Stalag Luft III Newsletter – February, 2016
Greetings, SLIII POWs, Families, and Friends,
As in the U.S., winter has also hit Poland, and the sculpture of the martyred POW in front of the museum is now covered with snow. Marek has sent along a picture of him. It turns out that the sculpture and the museum building have quite an interesting history.
“The sculpture was created in 1961 by famous Polish artist, Mieczyslaw Welter, born in 1928. He is still living.”
“The interesting thing is that the face of the figure was inspired by the original face of a prisoner from Auschwitz. Welter told me that when I phoned him a few weeks ago. The sculpture represents all Stalag VIIIC victims 1939-1945. [VIIC used to sit right next to Stalag Luft III’s West Compound.] Years after the war, a kind of silo, or container, was discovered, on the site of Auschwitz. There was a body of an unknown prisoner inside. Welter was there and saw the face. He made a special mask and made a copy of the face for the figure in Zagan.”
Early construction of the museum:
This picture was taken during construction of the monument in 1961:
Polish postage stamp from 1967 – The stamp was issued by the Polish Post. It was part of a special set featuring war monuments.
“The building was built in 1971, originally as a museum of POW Martyrdom (the old name of the museum). In late 50s, several mass graves were discovered in Neuhammer and near Stalag VIIIC by the Nazi War Crime Commission. As a result of the work of the Commission, the monument was erected in 1961. At the beginning, there were several crosses around the monument symbolizing all the victims of Nazis (see picture). The crosses were removed when they started to build the museum in 1971.”
“The Communists in Poland were not interested in their POWs who died in Stalag VIIIE Neuhammer (15 km south-east from Zagan). The Soviets had no problem with the museum though, as it was a kind of tribute also for the Soviet POWs. According the Communist propaganda, the Wehrmacht [German Army] did not respect the Geneva Conventions. [The Soviets would not sign that document.] It was the truth regarding the Soviet POWs. Of course, the Communist propaganda did not admit Stalin’s attitude regarding the POWs. Stalin said that the POWs were traitors of the USSR, and he did not care about them. The life in Army POW camps for enlisted men was worse than in the officers’ camp. Starvation and maltreatment existed in many camps, including Stalag VIIIC. So the Communists showed us only the bad side. They did not tell us about allies, Red Cross, YMCA etc. At that time, the main exhibition was focused only on Stalag VIIIC. They mentioned the Great Escape but only because of the 50 murdered officers. Then after we broke Communism, we started to talk about all aspects of the camps.”
General Spivey laid flowers at the monument in 1976.
Trip Advisor Award The museum was selected by Trip Advisor to receive a certificate for quality for 2015. Congratulations Marek!
Polish 303rd Squadron
Marek’s information on this famous Squadron:
“I’m sure you know the famous Polish 303 Squadron. The logo was originally the Kościuszko Squadron from the Polish-Soviet war 1919-1920. The logo was designed by Eliott Chess, an American pilot serving with the Polish Army during the Polish-Soviet War. Lots of American volunteers joined the Kościuszko Squadron, including Merian Caldwell Cooper, an American aviator, USAF and Polish AF officer, screenwriter, film director and producer. His most famous film was the 1933 movie, KING KONG.
The name Kościuszko’s Squadron was taken from the Polish National hero, Tadeusz Kościuszko.
The Kościuszko Squadron emblem depicts the distinctive four-cornered Polish traditional red cap (called ‘rogatywka’) set against a field of red vertical stripes on a white background, red and white being two colours contained in both the Polish and American flags. Behind the red cap is a pair of crossed scythes. Thirteen blue stars encircle the badge, representing the thirteen original American states.
The ‘rogatywka’ cap and scythes commemorate the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794: ten years after General Tadeusz Kościuszko returned to Poland from America, he led the Polish people, many armed only with scythes, in an attempt to liberate Poland from Russia and Prussia.”
Found Stove Restoration Under Way
When Marek discovered a camp stove tangled in the roots of a fallen tree after a storm last year, he decided to clean it up for display. The restoration work is ongoing.
“First you have to remove the dirt with special brush. Then we use special anti-rust fluid. We “paint” the stove using this fluid and wait. Then we gently remove the rust with the brush and paint again and wait again and remove the rust again. And the same again and again. ”
One of the original stoves
Henry Soderberg’s Headquarters in Sagan
YMCA representative, Henry Soderberg, operated out of this restaurant in Sagan during the war, close to the camp headquarters of the YMCA in Sagan. He met his future wife, as she worked her too. The YMCA rented some rooms in September 1943. The YMCA office in Sagan was evacuated to Lübeck, Germany, on the last days of January 1945. Long after the war, Henry, savior to many a POW, became vice-president of Scandinavia Airlines. The building was destroyed after the war.”
“This picture was taken in 1945, probably by the Germans. I marked the burned down Soderberg office. It was burned by the Soviets during or after the battle of Sagan in February 1945. Some buildings caught fire during the fight for the town. After the battle, the Russians just set many buildings on fire, as the town was their war trophy, and they just plundered it. Very sad. The large building to the right was a church. ”
“It was an Evangelical Church destroyed by the Soviets. Only the tower survived. The tower was restored a few years ago and now it’s a tourist attraction – observation tower.”
RAF Arrives to Reenact POW March
On Jan 25th , a RAF contingent of marchers arrived in Zagan to replicate the march of over 10,000 POWs from Stalag Luft III, March 27, 1945. This is an annual event for the RAF so they remember and pay tribute to the Allied POWs who were force marched out of the camp 71 years ago. There were 30 marchers this time. Cadets were from RAF Halton, a station of No 22 (Training) Group and part of the Directorate of Recruitment and Initial Training.
Marek briefs the 30 marchers at the museum.
Air Commodore Charles Clarke, OBE [Order of the British Empire], 93, President of the RAF ex-Prisoners of War Association, leads the march as he has always done after making the Forced March himself 71 years ago, when he was just 17. On the anniversary of the march, the RAF marchers leave the camp, passing the replica hut #104, where Tunnel Harry of Great Escape fame had been dug.
On the link below, click on the small speaker, top right-hand corner of the picture, to hear Marek ‘s Polish radio interview in English!
Read an amusing interview with Charles:
“These two German gentlemen lived in Lipna in 1944. They were both 10 years old when they watched the marching POWs. Kriegies gave them some candy bars. They meet the Long Marchers every January. Usually, they meet us in Lipna. This time they came to Zagan, then followed us to Ilowa/Halbau and sat with us in church in Ilowa while Charles was giving a speech.”
Charles with the 30 marchers and support crew
On the road
Formal dinner at the castle after the Long March
The RAF Long March Dinner was held at Kliczkow Castle, about 60 kilometers southeast of Zagan. Marek is far right, and Dr. Howard Tuck, who proposed the march ten years ago, is seated in the first row, first man on the right. Howard was working as a civilian teacher with the RAF when he suggested the idea. The RAF support team brought the Mess Dress uniforms to the hotel before the march. A bus moved the marchers from their final destination in Spremberg, Germany, to the castle. They had just two hours to transition from marchers to formal diners. 100% of the group completed the march. The next morning they went to Berlin for some short sightseeing and to catch the plane back to UK.
Recent Museum Donations
3 original (dated 1942) watercolor paintings from Stalag VIIIC An original Red Cross box and KLIM tins Donated by historian, Dr. Howard Tuck
Happy 96th Birthday, Ira Salz! – POW son, Steven Salz – U.S.
Best birthday wishes to Ira, who was shot down over Hungary in July 1944 and made a POW at Stalag Luft III. He just turned 96 on January 20th.
TOC H – Stalag Luft III – POW son, Arthur Taber – U.S.
POW Robin Taber belonged to a group called TOC H [To Conquer Hate] in Center Compound. His son requested information about this group. This link gives some information. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toc_H His son sent the two documents below that he found with his father’s belongings from his POW days.
George’s Last Name – POW Tom Wilson – U.S.
In reply to the mention of the spelling of POW George Matthews/Mathews last name in the last newsletter, POW Tom Wilson weighs in.
“George Matthews was one of my roommates. Then he spelled his name with two Ts. A real character.”
Another Sketch to Be Identified – POW son, Mike Netherway, Australia
POW (L.J. Netherway, RAAF) son, Mike Netherway, has sent a sketch by F/Lt Gordon Brettell, a former racecar driver before the war, RAF pilot, and later one of the Fifty murdered after the Great Escape. His artistic skills qualified him as a forger in preparation for that escape. The sketch below could have been one of the last ones he drew. Is the face familiar to anyone??
Available Jones – POW daughter, Marilyn Jones Elrod – U.S.
One of my father’s roommates in South Compound, 128/15, was Morris M. Jones. His daughter, Marilyn Elrod, recently found me. Morris was the pilot of a B-17 called, “Available Jones,” which got its name because there were three men named Jones involved with it. .. Jones, the pilot, Jones the top turret engineer/gunner, and Jones on the ground crew. At that time, Al Capp had a syndicated comic strip with a character named Available Jones, and so the plane had a name.
Morris was shot down over France, and he was taken to the notorious Fresnes Prison, where the 168 Allied airmen, who were later sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, had also initially been taken. Thankfully, Jones was not sent to Buchenwald, but he had been betrayed by the same spy that had infiltrated the French Resistance, resulting in the 168 being taken to the concentration camp before later being transferred to Stalag Luft III. After a horrible stay at the prison, Jones went directly to interrogation and to SLIII.
Morris’s family had one of the most painful experiences. They were sent a telegram telling them their son had been killed in action. Morris Jones was declared dead on the basis of left waist gunner, Miles Cooley’s, statement to his German interrogators immediately after his arrest. [Information found by Ed Reniere – Belgium] The family then held a memorial service for him in Nebraska, and a small airport nearby was even named for him. Four months later, another telegram was sent to the family saying Morris was alive and a POW. The name of the airport was switched back to its original name, Fairbury Airport.
1st Lt. Morris Jones
Newspaper Article – Jones Alive
Pilot’s Watch? Marilyn Elrod wondered if her father’s watch was the official issued watch for pilots. Does anyone know?
Official Issue Bombardier Watch USAAF – Kevin Pearson – U.S.
Vince Lisanti’s Wartime Log Book – POW Vince Lisanti – age 95 – U.S.
The pictures below complete the contents of Vince’s very interesting Wartime Log Book. Thanks so much to Vince for letting me share its content. Be sure to checks the pages with hand-written signatures of POWs.
Wartime Log Book Finds Its Home
Thanks to an email from POW daughter, Mary Bond, in Wisconsin, telling me that in going through her father’s (Walter Nachtwey – South Compound – Barrack – 129/17) wartime artifacts, she found the Wartime Log Book of POW Stanley Schreffler. After further investigation, I was able to tell her that Stanley was her father’s roommate. I was then later able to find Stanley’s only son, who was unaware that his father, who died shortly after the war, ever kept such a chronicle of his POW days. Mary has sent Stanley’s son the Log Book, and he will now be able to read his father’s handwritten words to learn more about the father he hardly knew. Thanks to Ed Reniere in Belgium for his assistance with this also.
24 Marines Line Up and Take a Step Forward – Hugh Carter – U.S.
Fourth Building Opens at WPAFB in June – Marek Lazarz – Poland
Hershey Hotel Held POWs – Julie Walton – U.S.
92nd BG tribute – Fame’s Favored Few
B-24s – Mike Woodworth – U.S.
200-Year-Old Desk – Mike Eberhardt
POW Norville Gorse’s Plane Found – Marek Lazarz – Poland
Wings from SLIII for Sale – James Castle – UK
Until next time,
Daughter of POW Thomas F. Jeffers