The following are extracts from the "Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-1945", courtesy of Kerry Single.

 

The Germans had never ceased their pressure on NCOs to go out on working parties, but by September 1942 they were finally resigned to allowing those who claimed exemption to go to a special camp at Hohenfels—at first Oflag IIIC and later Stalag 383. Between September and the end of 1942 over 3000 NCOs were collected there from camps all over Germany, and by April 1943 their numbers had increased to over 4000, including 320 New Zealanders.

 

The camp, formerly for officers, was built on a gentle slope in the middle of a piece of heavily wooded country, some miles from the nearest town. Instead of being crammed by the hundreds into unpartitioned barracks, the NCOs found themselves allocated small dormitory huts holding fourteen or less, described by one of them as "snug billets". The camp had plenty of room for sports fields and walking space besides, and some larger barracks for theatrical shows and indoor recreation. When Red Cross food arrived in October to supplement the ordinary German prisoner-of-war ration, there was little to complain of at Hohenfels. Much effort went into constructing small stoves so that private food could be cooked when desired. By November one man was writing that he was "fourteen pounds heavier than when he joined up"; others spoke of there being "more freedom and less interference" and of the camp being "far less depressing" than Lamsdorf. The winter proved to be cold, but there was sufficient coal and the men were allowed to collect wood from a nearby forest. For most of them it was the best camp they had been in.

 

It was to be expected that, although there were only three NCOs from Dieppe at the camp, such a large body of non-workers would be selected as suitable for the tying-and-chaining reprisal. It began on 10 October and by the 14th some 1250 had their hands tied for twelve hours each day. At first, too, they were separated from the rest of the camp and all recreational activity was stopped. There­after the history of the reprisals at Stalag 383 is much the same as in the other camps, except that relaxations were introduced more quickly and in the later stages men were allowed to take the shackling in rotation - a month at a time.

 

After the first week or two shackling interfered little with the recreational life of the camp. Many musical instruments and other material had been brought from other camps; by February several different kinds of orchestra and a choir of 500 voices were performing as occasion demanded, and a number of shows had been presented on the newly-built stage. A stalag "university" had been organised by a former NCO of the Army Educational Corps; and classes under this scheme, together with the activities of no fewer than 56 clubs - from a debating club to a Caledonian society - enabled men to pass the winter months profitably. A first exhibition of arts and crafts was held in February, and in March, with the ground drying up, sport was in full swing. Plenty of parcels from the Red Cross and from home had made the food and clothing position of the camp secure, and men could write with conviction that they were "well and being well-treated".

 

The non-working British NCOs in Stalag 383 at Hohenfels were launched on a programme of educational and recreational activity which became one of the most extensive in Germany. In this they were greatly helped by material supplied under the scheme carried out by the World Alliance of YMCAs, and in particular by the interest taken in the camp by the delegate of the Swedish YMCA. Mr. Erik Berg. Among the 5000 or so NCOs there at the beginning of 1944, 330 of them New Zealanders, there was sufficient variety of talent and sufficient manpower to initiate and keep going almost every possible kind of camp activity. The 400 huts of the camp were organised into blocks and companies, each with its representative. The quartermastering and disciplinary side of the camp was run by the senior warrant officer, the welfare and other activities by an elected man-of-confidence. The German commandant was described as a "very fair man", and there is ample evidence that the prisoners were given every opportunity to employ their leisure time profitably and pleasantly. Apart from the sports, theatricals, and other amenities common to many camps, there was a swimming pool in which over 200 men qualified for Royal Life-saving Society certificates. In winter it became ice-bound, and with a hundred pairs of skates from the Swedish Red Cross the prisoners turned it into a skating rink. There were bee colonies and practical instruction in apiculture, one New Zealander passing the diplomas for the British Bee-keeping Society. An old stable was converted by the prisoners into a school to accommodate 2000, with separate classrooms and a reading room.

 

Where materials could not be obtained legitimately they could be purchased with British cigarettes on the black market by German guards. Many wireless-set parts, cameras, watches, and other articles thus found their way inside Stalag 383, for the purchasing power of British and American cigarettes in the cities of Nazi Germany was in 1944 very considerable. The camp had not one but many radios. There were two well-equipped theatres and 15 varied music groups and orchestras. Stage shows like the "Mikado" could run for three weeks. There was every conceivable kind of sporting event. Anzac Day began with a dawn service, followed on with a march past, and finished with a smoke concert. There were 22 exchange marts in operation, selling everything from a powder-puff to a set of false teeth. The latter might be thought to command a limited market but apparently, after remodelling, satisfied its purchaser. Some men had vegetable gardens; others kept rabbits. A New Zealander wrote, "Nora has come along with her third litter"; and later, "Knocked off five yesterday and had the best dinner in four years." For those who did not care for set occupations or educational courses there was a library of over ten thousand books. One prisoner casually remarked in a letter, "I think I've gone through most", and as an afterthought added (perhaps to avoid being thought ungrateful), "but good books can always be re-read." There is no doubt that there was ample scope in Stalag 383 for reading, extensive as well as intensive. One of the Swedish delegates who visited the camp on the occasion of the centenary of the YMCA in July 1944 stated that he had seen no better camp in Germany. In the latter part of 1944 Hohenfels experienced the food shortage and the attention from German security personnel common in other camps, and perhaps more mud than some; but it was better catered for than most in the way of materials and organised activities that could take men's minds off hunger and cold.