|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
A bombardier's diary
Paul Morris writes about his uncle Anthony Cassani:
"Anthony Cassani was the bombardier on a B-24 and was shot down over Germany near Gotha. On the fateful mission, Anthony's plane was heavily damaged by flak and the pilot told everybody to bail out. For bombardier Anthony, the route out was through the doors for the nose gear. He got half way out and the pilot decided that maybe they could make it home after all--and started to raise the landing gear again. Anthony was pinned in the opening, exposed to flak and machine gun fire from ME-109s. They ended up bailing, of course.
When Anthony came home from the war, the family welcomed him with a feast including a roast chicken (this was a big deal: meat/fowl was still very hard to come by) - but his stomach had shrunk so badly that he could only eat two teaspoons of food.
My cousin Steven sent me the following transcript of Anthony's diary. Anthony was shot down in February of 1944 and his diary transcript picks up on Jan 27. 1945. These are some excerpts:"
Jan 27, 1945 - At 21:30, we were told to be ready to leave Sagan, Germany at 22:45. The food in the combine was divided and each man received about the following: 1 can meat, 1 box prunes, 1 box sugar, 3 "D" bars, 1 box crackers. Plans were changed and we did not leave until the next day.
Jan 28 - At 05:30 this morning we left Sagan on foot and walked to Halbau, a distance of 17 kilos, arriving about 12:05. After standing in the street until 17:30 we were given quarters in a church. These were very inadequate since there wasn't enough room to lie down. No one managed to sleep. It was on this day that we saw our first refugees moving away from the battle areas. They are traveling by horsecart and appear to be very miserable. Temp below freezing and snow all day.
Jan 29 - Left church at 07:30 and walked 16 kilos to Balbau where we were quartered in a barn. Conditions still very bad and crowded. Forced to sleep on the bare floor with barely enough room to lie down.
Jan 31 - Left at 06:30 and walked 29 kilos to Muskau arriving at 16:30. A long and miserable walk over difficult roads making it most difficult to pull loaded sleds. Had two swallows of milk, my first in a year and a half. It is the exception when a German stands at a corner and tries to start trouble by calling us Luftgangsters and saying how we kill innocent women and children. No other civilians would pay any attention to him. Received issue of German soup (two cups to be divided among 14 men).
Feb 3 - Walked 18 kilos to Graustein. Quarters were in a stable again.
Feb 4 - Walked 7 kilos to Spremburg and stopped at some barracks. Then walked another 3 kilos and at 16:00 we were put in boxcars to go to Nuremburg. Conditions are deplorable. 69 men packed in a space for 40. Some do not have room to sit.
Feb 6 - Still on car. Quite a few fellows getting sick. Car is terribly dirty and crowded. Germans gave out hot coffee this morning. It was the first water in over 24 hours and there was so little that some had to do without.
Feb 7 - Nuremburg rumor killed because town has been badly bombed; we were routed around it. Detained at Moosburg and taken to camp. These quarters are the worst yet since 500 men in a building that wouldn't hold 150 comfortably. Have to sleep on straw on the floor without enough room to stretch out. Very smelly and stuffy at night since there are no windows open.
Feb 8 - About one out of every two people is sick. Many didn't find a place to sleep and spent the entire night out walking.
Feb 12 - There are no cooking facilities and one water faucet for 400 men. Barracks is cold and damp and roof leaks. Truly deplorable. This place seems like the concentration camps you see in the movies. It just doesn't happen in real life to anyone.
Feb 15 - Indians in the next camp entertained us today with music and dances. They looked like a lot of whirling dervishes and the music sounded just like a snake charmer's. Black Market is going like mad and bringing in wood and bread. Rations: 1/6 loaf of bread, 1 tbs sugar, 4 potatoes and 1/2 Red Cross parcel.
Feb 19 - Conditions haven't bettered any. The place is beginning to be overrun by fleas and bedbugs: we will all soon be lousy.
Feb 20 - Rations were cut so that what we have been allowed for 8 weeks now has to do for 9. According to the papers, this is true all over Germany. Things are getting pretty tough on the people of Germany.
Feb 24 - Today makes a year since I was shot down near Gotha. It has been the worst year that I would ever hope to see. I had a rough time in the hospital where I spent 4 months under conditions very unfavorable for open wounds (17 of which I had). The remainder of the time I have spent behind barbed wire like some caged animal. For a year I have been cold and hungry. Of all the hardships of P.O.W. life, I believe that hunger is the hardest to put up with. The other trials can be forgotten at times by various recreations but hunger is constantly gnawing. It is a crime to see men that were once well mannered degenerate so that they will fight over a spoonful of soup or a slice of bread. Both of which are so dirty and poorly cooked that they would be garbage under normal circumstances. I look forward to this war ending soon and my speedy return to a lifetime of happiness and good living.
Feb 25 - Told tonight that we have Red Cross parcels to last to Saturday. Things are bad enough on half parcels. I don't know what we will do on just German rations.
Feb 27 - Morale very low. People that have been getting along fine together are coming mighty close to blows.
Feb 28 - The war better end soon or else a good portion of the camp is going to go mad. Some of the combines are seriously considering the best way to cook a cat that has been in camp the last couple of days.
Mar 3 - This is the "good old army". We are in a freezing barracks, it is snowing, no hot water to shave or wash with, very few clothes and we have a Saturday morning inspection! The Goons don't make life rough enough for us but what our beloved Colonel has to make an inspection.
Mar 10 - Another Saturday inspection. Weather has been bitter cold - snow and wind. War better end this month or I will go mad for sure. Hungry and cold constantly. First false armistice. Enlisted men were going wild over rumor that war was over.
Mar 13 - Saw the sun today. Also an air raid. Bombers, P-51s and P-38s over field. Makes me envious to see the boys fly over and know that they are FREE and will get enough to eat.
Mar 19 - Calisthenics started today. We have just enough energy to get out of the sack and now we have to exercise to make us hungrier.
Apr 2 - Kriegie caught stealing bread from one of the barracks. Things will be rough on him but if he's as hungry as I am, I don't blame him.
Apr 3 - The latrine is running all over the ground again.
Apr 6 - Had a picture parade today. That put us out in the cold for two hours. The fact that it started raining didn't seem to hurry or bother the Goons any.
Apr 17 - Received an egg for cigarettes from the Black Market. My first in over 10 months.
Apr 20 - Medium and dive bombers are now coming over. Front line must be close when short range planes are overhead.
Apr 26 - Appears around camp that Goons have pulled out but this is not official. Rumor has us taking over camp in morning and Patton 14 kilos from here.
Apr 28 - At 12:20 a big American flag was put up at Moosburg. It sure is a sight to see that good old flag again. I am damn close to crying as I write this. It is real. I am really free and I will soon be home. 14th Division of the 3rd Army tank and jeep drove into camp. I have never been happier to see a G.I.
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