World War II Prisoner of War — Harold Gantert

02
Nov

Two weeks ago I was having a conversation at coffee hour with one of our members, Harold Gantert.  I asked him about his experience as a prisoner of war in World War II.  The following week he handed me a piece of writing he had done describing a portion of his time as a POW.  I copied it out, and printed it below.  A powerful story.   

On April 29th, 1944, 2nd Lt Harold Gantert was serving as a navigator on a American bomber flying over Germany, when his plane was shot down, forcing him and the other men on board to parachute to the ground, where they were taken as prisoners of war. What follows is Lt Gantert’s recollection of two long marches that he and his fellow prisoners of war were forced to make.

Evacuation of Stalag Luft #3 (as recalled)  The Adjutant’s call sounded at about 8:15 pm on January 27, 1945, calling all Krieges to report to their respective blocks. Where we received orders to be ready to move out by 9:30 p.m. All men who were unable to walk were to report to the gate immediately. In our room there were two such men: Lt Birdsall and Lt Luft, leaving thirteen men in our squad. The remaining men were 1st Lt. Grimm, 1st Lt A
Artick, 2nd Lt Pifko, 2nd Lt Gibson, 2nd Lt Dennis, 2nd Lt Gousha, 2nd Lt Seitzinger, 2nnd Lt. Tolmie, 2nd Lt Simmons, 2nd Lt Kirschke, 2nd Lt. Fain, 2nd Lt Henry and myself, 2nd Lt Gantert. We all packed our few possessions in record time and on the order we fell out onto the road.
After waiting there for a while, we were told to return to our block #163 and build a sled. We made a mad rush for our room and started ripping things up and put together a sled that should have had a horse in front of it instead of men. All of us discarded some things from our packs to reduce the weight and make them easier to carry. At 12:10 am we move out collecting one red cross parcel per man as we passed the gate. It was fairly warm and we soon felt pretty tired under the weight of our packs and the sled. We pushed on until it was too difficult to pull the sled any longer, so we ditched it by the roadside and proceeded with only our back packs and blankets.

We had only a few rest stops and at 11 a.m. on January 28, we arrived at a detention lager in Friewalden. Everyone was extremely fatigued and sleep, but there were accommodations for only a few men so we spent two hours indoors with the balance of the time outdoors where it was wet and cold with snow and sleet falling continuously. Several of the men escaped from here, but were later picked up and shipped to the new camp. The town was flooded with refugees and the roads were pretty well clogged with their wagons. At 5:20 pm, after six hours and no sleep we left Friewalden.

Lt Pifko had some pain in his groin and was unable to carry his back pack. Rather than leave it behind, I put it in a red cross suitcase and dragged it along behind me. That night there was heavy snow and sleet falling and the roads were very icy. Consequently, before long our feet were soaked and very cold. After several kilometers of marching, several of our men were unable to proceed any further and were left at Pribus. Lt Pifko was among those men, who numbered thirty-three in all. Lt Tolmie and Lt Sieitzinger bought a sled here. After two hours we continued the march and at 12 pm another group was left behind: Lts Fain, Gibson and Simms were among these, leaving only nine of our original group of fifteen men.

We were informed that our next stop would be Muskau, about twelve kilometer away, so we figured we could make it okay. The column moved on and after about four hours we were feeling just about dead, but no Muskau and the guards seemed to be lost. Many of the men could hardly walk and many times I slipped and fell. It was extremely difficult to get up with the heavy back pack. The guards told us it was only three more kilometers and an hour later it was the same story and the next hour the same again. By this time, a couple of the men had collapsed; Lt Grimm went blind and had to be led. Many of the men were hysterical, but still continued on. Finally, after seven hours we reached Muskau at 7 am. The streets were jammed with men everywhere, lying where they had collapsed from exhaustion. Some were out of their minds; some just stood still, unable to move any further. I nearly collapsed when we stopped but managed to control myself after a few seconds. We had marched about forty-two kilometers instead of thirty-six because of the roundabout route. Instead of marching twenty kilometers in a day we had traveled seventy-two (45 miles) in thirty hours, having not slept for forty-eight hours and with constant exposure to snow sleet and frigid temperatures.

After some delay, the men were quartered in churches and factories. Our group drew a paper mill and stayed there for two days. We received some soup and once in while some bread and margarine. We traded some cigarettes with French workers. I was able to get two pocket knives and some marks, which I used later. We also built another sled and some red cross girls supplied us with some hot water.

At 12 noon on January 31 we marched on. A large number of men were left behind because they were badly crippled form the previous march. We were rejoined by Lts Pifko, Simms, Fain and Gibson.. This time we marched only eighteen kilometers to Schonheide where we were housed in barns; fifty men in each barn. The people here supplied us with spuds and onions which some guys cooked up into a stew for the rest of us. The weather warmed up and the ice melted so that we had to abandon our sleds.

At 4 pm on February 1st, we left for Spremburg and arrived there at about 9 pm. We slept on straw in a Wehrmacht garrison and were given some soup to eat. At about 8 am we were given four parcels for five men which included some bread, margarine and blood sausage. Our train cars were World War I 40 and 8’s and there were 54 men in each of them. It was so crowded in the cars that it was difficult to breathe, so some of the men borrowed a bayonette from a guard and cut holes in the side of the cars to let a little air in. We were in the train for two days, and at one stop (Chemnitz) I bought some beer with my marks that I had obtained from a French worker. At 4 pm on February 4th we arrived at Nuremburg and our new home: Stalag 13D, where we spent two months with fleas, filth and short rations, not to mention sleepless nights when we s2weated out the air raids by RAF in the night and daytime raids by the USAAF.

Our stay at Stalag 13D was not exactly pleasant. We were housed in large barrack-like buildings. Instead of individual rooms, each group was assigned a partitioned-off section with bunk beds, straw mattresses, a stove and table. The rations of coal bricks were very scant, so we slipped out at night and ripped wooden siding off the communal wash room to use as fuel. Our food consisted of some scant German rations, supplemented by an occasional red cross parcel. Most of our cooking was done on our stove in home made tin utensils fashioned from the tin containers in our parcels. There were no organized activities, but we kept occupied with whatever we could conjure up for ourselves. We survived this way until the end of March and our departure from Stalag 13D.

March #2 (A Kriege Tour of Baveria)

On March 28th we were alerted for our second evacuation and march. At about 4 pm on April 3rd we were informed that we would move out at 9 am on April 4th. We actually left Nuremburg at 11 am. We marched eight kilometers to Feucht , four kilometers to Ochenburck, twelve kilometers to Pfiefferhutte, five kilometers to Oberfersfeld and two more to Doftbauer, arriving at 6 pm. We spent the night in a barn. In the morning the weather was good so we didn’t mind the walking. We left Dofbauer at 8:30 am April 5th marching six kilometers to Polling, where we arrived at 10 am and spent an hour and twenty minutes enduring an air raid.

On March 28 we were alerted for our second evacuation and march. At about 4 pm on April 3 we were informed that we would move out at 9 am on April 4. We actually left Nuremburg at 11 am. We marched eight kilometers to Feucht , four kilometers to Ochenburck, twelve kilometers to Pfiefferhutte, five kilometers to Oberfersfeld and two more to Doftbauer, arriving at 6 pm. We spent the night in a barn. In the morning the weather was good so we didn’t mind the walking. We left Dofbauer at 8:30 am April 5 marching six kilometers to Polling, where we arrived at 10 am and spent an hour and twenty minutes enduring an air raid.We left there and arrived at Newmarkt at 1:45 pm where we received some rations and stopped in some woods until 9 pm., at which point we marched out for twenty-one kilometers, arriving at Burching at 4 am on April 6th. It was raining, but we spent four hours sleeping in the rain. We departed Burching at 8 am and arrived at Plankstettin at 9:45 am. While there were received one half of a British parcel.

On April 7th at 11 pm. We again started on a night march, traveling twenty kilometers, arriving at Pondorf at about 5:30 am on April 8th. We spent the rest of the day at Pondorf, leaving there at 11 am on April 9th for Schampten, then to Sandersdorf, Mindelstetten, Foreheim and Marching, where, after marching twenty kilometers we arrived at 3:30 pm on April 9th and were issued one half of a Belgium parcel.

At 11 am on April 10th we departed for Neustadt, then Muelhausen arriving at 2 pm Here we were issued one third of an American parcel. We spent three days in Mulhausen during which time Artik, Simms and myself made contact with a German family who let us stay in their barn They were very kind to us and even provided us with some home cooked food. The Family’s name was Loibl and I had the opportunity of visiting them after the war. We finally moved out of Mulhausen at 11 am on April 13th, traveling to Seigen, Neiderumelforf and Oberemeldorf until 4:20 pm when we stopped in some barns.

While staying in the barns some of us did some foraging and managed to trade some cigarettes with French workers for some eggs and ham, which we cooked in the barnyard, much to the dismay of the German guards. I was told that ten men were caught and beaten for their efforts. Fortunately we were not bothered. We left the barns at 11:30 am and marched ten kilometers through Ludmannsdorf, Pfefferhausen and Holzhausen. We stayed there until 11 am on April 19th. Leaving there for Obersussbach and Obermunchen, about ten kilometers away. On April 20th at 11:30 am we left Obermuchen and traveled through Amelsdorf, Willetsdorf and Schwarzdersdorf. The final day of our excursion started at 9 am and carried us through Durnseilboldedorf and Pfettrach to our final destination of Mooseberg, arriving there at 12 noon on April 21st. We had marched a total of 145 kilometers.

At Mooseberg we were housed in large tents, sleeping on cots and preparing our food outside with homemade utensils. General Patton and his men were approaching the area and we often had to dodge bullets whenever there was an attack against the local town. Finally, on April 29th, 1945, exactly one year after I was shot down, Patton and his men arrived at our camp and we were liberated.

 

 

 

 

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