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
Passion Pit Crew Front (L-R) Jack Bartoli, Navigator; Irwin Stovroff,
Bombardier; John Milliken, Pilot
Back: Darrel Larsen, Engineer; Martin Richard, Radio; William
Manierre, Co-Pilot; Kenneth Beckwith, Gunner; Morris Larkin,
The Passion Pit
The Times-Picayune in New Orleans highlighted the John
Milliken crew for having seven members present at the 44th BG Reunion, and
their story has resounded through a number of veteran publications.
The Passion Pit went down at the Falais Pocket near Caen on August 13, 1944.
Every member of the crew had an experience that was unique, none more so
than that of Bombardier, Irwin J. Stovroff.
Stovroff recalls it thus: "It was to be our 35th,
our last scheduled mission, we were to complete our tour. Together we
had flown very dangerous missions, many of which were deep into Germany.
This trip was just over the Channel, the Falais Pocket in France, a 'milk
"We were on a straight run, and were to drop our bombs on
three sites, one third each time. Then BOOM! We got a direct hit at the
first target. Numbers one and two engines were on fire. We all
bailed out, right into the German front lines. On the way down I threw
away my dog tags, not wanting them to know I was Jewish.
Photo of Passion Pit going down
(photo was taken by a friend and sent to Irwin's
parents. Note the tiny white dots - the parachutes.)
Our pilot John Milliken, some how on a truck taking us
away from the front lines fell thru the canvas cover and escaped, getting to
the allied front lines days later.
"Within a week's time we were taken to a major
Interrogation center outside of Frankfort, Germany. I think it was
called Wetzler. We were separated and placed in solitaire, and
individually taken out for continued interrogations. The German
officer, my Interrogator, asked me questions I could not and would not
answer. I gave him the usual name, rank and serial number, and told
him that was all I had to give, and knew very little else. On my third
trip with him, he said, " I know who you are and what you are (meaning
Jewish). He told me he could save my life, then proceeded to name my
father, mother, brother, sister, the grammar school I had attended, even
the name of a former girl friend. He then said he lived on Ashland
Avenue, next to the girl I was dating pre-war. He had lived on the
next street -- Claremont Avenue in Buffalo, New York. He said he
remembered being in class with my older sister, and then he informed me that
I had been his newspaper boy!! He had come to Germany to be with his
grandmother, and stayed. He again said he would help me, and he put a
question mark on my records next to religion.
After solitaire at Dulag Luft, I like all others were
packed into a boxcar for a 3 day transport to Stalag Luft I. Our train
was strafed by Allied fighters because the Germans did not put POW markings
on the train. We were also left in the marshalling yards in Berlin
during a bombing raid.
Later in Stalag Luft #1, on January 19, 1945, I was
separated from the main compound of prisoners because I was Jewish. I
know the reason we were not killed was because of the courageous speeches of
Col. Zemke and Col. Spicer, who warned the German commander that if
any American officers were harmed, they would be held responsible.
Col. Spicer was put in solitaire and sentenced to death for his speech.
He survived until the end of the war.
When I finally got home after VE Day, I went to where
this German traitor lived, but his parents had moved.
After the Dulag Luft (interrogation), I later found
myself with my co-pilot Bill Manierre in a large room. Bill pointed
out a beat up and dirty POW who was staring at us. Did I know who it
was? I looked at the man and said 'no'. Bill said, 'he must know
you' and I replied, 'I can't figure out who he is.'
Suddenly Bill exclaimed, "My God! THAT'S MY BROTHER."
His brother immediately recognized Bill, and they met and embraced.
The Germans were flabbergasted when they found out this
was happening. Major Cy Manierre was a West Point graduate who had
been dropped into France, and was working with the French Underground when
captured and tortured. He told Bill and me to repeat his story, that
he was a member of the Air Corps, had been shot down and picked up by the
French Underground. If the Germans knew the truth, he could have been
shot as a spy. They believed him, and he was sent to the same camp as
Bill and I. Their mother received two telegrams on the same day, 1:00
AM, 1:00 PM on both sons - Missing in Action. "fact is greater than
Stovroff is now a volunteer National Service Officer at
West Palm Beach VA Center, working only with ex-POWs to help get pensions
and compensations. He has met six ex-POWs that were in his camp.
And stranger than fiction, his next door neighbor in Florida was in the same
barracks as Stovroff when he was in Stalag Luft #1 "segregated". This
man's family owned KATZ DELICATESSEN in New York whose slogan was "Send a
Salami to a Soldier In the Army."
Senator John McCain presenting the Distinguished Flying
Cross to Irwin Stovroff in September 2000 - 55 years late.
Spared Death Twice, He Now
Stovroff has a collection of war mementos in the office of his Boca Raton
home—pictures, documents, medals—but none more striking than a framed
photograph of his glass-nosed bomber being shot down behind enemy lines.
Snapped by a crew member of another plane, the picture shows Stovroff’s B-24
Liberator trailing smoke from its two starboard engines as it heads into a
nosedive, while far below tiny white dots of 10 parachutes flutter to Earth.
“As I floated down, I thought, ‘What the hell is going to happen to me
now?’” recalls the former bombardier. “We landed right in the German front
“Being Jewish, I threw my dog tags away immediately—a good thing because we
were all rounded up in no time. They marched us into a cemetery, but the
commanding officer wouldn’t let them shoot us. Why? I still don’t know.”
Instead, the soldiers were taken to an interrogation center, held in
isolation and grilled one by one.
“After a few days, this S.S. officer comes in and says he knows everything
about me: who my father is and my mother’s maiden name, the street where I
live, my elementary school, the girl I dated in high school,” Stovroff says.
“I asked how he knew so much and he replied, ‘I once lived a few blocks away
from you. You used to be my paperboy. I’ll do what I can to help you.’”
Stovroff’s former neighbor in Buffalo, New York, had moved back to Germany
before the war broke out. And he might have saved his former paperboy’s life
by putting a question mark next to “Jew” on Stovroff’s official
Instead of a concentration camp, the lieutenant wound up at a German stalag;
still no picnic. “We would have starved if not for the American Red Cross,”
he says. He spent about a year in the stalag before being liberated by
Russian Cossacks, who rode into the prison camp on horseback with guns
blazing, winning Stovroff’s freedom.
Stovroff has a lot of stories, and he tells them with enthusiasm, humor and
just a touch of pathos—like the time his squadron was attacked by newfangled
German jets over the Baltic Sea.
“These things without props came out of nowhere and shot down 15 of our
planes,” he says, shaking his head. “No one had ever seen anything like it.
One hundred and fifty men … all lost.
“After we completed our mission, I decided that I wasn’t going back up no
matter what they did to me. But they gave us a couple days off and we went
to London and got drunk and chased girls. By the time the two days were up,
we came back saying, ‘Ah, what the heck.’”
Stovroff went on to fly 35 missions, ultimately shot down on the one that
was to be his last.
“We had our bags packed to go home and were envisioning parades,” he says
with a chuckle. “Instead we ended up in a prison camp.”
After his long overdue return home, Stovroff married. He and his wife Sterra
had three kids, and he spent 40 years working for Thomasville Furniture,
advancing to international sales manager. The outgoing natural-born salesman
was still going strong at 75 when, much to his chagrin, company policy
forced him to retire.
Now 79 and living in Boca West, Stovroff helps those who can’t help
themselves as a national service officer for American Ex-Prisoners of War.
He volunteers three times a week at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in
West Palm Beach, helping ex-POWs fill out paperwork for pension, medical
care and other benefits.
Last year, he was belatedly awarded the prestigious Distinguished Flying
Cross, which was pinned on his chest by a fellow ex-POW, U.S. Sen. John
McCain. Like a lot of World War II vets, Stovroff says his military
experience gave him a perspective of life that has helped him succeed as a
“After being a POW, you figure what worse can happen?” he says. “It changes
your whole attitude. No matter what happens, you’ve already hit bottom.
There’s no place to go but up.”