collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I
If you are a former Prisoner of War or a next of
kin of a POW, we invite you to sign and leave your email address so others that
come may find you. Please mention camp, compound, barracks and room numbers if
in a World War II German Prisoner of War Camp
Chumley's memories of Christmas 1944 at Stalag Luft I:
"The day before Christmas
was a cloudy day about 20 degrees Fahrenheit the camps glee club and string
orchestra presented a program of Christmas carols and excerpts from
"Handel's Messiah". At midnight the Catholic’s were permitted to have mass
and the Protestant’s had their Christmas service at noon on Christmas day.
During the evening one of our room mates played an accordion that we got
from somewhere and we sang a few of the old favorite songs. It looked
to us like Christmas would be just another day.
Christmas Day in "Kriegeland" a cold and
cloudy day. Roll call was a little later today. For breakfast we had
Vienna sausage and fried potatoes. At 2:00 we had Protestant service. It
was a short service of prayers and Christmas carols. This afternoon I
cooked a soup using some of the tomato juice from my last parcel, a bouillon
cube, dehydrated meat and rice and noodle soup mix. It was really quite
good. The Christmas evening meal put the Thanksgiving meal in the back
seat. The menu was as follows: Turkey (very good), mashed potatoes and Pate
gravy, boiled carrots, chocolate pie and coffee. In addition to this the
band put on a program, Chuck Wiest sang three songs and really did a good
job, they had a Santa Claus and all. It was a climax to a rather sad and
lonesome Christmas Day. As usual we had the Red Cross and the YMCA to thank
for our pleasure."
Cline and the prison camp violin:
"My most memorable moment was Christmas Eve. As
my buddies brooded about home and families, I began playing
"Silent Night." As the notes drifted through the barracks a
voice chimed in, then others. Amid the harmony I heard a different
language. "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, alles schläft, Einsam
wacht . . . " An elderly white-haired guard stood in the
shadows, his eyes wet with tears."
He carved a violin
out of rough hewn bed slats.
Click here to read
his amazing story.
The Bet at Barth
"We awoke on Christmas morning for "appell" (roll call) on a bitter
cold day. After counting the "Kriegies," Major Steinhauer turned
us over for dismissal. It was then we witnessed the payment of the debt
by the man who had wagered the war would be over by Christmas. In
September 1944, Stark had said to Johnson, "I'll kiss your a** if the
war isn't over by Christmas." Stepping out before 1,500
"Kriegies", Second Lt. Stanley M. Johnson of Port Allegany, Penn.,
lowered his pants and leaned over. Second Lt. Richard D. Stark of
Tampa, Fla., came forward with a bucket of hot water and a towel.
After washing Johnson's rear end, he folded the towel, placed it over
the crack and gave the "cheek" a good kiss,
Fifteen hundred men let out with a cheering and clapping that could be
heard in all the other compounds. The German Major Steinhauer
stood there with his guards, shaking his head in amazement, not
believing what he had witnessed. We were then dismissed."
Donald W. Overdorff - North 2 – Barracks 3 – Room 6
As Christmas was near, our room,
headed by Charles “Mole” Wilson decided on a plan. With
material furnished from the YMCA, we cut letters from paper and
on Christmas morning at roll call, we took the first row of the
barracks waiting to be counted, and at a signal the letters were
flashed in front of each Kriegie. As the Jerries and the other
eight barracks looked on, the front row spelled “MERRY
CHRISTMAS, ROOM 6” much to the delight of all. (note this
in the sketch of the Bet at Barth - see above)
From B-17’s over Berlin –
Personal Stories from the 95th Bomb Group
Williams of Murder , Inc. fame, Christmas 1943 with the
Commandant of Stalag Luft I
Christmas Eve, 1943, three German guards came to our room (about
twenty men to a room) and said I was wanted by the German
Commandant. They took me to the German officer’s club.
It was decorated for Christmas with a Christmas tree and all the
trimmings. The Commandant was seated at a table with two
other men. He stood up, greeted me and shook hands.
He asked me to have a seat and offered me some wine.
I hesitated to drink the wine thinking it might be drugged, but
the Commandant assured me it was good German Rhine wine, so I
did take a few sips.
The Commandant said the man seated across from him had
come up from Berlin to talk to me. The Commandant then stood up and said he
had to leave, and he and the other officer left the table.
The man from Berlin was wearing a sweater (so no
military rank) and military riding pants and boots. I believe he was a
general from the way the Commandant, who was a colonel, had treated him. He
was a good-looking man and appeared to be about forty years of age.
He asked me about Christmas in the United States and
at my home. We wanted to know what I thought my parents would be doing at
that time on Christmas Eve. I told him about Christmas Eve at home,
exchange of presents, Midnight Mass, and about my family.
He then showed me a Berlin newspaper with my picture
on the front page, a front view and the back view with the “Murder Inc.” on
the back of the jacket. He said he had been sent up from Berlin to see if I
were really a gangster. He said it was obvious to him that I was not a
gangster and he thought that I would probably hear no more about “Murder
Inc.” He wanted to know why we had given the plane this name. I told him I
did not name the plane and did not know why it was so named.
He gave me the newspaper and said he thought I might
like to have it as a souvenir. I have that very same paper in front of me
now at my desk."
"Christmas was different from the yuletide at
home. Here in the country where many of our Christmas customs originated
seemed very little like Christmas. You soon discover that it is family and
friends and the joy of giving that make Christmas worthwhile. We tried
hard. We had the room decorated and a small tree but the spirit of the
season was not present. The Red Cross provided a special parcel for the
season and we did have a fine meal."
activities of our compound were in charge of Padre Clark.
He had our services every Sunday afternoon. On Christmas
there was a special carol service."
"Cards were the most
popular from of individual entertainment. The decks of
playing cards in the Christmas parcels were a most welcome
addition to our stock."
From Robert Swartz YMCA log.
Click here to
read his log in full.
Murphy's memoirs - In the ten months that I was
there, I can only remember one time I didn't have hunger pangs.
That was at Christmas time. We had a special Christmas box that
came in that had a British plum pudding, a type of cake. It was
really good - heavy icing. I ate that, probably more than I
should have, not realizing what would happen. For 2 days I
couldn't eat another thing because I was so sick! In the two
days, I made numerous trips to the toilet with stomachache. I
was really sorry for eating so much cake.
John Cordner's handmade Christmas menu for his room
Prisoners of War Bulletin
Published by the American National Red Cross for the Relatives of
American Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees - Christmas 1944.
From the collection of Mark Kleinhanz.
Zemke the Senior Allied Officer at Stalag Luft I and Hanns
Scharff the famous German interrogator at Dulag Luft.
Scharff was primarily an American 8th and 9th Air Force Fighter pilot
interrogator. He was considered the best of the interrogators at Dulag
Luft. He gained the reputation of magically getting all the answers he needed
from the prisoners of war, often with the prisoners never realizing that their
words, small talk or otherwise, were important pieces of the mosaic. It is
said he always treated his prisoners with respect and dignity and by using
psychic not physical techniques, he was able to make them drop their guard and
converse with him even though they were conditioned to remain
silent. One POW commented that "Hanns could probably get a
confession of infidelity from a nun." Hanns personally stepped
into search for information that saved the lives of six US POWs when the SS
wanted to execute them. Many acts of kindness by Scharff to sick and dying
American POWs are documented. He would regularly visit some of the more
seriously ill POWs and arrange to make their accommodations more
humane. At one time the Luftwaffe was investigating him. After the war, he
was invited by the USAF to make speeches about his methods to military audiences
in the US and he eventually moved to the United States. General Jimmy
Doolittle was one of the first to extend the hand of friendship to Hanns after
the war, inviting him to a luncheon where they compared notes. Later he
was invited to the home of Col. Hub Zemke who thereafter would send Hanns what he
called a "Red Cross Parcel" every Christmas. And 38 years after
he was Hanns "guest" at Dulag Luft - Oberursel, Col. Francis
"Gabby" Gabreski was a guest of honor at Hanns 75th birthday
party. In the United States Scharff worked as a mosaic artist. His
works are on display in Cinderella's castle at Disney World.
To read about Dulag
Luft - the German Military Intelligence Camp during World War II
Okay this one is
a stretch to link to Christmas, but it is one of my favorite
"In early 1992, disturbed at not having received
our customary Christmas card, I called Rochester and spoke to
Ted’s wife, Patricia.She told me that Ted was suffering from terminal cancer and
didn’t have too long to live.In
March my wife Irene and I flew to Rochester to see them.Ted was fading rapidly."
"At the reception,
Hilde and I discussed how fortunate it was I didn't see her,
when she followed me with the pick-axe. I had my forty-five, and
if she had threatened me, I might have shot her. That would
surely have been curtains for me when I was captured. The next
day Hilde invited us to her home for champagne and cake.
We continue to exchange Christmas cards."