BENJAMIN H. WELLS
Benjamin H. Wells was born October 25,1924 in Camden, NJ to James and Hazel Wells. He attended school in Camden, NJ. His father was in the plumbing and heating business. Benjamin left of school after the eighth grade and apprenticed to his father’s plumbing business, and took vocational courses at night.
I lived in Pennsauken NJ at 2117 44th Street. I was eighteen years old when I was inducted in the service on March 8, 1943 and entered March 15, 1943. That day we went to Fort Dix NJ. We were issued Army clothes and gear. We stayed there for two days. We got all our shots, and then we were put on a train and went to Fort Jackson SC to take our basic training, in the 106th Division.
We left there
and went for two days maneuvers in Tennessee. From there, we went to
Camp Atterbury IN.
that time they were calling for replacements for overseas. Some of the
guys I was close with went with me to Fort Monmouth NJ and we got on a
ship in New York. I was real close to Yee
Toy, he is Chinese. He did not
go with us; they sent him to the Pacific. The other fellow I was close
to was Nick Rubino. Nick lived in Hoboken NJ. Before we got on the ship
we went to see his parents and we got back just in time to leave on the
ship, the Mauritania. We went by the Statue of Liberty, it was the first
time I ever saw it.
picked up a destroyer escort for two days and then we were on our own.
We were seven days crossing the Atlantic Ocean. We left on 18 Sept 1944
and got there 25 Sept 1944, in Liverpool, England.
we were leaving the ship, there were officers from the 101st
Airborne Division wanting volunteers, so Nick Rubino and I joined them.
We wanted to be with a good outfit and not as replacements. We then took
two months airborne training jumping out of C-47 airplanes. Nick and I
packed our first parachutes, and I was an assistant machine-gunner. I
jumped 18 times in training.
completed our training and we flew to the French coast. We were waiting
for our orders. One morning at three o’clock they woke us to go to the
front line where the Battle of the Bulge was taking place in Bastogne,
Belgium. We could not fly because of bad weather. We were loaded on open
tractor-trailers and taken to the front.
moved to with two miles of the front and went in on foot. We found out
that the 106th Division, which I was in back in the states
where I took my training, was there getting beat terribly.
January 3rd, our squad was ordered to take over an area of
woods where the Germans were. We took it over and held it for three
hours. We were attacked by three German tanks and soldiers. We could not
get out, and there were only three of us left. We had no more ammo to
were captured and taken back to the German camp to be interrogated. I
carried a small Bible testament. The German officer asked what it was. I
told him and he gave it back to me.
then were taken by truck for four hours, and then had to walk for three
weeks with guards changing every town we went through. They did not feed
us. When the guards would eat they would scrape together what they had
left in a pile, mostly it was potato skins. In one town we had to stop
and work in a bakery loading bread into a warehouse. We then were loaded
on to boxcars with a lot of prisoners. They gave us a small piece of
cheese and bread. They did not open the doors for five days. We moved at
night. We were unloaded and walked one day to where the prison camp was
at. The camp was Stalag IVB at Mulberg, Germany. There were 70,000 in
the camp, Americans, British, Dutch, Canadians, and Russians.
was put in with the British soldiers, that were captured in the Africa
campaign. We were fed a piece of bread and cheese and a bowl of grass
soup a day. I was 97 lbs when the Russians liberated us.
were told not to leave because the war was still going on. Later on we
moved to a town in Germany called Halle. The Russians fed us and gave us
medical treatment. We had to sign a record book to be taken to the U.S.
left there on our own and U.S. trucks picked us up. A week later we were
taken to Le Havre, France by plane. We stayed there for three weeks and
then boarded a ship to come home. Again seven days to get to New York,
where we were then taken to Atlantic City to hotels which were used as
recovery I was sent to Fort Benning GA and finally discharged 30 Nov
of the British soldiers I still keep in contact with. Yee Toy I still
hear from. As for Nick Rubino, I do not know how to locate him, he lived
in Hoboken NJ.
472 c/o Postmaster NYC, NY
After being discharged from the Army, Benny Wells returned to Pennsauken and the family plumbing and heating business, from which he retired from in 1988. He married Erna Woerner in 1949. They have two sons, three daughters, 11 grandchildren, and two great-grand-children. As of this writing he resides in Leisuretown, Southampton NJ 08088
MAIL CALL - Letter From
ABOVE- Letter home, written from the front, dated January 1, 1945
|ABOVE- Letter home, written from the Stalag Luft IVB, dated February 11, 1945|
|ABOVE- Letter home, written from the Stalag Luft IVB, dated March 25, 1945|
|CLICK HERE for another letter from Stalag IVB|
MORE THINGS OF INTEREST
This letter was sent by the Army to Benjamin Wells' family after he was captured
Reparations claim filed for his employ as a laborer while a prisoner
Even after the war, Benjamin Wells still had to carry a draft card
OF WAR IN GERMANY
Strength: 1482 AAF NCOs
Location: Pin Point: 53-55 N, 16-15 E. the camp is at Gross Tychow, Pomerania, 20 kilometers southeast of Belgard
Description: Opened to Americans on May 12, 1944, this new camp is only one quarter completed. Its eventual capacity will be 6400. POWs are living in new wooden barracks where ventilation is at present insufficient, but will be improved soon, according to the German Commandant. Bathing facilities are not yet finished and POWs are unable to bathe. Toilet facilities are adequate. The Swiss delegate thinks the camp will be satisfactory when completed.
Food: POWs complain about the food situation. They do not handle the administration of Red Cross Parcels and have asked the Swiss delegate to protest against the present system to German High Command. In addition, the camp lacks facilities for individual preparation of Red Cross Food.
Clothing: Clothing supply is insufficient; pending arrival of Red Cross shipments.
Health: Two American doctors are in charge of the temporary camp infirmary. Need of a dental office has been foreseen, but none…installed.
Religion: A chaplain has been requested.
Mail: Mail arrives irregularly.
Recreation: A sports field lies within the camp. There is no organized recreation. No theater, no canteen. YMCA representatives recently visited camp.
Work: NCOs are not required to work
Pay: Not known
of the International Committee of the Red Cross
Sgt. Richard M.
2146 in camp A
606 British Isles
The first 64 arrivals entered Stalag Luft IV on May 14, 1944. Two weeks later, Stalag Luft IV was officially opened. Since then the strength has continually increased by arrivals of small groups of about a hundred men, until July 18th and 19th; on which date the strength was doubled by the arrival of 2400 Americans and 800 British from Stalag Luft VI. The strength reached the present figure by groups coming from Wetzlar and, each week from Budapest... Except for the medical personnel, the chaplains and 9 privates of the British Army, the prisoners are all American and British NCOs.
Stalag Luft IV is situated about 20 Kilometers to the south of (Belgard) and is placed in (the center of a) clearing…
The camp is divided into five distinct parts separated by barbed wire fences. Camps (compounds) A, B and C contain Americans only. Camp D contains American and British. The main camp (vorlagar) includes the infirmary, food and clothing storerooms. Today, Stalag Luft IV has twice too many inmates. The men are housed in forty wooden huts, each hut containing 200 men. The huts are only partially finished; new arrivals are expected and more huts are being erected. The dormitories have been prepared for 16 men in two tiered beds. But there are not sufficient beds for some rooms contain up to 24 men each. At camps A and B , a third tier of beds has been installed, whereas beds have been removed from camp D. There is not a single bed in camp C and 1900 men sleep on the floor. 600 of them have no mattress, only a few shavings to lie on. Some have to lie right on the floor. Each prisoner has two German blankets.
None of the huts can be properly heated. The delegate only saw five small iron stoves in the whole camp. Some of the huts in camp D have no chimneys.
Each camp has two open air latrines and the huts have a night latrine with two seats, The latrines are not sufficient as they are not emptied often, the only lorry for this work being used elsewhere.
The prisoners have no means of washing; there are no shower baths as there is only one coal heated geyser in the camp of 100 liters for 1000 men. Fleas and lice are in abundance; no cleansing has been done.
The German food is no worse than at other camps. The first day of the delegates visit, the men had received bad meat, which was however, taken back again and the next day the meat was quite fresh. On the other hand, prisoners cannot check the distribution of rations, the official weekly menus not having been posted in the camp.
Each camp has a kitchen for preparing German rations, except the main camp (Vorlagar). Each camp has five or six cooking utensils, holding 3000 liters; these utensils are sufficient for cooking German rations, but there are no means of cooking food from collective consignments, which it is forbidden to prepare outside the kitchens.
Collective consignments – Food:
Since Stalag Luft IV has been opened, camp leaders have never been in a position to make proper check on the arrival and distribution of collective consignments, which was still possible recently in other camps in Germany. The camp Commandant has taken no account of the camp leaders complaints regarding this matter and the latter are not allowed to be present when the consignments arrive at the station. The distribution is entirely dealt with by the camp authorities, who distribute supplies or stop them on their own initiative. The same applies to the invalid food parcels, part of which are stored with the other Red Cross Parcels; doctors have no access to Invalid Parcel stocks. The ten last consignments form Geneva were handled without any checking by the camp leader who, when the corresponding receipts were presented to him for signature on Aug. 28, refused to sign them….
Five wagons of American food parcels arrived in the camp at the beginning of August. On September 17th, the contents of the wagons were shown to the camp leaders and they were informed that the trucks had been opened and that the total number of parcels had not arrived.
As already mentioned, Stalag Luft VI was evacuated on July 14-15. The collective consignments on July 12th was 52,000 parcels. Prisoners received 12,000 parcels to take with them to the new camp and the 40,000 remaining parcels were to have been equally divided between the two new camps, when evacuation had finished. Up to this day, the 20,000 parcels due for Stalag Luft IV have never arrived. It is not possible to state if Stalag 357 (to where most of the British were evacuated) received the parcels, which should have been sent there. It is feared that those 40,00 parcels will never reach their proper destination.
It must also be said that a great number of the 6000 parcels, which the prisoners brought with them from Stalag Luft VI, must have been lost (in view of the very bad conditions in which the journey took place, when the new prisoners were obliged to abandon a great number or had them taken away). On account of this shortage, the American prisoners at Stalag Luft IV have had to go on half rations since their arrival, except for a period of two weeks. The Americans still have 10,00 parcels, making a week and a half reserves. On the other hand, the British have about 7000 parcels which would cover their needs over four and a half months with the new system of rationing.
British prisoners had to abandon over a million cigarettes and 150 kilos of tobacco during the transfer from one camp to another. Up to present, only a quarter of these cigarettes has been issued to prisoners (British and American).
Clothing consignments, which should have arrived at Stalag Luft IV, have also not been spared. On leaving Stalag Luft VI, each prisoner had a proper outfit. There remained in camp about 2500 pairs of boots, 3000 tunics, 2500 trousers, 3000 shirts, and many other articles. Up to the present nothing has been rendered to prisoners of Stalag Luft IV except 155 pairs of boots, although they are in great need of clothing. They also had to abandon a great deal of their clothing on the way or it was taken from them upon their arrival; up to now, only a part of the clothing has been given back. The same applies to the Red Cross bags, which are indispensable for storing clothing. Prisoners coming from Wetzlar had the same experience. A great many prisoners from Luft VI have not been able to change their clothes for over a month and have been deprived of their toilet requisites.
The camp leaders have no control over clothing stocks at Stalag Luft IV. They could not therefor discuss this matter with the delegates; they have never been shown notices of arrival of such consignments from Geneva. Distribution is entirely in the hands of the camp authorities and the needs of each camp are not taken into account. When distribution takes place, the camp leaders are not asked to state the quantities required. There is urgent need for the distribution of great coats and warm clothing for the prisoner’s comfort in the cold season, which has just started, especially in view of the lack of heating.
Generally speaking, the prisoners clothing is in bad condition; they are very short of underclothing, due in some instances the fact that shirts from the British Red Cross consignments have not been distributed… In this connection it must be mentioned that in many cases, and especially in camp A, German workmen were met, who wore American effects. On Sept. 23rd a lorry and three trailers left (the Vorlagar) with new American clothing sent by the Red Cross.
Senior American Medical Officer
- Capt. Henry Wynsen M.C.
Besides the two doctors mentioned, there are an American Doctor, a British Doctor and British Dentist working in the infirmary, also 14 medical personnel.
The infirmary has 132 beds, which figure represents 1 ¼ % of the camp strength. This figure should be at least 3% for 8000 prisoners, i.e. 240 beds. The infirmary is full up and slight cases have to be left in the huts. Such slight operations as opening of abscesses, local anesthetics, intravenous piqures and so forth are carried out in a small operating ward. More serious cases are sent to Stargard or Belgard hospitals. The general state of health is not bad. The doctors complain of the frequency of skin trouble, which cannot be avoided with the present deficient sanitary arrangements. There are not sufficient medical supplies and the doctors would be grateful if a large quantity of medical supplies and instruments could be sent…
There are not sufficient medical personnel, but it’s not recommended to ask for personnel from other camps. There are enough qualified medical assistants among the airmen, who would be quite prepared to help, if authorized by the camp authorities.
Next to the infirmary are two huts, one of which is used principally by the medical personnel. The doctors are shut into their rooms at 6pm and cannot come out until the next morning. Medical attention to patients in the second hut is difficult on account of this ruling…
An American doctor, Capt. Wilber McKee who assisted in the infirmary, is on bad terms with the Camp Commandant. He is forbidden to practice.
Recreation, intellectual and spiritual needs:
Classes were started on September 18, 1944 at Stalag Luft IV. Groups were organized and specialists teach all branches. There are classes in English literature, French conversation, Italian for beginners, physiology, practical science, aviation, navigation, etc. It must be pointed out that on account of the distance between the four different camps, this organization can only benefit a part of the camp. The above details apply to camp D for British and Americans. Up to now 318 students have entered for classes. No classroom being available, classes are held in laundries and huts for two hours in the morning and afternoon; 43 students from various Universities are preparing for examinations. There are 246 students in camp D.. They are short of writing materials and have to use cigarettes and wrapping paper.. The YMCA recently sent them a small parcel of pencils, but they are still greatly in need. The camp has a technical library of 1900 books brought from the general library at Stalag Luft IV.
As in other camps, the student’s request past examinations papers especially those of London University. The Royal Society of Arts… etc.
No sport is possible for the few sport requisites, which the prisoners were able to bring with them from the former camp, can no longer be used.
There are several excellent musicians (at) these camps, but they have unfortunately no instruments. A jazz band at the camp B, which included first class musicians, only possesses a chromatic accordion, a double bass and a guitar.
Three chaplains are attached to the camp:
Capt. Rev. T.J.
B. Lynch - Catholic chaplain
Religious services are held in a room called the Red Cross Room which serves for various other purposes (storing books, clothes etc). The room is unfortunately not large enough to hold many prisoners wishing to attend. The Catholic chaplain urgently requests the return of certain church furnishings, which were taken away during the transfer from one camp to another. He is particularly anxious concerning his consecrated altar, and his personal copy of the New Testament. The chaplains also report that a great many prisoners were deprived of their religious tokens on arriving at Stalag Luft IV and that these tokens have not been given back. They further complain that they cannot journey from the different camps to accomplish their ministry. Their activity is greatly hampered by the fact that they may only go from one part of the camp to another accompanied by sentries. They also experience difficulties once on the way. The Protestant chaplain also complains of the confiscation of Bibles, religious books and church furnishings. He also has great difficulty in carrying out his ministry. The Protestant Chaplain Jackson, civilian internee, has been deprived of his black cassock, which has not been returned in spite of repeated requests. He is obliged to wear a grey coat and carries out his ministry, when the camp authorities give him the possibilities of doing so.
As in other camps, the mail service is affected by actual circumstances. The prisoners however, are inclined to consider that no steps are being taken to help matters. Mail leaves the camp once a week. The camp leaders complain that they are not allowed to wire to Geneva.
Stalag Luft IV is a bad camp although the situation, the accommodation and the food do not differ from those in other camps…
Final interview with Camp Leaders:
Before leaving camp the delegate was allowed to again see American camp leader Chapman and the British Camp leader Clarke and inform them of the result of his recent interview with German officers…
The American Chapman came to camp in May with the first arrivals. He was officially in charge until the large number of prisoners from Luft VI necessitated the election of an American Camp leader Paules (who had previously acted as Camp Leader at Luft VI and who was elected to do so with a 90% majority). The camp Commandant never sanctioned the vote and would not change his attitude… Mr. Chapman declared in a letter written during the delegates visit addressed to the Commandant that he never considered himself to be American Camp Leader, consequently he could not be recognized by Geneva. He therefore resigned his temporary duties in favor of his comrade Paules, whom he greatly esteems and whose qualities he appreciates. The delegate asked him to remain in office, in the American prisoner’s interests, and requested Mr. Chapman to bear his heavy burden in cooperation with his comrades.
of Capt. Henry J. Wynsen
On 20 July 1945, Capt. Henry James Wysen, Youngstown, Ohio, was interviewed regarding hospital facilities at Stalag Luft IV, Pomerania, and also as to general conditions existing at the hospital and in the prison compounds.
Wynsen was a Prisoner of War of the German Army from November 1942 to 26 April 1945. He was held at Stalag Luft IV, Gross Tychow, Pomerania from June 1944 to 6 February 1945. He was required to work in the camp hospital, rendering such assistance to American Prisoners of War, as he was able. Wynsen described Stalag Lift IV as consisting of four lagers, named A, B, C and D. Each lager was made to accommodate approximately sixteen hundred 1,600 prisoners, but crowding pushed the lager count from 2,300 to 2500 each. The total camp strength by January 1945, was approximately 10.000 prisoners. Rooms in barracks were at least fifty per cent (50%) overcrowded. Men were required to sleep on the floors and tables. The barracks were new but they were very difficult to keep clean because of lack of brooms, mops, and cleaning materials. The barracks were inadequately ventilated because of blackout regulations prohibiting the opening of windows and doors.
Each barracks had inside two-hole latrines with urinals to accommodate two hundred and forty (240) men. Each lager had two outside latrines with approximately twenty (20) holes each. Each latrine was a cement lined stagnant pit, drained periodically by Russian Prisoners of War. This was drained and spread on a field adjacent to the camp.
Each compound had two large outside wells with pumps. This provided the drinking and washing water for the compound. According to German doctors, samples of the water were tested periodically and results showed the water to be potable. While at this camp, there were no cases of typhoid or cholera.
There were no facilities available for bathing or delousing* Each barracks room had a pan for washing hands, face, body, and dishes. All water had to be carried into the barracks from the pumps outside in the compound.
Fleas lice, scabies, and bed bugs were common. The Germans furnished no insecticide or delousing powder. There were no cases of typhus in the camp.
Food consisted of daily ration of bread (approximately 300 Grams), margarine (30 grams), and plain boiled potatoes or a soup mixture made up of potatoes, and some other vegetables; usually cow turnips, carrots, or dehydrated sauerkraut. Meat allowance was 15 grams (one-half ounce) daily. Barley was usually served every week. Cheese and ersatz jam was an occasional issue. Sugar (100 grams) was issued once each week. When Captain Wynsen arrived at Stalag IV, all Red Cross suppliers (food, clothing, and medical supplies) were under direct control of the Germans. The Germans refused to tell Cpt. Wynsen how many parcels were available in camp. It became necessary to make direct protest to the Red Cross representatives, but this was not effective. Captain Wynsen stated he estimated the prisoners at this camp received 1,200 calories of food daily. He arrived at the estimated number of calories, by using all food contained in Red Cross parcels, as well as, food furnished by the Germans.
While Captain Wynsen was at Stalag Luft IV, no American or British soldier was ever Issued any German clothing, socks, underwear, etc. It was the policy of German officers and enlisted men, at this camp, to purposely hinder the issuance of Red Cross clothing to American Prisoners of War.
Medical and Dental facilities:
The hospital at Stalag Luft IV consisted of two buildings with a total bed space of 133 beds. The number of beds available at this hospital was not sufficient to render proper medical care to the 10,000 men imprisoned at this camp. Shortage of hospital beds made adequate treatment difficult. At times patients were required to sleep on the floor, because of the bad shortage. In order to make room; the German doctor would sometimes discharge patients who were not well, in spite of protests of Cpt. Wynsen and other American and British doctors. Wynsen cited one case in which an American Prisoner, by the name of Steele, who was suffering from jaundice, was ordered out of the hospital by a German doctor, in spite of protests made. Several days later, Steele was readmitted to the hospital, in worse condition.
Drugs, Supplies and equipment:
The hospital had double-decker beds, except for a few single iron cots. There was one bathtub in the hospital. When Wynsen arrived at Stalag Luft IV, the hospital had bed sheets, but later on, while he was there, bed sheets were denied the hospital except where it was absolutely necessary for skin diseases. The dispensary was fairly well outfitted for medical examinations, treatment and minor surgery. There were no facilities for major surgery. All x-ray patients and major surgery patients had to be sent elsewhere as they could not be accommodated at the hospital. Sick call was held from 1030 hour to 1200 hour daily, in the lagers. Each. Lager had a make shift dispensary. Medical officers were accompanied to sick call by German guards and an English speaking interpreter. Germans generally gave a weekly issue of drugs. Influx of American and British Medical parcels was good and these, together with the German issue, made medical supplies adequate (except for such items as diphtheria anti-toxin, syringes, gauze and thermometers).
There was one British dental office, at this camp. Dental equipment was brought from the German revier to the Prisoner of War hospital, two or three time per week. There were practically no facilities for repair of bridgework. Silver alloy was difficult to get. Novocain was available.
Confiscation of medical Books:
When Captain Wynsen arrived at Stalag Luft IV, 28 June 1944, his medical books, clothing and fountain pen were confiscated by the Germans. He was told that these would be returned to him very shortly. In spite of aII protest, the Germans refused to return these items and told him that he should be glad to be live. The medical books were returned to Captain Wynsen, the first week in September 1944.
Bayoneting and Injury to Prisoners in the Course of "Runs" from Railroad
Station to Stalag Luft IV:
Captain Wynsen stated that on 17, 18, 19 July and 5 and 6 August 1944, he and Cpt. Wilber McKee treated injured American and British soldiers, who had been bayoneted, clubbed, and bitten by dogs, while on route from the railroad station to Stalag Luft IV, a distance of approximately three (3) kilometers. Most of the injuries were bayonet wounds, which varied from a break in the skin to punctured wounds three inches deep. The usual site was the buttock; hit sites included the back, flanks, and even the neck. The number of wounds varied from one to as many as sixty. One American soldier suffered severe dog bites on the calves of both legs, necessitating months of treatment in bed. The first bayonet patient seen by Dr. WYNSEN was in a hysterical condition with a punctured bayonet wound in his buttock. A medical tag was fastened to his shirt with a diagnosis of " sun stroke". For his "sun stroke" the man had been given tetanus anti-toxin. This diagnosis was made by a German Captain named Summers.
None of the American prisoners died of bayonet wounds. It was estimated that there were over one hundred American and British bayoneted during the course of these runs to the Stalag.
General Physical Condition of Prisoners:
At no time was the camp without Red Cross food. The physical condition of the prisoners was fair. There were no cases of severe malnutrition. The average lose of weight per man was approximately fifteen pounds, up to the time of a forced march on 6 February 1945, at which time a portion of the camp personnel was evacuated.
Locking up of Medical Personnel:
When Cpt. Wynsen arrived at Stalag Luft IV in June 1944, prisoners were locked up at approx. 2130 hours. As the winter months approached and daytime shortened, the lock up time came earlier and by November 1944, the entire camp, including medical personnel, were looked in from 1600 hours to 0700 hours the next day. The working time for the doctors was limited from 0700 to 1600 hours. This was insufficient time for proper medical care of patients. After 1600 hours, patients in one hospital building could not be visited or attended by medical personnel living in the adjacent hospital buildings. These security regulations were not lifted, in spite of strong protests, until January 1945. In January, medical personnel were permitted to walk from one hospital building to the other until 2100 hours, provided they wore the Red Cross brassard on their arm.
Diseases Suffered by Prisoners of War:
1. Upper Respiratory: Coryza, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, grippe. 30% to 40%.
2. War wounds to include fractures, 15% to 20%
Diarrhea: 5% average but as
high as 50% during month of July. No typhoid, amoebiasis, or true
4. Skin diseases:10%. furunculosis, pyoderma from infected scabies and lice bites were the most common. Trichophyton infection extremely common in summer months.
5. Contagious: Diphtheria: 3% to as high as 10%, with approximately 20% complicating post-diphtheria paralyses. One emergency trachetomy. No deaths.
6. Jaundice: l%
7. Tuberculosis: Captain Wynsen had none, but other doctors had several cases. Ono death from miliary tuberculosis ending in tuberculosis meningitis.
Miscellaneous:10% Paronychiae, hemarrhoeds, polyarthritis, arthritis, etc.
German Medical Personnel at Stalag Luft IV, Pomerania:
Captain Summers (other possible spellings: Sommer or Sumer) was a medical officer and a captain in the Luftwaffe (Stabsarzt). Sommers was about forty years of age, five feet ten inches tall, had black hair, graying at the temples. He spoke some English, but would not admit it. He was chief of Prisoner of War Hospital at this camp.
Birtel was a German sanitator, born in Vienna of Austrian descent. He was about fifty years of age, six feet tall, and weighed from 150 to 160 pounds He spoke good English, but had an accent. This man learned to speak English in China. He wore glasses for reading, but did not wear them all the time. He had dark hair, which was graying, a long thin face, and gray eyes. Birtel was a medical orderly with rank of Pfc. He was liaison man between Prisoners of War and German doctors.
Excerpt from S./Sgt. Bill
William A. Krebs; formerly: Staff Sergeant. ASN , United States Army now residing at Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. was interviewed on 10 June,1947 and stated in substance:
I entered the Army of the United States in October, 1942 and went overseas to the European Theatre of Operations in 1943, and was subsequently assigned to the 385th Bomber Group. On or about 31 January 1944. while I was acting in the capacity of engineer-gunner on a B-17, and on bombing mission over Germany., our crew was forced to bail out of the plane and -parachute to the ground. I was captured a few hours later by German troops near Minden, Germany., and taken to Dulag Luft. At Dulag Luft I was interrogated and from there was sent to Stalag Luft 6, where I remained for approximately six months. While I was at Stalag Luft 6, 1 was not mistreated. From here I was next transferred too Stalag Luft 4 and remained there for approximately Six months. All prisoners of war at. Stalag Luft 4 were treated harshly and their wishes or desires given little or no consideration, Since I speak German fluently, I acted as an interpreter at this camp
Among the German officers and non-commissioned officers at Stalag Luft 4 who mistreated American prisoners of war were Oberst Leutnant (Lieutenant Colonel). Aribert Bombach, the commandant of the camp; Hauptmann - (Captain) Walther Pickhardt, the camp security officer; and Feldwebel (Sergeant) Reinhard Fahnert, who had direct charge of the prisoners. Click here to see Deposition by Frank Paules (camp leader of Stalag Luft IV) regarding Otto Bombach, Reinhard Fahnert, and Walter Pickhardt.
Reinhard Fahnert had charge of the prison guard and supervised the distribution of food to the prisoners. Fahnert was a rough character, and was always after, anyone of Jewish extraction. He wanted to segregate all Jewish prisoners from the others in order to give them all the hard work and menial tasks. We had been previously searched at Stalag Luft 6, and were allowed to keep all of our personal belongings. However at Stalag Luft 4 we-were all lined up outside the barracks by Fahnert and his assistant, a man by the name of Schmidt who we had nicknamed "Big Stoop They would go through the barracks Searching all our equipment and clothing, and would take any of. our personal belongings they desired. Watches, rings, and other objects were taken by Fahnert, American Kits, ~, Schmidt, and some of the other German NCI’s.
Many times were kicked, slapped, and hit with rifle butts on their backs and buttocks. One prisoner had from fifty to sixty punctures on his back and buttocks which had been made by German bayonets wielded by guards. For about six weeks, the only food we had to eat was a little dried sauerkraut and a little bread. When the Red Cross parcels for the prisoners arrived, they were taken by the Germans. The Germans ate the best of the food while we were on extremely short rations and almost allowed to starve.
Walther Pickhardt was personally responsible for these conditions as he allowed them to go on. His excuse was that these measures were taken to prevent any prisoners from escaping from Stalag Luft #4. When we left Stalag Luft #6 for Stalag Luft #4., Walther Pickhardt was in command with Reinhard Fahnert as his second in command. From the railroad station at Keifeide, to Stalag Luft #4 a distance of about four miles, we were forced to run the entire way with our packs on 'our backs. Walther Pickhardt was in command of this operation, and I heard him give such commands as, "Let these American airmen have it".. calling us "Pigs" and "schweinhundes" and other disagreeable names. He gave his subordinates orders to double-time us and forced us to run the entire distance of four miles. When a man fell down exhausted, a German soldier would jab his bayonet into the man's body until he got up. Reinhard Fahnert was equally responsible for this outrage.
At Stalag Luft #4, it was the German policy to shoot immediately, any prisoner caught trying to escape. Aribert Bombach, the camp commandant, condoned the activities of Fahnert and Pickhardt and was fully aware of what was going on at the camp. His answer was that this was done to prevent any man from escaping. At Stalag Luft #4, I secured a German uniform from a German soldier named. I put this German uniform on and walked through the front gates. I showed my faked pass and requested my German Army soldbuch. I then walked right pass the guards, proving that we could escape from this camp, if we wanted to. I did this just a few days before Christmas in December 1944. Ariber Bombach was surprised to see me outside the camp and called to his security officer, Walther Pickhardt, and said, "This is proof that a man can get out". He told Pickhardt that they would have to revise the security system of the camps. Pickhardt kept quiet and did not say anything at the time.
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