prisoners

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.

May

2

1945

German forces begin to surrender in the west

The famous picture of Red Army soldier Mikhail Alekseevich Yegorov of Soviet 756 Rifle Regiment flying the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945. For the Soviet authorities this was the best of several images taken at the time - a problem emerged only after it had been first published.

On the fourth and fifth days, their fighting men appeared, not riding but on foot. Varying in age from sixteen to sixty, they were a scraggly looking lot, dirty, unkempt, with shoes held together by rags. They were a far cry from the commanders and staff who had passed through first. There seemed no question that they were a soundly beaten force, with no fight left in them. Although the generals and their staffs were still capable of continuing the war, they no longer had quality frontline troops to command.

Apr

16

1945

The first POW camp liberated – Fallingbostel

POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, 16 April 1945.

Then they put me in a lorry, and I was taken to a field full of marquees. Inside were long tables, and army cooks came out with dishes full to the brim with potatoes and beef. It was almost impossible to believe it. But then some doctors came in and ordered all the food to be taken away. They said too much food like that would damage us. It was heartbreaking. But they gave us a couple of spoonfuls of potato and gravy, and then we were put on planes.

Apr

15

1945

Thousands of dead and dying – liberation of Belsen

British troops stand guard as German SS troops are made to load the bodies of the dead onto a lorry for transport to mass graves.

Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them…. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

Apr

13

1945

Gardelegen: concentration camp prisoners burnt alive

The recovered bodies are laid out in front of the barn.

Soon dead and dying men were piling up at all the doors. Cries of pain and panic rung inside the dark building, as others were trampled. To escape the rain of bullets, some men feigned death or hid under the dead bodies of others. By now the fire was completely out of control. The inside of the barn began to fill up with a suffocating smoke. Chaos and panic was complete. Men were swearing, crying, pleading, praying, shouting “Vive la France” and “Long live Poland.” Several even broke out singing their national anthem. Men were being roasted alive. Human torches ran around until they dropped to the ground dead. Others suffocated or were killed by the exploding hand-grenades and Panzerfausts.

Apr

11

1945

The rape and loot of Konigsberg, capital of Prussia

German prisoners are marched away from Konigsberg.

We marched on. We saw scenes that cannot be described. The ditches by the sides of the streets were full of corpses, many of them clearly showing signs of unbelievable maltreatment and rape. Dead children lay around in great numbers, bodies hung from the trees, their watches cut off. Staring—eyed German women were led in all directions, drunken Russians flogged a German nun, an elderly woman sat by the side of the road, both of her legs having been crushed by vehicles. Farmsteads burned, the household belongings lying in the roads, cows ran across the countryside, and were indiscriminately shot and left lying.

Apr

6

1945

As the Allies move east, the refugees move west

Three Russian girls still wearing their slave labour uniforms photographed soon after their arrival at No.17 Displaced Persons Assembly Centre, Hamburg Zoological Gardens.

The Germans were terrified of the Russians. Again and again women ran out to us to cry: ‘Can’t you leave a guard with us? The Russians have taken everything. The next lot will smash up the place if they find nothing.’ More than that the German women feared for themselves. Cases of rape increased. The looting increased. And still that vast moving human frieze kept pouring down the roads, constantly augmenting its numbers with every new town that was captured.

Apr

5

1945

Wounded captive to conqueror in a day

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade in Osnabruck, 4 April 1945.

I made a dash for a house by the road, but the door was locked. I hammered on the door with my stick, and a woman opened it. She looked alarmed, but I limped in and my driver joined me. The Jerries must have been rotten shots, or we should have been cut to pieces. While my wound was being attended to, ten or fifteen Germans walked into the basement. They let my driver finish dressing the wound, then told us to get outside. It was then I noticed a row of the German field grey hats poking up behind a hedge.

Mar

13

1945

Sadistic treatment of POWs by Japanese remains unabated

A wartime photograph of Kinkseki Mine on Taiwan where over 1000 Aliied POWs suffered appealing treatment.

Like the rest of the squad, I could do nothing but watch as the mad NCO waded in with stick and fists. I willed Dempsey to swallow his pride and go down. At last one of the henchmen succeeded where Tashi had failed. He kicked furiously at the back of Dempsey’s legs, making him fall to the ground in a crumpled heap but still allowing him to contain the agony of his beating. He refused to show the usual tears of humiliation and this defiance was unbearable to Tashi, who was unable to comprehend the fact that one of the cowed and beaten men, calloused by years of starvation and humiliation, would refuse to beg for mercy under this demeaning abuse.

Feb

22

1945

Across Germany in the special custody of the SS

German civilians in February 1945 in Danzig and the surrounding area; fleeing from the approaching Red Army, they have had to leave their homes.

At the curves I could see that the train was extraordinarily long and seemed to be carrying everything: prisoners, troops, refugees, and even cattle, which I could hear mooing at the far end. We took advantage of the frequent stops for obvious reasons. But because the train would always start again without warning, I was terrified of being left behind or having to jump into a wagon filled with strange people. The idea of using these opportunities to escape did not occur to me, nor, I think, to anyone. The thought of being alone in that frozen countryside, without papers, money, or food, was enough to put one off the idea immediately.