The Shoe Leather Express – Avarice A’Plenty

(Posted: February 5, 2012)

From Page 23 of “The Shoe Leather Express” Book 1


Seven loaves of black bread; I felt now that I had elevated myself above and beyond the degree of animal degradation.  I had seven loaves of black bread and, with some cunning and skill in bartering, I could trade off three or four of the loaves of bread for other items of food that was available through the black market.  This time I would do the trading with the American prisoners of war that had made previous trades with the Russians.  But before any deals were to be made, Cox and I sat down and ate one loaf of bread.  A loaf of black bread is very dense; the main ingredient is sawdust and a calculated guess of the weight of a loaf of black bread is two and a half pounds.  I had twenty-one pounds of black bread.  I also had some discouraging news—we were to evacuate Stalag Luft XIB immediately.  The same old familiar “Rouse, Rouse.”  I now had nineteen pounds of bread for survival or for trading, but I also had one set back – I could not carry nineteen additional pounds.  I kept three loaves for Cox and me and the other three loaves were rationed out to the sick.  Was someone with me that I could not see?  Was someone asking me to share?  I believe that someone’s prayers, asking for food, were answered.

Before we moved out, we were told that a delousing program was mandatory and that we would participate, willingly or otherwise.  We were very suspicious of the otherwise and the mandatory.  We were forcibly marched out of the camp area to a small wooden building.  There we were given a command to strip down balls-naked, and told that our clothing would be deloused and we would be able to take a hot shower with soap.  We demanded and received permission to allow twelve POWs to enter the showers and exit before another twelve POWs would enter.  Permission was granted, our clothing was deloused and we got our first shower in 55 days.  The delousing was only temporary.  We were forced to evacuate this camp.  Two days later we were again encrusted by those dirty little grey bastards.

We evacuated Fallingbostel, or Stalag 357.  I never knew our exact location, but both camps were in close proximity to one another.  We were forced to evacuate Stalag Luft XIB on April 6, 1945.  Why?  One week later the camp was liberated by a British tank column that rolled up to the main gate.  The next 26 days were under the jurisdiction of Stalag XIB.  From Dr. Leslie Caplan’s Perpetuation of  Testimony, December 31, 1947, I quote, “On April 6, 1945, we again went on a forced march under the jurisdiction of Stalag Luft XIB.  Our first march had been in a general westerly direction, for the Germans were then running from the American and British forces.  Because of this, during the march under the jurisdiction of Stalag XIB, we doubled back and covered a good bit of the same territory we had just come over a month before.  We doubled back over 200 kilometers and it took 26 days before British forces liberated us.  During those 26 days we were accorded much better treatment.  We received a ration of potatoes daily, besides other food, including horsemeat.  We also had barns to sleep in, although the weather was much milder than when we had previously covered this same territory.  During these 26 days we received about 1235 calories daily from the Germans and an additional 1500 calories daily from the Red Cross, for a total caloric intake of about 2735 calories a day.  This is far more than we had in the same area from Stalag Luft IV.  I believe that if the officers of Stalag Luft IV had made an effort they too could have secured as much rations and shelter.”  Unquote.

I have a profound respect for the late Dr. Leslie Caplan; but his statement for the caloric intake per day must have included the sour milk and rancid butter and the almost daily diet of potatoes and black bread; calories versus nutrition; a substantial diet of starches for 86 days may contain a substantial caloric intake, but has little or no value for a prolonged period of time—86 days.  We now had 26 more days of marching ahead of us and each day of marching became increasingly difficult.  The blisters on our feet never healed, they only moved to different places on our feet.  We made adjustments by stitching the holes in our socks, or on many occasions, marching without socks.  I had fourteen blisters, seven on each foot, that never healed or changed location and, for 3 to 4 years after liberation, several of the most severe blisters left a tender area.  The filth, wet, freezing cold and infection were contributing factors that are prevalent today as a reminder by a fungus that exists in the toenails. With knapsack and blanket roll in place, we marched out of Stalag Luft XIB and headed in an easterly direction.  We were now headed toward the Russians.  We crossed the Elbe River for the second time at Blickede.  Our first crossing of the Elbe River was at Domitz.  This was a bridge crossing.  The bridge was heavily fortified with anti-aircraft gun emplacements around and on the bridge.  Our second crossing of the Elbe River was a ride on a barge, towed by a tug boat.  Our point of embarkation was situated in such a position that we were vulnerable to strafing by the allies.  Our position was a wide open area on a peninsula that jutted out into the Elbe River.  A P-51 made several passes over us, and we made every gesture we could think of to alert the P-51 pilot that we were prisoners of war.  Time did not allow us to form a POW symbol.  The P-51 pilot, on his third pass, gave us a barrel roll and headed for the enemy targets.  After crossing the Elbe River, we headed east for 12 kilometers to Neuhas, then north for 33 kilometers to Wittenburg, 12 more kilometers west to Zarrentin and finally 8 kilometers to Gudow and liberation.  We made a 26 day march in a circle.  We could have been liberated at Fallingbostel, but for some reason, known only to our captors, we were set up as clay pigeons for some trigger-happy allied pilot.  I estimated our column consisted of 250 to 500 prisoners of war, give or take 1 or 2 (hundred).

“C” column was split into two sections at Ebstorf.  One section was shipped to Fallingbostel, Stalag XIB; the second section continued marching 6 miles south to Uelsen.  The second section boarded the 40 and 8 boxcars and was transported to Altengrabow, Stalag XIA.  Stalag XIA is 220 miles southwest of Uelsen between Magdeburg and Berlin.  This was a two day trip from March 28 to March 30, 1945.  It took 40 hours for the first section of “C” column to travel 30 miles, from Ebstorf to Fallingbostel, from March 28 to March 30, 1945.  The second section of “C” column and other prisoners of war, were evacuated from Stalag XIA on April 12, 1945.  They marched south for 106 miles and were liberated April 26, 1945, by the 104th Infantry Division, U.S. 1st Army.

One response to “The Shoe Leather Express – Avarice A’Plenty”

  1. Simply wanna state that this is very beneficial, Thanks for taking your time to write this.

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