Family and Friends of Stalag Luft III:
To date, our newsletter is reaching approximately 200 readers, which is very gratifying to us, as we continue to add email addresses to our distribution list. We will continue to report to you the news of Stalag Luft III as we receive it. Please see below for the latest updates:
Museum Renovation – The renovation of the museum at the old camp has been a massive and very expensive undertaking. Two gentlemen from New Zealand, a father and son on business in Germany, recently visited and asked to repaint Hut 104, donating their time and labor. Marek has just finished helping them paint the hut, and it is finished now. The British Ex- POW Association built the replica hut at half scale adjacent to the museum some years ago.
In order to save money, Marek has been painting the interior walls of the museum in his off hours. Work on the walls will be finished by next week, as the museum employees prepare for tourist season. With freshly repaired and painted walls, Marek will now be able to display the plaque bearing the names of the prisoners whose many families responded to our fund-raising project. It is in its final design stage, and we will post pictures of it next month in our newsletter.
A little about the original building: In the late sixties, a special government committee investigating Nazi crimes in Poland was formed. They excavated graves and battlefields and later built several monuments and museums to commemorate WWII victims. The building in Zagan was one of them and was built in 1971. But in those days of communism in Poland, everything in the museum was focused on Stalag VIIIC, as the Communists deemed the camp to be a concentration camp. For Communists, there was no difference between a POW camp and a concentration camp. The building provided propaganda value at that time. Almost nothing was said or remembered about Stalag Luft III and the Great Escape. There was only an occasional mention of the 50 British airmen shot after the Great Escape. As a result, the first official Great Escape ceremony was not held until 1994! That large intentional oversight is now, thankfully, corrected, and the Allied POWs are being duly recognized and remembered in the manner they deserve.
Over the years, only minimal maintenance has been done in the building. With your donations, Marek has repaired the lighting and electrical system in the entire museum, much of which was destroyed over the years. The Zagan City Council has provided some funding for the repair of the heating system, which Marek will repair in the next few weeks.
Many of us who have visited this museum remember how it looked before the renovation began. What a difference! Our former prisoners of war deserve such a nice museum to document their sacrifices and time at Stalag Luft III.
Below are some pictures of the new glass cases and displays Marek has designed and installed and a before/after picture of the small theatre. Without your enthusiastic support, none of this could have happened. His ability to do much of the work himself has enabled him to make maximum use of the funds available to him.
A Banner Year for Stalag Luft III Museum – With your continued support and that of the British, the museum continues to thrive. Visitors to the camp have increased exponentially. Last year alone, 7,036 visitors came to the camp. In the prior year, that number was 5,900. Activity this year has been good, and the tourist season is just now getting underway. The Great Escape 4-Wheel race near the camp took place again this year, and Marek will continue it next year as it has proved to be so popular.
On May 8th, Marek will oversee the Victory Day ceremony at the old camp, a celebration of the end of World War II. The German surrender document was signed late in the evening on May 8, 1945 (May 9th Moscow time). Every year at Stalag Luft III/VIIIC, the event is celebrated with a gun salute and wreath laying at the monument in front of the museum. Local veterans are special guests that day, and Marek invites local authorities, schools, the Army, and citizens of Zagan to attend the ceremony. Due to his excellent language skills, Marek is currently helping one of the veterans with a speech the man will give.
Marek reports that due to local Zagan politics, the Mayor of Zagan was ousted some months ago, and a new election will be held on May 19. The former mayor (who is one year younger than Marek and, therefore, not his father—for those who may have been misinformed) was supportive of the museum. Marek hopes to be able to make his case for continued museum funding with the new mayor, citing for example, the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Great Escape.
A series of future events is being planned, including a reenactment group’s meeting in June. In August, the museum will have a display as they join the biggest air show in Poland in Radom that Marek has arranged through the Polish Air Force, the main organizer of the event. This will provide good publicity for the museum. Those who visit the camp will learn the stories of all the men who were incarcerated there, ensuring the stories of our POW friends, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers won’t be forgotten. Plans are already underway for the biggest event, which will take place next March for the 70th anniversary of the Great Escape. There are rumors of the possibility of members of England’s royal family attending, but this is not yet confirmed.
Video of Recent Holmstrom Presentation– To view part of the presentation ceremony of POW Holmstrom’s sketches by his family on March 24th, 2013, the 69th anniversary of the Great Escape and to watch other activities at the camp that day, see the link below. Some of the improvements Marek has made to the museum can also be seen in this clip. This video also shows several dignitaries. Donald M. Campbell, Jr. Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, Commanding General U.S. Army Europe, sent Col. Alan Hester, U.S. Army Attaché to Poland to the museum for the ceremony. The increasing number of dignitaries visiting in the camp keeps visibility for the museum high. The invitation and information card Marek designed are also below.
We thank Marek for working with the Holmstrom family to organize this recent important event and for creating the video. We are also grateful to him for flying to London recently to the Imperial War Museum in pursuit of more pictures and material for the museum. His dedication to the museum has been tireless. Marek’s association with the RAF in London has been invaluable. He has worked closely with Air Commodore Clarke there, President of the RAF Ex-POW Association, who has graciously contributed to our planned book of Stalag Luft III when he learned that 100% of its proceeds will benefit the Stalag Luft III museum. Air Commodore Clarke’s next big project with Marek at the camp will be to rebuild the goonbox adjacent to Tunnel Harry on its original recently-discovered foundation. It is because of the generous contributions from the British and the Americans that such projects go forth.
Tragic Love Story of Jens Muller– From Canadian contact, Barb Edy, daughter of POW Don Edy, comes news of a new book of interest. The author is a Calgarian, who nine years ago discovered a box of worn love letters and photos belonging to his late mother, Alice (nee Tyler) Trafford, who had met, dated, and fallen deeply in love with Jens Muller, one of the three successful Great Escapers, when he trained in Canada. The deep mutual love was reflected in Jens’ secret letters written during the war. Many of the letters were written from Stalag Luft III and revealed the relationship. After the Great Escape, Jens Muller returned to Canada for Alice, but pressure put on Alice by her parents changed the couple’s plans. Alice was well known as “Montreal’s Golden Girl,” a debutante whose parents owned ski resorts in the area. Alice’s mother had bigger plans for Alice and discouraged her daughter’s wedding plans, so beautiful Alice and handsome Jens never married. Alice finally married someone else and endured an unhappy marriage. Alice and Jens never spoke to anyone about their love for each other, not during the war or afterward. Only through the found letters is their story finally told.
When Alice died in 2004, her son, Tyler, found the old box of letters and was stunned. He had no idea who Muller was. Muller’s own family members knew nothing. Digging further, Tyler went to Norway and found the Mullers, who were as shocked as he was. With Muller’s son’s help, they located the photos of Jens and Alice and together the two families pieced together the secret story that Great Escaper, Jens Muller, for decades kept only in his heart.
The book is called, Almost a Great Escape.
An Award Accepted for All of You– May 8th marked the day that the Visitors and Convention Bureau in Dayton, Ohio, thanked all of you for visiting the city last April by awarding the Stalag Luft III Reunion its prestigious Ambassador’s Award. The award was presented at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Awards Breakfast that 250 hospitality industry people and Dayton dignitaries attended. Highlights of the reunion were shown at the breakfast and brought a wonderful response from those who attended.
Marilyn Walton accepted the award, receiving a leather bomber jacket from Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Also invited were Lynn and Tim Doohen from Young’s Jersey Dairy. Master Sgt. Doohen arranged for the large contingent of Ohio Air National Guard that greeted our POWs, and Lynn organized the lunch. State Patriot Guard Captain, Bob Woods, was invited to the ceremony also. It was he who arranged for the very impressivemotorcycle escort of our POWs to Young’s Jersey Dairy Restaurant. The morning of the breakfast, he was called away at the last minute and could not attend. In the interim, he provided information about himself and his very impressive involvement with all veterans.
Bob served in Vietnam from 1970-1971 in the 4th Transportation Command, 7th Battalion, 538th Transportation Company, hauling helicopter fuel ( JP/4), jet fuel, and gas and diesel fuel to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Corps, 2/3rd of the country of Vietnam, which served every front line unit in those areas. Bob has health-related problems from being exposed to Agent Orange. Despite his own health problems, Bob is in charge of the Patriot Guard in 88 counties in Ohio. His group averages approximately 350 veterans’ funerals per year, including 280 KIAs from the current wars in Middle East, where he lost a Green Beret, Special Forces, nephew in Afghanistan in 2009, the son of Bob’s brother, who was killed in a car crash in 2000.
Inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of fame, Bob has a fierce loyalty to all veterans, and his volunteer activities on their behalf are far too numerous to name here. His citations from the United States Government/Army include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Medal with Palm, Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Republic of Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation and “Line Haul RVN” Tab. Part of these recognitions stem from a situation that happened in 1971, when Sergeant Woods refused to leave a fallen comrade after enemy combatants attacked his convoy and killed a fellow soldier. He and one other soldier insisted on remaining behind until that fallen soldier was evacuated from the battlefield. When Sergeant Woods finally returned to his base, he was personally awarded the Bronze Star Medal by then Commander of Military Assistance Command Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams. What an honor to have such a man with us to honor our Stalag Luft III POWs.
See picture below of Bob Woods with POW Tuskegee Airman Alex Jefferson, the Patriot Guard who escorted us, and the Ohio National Guard at the restaurant.
Just days ago, approval was given by the Buchenwald Memorial’s board to erect a stone plaque memorializing the Allied airmen of Buchenwald. For 70 years this is the only group that has not been recognized and remembered with a plaque there. The plaque, still being designed, will be dedicated inside the camp at a date to be determined. It is Mike Dorsey, film maker of Lost Airmen of Buchenwald, who was the driving force behind the recognition of the 168 Allied Airmen held in the camp before arriving at Stalag Luft III.
We’d Like to Profile Our POWs!– We would very much like to profile Stalag Luft III prisoners of war in these newsletters. We welcome submissions from family members, crew members, and former block mates of material or special stories that we can pass along to everyone. Thousands of good stories came out of the camp, and we welcome hearing any of them that are provided to us. Please send a picture of the special former prisoner you would like us to write about. Send to email@example.com. These submissions need not be long. Keep your written profile to about 250 words or less, which is about one page, and please include any unique Stalag III story you would like to share.
Until we meet again—
Marilyn Walton Michael Eberhardt
Daughter of POW Thomas F. Jeffers Son of POW Charles M. Eberhardt