No.11502

 

'In the autumn of 1943 a working party consisting of English, Australian, New Zealand, and South African prisoners of war left Stalag VIIIA for the Luftwaffenbaulager in Weiswasser. Situated on the Berlin-Görlitz main line, approximately seventy-eight miles south-east of the capital, and famous in days of peace as the centre of Germany's glass industry, Weiswasser is a well-planned town boasting a population of fifteen thousand people. Lying within a pleasant girdle of pine trees, its cobbled streets and plain style of architecture depict the typical German town adopted by fiction writers. In appearance, the clean and neat homes of this industrial community are severe and conform strictly to one type.'

 

'To our pleasant surprise we were quartered in a restaurant known as the Schwarzen-Adler, on a site directly opposite the busy railway station and within ten minutes' walking distance of our place of work. We occupied three rooms, two of which were used for living purposes, while the third and largest formed our bedroom. The washing facilities were catered for in the cellar beneath the building and entered only from the yard. After much agitation a hot-water shower was installed in the bathroom, and whereas then we enjoyed the luxury of a daily shower, during our first five months there we could only obtain a weekly hot bath at a neighbouring Kommando. For the preparation of Red Cross food three stoves were available in our rooms, whilst the German rations were cooked in the kitchen of the erstwhile restaurant by two women employed by the Luftwaffe. The other rooms in the billet were occupied by the Kommando Fuhrer, the four guards, Red Cross food parcels and clothing stores. Under these conditions we enjoyed reasonable comfort, although the accommodation would have been better suited for thirty and not fifty men.'

 

'As the name implies the Luftwaffenbaulager provides principally for the electrical installations required in the construction of Germany's air fields. The buildings of the adjacent vinegar and glass factories, which were taken over by the Luftwaffe, are totally inadequate for the storing of the machinery, transformers, cables, insulators, globes, lighting, wiring and other paraphernalia which go towards making up one of the largest lagers of its type in the country. The sidings available for the railway wagons are very limited, and consequently much labour is entailed by the continual pushing of trucks to the few vantage points where they can be dealt with. Only recently, too, the apparatus at our disposal for the loading and unloading of machines has improved to obviate much of the weary man-handling. The work in fine weather is congenial enough, but in the wet and cold of winter months it became a trial. The hours of work are long and irregular, and most days we are at it from dawn to dark. In the summer work commences at 6 a.m. and one hour later during the winter months. Half an hour for breakfast and one hour for lunch are allowed us, whilst knocking off is timed at 6 p.m. in summer or 5 p.m. in winter, provided the wagons for the day have been finished. Every week-end we were called upon to work the normal hours on both Saturday and Sunday.'

 

'Although the monotony of the work is apt to pall, we do have our diversions. The tenor of operations does not run as evenly as Jerry would wish, but the repercussions for our "insubordinations" usually go no further than the threat of the Straf-camp. As British prisoners of war we demand, rightly or wrongly, under all circumstances, certain considerations, and I have marvelled at what the lads do get away with. This year of grace however is 1944, and perhaps the writing on the wall is more evident than in yesteryears. Despite elaborate precautions the job itself has proved a good starting-off place for the few who have attempted the long road back to freedom. We have also enjoyed a regular news service, and British resourcefulness has constantly shown its worth in keeping this community of Englanders exiled in the middle of Nazi Germany informed of the movements on the fronts and the truth about world affairs. On our free Sundays, weather permitting, a game of football is arranged and played under favourable conditions on one of the sports fields which catered for Weiswasser's football-loving public in the days before the war. In mid-summer bathing parades take the place of football and a delightful hour's swimming is enjoyed in one of the many natural pools on the outskirts of the town. Our visit to the pictures on Sunday mornings was undoubtedly our favourite form of relaxation. Although the majority of us could understand very little of the diction, the story of the simple German films was easy enough to follow. The newsreel contained many items of topical interest to us so long removed from the fighting zones. To our regret the privilege of picture shows has now been withdrawn.'

 

'It is difficult to generalise about the treatment we receive from the Germans under whose authority we work and live. In deference to the wish of Geneva, or in an effort to obtain co-operation from us on the job, the higher officials will readily promise anything regarding the betterment of our conditions or hours of work. My experience is that these promises are as glibly broken as they are made. I find that most of the German workers are confidentially ever ready to condemn the Fuhrer and his party. They are war weary and disillusioned, underfed and overworked. They long for the end of hostilities nearly as much as we do ourselves, even though they realise the Allied victory will mean to them only the beginning of a long and dreary era of reconstruction. The most they hope for is release from the constant fear in which they lead their daily lives, a fear that their every word or deed may be construed as an infidelity to the Nazi creed and as such punished by the drastic measures approved by the regime. Individually I have found most of the foremen both easy and understanding. If at first they have tried to rough us in their demand for work, it is not long before under enlightenment and persuasive propaganda they bend to our way of work. In their conceptions of the Colonies, the lives and the working conditions of the people there, they are palpably ignorant and amusing. During a year's work we have witnessed many call-ups from the civilians, and the demands made upon the available man-power for army reinforcements has left only the dregs of a nation to keep the home front going.'