|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
A Soda Jerk Goes to War
By A.L. (Bud) Lindsey
Eventually we reached Stalag VII A at Moosburg, Germany, a distance of about 225 miles, as the crow flies, from where I was captured in France. Moosburg is a small town in Southern Germany about 25 miles northeast of Munich. At Stalag VII A, we were interviewed, for what purpose I do not know, and given German POW dog tags. I told the interviewer I had been a soda jerk in civilian life. I had to explain exactly what type of work was involved by being a soda jerk. I suspected the POW camp did not have a soda fountain, a suspicion that certainly proved to be true. I was assigned to barracks fifty- three, the beginning of five months of hunger.
Stalag VII A, one of many in Germany, was built in 1939 and was designed for about 10,000 men, on about 85 acres. The large majority of the prisoners were French (about 38,000), with about 8,000 British, almost 6,000 American, 14,000 Russian and soldiers from other countries to total almost 80,000 at the time of its liberation in late April of 1945.
Letter from Stalag VII A, Moosburg, Germany, Dec 31, 1944. (The stationery was a standard form issued by the Germans to the prisoners to write letters. I do not know when this letter was received in Brady. Even though I wrote as many letters as allowed during the six months as a captive, this is the only one received in Brady. I received no mail while in Stalag VII A.)
We called ourselves "Kriegies" which was short for the German "Kriegsgefangener," translation of which would be "prisoner of war," a name which somehow seemed to fit our appearance.
The clothes we wore were the ones we wore when captured and had not changed, except for our socks, since we went on line in France. I had not taken a bath since we left Marseilles, some thirty days before.
It was cold, Winter time, and my fellow prisoners were just as "gamy" as I. Later during my imprisonment I would be able to enjoy two hot-water showers of a few minutes duration during the five months as a POW. The two showers offered only a short relief from the body lice and other parasites for which we acted as hosts. After the infrequent shower we put the same clothes back on our momentarily clean torsos, where the wee creatures marched, goose stepping, Back in place. However, the Germans did shave our pubic hair, spray our private parts areas with some type of dust thus perhaps inhibiting the parasites.
I was lucky in one sense to be a prisoner at Stalag VII A, a facility which eventually overflowed with about eighty thousand American, French, British, British subjects, Russians and Canadians and was considered to be the better of the many POW camps scattered across Germany. Which was not saying a lot as conditions were primitive at the best. We were housed in permanent wooden barracks with a single coal-fired stove for heating, for which we had no coal.
The facilities were fairly well duplicated in the movie, Stalag 17, starring William Holden released in 1953. In the movie the barracks may have housed thirty POWs, however one report stated the barracks in Moosburg were designed for ten men. In real life at the barracks fifty-three in Stalag VII A we numbered over one hundred. One noticeable difference between the movie and real life in Stalag VII A was in the cleanliness of the inmates. William Holden and the other members of the cast of Stalag 17 could go home after the day's "take" and enjoy good food and a hot bath, not so at Stalag VII A. We were very dirty and hungry. The actors in the movie appeared to be well fed, again not so in Statag VII A.
We had a single water faucet located outside which was turned on only during certain daylight hours. There was always a line at the faucet waiting to suck out the water when the pump was idle. The person sucking on the hydrant would place his thumb in the opening until the next Person in line was in position to suck, an activity which would give a member of the Department of Health a fit of apoplexy. Actually just about everything which happened in Stalag VII A would have the same effect on a Department of Health employee. Sanitary conditions were minimal with not enough water to wash our hands or eating utensils, such as they were, consequently diarrhea was a constant problem.
Our latrine facilities were not in the open, but were covered, and consisted of an open pit with perhaps six stations not unlike the primitive outhouses of rural Texas in the thirties. One report which I read after the war indicated the Germans had issued rolls of toilet paper: however, it must have been earlier in the war as I saw none in Stalag VII A. You made out with what you could scrounge from the Red Cross parcels or other sources, or did without. The open pit cess pool was sucked out only when in danger of overflowing by a vehicle which we dubbed "The Honey Wagon." I was told the honey wagon then utilized its contents as fertilizer for farming, a common practice in Europe, I understood.
Stalag VII A , not unlike the other POW camps in Germany, was constructed of wooden barracks surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire, the two fences being separated by about six feet, with coiled wire between the two fences. Inside the perimeter of the double-fence was the so called trip wire, a single strand of wire mounted only two feet or less above the ground an stakes, and located perhaps twenty feet inside the double wired perimeter fence. It was forbidden to go past the trip wire as doing so was to invite being shot by one of the guards in the several guard towers located around the perimeter of the camp.
Each of the barracks was surrounded by a single layered barbed wire fence, separating each barracks from the next. The gates of these barrack's fences were closed after dark. Naturally the entire camp area was swept by searchlights which were mounted and manned in the guard towers. It was forbidden to trade between the wired enclosures after dark. Though I did not witness nor hear the shooting, it was rumored that one of the American POWs was shot as he traded across the fence surrounding his barracks after dark.
The German military generally stayed within the guide lines which were agreed upon at an earlier meeting many years prior to WWII in Geneva, Switzerland, which dealt with the treatment of prisoners of war. Germany, Britain and the United States signed the agreement. Russia and Japan did not. One of the articles agreed upon was that privates would be required to work in non-war related jobs. Another important agreement was that the signed parties would provide the prisoners with the same quality of food which was supplied to the retaining country's army; that is, the Americans who were prisoners of the Germans would receive the same rations as the German soldiers.
Also, the signers of the agreement would receive Red Cross parcels, thus the Russian prisoners did not receive the much needed food provided by these parcels.
Another part of the Geneva agreement dealt with payment to the POWs who were recruited for non- military type of work by the detaining countries. It was agreed that the workers be paid for their work. I read one report many years later which stated this figure was $13 per month, working six days a week. Pay was not mentioned by the Germans at Stalag VII A; however, the American POWs, including myself, did receive payment much later, after we had returned to the States, for our working during our time as prisoners of war, the amount of which I do not remember. It was not much and some might say we were overpaid.
The nationalities were separated into different compounds within Stalag VII A with the officers being separated from the enlisted men, hardly any different from the American Army criteria. The enlisted men's barracks were overseen by British non-commissioned officers, such as our equivalent of Buck Sergeants and Corporals. Our barracks, number fifty-three, had, I believe, three British non-commissioned officers who were supposed to maintain a semblance of order. They had a small room at one end of the barracks, a deluxe accommodation by our standards. These non- commissioned British officers in our barracks were not well liked by our group. Their demeanor was aloof, conceited and gave the Impression they considered the American G.I.s to be inferior, an attitude which did not set well with our group, especially a Texan, the best soda-jerk in Central Texas.
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