Henry Holbrook Gould - A Prisoner of War


Prisoner of War
The specific details of what occurred after the men of the third Platoon were captured are unknown. Certainly, on capture, the POW’s were relieved of much of their gear and personal items. The Germans loved American cigarettes and watches. They also likely were interrogated for information. The German word for prisoner is Kriegsgefangenen, which was shortened to Kriegies. German documents from the National Archives indicate the Platoon was captured December 3, 1944. Further, German records and my father’s diary indicate they were in Dusseldorf on December 7, 1944. They arrived at Stalag XI B on the 9th and traveled by rail to Stalag IIA in Neubrandenberg December 16th. After 5 days crowed in a boxcar the Kriegies arrived on December 21st.

Being an American POW in Germany was not at all what a GI anticipated, killed or wounded yes, captured never even entered their minds. Some 95,000 GIs were captured in Europe, 426 were Railsplitters. In World War II, being an American in German hands was no picnic, however, it was much better than being an American in Japanese hands or a Russian in German hands or a German in Russian hands, all of which had a high mortality rate in captivity. Only 20% of the Germans captured by the Russians survived! Those GI’s captured by the Japanese - 70% survived. Of the Germans in America and Americans in Germany 99% survived. The Germans who were interned in the U.S. did quite well. They did not have to endure being bombed or the shortages of food and medical supplies the GI’s in Germany did. If there was a short fall, the Germans were not readily returned to Germany. For many it would be years after the war before they were returned home. (See: We Were Each Other’s Prisoners, by Lewis Carlson)

A POW’s conditions were governed the 1929 Geneva Convention. Specific rules of treatment of POW’s were specified including housing, food, medical treatment and labor details. An enlisted man was expected to be fed what an enlisted man of the detaining power was fed. Enlisted man could be given work details but were not required to do war related work. The Germans generally felt they could ignore those details that did not suit them.

Stalag XI-B, sometimes referred to as a Dulag, was a central transportation hub for POW’s. In December the Dulag contained some 680 American POWs. Its related Stalag held 1,560 British POW’s and contained a Lazaret (hospital) with over 2,000. The Red Cross evaluation was it was severely overcrowded. The “Mannsch.“ short for Mannschaft (group or crew) of December 12th lists the names of those transported by rail from XI-B to II-A. As you view the neat alphabetical list, you can imagine the Germans marking the “X’s” and circles as the check men on and off the train.


WWII Scenic Tour of Europe


 

Stalag XI-B was located in western Germany near Hannover. It provided the captives their first Red Cross food parcel and a glimpse of what POW life may be like. The RC parcels intended for each soldier were rationed out piece meal. Conditions were poor due to severe overcrowding. The good news was the Kriegies would not stay long, the bad news, things would not get any better.


WORD REACHES HOME

On the home front little was known of what was going on. As an example of the conditions; the Platoon was captured in the early morning hours of December 3rd but they were not reported as missing until December 6th. On December 26th, the day after Christmas the word arrived. A telegram from the Acting Adjutant General

“THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET…”

The Woonsocket Call stated the Captain of the basketball team “Lost In Reich” His family noted a letter dated November 28th indicated he was well but “the going was tough”. In fact, the infantrymen of the 84th were being decimated.

The official status as Prisoner of War would not arrive until March 17, 1945.

 


Stalag II-A was located in eastern Germany in Neubrandenburg, north of Berlin. It housed many nationalities although separately. By December 1944, the numbers of POW’s was overwhelming the Germans. Crowded conditions, inadequate rations, medical supplies, and sanitary facilities were all intensified by a nation crumbling under the pressure of the war. The Germans could scarcely take care of their own men never mind captured enemy soldiers.  In February Stalag II-A  held 3,175 POW’s, well in excess of its capacity.  

The POW’s endured fingerprinting and mug shots as part of the identification and record keeping. The good side was, at last official word would reach relatives that they were alive, albeit POW’s.

 


One event widely recalled, was at Christmas the Germans allowed the various nationalities to mingle together in a joint celebration. My father recalled extra rations and entertainment from the Russians. Vince Loguidice noted the Italians sang for them.

While mail was sent both from the states and from Germany, none ever arrived. POW Mail or Kriegsgefangenenpost arrived only after the war was over. 

 

A variety of Kriegsgefangenenpost stationary was used, both from the U.S. and from behind the wire. Many uniquely folded into their own mailing envelopes.



Teterow Kommando

Stalag II A had approximately 50 various work camps “Arbeits Kommando”. Teterow was one of the largest with 165 POW’s. The men were assigned various work groups working the railroads, forestry or farms. The rail section often traveled quite a ways to repair bombed rail lines. My father arrived in Teterow January 17, 1945.

The lodging for the POW’s was called the “Schutezenhaus”, German for protection house or shelter, was a multi story building which housed the POW’s. The German Guards were housed in an attached structure.

The POW’s ate a very limited diet, mostly potatoes, rudabeggers(rutabagas) and black bread. Red Cross parcels were rationed out piecemeal and canned items were punctured to eliminate the potential of food being hoarded. My father told a story of a fellow POW who in fact had the prize possession of an unpunctured can. The fellow guarded it day and night. Those who worked the rail lines had occasion to find food stuffs in boxcars and liberate it, an occurrence that my father believed kept him alive.

Vince Loguidice recalled one old guard they called “binky” he would hand his rifle to the POW’s to help pull him up onto the rail car.

Greg Tarpinian retold a story of his clash with a German Guard.  As the Kriegies marched along the roadside to another work detail Greg lagged behind.

Beeilen sich! Bewegen sich! … Beitrefen die anders ! ruckwarts Amerik ! Beeilen sich!

While he heard the guards commands the language barrier failed to alert him to the urgency of the message. The instructions repeated, a bit more sternly. The intended response did not occur. Angry, the guard chambered a round and raised his rifle. A fellow GI rushed back to quickly interpret and defuse the situation.

It was not unusual that the American GI’s would be less than helpful in the repair of the railroads. Dan McCullen noted they often lost tools in the ditches they were filling. I suspect the Guards were aware of this. One of the tales my father told was when he was repairing a section of track which he was confident was done well. Not so said the German.  Schiene, nein gut! Yes, countered my father. Nein!  This went on a short while till the Guard chambered a round in his rifle and said one last time, Schiene, nein gut!. 

Many Ex POWs recall the ill treatment of Jews by the German guards. The GI’s always stuck together, when one Jewish POW did not return from work detail one day his comrades sent word to the guards that “one day the war would end… and they would be held accountable”… the GI returned shortly there after.


List of Teterow POW’s


Three Days to Liberation

In late April, with the Russian army closing in, the Germans opted to surrender to the American or British forces. On April 30th the guards gathered up most of the POW’s and headed west-northwest. The large group of POW’s marched for three days straight.

From Diary:

Russian’s bombed Teterow, April 30th   at 11:30 and we hit the road Filled with fags (cigarettes) D-Bars, C-Rations and cheese (likely from Red Cross parcels)

1st Day – 32 KM or 20 miles in 6 HRS

2nd Day – Gustrow to Neukloster 42KM or 26 miles

3rd Day – utterly exhausted traveled 19 KM

7 Km past Wismar, Bombed and strafed by Typhoons (British fighter planes) at 3:30 PM

At 5:00pm British Tanks took Wismar and us.

Just 5 mo. to the day and freed again.   

Stole Jerry truck & cars and was in Luneburg awaiting shipment to Eng. by C-47’s May 4th.

The Royal Scots Greys, a British tank unit captured Wismar. Interestingly not all the POW’s at Teterow made the three-day journey described. Originally, I presumed they, the POW’s, were on their own, but other Teterow POW’s indicated guards were with them. It also appears my father had a watch, as the times listed are quite specific. Some POWs from Teterow actually visited Dan McCullen in Gustrow on April 30th. The C-47 rumor was a popular one, which I ‘ve heard from other Teterow POW’s. The Ramp’s, Repatriated Allied Military Personnel, as they were now called, never flew to England. The ex-POWs were provided specific rations and attention to overcome the long-term effects of their malnutrition.


Henry Holbrook Gould
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