Christmas 1944 at Luft Stalag IV
Four days before Christmas, at about 1 AM, the air sirens went off making a loud wailing noise. The RAF was over Stettin again. The explosions kept us up most of the night even though it was thirty miles away. Everyone watched what activity that was visible through a window above the doorway. We were told anyone would be shot if caught looking out the window during an air raid if we did this again.
Christmas, 1944 was certainly different from any that I had ever experienced before. According to our news reports, the war was going well and the air war over Europe was really in full swing. Maybe our liberation was not too far away. We could tell since downed airmen were pouring into the prison camp by the droves. They also brought with them latest news reports. The number of POWs had climbed from 3,000 when I entered the camp in July to almost 10,000 in late December. The Jerries were working feverishly building Lagers "E" and "T." The word was stay put and hang on, no escape attempts. The weather had turned bitter cold with temperatures below zero with ice and snow. There were 24 guys huddled in our little room with one little pot bellied stove trying to keep us warm. The Germans issued us 2 each blankets made of horse hair. I swear if you held them up to a light you could see through them. We usually slept with our clothes on since each room was issued only 12 peat bricks of fuel a day.
On Christmas Eve we were permitted to walk around the compound after dark. We had to promise no escape attempts would be made. We were on parole so to speak. We could visit with other POWs in other barracks in our compound or other lagers until 1 AM. Our kitchen personnel had been saving pieces of beef for some time and made everyone in our compound small hamburger patties. They were great, although we all thought that it was horsemeat. We savored every morsel.
Some of us had been saving our raisins from our Red Cross packages from which we made "Raisin Jack." This was passed around the compound on Christmas Eve. Other POWs made Kriegie cakes, using water, powdered milk, margarine, sugar, and crushed graham crackers from our Red Cross parcels. This mixture was put in a Klim can and baked. If you are wondering what Klim means it was milk spelled backwards. Powdered milk from our Red Cross parcels came in these cans. The cans were used for everything.
Dr. Christiansen from Sweden visited our camp. He was with War Prisoner's Aid sponsored by the YMCA. He brought many recreation articles such as cards, books and etc. The Germans handed out Christmas Red Cross parcels. This parcel contained 1 pipe, tobacco, cigarettes, mixed nuts, candy, fig bars, wash rag, honey, butter, tea, 2 pictures, variety game, rouelette, cards, turkey, cheese, vienna susage, pudding, bouillon cubes, deviled ham, chewing gum and etc. The guys were like little kids opening up their package. Groups of Kriegies walked around the compound singing Christmas carols. The guards also went around wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. We had no roll call Monday Christmas day, I think everyone had liberation on their mind that evening.
Tuesday December 26th everything was back to normal. A few days later we heard the news about the German break through and that the Battle of the Bulge was on. The Allies were in retreat. No wonder the guards had been walking around the compound with big smiles on their faces. I think this was our lowest point.
Reprinted from The Beachbell Echo, Vol. 14, No. 4, Nov. '99