|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
|William J. Dennebaum||
From Alsace to Moosburg
My road to Stalag VII A started in Sigolsheim in Alsace on December 19, 1944. On that night 15 of us from I company, 3rd Battalion, 143rd Regiment of the 36th Division entered Sigolsheim on a patrol to either make contact with the enemy or to establish a strong point in Sigolsheim. We entered a house with large wine barrels in the ground floor. We immediately set out posts and prepared ourselves for a stay. Within a few minutes we were attacked by bazooka, machine pistol and rifle fire. A long fire-fight started with us, now all of us, in the wine cellar and Waffen SS troops busy cutting us off and surrounding us. Radio requests for assistance and tank support were to no avail. No one could reach us and the Germens knocked out two French First Armored Div. tanks that tried to reach us. After a fire fight that lasted more than two hours and our ammo running low, our Lieutenant took a vote: to fight it out or surrender. By this time the Germans had set the house on fire, so wiith a fire raging over our heads and no possible way to turn the situation to our advantage, we surrendered.
After initial questioning we were marched to Neuf Briesach on the west side of the Rhine. We stayed there for three nights and then were marched over the Rhine at the bridge near Freiburg and taken into Freiburg where we stayed in a loft. We slept on hay and the food, though not plentiful, was good. On Christmas day the Germans had some fun with my family name. On the day after Christmas we started a march through the Black Forest and were fed and slept in two small towns along the way. Places to sleep and food were provided by German civilians. We were taken to Villingen and quartered there in an old German military barracks and were held there for about a week, finally we were loaded in box cars; standing room only since we had picked up more prisoners. British and American. After four uncomfortable days we arrived in Stalag VII A, were processed in, photos taken (wonder if any of those are left?) and assigned to barracks. We were at first kept in what was known as a "closed lager" but were soon moved into the British/American lager. The athletic field was close by and we could do our walking laps there in the evening. During the day we tried to get on a work detail in Munich so we could trade cigarettes and scented soap from the Red Cross Parcels for bread and sometimes a nice hunk of sausage. Books were always wanted and I read the complete Sherlock Holmes stories while in VII A
Cigarettes were used as "Lager Geld" and one could buy a Stalag cook stove, the blower type, which would prepare a meal rather quickly, and all sorts of items for sale from the "Lager Merchants". I bought a nice Pelikan fountain pen for 20 cigarettes, which I used for years until I lost it. Our last job in Stalag was close to the camp. We were sent out to the Isar River to shore up the banks where they were eroding rather badly. We actually spent most of the time trying to skip stones as far as our guards could, and fishing. Lots of pike in that river, bony but good eating! Also, on the way back to the camp at night we passed by some poultry farmers and always arrived back in camp with fresh eggs, and if we were lucky, a chicken. I do not recall seeing any violence used by the guards on prisoners, I heard of such things but never witnessed anything like that. I do remember seeing a dead Russian hanging on the wire one morning as we left the camp to get on the work train to Munich. We were told that he was shot while trying to escape. It was a very depressing sight.
On April 29 I can clearly remember the German guards shooting at the SS who were trying to force their way into the camp. They were shooting into the camp from the roof of the cheese factory near the prison camp. A few days later we found ourselves sitting in the grass at an airfield near Freising (I think) waiting to be loaded on C-47s and flown to various RAMP (Returned Allied Military Personnel) camps in France; I went to Camp Lucky Strike. In a short time I was aboard ship and on my way home. More memories later and a remembrance of the buddies who were in VII A with me: Tony DeLizza, Bert Hall, Wilmen Johnson, and Joe Ribiero, good buddies all!
Bill Dennebaum, POW #144404
My Father Wiliam J. Dennebaum, POW #144404, passed away this morning, 4 July 2008 in Albany New York USA at 4:40 AM, Eastern daylight saving time.(GMT-4)
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