Archive for the ‘prisoners’ Category

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

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

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

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

The ruins of huts in the prisoner of war camp, Sandakan, North Borneo, October 1945. Courtesy Australian War Memorial: 120457

The PoWs carried all the food including that for the guards. The route of the Death March, climbing up to 1,000 metres in some places, was along jungle tracks some of which the prisoners had to hack through thick jungle. The route crossed and re-crossed rivers which, as it was the monsoon season, were full in full flow. Humidity was extreme. There were no medical kits for the PoWs and drinking water was direct from the streams, rivers, swamps or puddles. It was a case of march or die, which developed into march to die. Any prisoner that stopped was shot, bayoneted or clubbed to death; there were also occasional strangulations.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp had operated since 1936 as punishment facility rather than an extermination site. About 30,000 people are believed to had died there from overwork, ill-treatment and malnutrition, although a proportion were put to death by shooting, hanging and, in later years, a gas chamber.

Rumour also had it that the coming night would be still worse. Last night many were awakened by shots in the camp. This was what happened: when a party of those who had been taken from the blocks under cover of darkness marched out of the gate and turned to the right, they realised where they were going, broke the ranks and ran into the little park there between the walls. The guards opened fire on them, and they were shot down there in the park. It was the rat—tat of the guards’ tommy-guns which broke the night silence, filling those who lay awake with horror and dread.

Soldiers of the 'Volkssturm' the German 'People's army' in their trenches in East Prussia in January 1945.

We carefully removed our boots and shoes, What was left of our socks and foot-cloths had gone hard from dried blood and pus. My soles were just pus-filled flesh, but the worst pain came from inside. As I’d been running for three weeks on soles which were bumed and warped, my metatarsal was horribly inflamed. When I stood up, the pain coming from it was unbearable. In addition, my ankles had swollen badly where the top edge of my boots rubbed with every step. Our feet were a pathetic sight. In normal times, no one would have believed it possible that we could run even one more step.

General view of the huts and compound at Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp, scene of the 'Great Escape' in 1944.

The enemy quickly launched an attack with 2 full companies of infantrymen, blasting the patrol with murderous concentrations of automatic and rifle fire and beginning an encircling movement which forced the patrol leader to order a withdrawal. Despite the terrible odds, Pfc. Valdez immediately volunteered to cover the maneuver, and as the patrol 1 by 1 plunged through a hail of bullets toward the American lines, he fired burst after burst into the swarming enemy.

A column of German prisoners of war in Warsaw, January 1945.

Over the next several hours, they trucked in people from nearby districts, and brought in film crews and journalists to record on film and print the city ruins, and the fear and grief of the sham residents. Even the park and its beautiful swans were destroyed: almost all the trees were burned, the swans were shot, and it was announced that the “Asiatic hordes” had killed them and eaten them.

The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.

We marched nearly all of the first night, eventually stopping at a barn, where we lit fires and melted snow in our dixies, adding milk (klim) to provide a hot drink (no rations were provided by the Germans). The next day we marched on again, with the sound of Russian artillery in the background. As the packs on our backs were too heavy, most of us used makeshift sledges to pull our possessions along. As the days went by we got weaker; the built-up stock of food reserves had gone, we were plagued with lice and dysentery, and frostbitten limbs turned gangrenous. We were sometimes bundled into barns at night, but on at least one occasion we spent the night in an open field with no food at all.

German picture of Americans taken prisoner during their Ardenne offensive.

We relieve ourselves, then line up to fill our canteens from a faucet. No one asks if the water is clean or contaminated. No one cares. War is humbling. We have no dignity, look filthy, feel filthy, and we are at the bottom of the pit. If the Germans are trying to break our morale, it won’t work. We have no morale. The snow—covered mountains around us remain cold and hostile. It has been four days now, and we have been fed nothing.

The 84 bodies of the POWs, covered by snow, were found on 14 January 1945.

Every truck and halftrack that passed fired into the group, and why I didn’t get hit too bad . . . I was in the front, right in the front, the first or second or third right in the front. Each track that came around the corner would fire right into the group in the middle so that they wouldn’t miss anything, that’s why I didn’t get too badly hit.

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