No.14806

 

'In a country grown blasť to the sight of prisoners of war I must confess to a certain pride in the attraction which a squad of Britishers, be they working or marching out, draws from the German onlookers. Admittedly it is a pride which we feel in our race, but there is none of us who does not realise the debt we owe the Red Cross for our condition and personal appearance. Our gratitude for that organisation for its unceasing efforts on our behalf can never be adequately expressed.'

 

'We were employed by Eichmann & Co., Papermakers, at Marchendorf, Sudetenland. The villages of Marchendorf 1, 2, 3, and 4 lie straggling in a cleft of the Sudeten Hills in the district of Reisenbirge; small, one-street affairs, semi-industrialised, dull and uninteresting, redeemed however by the beauty of the surrounding country. The factory lies on a tributary of the Elbe, overlooking the main road, and is composed of two parts - a modern block of buildings and the old factory. Our billets were located in the latter block; consisting of two spacious rooms on the first floor. A long high room fifteen feet by fifty feet, lit by four lofty windows - heavily barred - was our bedroom, and housed fifty-two men on double-decked bunks. The washing facilities were rather indifferent, but the water lavatories built in an annexe at the far end of the room were a rarity to prisoners of war. The outer room twenty-four feet by thirty feet, was our dining and recreational hall, with the kitchen adjoining and three small rooms for Red Cross supplies, our Kommando leader, and a cloakroom. In common the rest of the factory our billets were heated by steam and hot water was always available as it was imperative that the paper store rooms were maintained at an even temperature. Two Frauen attended to our laundry at a cost of approximately two marks per week, and they performed wonders on a most inadequate German soap allowance. Another Frau was employed in the kitchen, assisting our cook and buying our rations, which amounted to two-thirds of civilian worker's rations. Our approximate pay in Lager-geld was sixty-one Pfennigs per hour, the same rate as the German worker was paid, and after certain deductions for food and accommodation twenty-five marks were left for our personal use each month.'

 

'A piece of grassland at the rear of the factory was made available for one hour's football every evening, and on Sundays a two hour walk, alternated with football matches against neighbouring Kommandos, provided our outdoor recreations. Boxing and bridge were our evening occupations, and we boasted an enthusiastic dramatic group, who provided many excellent shows. Clothing was borrowed from civilians for theatricals, permission being given by the military authorities until the local Nazi Party successfully protested.'

 

'We had been at Eichmann's some four months when we discovered that the wall of our bedroom adjoining the factory was very badly made and at one point was built behind a door through which, with a little ingenuity, egress could be obtained. Paper and beds successfully camouflaged the hole, and on the outer side we sawed through the screws holding the door, made a skeleton key for the lock, and secured it from the inside. In the Spring and Summer of 1944 ten men effected escapes. Communists among the civilians were helpful with clothing. The topography of the district made progress on foot difficult, but several fellows made Vienna by rail; none, however, was successful in reaching home. The aftermath of an escape sent a number of German security officers into our billets, ordering more bars to be welded around the windows, while within twenty feet was a hole large enough to evacuate a horse. Unpleasant repercussions followed each escape, but through the firm stand made by our leader, who refused to be intimidated, conditions soon returned to normal through a compromise.'

 

'The work at the factory was done in three shifts of eight-hour periods, the men being employed in actual paper making and supplying labour for the maintenance staff of fitters and carpenters. The wood pulping was done at Eichmann's factory at Arnau, and one of our jobs was unloading lorries carrying bales of pulp and conveying them via an electrically propelled lift to the Hollander Department. Here the pulp was further crushed and chemically treated or dyed as per specification, fed to three centrifugals, thence to the paper machines. The machines were fed by way of a fine-mesh wire gauge floating in water with vacuum troughs at intervals to draw off the water; the mixture then passed between stone rollers on to a felt which conveyed it to the cold rollers, thence to the hot cylinders, until finally it was rolled on to a wooden hilser at the end of the machine. The paper was then processed through spraying machines, kullenders, cutters, inspection, and macking departments. We were mostly employed in transporting the paper through various departments, loading the machines and doing odd jobs throughout the factory. The civilians' attitude towards us was excellent. We had many differences with the few fanatical Nazis; it was our policy to play the army, as represented by the guards who were very jealous of their right of jurisdiction over us, against this undesirable and vicious element.'

 

'Altogether a pleasant job, but pleasant conditions is not all that is required in this dreary existence. The monotony of the same faces, stagnant conversation, simulated cheerfulness and the deep longing for those we love, make any conditions difficult, and the only really pleasant hours are those of sleep.'