19 lut 2018

Z USA do Szubina / From USA to Szubin

Radio coverage by Ryszard Jankowski
Copyright: Polish Radio PiK
Duration: 31:42
Date of first broadcast: 05/13/1971

also read: The Return-To-Szubin Reunion 1971
czytaj także: Powrót byłych jeńców do Szubina w 1971 r.



Legend –
     White: Polish translation to English
     Blue: English as spoken during the interview   


Narration [00:00-01:20]: Szubin, a small county city in Bydgoszcz Voivodeship, was still beautifully decorated after the celebrations of the 26th anniversary of Victory Day (9th May1945), when the unusual guests arrived at the courtyard of the Reform School. Their long travel route was from the other side of the ocean, from the USA, directly here, where during WWII there used to be the POW camp known as Oflag 64. British, American and Russian officers were imprisoned here. Memories about them will last eternally amongst the citizens of Szubin, since the memorial obelisk standing by the entry to the former camp terrains commemorates it. So, on the 11th of May, about 30 former POWs and Veterans of WWII entered the camp gate for the second time in their lives. It was the first trip in a series organized for the former POWs by Dana Travel Agency from NY and the Polish Travel Office ”Orbis”. Therefore, we are moving to the site of the former camp. Will this place be recognized by the people who were imprisoned here more than 25 years ago and who today, traveled to this place from the other side of the ocean?

Reporter (while waiting for a group of ex-Krieges) [01:20-01:30]: We are waiting for the group of former POWs. They are preceded by Mr. Carter, who is already here. It is not the first time that Mr. Carter has stayed in this city, is it?  Then he talks with Mr. Carter in English.

Reporter:  Of course you are not here for the first time; this is the second visit I hope.

Amon Carter, Jr.:  No, I was….Yes, I was here for 20 months in 1944 and 1945 and we made many friends with our Polish friends and they were living under bad conditions but they tried making our lives more happy here in the camp.  They tried helping us and we’ve always liked the Polish people.  We have many good Polish people in America and we wanted to come back and say hello to our Polish friends.  There are 50 that are coming from Poznan.  There are 50 more.  There are 30 prisoners and some of them have their wives with them.  But the camp has changed and Szubin has many more people.  Szubin is growing.

Reporter: Would you like to have a look? 

Carter: Oh, I will.  We dug a tunnel to try escaping and it collapsed.  It was up there.  That is a new building.  This was the hospital.  This was the, we called this the Weissenhaus (the White House), like where our President lives in Washington.  And we had a church and a cemetery over there.  That was the kitchen where we got our food.  We didn’t get very much, but when we got it, that’s where we got it.  And this was my friend at the railroad station.  I saw her twice a week and she was very helpful to all the Americans. 

From [03:10]: Mr. Carter introduces a lady from Szubin who lived at the Railroad Station and was very helpful to all the Americans, so the reporter starts talking with her:

Reporter: Are you from here, ma'am?

Eugenia Grecka: Yes, and I still live here.

Reporter: As Mr. Carter has mentioned you were one of the few people, local residents of Szubin, who used to help them. What kind of help was it and were you in any danger because of it?

Eugenia Grecka: Everything we used to do for the POWs was at the risk of being shot, but we didn’t think about it at the time. We tried to support them emotionally. We tried in some way to be in touch with them to show that we sympathized with our American friends, to have an influence on their morale, to make them feel not so lonely here and in this way not to lose their spirit. We were happy when we were able to send them any message, for example about any progress in the direction of the end of the war. We tried to be helpful in case of escape attempts, because several times we were the witnesses of their unsuccessful efforts to get out of the barbed wire compound.

Reporter: Mr. Carter has already mentioned the famous flight (famous escape) by means of the sap (tunnel), which the POW’s dug here.

At about [04:25] the Reporter comes back to conversation with Mr. Carter and asks him about the escape.

Reporter: Do you remember the exact place where you dug (the tunnel)?

Carter: It was over in that direction, but the barracks are all gone.  Where we lived is destroyed.  And there was another tunnel in here that the British built, but the other boys on the bus will know where the tunnel is.  I did not dig it.  My friends dug it, I think for one year.  And the big problem was where to put the dirt.  We had dirt up in the roof.  We put it on the ground.  But we never finished the tunnel because in other lagers, the Germans murdered about 50 air force officers.  They shot them when they came out of the tunnel, so we knew we were winning the war (referring to The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III in Sagan).  And it was best to stay in the camp.  We only had one man who ever escaped.  You say flight, we say escaped, from the camp and he is also from Teksasu (Texas).  And he is on the bus, Mr. Chappell, but he did not get very far.  He got out of the camp and then they turned die Hunde or the dogs on him.

Reporter: What are your most personal impressions standing here in the very place where you were a prisoner during the war?

Carter: With my friends?  I have forgotten all the bad things.  You know time heals many wounds.  And I just remember there were many bad things, but I remember the good things only and this was 27 years ago, so you forget a lot, but I still have a fond memory in my heart for Szubin and the people of Poland.  I’m surprised that Szubin has more people than when I was here.  I think Szubin had maybe four or five thousand people.  What is the population of Szubin now?

Reporter: Six and a half thousand.

Carter: Well, it has grown.

Reporter: Yes, rebuilt as you see.

Carter: It must be a good place to live.

Reporter: Before the war, there were only three and a half thousand people living here, so it has doubled.

Carter: Over there was the SS, the barracks, the Gestapo “Barracken” and Oberst Schneider, the Deutsch Kommandant, he lived over there.

Reporter: And where did you live?

Carter: I lived in this house and then in a barracks up there.  It is gone now.  I’m just one person and we have 30 others and every one has got a different story.

Then [07:25], the reporter has put a question to Mr. Jachalski, who was the Principal of the Reform School and asks him to share his recollections:

Mr. Jachalski [07:49]: Regarding this place, as far back as I can remember, I have a lot of memories I can share, dating back even to my youthful years. I have been here (The Reform School) for 36 years (since 1935), when I started my first job here as a teacher.  There is also a lot to be said about the Nazi German occupation era. We have cooperated in conspiratorial groups with some people who I also hope to meet today. We provided our aid to Prisoners of War who were in the camp established in the buildings of the Reform School for boys. I can mention Mrs. Maludzińska and Mr. Kowalski who used to come to POWs aid in secrecy. There were, actually, three persons (three of us) who literally provided aid to Kriegies. {Note that these memories mostly refer to the era when French and British Officers were in camp}. We provided cameras to the camp and Mrs. Maludzińska developed photographs for the fake IDs. We knew people who were able to steal forms of ID papers from the town council. After preparing all of the papers, we made it easier for the escape of a group of POWs, which took place on the 6th of March 1943. It was a long process of laborious preparations. The POW’s dug a tunnel about 40 meters long, with an exit outside the barbed wire. There was a group of 48 POWs billeted in one of the barracks who successfully escaped via the tunnel. Most of them were recaptured on the same day, but three of them (or maybe six) were well organized and they stayed hidden for several days by local people in the city of Szubin, specifically in Szubin-Wieś (which means the village closely neighboring the city) – at the Szubin outskirts.

Question [10:17]: How many POWs in general were then in Szubin and what nationalities were they?

Mr. Jachalski: It varied at times during the entire war. The first I can remember was a large group the POW’s captured at Dunkirk (1940). They traveled in cattle wagons – for 6 days in closed boxcars, about 80 people in each boxcar, and they were so exhausted that, as they left the boxcars, many of them fell hard to the ground. The distance from the railway station to the camp, which is about 1500 to 1800 meters long, took them more than three hours to walk because of serious exhaustion. It's worth noting that they intuitively recognized who of the passersby was a Pole and who was a German citizen of Altburgund. They gladly accepted help from Poles, but steadfastly refused any help from Germans, even if it was offered in case of one's falling to the ground (the unknown voice from the background confirms that fact). They rejected any help from German civilians. After three days in the camp, as I can recall, they were completely different. I can remember it because, of course, we were curious and we tried to get closer to the camp… we couldn't really believe that these were the same people... they were washed, shaved, rested. No one looked like three days before.

Question [11:53]: Tell me more in detail, about what aid was given from the citizens of Szubin to the POWs?

Mr. Jachalski: It varied through the various stages of functioning of the camp. At the beginning, when Kriegies got no parcels from the Red Cross, they were truly hungry, so we used to share our food with them. At that time I was working as a road worker and I used to pass the camp while riding to work and many times I gave them my own breakfast. Many people used to do the same. Well, we also tried to support them spiritually.

The female chimed in [12:25]: After all, at the beginning it was very hard for us to provide any food. Literally, we shared every single potato or slice of dry bread, because after all we also didn’t have much. We were living in very poor conditions.

Mr. Jachalski again [12:36]: Later we also tried to boost their morale. We used to transmit them important information from the radio. Luckily I had my own radio, which was hidden during the entire time of occupation, because it was forbidden. Concealing a radio was punishable by being sent to a concentration camp or even death by firing squad. I think that sometimes that news from the radio was more precious for them than the slice of bread.

Reporter:  hat was your fate after the war?

Carter: I’m in the newspaper business.  My family owns the largest newspaper in Texas.  We’ve got a television station and a radio station. 

Reporter: Are you a journalist yourself?

Carter: No, I’m a businessman.  I’m not a writer.  I’m the businessman.  I’m not a reporter. We’ve got the newspaper. We’ve got 900 people working on the newspaper. 

[13:34]: and now the coach is approaching… with all the expected guests. Mr. Carter starts recording this moment with his camera. He introduces the travel agent, Mrs. Wanda Rudzińska. (There is a little mess for few seconds at about [14:15] and the welcoming committee gives a bunch of flowers to the wife of Mr. Slack). The travel agent introduced Mr. Slack (Capt John F. Slack) and his wife, and the radio reporter seeks to speak with Mr. Chappell about his successful escape attempt… and Mr. Chappell talks with him up to [17:53].

Carter continues: This is Miss Rudzińska.  She’s in charge of the tour; she’s the travel agent.  Wanda, she speaks Polish. 

(A brief discussion in Polish follows - they say something like "Hello, nice to meet you", they introduce each other in Polish.  Someone wants to give a bunch of flowers to Miss Rudzińska who explains that she is only the guide. They look for someone else from the bus.) 

Carter: She would like to talk to you and John.

Miss Rudzińska: And John, yes.

John Slack: Very glad to meet you. 

Reporter: Nice to see you.

Unknown person: Nice to meet you.

Reporter: So, you have come here with your wives, I see.  Were you the man who happened to escape from these camps successfully?

Slack: No

Reporter: Who is the man?  Is he here?

Slack: Yes, I think so.  Roy, the man would like to talk to you because you got out of the camp.

Roy Chappell: Huh?

Slack: You’re the hero.

Chappell: Talk to those other “damn” people.

Slack: You got out of the camp; you’re the man.
Reporter: Well, Mr. Chappell (reporter introduces himself), how are you?  So you were the man who was happy enough to escape from this terrible place.  How did it happen?  What do you remember of it? 

Chappell: I remember it all quite well, naturally.  There were two times.  Once over on that side area, we cut through the barbed wire and three others came.  And once we pulled a fake drunk to get outside the gate and go over to that barracks.  In that far corner was the solitary confinement block.  And we had concealed some saws in our shoes and we cut out of the backside of that and dropped down in that big ditch and went out to that field over yonder. 

Reporter: And then?

Chappell: And then, of course, as always they picked you back up.  The first time, we hid over here in this cemetery.  The second time, they had the dogs and the guards out and they picked us up down there and brought us back and put us in more solitary and took off our pants and our shoes and put a guard in there with us so that we couldn’t do anything else.  Our idea, you know, was to try to move by night to the coast and somehow get a boat and go to Sweden.  That was the plan.

Reporter: Oh!

Chappell: Each time we planned it that way.  But, it’s just, it’s impossible.  See, all night movement was strictly controlled.  You had to have the proper kind of ausweisen (proper identification) and so on.  And the other pair with us got about 10-12 kilometers and were in the forest and a night patrol picked them up, you see, and brought them right back.   We were delayed trying to get a third man out of his cell.  He didn’t know how to operate his key.  So we waited until the guards almost came and we only got down there in the field a few kilometers. 

Chappell continues: This really looks amazing here.  You see, we had a tunnel started down here under one of the barracks in the latrine.  We went down in the latrine and sat right above the pool and started one through there, but the ferret we called him, you know, (ferret is a word for a little animal) punched rocks in the ground.  They discovered that one.  You see there had been many a tunnel started from this camp by the British, the French, and even the first Poles were prisoners in this camp way back in 1939.  They took over this place early, the Germans did, and we were about the fifth set of allied prisoners to come here to this camp.

Reporter: Well, thank you very much.

Chappell: Thank you!!

Someone else is speaking up to [18:52]

Unnamed American interviewee speaks:  We came here in June of 1943.
Reporter:  So you were here for two years?

Unnamned: Almost two years, yes.  And we left on January 4, 1945 (actual date was January 21, 1945) and we went this way to Exin.  Now being here, of course, I had never seen the town.

Reporter: Never?

Unnamed: Never, because we were never allowed out of here.  We walked out but we walked to a town called Exin, which I think is over this way.  And we kept walking right into Germany.

Rudzińska: Under German control you were then?

Unnamed: Yes, the only Poles that I can remember, they use to follow with a big black hat that used to come in and clean the chimney.  That’s the one, I remember him.

Reporter: Well, there were some people in constant contact with the Polish people living here. 

Unnamed: I was not one of those.  Yes, there were a few.  There were a few, those that had occasion to go to the railroad station to bring in the Red Cross supplies.

From [18:53] - The narration in Polish: The guests are coming to the obelisk, commemorating this place of martyrdom, which was erected as a tribute to the victims of WWII. After laying a wreath at the monument, they gave the representative of the local community a commemorative badge with an etched inscription as a token of gratitude to the Poles, who during very difficult times more than once showed their concern for the Allies imprisoned here. Words of thanks for the gift on behalf of the Szubin society were delivered by the Director of the Reform School, Mr. Alfons Jachalski:

Mr. Jachalski’s speech [19:29]: On behalf of all citizens of the city of Szubin I’d like to warmly thank you for this kind gift. In the same manner, I would like to emphasize, that we always think highly about all those who always remember the tragedy that has befallen our country and other nations. We are always friends of those who stand by one another to fight against fascism. When you go back home I’d like to ask you to convey to your younger generations kind regards from the Polish nation. I hope they also will always fight for peace, in the same way as we do. So let there be peace for the whole world [20:20].

From [20:25] The group photos were in the front of the monument and the reporter speaks to one lady and her husband, who was in the camp for 4 months: She introduced herself as Mrs. Gardner M. Simes from Roselyn, Long Island. Following Mr. Jachalski’s speech, an American speaks.

Unnamed person: Would all of you Kriegies come up here?  We want to get a picture by the monument.

Reporter: I beg your pardon.  Have you got any personal reason for coming here?

Mrs. Simes: My husband was a prisoner of war here at Oflag 64.

Reporter: You’ve made a great effort coming here as I see.  A special invalid courage.
Did you come here with your husband?  Is he still living?

Mrs. Simes: Yes, he is.  He’s right there.

Mr. Simes: It’s been quite interesting to notice what we’ve been through and to see the place that we had our time here.  I wasn’t here as long as some of the others were.

Reporter: How long did you live here?

Mr. Simes: I was here for about four months.  I arrived about September 15, 1944 and, of course, we marched out on the 21st of January 1945. 

Reporter: You were taken prisoner as a soldier?

Mr. Simes: In Mortagne France.  Yes, I was a battalion executive officer in the 120th Infantry of the 30th Infantry Division.  We were cold but we overcame that with some ingenuity.  My son was asked for an electric blanket recently and I told him he shouldn’t take an electric blanket. He should take a leaf out of my book, take two blankets, put paper between, sew them together, bend them into a cocoon, sew the edges together and crawl in that.  He’d be warm.

Reporter: Now you know personally the place where he lived during the war.

Mrs. Simes: Yes.

Reporter: What are your special impressions, may I ask you?

Mrs. Simes: Well, it’s a little overwhelming.  It was a very upsetting time for me when he was here.  It’s very moving.

Reporter: I see.

Mrs. Simes: It brings back many memories, let me say. 

Reporter: Definitely everything finished good.

Mrs. Simes: Yes, and we’ve had a nice family since.  We had two sons after he came home.

Reporter: Thank you very much, but could you introduce yourself?

Mrs. Simes: I’m Mrs. Gardner M. Simes from Roselyn, Long Island.

Reporter: Well, thank you very much.

Mrs. Simes: You’re welcome, I’m sure.

Reporter: I wish you all good things here.

Mrs. Simes: Thank you.

From [23:08] – The narration: The next part of the meeting was in Bydgoszcz where a conference was held, hosted by the Local Commission for the Prosecution of Nazi Crimes. On the invitation to meet the guests from USA, the residents of Szubin during the war have arrived, especially those who provided aid to the Prisoners of War in the Szubin camp.

From [23:36] – interview with Mr. Henryk Szalczyński (officer of Polish Navy, who also 26 years ago used to provide aid to the POWs: I had contact with the POWs between 1940 and 1943, when I worked in a local German bakery and I used to deliver bread to the camp. During several talks with the citizens of Szubin, who were forced workers in the camp, I was asked to start developing ID photographs for Kriegies, who intended to use them in the fake ID’s they would need in case of escape. I used to develop the photographs in my parent’s home, in the cellar and in the kitchen. My parents lived in city district in Szubin for Poles only (in German: Polen Siedlung, which means subdivision -  kind of housing development sectioned from the city where the Polish citizens lived segregated from Germans). They lived in a small flat (apartment) consisting of one room and a small kitchen and the flat (apartment) was occupied by several people. Germans never suspected that the ID photographs, as well as the private pictures taken by POWs in the camp, could be developed in a Polish house in such primitive conditions. At the beginning, I delivered two photo cameras to the camp and I successively delivered negatives. As I remember, I developed about 3000 photographs during a period of one and a half years. (The reporter was surprised by the number of photographs developed by Mr. Szalczyński and asks with amazement: How Many? When Mr. Szalczyński confirms saying again: “3000 photos during the period of one and a half years”, and the reporter says: “Oh my Goodness, it’s unbelievable”).

From [26:00] – interview with Mrs. Stefania Rakoczy nee Maludzińska, who was mentioned earlier in the radio feature (she apparently has died very recently on the 9th of August 2014):  Well, I can tell a lot. I’d like to tell, as much as possible, maybe at least, from the year of 1943 when British Officers still were in the camp. They were very poor and hungry and badly treated. When they marched through the streets, they begged for pieces of bread and any help. My mother was arrested because she gave them four rolls, and she was sentenced to 4 months of solitary, but actually never came back home. Later I established contact with one of the officers, Major Bryks, who had Czech roots. I used to write letters to his family in Czechoslovakia for him and also his family used to write letters back to him. The letters were delivered to the shop where I worked. At the time I worked in the local colonial shop. The POWs, under escort, used to come to the shop for supplies for the camp. Major Bryks also started to write letters to me. It lasted quite a long time. In one of the letters he asked if he could trust me because they were preparing to escape and needed my help. He asked me for a photo camera. I knew that Mr. Jachalski had one, so I borrowed it and smuggled it into the camp. Then they used to bring me negatives, which I forwarded to Mr. Szalczyński, who developed them. They talked about the preparations for the escape, and when the day came it was incredible. It was hard for me to believe that such an escape from the camp was, in fact, possible. Mr. Lewandowski took 2 Kriegies out through the main gate of the camp inside the sewage wagon. In the evening he came to me at the shop and said that Bryks wanted to see me. For a moment I was surprised that he knew him, but later I learned they’re both good guys, so they might also know each other, so I trusted him and went with him to meet Bryks. When I entered the place, I saw two men dressed in uniforms, but the uniforms were dyed in a dark color. I asked if anyone spoke Polish, because I was not able to speak English. The other language I was able to speak was German. Bryks asked me in the Czech language about the latest letters from his parents, which I was not able to deliver to him for some time. I replied that I did not have them with me, but I had them at home. He said “Let’s take a walk and you can give them to me”. I asked very surprised “To my place?” the answer was “Yes”, so I said, “So, let’s go”. Then he turned to Mr. Lewandowski and said something to him, and then he came to the wardrobe, opened it, put on a coat and hat, linked his arm through mine and we left the place. We walked toward my parents’ house. My parents were not expecting such a guest. When we entered, my father glanced at us while Bryks removed his coat and hat. My mother made coffee for us all, but no one was able to even to drink it because they were nervous, because of the strange visitor. Bryks lounged comfortably in an armchair and he felt very comfortable there. He told the whole story to my parents, about our acquaintance and their escape and their plans to go to Warsaw. At the time, the escape had not yet been discovered by Germans. It was about 6 p.m., so I told him that there was a curfew for Poles and that we were not allowed to be on the street after 8 p.m., that I must see him off to the hiding place and come safely back home. He put on his hat and coat, thanked everyone, and we left. While we were walking the streets, we met a German police patrol. I became nervous, because there was a custom that Poles must bow to Germans, so I told him so. While we were passing them, he just tipped his hat and said in a perfect German accent “Guten Abend” (Good Evening). The Germans policemen knew me very well, because I worked in the German shop, so they only looked back and walked away. When they walked away, he asked me if I would like to go to the cinema or for a walk closer to the camp. “I said no, we must hurry” I felt that he didn’t want to go to the hiding place. He just wanted to enjoy freedom a bit longer. I walked him to the Lewandowski’s and during the night the rest of 40 Kriegies escaped via tunnel. When the Germans learned about the escape, an alarming atmosphere awakened in the town. The Gestapo was searching for escapees through the whole city and many people were arrested for questioning. I luckily was not called for any interrogation, but the next day in the shop, I was very nervous, because I was afraid, that every person who entered was coming to take me for questioning. After some time, things calmed down a little in the city. Bryks and the other POW stayed hidden in town for about 14 days and I was in touch with them, but then they disappeared. Americans also planned an escape through the tunnel. They also tried to get in touch with me. Once one of them waved his hand at me and I waved back. Unfortunately one of German guards saw it and I was immediately arrested by the Germans. I was judged and condemned to 8 months in prison. I was imprisoned in Inowrocław (German name: Hohensalza) and after two months I was able to escape and hide. I walked back via Bydgoszcz and stayed hidden in Szubin at Karczewski's until the liberation on the 21st of January 1945.
The final question from the reporter: Do you recognize anyone in the group of Ex-Kriegies who arrived today? I showed them the group photo I had gotten from the Americans as a keepsake and one of men recognized himself in the photograph. It’s hard to recognize each other; everyone is about 30 years older, isn’t it true?

More about Major Josef Bryks:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Bryks
and about his escape can be read following the link:
http://fcafa.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/josef-bryks/

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
•    Polish transcription from the radio interview was provided by Mariusz Winiecki.
•    Polish to English translations were provided by Mariusz Winiecki. 
•    Edits to translations were provided by Mariusz Winiecki, Elodie Caldwell, and Glenn Burgess.
•    English transcription from the radio interview was provided by Elodie Caldwell

12 lis 2017

Jenieckie losy mojego ojca: podążając jego śladami przez Polskę

by Susanna Bolten Connaughton

 
Podporucznik Seymour Bolten, 1942.

Kilkadziesiąt lat po śmierci mojego ojca, podporucznika Seymour Boltena, w garażu moich rodziców odkryłam schowany tam szarozielony kufer, który okazał się być skrzynią skarbów.

Wielu czytelników tego bloga wie, o jakie skarby chodzi: listy jenieckie, obozowa prasa, czarno białe zdjęcia jeńców – pozujących na tle budynku obozowego szpitala w mundurach zapiętych na ostatni guzik czy prezentujący się na scenie szubińskiego Małego Teatru przebrani w kostiumy sceniczne genialnie wykonane ze skrawków.

Mój ojciec upakował ów kufer po brzegi, Jak miał w zwyczaju, uporządkował dokumenty w pakiety spięte gumką recepturką lub powkładał je w większe koperty. Ogrom zgromadzonych materiałów mnie przytłoczył, więc zdecydowałam się odłożyć badanie zawartości kufra na spokojniejszą chwilę.

Skarby ukryte w kufrze mojego ojca.

Sposobność taka nadarzyła się dekadę później, w styczniu 2015, kiedy to wraz z przedstawicielami Muzeum Holokaustu w Waszyngtonie (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) miałam okazję odwiedzić Polskę. Nigdy wcześniej nie byłam w Polsce i zastanawiałam się czy cokolwiek zostało do zobaczenia na terenie byłego Oflagu 64, o którym słyszałam kilka razy w dzieciństwie.

Odkryłam bardzo bogatą w informację stronę internetową Stowarzyszenia Oflag 64 i napisałam do jej twórcy i administratora Elodie Caldwell. Ona z kolei skierowała mnie do Mariusza Winieckiego, lokalnego pasjonata historii tego obozu. Już w pierwszej linijce zwrotnego emaila odpowiedział, że chętnie oprowadzi mnie po terenie byłego obozu.

Nie miałam pojęcia o podróży, która miała się rozpocząć.

Tego popołudnia, przyciągnęłam kufer do jadalni i ostrożnie rozłożyłam jego zawartość na całej dostępnej powierzchni. Usiadłam, wzięłam głęboki oddech i zaczęłam czytać zawartość kapsuły czasu, którą mój ojciec zapakował siedemdziesiąt lat temu.

Jak wielu jeńców, mój ojciec rzadko mówił o czasach swojej niewoli. Jeśli już cokolwiek wspominał, robił to nadzwyczaj nonszalancko. Gdy pytałam go na przykład o to, w jaki sposób trafił do niewoli, on odpowiadał: „Cóż, po prostu pojawili się na wzgórzu i machając flagą oznajmili nam, że jesteśmy pojmani)”.

W ciągu dwóch tygodni przygotowań do mojej wizyty w Szubinie, zatopiona w zawartości kufra zaczęłam poznawać jego historię.

Kiedy zaciągał się do Armii Stanów Zjednoczonych, mój ojciec, syn niepiśmiennych rosyjskich imigrantów wyznania Mojżeszowego, był 21-letnim absolwentem uczelni wyższej. Był jednym z pierwszych, którzy trafili do Oflagu 64, i jednym z ostatnich, którzy go opuścili.

 
Podporucznik Seymour Bolten, jeniec numer 1477, listopad 1943.

W czasie niewoli przechowywał wszystkie listy, które otrzymywał, tworzył też małe kopie wszystkich listów, które wysyłał i skrupulatnie odnotowywał informację o każdym otrzymanym liście czy paczce. W małym dzienniku z niebieską okładką spisywał informacje o tym, gdzie i kiedy przebywał – począwszy od walk w Północnej Afryce, przez Oflag 64, aż do Rembertowa i Odessy.

W tym sam dzienniku, doskonalił swój język rosyjski – a było to zajęcie, którego Niemcy zabraniali jeńcom.

Posłuszny rozkazom Starszego Oficera Obozu, Pułkownika Thomasa Drake’a, dbał o zdrowy tryb życia oficera: starał się znaleźć sobie pożyteczne zajęcie, był zawsze schludny i dostojny. Pracował nad dwoma obozowymi gazetami, był członkiem obozowego Komitetu Bezpieczeństwa, śpiewał tenorem w obozowym chórze oraz był obozowym tłumaczem.

Dwa tygodnie pośród zawartości kufra minęły bardzo szybko i pod koniec stycznia 2015 roku stanęłam przed opuszczonym budynkiem dworca kolejowego w Szubinie, gdzie spotkałam Mariusza po raz pierwszy. W miejscu, gdzie jeńcy przybywali do tego miasta, opowiedział mi, jak przebiegała ich trzydniowa podróż z poprzedniego miejsca osadzenia: upakowani w wagonie, z wiadrem zamiast latryny, i z niewielką, jeśli w ogóle, ilością pożywienia czy wody.

9 czerwca 1943 roku mój ojciec był jednym ze około 150 Amerykańskich oficerów, którzy wysiedli z ciemnego bydlęcego wagonu mrużąc oczy od słonecznego światła. Stojąc na tych samych torach, ogarniałam wzrokiem bezkresny płaski krajobraz otaczających pożółkłych pól i kolejowych podkładów.

Słowa mojego przewodnika przerwały letarg: „Z tego miejsca maszerowali do obozu, niewiele ponad milę stąd, ale czasem niektórzy byli w tak złej kondycji, że zabierało to niemal trzy godziny”.

Zamarłam: czy był przerażony? Czy mógł być jednym z tych w złym stanie. Miałam tylko nadzieję, że choćby z tego względu, że do obozu przyjechał w czerwcu, było mu dużo cieplej, niż nam tego szarego mroźnego styczniowego dnia.

Opuszczając teren dworca zatrzymaliśmy się obok nieczynnej od dawna szubińskiej wieży ciśnień. Chociaż jej ściany do wysokości niemal 20 stóp oplatały uschnięte winorośle, nie mogłam wyjść podziwu dla precyzji muru wykonanego z cegieł, zaokrąglonych łuków i okrągłych okien.

Nad jednym z okien był wyblakły biały prostokąt i napisana pogrubionymi czarnymi literami nazwa "Szubin".

“Spójrz uważniej”.

Pamiątka czasów okupacji niemieckiej na Szubińskiej wieży ciśnień.

Pod napisem "Szubin" przebijał się wyblakły inny napis – "Altburgund", niemiecka nazwa, którą nadali naziści w 1939 roku przejętemu miastu. Znów zamarłam i poczułam głęboki chłód. Litery te wciąż przebijają się jako ważne przypomnienie minionych czasów.

Zwiedzając miasto i Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej spędziliśmy wspólnie sześć godzin, po czym na terenie byłego obozu dołączył do nas Dyrektor Zakładu Poprawczego, Pan Wiesław Guziński.

Ten dzień spędzony w Szubinie odmienił moje życie.

 
Z Wiesławem Guzińskim i Mariuszem Winieckim, Szubin, styczeń 2015 i wrzesień 2017.

Od tego czasu, przeczytałam każdy z 342 listów znalezionych w kufrze, rozmawiałam z tymi, którzy te listy pisali albo z ich potomkami. Przeczesałam stronę internetową Stowarzyszenia Oflag 64 i miałam szczęście przeprowadzić rozmowy z kilkoma byłymi jeńcami oraz ich potomkami.

Odwiedziłam liczne archiwa i muzea, zarówno w Stanach Zjednoczonych, jak i w Polsce. Na kanwie tych listów piszę książkę o życiu mojego ojca w niewoli – życiu, którego nigdy w pełni nie ujawnił – oraz o tym, jak to życie ukształtowało go i wpłynęło na to, jaką był głową naszej rodziny.

Badanie zawartości kufra było naprawdę pasjonujące, ale nic nie może się równać dosłownie z podróżą śladami mojego ojca. W 2017 roku wróciłam do Polski na dwa tygodnie.

Przyjazna i kompetentna sieć kierowała mną we właściwych kierunkach: Marek Łazarz w Muzeum Obozów Jenieckich z Żaganiu, Miłosz Stroński i Arkadiusz Maciejewski z Muzeum Uzbrojenia w Poznaniu, i Rafał Górecki, dowódca Grupy Rekonstrukcji Historycznej „Green Light”. Przewodnicy Ci przybliżyli mi zarówno trudności jakich doświadczali jeńcy oraz cywile w okupowanej Polsce, jak i ich zaradność w pokonywaniu tych trudności. Dbałość o dokładność historyczną nie ustępowała zaraźliwej pasji, którą się hojnie dzielili.

Jednym z pierwszych przystanków był Poznań, tętniące życiem miasto leżące około siedemdziesięciu mil na południowy zachód od Szubina. Mój ojciec odwiedzał „Posen” (jak nazywali go Niemcy) wiele razy towarzysząc innym jeńcom w drodze do szpitala jako tłumacz. Podróżowali oczywiście pod eskortą uzbrojonego strażnika.

Jego wizyta w Poznaniu, która szczególnie mnie interesowała, miała miejsce 10 sierpnia 1944 roku. Kiedy mój ojciec oraz jego towarzysze niewoli w Oflagu 64, George Durgin, John Rathbone i Patrick Teel, wyszli z dworca kolejowego, usłyszeli od ich strażnika, Gefreitera Arthura Schimmela wskazującego jego karabinem na rynsztok: ”Idziecie tędy rynsztokiem, nie chodnikiem. Takie mam rozkazy od Hauptmana Mennera”.

Mój ojciec odpowiedział mu: „Byłem w Poznaniu wiele razy i nigdy nie słyszałem o takim rozkazie”.

W ten sposób wszczął kłótnię ze strażnikiem Armii Trzeciej Rzeszy.

Podporucznik Seymour Bolten, jeniec Oflagu 64, styczeń 1944.

We wrześniowe popołudnie 2017 roku, stojąc pod współczesnym dworcem kolejowym w Poznaniu odnalazłam fragment bruku i przedwojenne schody. Wyobraziłam sobie tłum, który zaczął się gromadzić widząc młodych Amerykanów stawiających się wzburzonemu Schimmelowi. Myślałam też o późniejszym zeznaniu Schimmela, w którym oświadczył, że “Bolten był wyraźnie podekscytowany”. Założę się, że był.

W wyniku tego incydentu został postawiony przed Sąd Wojskowy i rozprawa odbyła się dwa miesiące później w Gnieźnie.

Strażnicy SS, z opaskami ze swastyką na ramieniu, torowali w Gnieźnie drogę starając się utrzymać przechodniów w bezpiecznej odległości. Z dworca kolejowego, przez malowniczy plac w mieście prowadzili „niebezpiecznych” jeńców w kierunku bram trzynastowiecznego klasztoru Franciszkanów. Amerykanie spędzili straszną noc przed procesem w murach okupowanego przez nazistów sanktuarium.

Wspólnie z Mariuszem odwiedziłam klasztor w Gnieźnie. Mnich Franciszkański przywitał nas w bramie i poprowadził do świeżo odmalowanego na biało przedsionka z niskim romańskim sklepieniem. Był bardzo gościnny, ale nie omieszkał nadmienić, że rzadko pozwalają odwiedzać to miejsce, w szczególności, jeśli  wśród odwiedzających są kobiety. Wyraziłam swoją wdzięczność.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BY_nJaHAAMC/
 Zbiory XVI wiecznych ksiąg w Klasztorze Franciszkanów.

Skinął głową i poprosił, żebym opisała pokoje, w którym spali jeńcy. Na podstawie zapisków Clarence’a Fergusona i Lu Wilcoxa, jeńców prawników, którzy im towarzyszyli, powiedziałam mu, że pokoje te były połączone oraz opisałam widok z okna na drugim piętrze.

Mnich ponownie skinął głową i skierował swoje kroki w kierunku szerokich, spiralnych drewnianych schodów.

Podążyliśmy za nim. Jedynym dźwiękiem, jaki nam towarzyszył, był stukot moich butów o podłogę z ciemnych szerokich desek. Myślałam o mężczyznach, którzy wchodzili po tych schodach w 1944 roku i zastanawiałam się jaki dźwięk mogły wydawać ich zużyte sznurowane buty odbijając się echem po tych pomieszczeniach. Starałam się iść ciszej.

Gdy dotarliśmy na górę schodów, wiedziałam, że jesteśmy we właściwym miejscu. W kąciku na końcu korytarza, znienawidzony w Oflagu 64 Hauptman Zimmerman, na małym drewnianym krześle posadził strażnika, który miał czuwać przez całą noc. Pokój miał rząd wysokich okien wychodzących na wewnętrzny dziedziniec budynku. Stanęłam bliżej parapetu i podobnie jak oczom jeńców ukazał się trawiasty krużganek, gdzie onegdaj strażnicy SS stali z wycelowanymi w okna na drugim piętrze karabinami z bagnetami.

Nasza wycieczka zakończyła się na dole, przy wąskich drewnianych podwójnych drzwiach prowadzących na zewnętrzny dziedziniec. Mnich wyjaśnił, że 1944 roku od tej strony wchodziło się do klasztoru.

Wtrącił: „To tymi drzwiami twój ojciec wszedł do klasztoru i tędy go opuścił”.

Drzwi wyglądały na wystarczająco szerokie, żeby przepchnął się przez nie jeden jeniec z blaszaną miską i menażką brzęczącymi o siebie z wnętrza jego chlebaka i zwiniętym płóciennym śpiworem wetkniętym pod ramię.

Po kilku minutach podziękowaliśmy naszemu gospodarzowi i skierowaliśmy kroki do naszego następnego przystanku, stojącego obok o przecznicę dalej.

Zatrzymaliśmy się przed budynkiem sądu, gdzie jesienią 1944 roku Polowy Sąd Wojskowy Oddział 192 Trybunału Ludowego prowadził rozprawę sodową, w której oskarżonymi byli jeńcy Oflagu 64. Niemcy zbudowali ten wielki budynek w celu zastraszenia ludności, pokazania swojej dominacji – jego ozdobna fasada z ciemnej cegły zajmowała całą długość bloku, a pięć pięter olbrzymich łukowych okien spoglądało na chodnik.

Pomyślałam o liście ojca wysłanym do domu później tego samego tygodnia, w którym odbył się proces: „… trafiłem na dywanik za to, że byłem niegrzecznym chłopcem. Przypomnij, żebym o tym opowiedział.”

Dwa dni po wizycie w Gnieźnie, odwiedziłam Szubin i w końcu spotkałam inne „dzieci jeńców” z którymi do tej pory komunikowałam się tylko na odległość. W grupie tej był David Weinstein, bratanek byłego jeńca Leonarda Feldmana, który przyjechał tam, żeby kręcić film dokumentalny o doświadczeniach jego wuja.

Podczas popołudniowych zdjęć do filmu Davida, spędziłam czas z Markiem Kapsą, wnukiem innego szubinianka, Józefa Kapsy. We wrześniu 1939 roku hitlerowcy skonfiskowali jego dom rodzinny oraz drukarnię. On sam został wysiedlony do Generalnej Guberni, a w jego drukarni zainstalował się Willie Kricks – Niemiec, który wraz żoną prowadził tę drukarnię. Ostatecznie Kricks został też strażnikiem w Oflagu 64.

 Z Markiem Kapsą, wrzesień 2017.

Jesienią 1943 roku, Kricks wdał się w rozmowę z jeńcem i byłym reporterem „The Washington Post”, Frankiem Diggs’em. Usłyszawszy o drukarni Diggs wpadł na pomysł wydawania w obozie comiesięcznej gazety, „The Oflag 64 Item”.

Raz w miesiącu, począwszy od października 1943 roku, mój ojciec, Diggs oraz uzbrojony strażnik wychodząc przez kratową bramę Oflagu 64, skręcali w lewo w ulicę, której nazwę Niemcy zmienili na Adolf Hitler Strasse, po czym skręcali w prawo w wąską kręta drogę. Na miejscu w parterowej ceglanej drukarni Diggs rozplanowywał zatwierdzone przez cenzora teksty na roboczej stronie „The Item”. Mój ojciec natomiast stał obok i tłumaczył instrukcję dot. składu zecerskiego na język niemiecki. Ponad 70 lat później, miałam zaszczyt dzięki uprzejmości Marka Kapsy odwiedzić to samo miejsce.

Później tego samego popołudnia, przed Barakiem #9 w Oflagu 64, przyglądaliśmy się rekonstruktorom z Grupy Rekonstrukcji Historycznej „Green Light” przygotowującym się do wydarzenia pt.: „Żywa Lekcja Historii Oflagu 64”. Odziani w mundury w kolorze khaki i szaro zielonym, które znałam dotąd tylko z fotografii, ożywili obóz. Częstowali nawet ciężkim jak cegła niemieckim ciemnym chlebem upieczonym z trocinami według oryginalnego przepisu. (Mam nadzieję, że nie obrażą się, jeśli powiem, że w najlepszym razie, był bez smaku).

Z Rafałem Góreckim, wrzesień 2017.

Z ekranu mojego laptopa pokazałam rekonstruktorom zdjęcia znalezione w kufrze. Natychmiast wyciągnęli ze swoich pudeł z wyposażeniem takie same płaszcze i buty, w które byli ubrani na zdjęciach jeńcy Oflagu 64. Opisywali w szczegółach jak zmieniało się wyposażenie poszczególnych elementów umundurowania, jego zalety i wady, użyteczność i trwałość.

Ci młodzi ubrani w wojskowe płaszcze ludzie, byli w tym samym wieku, co mój ojciec, kiedy został jeńcem. Przez dwa następne dni za każdym razem, gdy tylko ktoś w „kurtce mojego ojca” (M41, teraz już wiem) pojawił się w zasięgu mojego wzroku, robiłam podwójne zdjęcie.

Następnego dnia, kilkaset osób przybyło na “Dzień w Oflagu 64”. Trzydziestu pięciu polskich rekonstruktorów – brytyjscy lotnicy, rosyjscy ordynansi i amerykańscy oficerowie – odtworzyło wydarzenia z prawie sześcioletniego okresu działania obozu.

28 stycznia 1945 roku Rosjanie “wyzwolili” jeńców obozu Oflagu 64. Mój ojciec spakował setki dokumentów, na których uwiecznił ostatnie dwa lata swojego życia w niewoli. Wyobrażam sobie jak uniósł je przez ramię w wysokiej okrągłej torbie, jakie nosili rekonstruktorzy. Wlókł te dokumenty ze sobą przez ponad trzy tysiące mil trwającej ponad dwa i pół miesiąca podróży: samochodem do Międzynarodowego obozu dla byłych jeńców alianckich w Rembertowie, pociągiem do Odessy, skąd statkiem przepłynął do Egiptu.

Moje ostatnie wspólne zdjęcie z tatą, czerwiec 1983.

Przez resztę swego życia trzymał tę kolekcję przy sobie gdziekolwiek się przenosił, i w końcu stała się bezcennym skarbem dla nas. Jestem wdzięczna, że przechował ten cenny ładunek, jego kapsułę czasu, kronikę jego doświadczeń, o których nie wolno zapomnieć.

Źródła:
  • Diggs, Frank. Americans Behind the Barbed Wire. Vandamere Press, 2000.
  • Ferguson, Clarence. Kriegsgefangener (Prisoner of War). Texian Press, 1983.
  • Wilcox, Lu. “Life in Prisoner of War Camp.” Oflag64.us/capture-and-camp-life.html.
  • “Notes Pertaining to the Trial of Bolten, Durgin, Rathbone, Teel,” 1944-1945; Box 31; War Crimes Division, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General, Record Group 153; National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
  • Podziękowania dla Julie Gionfriddo, córki byłego jeńca Jacka Rathbone'a oraz Debby Churchman, córki byłego jeńca J. Franka Diggsa.

© 2017 Susanna Bolten Connaughton
Copyright © for the Polish translation by Mariusz Winiecki

3 lis 2017

My Father's POW Experience: Following His Trail through Poland

by Susanna Bolten Connaughton

 
2nd Lieutenant Seymour Bolten, 1942.

Decades after my father, 2nd Lieutenant Seymour Bolten, passed away, I discovered a drab green trunk buried in my parents’ garage. It turned out to be a treasure chest.

Many of the readers of this blog are familiar with its gems: KriegyPost letters, tiny paper journals, and black and white photos of POWs – posed on the steps of the Hospital Building wearing buttoned-up military coats, or arranged on the stage of the Little Theater of Szubin, wearing ingenious costumes made from scraps.

My father had packed the trunk to capacity. Typical of him, he had organized the papers into rubber-banded bundles and larger envelopes. The paper overwhelmed me: I moved the trunk aside for a quieter moment.

Treasures hidden in my father's trunk.

The quieter moment came another decade later, in January 2015, when I was given the opportunity to visit Poland with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had never been to Poland and I wondered if there was anything left to see at the site of Oflag 64, a place I had only heard mentioned a few times in my childhood.

I discovered the informative Oflag 64 Association website, and emailed its resourceful creator, Elodie Caldwell. She e-introduced me to Mariusz Winiecki, Szubin’s Oflag 64 expert. His first line to me was “Yes, I can provide you guidance.”

I had no idea of the journey that was about to begin.

That afternoon, I dragged the trunk into our dining room, and gingerly laid out the papers onto every flat service available. I sat down, took a deep breath, and started to read the time capsule that my father had packed away seventy years ago.

Like many POWs, my father, who we all called “Noog,” (pronounced n-oog, and that’s another story) rarely spoke of his time in captivity. If he did, it was nonchalantly (ME: How were you captured? NOOG: Oh, they just came up over the hill waving a flag, and told us we were captured.)

So, in the two weeks that I had to prepare for my visit to Szubin, the trunk and I began to piece together his story.

When my father enlisted in the U.S. Army, he was 21-years old, the American-born, college-educated son of illiterate Russian Jewish immigrants. He was one of the first to arrive at Oflag 64, and one of the last to depart. (In civilian life, this pattern was how my father attended most events and parties.)

 
2nd Lieutenant Seymour Bolten, Kriegy #1477, November 1943.

While a POW, my father kept every letter he received, wrote out tiny copies of every letter he sent, and kept a detailed account of his mail and packages. He used a separate light blue journal to chronicle where he had been and when – from the battles in North Africa, to Oflag 64, and on to Rembertów and Odessa.

In the same journal, he practiced his Russian – a pursuit the Germans had forbidden the POWs.

He followed the orders of their Senior American Officer, Colonel Thomas Drake, for the healthy POW life of an officer: he stayed busy, neat, and dignified. He worked on the two camp newspapers, contributed to the Security Committee, sang tenor in the Glee Club, and was a camp translator.

My two weeks with the trunk flew by, and at the end of January 2015, I was in front of the abandoned Szubin train station, meeting Mariusz for the first time. As we stood on the spot where the POWs had arrived, he described their three-day journey: squeezed into a locked boxcar, sharing a bucket for a latrine, and little, if any, food or water. When they arrived at the station, many were suffering from dysentery, and none of them knew what conditions awaited them next.

On June 9, 1943, my father was among the one-hundred-fifty American POWs who piled out of a dark cattle car and squinted at the sunlight. Standing on the same train tracks, I stared across the flat, boundless landscape of yellowed fields and railroad ties.

Mariusz interrupted my trance, “They walked from here to the camp. The distance is a little more than a mile, though some of them were in such bad shape, it took them three hours to make it to the Camp.”

I was transfixed: was Noog scared? Was he one of the ones in bad shape? I hoped that because he had arrived in June, that it might have been warmer than it was on this grey, freezing January day.

On our way out of the train yard, we stood under the long-abandoned Szubin water tower. Though a twenty-foot mass of dead vines hung out of one of the windows, I could not help but admire the detailed brick work of the rounded arches and circular windows.

Above one of the windows was a faded white rectangle and the word “Szubin” printed in bold black letters.

“Look more closely.”

Reminder of Nazi-occupation times on Szubin water tower.

Underneath “Szubin,” ghosted a faded “Altburgund,” the German name that the Nazis had given to this town when they took control in 1939. Again, I stood transfixed. I felt a deep chill. The letters still echo at us as an important reminder.

The two of us spent another six hours together, touring the town, the Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej, and then joined by Wiesław Guziński, head of the MOAS Reform School, the Oflag 64 camp site. That
day in Szubin changed my life.

 
With Wiesław Guziński and Mariusz Winiecki, Szubin, January 2015 and September 2017.

Since then, I’ve read every one of the trunk’s 342 letters and spoken with the letter-writers or their children. I’ve combed through the Oflag 64 Association website, and had the good fortune to interview a few of the ex-Kriegies and many of their gracious descendants. I’ve visited archives and museums, across the U.S. and Poland. Using the letters as my framework, I am writing a book about my father’s life as a POW – the life he never fully disclosed – and how that life shaped him, and the way he led our family.

The research has been interesting, but nothing compares with literally following my father’s trail as told to me by the trunk. I returned to Poland in September 2017 for a two-week journey.

A welcoming and knowledgeable network steered me in the right directions: Marek Łazarz at the POW Camps Museum in Żagan, Miłosz Stroński and Arkadiusz Maciejewski at the Arms Museum in Poznań, and Rafał Górecki, the leader of Green Lights Historical Reenactment Group. These guides brought to life the challenges and resourcefulness of the POWs and of the citizens of occupied Poland. Their attention to historical detail only rivaled the infectious passion they generously shared.

One of the first stops of my trip was Poznań, a vibrant city about seventy miles southwest of Szubin. My father had visited “Posen” (as the Germans had renamed it) many times as a translator, accompanying other POWs on hospital visits. Escorted by an armed guard, of course.

The visit in which I was interested was the one on August 10, 1944. My dad and fellow Kriegies, George Durgin, John Rathbone, and Patrick Teel, had just stepped out of the train station, when their guard, Gefreiter (Corporal) Arthur Schimmel, pointed his rifle at the gutter: “You walk here in the gutter, not on the sidewalk. I have orders from Hauptman Menner.”

My father responded, “I’ve been to Posen many times, and I have never been given that order.”

The Argument with a Guard of the Third Reich had begun.

2nd Lieutenant Seymour Bolten, POW of Oflag 64, January 1944.

On a September afternoon in 2017, I stood under the now modern Poznań train station, and found the cobblestones and restored pre-war staircase. I imagined the small crowd gathering as the young Americans refused to relent to the flustered Schimmel. I thought of Schimmel’s later account of the incident, in which he had declared, “Bolten became quite excited.” I bet he did.

The resulting court-martial, was held two months later in the town of Gniezno.

SS guards, wearing the swastika armbands, cleared the Gniezno streets of all traffic and held pedestrians back at safe distance. They marched the “dangerous” POWs from the train station, across the picturesque town square, and through the gates of the town’s 13th century monastery. The Americans spent a harrowing pre-trial night inside this Nazi-occupied sanctuary.

In September 2017, Mariusz and I visited the monastery in Gniezno. A robed Franciscan monk met us at the gate, and led us in to a freshly painted, white vestibule with low, sloping Romanesque ceilings. He was hospitable, but made clear that they rarely gave tours, and especially tours that included women. I conveyed my gratitude.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BY_nJaHAAMC/
 Library for the Franciscan Monastery's collection of 16th century books.

He nodded once, and asked me to describe the rooms in which the POWs had slept. Based on the accounts written by POW lawyers Clarence Ferguson and Lu Wilcox, I told him that the rooms were adjoining, and I described the view from their second story window.

Again, the monk gave one nod. He glided up the wide and spiraling wooden staircase.
We followed. My boots clopped on the dark wide-planked floors, making the only sound around
us. I thought of the men who had climbed these stairs in 1944, and their worn out, laced-up boots
echoing through these halls. I walked more quietly.

At the landing at the top of the stairs, I knew we were in the right place. In the nook at the end of the hallway, Oflag 64’s detested Hauptman Zimmerman had sat guard all night in a small wooden chair. Inside the room, the row of tall windows looked down into a courtyard. I stood close to the sill – just as the prisoners had – and viewed a grassy cloister, where SS guards had once stood with bayoneted rifles trained on the windows of the second floor.

Our tour ended downstairs at a set of narrow wooden double doors and a serene entry yard. The monk explained that in 1944 this was the doorway for the monastery.

He tossed in, “This is where your father entered and exited.”

The doorway looked just wide enough to shove through one POW at a time, his tin bowl
and canteen clanking against each other from inside his musette bag, his rolled canvas bedsack
tucked under his arm.

After a few more minutes, we thanked our host, and walked to our next stop, a convenient one block away.

We stood before the courthouse where the “Field Court Martial Division Number 192 of the People’s Court of Germany” conducted their trials. The Germans had designed the grand building to intimidate – its ornate, dark brick façade took up the length of the entire block, and five floors of enormous arched windows glared down at the sidewalk.

I thought of my father’s letter home later that week: “…right now I am on the carpet for being a bad boy. Remind me to tell you about it.”

Two days after Gniezno, I was in Szubin, and finally meeting the other fellow “Kriegy Kids” with whom I’d only communicated remotely. The group included David Weinstein, ex-Kriegy Leonard Feldman’s nephew, who was there to film his documentary about his uncle’s experience.

During an afternoon of David’s filming, I spent time with Marek Kapsa, the grandson of Szubinite, Jósef Kapsa. You may recall from this site’s blog post, that in 1939, the Nazis had confiscated the Kapsa family’s home and print shop. They sent Jósef to a labor camp, and installed German Willie Kricks and his wife to run the shop. Eventually, Kricks became a guard at Oflag 64.

 With Marek Kapsa, September 2017.

In the Fall of 1943, Kricks fell in to conversation with POW and former Washington Post reporter, J. Frank Diggs. Hearing about the print shop gave Diggs the idea to found the monthly camp newspaper, The Oflag 64 Item.

Once a month, beginning in October 1943, my father, Diggs, and an armed guard, walked through Oflag 64’s trellised wooden gates, turned left on the renamed Adolf Hitler Strasse, and turned right, down a narrow winding road. Once inside the one-story brick home and print shop, Diggs spread out the (censor-approved geprüft) draft pages of The Item. My father stood alongside and translated Diggs’ typesetting instructions into German.

More than seventy years later, I had the honor to be hosted by Marek Kapsa in that very same yard. How pleased Jósef Kapsa and Seymour Bolten would have been to know who stood there together that day.

Later that afternoon, in front of Barrack #9 at Oflag 64, we watched the Green Lights Historical re-enactors set up for the camp’s first Living History event, “A Day at Oflag 64.” Wearing the khaki and the drab green wool I’d only seen in photographs, they brought the camp to life. They even passed around slices of the heavy-as-a-brick German black bread made from the original recipe, sawdust included. (I hope my hosts will not be offended if I say that, at best, it was tasteless.)

With Rafał Górecki, September 2017.

From my laptop, I showed the re-enactors the POW photos from the trunk. They dug into their boxes of equipment and pulled out the coats and boots that the men of Oflag 64 were wearing in the photos. They described the evolution of each article, its pros and cons of utility and durability.

They put on the coats, these men who were about the same age as my father when he was a POW. For the next two days, I did a double take every time my father’s jacket (an M41, I now know) passed the corner of my eye.

The next day, a few hundred people arrived for “A Day at Oflag 64.” Thirty-Five Polish reenactors – British flyers, Russian orderlies, and American Army officers – portrayed the six-year span of the camp. The day left many powerful impressions, not least of which was hearing an original recording of the Oflag 64 Glee Club floating over the camp loudspeakers.

On January 28, 1945, the Russians “liberated” the POWs from Oflag 64. My father packed-up the hundreds of documents that chronicled his life of the past two years. I imagine he hoisted it over his shoulder in one of the tall, cylindrical canvas duffle bags that the reenactors had carried. He hauled these papers with him on his three-thousand mile, two-and-a-half-month journey: trucked to Rembertów refugee camp, sent by box car to Odessa, and then transported aboard ship to Egypt.

Last photo with my father, June 1983.

For the rest of his life, he kept the collection with him wherever he went, and eventually, it became a priceless gift to all of us. I am grateful that he held on to this precious cargo, his time capsule, the chronical of an experience that would not and should not be forgotten.

Sources:
  • Diggs, Frank. Americans Behind the Barbed Wire. Vandamere Press, 2000.
  • Ferguson, Clarence. Kriegsgefangener (Prisoner of War). Texian Press, 1983.
  • Wilcox, Lu. “Life in Prisoner of War Camp.” Oflag64.us/capture-and-camp-life.html.
  • “Notes Pertaining to the Trial of Bolten, Durgin, Rathbone, Teel,” 1944-1945; Box 31; War Crimes Division, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General, Record Group 153; National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
  • Thanks to Julie Gionfriddo, daughter of ex-Kriegie Jack Rathbone, and Debby Churchman, daughter of ex-Kriegie J. Frank Diggs.

© 2017 Susanna Bolten Connaughton

14 paź 2017

Oflag 64. Żywa lekcja historii


9 paź 2017

Komentarz Wilbura Sharpe' a, jeńca numer 1573, odczytany podczas wydarzenia ‘Żywa historia Oflagu 64’

Pozdrowienia od byłego jeńca Wilbura Sharpe'a (więźnia numer 1573). Dziękuję wszystkim zgromadzonym dzisiaj dla upamiętnienia bardzo ważnego okresu w życiu tych z nas więzionych podczas II Wojny Światowej w Oflagu 64. Wspaniale jest dowiedzieć się, że jesteście zainteresowani utrwaleniem tej historii w swojej  społeczności. Wraz z żoną będziemy z Wami duchem, ponieważ w wieku 95 lat tak dalekie podróżowanie nie jest zbyt roztropne. Jestem wdzięczny mojej córce, zięciowi oraz wnuczce, za ich uczestnictwo wydarzeniach związanych z rekonstrukcją.
 
Wilbur Sharpe z córką Cynthią przed Pomnikiem II Wojny Światowej w Waszyngtonie, czerwiec 2017.

Prawie 6 lat temu otrzymałem listę 65 pytań dotyczących okresu mojej niewoli w Oflagu 64 od młodego człowieka o nazwisku Mariusz Winiecki. Zdziwiło mnie jego zainteresowanie, ale z pomocą rodziny odpowiadałem na pytania i trwa to po dziś dzień. Później dowiedziałem się, że Mariusz wysłał podobnych pytań do wielu jeszcze żyjących jeńców oraz ich rodzin i jestem przekonany, że w ten sposób rozpoczęły się jego obszerne badania i oddanie dzieleniu się historią Oflagu 64 nie tylko ze społecznością Szubina, ale i z całym światem. W imieniu wszystkich żyjący byłych jeńców oraz tych, którzy już odeszli, chciałbym powiedzieć, że jesteśmy dozgonnie wdzięczni jemu (i jego rodzinie) za dołączenie do naszej rodziny Oflagu 64 jako nasz orędownik. Chciałbym wyrazić także szacunek dla jego wysiłków w badaniu historii obozu oraz organizacji rekonstrukcji wydarzeń, które miały miejsce na tym terenie ponad 70 lat temu. 

Niektóre wspomnienia z Oflag64 są negatywne, ale są też i bardzo pozytywne. W szczególności moje i moich przyjaciół, Johna Scully oraz Earla Hoffmana, dotyczące ogromnej życzliwości, której doświadczyliśmy ze strony Polaków, zarówno w Szubinie, jak i gdy 21 stycznia 1945 r. zmuszono nas do marszu z obozu w kierunku Luckenwalde czy Hammelburga. Udzielali nam oni schronienia w swoich domach i stodołach podczas tych lodowatych nocy. Czasem spaliśmy blisko zwierząt by móc się ogrzać.

Dziewiątego dnia marszu nasza trójka nie stawiła się na apel i ukryliśmy się w stogu skoszonego siana zgromadzonego w stodole. Przerażeni Niemcy w obawie przed zbliżającymi się Rosjanami nie szukali nas zbyt dokładnie. Przyjaźni Polacy odnalazłszy naszą kryjówkę, nakarmili nas i udzielili nam schronienia do czasu przybycia wojsk marszałka Żukowa. Zapewne dzisiaj już bym nie żył, gdyby nie ich ochrona i życzliwość.

Cieszcie się dzisiejszym dniem i niech Bóg błogosławi każdemu z was!