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WWII Timeline – Winter 1938

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at January – March 1938 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Winter 1938

January 5, 1938

The Nazi Law on the Alteration of Family and Personal Names forbid Jews from changing their names.

January 28, 1938

President Roosevelt called for a massive rearmament program for the U.S.

February 1938

Adolf Hitler bullied Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg into giving him control of Austria’s interior ministry.

February 4, 1938

Adolf Hitler became commander-in-chief of the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, and the German war minister.

February 5, 1938

The Nazi Law on the Profession of Auctioneer excluded Jews from the profession.

March 12, 1938
Germany announced Anschluss, a union with or annexation of Austria, which had a population of 200,000 Jews, most living in Vienna. Nazi troops entered Austria and began arresting and publicly humiliating the Austrian Jews, making them perform tasks such as getting on their hands and knees and scrubbing the pavement.

March 13, 1938

The new Nazi government in Vienna declared Austria a province of the Greater German Reich.

March 18, 1938

The Nazi Gun Law banned Jewish gun merchants.

Late March 1938

The SS was placed in charge of Jewish affairs in Austria and Adolf Eichmann established an Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna.

Two weeks after the Anschluss, the National Socialist Gauleiter (regional head) of Upper Austria, August Eigruber, announced the building of a concentration camp at the town of Mauthausen on the Danube. Political opponents and those considered criminal or antisocial would be imprisoned at Mauthausen and forced to work in the granite quarries.

March 24 – April 7, 1938

Japan’s first military defeat in modern history occurred during the Battle of Taierzhuang. The Chinese killed approximately 16,000 Japanese soldiers during the two-week battle.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

The Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Antisemitic Legislation 1933 – 1939

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Fall 1937

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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Imagine

On September 28, 1944, two B-17 heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force collided after coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany.

As I remember the bedtime story Dad told me over and over when I was a child, ground fire hit the ship flying next to his, and that ship, knocked off course, ran into his ship. His ship cracked open like an egg, spilling everyone out. Dad was knocked out in the collision, but as he fell toward earth, he heard his mother call his name. He came around enough to open his chute and lost consciousness again.

The old woman struck him again and again with a stick as Dad woke up on the ground. German soldiers arrived and found him seriously injured, unable to walk. They carried him to a house to await transportation on his journey to confinement as a prisoner of war.

Dad would pause and get very sad as he told me that he was the only one on his plane who survived. When I asked why, he explained that he was the only man wearing his chest chute when the ships collided.

The story continued like it always did. The Germans took Dad to a hospital because he couldn’t walk. Moved by train, the German soldiers were kind to him and allowed him to ride in a bunk in their rail car. After his stay in the hospital, they moved him to a prison camp, where he learned to walk again, able to only shuffle his feet at first. And then came the part of the story that seemed the most significant, the march across Germany and how he slept in barns in the hay at night.

My childhood image was of my father dressed in a crisp uniform and polished shoes marching in columnar formation. I imagined him lounging in a fresh mound of clean hay, trying to avoid the proverbial needle that surely existed in every haystack. I was probably around eight years old and my imagination was highly influenced by a daily dose of Looney Tunes cartoons.

* * * * *

My father, George Edwin Farrar, died in 1982, and over the years I stopped thinking about the stories he told in my childhood of the mid-air collision, the prison camp, and the march. One day, almost thirty years after his death, a cousin e-mailed me a familiar story she had found on the internet. It was told by an eye-witness to the mid-air collision, the co-pilot of another B-17 in the formation. Reading the story brought all the memories flooding back.

The additional discovery of Dad’s record on the 384th Bomb Group’s website triggered my curiosity to learn more. I found that September 28, 1944 was my father’s sixteenth mission as a waist gunner on the John Buslee crew of the 384th Bomb Group, which was based in Grafton Underwood, England. But most telling was a copy of the missing air crew report attached to Dad’s record.

Through the missing air crew report, I learned that my father was wrong about why his crewmates didn’t survive. He was the only one who made it out of the ship. After the mid-air collision, his B-17 was seen spinning into the clouds on fire, with centrifugal force likely trapping the rest of the crew, who may have also been knocked unconscious. And through a conversation with another eye-witness, I learned the ball turret was knocked from the ship during the collision and plummeted to earth with the belly gunner inside.

Included in the missing air crew report was a statement in handwriting I immediately recognized as my father’s. In his statement he said,

Our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group. The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to. At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious and fell about 25,000 feet before I knew I was even out of the ship. Never saw any of the other boys. I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was. Any information you can find out about the boys I would appreciate hearing very much.

He concluded his statement with,

May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys.

I pulled out the box of my dad’s WWII mementos that my mother had given me before her death in 2004, and read letter after letter from the families of my dad’s lost crew to my grandmother during 1944 and 1945. While waiting for news about their sons, the mood of the letters evolved from disbelief, to hope, to despair, to sadness. The only joy came in the shared gladness of news of my father’s survival.

The information from the missing air crew report and deep emotion of the letters transformed me and I knew I had to learn more about this shared family tragedy. I began researching my father’s and his crewmates’ WWII history, learned all I could about the Stalag Luft IV prison camp where my father was held, and began reading personal stories of the march.

I learned that as a prisoner of war, Dad spent almost two months in the hospital. Shortly before Thanksgiving 1944, he was transferred to Stalag Luft IV. On February 6, 1945, my father was among the prisoners who marched from Stalag Luft IV. He remained on the road until his liberation at Gudow eighty-six days and five hundred miles later on May 2, 1945.

I started this blog to record the findings of my research. The stories on my blog not only let me record my findings, they lead to connections with relatives of the men my father served with in combat and was held captive with as a POW.

It may have been Dad’s statement, “May you have luck on the mission of finding what did happen to the boys,” that triggered not just an interest, but an intense desire, to find out for myself what happened in the skies above Magdeburg on September 28, 1944, and to learn more about the families and their sons.

* * * * *

Imagination is a funny thing. It creates a picture in one’s mind based on available information. When new information is added, a new picture emerges, but the old one remains. Version control for the brain, I suppose.

The more I learn, the more the picture changes, but it is only an image conjured by my imagination of the things my father told me and the things I have learned since. I have never seen these places with my physical eyes, only within my mind’s eye.

My image of my father sleeping in the hay in a barn is now of an emaciated man I would not recognize, huddled with other prisoners under thin, dirty blankets. If they slept, they dreamt of home and food, and when they didn’t sleep, they asked God for the strength to walk just one more day.

* * * * *

The next steps in my journey are to visit the airfield in England at which my father was based, to see the crash site in Germany of his B-17 and the remains of the Stalag Luft IV prison camp, walk some of the path of the march, and find the location of his liberation at Gudow.

I need to see the remains of the prison camp where my father stared at fence day after day, learned to walk again at twenty-three years old, and with the lack of food, began the slow progression of starvation that would continue until liberation.

I need to physically see barns where the prisoners rested during the march, and not only view them from the road, but throw open the doors and breathe in the stale and musty smells of the hay. I half expect to awaken the sleeping ghosts of hundreds of starving and exhausted airmen when the daylight strikes the dark recesses of these shelters that housed the marchers from the harshness of the bitterly cold nights of winter 1945.

I need to physically put one foot in front of the other along the road, to scuff up some dirt where dad walked through snow and ice. I need to be in the same physical space he once traveled. I know I will feel him there and connect with him, and I will remember the bedtime stories of my childhood once again.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

WWII Timeline – Fall 1937

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1937 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1937

November 5, 1937

Adolf Hitler held a secret conference in the Reich Chancellery to reveal his plans for the acquisition of Lebensraum, or living space, for the German people (at the expense of other European nations).

Attending the conference were:

  • German War Minister, Werner von Blomberg
  • Commander in Chief of the Army, Werner von Fritsch
  • Commander in Chief of the Navy, Erich Raeder
  • Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring
  • Foreign Minister, Constantin von Neurath
  • Colonel Friedrich Hossbach

Colonel Hossbach took the minutes of the conference which resulted in the meeting being known as the Hossbach Conference, and his record of minutes the Hossbach Memorandum.

At the conference, Hitler swore the men to secrecy and told them that his words should be regarded as his last will and testament. Hitler expressed his view of and vision for Germany with these arguments and reasons:

  • Germany had a tightly packed racial core and was entitled to greater living space than in the case of other peoples.
  • History proved that expansion could only be carried out by breaking down resistance and taking risks, there had never been spaces without a master, and the attacker always comes up against a possessor. Where could Germany achieve the greatest gain at the lowest cost?
  • Germany’s two biggest problems, two hate inspired antagonists, Britain and France, to whom a German colossus in the center of Europe was a thorn in the flesh.
  • Germany’s problem could only be solved by means of force, but when and how remained to be seen.
  • Military action must be taken by 1943-1945 at the latest, to guard against military obsolescence and the aging of the Nazi movement. Germany must take the offensive while the rest of the world was still preparing its defenses.
  • The primary objective would be to seize Czechoslovakia and Austria to protect Germany’s eastern and southern flanks.
  • Hitler envisioned three different strategies (see Cases 1 – 3 in the Hossbach Conference link below) designed to capitalize on the present and future military and political problems of France and England.

Following the conference, Foreign Minister Constantin von Neurath suffered several heart attacks and asked to be relieved from his post.

Hitler’s vision and casual acceptance of the immense risks of starting a war in Europe shocked his colleagues and conference attendees, especially German War Minister Werner von Blomberg and Commander in Chief of the German Army Werner von Fritsch. Both repeatedly emphasized that Britain and France must not appear as Germany’s enemies. Blomberg and Fritsch’s continuing opposition to Hitler’s war plans resulted in their removals via trumped up scandals within three months.

With the removal of the top echelon of the Army, Hitler assumed supreme command with Wilhelm Keitel as chief of the high command.

November 6, 1937

Italy joined the Anti-Comintern (Communist International) Pact. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan previously signed the pact, which was directed against the international Communist movement, in November 1936.

November 8, 1937

Chinese resistance in Shanghai ended. The Japanese victory claimed 100,000 Chinese troops and as many as 200,000 civilians.

In Munich, Germany, a traveling exhibit called “The Eternal Jew” opened which promoted stereotypes of Jews and the Nazi perceptions of their danger to the world.

December 11, 1937

Italy withdrew from the League of Nations.

December 12, 1937

Japan bombed the US gunboat Panay on the Yangtze River in China.

December 13, 1937

Nanking fell to the Japanese. During the following “Rape of Nanking” more than 200,000 Chinese civilians were slaughtered.

Sources:

More detail on the Hossbach Conference and Hossbach Memorandum from The History Place

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Summer 1937

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

German Hospitals Holding POWs in WWII

In the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between two of the 384th Bomb Group’s B-17s with the Buslee crew (my dad’s crew) aboard 43-37822 and the Brodie crew aboard 42-31222 (aka Lazy Daisy), fourteen airmen died, but four survived. My dad, waist gunner George Edwin Farrar of the Buslee crew, was the only survivor on his fortress. He was seriously injured and required hospitalization for almost two months.

Aboard Lazy Daisy, waist gunner Harry Allen Liniger and tail gunner Wilfred Frank Miller survived without serious injury, but navigator George Marshall Hawkins, Jr. sustained extremely serious injuries due to the collision. I don’t intend to cover the extent of Hawkins’ injuries now. At this time, I want to only identify the hospitals at which my dad and Hawkins were treated as POW’s.

During WWII, the following German Lazaretts (Hospitals) held American POWs,

Lazarett IV A Elsterhorst (Hohnstein, Czechoslovakia)
Lazarett IV G (Leipzig, Germany)
Lazarett V B (Rottenmunster, Germany)
Lazarett VI C (Lingen, Germany)
Lazarett VI G (Gerresheim, Germany)
Lazarett VI J (Dusseldorf, Germany)
Lazarett VII A (Freising, Germany)
Lazarett IX B (Bad Soden/Salmunster, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (a) (Obermassfeld, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (b) (Meiningen, Germany)
Lazarett IX C (c) (Hildburghausen, Germany)
Lazarett X A (Schleswig, Germany)
Lazarett X B (Sandbostel, Germany)
Lazarett XIII D (Nurnberg-Langwasser, Germany)
Lazarett XVIII A/Z (Spittal/Drau, Austria)
Marine Lazarett (Cuxhaven, Germany)
Luftwaffen Lazarett 4/11 (Wismar, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett II Vienna (Vienna, Austria)
Reserve Lazarett Graz (Graz, Austria)
Reserve Lazarett Bilin (Bilin, Czechoslovakia)
Reserve Lazarett Wollstein (Wollstein, Poland)
Reserve Lazarett II Stargard (Stargard, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Schmorkau (Schmorkau, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Konigswartha (Konigswartha, Germany)
Reserve Lazarett Ebelsbach (Ebelsbach, Germany)

The above list is noted to be as of December 31, 1944 and was found on the website of the National Museum of the US Air Force.

The 384th Bomb Group website notes that George Hawkins was treated at POW Camp: Obermassfeld Hospital #1249 (Serves Stalag 9-C) Obermassfeld Thuringia, Germany. In addition, Hawkins’ WWII records, which I found at the NPRC during a visit to St. Louis for an 8th AF Historical Society reunion noted he was treated at these hospitals:

  • A hospital in Magdeburg, Germany for 3 1/2 months (not noted on the above list)
  • A hospital in Obermassfeld, Germany for 1 week (according to above list, Lazarett IX C (a))
  • A hospital in Meiningen, Germany for 2 3/4 months (according to above list, Lazarett IX C (b))

According to an entry on Wikipedia about Stalag IX C and its associated hospitals, the camp was for Allied soldiers during WWII, rather than airmen. A large hospital, Reserve-Lazaret IX C(a), and a smaller hospital, Reserve-Lazaret IX C(b), were under Stalag IX C administration.

Hawkins spent a week at the large hospital in Obermassfeld, which was a three-story stone building and was operated by British, Canandian, and New Zealand medical staff. But it was the smaller hospital in Meiningen where Hawkins would spend the remainder of his captivity during the war.

I can only guess that my father was taken to the same hospital in Magdeburg where Hawkins was first treated and after two months of treatment was transferred to the Stalag Luft IV prison camp. I don’t believe he would have been transferred to either the hospital in Obermassfeld or Meiningen, but he may have been transferred elsewhere before being placed in the general population of Stalag Luft IV.

My assumption may not be correct, but I do not know of a particular hospital that was associated with Stalag Luft IV. Unlike George Hawkins’ records at the NPRC, my father’s records only consist of recreated documents supplied by my mother after his file at the NPRC was destroyed in the fire of 1973.

Until I learn differently, I will assume that Dad was treated in the same hospital in Magdeburg as George Hawkins, but my percentage of certainty about that is pretty low. If anyone knows of any other resources to help me find information about POW hospitals in Germany, please comment or e-mail me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

WWII Timeline – Summer 1937

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at July – September 1937 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Summer 1937

July 2, 1937

On aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart’s attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe, she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on a leg of the flight from Papua, New Guinea to Howland Island.

July 7, 1937

A conflict between the Republic of China’s National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army near the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing, China (known as the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident”) led to warfare between China and Japan. This Japanese invasion of China was a prelude into World War II in the Pacific.

July 31, 1937

Japanese troops occupied Peking, China.

August 22, 1937

A U.S. Gallup poll showed that 43% of Americans supported China, 2% supported Japan, and 55% supported neither.

September 19, 1937

The Japanese launched air raids against Nanking and Canton, China.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Spring 1937

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Liberation Gudow

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was a POW in Germany’s Stalag Luft IV in WWII. On February 6, 1945, all of the prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were marched from the prison camp and continued to march out of Poland and through Germany until their liberation.

The prisoners were marched in separate groups, or columns, and didn’t all follow exactly the same route. All were not liberated at the same time or place.

From a letter to his mother, I know my father was liberated on May 2, 1945, after a march of eighty-six days, and was in one of the last columns to be liberated. He did not mention where he was liberated, but at the time he may not have known exactly where in Germany he was.  He said,

I guess you have heard through the government that I was liberated. I was liberated by the English May 2nd and have been treated very nice since. I should be home soon, and having some of the nice meals you fix. That I have dreamed of for all-most a year. Life was a bit hard here, but it is all over now. I have been on the road marching since Feb. 6th with very little food, but am not in bad condition.

In his book, The Shoe Leather Express, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, POW Joseph P. O’Donnell wrote that on April 30, 1945, the column of prisoners arrived at Zarrentin and spent the night sleeping in the barn of a farm.

The next morning, Day 85 of the march, the farmer slaughtered one of his cows to feed the group, but before the meal could be prepared, the prisoners were ordered to move out.

Late in the morning of May 1, 1945, the column left Zarrentin and arrived at a farm at the outskirts of Gudow late in the afternoon, a walk O’Donnell estimated to be eight kilometers, or about five miles. There, not knowing that liberation would come the next day, the prisoners spent their last night in the farmer’s barn.

On the morning of May 2, 1945, Day 86, the prisoners’ morning started as usual, awakening early, with some prisoners searching the farm for food, eggs that could be eaten raw, or potatoes that could be carried to the next stop. On this day, the Germans distributed canned sardines and commanded the prisoners to pack up and walk to the end of the farm lane to the main road where they would be liberated by the British 8th Army, the Royal Dragoons.

Joe O’Donnell reported that the column was liberated at approximately 11:50 am on May 2, 1945.

The Austrailian War Memorial website contains two photos from the liberation,

GUDOW, GERMANY. 1945-05. POW AMERICAN AIRMEN SHOWING THEIR EXCITEMENT AT BEING LIBERATED BY MEN OF THE REGIMENT OF ROYAL DRAGOONS. (BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH, BU5038).
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

and

GUDOW, GERMANY. 1945-05-02. AMERICAN PRISONERS FLOCK BACK ALONG THE ROAD TO FREEDOM AFTER BEING LIBERATED BY TROOPS OF THE BRITISH FIFTH DIVISION. (BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH, BU5046).
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

From the time my father was born until the day he died, I imagine his walk down a farm lane on the outskirts of Gudow on May 2, 1945 became the sweetest steps of his life, his final walk to liberation and freedom.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

WWII Timeline – Spring 1937

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at April – June 1937 in this post.

But before I begin the timeline, I’d like to note that seventy-four years ago today, February 6, 1945, the march out of Stalag Luft IV, the POW camp in which my Dad was held prisoner, began.

A Timeline of WWII, Spring 1937

April 27, 1937

The Spanish city of Guernica was destroyed by German war planes and becomes symbol of anti-fascism.

May 28, 1937

Neville Chamberlain succeeded Stanley Baldwin to become prime minister of Great Britain.

June 11, 1937

Soviet leader Josef Stalin began a purge of Red Army generals.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Winter 1937

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Zygmunt Wujek

I met Polish sculptor Zygmunt Wujek in July 2017 at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia, near Savannah, during a gathering of descendants of WWII POWs. In the above photo, Zygmunt is pictured at the museum with his American Aviator bronze bust.

The American Aviator is one of more than two hundred works Zygmunt created in his native Pomerania. Among Zygmunt’s many works were monuments commissioned by Lech Walesa to mark the entrance to Stalag Luft IV. To see photos of Stalag Luft IV then and now, including the monuments created by Zygmunt Wujek, please visit this POW site.

The American Aviator bronze bust in the photo…

…is described on the accompanying plaque as …

the only exact copy of the “American Aviator” in the 1992 memorial at Stalag Luft IV, the WWII prison camp for enlisted American airmen in Poland. Wujek used a photograph of Joseph O’Donnell, a  POW at Stalag Luft IV, as his model. At the 2006 dedication of the site as a Polish War Memorial, Wujek gave this bust to former POW Walter Grotz. It took Grotz five years to make the necessary import arrangements, and in 2011 he delivered the bust to this museum which will be its permanent home. Wujek presented it on behalf of the people of the Pomerania region of Poland as a Thank You to Eighth Air Force Veterans, all Veterans and the people of the United States.

Note:  The POW from whom the American Aviator was modeled, Joseph O’Donnell, was the author of the series of “The Shoe Leather Express” books.

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was one of the American aviators imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV during WWII, and so this particular work of Zygmunt Wujek has special significance to me.

I have not been to the site of Stalag Luft IV to see the remains of the prison camp or the memorial erected there, but seeing and touching this memorial to all the men with whom my dad shared this part of his past sends waves of emotion though me. I am thrilled that we have such a monument on American soil to remind us what these men sacrificed for us so many years ago.

Next year, 2020, will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the march of prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV. Plans are in the works to mark the anniversary at the memorial site and across Germany following part of the path of the march. I know Zygmunt would have taken part, but sadly Zygmunt Wujek died on December 22, 2018.

Zygmunt’s obituary shared the following information:

On Saturday (22 December [2018]), a sad news came. At the age of 80, Zygmunt Wujek, a sculptor from Koszalin, a medalist, painter and draftsman and a social activist died. He became famous as the author of over two hundred monuments, including Jan Stawisiński, Victims of Bolshevism, General Władysław Anders and Martyrdom of the Polish Nation.

Zygmunt was born on September 22, 1938 in Rawicz, Poland. He studied sculpture at the State Higher School of Fine Arts (currently the Academy of Fine Arts) in Poznań. In the capital of Wielkopolska he was a participant in the demonstration of support for the workers’ protest in June 1956. He worked as an instructor at the Youth Culture Center in Poznań, but in 1965 he came to Koszalin. Here he was a teacher at the Technical School of Building, and later a sculpture teacher at the State High School of Fine Arts and a lecturer at the Design Institute of the Koszalin University of Technology. He was an activist of the Union of Polish Visual Artists. Awarded many times, including decorated with the Gold Cross of Merit, the Mater Verbi Medal and the West Pomeranian Griffin.

The news about the artist’s death is a huge loss for the Koszalin culture and a surprise for a group of his friends, because Zygmunt Wujek, who was still active, had many plans for the next year.

A more complete biography is included Zygmunt’s full (translated) obituary here.

But something is missing from this summary of Zygmunt’s life. What formed the man is not the list of his accomplishments, but the impressions that formed in his young mind when he was growing up in Poland.

Zygmunt was born during a terrible time in the world, during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Barely over a month following Zygmunt’s birth, over 15,000 Polish Jews living in Germany were expelled without warning. They were loaded in boxcars and dumped at the Polish border. Weeks later, the Nazis coordinated widespread attacks on Jews throughout Germany in an event call Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass.

Shortly before Zygmunt’s first birthday, the Nazis invaded Poland, initiating WWII in Europe. Britain and France demanded Germany withdraw its troops, but instead the Luftwaffe raided Warsaw. In September of 1939, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all declared war on Germany. Before the end of the month, Warsaw surrendered to the Nazis.

In the early years of Zygmunt Wujek’s life, his country was under Nazi occupation. Concentration camps arrived and the extermination of Jews began. Stalag Luft IV opened in May 1944 for the imprisonment of captured allied enlisted airmen.

On January 17, 1945, with Zygmunt only six years old, Soviet troops captured and liberated Warsaw from Nazi control. On the 26th, the Soviets liberated the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. On February 6, with the Russian Army approaching, the POWs of Stalag Luft IV were made to gather their belongings and march from the camp, beginning their eighty-six day odyssey out of Poland and across Germany.

Until VE (Victory in Europe) Day, May 8, 1945, Zygmunt Wujek had known nothing but war in his life, but now at school age, those terrible times would become memories, but memories that would last a lifetime.

It is impossible to think of the memorial at Stalag Luft IV without remembering Zygmunt Wujek. Though he will be greatly missed by family and friends, including the daughters of Stalag Luft IV, his memory will live on through his works of art, and especially for me, his memorial sculpture for the airmen of Stalag Luft IV and the American Aviator.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

WWII Timeline – Winter 1937

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at January – March 1937 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Winter 1937

January 1937

The Nazis banned Jews from many professional occupations including teaching, accounting, and dentistry. Jews were also denied tax reductions and child allowances.

January 19, 1937

Japan officially stopped adhering to the Washington Conference Treaty of 1921 which limited the size of its Navy.

January 27, 1937

China Nationalists and Communists agreed to combine forces against Japan.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Fall 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The Shoe Leather Express

Seventy-four years ago, near the end of WWII, with Allied forces advancing from the west and the Soviet Red Army advancing from the east, the Nazis began a series of forced marches of prisoners out of their prisoner of war camps. There is no definitive answer as to why the prisoners were marched from the camps or what the Nazis planned for them in the end. One theory is that the prisoners were marched out of the camps simply to delay their liberation.

By the end of January 1945, the plan to march allied prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV and away from liberation by the Soviet Red Army was ready to begin. The winter of 1945 was one of Germany’s coldest on record with blizzard conditions. The prisoners of Stalag Luft IV, the POW camp in which Dad was held prisoner, were ill-equipped for a march in such weather. They had been underfed and were not clothed properly for the conditions.

On February 6, 1945 the march out of Stalag Luft IV began. With just a few hours notice to prepare to march out of the camp, the prisoners scrambled to gather what they could.

The prisoners did not know where they were going or how long they would be on the road. The march out of Stalag Luft IV has been given many names – the Death March, the Black March, and even the Shoe Leather Express. Most of those that survived just called it “The March”. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, usually called it the “Forced March” when he told me stories of sleeping in the hay and stealing a chicken for food.

Many books have been written about the 86-day 500-mile march of Stalag Luft IV prisoners. The best book on the subject is the original The Shoe Leather Express by Joseph P. O’Donnell. Joe was Stalag Luft IV POW 1414 and experienced the prison camp and the march firsthand. Joe wrote a series of six books on the subject of POWs, with the first book of the Shoe Leather Express series subtitled The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany.

The complete list of the Shoe Leather Express books is as follows:

  • Book 1:  The Shoe Leather Express, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany
  • Book 2:  The Shoe Leather Express Book II, Luftgangsters Marching Across Germany, A Potpourri of Prisoner of War Experiences in Nazi Germany During World War II
  • Book 3:  The Pangs of the Thorn, Book III of The Shoe Leather Express, A Collection of True Stories of Prisoners of War in Japan and Nazi Germany WWII
  • Book 4:  A History of Stalag Luft IV, May 1944 – February 1945, Book IV of The Shoe Leather Express
  • Book 5:  And Then We Came Upon A Time of Great Rewarding, A Time of Remembrance, A Collection of Prayers and Poems for and by Prisoners of War
  • Book 6:  Talent Behind Barbed Wire, A Collection of Sketches and Cartoons of Prisoner of War Life

The harsh conditions of the march from Stalag Luft IV and treatment of the POWs is not well known. The march itself is rarely a topic of discussion in the subject of WWII history. But that needs to change. February 6, 2020 will mark the 75th Anniversary of the start of the Black March, and this event from history should be recognized and remembered.

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March was commemorated in the Congressional Record. On May 8, 1995, in the First Session of the 104th Congress, John William Warner entered the commemoration into the 141st Congressional Record (S6237). It may be read here in one of my past posts.

As for Joseph O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express books, they are out of print and hard to find through used book sources, but the preface and first two chapters of the original Book I may be read online courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.

Candy Kyler Brown, daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW John R. Kyler kindly provided me with the titles of all the books in Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express series. Candy began researching her father’s WWII and POW experiences long before I began researching mine and has produced both a website and book with must-read information for anyone interested in learning more about the WWII POW experience.

Candy’s book, What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father, is available on Amazon.

Candy’s website, Remember History, offers a wealth of information about her father and about her friend, Joseph O’Donnell, and his POW experiences.

As Candy and I and other sons and daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs have learned, it all starts with an inquisitive mind and a desire to know the truth about our fathers’ captivity during WWII. Don’t let this important part of our country’s history and your family’s history be lost to the past.

Learn everything you can by reading published books and personal accounts published online.  Search for your own family WWII-era letters and photos long packed away.

If you’re lucky enough to have a living father, grandfather, or uncle in his mid-90’s, ask him if he served in WWII. Ask about his war service and learn everything you can from him. If he is a former prisoner of war, find out everything you can about his POW experience. Record it. Share it with the world or just share it with future generations of your family.

We must not forget their service and we must not forget their sacrifice. Remember and make these men proud.

Resources

Preface and first two chapters of The Shoe Leather Express Book I

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father by Candy Kyler Brown

Candy Kyler Brown’s website, Remember History

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March commemorated in the Congressional Record

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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