The Shoe Leather Express – Seven Loaves of Black Bread

(Posted: January 28, 2012)

Pg. 22-23 The Shoe Leather Express – Book 1 . . . .

Survival at Stalag Luft XIB became increasingly difficult; the Red Cross Parcels were non-existent, which meant that we were totally dependent on the inconsistent ration of black bread and potatoes.  Food was available for the permanent party POWs, but we were in transit, and our food supply was what we were able to carry.  I recall the day back at Stalag Luft IV, when transient POWs arrived at Luft IV, and we made every effort to get food to them by wrapping whatever food we could afford to give in a paper or piece of cloth and throwing the packet over the fence, and in many instances, being shot at by the German guards.  This camp was different.  It lacked comradeship, fellowship, friendship and, most of all, sharing.  This camp was an international camp and the only means for survival was every man for himself.  I saw a French officer, impeccably dressed, clean shaven, and well fed, strutting about as though he were strolling along the streets of Paris anticipating the evening bounties.

It is difficult to describe as to what degree of degradation is necessary to transform a human into submitting to the tendencies of that of an animal.  I firmly believe that I had reached that degree of degradation.  My hunger let me submit myself to the shameful act of following a Russian prisoner of war around the camp; picking up from the ground Kohlrabi skins that were discarded by the Russian.  The kohlrabi is a kind of cabbage with an edible, bulbous stem that looks somewhat like a turnip; both the stems and root are edible and are eaten cooked or raw.  I made a decision; I would sell my watch.

James Hunter Cox and I were now in a two-man combine.  Mays and Price and I were separated at the boxcar episode back at Ebbstorf.  Cox hailed from Highland Park, Michigan.  I had mentioned to Cox that I had intentions of selling my watch.  Cox said he knew one of our fellow Kriegies that could speak Russian and probably could make a deal.  The Russian prisoners of war were on daily work details outside of the camp and they were in a position to barter with the local citizens.  Cox made the arrangements and I sold my watch for seven loaves of black bread.  The watch was never a necessity; the guards made sure we were always on time.


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