luft"
You will all remember the
expressions “new kriegies” and “old kriegies”. Well, you’re looking at a
really old one. Old in years like the rest of you, but even older in kriegie
terms of endurance vile. And just to prove it---here’s my identity tag,
number funf, funf, funf, Stalag Luft. Incidentally, the last time I wore this
I was in the company of an old comrade of yours---the late General Andy Low
at a “2nd Us Air Division" reunion in my native city of Norwich.
But before I go any further
let me assure our German friends here today that the memories I am about to
recall are not meant to be derogatory of them: its just that that’s how I
remember the events of sixty years ago.
It’s, of course, because I’m an
old kriegie that I at once detected an error in you conference literature,
which stated that Stalag Luft 1 opened in 1943. In fact it opened in 1940
and had already been going for a year when I arrived in April 1941.
Those of you who were there
later when Luft 1 held thousands of kriegies may be surprised to hear that
the Barth camp was designed to cope with only a few hundred because the
Germans never expected thousands of us, especially all those from the USA.
What they did expect was that
Britain would give up after France capitulated in May 1940. Even so, a year
later with Britain obviously determined to fight on, there were still fewer
than 1000 at Barth such was the low level of air activity over Germany. Half
were in the officers` compound and half in the NCO`s.
They were a cosmopolitan lot.
Most did come from the British Isles, but quite a number were from other
European air forces already defeated by the Germans…French, Poles, Dutch,
Norwegians, soon to be joined by Yugoslavs in their sky blue uniforms when
that country fell, but never any Russian airmen.
Those from the Royal Air Force
were an equally mixed lot, including as they did Canadians, Australians, New
Zealanders, South Africans (white of course in those days), Rhodesians, one
rear gunner from the Polynesian island of Tonga with the oh-so-British name
of Perowne, and, I believe, one or two Americans in the officers’ compound
who couldn’t wait to get into the fray.
In both compounds this diverse
company of high-spirited young men, all convinced that they were the best
airmen in the world, gradually settled down to a new kind of war designed to
make life as difficult as possible for their German captors.
You all know how that was
pursued so I won’t waste time on the details. But you might be interested to
learn that in the NCO’s compound of that time it was all successfully
achieved as a result of the Royal Air Force equivalent of an American
Against all the rules and
traditions of the British armed forces those RAF sergeants decided early in
1941 that the senior -ranking prisoner, who correctly had assumed the
leadership, was not really up to the job. So, a democratic election was
organised with three candidates, ballot paper, tellers, the lot and, as
result, an ordinary sergeant was elected by large majority.
He was sergeant pilot “Dixie”
Deans who turned out not to be ordinary at all. In fact he was to become one
of the true heroes of the camps. Dixie was accepted as camp leader by he
Germans and remained in command for the next four years in whatever camp we
were moved to, gaining the confidence and respect of all kriegies, including
the Americans who began to arrive in large numbers in due course.
His nickname “Dixie”, by the
way, had nothing to do with that fabulous part of America. It is just that
Dixie happened to be a good footballer at a time when the Babe Ruth of the
British game was another Dixie Deans.
For at least two years there
were no Americans in the NCO’s compound at Barth, but important, unwritten,
ground rules were being worked out between the captured and the captors.
These were to be greatly to the advantage of all air force kriegies,
including all who were to come later.
They all have much for which
to thank this German-speaking Scottish airman who even then was beginning to
feel the effects of the multiple sclerosis which was to cripple him after
the war and to lead to his premature death. Dixie’s great achievement was
based on gaining the respect of the Germans by his patent honesty, courage
and ability to command the unquestioned loyalty of the young men who came
under his leadership---and care, and all this at a time when we were clearly
losing the war on all fronts.
Though he was in charge, Dixie
suffered all the discomforts of ordinary POWs, but he did the Germans the
courtesy of always appearing on parade impeccably dressed in collar and tie
and with his greatcoat fastened at the neck, regulation style.
At the twice-daily appells he
could call an otherwise unruly mob of up to a thousand untidy-looking men to
attention and dismiss them in correct parade ground fashion. We would never
have done that for the Germans.
Dixie was also the man who
took all the flak from them if we misbehaved, which was often. He had to act
as our advocate and to protect us from any extreme reaction in the wake of
some of the mischief we got up to.
He was equally at home in the
company of the visiting Swiss and Swedish representatives of the Protecting
Powers, and never overawed by the occasional visit of high-ranking German
officers. But he was not at ease with the Gestapo when they arrived to turn
our camp over at Heydekrug on the Lithuanian border. He clearly didn’t like
them and managed to imply that the terror they could undoubtedly invoke
amongst so many defenseless people did not apply to the kriegies, many of
whom were by that time from America.
It was at
Heydekrug that I
believe he staved off another massacre after the murder of the fifty RAF
officers after the Great Escape from Sagan in Silesia in the Spring of 1944.
It was a supreme example of the courage he showed in handling the Germans at
times of extreme tension.
There was always something
ominous about the parade that morning. Unusually, several machine guns had
been brought into the compound and lined up on us. As the German commandant
made his devastating announcement about the deaths of all those the
officers, many of whom we knew well, we could also hear his machine gunners
cocking their weapons against a roar of rage from the paraded POWs.
It was a tense moment …
anything could have happened. Then, Dixie stepped forward, ordered us not to
provoke the Germans, and probably saved the day.
It was at
Heydekrug too, that
the Germans decided that the British and the Americans were getting too
close, so on the old principle of divide and rule. the rapidly increasing
numbers of men from the States were moved into a separate compound, fenced
off from us by barbed wire.
This was a blow for all as we
had been getting on with each other so well, broadening our horizons
immeasurably by being able to rub shoulders everyday. There was an even
greater penalty for the Americans, however, because the only secret radio
(the Canary as we called it) was hidden in the British compound.
It was to take some time for
the Americans to become equipped with a secret radio of their own, but in
order to keep up morale it was important for them to be as equally
well-informed as the British.
The problem was solved ---with
the help of the Germans! Dixie had succeeded in convincing them that they
should encourage the organisation of educational classes in a whole range of
subjects. They agreed, probably on the assumption that it would help keep us
from other mischief-making activities.
As a newspaper reporter before
the war I taught shorthand in the camp and it was not difficult to persuade
the interpreters to carry a daily “lesson” in Pitman`s over to the American
compound to keep that lively lot quiet as well.
The Germans never cottoned on
to the fact that the daily transcription lesson was in fact the previous
night’s BBC news bulletin. Eventually the Americans got their own
canary---don’t ask me how, though ours had a valve stamped Deutsch
Kriegsmarine. Thereafter life became that much duller for me.
Dixie’s full part on the field
of deception was only revealed long after the war when many of us found out
for the first time that he had been at the heart of the espionage and other
undercover activities behind the wire. The Intelligence Service in England
had successfully smuggled in a code for him to use. As a result some of his
letters home to his wife, Mollie, did not fully express the affection he
undoubtedly felt for her.
Dixie’s last year as camp
leader brought us even closer to our American comrades. By this time we were
all together again in a huge, old-established camp at Fallingbostle on
Luneburg Heath to which we had been moved in a panic as the Russians neared
Fallingbostle was an entirely
different kettle of fish. To start with it was guarded not by the familiar
Luftwaffe, but German Army, tough troops resting from fighting on the
Eastern Front. They were in no mood to put up with much from the likes of us
buoyed up as we were by the knowledge that we were now clearly winning the
As the Allied bombing campaign
smashed up the country’s transport system, there was a desperate shortage in
the camp of everything--food, clothing, books, you name it and we hadn’t got
it. Yet I can never remember any friction between the Americans and
ourselves. On the contrary we had visual evidence every day, which increased
This is not a part of my
tribute to Dixie but for years I have been longing to say something to an
audience of American veterans. While at Fallingbostle we had the great
privilege of watching American airmen in action as their big waves of
Liberators and Forts, escorted by long-range fighters, flew in daylight, day
after day, across the region to their targets.
We would watch in anguish as
scores of German fighters, including the unbelievably fast early jets, tore
into the formations with canons and rockets roaring. Every now and then one
of the big bombers would drop out of the formation, often in flames.
Sometimes parachutes would emerge before the stricken machine hit the
As we watched the rest of the
wing would then close up the gaps in the huge formation, and without
faltering, would fly on into the indescribable wall of anti-aircraft fire
over the target.
As airmen ourselves we knew
better than most what this demanded of the young Americans in those
vulnerable machines. We marveled too, at their motivation. We had always had
the incentive of fighting an enemy who had been mercilessly bombing our own
homes and loved ones. Those Americans had no such spur.
I have never forgotten that
experience and never will. Nor will I forget their incredible generosity.
Starvation is the sternest test of the quality of unselfishness. And we were
all starving by February 1945 when the Allied bombing campaign had crippled
the infrastructure of Germany.
Somehow a truckload of
Chesterfield cigarettes earmarked for the sole use of the Americans arrived
at what was left of Fallingbostle station. We all thought: ”The lucky
so-and-so’s” for Virginia cigarettes were as good as currency.
To our astonishment---and
eternal gratitude---the Americans decided to share their good fortune with
the lot of us, amounting, if I remember rightly, to 200 each. Shortly after
we were all marched out to live off the land for a month on whatever we
could beg, borrow, steal or barter. The value of that great example of
unselfishness on the part of the Americans is incalculable.
No wonder in later life I was
so pleased to be able to pay of a little of my debt to them as a governor of
the 2nd USAF Division Memorial Library for the 7000 Americans who lost their
lives flying from bases around my city of Norwich.
And now a last word about
Dixie and that desperate month-long march at the end of the war along roads
and lanes crowded with despairing civilian refugees, displaced persons, POWs
and retreating German troops. We went about 100 miles and all the time Dixie
kept up with us. The Germans provided him with a bicycle to enable him to
keep in touch with the various columns as they wound their was deeper into
Germany, often in the front line between the Allies and the retreating
enemy. His greatest moment came after a tragic episode when our column of
300 men was attacked by four rocket-firing Typhoons of the Royal Air Force.
After helping to bury the thirty killed and seeing to the needs of another
thirty wounded the Germans allowed him to pass through their lines to alert
the British commander to the danger to us.
To the commander’s
astonishment Dixie insisted on leaving the safety of the British lines to
return to his men on those dangerous roads. No doubt about it---without Sgt.
Deans hope for many would have faded. Eventually most of us got home, but a
lifetime later his example is still held in the highest esteem by all who
were fortunate enough to come under his care.
One last thought
about Dixie---I’m sure he would have applauded the spirit which has brought
us all together today in a country most wished we would never see again when
the war ended. I think I can assure you Helga that he would have been the
first to recognize the great act of reconciliation you and your associates
have bought about and to which this unique gathering bears witness.
Irwin Stovroff (USA): ”The
separation of the Jewish POWs at Stalag Luft 1 in 1945”
website created by Mary Smith and her sister Barbara Freer in honor of their
father, a fellow Kriegie, was the inspiration for the most extensive story
of Stalag Luft I. A letter from a former roommate of mine at the prison
camp introduced me to the site, this planned conference and of course to
Helga Radau, and after months of anticipation we are here in Barth.
many of us ever thought we would ever want to, or ever return to Barth?
While many of life’s memories may fade away, how could any of us forget that
“fateful day”, the day we began our eventual journey to Stalag Luft
I – Barth, Germany…. We got up about four in the morning, had breakfast,
went to our briefing, suited up in our flying outfits and took off into
combat somewhere in enemy territory, and then experiencing the impossible –
we got shot up – and then, shot down.
being shot down, eventual capture, beatings, solitary confinement, and
interrogations were our fate. While riding in the box cars we were strafed
and bombed by the Allied forces and finally reached the relative safety of
Barth and the confines of Stalag Luft I, EXCEPT for about 250 Jewish Air
Force officers who at a later date were segregated with death sentence to
While we all shared the Guard Houses, the Guards, the Dogs, Inspections,
Roll Calls, the Food or lack of it. NOTHING could compare to the feeling of
helplessness that came over us when the madman Hitler issued this order. In
early February, 1945 the segregation began using different methods in each
was in Compound 2 with my co-pilot Bill Manierre, my navigator, Jack Bertoli,
when my name was called to remain in formation during roll call when others
were dismissed. Major Cy Manierre, a brother to my co-pilot was adjutant in
Compound 3 and had told his brother that we would be moved from the camp at
sometime on a death sentence because of being Jews.
this day, I believe that strength and sheer guts of our leader, Col. Zemke
and Col. Spicer who we understood told the Commandant that this was a
violation of the Geneva Convention, that a protest would be filed and given
to the International Inspectors were what saved us. In addition, the action
by the Nazi’s was a crime against American Officers and they were being
persecuted for their religious beliefs. Col. Zemke told the Germans they
would be held personally responsible for war crimes when the war was over.
following is my story and other Jewish Officers:
Irwin Stovroff: “I was marched out of my compound to the segregated
barracks in North I, Block I, Room 13 which was next to a munitions dump.
There was a minimum of fourteen men per room. We were allowed to eat in the
central mess hall with others until it burned down, but most of our time was
spent in a segregated area. The element of not knowing the next move that
would be made placed a tremendous amount of pressure on all Jewish
prisoners. One can only hope that innocent human beings will never again
have their lives wasted behind barbed wire. Time is, after all the only
thing in life that is irreplaceable. Rather than fading into the diffusive
wake of time, the voices from captivity – loud or soft, happy or sad, strong
or weak – will continue to find a special place in the American experience.”
Paul Kaufman: “Rumors of the separation and murder of the Jewish POWs
circulated for days. I met Col. Zemke coming back from North 3 and I
stopped to discuss the problems. He advised that he was working on the
problem. Several days later, at about 10 PM, the Germans entered my
barracks (block seven) and came directly to my room. The officer in charge
was not a Luftwaffe – red stripe down his pants – he was a captain. He had
two guards with him and one, Paul Schubert had my picture. He held a
lantern to my face and said, “Raus – come with us.” I made a quick good bye
to my roommates and followed them outside the camp to an empty field where
there were three more guards and a large drum in which they had built a
fire. I was told to stand away near a boulder and I waited for the
inevitable, however, much to my surprise, other POWs started to arrive and
by morning there were several hundred. At daybreak, we were marched back
into the camp and escorted to block 11 where we remained until the
Max Kateff: “After being in camp for about four months, Hitler ordered
all Jews to be killed. Other Jewish American Officers and I were forced
from our barracks and separated from the camp in preparation for their final
solution. A senior American officer was able to prevent this from
happening. This is something I will never forget.”
Aaron Kuptsow: “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. All
other rooms were checked and they were also Jewish and realized that this
was a Jewish barracks. Our barracks was in a distant corner of the camp
surrounded by barbed wire and 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. A 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
conclusion, I want to thank Helga Radau for this conference and the
opportunity to tell of the segregation of Stalag Luft I. A fact that has
never been acknowledged or in any books in print about our camp.
me finish with… The important thing to remember is that the liberties we so
cherish are never free. They are bestowed upon us in the hope that we will
act responsibly. Speaking against injustice and hatred is the rent all of
us must pay in order to live in a better world. As Simon Wiesenthal said,
“Freedom is not a gift from heaven one must fight for it everyday.”
Vasily Bezugly (Russia): "My Deployment at Barth in May 1945”
Ladies and gentlemen! Friends!
I am an
ordinary Russian soldier who took part in freeing of American and British
pilot prisoners of war of the camp “Schtalag-Luft-1” on the 2nd
I was a
member of 133rd Guards regiment of the 44th infantry
division of Guards.
born on January the 29th, 1926 in Ukraine. When the war began I
was 15. I volunteered the army in 1943. Since 1944 during WWII I was a
mortar man. I took part in the heroic battles in Ukraine and Poland,
stormed Gdansk, crossed the river Oder southern of Stettin (Szecin), Barth.
1945 our regiment was near Gdansk. The allies airplanes were flying over. We
heard the motor noise and saw the photo flash cartridges.
Exploding aircraft bombs were shaking the ground in our trenches. Then the
battles became less intense. Many towns and districts surrendered without
quick advancement was demanded. We went forward having no rest – tanks,
Barth a scout group under my regimental comrade’s Nicolai Kuevda command
met some scouts from “Schtalag-Luft-1” camp. The soldiers of our regiment
got the information about it.
the morning on May the 2nd, 1945 we entered the camp. The
soldiers were fraternizing with the released prisoners, shaking hands,
embracing, exchanging memorable souvenirs (for example, buttons, stars). I
heard the exclamations: “America and Russia – very good!”
treated to bars of chocolate from Red Cross cardboard boxes. We sang
together the famous Russian song “Katiusha”.
Americans gave us their addresses and invited us to see them in the USA. One
of them who was 10-15 older than I gave me his address.
interpreter told me that the soldier wanted me to write a letter to him and
he would invite me and my family to the USA after the war.
I was only 19, didn’t pay much attention
to it and lost the address. I can hardly remember his name now. It sounded
like Tommy or Bobby.
day in Barth a civil German photographer took our pictures. It was the first
war photo of me. This photo is my precious relic. I have been keeping it
since that time.
battles resumed and we kept defense on the fringe of Barth. I didn’t
communicate with the prisoners any more. My regimental comrade Nicolai
Shramov worked with 3 interpreters from the POW’s number for a week. They
composed the prisoner’s lists of names for Moscow.
pilot prisoners of war must remember that procedure. Perhaps, they
remembered Nicolai Shramov, too. I have his photo on me.
the war in summer 1945 we were located in Grunberg? Then in Neuhammer.
April, 1946 I went to Moscow where I was my former commander Vladimir
I entered Kiev military training school.
Borisov only in 30 years in 1979 in Baranovitchi (Belorussia) on 44th
infantry division of Guards war-veterans meeting.
to Internet and my grandson Andrej’s efforts after 55 years I could
correspond with the former “Schtalag-Luft-1” camp prisoners.
I would like to thank one of the
former prisoners, chairman of American prisoners of war organization in
Baton Rouge, state Louisiana – Donald Menard. Unfortunately he couldn’t
come. He sent me a documentary videotape. On the tape the released prisoners
are living for America. The tape moved me to tears. In on of the frames I
recognized my comrade – general Borisov. And again get to the years of my
live in Ryazan. I have two daughters and 2 grandsons. I am a pensioner now.
saw from aforesaid I didn’t make nothing heroic at front. Such soldiers at
our regiment under command of Guards colonel Zhovanik were nearly 3 thousand
man a stuff.
I am an
ordinary Russian soldier, participant of those unforgettable historic
events of the end of WWII.
became for me those happy place, were I took part at the freeing of allies –
American and British POW’s. And where I met a long waited Victory.
my fate for being alive and was not mourned by my parents. I told about it
to my children and grandsons for saving at the memory past experiences and
make a contribution in affair of the fortification of a friendship and
cooperation between our countries.
like to thank my German friends – the chairman of the Society-patrons of
Centers of Documentation and Meeting work Zigrid Getch for the beautiful
opportunity to meet at Barth with my youth, to the archivist Helga Radau,
to the secretary Elke Engelmann, to my American friends – Mary Smith
and Barbara Freer for creation of the site in honor of the camp and to all
ex-POW’s who wrote me.
Let there be eternal
peace over the world!
Thanks for the attention, veteran Vasily Bezugly.
After his speech Vasily Bezugly presented the following
to the ex-POWs and their families:
Reproductions of his medals:
#1 - It is a special medal "To the participant of WWII of 1941-1945".
It was given to all of the Russian veterans of the Great Patriotic
War in honour of the 55th anniversary of the Great Victory.
#2 - Here is a medal in honour of the 60th anniversary of the Ryazan
high car military school. It is the place where I worked till the
of 90's as a civil specialist - as a ventilator repair man.
#3 - This is a special Komsomol medal. I was a member of a Komsomol,
when I met a Victory at Barth, during the liberation. You can see it
on the one of my first pictures of the war at Barth
This is a memory button of the military division that
Vasily was with when he waged war during WWII and helped to liberate the
POWs at Stalag Luft I. The 44th Guardian Shooting Division. He had the
buttons made to present to the POWs and it reads - "Barth, May, the
2nd, 1945" and - "Ryazan, 2001". Ryazan is Vasily's hometown in
A Russian chocolate bar - Vasily said the first time he ever
tasted chocolate was when the newly liberated POWs gave him one of the "D"
bars from their Red Cross parcels so he wanted to return the favor and give
chocolate back to the POWs.
This is a two sided laminated document. On
one side is a special message (click on photo to enlarge and read) to the
POWs from Vasily along with photos of Ryazan (his hometown) and his personal
contact information in Russia.
The other side traces his combat route during WWII (The Great Patriotic
War), which ends in Victory at Barth. Photos of Vasily as a 19 year
old soldier and a photo of his commander, Gen. Borisov.
George Lesko (USA) : Colonel H. R. Spicer's
Russell Spicer was the Commander of the 357th Fighter Group based
in England and he flew the P-51 Mustang on 14 missions. He had destroyed 3
German aircraft before flak damage on March 3, 1944 forced him to parachute
into the near freezing waters of the English Channel. Rescue boats and
aircraft failed to locate him.
drifted for 2 days in a one-man boat before reaching Cherbourg, France and
because of exposure and frostbite he was unable to walk. This was a
condition that would plague him all his life. He was found by German
soldiers and taken to Oberursel, Germany for medical treatment and
interrogation. Hans Scharff, a master Luftwaffe interrogator who spoke
excellent English said Spicer was an expert at avoiding or circumventing his
questions. After the war Scharff went tot the United States and became a
arrival at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany sometime in the spring of 1944,
Colonel Spicer became the senior officer of North Compound 2. He was a
hearty man with a long handlebar moustache. On a very cold and bitter
morning in late October or early November, during a roll call that usually
took no more than 15 minutes, the prisoner count was determined to be
incorrect. After some two hours of re-counts, Colonel Spicer told all the
POWs to go to their barracks. The prisoners ignored the German guards who
made loud and threatening protests as they returned to quarters.
Colonel Spicer summoned all the men of compound 2 to his barracks and he
then stood on the top step and talked very loudly so the German guards could
hear him say, “Remember, we are still at war with the Germans. They are
still our enemies and are doing everything they can to win this war.
Recently an officer was put in the cooler on two counts for failure to
salute a German officer of lower rank with violates Geneva convention
articles.” Stalag Luft I had ordered the saluting of all officers by
continued by saying he observed many POWs becoming too friendly with the
Germans and loudly said, “Don’t let them fool you around because they are
dirty lying sneaks and can’t be trusted.” He further stated that “as an
example of the type of enemy we are dealing with, the British were forced to
retreat in the Arnheim area (Aachen) and had to leave their wounded in a
hospital. The Germans machine-gunned all British wounded in their beds.”
Col. Spicer also
related that in Belgium, behind enemy lines, a woman with her baby in her
arms was evacuating the battle zone when some captured British prisoners
were passing by her. She displayed a “V” for victory sign with her fingers
and a German soldier saw her and shot her on the spot. Spicer concluded by
saying, “They are a bunch of murderous, no-good liars and if we have to stay
here for 15 years to see all the Germans killed, then it will be worth it.”
applause following Spicer’s remark and cheers arouse from all the POWs that
hear him speak. The German major in charge of the guards was furious.
According to a document of protest to the Swiss legation acting as
protecting power dated November 4, 1944, Colonel Byerly the senior American
Officer, wrote and sent word that approximately one hour after Spicer’s
speech to the POWs he was taken before the German commandant and put in
solitary confinement. He was then taken to a small cell measuring six by
eight fee pending a court-martial.
charges against Colonel Spicer included “Defaming of German character: and
“inciting prisoners to riot”. The German commandant, Oberst Scherer, stated
that Colonel Spicer was held in custody for court-martial. We in Stalag
Luft I later learned that he had been convicted to serve six months in
solitary confinement and then be executed by a firing squad.
Spicer, prior to his conviction, interviewed new prisoners for current war
news and documented German atrocities and then went to great lengths to
harass the German guards. This caused very hard feelings between the POWs
and their captors, which resulted in frequent roll calls during which guards
often, searched the barracks for “illegal possessions”. There were reports
of German guards drawing moustaches and more on paintings and sketches POWs
had made of a family member or fellow POWs.
incident in November of 1944 occurred when German Major Steinhower, who was
the lager (camp) officer, demanded that all POWs assemble for an evening
roll call in a heavy rain. Colonel Spicer concluded that the order was
quite ridiculous and directed that we POWs not comply. Steinhower became
irate and threatened force. Spicer responded by saying he had “A couple of
machine guns to eliminate the guards.” In the end, the POWs submitted to
the roll call.
Mozart Kaufman, who was a POW in North Compound 2 and present when Colonel
Spicer made his speech, determined that the speech should be documented and
he solicited assistance from other POWs to accurately write down what Spicer
had said. He then buried the notes in a coffee can under his barracks.
Kaufman later wrote a book on his stay in Stalag Luft I and said, “Colonel
Spicer was an excellent example of a good commander – one who kept morale
high by challenging the Germans on every occasion.”
Colonel Spicer was serving the six-month solitary confinement order and
awaiting the execution order to be carried out by a firing squad,
occasionally some POWs were marched by guards near the cooler where Spicer
was held. The often shouted words of encouragement to Spicer and he would
call back and say, “Don’t give in to them and keep fighting.” When asked if
he needed anything, he always said. “Send me machine guns.”
Ironically, in the end Spicer did evade the firing squad by a single day.
As the Soviet troops prepared to overtake Stalag Luft I in late April, all
the German guards evacuated during the night leaving the camp unattended.
When Spicer was told of this, he would not leave his cell saying, “ I have
one more night to make it an even six months, and I am staying here
tonight.” When he finally appeared, every POW greeted him
enthusiastically. Spicer said, “Seeing and hearing you (POWs) made solitary
confinement, worth it.”
worth mentioning at this time that the Geneva Convention observed the terms
of the Hague Convention of 1907, which did not fully cover prisoners of
war. The 1941 change basically stated that no POW could be forced to
disclose to captor anything other than his name, rank and serial number. In
World War 2, Switzerland and Sweden acted as protecting posers and the
International Red Cross at Geneva was the clearinghouse for all POW
information. It has been stated that American and British POWs received the
best treatment from their German captors and the Polish prisoners, the
worst. The USSR however, was not a signor of the 1941 convention.
conclusion, Henry Russell Spicer retired from the United States Air Force on
June 1, 1964 as a Major General with 30 years of service. He died on
December 5, 1968 at the relatively young age of 60. In the October 1995
issue of “The Air Force Magazine” C.V. Glines, who was a flying cadet in
1941 with Lt. Spicer as his flight commander, wrote a story entitled, “A
Speech Worth Dying For.” General Spicer will always be remembered for his
speech that not only brought him a death sentence, but also brought strength
and fortitude to his fellow prisoners.
Stephan Scherer (Germany):
"My Father was the Commandant of Stalag Luft 1”
Willibald Karl Scherer, was born in Passau on July 13, 1892. He was born
into a middle class family of conservative lawyers. His Protestant father
moved from Passau to Munich to further his career. He graduated from the
He joined the
cavalry and later was an lookout for enemy planes during World War 1.
Between the two world wars, he became involved with Freichor Epp,
which was supposed to help with the emancipation of Munich from the
revolutionary intellectuals and their followers. In WWII worked for the Air Force at an air base and at
the end of 1942, was named Commander of the prison system for POWs at Stalag
Luft 1. He, along with other officials, was relieved of this position at
the end of 1944. A fellow Gestapo employee named Oppermann overheard
comments made by my father about the current regime and collected that
information along with things he observed and passed them on to higher
officials. This led to my father’s dismissal. One blames my father for
Anglophilismus and pro-Jewish behavior. I can’t furnish details, but that
was the tone of the complaint. The process was to take place in Stettin
(name of a town, I think), but then dragged out for weeks, until the
jurisdiction for processing the complaint was passed on to Berlin. The war
ended before the process could be completed. So my father survived. In
February 1946, he emerged from a British POW camp and as he entered our home
he threw an old vase to the floor. That was not a good omen. As a former
officer he could not find work immediately after the war. During this time,
my mother, well-known in the region as a portrait and landscape artist,
supported our family. This was a bitter pill for my father to swallow and
his pride was hurt. During the time that my parents were separated by the
war, they wrote each other loving letters, sometimes 3 letters a day, and
sometimes they even spoke to each other on the telephone. As I sorted
through the thousands of letters, I often wondered how, with all of his
daily activities and responsibilities, my father found the time to write so
many letters. When my father returned from the war, the relationship
between my parents deteriorated. There were loud fights every day. A
My father was
married twice. After the war, my father’s son, Hermann, from his first
marriage moved with his mother to America. Hermann later returned to
Germany as an American Occupation soldier and met his future wife in
Berlin. After his military career, he worked for a computer company in
Florida, that developed test simulators for the U.S. army. Hermann Scherer,
my half brother died at the young age of 49. He was survived by a daughter
and a son who served during the Gulf War. In the meantime, there is a large
group of Scherers who have all become American citizens.
In his second
marriage, my father married his second cousin, Marie Luise, who had the same
last name as my father. That made the formalities of a civil marriage much
easier. Marie Luise Scherer studied art in Dresden and Leipzig. An
exchange of letters with people from this region continued long after the
conclusion of the war with those who survived the war.
I was born in 1942,
a few months before my father took over as head of the prison camp in
Barth. I have virtually no memories of my father from WWII, since I was too
young. Today, if I recall memories of my father from after the war, I see
him buried behind a mountain of books: mostly history books, but also
fiction and art books. I also remember that he liked to take long walks
along the Donau River or hikes through the mountains of Tirol. His greatest
love was music and if he had been a civilian, he would have wanted to be a
conductor. He played the violin, viola, cello, piano. He had a great ear
for music and could play sheet music without prior practice. After the war,
my father was 54, so a musical career was no longer possible. Later, as my
father was able to find work again, he was happy to become the administrator
for Lotto (a national lottery). Later he became responsible for all lottery
outlets in the region of Straubing. Even during the war, he was able to
answer his musical yearnings. For example, in Barth he, other acquaintances
and Pastor Just formed a small chamber music group. Even after the war,
back in Straubing and Lower Bavariy, he continued with his chamber music and
played everything from Hayden to Mozart to Bartok. His remaining group of
friends was very middle class. My mother was more outgoing and she had an
incredibly large circle of friends and acquaintances.
From the letters my
father wrote to my mother while he was Commander of Stalag Luft 1, it was
clear that he tried hard to run a correct and humane camp and that he was
concerned for the fate of the prisoners. I also have this impression from
letters written by ex-POW’s, for which I am very grateful. However, I also
gathered from these letters that the generally good treatment of the
prisoners in Stalag Luft 1 was the wish of those higher in command. One
should keep the prisoners of war in a good mood, because one would hope that
ultimately they would be allies in the war against the much-hated
The letters from my
father while he was in Barth were all written in the same manner.
The weather had
direct consequences on the well-being of my father and the situation in the
camp. There was also the mention of specific occasions, for example, visits
to the camp by police or trips to visit friends in Barth.
The suggestions and
instructions to my mother, encompassed all areas of life. Always a loving
closure rule. This was how just about every letter was structured.
As an example, here follows a typical letter from my father to my mother:
3/2/44 in the evening
the average, my father and mother wrote up to three letters to each
other every day)
About the weather; yes, that was a terrible
The first spring temperatures, tempting you to go
outside and work in the garden, and now, after two days, this abrupt
weather change! For 24 hours the storm direction has changed from
south to west and now a blizzard shaking and howling through the area,
and so we are aghast and disgusted about it. Under such
circumstances, watching the POWs, in fact, is not possible any longer!
Good weather for an escape; will the headcount be correct
tomorrow? Within the next two days 300 American officers will
arrive simultaneously! This will be a hard job, especially for the
assistant to v.Miller, who has to take charge
(of the newly arriving prisoners).
Yesterday evening a tunnel was discovered, which was already
complete to the fence. The guys had poured the scooped out sand
into the toilets and sinks and then strongly complained that the new
sewage system did not work properly! Now those gentlemen have to
do the cleaning up themselves under the supervision of the German
Today you can hardly remain in the rooms facing
the west. The whole day long I sat in my office wearing the coat
to my raingear. My feet feel like icicles, and I will be glad to
get in my bed. The curtains are dancing in the room, as if the
windows were open!
But now my dearest, I want to thank you for two
dear letters of the 26th and 27th, (and the
nice van Gogh postcard) and the letter with the brown wool mending
material. Today Else
(a helper at Stalag Luft I ?)showed me a blue uniform
shirt, that cannot be repaired. I will send it to you, if I get a
chance, by post; pieces of it may be useful for making summer shirts for
Stephan; recently I had to present a shirt of the same quality in
How are things with you? Again you report about
being worn out, as you have done recently! So the symptoms of your
illness have not yet been expelled from your body. Maybe you
should try a mineral water cure at home? I wonder what doctor can give
you the best advice and where you can get x- rayed? Hopefully you
will get over this. Will Agnes
(her older sister, resident of the city of Bremen, now there in
Straubing visiting my mother)
be leaving soon?
Stephan: Hopefully you will receive official documents concerning
him. Actually, he could be useful to me as a civilian translator. I'm
trying hard to locate translators. Presently I have put in a request for
9 people such as he from the translator's school in Bonn-H (....?),
where their school is located.
That Straubing, and the surrounding area, is fed
up with the refugee situation, I can understand; even so it may be
unlikely that people from Vienna will be evacuated that far.
We don't have any fears here and are living as if
in the deepest peace. Our foot soldier have no idea how nice they have
it here. What will our comrades in the east have to suffer right now! -
Very soon now I shall retreat from this day and
letter) with a heartfelt
good night for you and (son) Stephan.
Mary Smith and Barbara Freer (USA):
”Why we created a web site for our father and other kriegies.”:
Thank you we are so happy to be with you today on this special occasion.
Helga asked that we tell you a little about our website "Stalag Luft I
Online". We initially built the site two years ago from information we had
gathered while researching our father’s WWII experiences.
site has grown from a small 3-page tribute to him and his crew to a 67-page
site containing detailed information about Stalag Luft I including 28
individual prisoner of war (POW) stories, photos, poetry and original
artwork. We have pages devoted to the liberation of the camp by the
Russians and the airlift and evacuation of the POWs by the 8th
Air Force. We also have a page devoted to a German guard and intelligence
officer at the camp known as Henry the butcher. Other pages provide listings
of books written on Stalag Luft I, videos on POWs, information on applying
for the POW medal and the benefits and entitlements provided by the US
government for POWs and their widows.
became interested in Stalag Luft I when we decided to apply for our father’s
Prisoner of War Medal. After receiving the application form we learned we
would have to supply proof that he was a POW with the completed application.
The US government had no complete listing of WWII POWs and to make matters
even worse, we learned that there had been a fire in 1973 that had destroyed
16 to 18 million Army and Air Force official military personnel files and no
duplicate copies or microfilm existed. Since he had passed away many years
earlier, we had to search for the required proof on our own.
Growing up there were signs of Stalag Luft I in our home. A search of our
bookcases would reveal 2 books on the subject, Ross Greening’s "Not As
Briefed", a book full of colorful drawings he made while in the camp and
Morris Roy’s "Behind Barbed Wire" which contained stories, photos and
drawings along with a listing of the POWs and their hometowns by compound.
An aerial photo of the camp hung in our family room for several years beside
a photo of Dad in his military uniform. And if you looked hard enough, as
children often do -- in a drawer, you would find a metal swastika that Dad
had gotten by climbing up the flagpole at Stalag Luft I after liberation. As
children growing up we were intrigued and tried to get him to tell us about
his POW experience but he like most preferred not to discuss it. He would
quickly try to change the subject whenever we asked about it.
was an only child so there were no siblings that we could turn to with our
questions. Mother had not known him during this time. They had met several
years after he returned from the war and he had not told her much about his
experience either. After our grandparents died she was cleaning out their
house and found Dad’s Honorable Discharge from the Army, his Dulag Luft
photo ID card and a few old newspaper clippings reporting him as missing in
action and later as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I. With this as our
only proof, we applied for the medal and waited. A couple of years passed
and we heard nothing. We decided to try and find someone that had been
on the plane with him or had known him in the POW camp in hopes of being
able to provide additional proof of his POW status..
Honorable Discharge indicated that he had been in the 600th Bomb Squadron.
With this information we searched the Internet and learned that it was part
of the 398th Bomb Group. We found their website and emailed the
webmaster asking for assistance in locating anyone that had been on the
plane with him when he was shot down on November 26, 1944. Shortly after
this we received a reply that listed all the men that were on the plane with
him and the current addresses for 4 of them.
With this we wrote to the four asked if they remembered our father and would
they be willing to share any information they have about him and/or their
experiences of that day. They all 4 responded warmly offering their
memories and assistance, although only one had known him prior to the
morning of the flight and he had been sent to a different POW camp, Stalag
Luft 4. The other three that did not know him had all been sent to the same
POW camp, Stalag Luft I, but did not know him in the camp. One of the crew
had an email address and we became very close to him, corresponding on
almost a weekly basis, with him sending us his story of the crash and life
at Stalag Luft I in installments over a period of a few weeks. When his
installments ended with the liberation of the camp and the airlift, we were
seems the more we learned the more we wanted to know.
With the stories and photos we had received from the crewmembers we built a
small 3 page website as a tribute to Dad and his crew, mostly to preserve
this information for our family members. Our interest in Stalag Luft I, and
the POW experience, continued to grow and we began to search for more
information. We began to visit museums, search Air Force archives and even
attend POW and Bomb Group reunions, including last year’s conference in
Barth. Everywhere we went we learned more and accumulated more information.
Within a year what started out as a quick and easy way to share information
with our family and friends grew to the 67-page site we have today. We have
had over 150,000 visitors to our site since we began counting a year and a
half ago. We are currently averaging 350 visitors a day. They come from all
over the world. We have counted visitors from 112 different countries,
including Zimbabwe, Cuba, China, Egypt, Peru, Nepal, Venezuela, India,
Australia and Singapore to name a few.
We have a
guestbook where we invite our visitors to leave comments. We had no idea
that the site would appeal to such a diverse group of people of all ages but
it does. The visitors identify themselves as sons or daughters of POWs,
widows, teachers, students, military service buddies, former POWs and
everyday citizens. From the everyday citizens there is a message of thank
you to the POWs for all they endured to secure our freedoms we enjoy today.
The sons and daughters generally are searching for information about the
things their father never told them, many of whom are now deceased or died
during the war. They are looking for anyone who might have known their
father. The teachers and students are studying or teaching history and they
thank the POWs who have shared their personal experiences and enabled them
to better understand the human aspect of war. The military service buddies
are often looking for answers to what happened to a buddy that went missing
many years ago. And the former POWs are sometimes looking for a specific
friend from the POW camp or they are looking for anyone else that was in the
same camp that can relate to the common experience they shared.
have put a lot of time and energy into building the site, but it has truly
been a labor of love. The kind comments and letters of thanks from our
visitors make it worth every minute of work we have put into it. Our
proudest moments come from learning that we have helped others out there
find answers to long unanswered questions.
There are some wonderful heart warming and amazing stories about the
connections that have been made thru our website.
One of the first outside contributions to our site came from a daughter of a
kriegie who had died in 1963. She was 15 when he passed away and she had
recently found his YMCA diary with a listing of his roommates. We built a
page for him and added the listing of his roommate’s names. His daughter was
hoping to one day find someone that may have known him in the camp. Within a
matter of a few months we had made contact with 12 of his former roommates
or their families, including his best friend in the camp. Most of the
roomies had not been in contact with each other for the last 56 years. They
are thrilled to be in contact again and are planning on attending a roommate
reunion in Philadelphia next month.
Another kriegie whose story and roommates are listed on our site wrote to
tell us of an email he received from the son of one of his former roommates.
The son’s father had been killed shortly after the war and the son had no
memories of his father. The kriegie sent the son his phone number and they
called and talked for several hours with him sharing his memories of the man
and their experiences at Stalag Luft I with the son.
have also gotten emails from kriegies thanking us and telling us that they
found a former roommate in our guestbook and emailed them and they are in
contact once again.
recently posted the story of a kriegie who had been reunited with some of
his crew thanks to a German man who as a young boy had witnessed the crash
of his plane. As an adult the German man began extensive research into the
crash and the events of that day. This researcher contacted the kriegie and
provided him with the actual photos taken of the crashed plane on the
ground. He also provided the name and a photo of the pilot, a Luftwaffe
“Ace”, that had shot them down. The kriegie said he was glad to have been
shot down by an ace and not an amateur!
days after we added the kriegie’s story and photos to our site he received
an email from a woman living in Chicago, (his former hometown). The woman
explained that she had always been interested in history and was visiting
our site and randomly reading some of the POW stories when she ran across
his story and began to read it. She said as she was reading his story her
heart went out to him just as it had for all the other men and women she had
been reading about. She said as she continued reading she saw a picture and
knew instantly who it was, explaining that she didn’t see the caption right
away. She said she thought she was losing it for a minute, then she read
the caption which confirmed what she thought she was seeing. The man that
had shot down the kriegie was her grandfather. She was staring at the same
photo of him that they had in their family photo album. She explained that
her father was from Germany but had moved to America when he was 18 to find
work. He met and married her mother and they lived in Chicago. She said he
had brought a family photo album with him from Germany, which contained a
photo of his father (her grandfather) in his military uniform along with
some newspaper articles, which were in German so she couldn’t read them. She
had been told her grandfather was a war hero and not much more was said
about him other than he had died when her father was 9, shortly after the
war had ended. She said her dad had never talked about his father and she
was pretty sure up till now that he never would have until today. She said
she hoped she was not upsetting the kriegie by contacting him and explained
that many lives were affected by this one event and it just so happens that
effects carry over generations. She said she feels the pain her father must
feel and that is why she hopes the kriegie can understand why she wanted to
kriegie immediately replied to her and put her in contact with the other
surviving crew members. They have developed a friendly relationship and plan
on visiting each other soon. Old wounds are healing and friendships forming.
The granddaughter became interested in learning more about her grandfather
and put together a notebook filled with information she received from the
German researcher and from the Internet, which she proudly displayed at her
daughter’s recent graduation party. She advised it was the hit of the party.
by far our favorite website connection story occurred when our friend and
Stalag Luft I kriegie George Lesko was found on our website by his long lost
son. George was separated and divorced from the son’s mother before the
child was born. George had no idea that the marriage had produced a child
for several decades. George and the son have been able to positively
confirm thru a DNA test that they are indeed father and son and are now very
happy and in constant communication.
In conclusion we would
like to invite you to visit our site and read the fascinating stories. Some
will make you laugh and some will make you cry. In reading these you are
struck by the incredible and horrific experiences of so many in the war and
the common exhibition of tremendous personal valor. They are the stories of
brave young men who defeated their fear and then defeated the cause of their
fear. We believe all the Stalag Luft I kriegies are heroes and survivors and
we are proud to share their stories with the world. As one son of a POW
who wrote to us said, "We cannot ever fill the shoes left us. We can truly try.
Perhaps we will come close to earning the honor of being the children of