prisoners

Sep

13

1941

Russian POWs arrive in camps in Austria

Russian prisoners of war at Wolfsburg. These were the lucky ones - having been transported back to the Reich to work for the Germans.

They were reduced to eating grass and weeds at the side of the line. At the stops the guards had just thrown the bodies of those who had died out on to the side of the railway. When they arrived at Wolfsberg station scores of dead bodies were still in the wagons and these were left there, when the survivors were marched off to the Stalag.

Aug

31

1941

German treatment of Soviet POWs

Many camps were no more than barbed wire enclosures in the open.

But these were not animals, they were men. We made haste out of the way of the foul cloud which surrounded them, then what we saw transfixed us where we stood, and we forgot our nausea. Were these really human beings, these grey-brown figures, these shadows lirching towards us, stumbling and staggering, moving shapes at their last gasp, creatures which only some last flicker of the will to live enabled to obey the order to march ?

Aug

22

1941

Reprisals against Russian POWs

Soviet commissars in the Russian army were invariably shot soon after capture - but all Russian prisoners of war faced a terrible existence.

It so happened that we had taken very many prisoners during those fatal days, and so the lives of 4,000 men fell forfeit. They scarcely looked up when our interpreter told them in a cold voice of their fate. They lined up eight at a time at the side ofa large anti-tank ditch. As the first volley crashed, eight men were hurled forward into the depths of the ditch, as if hit by a giant fist. Already the next row was lining up.

Aug

16

1941

First experiences of a German POW camp

Moosberg would later become a transit camp for United States POWs captured in Europe.

We were not left in peace for long and soon heard the now familiar shout of eraus: eraus: schnell: schnell: which mean get out and fast. We were given our gefangenen number and photographed; then we were deloused and all our hair removed. We knew what it felt and looked like to be convicts, but wondered what we had done to deserve the treatment, and how long it would have to last.

Jun

1

1941

Waiting to surrender on Crete

British prisoners of war on Crete, pictured after the surrender, later in June, 1941

The British Navy, and some of the British Army, left the island of Crete – but I didn’t. Nor did several thousand other dejected lads. Sunday, June the first, was a black day indeed for many assorted British huddled in valleys back from the beach at Sphakia, a small village on the south coast.

Jan

31

1941

Italian prisoners bombed by Germans

A Heinkel III bomber in flight, they began operating over North Afrika in early 1941.

Relays of men spent hours in the bitterly cold surf dragging the Italians to safety; others assisted them into slings and those on the escarpment hauled them to the crest. The wounded had to be brought ashore on Carley floats, so the last stages of their journey were extremely hazardous, but groups of volunteers brought them through the breakers and had everyone ashore by first light.

Jan

8

1941

Australians herd their Italian prisoners

A few guards escort the masses of Italian prisoners of war from Bardia into captivity.

These men from the dockside of Sydney and the sheep stations of the Riverina presented such a picture of downright toughness with their gaunt dirty faces, huge boots, revolvers stuffed in their pockets, gripping their rifles with huge shapeless hands, shouting and grinning — always grinning — that the mere sight of them must have disheartened the enemy troops.

Jan

5

1941

Bardia Captured

The cold light of day - a few of the 40,000 Italians that surrendered to the 6th Australian Division at Bardia

The ‘suicidal’ major repeated his gesture of honour several times until an Australian sentry approached with a bayonet levelled at the seat of his pants and said: ‘Get back, you mug, before I shoot you’. The terrorized Fascist major skipped back into line at the double.

May

29

1945

U.S. Ex-POW Kurt Vonnegut writes home

Vonnegut while in the army, early 1940s

We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: — one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

May

16

1940

The German advance continues

German built pontoon bridges allowed their advance to continue even where bridges had been blown up - a Panzer crosses the Maas on the 16th May.

Slept for a few hours in grounds and then took up position and started digging. Very tiring recce, in afternoon, of new position, maps inaccurate, this was cancelled by order to withdraw same night. Went up with Coy Comdrs and C.O. to recce position along main road on race course. Got company in about 11 p.m.