Monday, December 22, 2008

Stalag Luft III POW Forced March Reenactment - Jan, 2009

You might want to follow the action in late January, 2009 as more than a dozen children of former Stalag Luft III POWs participate in a reenactment of the forced march of POWs ordered by Hitler as the Russians advanced in the bitterly cold winter of 1945. The official press release follows with contact information at the end:

It was sixty-four years ago that their fathers were evacuated from the German prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft III at Sagan, Germany. This officer’s camp, where the famous “Great Escape” took place in 1944, was hidden in the pine forests of what is now Zagan, Poland, in an area known as Upper Silesia. There, the men called “Kriegies” (German prisoners of war) waited out the war. Now their children will pay tribute to them in a unique way.
On January 12th, 1945, two-hundred-fifty Russian divisions with numerous tanks covered by an unbroken line of artillery, and supported by seven-thousand-five-hundred tactical aircraft, emerged from the eastern bridgeheads and swept across Poland in a little more than two weeks. Altogether, there were two-and-a-half million Russians. If all went well, the Red Army would soon be in Berlin.
On January 16th, the Russians launched their winter offensive. By January 25th, news arrived that the spearhead had advanced three hundred miles across snowy Poland before it paused for a short time at the Oder River at Steinau forty-eight miles due east of Sagan where the camp was located.
On January 27th, at a 4:30 p.m. staff meeting in Berlin, Adolf Hitler’s growing concern about the Russian Amy now having crossed the Elbe River reached its peak. To prevent the Russians from liberating the Kriegies, and to preserve his options to use the men as hostages, Hitler ordered an immediate evacuation of thousands of Allied POWs in camps lying in front of the Russian onslaught, 10,000 of which were from Stalag Luft III. With Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev’s southern army within twenty kilometers of the camp, the ill-clothed Stalag Luft III prisoners had little time to plan their journey and had no idea where they were going. A uniform thought was repeated throughout the camp.
“They’d never move us at night!”
But orders came, and Colonel Delmar Spivey, Senior American Officer in Center Compound, marched into the theatre during an evening performance and made a stunning announcement.
“The Goons (German guards) have just come in and given us thirty minutes to be at the front gate,” he said somberly. “Get your stuff together and line up.”
Of especial irony, Colonel Charles Goodrich, the Senior American Officer in South Compound, made a similar announcement from the theater stage where the Kriegies were watching a production of “You Can’t Take It With You!”
Hitler’s order signaled the start of a march clearly in violation of the Geneva Convention which stipulated that prisoners were not to be marched more than 12.6 miles in 24 hours. The march began in bitter cold and ended with a grueling boxcar ride to Bavaria to other over-crowded camps in Germany.
Silesian winters were known for howling winds that could turn snow and ice into stinging missiles. The winter of 1945 was the coldest winter on record in over fifty years in Germany and Poland. Dressed in mis-matched French, British and GI army issues, the prisoners were reduced to a motley collection of underfed hoboes stumbling forward to be swallowed up by the night. The ten-thousand men were off on a journey that would be frozen into their psyches for a lifetime.
The two-thousand men of South Compound, first out, left at 11:00 p.m. and formed a column a mile long as they cleared the way by tramping down the six inches of snow for the eight thousand that followed behind. The line of prisoners from all compounds within the camp would eventually stretch for twenty miles. South Compound marched thirty-five miles in the first twenty-seven hours with little food and one four-hour stop in barns and stables before arriving in Muskau for a rest in a glass factory for two days. They continued to march fifteen additional miles to Spremberg for a total of fifty-two miles. Other compounds followed them along the icy roads to Spremberg.
For the men of the South and Center Compounds, the march ended with a seventy-two hour boxcar ride from Spremberg to Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany, arriving on February 1st. The men of West Compound were transported first to Stalag XIIID at Nürnberg, Germany, where they stayed until just after Easter when they were marched to join the others at Moosburg. Royal Air Force prisoners of the North Compound marched with their allied counterparts, and American prisoners from the adjacent compound called Belaria also joined the ranks along the frozen roads and in the fetid box cars.
Remembering and paying tribute to their fathers, a group of “Kriegie Kids,” many decades older than their fathers had been, will re-enact the forced march returning to Poland Jan. 24th, 2009, to once more march out in the snow from what remains of Stalag Luft III. They will pass by the same weathered barns where their fathers slept and visit the Catholic Church where Center Compound crowded in for warmth and refuge sixty-four years earlier. The marchers will stop in Spremberg where their fathers, many of whom were very sick and exhausted, were finally fed some warm barley soup before they were loaded into the over-crowded filthy boxcars to be transported to Stalag VIIA.
This memorial trip, deemed “The Road from Sagan,” is open to anyone who had a loved one march out of the camp. A bus will be provided for those who are unable to march the entire route, and the group will stay in hotels along the way. The marchers will fly into Berlin and fly home from Munich. The cities of Dresden, Erlangen and Nürnberg will also be visited. The trip will conclude on Feb. 3rd. The trip can be followed daily at which has been set up particularly for students. Anyone wishing further information can contact:

Evelyn McLaughlin
970-884-9005 (Colorado)
Marilyn Walton (Ohio)
Valarie Burgess (Wyoming)

The link to more pictures is here


Irv Baum said...

Note at stop at Spremberg. It was an SS run military hospital.Initial concern was why did they march us into concentric circles. That plus 4 machine gun posts atop the the roof of the hosptal got our attention. Cleaned out quart size oil cans with snow and lined up for hot barley soup. Irv Baum Kgf # 3629

Joe Sanford said...

It was cold - the road ws icy kriegis were falling and so werr the guards. Someone should remember the singing THE FIRSRT SONG Ws White Chfristmas which I initiated. The first responses were muttered curses but gradually others picked up the song
. Soon most of us were singing and And the cursinf- and the falling stopprd. I had been in the North Compound od Stalag Luft 3. with the Brits - and they were great. Joe Sanford.j

BetweenTheClouds (Miriam) said...

Irv and Joe -
thank you so much for both of your "first-hand" accounts of the march! We are so blessed to hear your remembrances!