Monday, March 21, 2011

Sonndorf POW Camp to Dachau KZ

By May 4th 1945 almost all German resistance had ceased, at Montgomery's headquarters at Lueneburg Heath I think it was Doenitz that signed the surrender documents for all forces in Holland, Denmark and North Germany.Emissaries arrived at Eisenhower's headquarters and after attempts to delay the process, signed on May 7th May 1945. Eisenhower signaled to London and Washington moments later:(He refused to shake hands with the German representatives as was customary).
                  "The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 02:41 local time, May 7, 1945.
This was not quite true, the final act was  signed in Berlin together with the Russians in the morning of May the 8th.At that time my platoon of 15 boys and one Officer, Lieutenant Becker marched towards the German border from within Czechoslovakia in the area of Schuettenhofen..There was a sort of no-mans land and all troop movements were strictly forbidden, we did not adhere to this order. As we had thrown all our weapons down to comply to Doenitz's command, except our Lt. who carried his MP38 to protect us to some degree against Czech partisan's ambushes when we met the first American soldiers confronting a massive column of tired and dejected Germans that all were trying to avoid capture by the Russians.I have never seen my Lieutenant ever since.
We were only briefly searched and put onto trucks (GMC6x6) into the direction of a small village which we later found out was called Sonndorf in the Bavarian Woods.(Bayrischer Wald).We were virtually dumped on a large unploughed potato field that was slightly sloping down into a expansive meadow which was dissected by a fresh water river. Which was a blessing in a number of ways.(The German Field Hospital was already established on the other side of the river)
As more youths arrived in Luftwaffenhelfer uniforms we were all herded into so called sections,mine was section 16 and immediately asked and separated from any NCO's or likely officers that might have been "slipped" in with us. At that time we did not know that Eisenhower had issued an order on March 10th 1945 and verified by his initials on a cable of that date, that German Prisoners of War be predesignated as "Disarmed Enemy Forces"DEF.He ordered that these Germans did not fall under the Geneva Convention, and were not to be fed or given water or medical attention.The Swiss Red Cross was not to inspect the camps, for under the DEF classification, they had no such authority or jurisdiction. Records do indicate that he(Eisenhower)had that order prepared during his stay in Paris,but held it back until he was certain of Germany's final defeat, as he expected retaliation from Germany against Allied POW's to release this order too early.
There were no facilities of any kind at Sonndorf,except an old abandoned  farm house and stable that was to become the HQ for American interrogators and guards within the camp. Older more experienced soldiers from the Russian front immediately started to dig a pit so we could relieve our-self's. You simple sat on a rough tree trunk which was supported by wooden blocks at each end (this was the so called "Donnerbalken")together with others you sat and did you "business", but soon  most of us could not walk that far or fast enough to reach the pit and did it were you stood and covered it up with soil. They also built another pit where you could urinate, which was partially filled with river-stones to avoid splashing and the liquid was quickly absorbed into the ground. Later on we did get Lime from the Americans to avoid spreading of any type of diseases every body was afraid of or an epidemic.
Shelter was a problem for all of us, most in our section had German Army triangular tent sheets which were quite unique in that they had an opening in the center and you could make a protective waterproof jacket out of it.I slept like that for a few days until four of us got together, dug a square hole in the ground,buttoned four tent sheets together which looked like a pyramid and protected us from the elements, although it was May and reasonable weather.
Food was our main problem we did not have any!
For the first few weeks it was the most difficult time, I did as others, boiled dandelions in a tin over open fire, it was a bitter taste but I managed to swallow it, after you boiled it several times, with the result that I never made it to the pit! What went in on one end came out quickly on the other.I was so weak that I could no longer get up and was carried into the Field Hospital across the river,(weighed in at 50 kg) where I was slowly nourished back to reasonable health. I have permanent loss of muscle tissues in my arms ever since. This may have been due to the fact that I was young and still growing. When it comes to deaths I could only account for five men which my have died from other causes than starvation alone, while I was at the Hospital. I don't really know apathy had set in and nobody cared. .
Some of the other Units arrived at this collection center with their kitchens etc in "full operation" one of these had to provide Section 16 which had approximately  30 boys with about a pint of watery soup with dry onions in them, sometimes a slice of bread per day, but the abuse we received from older soldiers, when queuing up for our ration was unbelievable, it bordered almost on hate. With bowed heads we always waited our turn, while they drank their soup while we waited, changed their appearances by taking their caps or jackets off and received a second helping. I did meet some later on, after discharge, that became "very" religious in a Catholic community and I only hope that they may rot in hell!
There were no barbed wire fences around the camp, as the terrain would have been too difficult to do so, furthermore entire motorized German Units arrived from all direction only to escape from Russian capture.We tried to raid these incoming trucks for food but had little success against older men who simple punched you and took what ever you had. I will never forget when I found a rather large home-made chunk of soap, which kept me clean in the the months to come, and was able to wash my underwear in the river, but its smell was awful.
Watchtowers which had a simple platform were manned by American guards as well as GI's from the Military Govt. patrolling the camp, but conditions did not improve,interrogation of some sort took place and our details had been taken,this was done by German-American GI’s as well as officers.The only one who spoke up against poor condition and hunger were German communists,they were not afraid,would bare their tattooed chests and would shout at the guards,”come on why don’t you shoot”.In a way I must admit I admired them for their courage,while others felt this will make conditions even worse.This went on until July1945 when I was lucky enough yo be taken to Grafenau as a work-team to repair potholes in roads leading to Passau.We were fairly free with a Military Government Pass and two pleasant guards who directed and supervised our work.Myself I was still very weak and did only interpreting.We had our own cook who received meat from a local slaughter house.(Meat used from these animals were killed due to sickness what was called "Notschlachtung) This did not last very long and we had been told by the civilian authorities that we all be returned into our Heimat,what a lie.To our horror we finished up in Sonndorf but only for a week.Some changes had been made and we were staying in wooden huts that had been erected by those that stayed behind.I looked for my old “Home” and sure enough I found the old tent and took  three sheets with me as I had a feeling that things may go wrong again than better.
We were taken by trucks to Regensburg and virtually dumped into a mud field with no facilities of any sort,luckily I had my tent with many “friendly” comrades to help me to set it up.Myself, I almost finished up sleeping at the opening flap. I estimate there were about 10000-20000 POW’s.The aim apparently was to build a proper camp near a sugar factory which a Hungarian company had already started.It was here later on when a rather sophisticated and well educated German Sgt. took me under his wings who was in charge of a six -men work team to re-glaze the shattered windows of a boys Gymnasium in Regensburg that was taken over by an American Army Topographical Unit.The work was light and we had our daily GI-Chow.Yet to this day this Sgt remains an enigma to me who he really was,his English was better than mine but never used it,had contacts with outside civilians where-ever we went,how he did this was a mystery to me.Only once that I became suspicious when he told me to ask the guard if he could go across the road to meet his wife and only shook her hand.When he returned,the guard said”das war nicht seine Frau”!(That was not his wife).I can only guess he was an Agent setting up safe houses and escape routes for wanted war criminals.He disappeared when almost the entire camp was trucked away to France,Belgium and Holland or other German destinations for work. I finished up in Hohenbrunn,south of Munich in an old KZ Sub camp at an ammunition factory. This camp had all facilities except toilets. We had to get used to the old method of  "Donnerbalken"
The main work was loading heavy ammunition cases onto trucks into craters and destroyed with explosives.The work was heavy and I soon collapsed.
It were Gi’s in general that saw that  I was still undernourished and had pity with me, made changes, and I was able to help in their mess-hall making coffee or tea for their division.This was a full time job and it lasted from September 45 to January 1946. I did some interpreting for a friendly Lieutenant who was also responsible for the POW Camp and thought due to my youth to give me my freedom,so I could do what I liked don’t have to obey any rules or orders etc.He only saw this from the American point of view, be free! Anyway it was done and I was discharged into civilian life.What a culture shock! I was being treated by the civilian population as a Prussian Refugee,although I was staying with a family that had a fairly large slaughter house never suffered through the war, the treatment I received were unbelievable shocking.The only consolation I had that I was able to work in the mess hall as before,so I asked my friendly Lt. please let me go back into the POW Camp again.”Sorry,but I cant do that,Herb. But there is another Camp in Taufkirchen where Hauptmann Heinrich has given me his word of honor that none of his soldiers will escape and have free movement I will talk to him, so you can stay with them.”
That’s what happened,and I was ever so grateful to him. I borrowed a handcart loaded my belongings of two US Army duffel bags with all the goodies mainly clothing I had been given to me by well meaning and caring GI's towards another camp. As the Administration of Hohenbrunn went into civilian control and I was sick of Jackboots and clicking heels,I tried my luck in Allach near Munich at an US Ordnance Maintenance Shop at their Supply Depot. Here again I was lucky when a WOJG by the name of Milton F.Plier walked by the Personal Office when the Lady in charge asked him if he had any vacancy for this young man. After asking me what I had done before etc. he told me to come back in two days time. I found out later on that he had fired another German and I got his job in a Unit Supply Depot of which Mr. Plier was in charge. He very rarely ever spoke to me but he was fluent in German and I stayed there until we were transferred to Dachau KZ in 1947/48. were I lived in the old SS-Hospital,house 52B with all the home comforts one could possible ask for. I was employed as an Editor verifying Army requisitions and issuing of military equipment to various Units within the Munich Sub Area. The Administration and Depot was housed in the disbanded War Crimes Tribunal complex,and I did some "Research" of my own what had happened from 1933-1945 . Later on I met my future wife and followed her 1956 to New Zealand and worked for the Ford Motor Co, and later on for a Plastics co until my retirement I should add a note here: I had a friendly relationship in general with Americans, I even did some Baby-Sitting for one family and as they all lived in luxury and splendor and had plenty,which many German families at that time lacked, a lot of thievery on a grand scale was going on when I was stationed in Allach and Dachau. I was initially not trusted by some of my colleges, but was told to look the other way in no uncertain terms as I knew how it was done, but told them I would not report them, but made it clear that I will not lie if asked about their activities. I lied once!
The Provost Marshal was a Filipino, a fency dresser, full of badges that were not military issues, and very conceited. I would have given him the correct answers to his questions, which he conveyed through an interpreter, he was not aware that I spoke English and thus could formulate my answers in advance. He made two vital errors, interrogating two of us, the other (Hans Gollwitzer) was a friend of Fritz Heckert the accused of stealing petrol for his own use and making money plenty on the side. He, Heckert was a most despicable character and my room-mate, working in this endeavour with two others, mostly at night time. Strangely enough that trio died within a short time under peculiar circumstances. Anyway, there was an unwritten rule; 'Anything you can take or steal from the Americans is acceptable and you were bound to uphold that 'honourable Prussian' understanding never to reveal the facts'. Thus I was bound to lie, but not if I would have been asked on my own. The other most offending conversation the Provost Marshal had with the interpreter was his comment: 'This piece of shit knows more than he is telling me'. He was correct, and I did give him shit, which I signed:
HK Stolpmann
PS. Read if interested about Eisenhower's Death Camps:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.