The March of the POWs, of which my father George Edwin Farrar was one, from Stalag Luft IV began 75 years ago on February 6, 1945. It continued for 86 days and covered 500 miles across Pomerania and Germany.
Joseph P. O’Donnell, one of the Stalag Luft IV POW’s and the author of the Shoe Leather Express books wrote in his first volume, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, about the evacuation of the prison camp and the 86-day 500-mile march of which my father, George Edwin Farrar, was a part.
When I was a child, Daddy told me that he had been in a POW camp and had to march across Germany, but the details were too horrific for a father to tell his young daughter. I did not learn the horrors of what he had endured until many years after he died. Those I learned from the books of Joseph O’Donnell, Candy Kyler Brown, Laura Edge, and David Dorfmeier, and from the memories, written and oral, of some of the participants.
Joseph O’Donnell wrote in the opening pages of his first volume that,
By February 3, 1945, the front line was 45 miles south of Luft IV and extended to the Oder River, 40 miles east of Berlin…
With the Russian Red Army moving so close to the POW camp, it was a time of uncertainty for the prisoners. Would they be liberated by the Russians? Would they all be executed before the Red Army’s arrival? Would they evacuate the camp ahead of the Russians? Most expected an evacuation, but it was not a certainty.
We knew our evacuation was imminent as the Russians were advancing from the east. We could look through the cracks in the shutters over the windows and see the flashes from the artillery; and if the wind was right, we could hear the artillery at the front. My estimation was that we were less than 30 miles from the front lines.
Early on the morning of February 5, 1945, seventy-five years ago today, an announcement was made that the POWs would not evacuate the camp. But at 10 a.m., another announcement was made that they would be moving out the next morning.
The prisoners were told that they would be walking for three days. They were each given 1/3 loaf of bread and were allowed to take as many Red Cross parcels as they wanted. With each parcel weighing eleven pounds, the prisoners were forced to discard what they couldn’t comfortably carry.
Joseph O’Donnell wrote that the first day’s march was uneventful, and that they walked eighteen kilometers, a little over eleven miles.
But for men who were already malnourished, injured, and otherwise in poor physical shape from their confinement, this was no easy task.
Knowing that my father was one of the men packing up and marching out of the camp exactly seventy-five years ago sends a chill down my spine. To this point, he had already survived a mid-air collision (the sole survivor of his crew), an attack by German civilians after he parachuted to the ground, injuries requiring a two-month hospital stay, and months in the prison camp with very little food.
At twenty-three years old, survival was his main goal in life. Marching through the gates of the prison camp must have seemed overwhelming, with a mix of a sense of freedom with the uncertainty of what lay ahead. A yearning to see his family again kept him placing one foot in front of the other for the next eighty-six days.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020