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To the Curious!
This book contains notes of a nature meaningless, I believe, to anyone else but myself. You are perfectly welcome to read them; however, don't say I didn't warn you.
Landed in Poland at approx. 11:15. Captured at 11:20 – by civilians & Jerry soldiers about 60 of them. Mistook soldiers for Poles – very friendly. Removed from field, where I landed, to a city hall in some small village. Rode in motorcycle sidecar – six others piled on. Taken into room, evidently civil police station. George is there along with some poorly dressed soldiers. Seem to be arguing about what to do with us. Numerous telephone calls. Finally take our electric equip. away from us. Try to talk to us in German. No luck. Are removed to a small room & placed under guard.
Removed from room and searched. Moved to a larger town farther south after three more of our crew arrive. Taken before Jerry Major, Capt. and a pvt interpreter. Find out for sure we're not in friendly hands. More silly questions more telephone calls. Interpreter tells us we'll be shot if we don't talk. No talk. Finally taken back outside where a crowd of not less than 500 people had gathered. Major lines us up against wall and takes our pictures. Civilians are friendly and are pushed roughly away from us. Loaded in a bus. At 6 o'clock we arrived in Krakow. Still confusion. Bus driver was evidently lost. Stop at some military hdq. After an hour move towards the sun. Krakow large city little bombing. Arrived at what was evidently a sanitarium about 6 miles out of Krakow, at dusk. Fed for the first time on German bread & ersatz coffee. Taken to a gym that had been made into a guardhouse. 8 Russian pilots there already – badly burned. Slept on floor. About twenty guards with machine pistols guard us. About 9 o'clock major and interp. come in. Relieve us of our shoes & pants. I was severely bawled out for whistling in his presence. Issued two blankets and told to go to sleep. Lights on all night floor hard and cold. Russians offered some of their hay. Germans refused any association. No cigarettes little sleep.
Breakfast ersatz and 2 slices black bread. Russians slip us some Polish cigs. Better than nothing – not much. One navigator becomes boring in his attempts to talk French to the Jerrys. – Silly questions. Good food at noon – Boiled dinner & plenty of it. Really hit the spot. Allowed to go out in sunshine. Eased the stiffness from previous days experience. Plenty guards around us. Russians not allowed out. German (one time taxi driver in N.Y.) tries to get us in conversation. No luck. Given our first cigarette rations (5 per day). Informed we'd move tomorrow. Russians tell us in sign language we are 30 Km from Russia front. No chance for escape.
Didn't move. Spent most of the afternoon outside & feel a little better. Moved the Russians. As they filed out they broke the rules & each of them shook hands with each of us. Really sincere. Their fate would not be too good – according to the Jerries. We talked over our situation and wondered about the rest. Decided either Lawrence and Hall had escaped or didn't get out. Most likely the latter. 5 out of 6 not so good. German fighter pilot (Capt) talks to us. 6 mos. more of war he says. We smiled. Maybe he was right.
Left Krakow. Marched 3Km to train carrying our next 24 hr. rations. 4 guards. Stop en route at German first aide station. Have my finger bandaged & also a boil on my neck. … People indifferent in Krakow. Mingle with soldiers & are out of guards sight several times. Poor place to escape however. Board train & are put in car with several compartments, in which are about 25 more Americans. Hope to see the rest of crew. No luck. Leave about dark. Rations for 24 hours loaf of bread, margarine (lard), small sausage & 1/2 can fish. 5 cigs. 4 men & 2 guards to compartment. Seat very hard. Slept harder. Nite – blackout. Numerous stops.
Pretty weary after a hard nite. Pass three pretty farming communities. Schweinfurt and Leipzig. Really a mess from bombings. Plane (evidently 17) in a tangled mess at side of track not nice. Warned not to smile, talk or laugh when we leave train in Frankfurt, our destination. Guards were pretty good sports about us bothering them to cut bread, go to the can, etc. Jerry soldiers who got on mad cause they had to sit in aisles. Train delayed because of tracks being blown up. Change several times before we get to Frankfurt. At Frankfurt Station about 11pm. People not too friendly. March to Dulag. About 3 miles. Misty and rainy. First glimpse of spotlights, barbed wire & real stockades. Not too pleasant. Treatment not too kindly. Searched. Placed in solitary. Shoes taken away. Pretty gloomy & tired by this time. Didn't much give a damn.
Wakened about 8 for breakfast. Bread, coffee again. Take note of room. About 8'x8'. Dirty blanket & a sack that's leaking straw. 1 glass jar. Had drunk coffee out of it before; but close examination made me wonder. One window but of the opaque nature. Numerous marks on walls denoting days previous occupants had spent there. One 27 day stretch, & already I was getting nervous. In order to get to latrine had to turn knob, which put down a signal flag in the hallway. Answered from 10 to 50 minutes. Funny how a craving for wanting to be alone fades when it's really forced on you. Time dragged. Barley soup for lunch. Bread and coffee again at nite.
What a nite. No lites, no heat, fleas. A little PO'd
Repeat of day before until about noon. Photographed and interrogated. Pretty tricky these Jerrys. I enjoyed being out of the hole for a while. At 4 o'clock I was told to get ready to move. Really happy. Moved into a compound with about 100 others. Could walk outside till dusk and could talk again to somebody. Freedom, altho limited, is a great thing.
Up early, 5:30, & ready to leave by 7. March to station again (about 1m). People shaking fists & making throat-slicing gestures makes one feel rather guilty – view of their city was not pleasant. Thank heavens for numerous guards. Next stop was to be another transient camp about an hour away. 4 hrs. later arrived at Wetzler. More marching uphill to a camp. Despite barbed wire it looked pretty cheery. A week or more since any of us had shaved or bathed. Pretty sad lot for looks. More questioning & then issued a Red X suitcase. What a feeling. Hot shower & the first resemblance of food for sometime & plenty cigs. Even tears shed by a few. Full Col. in charge really a kick in the pants. Song fest at nite. Known as the country club of prison camps. How true.
Put in four days at this camp. During this time we must have had at least 7 air raids. One I remember well was 3 hrs. long. I can sympathize with civilians. It ain't fun being in a shelter for long. Two raids at nite after we were in bed. Second day Factory about a mile away was bombed. Only 1 sqd. dropped but concussion was great. Everybody happy, darkly so, cause they didn't fall in middle of camp. Factory hit. What kind of factory, it was a question – plenty big. Ships at 20,000 plus pretty small. After every raid a couple 109's would take off real brave like and fly around at about 5,000'.
Had good food all the time we were at Wetzler & extra cocoa & biscuits about 8 every evening went good. Music and singing every nite, too. – news analysis too – which were very inaccurate. About 300 POW. English and American. All Air Corps, enlisted & officers. Segregated here & sent to permanent camp. Christiansen, top turret, the only E.M. left of our crew left us here. New POWs come in every day. 1 navigator, Kanin, who we left at the flea hole, came in just as we were leaving. … Don't see anybody else I know.
120 of us left on the 24th. 4 who were wounded too badly to walk were taken by bus down to the train. The rest of us, after being warned about trying to escape by the Jerry guards, march down to the train. We looked a little better, & were in much better spirits than the day we walked in.
Trip to Stalag I
Loaded in POW coaches (barred windows) at about 7pm. (24th). 10 men to each 8-man comp. Uncomfortable then but was destined to get worse. Windows not allowed open. Smoky & cold. Move a little after an hour or so. Pushed back on siding for the rest of the night. Helluva night trying to sleep. Try baggage racks, floor, sitting up – not much success. Finally get moving at nine next morning. Issued a Red Cross parcel each. Move at a snails pace all day. Lots of wreckage from bombing. Stop in every marshalling yard for long periods. Expect to be bombed or strafed by allies any moment. By 7 that night covered about 25 miles. Conditions getting pretty bad in car. So crowded. Latrine deplorable.
Make better time. Everybody tired and PO'd. Car is like a pig pen. Guards tell us maybe will get there tomorrow. Scenery is nice. All towns bombed badly. See many locomotives and cars that have been shot up badly, sitting on sidings. Not a pleasant sight. Many in Roundhouse in good shape however. French & Russian enforced laborers in all marsh yards. Smile & wave at us & make "V" sign with their fingers. Germans warn us about trying to talk to them. I get into hot water by pulling emergency brake & stopping train. Expect to be shot on the spot – could have been! Finally iron it out okay. Expect to hear of it later, but don't.
After 4 days of a seeming nightmare, arrive in Barth, Germany -- our destination. Met at the station by more guards who are accompanied by very nasty acting police dogs. Counted several times & start marching for our new permanent address. Don't relish the dogs. Thru Barth, a quaint little town. Reach camp in about ½ hour. Really a big place. Interviewed some more, searched & all cans of food we had left punched. (I thot this can punching a very low trick. Find out later it is SOP). Deloused, showered. An English Dr. talks to us about news. Find out he's been here 4 ½ years (more about him later). March to our new home.
North Camp #2. Old Kreiges peer at us from behind the barbed wire as we march along. Lots of wise cracks & leg pulling. Find out later they know more about the news than we do. Issued into our new home. Blk 5, Room 13. I am officially a POW. Get split up from George. 4 of us who are new move in with 9 old Kriege (7 months the youngest) Have a big kettle of stew for us. Questions many. Lights out at 11 – I begin my Kriege life.
Stalag Luft #I is quite a large camp. For officers only altho at one time it was for non coms. At time I arrived there were 3 compounds. The South, oldest and largest contained about 2000. The North, about 1500. North 2, which was the newest addition (2 weeks old) containing about 1500. Since then North #3 has been opened and has about 500 new occupants. Present total is between 5000 – 6000 officers. I'm amazed at the no. of POW.
Dec 31/44 11:00PM
In very few minutes '44 will have had it! And '45 will be bowing in for a twelve month stretch. I guess to me, New Year's eve is the date with the most to it. Why, I don't know—it's just one of those things. I do know I miss being out of here tonight more than I did at Xmastime. However, I'm not contemplating Hari Kari or such because I am here, but believe me when I think back on past year endings I can feel just a faint touch of the old blues. Some of the boys in the block celebrated on a prune concoction they've been brewing the past week. It seemed to do the trick for the madhouse that reigned a few hours ago has subsided almost completely. Those who partook of the potion either being very ill or passed out. Personally I can't remember a New Years Eve, at 11:30 pm when I would be much interested in using a pencil: Kriege life does odd things for a person. However it'll soon be four months since I partook of any intoxicating beverage. So I figure myself quite an abstainer. I think my New Year's Resolution shall be not to touch a drop until I get to the closest bar. Germans gave us a big break for the holiday. They opened North 3 & are leaving the lights on until 1AM. I wonder how they can afford it! Talent in the compound put on a show tonite. The fellows who attended said it was pretty good. I didn't go – hearing music & noise isn't so good on my moral.
Tonight, tho it be the quietest I have spent, and I dream of past years: a chattering mob, drunken New Years greetings, spinning bull fiddles and a general hell raising, in general the thing I miss most is that twelve o'clock kiss from Georgia that really started the year out right and scratched all bad moments of the past year at the same time. Yep, those few seconds were always my biggest thrill of the year. This year I'll have to take a rain check & just kinda silently wish & hope that everything is fine at home and that Georgia is like always, and will be thinking of me as much as I am of her. I wonder what she'll be doing at ten minutes to twelve.
Well, the past year has been a pretty exciting one and probably one of my most adventurous. I owe the Gentleman with the beard many thanks for pulling me thru a couple of close ones & I want him to know I appreciate it. My biggest wish for the New Year of course is to get home & for the whole world to get back to normal. That will be the day! But, here it is 12:00 midnite. A few strains of Auld Land Syne can be heard as well as jubilant Happy New Year greetings now & then. I think I'll just call it a day and hope that next year I'll be someplace else. But to keep in the swing of things I gotta say, & not too loud ------ Happy New Year 1945 … & Goodnite
April 13 (Friday)
President Roosevelt's death was a great shock to everyone in Kriegeland. There was much comment as to what effect it would have on the Germans and to the war effort. Naturally, it is too early to see any effect but the Germans, surprisingly, treated his passing with noticeable respect. How they will use it later on remains to be seen.
War news has been especially terrific today & at present the Allies have pushed to Wettenberg, approx 60 miles from Berlin, less than a hundred from the Russian lines & 110 miles from here. That is a gain of 60 miles in the last 24 hrs. It is almost unbelieveable that such an advance could be made—in fact it has had a dazing effect on most of us. To think that we are only a matter of days, possibly, from being freed from the hole seems like a dream. Yet all the gains are of German admission and are quite sure to be accurate. On the East front the Russians seem to be preparing to launch another offensive. Air activity last night & today has been great in the region & the Germans reported the "Luftwaffe" against Russian offensive preparation this afternoon. If the Ruskys open up & the Allies keep moving as they are the next few days around here may prove to be exciting – indeed! …
Received my second present today—this time 6 cartons of Camels & they really come in fine. I must commend my wife on being on the ball. Course, I really appreciate things like that, specially around these parts. I still haven't had any letters which is quite amazing to me as well as unusual because letters as a rule precede parcels of any kind. I sure hope everything is alright at home.
By the way today marks the 7th month since that day! Seven wasted months – I wonder will it be eight? Tonite I say it won't –time will tell.
Large gains by the Allies have marked the past 24 hrs. The Elbe river appears to be completely occupied by the American and British … A security blackout covers most of their actions. South of here Patton has bypassed Leipzig to the south and is reportedly nearing Dresden. He is supposedly 60 miles from Berlin at this point and about 90 from the Ruskys. The Ruhr pocket has been diminished considerably. We still are about 100 miles from the Allies, here in Barth. However, rumors during the day have hinted that this distance is considerably shorter. How true this is of course remains to be seen. Activity of German soldiers around the outside of the camp has been somewhat of a forecast for probable things to come. Trenches were dug several months ago all around the camp and about 100 yds from the outside wire. These are always manned during air raids against possible paratroop invasion. Today rehearsals for something else was going on & little guessing is needed to figure out what for. Those machine guns are pretty thickly populated out there – I mean & it is just a trifle nerve-wracking when they point in this direction. To my way of thinking somebody's liable to get hurt before we get out of here. I do hope not but the Jerrys seem to be trying to make the best out of an impossible situation. …
Beautiful weather today. Red & I had a bad time umpiring a game. Some pretty poor sports. This being Saturday and about the time of year to open up summer resorts I've been doing a lot of thinking about Al & the band, etc. Maybe Al's in the army! It's sure been a long time since I heard anything about anybody—seven months! I wonder what everybody's drinking now. For some reason or other this kinda weather brings back the pleasant odor of rum & coke to me. I'm sure gonna be ready to go on a good one if I ever get out of this joint. Strange part is tho that I don't have any special desire to drink. I guess this type of life isn't conducive to drinking. After all, getting drunk (as if it were possible) in a 6 acre field wouldn't be very exciting something tells me.
Berlin now about half gone, is undergoing probably one of the greatest bombardments ever known. Artillery, rockets & bombing, reports read, have the one time great city in complete chaos. . . .
. . . Things are pretty much in a nervous state here altho everybody tries to be calm & poised about the whole thing. As someone put it this morning, "it's like a surprise party waiting to be surprised." … Rumors of course now rampant & every burst of gunfire we hear, whether it be Germans practicing or not, is the Ruskys or the British coming up yon hill.
Things really started coming to a fever yesterday afternoon late & on into the night. After comparative quietness on the news for a couple days, the air & ground began to shiver & shake about 8:30 last PM. It was big guns & not too distant & the Kriege poured out of the barracks to get a better listen. The firing was coming from the SE. After lockup the firing was sporadic but definitely not so far away as had been the firing that has been going on the past ten days. Everyone was much concerned & voices raised themselves – proving that something unusual was exciting them. The 10pm broadcast really made for great excitement & for several minutes after the interpreter had given the translation news bedlam reigned. The Ruskys & Americans hooked up North of Berlin and are driving straight for the peninsula. They are around 50 miles away & seemed to be pushing pretty hard. Naturally, the guns we heard & are still hearing must be connected in some way with that push & believe me optimism has risen to new levels. The wild talk that went on til well past midnight last nite was good for the morale. … Like to see enthusiasm shown but I don't believe in such displys as some put on. It doesn't ring true to me. At any rate the British also broke loose & drew 30 miles NW of Hamburg to almost reach the Danish peninsula. Bremen has fallen. All that is left of '39 Germany could be put in a mighty small space. How they lost is remarkable. 2/3 of Berlin is gone. I think our day of freedom here is rapidly approaching.
Things are really in a turmoil today. At 9:45 this AM we were given orders to dig trenches. We've dug and are still digging, the camp looking like all hell had broke loose. The Russians are about 40 miles away and coming this way. All afternoon demolition of the flak school and evidently the airport has been going on. Some of the explosions have been terrific.
Just informed that by tomorrow only 40 Germans will be left in camp. 1500 Americans are scheduled to leave here for Wiesmoor, west of here. 150 russians are going with them taking supplies. Who is going isn't known. The Commandant of the camp couldn't be found this afternoon. Planes are coming from the east all of the time. … Rumor has it that Hitler and Goering are dead & that Mussolini was executed this am.
Demolition of installations is still taking place & the flak school "has had it". The explosions started with just single blasts about one every 5 minutes. Before long they were going off in series of 5-9 & really had things rockin'. At present small arms ammunition is going off by the thousands. The South compound has really been taking a beating as it can't be more than 200 yds from the fireworks. Most all of their windows have been broken. Hospital roof was caved in. … Explosions can be heard from all over & the popular belief is that the whole peninsula is being devastated.
Our trenches are finished & my back is plenty stiff. After all, that's the first work I've done for some time. I hope we never have use for these new additions but just in case they look pretty good. We have a trap door thru the floor for fast occupation. The Gestapo have moved from camp.
This will go down as a memorable day in everyone's life here. I know I'll have a memory for May 1st for today was the first big step in ending this messup – for us. Things came to a focus fast once they started.
I was wakened this morning about 4:30 by much activity & noise in the barracks, including a portable phonograph blaring away with "G.I. Jive". Outside Kreige were running around like mad. Two fellows from the room who were up came in and broke the news to us. Seems at midnight last nite all lites were turned off. During this period of darkness all remaining German guards left their posts … & the camp was in American hands. Today we are an American camp in Germany & altho restricted in the camp might be considered free men. The meaning of all this hasn't quite hit me, I believe, for I don't seem to feel any great excitement. Its kinda hard to fathom the fact that there aren't Germans in the town. Maybe I'll see the light soon.
On the other hand a lot of the Kriege are walking around red-eyed from an all nite session with the coffee pot. I slept like an infant all thru the excitement.
Things have quieted down a little this PM. . . .
The biggest thrill of the evening! Listening to the radio & broadcasts from the States. It gives a guy a mighty funny feeling inside to know where its coming from. This being halfway "free" ain't so bad. Wonder what being 100% will be like. The hit parade is on now. Kay Kyser just finished. Gotta listen to some music for awhile. Life looks much better tonight.
Alarm was given to fall out into the trenches. The trap door was thrown open & we made it in nothing flat. When we got out we could hear the South compound screaming to the top of their voices. The Russians are here. The next three compounds took up the cheering and in a moment 8000 Kriege were really cheering. It was an advance guard that left immediately.
We just had gotten back in the barracks & were listening to the hit parade when the announcer cut in with " the German radio has just announced the death of Hitler". There was one big cheer & everything was quiet like perhaps they really didn't know what they were cheering about. …The coffee pot is being put on in way of celebration. Talk is plenty wild & noisy in these parts at present.
And so the great struggle in Europe has come to an end! After all these months & years. The end of it was taken around here as just one of those things. I, and two or three other fellows, were listening at the time BBC announced it and it didn't even cause us to comment. I am bewildered, not at it's being over, but by the fact that it just didn't mean anything to us. The radio said NY was going mad & that London was preparing to go to town tomorrow. I thoroughly expected the barracks, what's left of them, to be torn down – but nobody did a damn thing. The war was over for us a week ago & all we're interested in now is getting the hell out of here. So it's over – what the hell!
Frank J. Pratt, 91, lives in Washington state. He was a musician until the 1950s and retired from the local plywood mill. Pratt is the father of a NEWSWEEK employee.