|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
Thomas F. Jeffers
Jeffers Walton: Rhapsody in Junk: A Daughter's Return To
Germany To Finish Her Father's Story. Bloomington 2007 (ISBN
Rhapsody in Junk:
A Daughter's Return To Germany To Finish Her Father's Story
By Marilyn Jeffers Walton
My father's name was Thomas F. Jeffers. He was a 2nd Lt. with the 458th Bomb Group, 754th Squadron. He was a bombardier from Ohio. He flew out of Horsham St. Faith in England. He was shot down on his third mission. He had flown two missions into France. He was shot down June 18, 1944, and his plane crashed in Germany up near the Danish border. Nine men were taken POW, and one was found dead on the ground.
The rail trip to Moosburg required two days and two nights with an additional one night in the cars after arrival at Moosburg. The over-crowded train filled with the men of South Compound had left for Moosburg at 7 p.m. and traveled twenty-four hours to Chemnitz where the main station was bombed out. The journey was like no other any of the men had experienced. It was claustrophobic, it was stifling, and in Jeffers’ case, it was his twenty-fourth birthday.
The men in some cars got bread and margarine and cans of meat. Many got nothing. When the rolling prison stopped at a station, black coal was shoveled into the firebox. There were frequent stops but often the doors didn't open. What sounded like a hailstorm lashing the train turned out to be machine gun bullets from American fighter planes.
Not all men could sit or stand at the same time. The fearful crowded men tried to organize rotations in cars changing position every hour moving men away from cold outside walls. A full colonel riding in Jeffers' car insisted on lying down as many men stood. One old guard was assigned per car, and often as he slept, a kriegie held his rifle. Such was the insanity of war. When the wooden doors were infrequently rolled back, guards faced the train holding their automatic rifles at the ready across their chests. They were as tired as the prisoners.
The filth and stench were unbearable on the journey. For sixty hours the moving cells lumbered through occasional rain beside the frozen countryside and bombed out cities. The claustrophobic wooden cars traveled through Dresden, Chemnitz and Zwickau. The men wondered how much longer they could endure the stifling confinement.
Ten days after the train passed through Dresden, a center of German cultural history, Allied bombers destroyed the entire city, which was also full of thousands upon thousands of refugees fleeing from the east. No one knows for sure how many were killed those fateful days, February 13th and 14th, 1945, but estimates indicate between seventy to one-hundred-thirty thousand lost.
Before arriving at Moosburg, the train stopped only twice to let the men out for breaks. Once had been in Chemnitz. At 2:00 p.m., the cars stopped on the curved track of an isolated siding in Regensburg.
“Aussteigen!” (Climb out!) the guards called to the sick and tired men.
Despite Clark’s warnings, some of the men drank out of the contaminated big tubs of holding water for the locomotives, such was their thirst.
Smoke from a recent air raid was still visible there. Regensburg was a prime target due to the presence of a fighter aircraft assembly plant there.
The men were let out to relieve themselves, and civilians in the area stared at the incredible sight of an endless line of two-thousand bare bottoms squatting in the snow. By now, many of the men were vomiting and had diarrhea.
Shortly afterward, the men were loaded back into the horrid boxcars at gunpoint.
Sixty years later, Clark told me of the stop in Regensburg.
“While we were in the station, a German armored division which had been going the other way, stopped on the next track. The men were traveling on the flat bed cars with their tanks. We figured they were on their way from the Italian front to the war in the West. These soldiers looked tough, and when they realized we were Luftgangsters, they swung their weapons on their tanks around and aimed them at us. Air raid sirens started to wail, resulting in a quick departure for both trains in opposite directions.”
Only one-hundred-forty miles from Switzerland, Clark went down the line of cars during the stop at Regensburg giving the word that anyone wishing to escape was free to do so. Money maps and compasses were distributed.
Some in Jeffers’ car leapt down and took off running. Jeffers chose to stay. Thirty-two jumped off the train under cover of darkness but within two weeks were picked up and returned. Despite their capture, with each step south they knew they were seeing the end of the war and the crumbling of the Nazi regime.
Four-hundred kilometers after leaving Spremberg, the torturous transport pulled into Stalag VIIA at Moosburg, thirty-miles northeast of Munich, in the early morning hours. It was still dark, and the train sat on a siding with the men locked in its fetid cars until daylight. They pounded on the rattling doors all night for water and asked that the sick men be taken off the cars, but the guards only threatened them with rifles.
In the still of night they could hear dogs yapping outside the cars and could only imagine what awaited them on the outside. A cool misty rain covered the cars and showed no sign of stopping.
Chapter 33: “Moosburg”
Stalag VIIA had been originally constructed to accommodate ten-thousand men, but now it held eighty-thousand. The German staff was Wehrmacht, not Luftwaffe. The commandant was pro-British and anti-American, and Col. Goodrich found him to be unreasonable and arbitrary in his decision making. The commandant was thoroughly despised by both the prisoners and the Germans. The prisoners were predominantly French with thirty-eight thousand there. The camp held fourteen-thousand Russians and another fourteen-thousand prisoners were combined British and Americans, but all other allied nations were represented. The Germans were running out of places to keep so many prisoners. Stalag VIIA would hold one-hundred-and-thirty thousand by the end of the war.
When the massive wooden boxcar doors finally opened at 8:00 a.m., February 3rd, the filthy men, gaunt and unshaven, many with sunken eyes circled in black, peered out. They blinked against the sudden light as the boxcar doors were pushed back. With their last ounce of strength, they stumbled down stiffly from the cars, helping down the weak and sickly. Slowly, they made their way down the muddy road between the train track and long barbed-wire fence to the rows of green-shuttered beige stucco buildings on the other side. They marched through the single gate, bore to the left past a tall wooden tower and in a grey mist delivered themselves into the hands of the Wehrmacht-no longer somewhat protected Luftwaffe prisoners.
Upon arrival in dimly-lit Moosburg, many men trudged another half mile through another gate to an area that looked like and smelled like a stockyard. Horse stalls and barns and a sixty-foot slit trench for a toilet greeted them. It was in constant use due to the deteriorating condition of the men. Soup was handed out that was hardly more than a puddle of grease and weeds, and bread was in short supply for everyone.
The men were shown to a desolate barbed-wire enclosure with two long empty sheds where there was only floor space. For four days they stayed in what they called “The Snake Pit” trying to tolerate overcrowding, cold and mud. The shack provided no beds, fuel or food. Most men were sick, cold and damp, and everyone was covered with fleas and lice. From the second to the sixth of February, the men settled where they could before going into the camp proper. For the third time, there was not enough room to have everyone lie down at once, so many did not sleep.
In the Nordlager (North Camp), small groups were taken to be deloused and sent to the main camp. They eyed the showers again with the same trepidation they felt in Muskau, but to their relief the men had the luxury of their first warm-water showers with soap. The showers were brief but an unbelievable luxury.
The transferred prisoners were finally moved to the main camp. There was no coal in the camp. The men burned bed boards for heat, and many stayed under blankets in bed all day to keep warm.
Bunks in the stucco buildings had filthy vermin-infested burlap palliasses on the beds. By filtered light coming through the cracks, the men could see bedbugs, lice and fleas crawling everywhere. Men’s bodies were livid with welts from insect bites, and many men hung their meager blankets out all day in hopes of ridding the fabric of the biting beasts.
An aisle six-feet wide ran the full length between rows of three-high, twelve-man bunks. Four-hundred instead of two-hundred crowded into each barracks. Tents supplemented the crowded buildings, and some men opted to sleep in air raid trenches rather than stay inside.
The four hundred in each barracks obtained water from one faucet and one hand pump. Sanitation measures were totally inadequate. There was no hot water, and the men were left to wallow in the filth of living in severely over-crowded and totally inadequate conditions.
The German food ration consisted of one-half cup of warm water for breakfast, one cup of thin watery soup for lunch and a little black bread for supper with an occasional extra issue of cheese, margarine and blood sausage. On Wednesday, February 7th, they got their first Red Cross parcels.
For four to six weeks, the men kept on their same filthy clothes without benefit of any washing facilities. There was no sanitation system in place, no cooking facilities and increasingly, straw was spread over the floors of the barracks to be used as bedding.
Dysentery was the norm as the men wallowed in the filthy make-shift accommodations. Some of the men, who had been the strongest on the march, now began to lose hope. Disease ran rampant, and medical treatment was practically non-existent. By the end of February, partially due to the bombing of the railroads, supplies of the Red Cross parcels were cut off in Moosburg. Now, the men had to rely on what little German food they were given and were reintroduced to Green Death soup. For nearly three months, their meals were extremely meager. There was constant trading amongst the prisoners, with some prisoners assisting others who had lesser trading skills, and prized possessions were bartered away in the interest of filling an empty stomach.
The “Great White Fleet” of emergency provisions arrived at Moosburg one day, much to the jubilation of the hungry men. One third of a parcel per man was all that was allowed, but even a fraction of a parcel was better than none. Intestinal ailments became a reality that evening for men who ate too much after being on reduced rations for so long. With the arrival of the Red Cross parcels, the Germans further reduced each man’s German rations.
Chapter 36: “The First Taste of Freedom”
In late March, air raids, mostly flown by the 15th Air Force out of Italy, intensified over southern Germany. Prisoners were ordered to stay inside during raids but now defiantly watched the exciting action. Exploding bombs were heard, and the strong vibrations were felt under the men’s feet. The planes were so close that if bombers went down, the kriegies saw the chutes. The sight was bittersweet, for not all the crews survived. General George Patton’s Third Army was still one-hundred miles from Moosburg.
The early thaw that warm spring turned the ground to mud, and the men were ankle deep in it since the camp had been built on a swamp fostering a constant supply of mosquitoes. Slats and other wood were burned for campfires. Clouds of black smoke rose from hundreds of small cookers, and fires burned in the open air choking out any chance of breathing clean air, but warding off to some degree the onslaught of the flying pests.
A long trench was the common open-air latrine. The latrines gave off a terrible stench. Filled to overflowing, an epidemic seemed inevitable. The SAOs called a strike. They, and their men, refused to report for twice daily appells to be counted. Discipline had broken down, and the Germans had no clue how many men were there. The angry guards threatened to use force, but kriegies returned back inside their barracks. Dogs were brought in, and pistols were drawn. Eventually the commandant backed down, and the “honey wagon” rolled in that night and pumped out the latrines.
The first week in April, the Luftwaffe took over as administrators of the airmen when conditions in the camp further deteriorated. On April 9th, South Compound was moved across the road into big tents with Center Compound prisoners, as more enlisted men, including Gonzales, Clifford and Dean arrived at the camp on April 16th. Five large tents were erected, but the shelter was not sufficient, and prisoners slept outside all over the compound. Lean-tos made of blankets appeared, and beds were laid on the bottom of slit trenches.
During the whole month of April, the prisoners could hear P-47 and P-51 fighter aircraft strafing targets in and around Moosburg. On the 9th, the men looked upward to witness five-hundred B-17s from the Third Air Division of the Eighth Air Force, escorted by three-hundred-and-forty P-51s, pass overhead just west of Moosburg en route to bomb Munich. Their spirits were raised immensely. The prisoners eagerly plotted the advance of the allied front on their hidden maps.
The guards soon began escorting prisoners outside the camp to barter for food.
Jeffers and his friend, Charles Church, collected what cigarettes and candy they had and followed the guards outside the gate and across the bridge on the Isar River. They hoped to trade for bread or sugar. With the lax security and futile attempts to control prisoners, as many as seventeen prisoners spread out and agreed to meet their guard at a designated point at a certain time.
Jeffers and Church approached a farmhouse just past the bridge and banged on the door. A frightened German woman called down from the window.
"Ve haff nussing, ve haff nussing!" the frightened German woman shrieked from her upstairs window.
The men explained they were Americans and only there to trade for food.
Relieved they were not Russians, she came downstairs and let them in and traded with them. Then the two went up the road to another home. Having traded for a few carrots and eggs, they sat at the kitchen table conversing with the pleasant couple who lived there with their beautiful daughter. Another knock came on the door. This time the woman was met by several German soldiers. Like Jeffers and Church, they too, had cigarettes they wished to trade for food. The woman invited them in, and the motley group of traders sat at the table talking to each other.
The woman showed Jeffers and Church the wedding picture of her daughter who was married to a handsome German soldier who had been captured by the Russians. Jeffers noted what a handsome couple they made. A later photo of him, once dashing in his uniform, showed an emaciated man whose collar barely fit around his neck. He was still held as a prisoner and would probably never come home.
Jeffers and Church returned to the home several times each time graciously greeted by the woman. Upon one visit, two prisoners from India were there trading. The woman told all the men they could return later for baths in the deep luxurious tub there. She told the men the Americans could have baths first and then the Indians. Church and Jeffers told her they would return the next day to enjoy the long-awaited treat.
When they returned the following day, the couple was distraught. The two Indians had come and taken their daughter. They dragged her to St. Kastulus Catholic church at the edge of the camp and raped her there. Jeffers and Church tried to console the anguished parents, but there was little they could say, and they commiserated with their German friends as the cruelty and brutality of war continued to go on unabated around all of them.
Now, parts of the camp were unsafe to enter, and a desperate “every man for himself” air was apparent. Long lines were everywhere and between the unsanitary conditions, lack of adequate nourishment, despair as the war continued on and the overcrowding, it was hard to be optimistic.
On April 13th, 1945, it was Jeffers’ wife’s twenty-third birthday, and he missed her greatly. Next, came the news that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died the previous day. Men, already desolate, wept openly. Men still on the march from northern camps passed the word of the death, and one kriegie with a trumpet played “Taps” as a column stopped on the open road to remember F.D.R. In Stalag VIIA, on April 15th, a memorial service was held, and a sole trumpeter played “Taps.” Other nations’ prisoners stood at attention and saluted.
The air raids continued, and men sat outside and watched. At no time, day or night, was the air free of planes. Discipline in the camp broke down further, and daring prisoners broke down fences inside to move about more freely. There was no retribution.
Chapter 37: “Bavarian Redoubt”
Day by day, the Germans turned to more desperate solutions.
“The great Bolshevik offensive has now crossed the frontiers of Germany,” announced the Germans.
Urgent pleas went out to the Allied prisoners printed on fliers.
“The men in the Moscow Kremlin believe the way is open for the conquest of the Western world. This will certainly be the decisive battle for us. But it will also be the decisive battle for England, for the United States and for the maintenance of Western civilization……Please inform the convoy-officers of your decision, and you will receive the privileges of our own men for we expect you to share their duty. This is something which surpasses all national boundaries. The world today is confronted by the fight of the east against the west. We ask you to think it over. ARE YOU FOR THE CULTURE OF WEST OR THE BARBARIC ASIATIC EAST?”
Despite the plea from the Germans, the kriegies were not convinced of the German wisdom to join their side. Instead, the prisoners were told by the Germans on April 18th to prepare for another march south that would take place in three days. But within the dismal confines of the camp, Lt. Colonel Clark and his men were operating their clandestine radio monitoring the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. They heard of a new Allied agreement broadcast on Radio Luxembourg. The agreement had been reached through the Swiss Protecting Power between the Allies and Germany. It forbid the transfer of Allied prisoners to Bavaria to Hitler’s Alpine Redoubt and also prevented the Allies from moving German prisoners out of Europe. On April 22nd, the new Allied agreement was accepted, but the German administration in the camp had not been told.
On April 23rd, the Germans told the prisoners to line up at the gate.
“You’d better check,” Clark said defiantly, “There’s been a new deal, and we ain’t going.”
The Germans did check, and no prisoners were moved.
Chapter 38: “Tanks!”
On April 27th, some kriegies reported seeing tanks at the crest of the hill a mile north of Moosburg.
On the 28th, it rained all day. American fighters flew over Moosburg and waggled their wings in recognition of the prisoners below. One came so low and fast it sent everyone running for cover. As fighting got even closer, the men were ordered by their alarmed guards to stay in the barracks. Closed inside, eager eyes peeped out of holes and saw Allied soldiers in the fields around the camp.
Clark heard the guns and knew the end of his thirty-three months of captivity was at hand.
“Soon,” said a despondent German guard to him, “our roles will be reversed.”
Jeffers and Butler envisioned returning to the new babies born in their absence.
Sick men, including Col. “Rojo” Goodrich, whose stalwart presence had for so long been a source of encouragement and security for the men, was now confined to his bunk having given up hope. But the reverberation of the guns signaled that now help was on the way.
Dee Butler huddled in the cramped kitchen quarters of his barracks. Men there ate what they thought would be their last kriegie meal behind barbed-wire, as they listened to the bullets zing through the compound, and explosions from a distance showered them with ceiling plaster and shatterings of plaster from the walls.
On the evening of April 28th, the prisoners spotted armored vehicles pulling into town. They turned out to be an SS contingent.
The liberation had begun when the highest-ranking prisoner of war, U.S. Army Colonel Paul “Pop” Goode, captured at Normandy, and British RAF Group Captain Kellett, left the camp before midnight and strode into Headquarters of Combat Command A, 47th Tank Battalion, with a message from a German commander requesting a creation of a neutral zone surrounding Moosburg. The Germans had been negotiating with the attacking army attempting to arrange a peaceful surrender of the camp in exchange for securing several Isar River bridges that led back to more secure lines. The proposal was rejected outright, and the Germans were given until 9:00 a.m. the next day to submit an unconditional surrender or be attacked at that hour.
As artillery shells flew over the camp during negotiations, the German guards initially gave every indication they would fight, but very quietly, they left in trucks during the night of the 28th. The majority of the guard force was pulling out, leaving only a skeleton force behind. One kriegie climbed a watch tower in the morning to verify it was abandoned.
On April 29th, at 6:00 a.m. the men could hear the booms of heavy cannons and guns in the distance. Shortly after daybreak, a group of American kriegies near the main gate watched two German staff cars with red crosses painted on their sides drive up. Goode and Kellett climbed out and strode into the camp.
"You guys better find a hole,” Goode warned, “The war is about to start."
A few remaining German guards deserted their posts and turned their weapons over to their former prisoners.
Upon his return, Goode brought a piece of white bread back into the camp after his breakfast of bacon and eggs on the outside. He shared it with Clark and others who had not seen white bread for three years. To the grateful men it was like cake. As they enjoyed it, they heard the Germans blow up the two local bridges over the Isar.
Within the jagged barbed-wire enclosures prisoners were preparing for a church service to be held at ten o’clock. By 9:45 a.m., many men had gathered on the open plaza and waited for the service to begin. The start of the church service was halted as planes flew over, and the kriegies began to hear rifle fire. The battle was on.
At 10:00 a.m., two American P-51s roared in low shooting up the camp. Men in one of the guard towers began to shoot at the planes. The Allied plane turned and came down with its powerful guns spitting bullets and ripped the tower into kindling. Within a minute or two, mortar shells landed in the town, and stray bullets whistled into the camp. Men dove into slit trenches and fox holes as fighters flew low on strafing runs. The German guards advised the men to stay inside and close their shutters. Some men dove under barracks. Butler jumped into a slit trench as fast as he could to escape the flying bullets.
The Germans fired from the church steeple of St. Kastulus, and SS troops on the outside of the compound yelled for the remaining camp guards to join them in the fight. They entered the camp demanding loyalty. Most refused, because the Swiss Red Cross told them that if they stayed and guarded the Allied prisoners, preventing them from breaking out and getting killed by their own forces, the guards would receive special treatment. The SS threw grenades into the guards’ barracks and killed some of them for their refusal.
Butler watched two of the helpless guards taken behind a bush and shot through the forehead by the SS. At the same time, more SS troops climbed to the top of the cheese factory adjacent to the camp and began firing.
In the beginning, when the shooting started, there was only the sporadic rattling of small arms fire coming from somewhere in the woods just outside the fence. SS troops dug in downriver and along a railway embankment a mile away as they desperately fought to defend the town of Moosburg. Within minutes, the noise from the incessant firing of hundreds of small arms and heavy automatic weapons was deafening. A fierce, but brief, battle raged. In the bell tower of St. Kastulus, Germans fired on Americans as they fought within the town. By 10:30 a.m., the resisting SS troops, the last hold outs for the Third Reich, were dead on the road and in the fields.
In the midst of the firing, men hit the ground and took cover. Clark braced himself as the ground shook with one collective and memorable thud resulting from thousands of men all hitting the ground at the same time. Jeffers turned to see a fellow kriegie put a thin cooking pot on his head offering meager, yet, comical protection. Kriegies erupted everywhere, scrambling for cover or attempting to burrow into the hard ground. The more adventurous were climbing on top of the buildings and guard towers to watch the excitement. Bullets ricocheted over the compound, and several kriegies were hit, but none seriously. The shooting stopped. Then--deathly quiet.
Camouflaged Sherman tanks of General George Patton’s Third Army rolled over the hills to the northwest about 11:00 a.m. The unmistakable rumble and clanking of heavy armor approaching the camp from somewhere outside the perimeter fences signaled the nearing end of the battle. American forces were coming directly toward the camp and moving fast. Puffs of smoke rose above the tanks. A tank shell blew a hole in the mail building, and small arms fire hit the roofs. The American 14th Armored Infantry Division of the U.S. Third Army, nicknamed “The Liberators,” had arrived.
One of its Sherman tanks pushed down the barbed-wire to be greeted by thousands of jubilant men. So many of them jumped on the tank, that not one inch of it could be seen. High atop the tank sat jubilant Al Clark, “Moose” Stillman and friend, Dick Schrupp one of two photographers Clark asked to record the historic event.
Defeated and unresisting, German guards waited at the gate. An American officer approached, and a German officer outstretched his hand, but the American refused it. He only saluted.
Two P-51s with loud engines followed doing victory rolls over the barracks and tents. Fifteen minutes later, the fighter planes made passes again but this time rocking their wings or tumbling in acrobatics. An enormous cheer went up as hopeful kriegies ran out and cheered and waved.
The Germans were taken away in trucks. Only then, were the covert flags of many countries brought from their hiding places in the battered barracks and openly displayed with great pride.
Chapter 39: “Unrestrained Joy”
Jeeps rolled into the camp first, and men weeping joyfully reached out to touch the drivers. Feelings not expressed for long months and years were finally being freely released as men rushed to welcome their liberators. Some liberators found their scrawny and dirty brothers, and at least one liberator that day found his son.
Tank commanders responsible for pushing down the ten-foot-high wire gates were kissed shamelessly by jubilant screaming men with tears streaming down their cheeks. The mood was one of total and unrestrained joy.
“How long have you been on this drive?” a jubilant and breathless Butler called to an approaching tank driver.
“Twenty-four hours,” came the reply.
“How did you withstand the pace?” Butler yelled up to the driver.
“If the old man can, we can,” he laughed.
Some men ran to pat and kiss the tanks. Jack Gonzales offered a prayer of thanks to God for their freedom. Amid the shouting and cheering of the newly-freed prisoners, Lt. Harold Gunn made one final entry in his diary.
“This account was begun by POW # 1613 but is being finished by Lt. Harold W. Gunn, USAAF.”
POW #6128, Thomas Jeffers, whose prayers were answered, was also free.
K rations and C rations were passed around from the tank drivers, and moist-eyed liberators on olive-green trucks and in the tanks were overcome with emotion.
As tanks rolled on the cobblestones of the ancient city of Moosburg, all eyes turned to the two tall steeples of St. Kastulus Catholic Church. Machine gun bullets splattered against the steeples ripping a crimson and black Nazi flag from its base. There was another period of quiet. The Nazi flag was pulled down, and at 12:30 p.m., before the eyes of thousands of men, the American flag was raised on the steeple. Eight-thousand American kriegies faced the church, came to attention and saluted. Years of pent-up emotions trickled down their cheeks.
Afterward, the American flag went up in the town. To the dismay of the ecstatic prisoners, it was quickly taken down. Within minutes, the flag once more flew brightly in the town. It had been run up upside down.
Eight of the ten men of “Rhapsody in Junk” sent to Moosburg celebrated in great joy along with thousands of other brave men who were coming home after a sacrifice that defeated a tyrant and allowed freedom for the generations that followed.
Sobs and laughter were the only anthem needed when the Nazi flag came down and the Stars & Stripes was hoisted up in its place on the camp flagpole that day. Martin Allain, a B-26 pilot who had crash landed in Tunisia in 1943, after bombing rail yards in Sousse, France, had smuggled a flag into Stalag Luft III to be displayed for identification if the Allied planes appeared one day. He sewed it between two blankets and took the flag hidden within the blankets on the long winter evacuation march. Before thousands of cheering kriegies, the dirty malnourished man scurried up the flagpole and ripped down the detested Nazi flag.
Two soldiers unrelated and both named McCracken were prisoners in the camp, and by chance, both of their brothers came that day to rescue them. The camp had held four sons of American generals, General Patton’s son-in-law and humble men who had only known prison life for the past five years.
A correspondent from WLW radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, struggled to find his way through the throngs of celebrating men. He found and interviewed Jeffers at the camp. Jeffers sent his love home to his family via the reporter who sent a letter about the interview to my mother. She had not had a radio on to hear it.
Chapter 40: “Biding Our Time”
In a few hours, loudspeakers were mounted on poles. Army chow was served to the starving prisoners, and soon music was hooked up. Much to their amusement, the now free men listened to the popular “Don’t Fence Me In.” The haunting strains of “At Last” entertained and touched each man. The upbeat “Pennsylvania 6-5000” was played over and over.
The liberated kriegies walked in and out of camp exploring their new found freedom. Trucks came in with food, water and doughnuts. The prisoners tore holes in the wires around the camp and walked out into the fields to look around. Inside the wire, some men played games while waiting for their departure. There were two more days of hunger until more trucks came in with food. White bread, chicken, turkey, ham, beef stew, salmon, pasta and meatloaf were delicacies most men found too good to be true. Most men started throwing up what they ate as their stomachs had gone so long with so little food.
Latrines clogged, and rubbish piled up as the men tried to be patient. Food was still in short supply, so men were determined to forage on their own. The mood turned sullen as they were free but not quite free, and men were turned back at the gate by American guards. The area was still not safe, and gangs of unpredictable Russian and Polish prisoners caroused in the streets of Moosburg causing their own deaths and the deaths of others. Russian prisoners went on a rampage in the town looting, seeking revenge, committing rapes and stealing food. Some in their euphoric state drank benzene they found thinking that it was alcohol and died. The people of Moosburg feared for their lives.
For one, in particular, revenge was brutal. One prisoner witnessed two prisoners of war whooping with excitement, as they carried a guard's head in a bushel basket. They claimed it was “Big Stoop.” Another prisoner recalled seeing “Big Stoop's” body spread-eagled across a road with a pickaxe in his head.
A group of Russian generals held in the camp posed happily for a picture. Upon their return home, Stalin would have them all shot as traitors.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower repeatedly ordered that former prisoners stay put. Many could not restrain themselves and hitchhiked to Paris or elsewhere. He had made an agreement with French General Charles DeGaulle that French prisoners would be released first. It took ten days until the American prisoners left.
Two days after liberation, Gonzales stood in the crowd that greeted General George Patton as he arrived in his command car. It was brightly shined and suitably decorated with sirens and spotlights and a four-star flag. He was immaculately dressed in whipcord trousers, boots, battle jacket, two ivory-handled pistols and a helmet polished to a high sheen. The prisoners crowded around but kept a respectful three or four-feet away, and no one touched the command car. Patton was an imposing figure with his harsh face, and he stood rigidly at attention, a man more than six-feet tall, weighing one-hundred-and-ninety pounds. He spoke through a microphone attached to the loudspeakers on his car and addressed the crowd in an uncharacteristic high-pitched almost falsetto voice thanking the men for their sacrifices. Then after a brief inspection of the camp, he was gone.
The day after liberation, April 30th, Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin. Ironically, the concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich, was liberated the same day. With the war going badly, General Berger was more conciliatory than he had been in earlier days and no doubt was currying favor with the Allies, for he knew what was coming. His treatment of Russian prisoners had been, and continued to be, subhuman. He knew his days were numbered.
This book is the culmination of three year’s of research in four countries. By meticulously combing the archive records in England, Germany, Poland and the United States, Marilyn Jeffers Walton has reconstructed the final mission of her father and his crew and located the German cemetery where one crewmate, killed the day the plane was shot down, was buried. She searched for and found the remaining men of the crew of “Rhapsody in Junk” and reunited them after sixty years. Interviews with the crew and fellow prisoners of war contributed puzzle pieces, put together bit by bit, that enabled her to find where they were captured and interrogated. By searching old records, letters, diaries and mission records, she was finally able to return to Germany and find the crash site of her father’s B-24 where pieces of the plane still remained. To her astonishment, she met the woman who watched her father bail out and saw the very field where he landed. During her return to Germany, she connected emotionally with the people of the peaceful farm community of Wagersrott where her father was taken prisoner over six decades before. In her quest to reconstruct the mission and her father’s prisoner of war experiences, Walton presents not only his story but the stories of the British and German people who both suffered greatly, all caught up in the dictates of a mad man. Revealed within the pages is a first-hand account of the bombing of Dresden from a German couple who survived it. Walton’s odyssey through Europe allowed her to discover the rich fabric of the people who endured and survived the war and to weave their stories into a multi-faceted mosaic that reflects the personal experiences of World War II.
Marilyn Walton. is a graduate of The Ohio State University. She has written six books for children, including the successful Celebration Series for Raintree-Steck-Vaughn. Her book, Chameleons’ Rainbow, won a Children’s Choice award in 1986. She and her husband, a retired Miami University professor, raised three sons in Oxford, Ohio, where they currently reside. After locating her father’s crew and their relatives, she was instrumental in finding the crew families of the B-24, “Belle of Boston,” that crashed in England in 1944. She currently conducts World War II research to assist other families in learning the history of their fathers’ war experiences and in finding relatives of the crews. With 78,000 American World War II men missing in action, of which 38,000 are considered recoverable, she works with other researchers trying to locate the remains of these men so that they can finally be brought home.
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