Thursday, February 26, 2009

Diary of Kriegie Kids March

It is 1:00 a.m. We have been walking for almost 2 hours. It is cold, dark, and dogs bark at us as we pass through villages. As we struggle to finish our first night’s walk, I ask myself, how did we get ourselves into this?

My husband Kirk and I meet Val Burgess at the Stalag Luft III P.O.W. Reunion in 2007. Val has been involved in setting up the reunions, and also taking oral histories of the men who were incarcerated there. She mentions that she would like to recreate the forced march that the men in Stalag Luft III did in January of 1945. The Russians were advancing, and Hitler orders that all allied airmen will be moved to one camp near Munich, Stalag 7A. So the men march out in a miserable snowstorm on January 27, 1945. There are 10,000 men all told, and they struggle to march 100 kilometers on few pieces of bread and water. At Spremberg, they are loaded into boxcars and after three horrific days, they reach Stalag Luft 7A, where they remain until they are liberated in April of 1945.

A flurry of emails are sent out to see who is interested. We find 15 children of those P.O.W.s who are committed to doing this trip. It is decided. We will do this march in January of 2009. We will follow the footsteps of South Camp, in which my father James Gore was incarcerated from July of 1943 to January of 1945. Although this march is regularly reenacted by the British, we will be the first Americans to actually walk the whole distance.

To read the diary of our trip, use the "Read More" link...

January 25, 2009 – Our group meets in Berlin. We are from Ohio, Wyoming, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Washington, Tennesee, Missouri, Arizona, and Colorado. We discover that our group has a great sense of humor, and are ready for anything. We range from 40 to 63 in age. After a day of sightseeing together, we have our first meal, with everyone ready to try traditional German food. Exactly what part of the pig is pork knuckle?
January 26 - We meet our bus driver for breakfast. Oops, he speaks no English! Luckily one of our group speaks some German, and with a German phrase book, we are in business. We head for Zagan Poland, which is the location of Stalag Luft III. Jacek, the museum curator, is waiting for us. He takes us through the museum, and then we are outside, climbing into a replica of tunnel Harry of the movie Great Escape fame. There is also a replica of a guard tower, and we climb up to check out the view. The RAF has just completed a replica of Hut 104, which was the number of the hut from which tunnel Harry started, and it is exciting to see just how the barracks were set up. Then we proceed to the various camps of Stalag Luft III
The weather is cloudy and cold. The ground is frozen, with about 3 inches of snow. It is slippery and slow going, but Jacek is able to locate the barracks that housed each of our dads. Having been to Stalag Luft III in 2005 with my 88-year old dad, I know this will be an emotional experience, and it is. We conclude the day with dark falling at the monument to the fifty British who were shot after escaping from tunnel Harry.
January 27 – We finish visiting the location of the camps, including Belaria, across town. Jacek also takes us to the grainery where Red Cross packages were delivered, and to the train tunnel that our fathers walked through to start their stay at the camp. We then drive to Halbau, or Ilowa as it is now called, and leave our luggage. Ilowa is our goal for walking this night. We return to Zagan by bus, and after dinner, we are ready to get started..

We follow Jacek through the woods in the dark to reach South Camp. Part of our group gets lost, and we must go back for them, but the walkie talkies that we are carrying help. Together at last at the South camp site, we say a prayer for our fathers and to the success of our march, and off we go! It is around 11:00 p.m. January 27, the same time South camp started 64 years ago. We are quite a site, each of us with a reflective vest and head lamp. We quickly spread out on the road. Faster walkers move ahead, medium walkers in the middle, and slower walkers are directly in front of the bus. We talk about our dads, and the storm they walked through in 1945. My dad described it as snowing horizontally. In 2009, it is not snowing, nor is there snow on the road.
We cross the overpass, where in 1945, our fathers looked back to see Stalag Luft III burning. We reach our hotel, and are finished for the night. We have walked 9.7 miles, and it is around 2:30 a.m. Everyone is in good spirits.
January 28 – Jacek meets us and takes us to a school in Ilowa. The RAF supports this school, and there are pictures of the march of 1945 inside, as well as plaques in honor of those men. The children give us a tour of their school. They are excited, because although the RAF regularly visits the school on their march reenactment, we are the first Americans to visit. Jacek takes us to the church next door. Although South camp did not stay there, some of the other camps found shelter at this church.
It is time to resume our walk. Today is a tough day. We walk through the villages of Borowe, Gozdnica, and Przewoz. Some of our walk is on cobblestones, and some is on very busy roads, which are both difficult to negotiate. We finish well after dark, around 7 p.m. We have walked 18.7 miles. We have dinner, and with feet throbbing, go to bed. We are now starting to have blisters, sore backs and sore legs. Even in our agony, we know that it is nothing compared to our fathers’ experience.
January 29 –Jacek meets us once again and takes us to an area called Grosselten. This was the first place that South camp actually stopped to sleep for all of 4 hours. Here are the huge barns that my father talks about. They are still standing, but abandoned. It was an eery feeling to know we stand where South camp slept 64 years ago.
Again, we visit a local school, and are provided with refreshments. When we start our walk today, it is much better. The road is not heavily traveled, and we spread out over a mile once again. The bus moves ahead of us today, and waits for us every few miles. We come to a fork in the road, and some of the people in front have to be retrieved because they have gone the wrong direction. We walk through the villages of Potok and Leknica. Today’s walk is 14.3 miles, again finishing after dark, around 5:30 p.m. South camp also reached Bad Muskau on the 29th, but at 2:00 a.m. after 27 grueling hours of walking.
January 30 – Jacek meets us to show us one of the tile factories that South camp rested in for 2 days before continuing to Spremberg. The factories had cement floors, but were a warm and welcome rest in 1945. Even though the factory looks different today, we are invited to go inside and see a painting of how it looked in 1945.
Jacek says goodbye to us at the factory. He has made our trip much more meaningful, and will post our information on his website.
Today is our last day of walking. We follow the footsteps of South camp through Kromlau and Graustein. Part of our day is on a very busy highway, with cars and trucks roaring past us. What was it like in 1945? But we eventually find a bicycle path next to the highway and walking becomes easier. Again, we end our walk in the dark having completed 17.5 miles. We have made it to Spremberg! All told, our walk adds up to 60.2 miles, around 100 kilometers. We have recreated the march our fathers did, and felt a small part of their agony, knowing all the while they didn’t have warm meals and a hotel waiting for them every night.
January 31 – In Spremberg , South camp was loaded onto 40 and 8 box cars, and spent 3 horrific days traveling to their final destination in Moosberg, Stalag 7A. We visit the train station, and meet a man who was a boy in 1945. He remembers seeing thousands of American POWs being loaded onto boxcars, and felt sorry for them, as they were cold, hungry and had no gloves. We continue, on the bus now, to Dresden for a quick visit, then on to Nurnberg.
February 1 - It is Sunday, and some of our group go to their respective churches. Others go to ex-Nazi sights, such as the famous Hitler parade grounds and the Documentation center, explaining the rise of Hitler to power.
February 2 – Some of the compounds were sent to Nurnberg before they continued to Moosberg. We were able to locate the site of this camp, although there is nothing left there.
We continue to Moosberg, Stalag 7A. Our fathers arrived at different times, but eventually were all there. The camp was built for 40,000 men, but housed 150,000 by April of 1945. Overcrowding caused horrific conditions, sickness, dysentery, and not enough food. My father lost 50 pounds in the 3 months he was there. However, the men were treated to the amazing sight of American tanks crashing through the gates on April 29, 1945. They were free!
We met with Bernhard Kerscher, the museum curator. Kerscher spoke only German, but had an interpreter with him. The museum had a lot of pictures of the conditions of Stalag 7A, as well as a model of the camp. Bernhard takes us to one of the few barracks that is left. The camp site is now low income housing. He is also able to take us to a cemetery that held mass graves for men who died in Stalag 7A, including 11 Americans.
Munich is our stop for the night. We are quiet on the bus, thinking about our experiences together. As some of the group have flights to catch in the morning, we say goodbye at dinner. We have had a unique experience, not knowing each other at all, but coming together in the common bond of honoring our fathers. We will have wonderful memories of the trek that took us from Zagan to Moosberg, and beyond!

1 comment:

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