|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
A Soda Jerk Goes to War
By A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
There was a Frenchman in camp who offered to paint pictures for cigarettes. His speciality was to copy and enlarge a photograph. I had somehow retained my wallet, sans money, in which was a small school class picture of my little sister, Mary Ellen. I "commissioned" this artist to enlarge the small photo to about a 5x7 size. I managed to keep the picture and get it back to the States and it now hangs, framed, in a place of prominence in our home. The picture is signed and dated by the artist: "Pierre 45, Stalag VII A." It is diffcult to read the name, but I believe it is "Pierre." I had made notes on the back of the little wallet photo indicating to the French artist the color of Ellen's hair and her eyes. I have no idea where the French artist obtained the paper, water colors and other materials to accomplish his paintings.
Several POWs, barbers in civilian life, set up shop in Stalag VII A and would cut your hair for a few cigarettes. The quality of their talents of cutting and styling hair were lacking, but we were not interested in the cosmetic quality of our hair dos, but in getting rid of surplus hair, a great place for lice to take up residence. The self appointed barbers certainly did not have to have a barber's license, only a set of shears being the only qualification for the vocation.
Others had other enterprises, one being a crap game with the bets being in cigarettes. I once risked two cigarettes in one of these games to no avail. I decided, prior suspicions confirmed, I was not a gambler. Besides two cigarettes could be traded for a slice of the dark German bread.
It was common for the POWs to carefully open the cellophane outer wrapping of a package of American cigarettes at the bottom of the package and remove the cellophane sleeve from the package. Then the package of twenty cigarettes was opened from the top, four cigarettes removed, the package closed and the cellophane covering placed back on the package. The cellophane sleeve kept the top of the package closed and, unless closely inspected, appeared to be a package of twenty cigarettes which was used to trade to the German civilians for bread. The four loose cigarettes then could be saved to smoke (rarely) or to trade within the camp with other POWs.
Also we would take the tea from the British parcels, enjoy the brewed tea, spread the tea leaves out to dry, place them back in the carefully opened original package and trade the used tea leaves for bread. This worked very well as the German civilians must make a trade quickly as trading with the POWs was forbidden and they could not take the time to carefully inspect their "purchase." Those German civilians who traded for used English tea leaves may have blamed the British on their poor quality and not the American POW who offered the weak leaves in trade. I feel badly that I took part in cheating the German housewives now, but at the time it seemed the thing to do.
The German civilians had a very rough time. They could only live from day to day, not knowing if there would be any food to eat for that day, water to drink or fuel to stay warm. Parts of Munich were almost total rubble, especially near the railway center. I remember seeing the railroad tracks twisted and turned in the air looking like a giant ladder, the ties being the rungs. It was not unusual for us Kriegies to be called out to work, march to the train only to have the trip canceled because of the damage to the rails from the night before.
We were able to pocket a few of the coal "briquettes" which were loose in the railroad yards in Munich to fuel our barracks stove and the small cooking stoves which most of us possessed. We sometimes were able to find paper or wood scraps, paper always being in demand to use as toilet paper. I also would scoop up some gravel, check carefully to see if the guards were watching and drop the gravel into the lubricating boxes on the wheels of the railroad freight cars. I doubt that this shortened the war whatsoever, and there was the danger that I might have been spotted and shot. Being shot on the spot would have been unlikely unless you happened to be spotted by an over zealous guard who would not think of the problem of documenting the event (the German Army was good about such) and getting rid of the body, which would take some time and would disrupt the normal routine. It would be more likely I would have been sent to the "sonder barracks," or the isolierbaracken, where the food would be bread and water with no Red Cross parcels allowed.
It would have been easy to escape. There was no need to dig a tunnel for escape purposes if you were a private. All one of us had to do would be to tell the guard, while we were in Munich, you had to relieve yourself behind a pile of rubble, place your shovel on your shoulder and walk away. But to what? None of us could speak enough German to get by and could not be mistaken, even though we looked the part, for a misplaced person or "hobo." We would have been recaptured and returned to spend a term of time in the sonder barracks back at Stalag VII A on bread and water. There was not enough civilian sympathy toward an American POW to receive any help in escaping. Also, we all knew, along with the German cadre, the war was winding down and it was only a matter of a short time before the Germans were defeated, most of them seeing the reality of such.
We had not received any Red Cross parcels in a couple of weeks during one period, consequently, I was out of everything to eat except the daily cup of soup, a slice of bread and perhaps a potato. We were in Munich and two little German ladies approached our working group. We had "good" guards that day and they allowed us to trade with the ladies. Unfortunately I had nothing to trade as our cigarettes from the Red Cross parcels were not available. I thought of my high school class ring and showed it to the two ladies. They offered me three loaves of the dark German bread and I quickly accepted.
A pleasant incident happened one day while we were working in Munich. I'm not sure if there was ten of us in the group or not. I don't believe our group was over four in number and I do not know why we were such a small group with a single guard as we usually were in groups of ten with two guards. We had been working for some time when the guard motioned for us to go with him into a cafe which was nearby. We did and he ordered each of us a stein of dark German beer. Naturally, we did not decline. It was perhaps the best beer I had ever tasted. I do not know if it "was on the house" or not, as I do not recall the guard paying for the beer. Certainly we did not have any money to do so.
With such crowded conditions, it was probable there might be an epidemic of some type of disease, such as measles; however, we all had more than enough preventive shots in the army and I heard of no problems other than my contacting mumps late in my confinement. One report which I read some years later indicated the Russian prisoners had some problems with cholera. I, along with many, many others suffered with diarrhea early in my confinement and I developed a raw sore which extended from my anus to my scrotum and persisted for a couple of weeks. With the help of a fellow prisoner, Harold Camp, a medic and fellow prisoner, I was able to clear this up as he somehow obtained some talc.
When the German Army launched the "Battle of the Bulge" in December of 1944, the German guards were elated, as they felt that they were going to win the war. We knew better as it was evident to us the Germans did not have the resources to do so. The late December offensive by the German Army was only a setback. Likewise later, the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt was portrayed as a victory by the German guards. They just did not understand the structure of the American system as the death of F.D.R. had little to do with the progress of the war in Europe against the Germans.
It was hard for me to understand the German's thinking. The few Germans that I had the chance to converse with, they being able to speak English, told me they could not understand why the Americans had any business in getting into the war. I had a long conversation with a German guard on a train somewhere between the Vosges Mountains and Stalag VII A, a time when we discussed the merits of the United States getting involved. I was unable to change his outlook and he was unable to change mine. We left it at that.
We did not know about the German "death" camps despite the fact that Dachau was located just on the northwest outskirts of Munich. One day we had been working in Munich, shoveling snow and whatever, and had assembled at the rail terminal to get the meager lunch that would be provided. There were about two hundred of us on one end of the raised railway platform and we observed a like number of men, obviously prisoners, assembled about 100 feet away on the other end of the platform. They were a sad looking group, dressed in striped pajama type of convict attire. They were without coats and the day was very cold. We were thin, but the convict group would have certainly won any contest where weight loss was compared. They were pitiful, to say the least. I thought that surely they must be murderers, rapists and other felons of the worst sort.
They also were waiting for the soup which would be their lunch, guarded by German guards with German Shepherd guard dogs (we only saw the guard dogs utilized infrequently to run into the barracks to roust the slow POWs). The German men arrived with a large kettle of soup for the pitiful looking group and sat it down in their end of the platform. Immediately, in unison and silently without any command, the large group rushed the kettle of soup. The guards then turned the two German Shepherd guard dogs loose, who, snarling and snapping, turned on the men in the striped pajama-type clothing. The group's rushing the kettle and their retreat reminded me of a ripened wheat field caught in the wind with the tops all rippling in one direction, then the wind direction changing and the tops bowing in the opposite direction. We never saw the group again and now, knowing they were from Dachau, I doubt they survived the winter.
When I was captured in late November of 1944, I weighed about 155 pounds. It would have been interesting to know my weight at the time of our release in late April of 1945 but I would estimate my weight was about 100 pounds. In early February of 1945 the Germans moved large numbers of POWs from other locations in Germany to other camps, one of which was Stalag VII A in Moosburg. A large number of these POWs were from Luft III, a camp near Sagan, Poland. They had endured a long journey by foot and boxcars in extreme cold and with little food or water for such an ordeal. Among those who made the journey from another camp to Moosburg was a friend David Workman, of Stanton, with whom I became acquainted after I married my wife, who had been raised in Stanton. David Workman was a bombardier, flying in a B-17s from Italy when he was shot down over Germany.
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