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Stalag XVII-B
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DULAG LUFT
STALAG XVII-B
Inside XVII-B
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(02/08/06)
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Above and Beyond POW NEWS

stalag XVII-B

"No person has ever been honored for what the Received. Honor has been the Reward for What they Gave."
Calvin Coolidge

          You may have seen the Play, the Movie, or even the TV Series that was supposed to be a sketch of Stalag 17-B. They were made for entertainment, but I can say that much of the Play Stalag XVII was like it really was, and it was written by the guys who where really there.

         Some of us landed on enemy territory in a parachute with German soldiers and civilians pointing guns at us, and saying, “Luft Gangsters!” Some crashed  and crawled out of their burning planes, others couldn’t get out and burned with their plane. Many were shot to pieces before they even reached the ground. Some made it to the ground only to be shot or hanged by the enemy. The ones who did make it out alive were sent to what we called an Interrogation Camp, a place where most American and British airmen spent days or weeks  while they were being questioned by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) or the Gestapo. Dulag Luft was such a camp.

       I will never forget a large hand-carved wood sign over the entrance to Dulag Luft.  I was told  it  had been carved by an English Flyer.  Although I was terrified at the time, because I had no idea what to expect behind that gate - but I couldn't help smiling when I read the words on the sign. First, I must tell you that most flyers could easily recognize an English Spitfire from a German Messerschmitt 109 - unless the nose of the fighter was pointing at you...In that case, if you're not sure if it's a friend or foe, don't hesitate, SHOOT!
       The sign read,
“I told you it wasn’t a Spitfire.”

          Most nations honored the Geneva Convention which defines the treatment and conduct of Prisoners of War (Japan and Russia did not sign it) and in accordance with International Law, and the U.S. Military, if taken prisoner, it is the soldier’s duty to give his name, rank and serial number. Nothing more.

        Almost every POW was amazed at how much information the Germans already knew about each prisoner. Generally they could tell us where we went to school, our home address, military schools. At Dulag Luft, when asked, the American Airmen told their name, rank and serial number. The German interrogators, however, generally insisted that the prisoner give them more information. If he didn’t, he was sent to solitary confinement for a few more days; then he was questioned again.  After a few weeks, we were given a POW dog tag and shipped off to different prison camps. Officers went to Offlags, Non-commissioned Officers were sent to Stalags in different areas of Germany, Austria and Poland. As the war progressed, most airmen who were Non-Commissioned Officers were sent to either Stalag XVII-B in Krems, Austria, 30 Kilometers from Vienna, or Stalg IV.

            Stalag XVII-B consisted of several separate compounds. The Russian , French, English, Serb, and the American Compound. No fraternization was permitted between compounds. tall, double barbed wire fences surrounded each compound, with a guard tower on each corner. Each guard tower was manned by a German guard, 24-hours a day. They worked on four-hour shifts. Each tower also had a 8-mm machine gun and a searchlight. The towers were about twenty feet high wooden structures with a roof, an open railing, and a ladder.

     When the first American airmen arrived, they inherited the dilapidated old, wooden barracks that had housed Russian POWs. The three tier wooden bunks were partly torn apart because the Russians had used the wood to burn in the stoves in an effort to keep from freezing in the winter. The straw mattresses were infested with fleas and lice. Many Russians had died from various diseases and infections. This was something that each new POW arriving had to learn to live with until, gradually the Americans managed to make it livable.

Most Americans were accustomed  to eating fresh vegetables and meat. In prison camps, for the most part, we lived on half rotten rutabaga soup, day after day, and black bread that was literally made with sawdust, and something like tea.  Finally, when American Red Cross food parcels started to arrive, we started to feel alive, again.

    Naturally, it was verboten to have radios, but we found ways to make them. Some were crystal sets. We hid them in many unbelievable places. Whenever they were found, someone would spend 10 days in solitary. Some of the guys even made a few real radios and we heard news from home via BBC (The book by Richard Lewis, Hell Above and Hell Below, explains this very well.)

The worse part of prison life was those unending months before the invasion, because we knew that we would never be free until the war was over. I can remember in another camp where I was (VII-A) before Stalag XVII-B, people were dieing, every day. We were slowly starving, infected with soars, impetigo, and dysentery. I've heard some say that "There were times that I wished that I was dead, and times when I wondered if I was."
            Most of us found ways to keep our mind busy. Planning an escape, digging tunnels, trading with other Compounds, writing, reading, playing Bridge (Yes, Bridge. We had some big games, playing for food, cigarettes, etc).
 Often, we would come up with some diabolical plan of escaping, something daring, exciting, and impossible, or imagining clever ways to fool, or embarrass one of the German Guards, like Scholtz (Yes, there really was a guard by that name at Stalag XVII-B. He was a big, blundering, hot headed, bulk of a man, who sometimes even tried to be our friend) ...Life in prison camp was tougher for some, than it was for others. Winter, was the worse time, especially the Holidays.

The greatest day of my life was the day that we received word that the American invasion forces had successfully landed in France. There wasn’t a dry eye on that day at Stalag XVII-B. Now, we knew that some day we would be free and come home to America. 

  It was a year later when we were force-marched out of that place that had been our home for so long and across Austria. 4600 of us, in groups of 500 or more, walked for days on end. We slept on the bare ground, once in pig sty; we ran out of food, even water was scarce – but we didn’t care because we were walking west, that’s where America was located. We had done our job. We had been shot out of the sky, and taken prisoners -  But we never surrendered! We had opportunities to make life a little easier for ourselves if we would cooperate with the enemy. But we didn’t. The POWs at Stalag XVII-B made it very difficult for the enemy, and somehow the Germans respected us for the way we conducted ourselves. There were time that our patriotism helped keep us alive. I was never more proud to be an American. 

On the way, we passed 4000 Hungarian Jews in chains being dragged along the road by armed guards. Every fifty yards or so was a dead man who had been shot because he couldn’t keep up with the group.

When I asked our Historian, Les Jackson, if he remembered that episode, this was his reply: “Yes, I remember it very well.  We were going one way and they were going the opposite.  When we all finally passed them I vividly remember the dead bodies strewn along the road.  They were so emaciated they were nothing but skin stretched over a skeleton.  I remember the yellow Star of David on most of them.  They were referred to as "political prisoners" They were not only Jews.  During the war a holocaust was the fire bombing of cities such as London and Dresden.  Holocaust, as it refers to persecution of the Jews, came into our language later.” 

         Every man who was on that march who saw that terrible site, realized then, more than ever, what we had fought for and why so many of us had suffered, and why so many had died – for  FREEDOM. (See the next page for actual photos right after that march.)

Veterans History Project - Official Partner

Roy Livingstone

Photos/Sketches by Ben Phelper