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
A Russian Liberator of Stalag Luft I
Vasily Bezugly of Ryazan, Russia was one of the Russian liberators
of Stalag Luft I. With the help from a visitor to our site, we found a
message he had left on a Russian military site message board on the
We emailed him, after reading that he was looking for others
that had been at Stalag Luft I in May 1945. He responded immediately and we
put him in email contact with some of the grateful American POWs that he helped liberate over
60 years ago. Here he provides us with some photos and his memories
of that time.
When he arrived at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany on May 2, 1945 he was just a young man of 19.
As a member of the Red Army, he was
assigned to a mortar company. He says even today if you wake him up in the
middle of the night he will be able to collect and analyze the
mortar. Vasily's unit, the 144 Guardian Red Flag Shooting Division was commanded by Major
Vasily recently wrote to me, "Yes, I'm a live witness of the
events of those days. As I remember today, it was May of 1945 on the coast of
the Baltic Sea in Barth. We had a great fraternization with the English and
American POWs there. At first time in my life I saw a chocolate bar. It was a
big box of chocolate with the sign of the Red Cross and Half-moon. I think
that was English or American POWs (I don't no actually but it was nearly 9000 of
POWs in Stalag Luft 1). We exchanged our addresses. One of the POWs (his name was
Tobby or Bobby but I don't remember now) gave me his one, but I lost it - I was
very young (at least 19 years old boy). After that all of us -
Soviet, American and English - three great nations - sang famous Russian song
"Katyusha". At the end I remember big airliner which took all POWs on
7 persons of guard by Captain Ivanov
With my war friends, with whom I went through all the hell
These are photos of Vasily (arrow pointing to
him and his descriptions of photos beneath) and
other mortar company Red Army soldiers taken while they were at Stalag
Luft I in May, 1945. He tells me these are some of the first military photos
Vasily presently lives in Ryazan (this is approximately 200 km or 2 hours drive from Moscow). After the war he
married Ekaterina Michailovna
Bezuglaya. They have been married for 48 years and have two daughters
- Olga and Tatyana. They also have two grandchildren - Andrew
and Ksenya. After the war he served in the commando troops - and
says he has a great number of jumps with a parachute. Recently (before pension) he worked in the Ryazan military car school (presently
institute) as a civil specialist on repair of ventilators.
Below is a personal note we received from
I want to say to you "Ogromnoe spasibo" for your
great work with all alive POWs. Website on Internet -
this is a really a little world which can combine great number of people -
alive witnesses of those blood events and simply interested people -
people which remember their history and honour memories of their fathers
and grandfathers - great liberators of all mankind."
Vasily Bezugly and his grandson Andrew attended our
Stalag Luft I Conference/Reunion at Barth, Germany in September
Click here to read the speech he gave
at the conference.
Click here to see the photos of
Vasily with the former Stalag Luft I POWs
here to read the article in Stars and Stripes about the
In late April, 1945 as the war in Europe was nearing its end, the
Russians were approaching from the east and the British and Americans from the
West in a race to get to Hitler's headquarters in Berlin. Stalag Luft I
was north of Berlin, so it was unsure at first which of the Allied fronts would
reach them first. As the reports came in and the fighting got closer and
closer to Barth, they soon realized that the Russians would be the ones
liberating them. They soon began to hear the heavy cannon fire sounds of
the Russian artillery getting closer and closer to them.
At night the POWs
would lay in their darkened barracks and there would be shouts of
"Come On Joe" (for Joseph Stalin - the Russian leader) coming from all
over the camp. At this time it became apparent to the German
Commandant and the guards at Stalag Luft I that the Russians were at their
doorstep and they must make a move. So they approached the Senior Allied POW
Officer of the camp, Col. Hub Zemke, and told him to prepare his fellow
prisoners to march in an effort to escape the approaching Russians. Col.
Zemke refused to do so.
He informed the Commandant that even though there
were over 200 of them with guns, that there were 9,000 POWs and they were
prepared to fight rather than march. He told the commandant that he
realized this may cause high losses among the POWs but ultimately they would
overcome the Germans and with the Russian allies so close he knew this was an
The German command evidently realized that the end of
Germany was near and so he accepted this decision by Col. Zemke. The
German command then informed Col. Zemke that he and the guards would be leaving
the camp at midnight that night (April 30, 1945). Col. Zemke had made
plans in case such a scenario arose to take over the camp, as it was
evident to him that as Senior Allied Officer he would be responsible for of the
safe return of the POWs to Allied control. He had already organized a
group of hand selected men which he called the "Field Force" to help
him keep the camp in order until they were all safely back in Allied hands.
when the POWs at Stalag Luft I awoke on May 1, 1945 they looked around and
noticed that all the Germans were gone and now there were POWs with armbands that
said "FF" manning the guard towers. Col. Zemke explained that
the POWs could not just start leaving the camp on their own, as there was a war
going on all around them and they could be shot. He felt it best to keep
the camp secure in an effort to protect the POWs. (You can imagine not
many of the POWs liked this idea, they were tired of being imprisoned behind
Col. Zemke sent a scouting party out to meet the approaching
Russians to inform them that there was a POW camp of Allies located in the area,
so the Russians would not be shelling them! Later in the day the Russian
commander entered Stalag Luft I and meet with Col. Zemke and the British Senior
Officer. The Russian commander did not like the idea of the Allied POWs
still being behind barbed wire, so he ordered that Col. Zemke have the fences torn
down. Zemke refused at first, but was later convinced (some say by force,
with a gun) to tear down the fences. The POWs enthusiastically
tore them down. Many POWs then left camp and went into Barth and the
surrounding areas. Some of them (approximately 700) took off on their own
to make their way to the approaching British lines (my Dad being one of
those!). In the ensuing confusion of a war still in progress all around
them some of the POWs were accidentally killed.
It was the 2nd White Russian Front of the Red Army that entered Barth on May 1, 1945
and liberated the prisoners of war at Stalag Luft I. After the
fences were down the Russians then learning of the meager food supply the
POWs had been existing on soon rounded up several hundred cows and herded
them into the camp for the hungry POWs to slaughter and eat. This they did
immediately. At night they entertained the POWs
with their "USO" type variety show that traveled with them.
There was much joy and celebration among the newly freed POWs and the Russian
The Russian Army stayed in Barth for only a couple of
weeks. After the POWs were evacuated from Barth, the Soviet Military
Administration (SMAD) took over the empty barracks at Stalag Luft I and used
them for a repatriation camp for their countrymen that had been used as slave
labor by the Germans. Those slave workers that were in the territory
occupied by the Western Allies were transferred to the territory occupied by the
Soviets. They came into repatriation camps where they were interrogated by
the Soviet Secret Service (GPU) and this organization decided whether the former
slave workers were sent home to their families or into stalinistic camps
(Gulags) to do slave work in coal mines in Siberia or somewhere else. Even
some of the newly freed concentration camp survivors which were Soviet citizens
were transferred into Gulags because they had been forced to work in the German warfare
industry, like in Barth where they were forced to work in the Heinkel plane
factory and were imprisoned in the small concentration camp at the territory of
the Barth airfield.
This is a photo of General Borisov (the Hero of the
Soviet Union) and Vasily. General Borisov commanded the dispatch of
the POWs from Stalag Luft I. This
photo was taken many years later, after the war, when Vasily was his
personal chauffeur for a period of 3 years.
General Borisov - Hero of the Soviet Union
Major Svintsov (face circled) taken
in 1979 at a veteran meeting in Baranovichi of the 144 Guardian Red
Flag Shooting Division. Major Svintsov was the commander of Vasily's unit, when they arrived in Barth in May 1945.
Photo's from the book Zemke's Stalag:
Offician Russian Inspection of Stalag Luft I on May 4,
Colonel Zhovanik, Hub Zemke, General Borisov, and Group
Captain Cecil Weir, Chief of Staff Provisional Wing X.
Visit of more Soviet commanders, 8 May 1945.
Our interpreter, Flight Lietuenant Delarge, RAF, on left: General Marozil,
Red Army; Hub Zemke; Marozil's aide; Einar Malstrom who, like Zemke, wears a
black mourning band for President Roosevelt.
Honor guard of British and American MP's for the
departure of General Marozil in a lend-lease Jeep. Notice the general
enjoys an American cigarette given to him and that his bodyguard totes a
Russian "wheels". Major Pritchard in
A Russian giving a speech.
Major Pritchard behind Russians.
With the Soviet commanders in the former Luftwaffe
headquarters at Stalag Luft I, 4 May 1945. Flight Lieutenant Delarge,
our interpreter, shares a joke with a senior Russian officer. Next to
him are Major Borisov, Hub Zemke and 2nd Lt. J.S. Durakov, our other
interpreter. Standing behind are Ginger Weir and Colonel Zhovanik.
A shot taken outside the Russian headquarters in Barth.
L to R Colonel Zhovanik, Major T.A.G. Pritchard, Major General Borisov, Lt.
Colonel Mark Hubbard (then Wing X liaison officer with the Soviets), and Flt.
Lt. Delarge, the Polish RAF interpreter.
Guard duty with the Russians after liberation
American and Russians after liberation at
Stalag Luft I
The Russian Dance Troupe that entertained
the POWs - Photo by Roy Kilminster
- RAF POW at Stalag Luft I
Dancers and POWs at Stalag Luft I
liberation - Photo by Roy Kilminster
- RAF POW at Stalag Luft I
From George Gill's Wartime Log -
Written by Russians. Can you tell me what it says?
Click here to email.
Below is a document found
in our National Archives, describing the events in Barth on May 9,
1945, when the Russian Red Army commander addressed the townspeople of Barth
and spoke of what their future would hold.
(It is important to note that Barth was part
of the former GDR or East Germany until unification.)
27 July 1945
Attached is a copy of an account
of the celebration and meeting of the townspeople in Barth, Germany, which
was conducted by the Russian Army following the capture of that town. The
account was furnished by 2nd Lt. Earl Dean McKenna, ASN
0-571383, 1035 South 17th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska, who had been
held as a Prisoner of War at Barth, Germany
The account is submitted
for the purpose of indicating the manner in which the Russians treat Germans
in the cities they have captured.
May 9, 1945
The City of Barth turned out today to
celebrate Peace. A crowd of several thousand filled the square to hear
addresses by the new Burgemeister of Barth, by the Russian Commander, and by
several of the town’s leading citizens. On the platform sat former
Luftwaffe Major Von Muller, one-time German Intelligence Officer at Stalag
The greatest part of the crowd consisted of
German refugees from Pomerania, who had fled before the advancing Russian
Armies. They felt relief at the news that the order to cease firing had
finally been issued.
The new Burgemeister, Herr Lemke, delivered
an appeal to the people to co-operate with the new administration, to return
to their old jobs, to resume their orderly civilian existence once again.
He said that the disgrace of Nazism must be removed from the German people,
and that a new free nation will arise if everyone one does his duty. He
concluded with the promise that all German workers who had been herded into
Labor detachments in various parts of Europe would be returned to their
homes and families.
The speech of the Russian Commander was
translated into German by a Herr Dahlfeld. He said that the Russians were
not prepared for War in 1941, but the fascists were ready. They violated
the principle enunciated by Bismarck, that Germany should never attack
Russia. In June of 1941, the German Army attacked Russia, hoping to destroy
the Red Army in two months. The entire population of Russia arose to defend
the homeland, and finally stopped the Germans at Stalingrad. He said, “We
know that German propaganda reported that the Russian Army was destroyed.
It was never destroyed. During the past two years, the Russians created new
weapons, and new forces, for the final battle against Fascism.
“German Propaganda said that the Russians
want to destroy the German people. This is not true. Stalin has promised
that only the militarists who brought on this war will be dealt with.
“The German people, as a
people, and as a Nation shall live on, but Nazism shall die.” (Cheers) “Each
people has its right to live on the face of the Earth.”
“Today we are celebrating the
establishment of Peace with the German Government. The war is now over.
There shall be no more destruction of Human life.
“Germany may now in its own
land enforce order as its own people wish. The may have the political
parties that they wish.” “Germany will arise again as a free country, as a
free people working towards its future development. Today is our holiday,
on which occasion I take the opportunity to wish you the best of luck for
A blind old man mounted the
platform next, a refugee from Eastern Pomerania. He expressed thanks to the
city administration for the fine work that they were doing. He called upon
the people to concluded, the German people will be allowed to live as
people, and as human beings.”
A Barth “Carpenter-meister”
read the new order of the Russian Garrison. No weapons or cold weapons will
be allowed to the people. No one shall be allowed out of doors between the
hours of 2300 and 0800 hours. No Russian, American or English solider or
Officer shall be billeted in any German home without an Official order to
the local Russian Commander.
He stated that it was the duty
of each one of them to see that the young women were kept in doors during
the evening hours. He went on to point out that German girls had been
calling to soldiers from second story windows, asking for cigarettes and
chocolate, inviting them into their homes, and then complaining of the
consequences. Speaking of the disgrace which has come upon their city with
the discovery of the Concentration Camp in their vicinity, and the expose of
the frightful conditions there, he said, that they now know the names of all
of the officials responsible for the camp, that they would be hunted down,
and they will be forced to clean up the filth that they had created and to
labor for the rehabilitation of the lives that they had shattered.
Referring to the destruction
visited upon Germany by the Nazi regime, he pointed out that when Major Von
Muller rushed out with a white flag to surrender to City of Barth, several
young SS men, in disobedience of the order of their superior officer,
attempted to arouse the people of the town to offer resistance to the
Russians. “You know what that would have meant. Hitler and Goebbels would
have been the death of all of us had they continued in power a little
He spoke of the death of the
“Great American President Roosevelt”, whose obituary was treated so
shamefully by the German press and radio.” “That is another disgrace that
the Nazis have brought upon us.”
His final words were that now
the country was at peace, there will be no more bombing, no more Air
Alarms. He, too, exhorted the people to return to their civilian
occupations, to speed the rebuilding of their country, and to work, each one
of them, not for War and destruction, but for the production of the
essentials necessary for Human existence.