Life in the prison camp

This is the text I found on Stuart A. Kettles’s Website.

I will add the pictures that were sent to me by Jim L’Esperance’s son and daughter.

AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR IN GERMANY
Prepared by MILITARY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, WAR DEPARTMENT 1 Nov 1945

MARLAG, UND MILAG NORD (Naval Personnel)

milag

image from this site

LOCATION
The camp was situated at Westertimke (53deg 51min North latitude – 9deg 67min 51sec East longitude) 30 miles southwest of Hamburg and 10 miles north of Bremen. It was well placed on sandy ground planted with pine trees. On 10 April 1945, the majority of PW was evacuated toward Lubeck, but many of the personnel who were unable to march remained as a unit until liberated by the British on 14 April.

STRENGTH
Created for the confinement of Navy and Merchant Marine personnel only,-the installation under normal conditions had a capacity of 5300 and in emergencies of 6900. According to official figures of the Protecting Power, the strength in April 1944 was 4268 and in Dec. 1944, 4223 with 41 nations and races represented. In April 1945, approximately 1900 RAF officers were removed from Stalag Luft III at Sagan and were accommodated in this camp. In Sept. 1944, a large group of civilian internees was brought in from Gironagny and placed in the Ilag. At no time were there more than 71 Americans from the Navy and Merchant Marine in this camp, and on 2 April 1945 two American Air Corps officers were imprisoned there, the first non-naval American personnel to arrive. A month before liberation the camp held 35 American Merchant seamen and 9 regular service personnel including: Maj. Peter Ortiz and Lt. Walter W. Taylor of the Marine Corps and Lt. (jg) Richard M. Harris, USNR.

prison camp 11

DESCRIPTION
The entire camp, which was constructed in the autumn of 1942 and subsequently added to, consisted of 7 lagers as follows: Lager I, Dulag, which was used as an interrogation and transit compound; Lager II, Marlag, housing personnel of the Royal Navy; Lager III, Milag, for the confinement of Merchant Marine personnel of the various nationalities; Lager IV, Milag (Inder), accommodating Indian seamen of the Merchant Navy; Lager V, Wache, for the camp guard; Lager VI, Kommandatur, the administrative officer for the entire establishment; Lager VII, Stabslager, living quarters for the administrative personnel of the entire establishment. The Marlag Lager for the Navy PW and the Milag Lager for Merchant Marine PW each had compounds designated as Marlag “O” and Marlag “M” and Milag “O” and Milag “M” for officers and enlisted men respectively. When the 1900 RAF officers arrived, PW from Marlag “M” were transferred to the Ilag compound and the British fliers were accommodated in Marlag “M”. Each compound consisted of several sturdily built one-storied wooden buildings which were well-lighted and heated. There were 29 of them in Marlag and 36 in Milag. The majority of them were used as barracks for the PW while the others were kitchens and dining rooms, ablution barracks, guard barracks, storehouses, postal section and other administrative buildings. Each building used as living quarters comprised many rooms accommodating 14 to 16 officers or 18 men of other rank. There were two and three-tiered bunks furnished with palliasses of straw with washable covering. Two blankets were issued each man and some PW had an extra Red Cross blanket. Personally owned blankets were rare. Cleanliness was the rule and for the most part the barracks were well kept although at times the palliasses were infected with vermin. The entire camp was surrounded by barbed wire and the Marlag and Milag compounds were also separated by barbed wire. Within the lagers, the compounds for officers and men were also separated by wire. In addition each compound had a barbed wire cattle fence about a yard high placed about 4 yards inside the outer fencing. PW were not allowed to go beyond the cattle fencing. Placed at the corner of each camp were watchtowers with machine guns and searchlights, which were always turned off during an air raid warning.

prison camp 2

prison camp 31

GERMAN PERSONNEL
At first: the camp was commanded by Kapitan zur see Schuhr, a regular German navy officer who was severe but considered by PW as just. After his transfer the personnel was as follows:

Camp Commander : Fregatten-Kapitan Schmidt
Second in command : Korvetten-Kapitan Kogge
Security Officer : Oberleutnant Schoof
German Physician : Stabsarzt Dr. Trautman
Accompanying Officer of the G.H.C. : Major Bosenberg

Kapitan Schrnidt was short and fat and looked like a pig. He weighed about 290 pounds, was five feet nine inches tall. about 54 years old and had grey hair. The security officer, Oberleutnant Schoof, was about 61 tall, weighed about 150 pounds and had a very thin long nose, dark skin and black hair. The PW did not come into contact with other members of the camp personnel. When the camp was first formed the camp guard comprised NCOs and men from naval artillery units. These men, between 45 and 55 years, were unfit for frontline service. In addition about 30 members of the German marine forces were distributed throughout the camp as cooks and clerks. Later on the guards at the camp were of the Wehrmacht and wore the uniform of this ground force organization. According to observations by PW there were 8 guards around the enlisted men’s barracks going on duty at 0730 hours and remaining there until 1800 hours. Armed with pistols, they patrolled the barracks area and sometimes entered them. There were 2 guards along the inner fence of the enlisted men’s compound. Shifts changed every 2 hours. Twelve guards patrolled as sentries along the outer fence around the compounds at all times. The guards were old and were for the most part German farmers recently inducted into the Wehrmacht although some of them had been veterans of the first World War. As a rule the guard personnel was changed about every six months. PW traded with the guards whenever they would come into the barracks and talked to them quite openly.

U.S. PERSONNEL


The compounds were administered by English personnel who filled the staff positions. Ph.M. 1/C Charles H. Carter was the American MOC in Marlag, “M” and Joseph Ashworth, of the U.S. Merchant Marine Corps, was American MOC in the Milag compound. The basic unit for organisation was the barracks and the barracks’ chiefs were all English inasmuch as the number of American PW in the 2 compounds was so small.

HEALTH


In general the health in the camp was very good. There were a few cases of tuberculosis in the hospital, which was in the Milag section of the camp and was operated by the British, and also a very few cases of dysentery. The American MOC in Marlag “M” acted as the doctor for the Americans. All dental work was done by an English dentist. It was reported by those who had been to the hospital that the treatment was quite good, but the hospital ran short of medical equipment and supplies. Washing facilities were in a separate building in the camp. In this building were 3 cold showers which the men could use at any time and 53 water spigots. The men received what was supposed to be a hot shower once a week, but the building where the showers were situated was a quarter of a mile from the camp and 3 parties of 25 men each would be taken down at one time. Therefore, the men who went in first were the only ones to get a hot shower, because when the others came later the water was cold. The latrine, which was in a separate building, consisted of 47 stools over a hole in the ground. They were cleaned out about once every 2 weeks. Drinking water was plentiful and was available at all times except the one period of 3 weeks in Dec. 1944 when the Germans claimed that the pump was broken and needed repair. At that time the water was on only during certain hours of the day.


prison camp 41

FOOD
The usual German ration existed in this camp. Breakfast comprised 2 slices of bread, half a cup of ersatz coffee and sometimes a small piece of cheese. For dinner the prisoners had soup made out of turnips and potatoes, and for supper each PW was issued three potatoes. About once a month a little horsemeat and sugar was issued. The meager rations ‘were supplemented by Red Gross parcels, the food of which was prepared by PW on the stoves in the barracks.

104germanrationscalemartoapr1945

image from this site

The German issued no clothing to the PW although there was a great demand for winter overcoats and warm garments. Red Cross shipments were received quite regularly and distribution was made of the necessary clothes to each PW. The English had set up a shop to repair shoes and there was also a tailor shop in the camp. The Germans did not confiscate any uniforms of the prisoners who were allowed to keep whatever clothing they had.


prison camp 51

TREATMENT

The treatment of PW was correct. There were no indications of any disciplinary actions having been taken against American PW. The guards were older men and would do, favours for the PW for cigarettes. Consequently there was a sort of mutual understanding and as long as the PW did not cause any trouble they were not interfered with by the Germans.

prison camp 61

WORK & PAY
PW from Marlag and Milag never worked outside of the camp, but when they were asked to do so they refused. Seamen 2/C were made to do work within the camp but the Seamen 1 C did nothing except work on cleaning details and KP within the barracks. Those PW who worked received 40 pfennings per day, and according to statements of some they received 7 marks 50 pfennings a month. The money was in camp currency and could be spent ‘in the PX operated by the Germans. In Nov. 1944 the Germans stopped issuing camp currency and paid the PW in German marks. No man was ever allowed to have more than 30 marks in his possession.

RECREATION
In each compound there were sports fields where the PW could play baseball and volley ball. A great deal of equipment was supplied by the Red Cross and YMCA. Other exercise was obtained by walking around in the enclosure during the day, and toward the end of the war the Germans permitted the PW to walk outside the compounds under guard. They would give the guards cigarettes for the privilege of taking these walks and at times would go as far as 2 and 3 miles from the camp but never near any town. Plays were put on by the PW in the camp theatre. They also had a band, using instruments issued by the. Red Cross and those purchased by the British from the Germans. A well stocked library.(3000 volumes),was. run by the British. In regard to education. there were 19 men giving instruction in 25 separate courses, which included languages, mathematics, commercial subjects, vocational, economic and scientific. Classes were very popular and well attended. Textbooks for these courses were obtained from the Red, Cross and YMCA.

MAIL
In general the delivery of mail was very erratic. The average number of letters received per man per month was 7 and required as many as 61 days for transit. Parcel post packages required about 43 days in transit. PW received 2 letter and 4 card forms per month, while the medical staff received a double ration of the forms. The Germans were quite regular in issuing these forms and at times additional ones could be obtained from PW who did not desire to use theirs. There were no restrictions on the number of incoming letters a PW could receive and the letters could be kept indefinitely. German. civilian girls censored incoming as well as outgoing mail.

RELIGION
Two small chapels, one for Protestants and the other for Catholics, were in the ,camp. Protestant church services were held in the morning and evening of every Sunday. In addition prayers were held every night and there was a mid-week “fellowship discussion group” meeting. The YMCA provided hymnals and prayer books and at Christmas time provided hundreds of booklets with Christmas carols. An English chaplain served as minister. A French civilian internee was the Roman Catholic chaplain; Mass and benedictions were .held each day.,

WELFARE
Representatives of the Protecting Power came to the camp about every 3 months. They made fairly rigid inspections and received oral and written complaints from the Senior British officers and the Men of Confidence in the individual compounds. The German staff usually accompanied the Swiss representatives when they made a tour of the camp. Complaints about food, clothes, sleeping accommodations, the need for fuel and other matters were turned over to the Germans. In chronic cases the complaints were acted upon promptly but in other cases, particularly in regard to the coal situation, action was promised but never fulfilled. According to statements of PW, they felt that the Swiss representatives were doing all they possibly could but were handicapped by the Germans in the High Command. The Red Cross and the YMCA were particularly helpful in regard to the welfare of the PW. Recreational supplies, books and clothing were provided whenever requested, and whenever representatives of these 2 organisations came to the camp, PW had ready access to them and could usually obtain whatever they requested.

EVACUATION & LIBERATION
On 8 April 1945, the German camp commander notified PW that the camp was to be moved to Lubeck. The few Americans in the camp were to have marched along with the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy personnel. PW who were unable to march were to remain in the camp under German command. The first day out of the camp the column was strafed by British planes and a great deal of confusion resulted, with most of the men going back to the camp. Some Americans escaped and hid out in the woods west of the camp. They spent several days there but when they became sick from drinking stagnant water they decided to give themselves up. Upon their return they found the English in complete control of the camp.

“SOURCE MATERIAL FOR THIS REPORT CONSISTED OF INTERROGATIONS OF FORMER PRISONERS OF WAR MADE BY CPM BRANCH, MILITARY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, AND REPORTS OF THE PROTECTING POWER AND INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS RECEIVED BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT (Special War Problems Division).” Taken from the general introduction to camps.

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2 thoughts on “Life in the prison camp

  1. My dad is in the upper barracks photo in the white shirt. He survived the sinking of the Athabaskan. His name was (in the army) Harry Hurwitt, altered so that if he was picked up by the Germans, his Jewishness would not be used an excuse for maltreatment. (As it so happens, someone informed on him and he was thrown into isolation). He also has a log book, with some of these photos, and we all enjoy his stories and pics. He is a hearty 88 today.

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