Lt. Robert R. Swartz
White Pigeon, Michigan
During these months as a POW
I have not been permitted much freedom in corresponding with you.
Correspondence has been limited and there was much that could not be
written. Nevertheless, you folks were always on my thoughts and I know you
were also thinking of me. When thinking of you, I had memories of home to
serve as a background. However, I suppose you often wondered how I was
living. With this in mind, I decided to record a bit of our life here – may
it help you to better understand how we lived as POWs.
I will not discuss the events
of my capture and imprisonment. It is military information not to be
recorded. Besides we refer to these events as “horror stories” and there is
much we would like to forget.
Our prison camp was Stalag Luft I located
near Barth, Germany. Barth was a small town on the shores of the Baltic
north of Berlin. The camp itself was on a small peninsula northwest of the
Food was the most important single item in
our existence. Food seemed to take on a new meaning and meal time was the
most enjoyable part of the day. Naturally we ate many things we would have
refused to eat at home, but for the first time we were eating to live. Food
preparation was hardly equal to that at home, but, with inexperienced cooks
and primitive facilities, the meals were better than you might think.
A great share of our food stuffs came as a
gift of the American Red Cross through the International Red Cross. At
times we were issued the British Red Cross parcel. The American parcel was
designed for one man. We combined our parcels and cooked for all fifteen
men from them. We were supposed to receive one parcel per man each week,
but due to shortages we were not always that fortunate.
Red Cross Parcel No. 10
|1 Can Spam, 12 oz.
|1 Can Corned Beef, 12 oz.
|1 Can Stew, 12 oz
|1 Can Salmon, 7 3/4 oz.
|2 Cans Sardines, 3 1/4 oz.
|1 Box K-2 Biscuits, 7 oz.
|1 Box Cereal, 10 oz.
|2 D-Ration Chocolate Bars, 4
|1 Can Cocoa Powder, 8 oz.
1 Can Pate, 6 oz.
1 Can or Pk. Cheese, 1/2 lb.
1 Can Powdered Milk, 1 lb.
1 Can Jam or Orange Conc., 6 oz.
1 Can Margarine, 1 lb.
1 Can Coffee, 2-4 oz.
1 Box Sugar, 1/2 lb.
5 Pks. Cigarettes
2 Bars Soap
Each week the Germans were suppose to
provide the following rations for each prisoner:
|| 150 gms
|| 175 gms
|| 600 gms
= 1 lb.
Actually we received approximately 2100
gms of bread, 100 gms of margarine, 100 gms of cheese, and 70 gms of sugar.
Sometimes we received canned meat. Rations of jam and barley were so
infrequent that they could not be depended upon. The issue of vegetables
was likewise without regularity in either quantity or times issued. The
only German ration that differed from similar products at home was the bread
“Kriegies Brot” was the name we applied to the German “staff of life”. The
bread came in loaves 4 inches square and 12 – 14 inches long. A loaf this
size weighed 1800 gms - nearly 4 pounds. The bread was dark brown in color
and poorly baked. We always toasted the bread to remove the moisture before
Our daily menu depended upon the amount of
food issued. At first we ate two hearty meals, but during the winter the
German rations were cut and so were our meals. The usual menu consisted of
three pieces of bread with cheese or jam for breakfast, two pieces of bread
with meat, fish or jam for lunch, and potatoes, vegetables, meat and pie for
We were without cook books and we had to
depend upon memories for our recipes – or experiment. I will note a few
sample recipes for your pleasure
Sunday Spam Special
Place 4, 12 oz., cans of spam in a pan.
Spread pineapple or strawberry jam on back of
Bake well. Serve with baked potatoes.
Meat Loaf – 8 Men
2 cans corned beef
1 ½ cups bread crumbs
1 can pate
Mix the ingredients well. Add klim for binding.
½ lb. of cheese may be added if desirable. Bake loaf in a hot oven –
don’t worry if it falls apart.
2 boxes K-2 biscuits, ground fine
1/3 can margarine
Knead flour and margarine, add water, continue
kneading until crust can be rolled. Place in pan and bake.
2 Boxes of prunes cut into small pieces, stew in
a small amount of water until cooked to a mush.
After baking, coat crust with a klim paste. Place prune filling in
pie shell. Top pie with a klim-cocoa icing. When cocoa is not
available a pure klim or klim-prune top may be used.
2 lb. sugar
½ cup margarine
1/3 cup klim
6 spoons, heaping, American cocoa – English cocoa
Add a small amount of water and cook over a
hot fire. After cooking stir and add raisins, prunes or nuts. Cool
Next to eating, our most important
requirement was shelter. Our barrack was only a small unit in the entire
Stalag – German for base camp. As previously mentioned, our camp was
northwest of Barth at the base of a small peninsula jetting into the Baltic
– water on three sides made escape more difficult. Originally there was but
one compound – the west. At first this was occupied only by the RAF, but
later Americans were also held there. Since many arrived and few departed –
very few, the prison was soon overcrowded and it was necessary to expand.
North compound I was opened in February of
’44, North II in September, and North III in December.
Our compound, North II occupied an area of
approximately 11 acres. The buildings consisted of nine barracks, two
latrines, and a cook shack. The latrines were divided into two sections –
wash rooms and toilet. The only convenience in the latrines was running
water. The wash room was furnished with six wash stands, like those found
in use in industrial establishments at home, three mirrors, and two tubs for
heating water. The less written about the toilet the better. It was very
primitive. On our latrine there was a laundry wing. This room was
furnished with six double basins and some wooden tubs for washing clothes.
The cook shack was simply a temporary structure of rough wood and canvas to
protect the German field kitchens and vegetable bins.
|North II Compound
Since it was a prison, our compound was enclosed with barbed wire. There were
two fences, ten feet high, strung with horizontal and
vertical barbed wires. The fences were about four feet apart and the area
between the two was covered with coils of barbed wire. Ten feet inside the
fence was a double strand of barbed wire that severed as a warning wire.
The compound was guarded by six towers – one on each corner and ones in the
middle of each exterior side.
An interesting survey of the compound was
made by our roommate Homer Gregory. The following is a portion of Lt.
Barbs in double fence
Barbs in warning fence
Barbs in compound
Barbs per man
Water faucets - inoperative
Barrack 201, our home was a prefabricated, hastily
constructed wooden building 40 ft. x 140 ft. The building contained 10
large and 4 small rooms.
One of the smaller rooms was occupied by the squadron
commander and his adjutant. Two others served as four men rooms and block
kitchens. The fourth was the night latrine.
Room 11, our room was typical of the large
rooms in the barrack. It was living room, dining room, kitchen and bedroom
for 15 men. The dimensions of the room were 16 ft. by 24 ft. with an 8 ½
ft. ceiling. The room was heated by a small stove that was also used for
some of the cooking and water heating. In the daytime the room was lighted
by double casement windows. After dark artificial light was furnished by a
single 40 watt bulb. The kitchen facilities consisted of two cabinets one
for storing canned food and dishes, the other for vegetable storage. Two
tables, 35 x 46 inches, three long benches, and fifteen beds – one single
and seven double bunks, completed the furnishings.
The most important piece of furniture from
the personal point of view was the bed – “kip” was the kriegie term for it.
Naturally the mattress is the most important part of the bed. The army has
never been noted for exceptionally soft beds, but our mattresses in room 11
embodied a maximum of discomfort. One who was accustomed to the
innersprings mattresses popular in the States would not have slept much at
Barth, but man can accustom himself to most any thing in time and we did
sleep. The mattress was unlike anything we had seen before. The covering
was a very coarse burlap. The filling was “wood wool”. This “wood wool”
was simply a distinctive name for excelsior. The excelsior became
compressed and sank between the slats giving the bed a corduroy effect.
Variety is the spice of life and variety
was the term that best described the uniform of a kriegsgefangen. Barth was
one place where there was no regulation regarding what uniform should be
worn. You wore what you were wearing when you came down or what was issued
you. Greens, pinks, khaki, O.D. and RAF uniforms could all be found under
GI or RAF overcoats, A-2, B-10, tank, field, heated suit or battle jackets,
GI or RAF blouses, or parkas. The “kriegie cap”, a knit cap similar to the
helmet liner, was the only part of the uniform common to all. To be more
specific concerning our clothing, I can only describe my own collection of
clothing. My wardrobe consisted of two pair of pants, one green, one O.D.,
one khaki and two O.D. shirts, a red sweater, a blouse, a B-10 jacket, a
kriegie cap, underclothes, socks, GI shoes, and finally a necktie. The
necktie was worn only for inspection – yes, we had inspections, even in
Germany. In February we were finally issued a wool scarf but we were still
Now that I have discussed the three
essentials of our kriegie life, I think it is time to give credit to those
organizations that contributed so much to the things previously discussed
and those to be discussed later.
First was the Red Cross – the American Red
Cross, the British Red Cross, and the International Red Cross. It was this
organization that transported our food parcels and clothing; gave us our
capture parcels, furnished medical, dental, and hospital supplies; supplied
toilet articles, and sent representatives to inspect our camp.
The YMCA furnished us with our library,
school supplies, religious needs, musical instruments, phonographs and
records and sports equipment.
These two organizations deserve a sincere
note of thanks for the way they served us and made our kriegie life more
As POWs we were under two separate,
distinct organizations. First there was the German camp organization. When
we arrived the camp was under control of the Luftwaffe, control passed from
the Luftwaffe to the S.S. and finally to the Wehrmacht. We were forced to
abide by the rules of the Germans, but cooperation was unheard of. Whenever
a new German order came out it was S.O.P. to ignore it until forced to
comply. The motto was “give them nothing but abuse and lofty
indifference.” Within the camp we had our own American organization.
Naturally we observed and obeyed all orders from our officers. The chain of
command of our organization was as follows:
USAAF Provisional Group V
Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany
Col. Hubert Zemke, C.O.
North Compound II
Lt. Col. C. Wilson, C.O.
Major J.J. Fischer, Adj.
Sqdn I, Block I
Capt. Robert Fry, C.O.
Capt. Kenneth Bales, Adj.
1st Lt. Tom Schmerler, R.C
1st Lt. G. K. Madson
While at Barth I lived in two different rooms.
From my arrival until 3 Jan. 45, Room 6 was home.
On 3 Jan. 45, I moved into Room 11. To give
you an idea of my fellow kriegies I will list my roommates in the two rooms.
Room 6 Roommates:
Wm. J. Collins
35 N. 8th St.
2676 S. 28th St.
Milwaukee 4, Wisc.
1st Pilot B-1
|Warne S. May
4924 Sutherland Ave.
St. Louis, Missouri
|Francis P. McDonough
5700 S. California Ave.
4457 N. Farwell Ave.
Milwaukee 11, Wisc.
|Charles H. McVey
904 Halston Ave.
1st Pilot B-2
|Ted L. Prevost
224 Tunbridge Rd.
1642 N. McVickers Ave.
743 E. 7th S.
Salt Lake City, Utah
1st Pilot B-1
|Harry B. Yolodka
15 Hobart St.
Bomb B-2 B-
1st Pilot B-1
Room 11 Roommates:
|Robert Bell Jr.
|Henry T. Bengis
519 E. 78th St.
New York, N.Y.
|Bert Daniels Jr.
127 Lakeside Dr.
1st Pilot B-2
211 7th Ave.
S. Charleston, W. Va.
462 2nd St. W.
J. Wiley Hansen
|Fred J. Kushero
2022 Dorland Dr.
|John W. Lightwine
1216 Madeline Pl.
Ft. Worth, Texas
2623 Brinkly Ave.
1st Pilot B-2
|Anthony B. Mancini
2401 Plum St.
1875 Holihan Rd. Rt, 1
1st Pilot B-1
|Thomas J. Stitz
114 W. High
Canal Fulton, Ohio
|Jack L. Timmins
1353 Grand View St.
Des Moines, Iowa
Most of our time as kriegies
was leisure – leisure can certainly become tiresome. However, there were
certain routine activities worth describing in giving a true picture of our
Roll call twice daily was
required by the Germans. The times varied with the season, but it was
usually held around 0900 and in the middle of the afternoon. We formed by
squadrons on the athletic area. A German officer and two enlisted men would
count the squadrons, while other enlisted men checked the barracks. If the
Germans were not satisfied with the total, they went through the process
again. Often we stood for some time before the Germans were satisfied.
While the Germans were counting we were read the daily bulletin, and when the
squadrons had all been counted we had morning calisthenics. If the Germans
were not satisfied at roll call we could expect an “identity parade” in the
evening. The Germans would come through the rooms calling each man by name
and he was to answer with his POW number.
Only the Germans felt that
roll call was necessary, but never can you get along without K.P. We had it
just like the rest of the army. Two of us had it for a two-day period. It
was a common joke that “during those two days you never saw the light of
day”. The K.P.’s washed the dishes, did the cooking, swept the floor, built
the fires, carried water, and brought in the coal ration. In addition to
the work you had to put up with the “needling” of the rest of the room when
the meals were not on time or things didn’t go right.
Once each ten days our room
had barracks guard. This was commonly called “goon guard”. One man was
stationed at each of the two door. The guards duty was to inform the
barracks when the Germans were going through the barracks. “Enemy up” was
the call to warn the men that the Germans were in the barracks.
Another detail that fell to
our room every ten days was work detail. The day our room was on detail it
was our duty to bring in all the German rations – bread and any vegetables
or other rations given out that day such as sugar, margarine or barley.
Two aspects of personal
cleanliness, showers and laundry, were sufficiently different from what you
are accustomed to, that they are worth describing. Daily showers were
unheard of at Barth. Once each week we had shower parties when 40 men were
marched to North I for a quick, very quick shower. Also there was no
laundry. When your clothes were dirty you washed them yourself. The common
practice was to store the dirty clothes until you were wearing the last
clean ones. Then put in a hectic day in the laundry room over the scrub
In addition to the routine,
there were certain activities that helped to pass the time.
The religious activities of our compound were in charge
of Padre Clark. He had our services every Sunday afternoon. On Christmas
there was a special carol service.
Padre Clark was the resident padre and had charge of the service every
second Sunday. Clark was English and a member of the High Church of
England. On the odd Sundays Padre Clark was replaced by either Padre
Mitchell or Douglas. Mitchell was the dean of the three. He was from
Danedin, New Zealand and had been a Presbyterian minister before the war.
Douglas was from South Africa and had been a Baptist minister.
The facilities were not good
and service was often held in a barracks hallway, but we did have religious
services that were faithfully attended.
The library was one unit
that had an important bearing upon our life. There were times when without
a book to read life would have been dull and difficult. Thanks to the YMCA,
for once in our lives when we had plenty of time to read we had books.
At first the choice of books
was not good, but it improved with time. In December we started to receive
Armed Services Editions and from there on we had excellent books. To give
you an idea of our reading I’ll list a few of the better books I read.
Forward the Nation -
Donald C. Peattie
Love at First Flight –
Spalding & Carney
Goodbye Mr. Chips – J. Hilton
Circling Year – Van De Water
The Robe – L.C. Douglas
Magnificent Obsession – L.C.
Paul Revere – Esther Forbes
Death Comes For The
Archbishop – W. Cather
There was also a school
schedule. Classes were offered in German, Spanish, Home Planning, Law,
Economics, French, Art, Shorthand, Radio and Advertising at different
periods during our stay. The greatest trouble was that facilities were
limited and the classes were overcrowded. I was usually discouraged after
the first meeting of the class, but I did manage to sweat out eleven weeks
in Home Planning.
Home Planning was taught by
an architect from Battle Creek. It was an instructive course in which I
gained some practical knowledge in home planning and building. Kline was a
member of the modern school, and convinced most of us of the common sense in
In addition to the regular
classes there were text books available for home study. Stitz and I went
through several astronomy books with Stitz as the instructor. I taught a
little Government when I could get books.
Naturally we tried to
entertain ourselves and pass away the time. In addition to personal efforts
to amuse ourselves, there were organized productions.
Each compound had its own
orchestra and dramatic organization. Our compound was handicapped by the
lack of a large hall a great share of the time. On both Christmas and New
Years Eves we were permitted the use of a partly completed mess hall. The
orchestra, glee club, individual musicians and comedians all combined to
give two fine variety shows. Our compound was guest of North I for two
productions. The first was a variety show and the other was a fine job on
“The Man Who Came To Dinner”. The orchestras were quite capable considering
the difficulties they encountered. The kriegie orchestra produced all their
own arrangements and even found time to compose a few songs as well. Each
new show seemed to feature a new song. Probably the most popular of these
compositions was “Low is the Sun”, words and music by POW John Lashley.
LOW IS THE
Days have their worries
Nights have their furies
But in between times its dull
I hate to seem
So hate to dream
such a lull, so –
Low is the sun as slowly it
leaves the sky,
Low is the moon as night
So is my heart whenever the
day is through
Once a day, every day,
evenings bring thoughts of you
Each long shadow
You must be
But my heart
“Don’t go back, your
through”, so –
When in dusk I sit around
just for fun
Its to think of you, only,
lonely, when low in the sun.
On two different afternoons
we were fortunate enough to see films sent to the camp by the YMCA. Both
were badly worn and the sound not too good but never have movies been shown
to a more appreciative audience. Durbin’s “Springtime” and Rooney’s
“Double Life” were both old films, but for two hours they took us away from
the dullness of kriegie life.
About every two weeks we had
a record concert in the barrack hall – thanks to YMCA phonograph and
records. Other nights we were entertained by quartets or informal music
Cards were the most popular
from of individual entertainment. The decks of playing cards in the
Christmas parcels were a most welcome addition to our stock. Bridge,
cribbage and Euchre were the most popular games. In addition to cards,
chess, “chop”, and checkers were other popular games.
When the weather permitted
most available area was the scene of some athletic contest. The YMCA
furnished sporting goods and it was constantly in use. Playing catch,
softball, football and volleyball were most popular. There were golf clubs
available, so golfers devised balls and laid out a course.
Another favorite activity in
fair weather was walking. Of course barbed wire placed restrictions upon
movement, but just inside the warning wire encircling the compound was a
well-trodden, heavily traveled path. Our walks were full of exercise, but
there was little of scenic value. The north and south sides offered nothing
but views of other compounds. The west side furnished a small wooded area
to break the monotony. Only the east side offered an interesting panorama.
To the southeast was the village of Barth. The town was dominated by the
large, square, solid rather grotesque, poor, gothic church. The only other
object to break the roof line was on old steel windmill. North of Barth was
a factory featuring a large cement smoke stack, which often reminded me of
the paper mill at home. Due east and to the northeast was the bay and the
two peninsulas in the distance.
In a group the size of ours
there are always poets or would be poets – we were no exception. Some of
the verse was poor, some profane, but some was good – at least it seemed
good to us and expressed some of our thoughts for us.
Waiting is typical of the
verses that gave expression to thoughts shared by all.
When your far away from the
one you love
Stop and gaze at the
Whether the time be the
Or a frosty night with a
And there up above in that
realm of space
I see not the sun or the
moon, but a face
A beautiful face with a
Which tells me she’s
waiting to make life worthwhile.
Perhaps tonight from her
She’s gazing aloft, on her
lips my name.
As she prays to God, way up
To watch o’er, keep safe,
and return that love.
So when you’re feeling alone
Watch into the night and
the wakening morn,
And remember that westward
across the blue
She’s watching and waiting,
the same as you.
Many of the kriegie poets
were bitter and cynical. One of the more mild was as follows.
ODE TO THE
Mamma take down your service
Your son’s in the A.T.C.
He’s S.O.L., but what the
He’s safe as he can be,
He’s flown over North Africa
And half way up the Nile,
But I’ll be damned if he ever
A part of a combat mile.
Another poet, like the rest of us, must have been
thinking of the Red Cross
|Kelly get your barracks bag
The shipping list is here.
We're sailing on the first tide
For home and yester year.
But Kelly strained no muscle
To join the homing flocks.
He was packed before a tiny stove
Beside a Red Cross Box.
Kelly, we are sailing,
The bitter war is done.
We’re off to the USA
To sweethearts and to fun
But Kelly turned a deaf ear,
His stubbornness he kept.
"I should sail for anywhere
With all these groceries left."
It's a sad, sad tale they tell these days
Along the bowery streets
Of Kriegsgefangen Kelly
And his parcel full of meats.
Some men love adventure,
And some love curly locks,
But Kriegsgefangen Kelly
Loved his faithful Red Cross Box.
The Germans furnished us only the bare
necessities. We had tables, chairs, beds and one cup, bowl, knife, fork and
spoon per man. It did not take the kriegies long to construct essentials
items and substitutes for many of the things considered necessary at home.
Most of the kriegie kitchen utensils were
devised from “klim” cans – standard terminology for all powdered milk cans.
Pans for cooking were essential. All sizes were
developed, but they were usually square or rectangular. We had one unusual
pan. It was made from a piece of stove pipe and proved to be an excellent
Potato mashers were of many designs. The two I
was familiar with were a stick and a tin can filled with gravel and fitted
with a handle.
“Klim mixers” were a vital necessity. Once
again I was familiar with two types. The one resembled the beater portion
of an eggbeater. The other was a fanlike affair that worked equally well.
“Klim cans" were also utilized for stove grills,
ovens, pails and coffee pots.
One item not much used at home, but a great help
to us was a cracker grinder. The crackers were used in piecrusts and it was
important that they were finely ground. A round shaft covered with
nail-punched tins revolving very close to a piece of sheet tin was the
answer to the problem. The efficiency of the unit, then, depended entirely
upon construction of the frame, the ratio of the crank; the clearance
between the cylinder and plate, and the sturdiness of construction.
There were even a few irons built - most of us
were satisfied to press our pants beneath our mattress. These irons were
tin-covered bricks furnished with a handle. The irons worked well but
required a very hot fire to heat well.
The “kriegie maytag” was a boon for the
laundry. It was a clothes plunger fashioned from a klim can and fitted
with a wooden handle made from a bed slat.
“Klim cans” and odd pieces of wood were the
materials used in producing conveniences for the room.
With “beau coupe” smokers in the room ashtrays
were absolutely necessary. Most of the trays were simply converted tin
cans, but some of the more ingenious ones were produced from sheet tin.
Storage space was required for our few
possessions. Red Cross boxes were attached to the wall to serve the
purpose. Open shelves were made from bed shelves.
To increase the efficiency of our single light
bulb we made klim can reflectors.
When we had air raids and when we were cut off
from our power supply it was necessary to provide other types of light.
While the material was available, we made candles from the wax we melted
from wrappers on the date boxes. Our lamps used liquid margarine for fuel.
The wick for these lamps was usually a piece of a web belt.
The most ingenious production was a clock. Very
few of these were produced. There were two types. One had wooden works the
other used tin. The amazing thing was that these clocks kept accurate time.
There was always some little personal item that
was being made.
A mallet was necessary for many of our
activities. This was made by securing a block of wood and burning a hole
through it for the handle.
Another project was the molding of wings. These
wings were made from the solder melted from the tops of corned beef cans.
This was then poured into a clay mold.
Shaving and soap bowls, shower sandals, coat
hangers, ersatz insignia, American flags, note books, chess sets, drawing
instruments, ink, sailboats, model airplanes, cigarette cases and holders,
and gloves were a few of the other objects produced.
Christmas was different from the yuletide at
home. Here in the country where many of our Christmas customs originated
seemed very little like Christmas. You soon discover that it is family and
friends and the joy of giving that make Christmas worthwhile. We tried
hard. We had the room decorated and a small tree but the spirit of the
season was not present. The Red Cross provided a special parcel for the
season and we did have a fine meal.
|1 can Turkey, 12 oz.
||1 pack Dates, 1 lb.
|1 can Honey, 8 oz.
||1 pack Tea, 1 3/8 oz.
|1 can Butter, 3 ¾ oz.
||1 box Bouillon cubes, 12 cubes
|1 can Cheese, 4 oz.
||2 Fruit Bars, 2 oz. each
|1 can Deviled Ham, 4 oz.
||1 Wash Rag
|1 can Vienna Sausage, 4 oz.
|| 1 Pipe
|1 can Cherries, 4 oz.
||1 pack Pipe Tobacco
|1 can Jam, 4 oz.
||3 packs Cigarettes
|1 can Nuts, 8 oz.
||4 packs Gum
|1 can Candy, 12 oz.
||1 deck Cards
|1 can Plum Pudding, 12 oz.
||1 game 2 pictures
Pants pockets that once carried change were only
used for old nails, wire and other odds and ends. The money we carried on
that eventful day was taken away from us and camp money was only a myth.
Therefore, the kriegie financial system was forced to revert to barter. All
articles of trade were assigned a point value for trade. However, the D-bar
was the primary item of exchange.
This system featured a maximum of inflation. A
10-cent D-bar was equal to a carton of cigarettes and four D-bars would
often pay for a cigarette lighter.
After some delay I am writing again. Times have
not been too pleasant recently. The Red Cross parcels have not been
reaching us. In eight weeks we have received only nine parcels, 5.6% of our
normal ration (160). Our diet now is almost entirely German rations. One of
our doctors tells us we are receiving only about 1500 calories per day. As
our food supply ran low we devised substitutes for products we were
accustomed to. Pea flour was one German product we never used before the
emergency. The pea flour and bread crumbs became the flour for cakes. We
even attempted to make ersatz peanut butter from the pea flour.
It was during this lean period that I celebrated
my twenty fourth birthday. This birthday was vastly different than those of
the past. There were no old friends or members of the family present. The
food was exceptionally scarce and the meal was far different than the usual
natal day feast. We did have cake but sugar was not available for an icing.
All during our confinement we were denied many
of the things we once thought were the essentials of life. Food was the
most important of these and especially during the lean period, we talked of
little else. When I first get home I want to make up for lost time. For
once in my life I will pay the bills and I want to eat. So you can prepare,
here is an idea of what I am looking forward to.
Cream of Wheat Chocolate or Raisins cooked in.
Bran Flakes, etc.
Milk, sugar & fruit
Butter and Jam
Maple or other syrup
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Tuesday 27 March 1945 was a momentous day
in my kriegie existence. Most of February and March had been grim times.
Food had not been plentiful. We were never starving, but we had been mighty
hungry at times and all of us lost weight. We had not had a single Red
Cross parcel since the 27th of February and in eight weeks we had
received only nine parcels. On regular rations we would have received 160
parcels. Today we received a quarter issue – 5 parcels and were promised
another quarter issue tomorrow and more important there are strong rumors
that more are coming in. Along with the food parcels, personals parcels
also came in. I hadn’t received any mail, I certainly didn’t expect a
parcel. Imagine my surprise when I received a cigarette parcel. It was
most welcome because I was out of cigarettes and they were my favorite
brand. Even more important, was now for the first time I knew that you
folks know definitely that I am safe. On top of all this, the weather had
been fine the past few days and the news from the fronts has been
exceptionally good. Now all I have to “sweat out” is continued Red Cross
parcels, letters from home, and the end of the war. To be perfectly frank,
today when I received that parcel, I was as happy and excited as a kid on
Christmas with a new toy.
One interesting feature of our religious program
here in camp was the celebration of Holy Week. It was something entirely
new for me. Each day, Monday through Thursday we had a morning service.
Each day the Padre discussed the events of that day before the death of
Christ. Friday afternoon we had a Good Friday service and naturally Easter
service on Sunday afternoon.
Sunday 1 April 1945 – Easter was the climax of a
week of great pleasures. The preceding week had been full of surprises.
After many weeks, we received a full Red Cross issue and by the end of the
week there were over 70,000 parcels in camp. The war news was good and our
hopes of liberation were greatly improved. Throughout the week we enjoyed
an interesting series of Holy Week services. The weather was good and these
were signs of spring in the air. All week long we had been putting in “beau
coupe” man hours in preparation for the Easter dinner.
Easter started off with an exceptional breakfast
- two slices of bread with cheese spread and fried spam and a third spread
very thickly with oleo and jam and two cups of coffee. Lunch was two pieces
of toast even more thickly spread with peanut butter and jam and a cup of
In the afternoon while some were preparing for
the evening meal others of us attended Easter service. There were
approximately 1000 people in attendance. We were privileged to hear Padre
Mitchell deliver one of the most inspiring sermons I have ever heard.
After roll call came the climax of the day – the
Easter dinner. It was a fine meal – one that would have been enjoyed
anywhere but was especially appreciated here. This meal was possible only
through the cooperation of the entire room. The tables were covered with
ersatz table cloths – clean sheets. Decorations were a large center piece –
Easter basket & large decorated egg, decorated cookies, mint cups, and
cigarette boxes and place cards.
The menu was : tunafish salad with dressing,
fried spam with pineapple sauce, escalloped potatoes with cheese, buttered
carrots, ersatz applesauce – mashed, sugared turnips, bread & butter,
chocolate – fruit pie, assorted cookies, stuffed prunes, coffee, cream and
sugar. After a short delay we found our places, said grace, and “chowed
up”. It was a delicious meal. There was for once seconds on carrots and
applesauce. No one even considered the pies & cookies. They were left for
In the evening we had a snack of cookies, pies
and very rich hot chocolate. Even then much was left for later. The change
in morale was amazing. The good humor and laughter in the room caused one
to doubt that we were prisoners.
The news of our preparations spread throughout
the compound. The Colonel, the other wheels and roughly 500 kriegies
dropped into the room to see our cookies and table decorations.
The cookies were the most famous of our
products. These were made by Paaske and decorated by Kushero. The cookies
were of several designs. Easter rabbits, crosses, eggs, USAAF insignias, &
the Russian red star.
Everybody worked hard to make the day a success.
Paaske & Bengis did the cooking assisted by Gregory and Mancini, Boychuck
and Delbert as KPs. Stitz was responsible for the stuffed prunes and
tunafish salad. Timmins and I did our bit by making the baskets for the
prunes and center piece. Frye, Delbert & Turner made the name plates and
Bell typed the menus.
Padre Mitchell’s Easter sermon was one of the
finest I have ever heard. To achieve the full significance of this speech
you must picture the speaker. A man with Rev. Mitchell’s dynamic
personality is most difficult to describe. Picture a tall, six foot, New
Zealander; a powerful speaker; a man who has been a POW since the fall of
Tobruk in 1941; one who has more than once refused repatriation because, “I
can do more good here.” If you can see that picture, you have a partial
impression of the speaker, Rev. H.A.M. Mitchell. The following is not a
complete text of the sermon. It is simply the speakers rough notes, but it
will give you some idea of this excellent sermon.
Mitchell Stalag Luft I, Barth, Pomm.
|Romans 6: 3-5 Do you not know that all of us who were
baptized unto Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Well, then, by
our baptism we were buried with Him in death in order that, just as
Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glorious power, we also
should live an entirely new life. For if we have become one with Him by
sharing in His death, we shall also be one with Him in sharing His
That great passage has some
technicalities in it. I’m not going into them. What it means by and
large is simply this: Accepting the Christian faith means dying to the
old life and resurrection into a new life of power & beauty & peace. The
death , burial & resurrection of Christ are historical facts, but more,
they are timeless realities which have a meaning in all great living.
That’s my theme. Death, burial, & rising into new life. Those are
elements in every life which has the seal of eternity on it. But here
is the trouble. We want the triumph of resurrection without the
committal of ourselves to the burying of the old things in us which
can’t stand in any resurrection day. Why will we think that we can have
worthwhile victory without the battle, great life without sacrifice?
I’ll come back to that.
To me, this whole week has had the wonder of
resurrection in it and perhaps more so for you. Here is resurgence of
life. A week ago men were duller, whiter, weaker. Now they are in the
verve and energy of life again. There is food. There is more. All are
conscious from the news we have received, that the day of homecoming gets
nearer. There is hope. Add to it all the pulsating life of spring,
with the warmer days, the power of growth going on, and the aliveness
there is in the springtime, and go worlds beyond all I have said, and
remember that it is today – Easter day – the day of the triumph song of
the church, which has to do not with passing things of yearly phases of
nature, with full or empty stomachs, but with our eternal destinies.
The Church, because Christ rose, has the
final reply to all sorrow, sin and death; and the joy supreme beyond all
passing joys, for defeat on this day was turned into victory for the
world. Think of it: Good was it that day to be alive, and to be young
was very heaven.
But look, have you noticed that it is all,
all based on death and sacrifice? Good war news, how many dying to make
it possible? Red Cross parcels: sacrifice in every bit of it. How much
we just don’t know, and the name? Red – blood, Cross – after the Cross
of Christ. The country's blossoming and alive with life, but at the root
of every plant there is a burial and a death. Except the grain of wheat
fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it
bringeth forth much fruit.
Resurrection is glorious, food is glorious,
but it all goes back first to giving up of life. It means that for
us, it means that for the world, if a new era is to dawn and there be a
resurrection of all we hope for. There is no other way.
But it is a sacrifice which is as nothing to
the glory of the resurrection, like the seed dying gives birth to
millions; it’s the sacrifice makes to become fit. He doesn’t call
it sacrifice at all. It is rather accepting fitness and health then a
Why will we remain spiritual invalids? No
great nation can be built that way. Why remain in winter with its cold
iciness, when springtime, when great destiny is awaiting the soul of
man? And resurrection power? Remaining there we see only a
little bit of life, and think we see the whole.
He stops short of Easter Day in the cross
and grave of life, and wondering whether there be a resurrection.
We are like the disciples between Good Friday and Easter Day. To
illustrate this, “Wellington defeated – the French.” The second half
has less letters in it, but is changes the whole message.
What life needs at it's spring is an
infusion of the new in springtime. We’ve tried long enough to be merely
men, but man is contaminated by sin. We’ve got to try a cross so
that there can be resurrection and the power of an endless life.
We have fooled about with life, as men and
nations, and thought aspirins would do instead of the surgeon’s knife,
with the result we all know too well. Aspirins didn’t work this
time, and we got war. It will always be so. It has always
been so, unless we include God in His own world.
We really do think we can grab at
God’s gifts and leave out God. Ask Him in our extremity to lead us
through war, and then when led through, ignore Him once again, thinking
we are sufficient ourselves for the task of doing an even greater thing
than winning a war, and that is winning the peace, proving worthy to be
victors. It won’t work! Ah! But someone says: “Why should we include
God,” and then another adds, “I know as many good people outside the
church as inside, and I know a man who gave up going to church and he’s
not a bit the worse for it. So what’s all your talk about the need for
God.” For every man who quit going to church and is none the worse for
it, I can show you ten who are the worse, etc.
Look, the moral and spiritual life of man
can have no real meaning apart from God. And without Him, there is no
real resurrection. I simply appeal to history. A man may give up the
faith, or never have had one for that matter. But he can’t give up his
responsibilities as a man. Now where does that lead to? The giving up
the faith means always that he never had real faith. No man can ever
give that up. But he stops going to church say. He can
still feel that good is good, can still help his neighbor, and so on.
But where is that going to end in the next generation or the one after?
Answer that from history! You see though there is no intake, there is a
reserve, a capital to work on. But when that is finished, what then?
When his children grow up without a home example in leading to the source
of all life, what then?
Well, we’ve seen “what then" enough. You
see a railway engine does not stop as soon as the driver shuts off the
steam, nor does a potato die quickly as soon as it is pulled out of
mother earth. No indeed, it wins prizes when out of the earth. But
eventually it dies. And such a man can go on for a long time and
exhibit the fruits of life. No the fruit of nature, out freshly is
still infused with something of the life of the living tree from which
it came. And it can be preserved even longer on ice.
But sooner or later – and sooner rather than
later – the fruit grows woody and withers and we have to return to the
living tree for more. So with many, the ice of habit, discipline, moral
education, etc. keeps for him – tho he has cut himself off from the
creator and sustainer of life – some of the flavor of life. But his
life will become woody and lusterless in the end unless he gives back to
the living God.
And I mentioned responsibility of a man. The
19th century opponents of Christian belief largely shared the
Christian estimate of moral values. They may not have believed in God,
but they did believe in justice and mercy in honor and truth, in the
rights of the weak, and in the existence in all men of a spiritual
birthright which had preference over all differences of race and color
and blood and nation. Very high morality indeed.
But those very people looking out today on
this country and seeing those great truths thrown overboard, war and
moral laxness and the life, and they are appalled. And so are all 20th
century people who share the 19th century unbelief. What
they do not understand is their own responsibility in the matter. It is
they and people like them who have produced this cataclysm. They didn’t
understand the inevitable nature of this disastrous result.
And the modern so-called “food Pagan”
doesn’t understand either that inevitable disaster involved in his
outlook. You demand the impossible when you push the cart over the
hill, then let it go and expect it to stop halfway down - Prof John
Baillie. You can’t have fruit without root – no, not even fruit to put
on the ice & preserve.
Here it is then a sentence or two. Crucify
the evil, and inevitably there is a resurrection of good. But then,
only if life is rooted to its source as the tree to the earth and the
branch to the tree. Crucify the good and you get hell. God has made
the world and us that way.
Well, in the great days of flaming
banners of world opportunity, of spring at the heart what shall be our
choice? And you especially, men, going back with a reputation, because
you have been defenders of your country. You’ve given the sacrifice,
and were prepared to do.
But is there to be a resurrection?
The greater influence you now have is a terrific responsibility. How
are you going to use it? Unless you go back to the source of all life,
“the living God, it will vanish away, become icy, and disappear, and you
I challenge you to be as big as the hour
demands and as this wonderful time in history gives opportunity.
12 April was another eventful day – my first letter. It was from
Grandma Swartz. It proved to be a short letter and answered only a few of my
questions. However, it was most welcome. It was a good letter in itself
and it gave promise of more to come.
Friday the 13th proved to be bad luck for us. It was a day of
both joy and sorrows for me personally. For the second consecutive day I
received mail. This time the letter was from Jeanne – long and
interesting. Now all I have left to sweat out is a letter from you folks and
a personal parcel. The days bad news came first in the form of a rumor that
President Roosevelt had died. Naturally our first impression was to
disbelieve it. Later we learned that the rumor was correct. The news of
Roosevelt’s death cast a shadow of gloom over the entire camp. Every place
you looked men with long faces were standing in small groups discussing the
news. All men, regardless of party, were shocked and sorrowed by the sudden
announcement. It was generally agreed that we had lost a great man and it
was too bad that he could not live to see his work successfully concluded.
If ever a man died for his country, President Roosevelt did.
April 30th & May 1st were memorable days for the
prisoners of Stalag Luft I. For the past month the news had been
unbelievably good. The war had advanced to a point where we at Barth had
the questionable advantage of being in that part of Germany proper that was
the greatest distance from the allied forces. When the Russians crossed the
Oder below Stettin our attention was naturally centered on that area. The
advance moved rapidly and rumors spread like wildfire. Monday the 30th
was very exciting. Throughout the day there were frequent room commander
meetings, bulletins, etc. About 10:00 orders were issued to dig slit
trenches. Our attempt at a slit trench stuck water at two feet, so in the
afternoon we selected a new location and Stitz and I dug a three man
foxhole. By evening the entire compound was scarred in colonies of foxholes
and long lines of slit trenches. There were few shovels and we found
another use for the klim can – digging. All afternoon and far into the
night we were often disturbed by the explosions caused by German demolition
squads. Around 02:30 on the 1st we were startled by the
question, “How does it feel to be free?” Our M.P.s were in the towers! At
23:30 the German commandant turned the camp over to Col. Zemke. The German
guards pulled out around midnight and around two our men took over.
All day long men were standing in the southeast corner of the
compound looking into the distance. They were looking for only one thing
the Russians. All morning long the rumors were flying thick and fast. By
afternoon things had calmed down and we settled down to enjoy our new
privileges – no Germans, relative freedom and B.B.C.
In the evening after dark we settled down to enjoy the radio.
We were listening to a re-broadcast of the Hit Parade. Suddenly there was a
movement through the door. Outside we could hear cheers from the other
compounds. There could be only one reason for the excitement – the arrival
of the Russians. It was too dark to see anything, so we returned to the
barracks. We had just come in when, at 10:25, Col Zemke made the following
announcement: “This is the historic moment we have all been waiting for –
when 10,000 American & British parachutist trapped near Barth have been
joined by their Russian allies”. As soon as the Colonel had finished
everyone rushed outside in a great display of emotion. Just as we returned
to the barracks, 10:35, the radio program was once again interrupted this
time by an announcement of Hitler’s death. This announcement caused a burst
of cheering that was exceeded only by the one following the arrival of the
Russians. The Hit Parade returned with the number on hit – "Don’t Fence Me
In”. This struck a humorous chord with the ex-kriegies. The evening was
brought to a successful conclusion by the playing of the national anthem. –
the first time we had heard it on over eight months.
May 2nd also had its highlights. The day started out
very normally. About noon we were ordered to leave by the Russians. Col.
Zemke said we should be prepared to leave within the next six hours. The
middle of the afternoon we were attracted to the fence by a procession led
by Col. Zemke and a Russian Col. It seemed the Russian Col. was intoxicated
and was disgusted because we were not displaying enough enthusiasm over our
liberation. At the point of a gun Col. Zemke told the men to let off a
little steam. Up until this time discipline had been good. But there was no
control over certain elements once turned loose. The fences went down, the
towers were destroyed, men went into Barth, and others started for the
lines. Late in the afternoon it was announced to that it was not necessary
to leave. In the evening we had permission to leave camp, so we went into
Barth to look over our Allies. It was an impressive sight. The Russians
were a mighty rough looking bunch. Most of their transport was horse drawn
wagons that were really moving along. The soldiers were nearly all
May 3rd & 4th
were days filled with rumors, but little action. There were some
rumors, but little action. There were some rumors about the Russians, but
occupation forces who moved in were a little more sane. Other rumors were
concerned with the concentration camp that was found at the air field.