Monday, February 02, 2009

Three months of increasing chaos at Stalag VII A - then liberation.

On the morning of the 7th of February, 1945, a train screached to a halt outside of the German POW camp in Bavaria named Stalag VII A and 2000 POWs emerged from filthy, fouled box cars. For the men of Center Compound, room in the main camp wasn't ready yet so they filed into a separate enclosure at the north end of camp, notoriously known as "The snake pit." Two days later, after representatives of the Swiss Red Cross chewed out the German officals during a "tour" of the snake pit for the disgusting filthy conditions these allied officer prisoners were subjected to, Center Compound as taken into the main camp - with a stop off at the local delousing building. Once in the main camp they were marched to a wired enclosure in the south-east section that contained four large wooden barracks ridden with lice, fleas and bedbugs. The 2000 men of South Compound were already established in another wired enclosure to the east of Center Compound.

Just a few days later, the POWs of Center Compound went on strike due to the terrible conditions with the latrine (abort) in their enclosure. Read more on that encounter from Lt. Keeffe's diary:

"Diary Entry

Stalag VIIA, Moosburg, Sunday (11 Feb.)

Today we all (2,000) went on strike. Conditions here have gone from bad to worse. Last night the stools in the abort overflowed onto the floor -- the urinals overflowed, too, and the mess
is about two inches deep on the inside of the building; and consequently has run out the doors and covered a considerable area of the grounds. Most of us are still sick with diarrhea, and now
there’s nothing to do but act like animals. The Goons ordered us to fall in for Appell this morning, and we refused. As a result they brought in troops armed with machine guns -- as well as several of their police dogs. They again ordered us to fall in and again we refused to do so. The Goon Hauptman was in a rage. He wanted to order his men to fire on us, but didn’t dare to -- we were officers, and more than that, the war wasn’t too far from its conclusion. After about three hours of parleying, they finally agreed to clean up our barracks and the Abort. With these promises we formed and submitted to an Appell. We have no coal or wood, either for heating the barracks or for cooking our food. We receive one cup of hot water a day per man --- all other water is cold -- and as a result of these conditions, most of us still have diarrhea, and many cases of the flu have been noted. I only hope and pray that we don’t catch typhus. The Goons will furnish us no medical supplies. Most of us are lousy with fleas, lice, and bed bugs. The camp at Sagan was a paradise compared to this place." (end of diary entry)

Several weeks later, portions of West Compound arrived at VII A and large white tents were errected in the enclosure where Center Compound was to accomodate them. By this time some of the German guards were beginning to desert as it was becoming evident that their side was losing the war. Conditions in the wooden barracks were so bad that Lt. Keeffe, and a few other POWs, took some of the extra barrack doors and made a door tent outside, and there they lived until elements of General Patton's 3rd Army liberated Stalag VII A the morning of the 29th of April, 1945.
(Lt. Keeffe on left cranking a hand-made kriegie stove, with Lt Andy Anderson holding a mug)

Tanks of the U.S. Army 47th Tank Battalion, 14th Armored Division, were seen coming over the low hills to the north around 9am that morning and the German SS put up a sharp, but futile defense. Within about an hour all the SS soldiers were dead and while the main thrust of the 47th Tank Bn, along with infantry from B Company, 68th Armored Infantry Bn, raced through the town of Moosburg to secure the Isar River where the Germans had already blown the only bridge, a lone GI tank, followed by a jeep and a couple of canvas covered trucks, smashed through the front gate of Stalag VII A and liberated the camp to the cheers of tens of thousands of wildly joyful POWs.

Sixty fours years later the grown-up kids of 15 of those liberated POWs ventured back to the site of Stalag VII A. The following picture shows all of us in the Moosburg Museum behind a mock-up of the POW camp which is just 1 1/2 kilometers north of town. The site is now a housing development, but a couple old barracks remain and are used as low-income housing.

* Click on any of the pictures for a larger view.
** For the definitive account of the liberation of Stalag VII A, click here. The 14th Armored Division was aptly named "The Liberators."

Cheers - Jim Keeffe, III


Lee McGinns said...

I just found out about your march here searching the net. It's very interesting to hear about the hardships these soldiers went through, as my great uncle Tech. Sergent Jack D. Patzke was at Stalag Luft 3. He went on this same march, but never did make it to Mooseberg. He was killed by german troops. Thanks you for your march and website. Lee

Stowe Keller said...

I too would like to thank you for this wonderful march and for sharing it on the web. My late father was held in SL3's central compound and became close friends with Andy Anderson; I have some pictures of them in both prison camps. I'm guessing your father and mine must have known each other.