Stalag; Dulag Luft; Stalag Luft I; and Stalag Luft IV
In Germany, stalag (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtalak]) was a term used for prisoner-of-war camps. Stalag is a contraction of "Stammlager", itself short for Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager.
According to the Third Geneva Convention of 1929 and its predecessor, the Hague Convention of 1907, Section IV, Chapter 2, those camps were only for prisoners of war, not civilians. Stalags were operated in both World War I and World War II and intended to be used for non-commissioned personnel (Enlisted ranks in US Army, Other ranks in British Commonwealth forces). Officers were held in separate camps called Oflag. During World War II, the German Luftwaffe (air force) operated Stalag Luft in which flying personnel, both officers and non-commissioned officers were held. The German Navy operated Marlag for Navy personnel and Milag for Merchant Navy personnel.
Civilians who were officially attached to military units, such as war correspondents, were provided the same treatment as military personnel by the Conventions.
The Third Geneva Convention, Section III, Article 49, permits non-commissioned personnel of lower ranks to be used for work in agriculture and industry, but not in any industry producing war material. Further articles of Section III detailed conditions under which they should work, be housed and paid. During World War II these latter provisions were consistently breached, in particular for Russian, Polish, and Yugoslav prisoners. According to the Nazi ideology, Slavic people were regarded as rassisch minderwertig ("racially inferior").
Prisoners of various nationalities were generally separated from each other by barbed-wire fences subdividing each stalag into sections. Frequently prisoners speaking the same language, for example British Commonwealth soldiers, were permitted to intermingle.
At each stalag the German Army set up sub-camps called Arbeitskommando to hold prisoners in the vicinity of specific work locations, whether factories, coal-mines, quarries, farms or railroad maintenance. These sub-camps sometimes held more than 1,000 prisoners, separated by nationality. The sub-camps were administered by the parent stalag, which maintained personnel records, collected mail, International Red Cross packages and then delivered to the individual Arbeitskommando. Likewise any individuals that were injured in work, or became ill, were returned to the Lazarett (medical care facilities) at the parent stalag.
Dulag Luft was the abbreviated name given to Prisoner of War (POW) transit camps for Air Force prisoners captured by Germany during the Second World War. Their main purpose was to act as collection and interrogation centres for newly captured aircrew, before being transferred in batches to the permanent camps. Dulag Luft derives from the German Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe (Transit Camp - Air Force).
Several camps were set up throughout Germany and the occupied countries, however the main centre used throughout the war was at Oberursel near Frankfurt. A satellite camp at Wetzlar was set up later in the war to help cope with the large numbers of aircrew captured as the bombing campaign intensified against Germany. Allegations of interrogation under torture have been made by numerous POWs who passed through the camps.
The Germans had established a similar facility, the "Listening Hotel", in the First World War. This was located at 39 Ettlinger Strasse in Karlsruhe and was a former business hotel, the Europäischer Hof. The "Listening Hotel" should not be confused with the regular Officers' Camp in Karlsuhe in that war.
The camp was built on the site of an old government poultry farm, approximately 300 yards north of the main Frankfurt to Bad Homburg road. The camp first opened in December 1939 when a small number of British and French POWs were transferred in from Oflag IX-A/H. These first prisoners were to act as a permanent staff of the camp to help new POWs become accustomed to camp life. The main building, known as the stonehouse, had been used as a prison for a small number of airmen captured in the early months of the war, before it became a transit camp.
The stonehouse, which had been used to house farm pupils prior to its conversion to the prison camp, was originally the only building in the camp, however from April 1940 onwards the camp expanded with the completion of three wooden barrack blocks. After this point the stonehouse was used as the interrogation centre for new POWs, and the barrack blocks were used to house the permanent staff POWs and other POWs awaiting transfer to other camps. The first Senior British Officer (SBO) was Wing Commander Harry Day. The camp steadily grew in size.
Post-war the site was taken over by the United States Army and renamed Camp King. It remained in use until 1993.
Located a few miles from Frankfurt and was opened towards the end of the war. This camp was mainly used for captured USAAF personnel.
Stalag Luft I
Stalag Luft I was a German World War II prisoner-of-war camp near Barth, Western Pomerania, Germany, for captured Allied airmen. The presence of the prison camp is said to have shielded the town of Barth from Allied bombing. Approximately 9,000 airmen (7,588 American and 1,351 British and Canadian) were imprisoned there when it was liberated on the night of 30 April 1945 by Russian troops.
The camp was opened in 1941 to hold British officers, but was closed in April 1942, when they were transferred to other camps. It was reopened in October 1942, when 200 RAF NCOs from Stalag Luft III were moved there. From 1943, American POWs were sent to the camp.
On 30 April 1945, the prisoners were ordered to evacuate the camp in the face of the advancing Soviet Red Army, but refused. After negotiations between the Senior American Officer and the Kommandant, it was agreed that to avoid useless bloodshed the guards would go, leaving the POWs behind. The next day, the first Soviet troops arrived.
The Soviet troops treated German civilians in the area badly, but American and Commonwealth personnel were treated with respect (the liberated POWs were careful to wear armbands on which their nationality was written in Russian). After initial concern they would be repatriated by sea via Odessa in the Soviet Union, the Russians eventually gave permission for the POWs to be evacuated by air.
Between 13–15 May, the camp was evacuated by American aircraft in "Operation Revival". The British POWs were returned directly to Great Britain, while the Americans were sent to Camp Lucky Strike north-east of Le Havre, France, before being shipped back to the United States.
Stalag Luft IV
The camp was opened in May 1944. In July of that year a military report was released which described such problems as inadequate shower facilities, unfit distribution of Red Cross parcels, and that prisoners complained about the food situation often. Two letters and four postcards were permitted per month. These letters were harshly censored forcing prisoners to tell families that they were being treated well and that there were no problems whatsoever.
A report by the International Red Cross in October 1944 described camp conditions as generally bad. The camp was divided into five compounds (A-E) separated by barbed wire fences, with the POWs housed in 40 wooden barrack huts, each containing 200 men. Prisoners in compounds A and B had triple-tiered bunks, but there were no bunks at all in compounds C and D, and POWs slept on the floor. None of the huts were heated, with only five small iron stoves in the whole camp. Latrines were open-air, and there were no proper washing facilities. Medical facilities, and supplies of food and clothing were also inadequate. At this point there were 7,089 American and 886 British POWs (of these 606 were from the British Isles, and included 147 Canadians, 37 Australians, 58 Poles, 22 New Zealanders, 8 South Africans, 5 Czechs, 2 French and 1 Norwegian).
Another International Red Cross inspection in January 1945, reported that the camp held:
- 8,033 Americans
- 820 British
- 60 Polish
- 5 Czech
- 2 French
- 1 Norwegian
The Black March
On February 6, 1945 some 8,000 men of the camp set out on a march that would be called the "Black March". The prisoners were given the remaining Red Cross parcels; you could carry as much as you could. The march from Gross Tychow lasted approximately 86 days. They were forced to march under guard about 15–20 miles (24–32 km) per day. There was much zigzagging, to escape the encroaching Soviet Red Army from the east. At one time, they traveled 40 miles, only advancing a few.
The treatment was very bad. The sick were mistreated when dysentery and diarrhea set in. The Germans could not be collaborated with. Some prisoners were bayoneted; others kicked and hit. Shelter was either a barn or under the stars, in the rain, snow, or whatever happened to be. As for the food, a bushel or two of steamed potatoes for a barn full of men was the best ever received at the end of a day. Often, the food was placed in the barn in the dark of night for the men to get what they could. Clothing was misfit being the most dominant, gathered from what they could; the German government provided no clothing. They carried two blankets, and an overcoat for bedding.
At this point, the average POW lost 1/3 of his body weight since capture. Water (often contaminated) POW's drank from ditches beside the road or ate snow when available. Using cigarettes, watches, rings or whatever they had to trade with the farmers along the way, for food. However in doing so risking the farmers and the POW's lives. The POW's ate charcoal to help stop dysentery and every POW became infected with lice. Pneumonia, diphtheria, pellagra, typhus, trench foot, tuberculosis and other diseases ran rampant among the POW's.
Acts of heroism were virtually universal. The stronger helped the weaker. Those fortunate enough to have a coat shared it with others. The Germans sometimes provided a wagon for the sick. However there seldom were horses available, so teams of POWs pulled the wagons through the snow. When a wagon was not available and a POW fell out along the road, a German guard would drop back and a shot would be heard. The guard would then come back into formation alone. However, not all Germans were hated - the guard Shorty was carried by several prisoners after he couldn't go on.
They reached Stalag 357 (Stalag XI-B), near Fallingbostel around April 3, 1945. Many camps on the eastern edge of Germany were combined into one large camp there. The treatment was a repetition of previous camps, with the exception of food, of which there was virtually none. The treatment was a little worse. No beds or bedding in the buildings. The prisoners, and the Germans as well, knew liberation was close at hand. The sounds of the encroaching American artillery could be heard getting louder and louder at this camp. When the sound of Allied artillery grew closer, the German guards were less harsh in their treatment of POWs, because the prisoner roles may soon be reversed.
The POWs were only in this camp for about a week; when lagers A and B from Stalag Luft IV were taken out on their final march, this time east. This last march lasted approximately three weeks; but was just as harsh as the previous march except for the treatment by the Germans, which was somewhat better. There was still little or no food available, and the pace was much slower, advancing 4-5 miles a day. On the morning of May 2, 1945 the POWs were all sitting in a ditch next to the River Elbe near Lauenburg, Germany, when the British arrived and liberated the "camp". Soldiers were given virtually nothing and told to march west. Thus Stalag Luft IV ended.