February 28, 2014
March 21, 1946
Terrors of Luckenwalde Camp Told By Couris In Club Talk
By Naomi Cazier
Continued from last week.
From there the prisoners were taken by train to a prison in the Ruhr Valley. The
distance was 40 miles and the trip took three days and two nights because of the numerous
air raids. Whenever the planes came over the guards stopped the train and abandoned
it. The prisoners were left locked in the cars. Later they learned their cars were attached
to two ammunition cars. Horsemeat Served. “At the new camp we were awakened each morning
at 7 o’clock. We were counted, then given a breakfast of Ersatz tea. About 11 a.m. we
got our bread ration. Each five men got a loaf of bread. The loaf was about as big as
our 10 cent loaves of bread but it weighed more than four pounds. It was like black
re-enforced concrete and tasted like pressed sawdust. I understand it was very nourishing
and that in time one got to like it. I was only there six months so I never knew. They
also served us about two-thirds of a cup of soup. It was made of horsemeat and something
like split peas. Sometimes the peas were wormy. At night we got more tea. “Then the
beautiful part came. We got Red Cross packages, they contained cigarettes, chocolate,
jam, margarine, Spam, just out of the world food. Of course the Germans misappropriated
many of the packages. They would tell us that our air gangsters had sidetracked the
cars bringing the packages. Finally the Red Cross caught on to the fact that if they
sent enough packages to feed all of Germany, then we would get what was left over.
“The Germans decided to move the non-commissioned officers to a separate camp. This
trip took five days and six nights, with the men sleeping in relays because there was
not enough room for us all to lie down. At Luckenwalde camp, there were many Italian
prisoners. They received cigarettes from home. We gambled for cigarettes. The bread
ration was one-seventh loaf for seven men. For five packages of cigarettes we could
get a loaf of bread. That meant being five days ahead as far as staying alive was concerned.
By the terms of the Geneva Treaty, non-commissioned officers were not required to work.
They just said, “Work or don’t eat.’ I went down to 110 pounds. I normally weight 185
pounds. On March 4, 1945, the Red Cross got through 150,000 packages of food. There
were only 9,000 American soldiers there and we knew then that the food would last until
our liberation. We knew the Russians and Americans were coming soon. We had underground
crystal radio sets.
Reds Break Through
“On April 22 a big Russian tank burst through the prison fence. It was a beautiful sight.
Our guards had fled the day before. They had had no time to move us as they had a forced
march once before. When the turret of the tank opened, I was amazed to see a Russian
woman looking out. There were more tanks, the big Stalin tanks, all driven by women.
Those tanks had routed six German infantry divisions and five German panzer divisions.
The Russian women all opened the turrets and took a look at us. They saw that we were
human beings then they slapped down the turrets and took off.
(Stu-The Russians lost 1,000’s of tanks in the war.)
Gets Into The Jam
“We swarmed out of the camp like bees from an overturned hive. We streamed over the
hill to Luckenwalde and we took over the town. We ate like maniacs. I remember getting
into a factory where I found a barrel of strawberry jam. I remember scooping it up with
my two hands. I even filled a big jar to take with me. Most of the men were violently
sick from overeating especially the Russians, who had been dying at the rate of eight
to ten a day from starvation. We decided to clean up but we hated to use our soap. We
had only the little bars that had come in the Red Cross packages and we could trade
them for so many things. Every time I opened the front of my shirt the lice took off
like a B-29 squadron, but I decided if I ever got back I could eventually get clean.
We made the German women wash our clothes. We kicked the people out of their homes so
that we could sleep in their nice soft beds. We had been sleeping on bare boards. Yes
we were lawless, but not as lawless as the Russians were. They had been treated so terribly.
When they took over the town they believed they owned everything in it, the women, the
food, even the numbers on the street. And they took them all.
( to be continued.)
Stu’s Notes: Tom Couris’ wife, Ona, still lives in Oroville. She gave me my start
11 years ago writing this column. She had made a scrap book of news clips from the Oroville
Mercury September 1944 to the summer of 1945. It didn’t contain this above story. Sadly
some American P.O.W.’s were killed when the Japanese put them on unmarked ships and
our submarines, not knowing they were on board, sunk them. I’ve yet to read if this
happened to American P.O.W’s being transported by German Train’s that were blown up
by our fighter planes. But I suppose it did happen. I can’t wait until the fence comes
down at our Memorial, I did get to lay on the fresh cut grass in 70 degree weather,
hard to believe it is only February!