Episodes & Studies Volume 1
THE GERMANS were extremely respectful to rank. In general, officer prisoners were given all the privileges accorded them by the Geneva Convention’s provisions, but they found the Germans harsh enough if they committed any breach of the regulations. Mass reprisals against officers included the removal of all furniture from their quarters and the suspension for several weeks of the issue of Red Cross parcels. With their greater leisure and greater resources of technical knowledge, officers had fuller chances than the men of engaging in secret or resistance activities,* and these chances were generally exploited. They had also better opportunities for education and recreation. This burden of time often made captivity more tedious for them than for men who were obliged to work.
Although undoubtedly better treated by the Germans than were the men, officers did not receive any better food and their accommodation could be very poor. At one officers’ camp (ofiag), in a former school which had held 150 pupils and now accommodated 450 officers, the sanitary system was hopelessly overtaxed. The medical treatment was unusually poor, being administered by German doctors described as ‘ignorant, indifferent, and frankly hostile’. Another oflag was in an old castle whose dry moat was the prisoners’ chief place of recreation. This camp had a good library, theatre, and orchestra. But the prisoners frequently came into collision with the German authorities, and in any case did not find the quarters comfortable.
Few features of life in oflags differed from those of other non-working camps, although cultural activities were perhaps more fully developed. As in the men’s camps, anything that was achieved in the arts or in education was due to the persistence and talent of the prisoners themselves, assisted by the International Red Cross, not to any indulgence on the part of the Germans.page 11
AT SANDBOSTEL, NEAR BREMEN, GERMANY
WORKING PARTY, SILZTHAL, AUSTRIA
RESOURCE UNDER ROUTINE
The old castle on the hill in the background was typical of Oflags in the early days of the war. The village below is Spangenburg
An inspecting party visiting the Red Cross store at Stalag 383
Lunchtime. Prisoners prepare their midday meal from Red Cross parcels
Visitors to a football match at Stalag 383 included the President of the Swedish YMCA, second from left
ON THE MARCHES
FOREIGN WORKERS, GERMAN CIVILIANS, AND ALLIED PRISONERS MIX TOGETHER IN A BARNYARD. A British medical officer in the right foreground can be distinguished by his arm-band
American Dakotas flew prisoners from Germany
A transit centre in Brussels, whence the prisoners flew to England
* Most of this activity is described elsewhere in this account or in the surveys in this series dealing with escapes, but two incidents at one officers’ camp may be cited as typical. The first was an escape by twenty-seven officers in 1942, a most elaborately contrived affair. The escapers climbed out over the wire on ‘assault ladders’ whose three hinged sections were successfully thrown right over the compound fence. A sapper officer had fused the camp lights; the Germans, fearing a general mutiny, did not care to enter the darkened camp, and German-speaking prisoners added to the confusion by shouting contradictory orders to the German guards. Four of the twenty-seven escaped completely. The other incident occurred later: as the Germans had periodically run a heavy traction-engine round the compound to cave in any tunnels, the tunnellers in retaliation dug a broad underground chamber which, when the surface collapsed, completely engulfed the engine; it ‘came to rest well down, to the consternation of the German authorities’.