Thursday, June 4, 2009

A POW Story from Stalag Luft III

The two photos above are from the book, 33 Months as a POW in Stalag Luft III by Albert P. Clark, a retired general of the United States Air Force. They are used with permission of the USAFA McDermott Library Stalag Luft III collection in USAF Academy, Colorado.

This book offers fascinating insight into the experiences of American Army Air Force officers who were captured by Germany during World War II. Their ordeal is a poignant contrast to the experiences of German POWs at Camp Aliceville. Clark describes day to day camp life and numerous efforts to build escape tunnels while distracting the Germans from what was going on. The book culminates with a brutal forced march, as Russian liberators approached, through Bavaria to Stammlager VIIA at Moosburg.

The photo above, of the Luft Bandsters band/orchestra that was formed within the South Camp at Stalag Luft III, is eerily similar to one that can be found in Guests Behind the Barbed Wire depicting a German POW dance band playing for an Officers Club event at Camp Aliceville. In POW camps on both sides of the war, individual men coped with boredom and loneliness while striving to maintain their integrity as soldiers for their country.

Stalag Luft III is the POW camp made internationally famous by the book and movie that portrayed the Great Escape from this camp. Clark's book offers a unique perspective on this event, which took place on March 24, 1944. Escapees from this and other German camps were routinely returned to POW camps when captured, and the episodes often appeared almost like playful cat and mouse games between captors and prisoners.

In this instance, however, the Luftwaffe guards who tolerated the antics of many prisoners were not in charge. Of the 76 men who escaped through a tunnel, 73 were recaptured by early April. Of those, 50 were executed by a shot to the back of the head by the Gestapo, ostensibly because they resisted arrest or attempted to escape again after their capture.

Clark offers an interesting analysis of the Geneva Convention stipulations as they applied to his captivity and to issues of treatment and the right to attempt escape.

33 Months as a POW in Stalag Luft III was published in 2004 by Fulcrum Publishing in Golden, Colorado


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