British POWs ‘entertained’ by the Germans

Stalag VIIIb (Lamsdorf) Prisoner Of War Camp. A watchtower with searchlight (one of six encircling the camp) photographed in summer. In the foreground, prisoners are sunbathing between lines of clothes and bedding hung out to air. The photograph also shows the dense forest which surrounded the camp.

Leonard Bellas had been a gunner with the Royal Artillery until he was captured at Crete. Now he was a POW at Stalag 4C in Decin, formally Bodenbach in what is now Czech Republic. A visit to the cinema was a rare event to be recorded in his diary:

August 16th 1942 Sunday

Went to the pictures today – first time for nearly 18 months — and the last time was in Cairo or Bene-Yusef — I don’t remember which. The show started at 10 am, ended at 12am and the admission was 10 pfennigs. Attendance was compulsory. The audience were English, French and Cypriots and the dialogue German — so a fat lot of entertainment it was.

The first film was a short extolling the virtues of the Hitler Youth Organisation. It showed a “troop” in camp in a rock climbing district; a slight story seemed to be woven into the film to give it interest but the effect of the rather good photography was spoiled by “wordiness” of the dialogue and the theatrical scenes of camp life showing much (too much) of the flag and the youths “devotion” to duty, leader and country. What the “big” picture was about only the Lord and the Germans know — it seemed to me to be one long chatter.

The news was by far the most interesting item of the programme. The bombing of Malta by German and Italian planes and scenes on the eastern front were shown. The planes were filmed during “bombing up” and were all ‘flying pencils’ Dornier 215. The film of the actual bombing was pretty good but the camera must have been vibrating rather a lot.

The film of the eastern front was very interesting. Mortars, anti-tank guns and heavy artillery were all shown in action; Russians coming forward surrendering, and a column of them (exactly as I have seen them myself — hopeless looking devils) being marched back into Germany escorted by a trooper on horseback.

Soviet tanks and Soviet villages burning and Soviet soldiers ”kaputt” were all vividly portrayed but strangely enough the Germans appeared to suffer no losses. The handing out of Iron Crosses by different “big bugs” was also filmed; by the number of Iron Crosses I myself have seen they seem to ‘come up with rations’.

The theatre was quite a decent well decorated place; ‘Nicht Rauchen’ was the rule and at one time there were more men smoking in the latrines than sat in the theatre. The ‘posten’ had to come and rouse us out eventually. The civvies said that the theatre is only open for 3 nights per week.

Read more of this story on BBC People’s War

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