On Nov. 26th, 1944 our target was Misburg, Germany. There were three Mickey planes -
we were in # 1. Flight over was uneventful, no enemy planes, near target was
"socked in" so radar took over. We saw the target, dropped our bombs,
turned quickly to make a fast withdrawal, and then we were hit several times.
Pilot announced that he could not control the plane and ordered everyone to bail
Lt. Kuptsow's POW photo
Radar was still a rather new secret modality so I had instructions (if I
had time) to smash the tubes and equipment prior to bailing out. I was wearing
flying boots (bulky, fleece lined, ill fitting), so I used my GI shoes to smash
the tubes. The tail gunner and I were the last to leave the plane. I tied the GI
shoe laces to the parachute harness before jumping. I'd never had parachute
training, so when I jumped, I pulled the rip cord, then remembered that I was
supposed to count to ten first, but anyhow, everything went well. I had no idea
how to land, but God was on my side - I hit the ground on a back swing, did a
somersault, pulled out of the harness, then realized that my GI shoes had broken
off with the impact of the parachute opening. They were gone! I was in a field,
pulled off my dog tags and threw them away (Jews were instructed to do that),
started to run, then heard bullets whizzing past me - stopped, put up my hands
and was taken prisoner. The farmer marched me to a road and there I saw that the
other nine crew members were already there. I was the only one without a dog
tag. They started to accuse me of being a spy. However, shortly another farmer
came walking up with my dog tags and, when they saw that it had an "H"
for religion, he proceeded to sock me in the jaw. This is probably what your
father remembered about one Jewish crew member. Only one of the crew was injured
- he landed in a tree or on a fence and lacerated a hand.
We were taken to a farm house temporarily until the police came. Then we had a
forced march which I think was about 17 Kilometers. That was the worst
experience of my life. I think we had 3 policemen and two German Shepherds
walking with us. I was wearing the flying boots. My feet were killing me but we
could not slow down or stop under threat of being shot. We finally got to the
Police Station, where I could take off the boots - the feet were a mass of
blisters and blood. One of the guards saw this, went out and got a basin of cold
water and soaked my feet (I could have kissed him - I'll never forget that act
The March to Detmold was quite an experience - the guards and dogs kept us in
line - the dogs nipped at us or the guards prodded us with their guns if we
slowed down. As we marched down the road, people jeered, swore and spit at us.
God only knows what would have happened to us if the guards had not been there
to protect us. That night was bitter cold and we kept being awakened as they
brought more prisoners in - some were badly wounded.
The next morning we were transferred to Dulag Luft, the Interrogation Station
at Oberursel near Frankfurt. Each of us had a "private suite". The room measured about
5' by 10' with one small blacked out window. There was a small electric radiator
on one wall. Furnishings consisted of a wooden frame of a bed - mattress was of
burlap filled with straw (when fluffed it was about 2" high but it ended up
about 1/2" once you lay down, springs were wooden boards. No bureau - we
had nothing to store anyhow - I had my woolen GI shirt and pants, dirty socks,
and they did get me shoes - a couple sizes too big but I wasn't going anywhere
There was a small 2' by 2' table for dining. There was a large jug for a urinal.
Once a day, a guard would escort us to a bathroom for BM's. - by the way, there
was no such thing as toilet tissue - we used pages of smooth paper such as from
Life or Look.
Lt. Aaron Kuptsow
The food was catered - breakfast was a cup of hot but vile black coffee. Lunch
was a slice (about 1/4" thick black bread which was half bread and half
sawdust) with a pat of cheese and a cup of coffee. I used to keep the cheese at
one end and save it for the last bite so that the flavor would linger. Dinner
was the highlight of the day - slice of bread with cheese, cup of coffee, and a
bowl of Sauerkraut soup - they bulked the soup up by adding a generous portion
of grass and an occasional worm. To this day, I can not stand the sight or
smell of Sauerkraut. (A serving of this from my wife would mean automatic
divorce, even after 52 years).
There was nothing to read, no radio, nothing to do but think. Every
couple of days, I would be escorted to a large building for
interrogation. My interrogator was a very handsome officer, with a beautiful uniform, and had
the voice similar to Ronald Coleman - a very famous actor of our generation.
claimed that he had been educated at Oxford. The only information I offered was
name, rank and serial number but I was taken aback when he informed me that he
knew that my father was a grocer in Philadelphia., that I had attended Univ. of
and that I was the Radar Navigator of the plane. However, some of his
information was incorrect - it was only my third mission out of England so he
thought that I had only recently come over from the States Actually, I had been
flying out of Italy with the 15th Air force for some time - I developed Yellow
Jaundice as an intolerance to Atabrine - a medication we took to prevent
Malaria. I had nausea, vomiting, intense generalized itching and yellow skin.
They decided to transfer me to England so that I could get off the medication.
Apparently, the frequency of the Radar had been changed in recent months so he
thought that I had knowledge of the new frequency. I had no such knowledge.
I continued name, rank and serial number, he would get disgusted and send me
back to my suite. On some of my visits to him, he would show me a map with the
battle lines displaying proudly a bulge to the left (this was the time of the
Battle of the Bulge). He claimed that the tide of battle had changed and the
Germans were now victorious - so I might as well give him the information he
wanted. To no avail. Back to my room. It ended up that I was in solitary from
Nov. 28th to Dec. 24th. From time to time, I heard adjacent rooms being emptied
and refilled. Occasionally, I would tap on the wall and ask my neighbor how the
war was going. To this day, I don't know if the length of my stay in solitary
was because he really wanted that information or if it was because I was Jewish.
After several weeks of wearing the same dirty shirt, I developed a rash with
severe itching at both wrists - it was a case of Scabies. They treated me to my
first shower (if I had known then how famous they were for their showers, I
might have been scared to death).
I left there on Dec. 23rd
and went to Wetzlar (the transit camp) where I stayed until Dec. 27th. Then
I was put on one of those famous boxcars for a three day
trip to Stalag Luft # 1, arriving at Barth on December 30th. That trip was also a revelation . The boxcar was packed
solid with POWs, no seats, just a lot of hay on the floor. Several times a day,
the train would stop, the doors would open and we would be ordered to jump out
to relieve ourselves. We were surrounded by armed guards and dogs - then back in
the train. We disembarked at Barth on the Baltic apparently at what had been a
seashore resort town. As we were led through the station, mobs of German
civilians tried to attack us but again the guards and dogs came in handy.
|Dr. Aaron Kuptsow - 1999
I was assigned to Compound 4 which was the newest section of the camp. (To the
best of my knowledge, officers and enlisted men were segregated which may
explain why Dad was in Compound 3). Was given some clothes, toiletries, etc. from
the Red Cross and assigned to as room. Trying to recall, I think there were 8-10
in a room, double bunk beds with the same kind of burlap mattresses, and a
woolen blanket. Room was heated by a charcoal stove - which also was used for
cooking. We were given work details - cook, laundryman, supplyman, breadman
(this was an important position - we got a loaf of that hard brown bread and the
idea was to get as many thin slices as possible out of one loaf - usually the
slice was about 1/8th of an inch thick - but, psychologically, it was a slice)
and other duties. Food was mostly from Red Cross parcels supposedly one to a
man, but mostly, one was shared by two of us). The barracks were on stilts, so
there was a crawl space underneath for the dogs (German shepherds and rottweilers)
to roam through after dark. Also, ferrets (guards) would crawl in there and
listen to our conversations in the rooms above. Barbed wire fence surrounded
each compound with guard towers, each with several armed guards, at each corner.
Daily routine - outside for roll call early each morning, wash up at sink and
shave, breakfast, talk or read a book, lunch, talk or read a book, roll call,
dinner, talk or read a book until taps and light out and doors locked. Then talk
until you fell asleep. (there were plenty of books (paper bound) to read - think
I finished almost 100 during my stay). I remember one day, before breakfast, Red
Cross came in and gave us Typhoid shots - then had us stand in formation - many
of us keeled over. They let us lay there until we felt strong enough to stand up
and go back to the barracks.
One morning, in early February, at roll call, they called out a bunch of our
names and told us to remain after dismissal. After the others left, we were
marched through the camp to another barracks and were told that was our new
home. I was in a room with 13 others - and after talking for a few minutes, we
realized that we were all Jewish. Checked with other rooms - the same thing. We
then realized that this was a Jewish barracks - we were in a distant corner of
the camp, our own barbed wire, and sort of isolated. Rumors started to spread
that, during one night, we would probably be marched out and sent to death camps
and no one would know. Decision was made to notify the Geneva Convention of our
situation through our camp American top officers (Col. Zemke and Lt. Col.
Gabreski - both of these were "Ace Pilots" and our highest ranking
officers). The process could take months, but there was nothing else we could
Meanwhile, it worked out to our advantage - we were now attached to Compound 1,
which was the oldest section of the camp. POW's were there from the time of
Dunkirk and the early years of the war - some as long as seven years. Over the
years, they had built a mess hall and a recreation hall. Food for the whole
was pooled and there were many cooks who prepared the food and we ate in the
mess hall. The food situation was much better there. (Later, Red Cross parcels
became scarce because the Germans refused to mark the Red Cross trains and our
pilots were shooting up the trains and destroying the parcels through no fault
of their own). Our compound had food, while there were reports that other POW’s
were scrounging through trash cans looking for food. Sharing with other
not allowed. If they had thoughts of eliminating our barracks, it was probably
forgotten once the Battle of the Bulge was over and the Germans realized that
they were going to lose it all. Things went smoothly. Occasionally, a horse
drawn cart would pull into the center of the compound and would dump a large load of
rutabagas or potatoes on the ground - there was always sauerkraut soup (grass,
worms, and all). My notes mention that on April 3rd, Max Schmeling, former
boxing champ, toured the camp (big deal).
When we initially got into Stalag, the Red Cross issued us certain supplies -
among which was a small blue notebook and a pencil. This was to be used as a
diary - but we were warned that it was subject to censorship. As I recall, no
one ever went through the book but nevertheless, I was careful about what I
wrote. That diary is the source of some of the events and the dates that I am
forwarding. In addition to the events, the diary contains some Kriegie recipes,
a list of the many books I read, and a diagram of our room and the names of the
people in our room. Six or seven of the guys were from the New York City area -
and, due to the fact that we were usually hungry, once the lights went out at
night, the conversation seemed to center on food and the New Yorkers constantly
talked about the delicious foods at the many posh eating places in the BIG CITY.
That's how I usually fell asleep, sometimes to dream of devouring a big filet
mignon and a world famous "Lindy's" cheesecake. We promised that
someday we would all meet in New York for a reunion and make a round of as many
places as we could until we were stuffed (it never happened).
Another interesting thing about the camp was that we kept getting BBC news
reports. Usually, each evening at about 7 PM, a paper was passed from room to
room, typed as I recall, with the latest news reports relative to the progress
of the war. To this day I have no idea who had the radio nor who made up the
report and put it into circulation - but there it was practically every evening.
From time to time, the guards would make us remain outside at roll call while
they sent in a detail to ransack our rooms looking for the radio - I don't think
they ever found it. There were rumors that a guard was sneaking it in. Regardless, we appreciated being kept current with what was going on outside.
Usually, after lights out, someone with a particularly loud voice could be heard
yelling "Come on Joe" (referring to the fact that we knew Joe Stalin's
troops were the closest to us). On Tuesday, March 28th, Red Cross parcels poured
into camp ending 6 weeks of strictly German food. That was cause for
On Wednesday, April 4th at 4 AM we were awakened to sounds of a fire alarm.
mess hall was ablaze. It was a horrible fire. We formed a long line and
established a bucket brigade. There were no hoses nor was there a Fire Dept.
water source was some distance from the fire so the buckets were passed forward
from person to person. By the time the bucket got to the front, it was at least
half empty. How it happened I don't know, but, unfortunately, I ended up near
the front of the line as a tosser of the water. When it was all over, I found
out that most of my eyebrows and eyelashes were singed and absent - they do not
grow back. Needless to say, most of the structure burned down. We had to make
other arrangements for our meals.
On Thursday, April 12th we got the news that President Roosevelt had died. That
was cause for great sadness and quite a few of the men actually burst into
tears. We heard that someone named Truman was now President - no one seemed to
know who he was. Meanwhile, we could hear the sounds of the big guns getting
closer and closer. In the middle of April we were told to be prepared to
evacuate the camp. We were instructed to stitch up our shirts so that they could
act as a duffel bag and that we were going to have a forced march toward Munich.
Fortunately, it never got to that point. Meanwhile, they sound of gunfire kept
getting louder - we could even hear small arms fire. On Monday, April 30th, we
were ordered to help the guards dig slit trenches for a last ditch fight with
the approaching Russian troops. Later that day, we noticed that the guard towers
were empty and there was no sign of Germans. Military installations were blown
up and the Americans took over the camp at 11 PM. On Tuesday, May 1st, we were
told that Col. Zemke had made contact with the Russians, who were three miles
from the camp. The Burghermeister of the town committed suicide and most of the
German men had fled in fear. The Russians arrived at 10 PM and took over command
of the camp. On May 1st, when Col. Zemke notified us that the camp was now under
his control and the Russians were about 3 miles away, he also advised to stay
put in the camp. It would be a lot safer until we were sure it was OK to travel
beyond the fences. We were also notified that Hitler was dead. On May 2nd, most
of us left the camp and wandered into town. We raided the "flak
school" and I picked up some souvenirs. As I walked along the road, an
elderly German civilian motioned me over, said "Allus Kaput", reached
out his hand and gave me his pistol - a German Mauser. It was unloaded. (I did
bring it home with me but years later my wife convinced me to give it to a
gun-collector friend of ours).
That night, the Russian troops came in and that was quite an event. We watched
from the side of the road. The advance forces seemed to be mostly Asian
(Mongolian), the roughest, toughest bunch I have ever seen. They were mounted on
horses that looked eight feet tall. They wore crossed bandeliers across the
chest. At intervals, there were horse drawn wagons carrying some women and men,
plenty of bottles of vodka. At times, the march would stop and the women picked
up ocarinas and harmonicas, music started and they would sing and dance and
drink. Shoot their guns into the air. It was fascinating and yet frightening.
But we cheered and urged them on. After all, they had liberated us. I don't
recall exactly but I think we were under Russian control for either 13 or 19
days. We now had plenty of food, but certainly not gourmet. It's interesting to
note - remember me telling you about conversations that mainly dealt with food -
now, suddenly, the interest was in women. Some wandered into town looking for
female companionship and this caused a few skirmishes with Russian soldiers who
had similar desires. Meanwhile, negotiations were going forward on returning us
to Allied control. Apparently, one of our Jewish colleagues had a Russian
background and could speak the language. He became the interpreter. It seemed
that all meetings were accompanied with plenty of vodka because it was not
unusual to see him come home in the evening staggering. Then, the world news
caused us some concern. It seemed that there was a conflict brewing between the
U.S. and Russia over the partitioning of Poland; and there was talk of war
between the two. There we were caught in the middle - we could end up as POW's
in a Russian prison. Fortunately, it didn't happen and eventually we were flown
to Laon, France. The rehab center was called Camp Lucky Strike. Apparently, all
of these centers were named after popular cigarettes at the time.
Before I start on that camp, I forgot to mention the mail situation at camp.
were supposedly allowed to send a certain number of pieces of mail to our
immediate family. Most of us did that figuring that the mail was being forwarded
to the States. Most of the mail that I had written had never been mailed and the
letters were found after liberation and were given back to me. Unfortunately, my
memories of Camp Lucky Strike are not too clear. Maybe it was the more relaxed
frame of mind but whatever, it didn't etch significant events in my mind. I
don't recall when we got there, where we were billeted or too much of what went
I do know that we were happy. The idea was to rehabilitate us prior to going
home. We saw a lot of movies. We carried our mess cups with us and wherever we
went there were tubs of egg nog which we were encouraged to drink to gain back
some of the weight. One of the highlights of the stay was a weekend pass to
Paris on June 3rd - saw a lot of the sights in a short period of time, but it
was post wartime and a lot of the museums etc. were not open to the public.
I really enjoyed those few days. The days were rather boring and most of us were
anxious to get home. Eventually, we were told that some high ranking personnel
would be coming to the camp to explain the cause of the delay. Lo and behold,
who should show up but Gen. Eisenhower and a group of politicians. He announced
that we would have to be sent home by sea and that, even though officers were
technically entitled to first class accommodations, if we agreed to any type of
accommodations, he would be able to speed up the process. There was a loud roar
of approval. After his talk, we were lined up as he and the others passed.
have always had a lot of freckles, so one of the Southern Senators stopped to
ask where I was from - I told him Philadelphia. Directly behind him was Senator
Hugh Scott from Penna. so he heard and said a few words to me. Then the thrill
came, when Ike came up, shook my hand, and hoped that I would be getting back to
Philly very shortly. Mentally, I vowed that I would never wash that hand again.
Well, he was true to his word because a short time later we found ourselves on
the USS Admiral Mayo (I still have a copy of the daily newsletter that was
published on board). The trip back home took six days but I'd rather forget the
first 3. We were assigned below deck in a rather stuffy level of the ship,
sleeping on hammocks. I became seasick - but I mean really seasick. Several
times during those first few days, I tried to get up on deck to go the mess
hall, but as soon as I smelled the food, I had to head for the ship railing.
Throwing up isn't too bad if there is something there to get rid of, but when
the stomach is empty, the retching is awful. Anyhow, all things come to an end
and after three days I was fine. Victor Mature was one of the sailors on board
the ship and I saw him a few times, swabbing the decks and doing daily chores
around the mess hall. Apparently there were about 6000 troops on board.
We landed in Boston, and then boarded trains to Indiantown Gap and Fort Dix.
Arrived at Fort Dix on the afternoon of June 23rd. (Background - in one of the
letters that I wrote while at Stalag, I had written that I hoped to be home for
my birthday - it was never sent and I got it back after liberation.). My
birthday is on June 23rd. As the train pulled into the station, the P.A. system
was paging Lt. Kuptsow repeatedly.- report to the platform. As I got out, there
was my brother and his wife telling me to hurry, get my gear, and come with them
or I'd miss my birthday party. What a shock! (Background - my older brother's
wife, Jackie, is a very aggressive, determined individual who is famous for
getting the impossible done - she had learned of time of arrival, contacted the
CO at Fort Dix and convinced him that I be allowed to get home for my party and
that they would bring me back first thing in the morning.) Well, I had my party
- the whole family was there and I think I cried like a baby, but I was happy.