Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I have written several posts on this blog about the Nazi prisoner of war camp for Polish officers that was located in Murnau, Bavaria: OFLAG VI-A. My dad's unit, B Troop of the 116th Squadron, 101st Cavalry, was given credit for liberating this camp, so I have tried to learn as much about it as possible. In the process, I have acquired a number of "pen pals" in the process--people in Poland, the U.S., and Germany who also are interested in this small piece of World War II history. 

Many sons and daughters of those prisoners have asked me to thank any members of the 101st Cavalry I can for saving their fathers. Others wanted the names of their fathers added to the website so they wouldn't be forgotten. Like many U.S. veterans, the Polish veterans were not eager to talk about the war years either, so their children are looking for all the information they can find. 

We don't always learn many details about our fathers' service, but, if we are lucky, we do begin to get a sense of what they went through. As that happens, we, like the children of the Polish prisoners, end up with a lot of people to thank. We learn our fathers were wounded, so we thank the soldiers who carried them to safety and the medics who patched them up. We learn our fathers were sometimes imprisoned, so we want to think those who opened the gates and set them free. We learn that some of our fathers ended up buried in France, and we want to thank the people who tend their graves. 

Right now citizens in Murnau are planning an event on April 29, 2015, to honor the men who were imprisoned in that camp and thank those who liberated them. Plans are just beginning, but it is likely that few of the men who actually lived through these events will be there. It will be their children who come to remember the past and pay their respects. When I received the following email yesterday, I realized that is probably the only reason I keep working on the website. It's just a way to say thank you and make sure some of these men are remembered. Today, Izabella Mrozik is making sure her father and a couple of other are remembered:

My name is Izabella Mrozik and my father was at Murnau during WWII. His name was Zdislaw Dionizy Mrozik he was a 1st Lt. He was attached to the Allied Forces in Germany after the war stationed at Kaiserslautern for some time and then sent on to France. We lived there with him in Fountainbleu from about 1948 through 1950 when he and my mother emigrated to the US. I am going to try to attach some documents to this email which I have scanned. His dog-tags from the camp, Polish Military ID card, weapons permit from the Polish Army when he was called to duty in 1939. I have quite a few more items from his time there. 
I have attempted to find information on the camp and who liberated the prisoners for a long time - through several email addresses as a matter of fact!  My father did not want to talk about the camp, he was a very private man and felt there was no point to us hearing about the unpleasantness of war. 
I do have the names of a couple of other prisoners, one was Anthony Suski (he was involved in building a proscribed radio in one of the other buildings (not my dad's). And then there was Andrzej Falkowski
It's Thanksgiving this week. Isn't there someone you'd like to remember with gratitude?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fighting children

My dad did share one thing about the war: Near the end of the war, they found themselves in combat with teenagers as young as 14. Of course, at 18 and 19, some of the American soldiers weren't much older. One man from my father's platoon tells of coming under fire by a group of "young kids, 14 to 16 years old."
"Nobody wanted to shoot at the kids," he adds, "but their rifles could kill us just as dead as those manned by 30-year-old men. The kids refused to surrender. That wasn't a good day."
 Lt. Joe Borkowski told of another incident that involved a boy.
"This boy came up out of a foxhole with his rifle," said Borkowski, "and I yelled at him in German, 'Don't shoot!' That confused him. The boy looked about 14 years old, and he dropped his weapon and began to cry. I took his rifle and the guys gave him candy and gum. He ran off and I told my men to hold fire and let him go. Maybe we shouldn't have, but we're the ones that would have to live with it after the war if we shot him. To this day, my conscience is clear. I'd sure like to know what happened to that boy."
Martin Lohmann, a teacher in Murnau, Germany, interviewed Gregor Dorfmeister of Bad Tölz, who had been one of those boys. I thank him for sharing this story.
Gregor Dorfmeister was 16 years old when he was drafted into the Volkssturm, a national militia set up by the Nazi Party. During the last months of the war, this militia drafted males between the ages of 16 and 60 who were not already serving. 
Dorfmeister says that they were quickly trained with the German standard rifle K98 and the panzerfaust, a very efficient anti-tank weapon. However, neither standardized weapons and uniforms were issued. He and his comrades received an assortment of weapons, including World War I rifles and modern assault rifles.
Their training was cut short when the U.S. troops approached Penzberg, which is only a few kilometres from Bad Tölz. Dorfmeister and his six comrades were sent at night to cover a small wooden bridge near the village of Bichl. Defense of the bridge was critical, they were told, and they had to "take a stand to the very last round."
When they arrived, they found a trench dug into the riverbank next to the small wooden bridge they were to defend. Clearly, the local Nazi leaders who had issued the orders knew little about warfare. If the boys needed to retreat, they would have to climb the river bank under fire. There was no second line.  
Eventually the boys all fell asleep in the trench. They had posted no sentries--another sign of their poor training--and woke in the early morning to rumbling engine and clattering tracks of approaching tanks. The only experienced soldier, a private, told the boys to stay low and not to do anything stupid. 
Although fear gripped the boys, no one wanted to show it. They checked their rifles over and over and repositioned the panzerfausts as the tanks drew closer. 
Suddenly, a lone Sherman tank approached the bridge. When the operators realized the bridge would not hold the weight of their tank, they turned, showing its broadside to the Germans. The boys at once opened fire with all of the available panzerfausts. Five of the seven panzerfausts hit the tank, and it burst into flame. Dorfmeister's weapon had hit the vulnerable spot between the turret and the hull. At this point, the top hatch flew open and the commander slumped out of the hatch halfway, his body smoking. This gruesome sight horrified Dorfmeister, and he never forgot it. 
Seconds later, massive small arms and heavy caliber fire drove them into the trench. Trapped, with bullets whizzing overhead and grenades exploding, they knew they had no hope of escaping. Most of the boys broke down, sobbing and crying for their mothers.
 During a small break in the firing, Dorfmeister and another boy took their chances and ran up the embankment. They were the only ones. As they ran across a snow-covered field, they were strafed by one or two fighter planes. They dove for cover. With their camouflage uniforms, they clearly contrasted with the white snow. For the second time in one day, Dorfmeister believed his life was over. But both boys managed to escape into the trees at the foot of a mountain and walk back to Bad Tölz, completely exhausted. 
When they crossed the bridge at the gates of Bad Tölz, they were stopped by soldiers, who told them to take positions in order to defend that bridge. There was a machine gun nest, which they were supposed to man. Dorfmeister tried unsuccessfully to talk his friend out of staying; Dorfmeister headed home. 
Before arriving at home, he threw his gun on an abandoned truck parked near his house. His mother was thrilled to see him unscathed but also very concerned about his state of mind. He slept all through the day. The next morning, he went back to the bridge, hoping that nothing had happened to his friend. When he got there, he saw two boys lying face down, with bullet holes in their backs. Next to them, an American soldier was leaning against the parapet, having a smoke.  
In 1958, Dorfmeister dealt with his horrible experiences by writing an autobiographical novel about a group of boys defending a bridge, Die Brücke (The Bridge). Published under the alias of Manfred Gregor, the book became an international success. Today, the movie based on his book is one of the most awarded German movies ever produced.
When I read this story, I wondered if Dorfmeister and members of the 101st Cavalry ever crossed paths. It is certainly possible. I know that on May 2, the 101st was delayed at Bad Tölz, waiting for a new bridge to be built. But I don't know if they were ever close to the bridge at Bichl. I know my dad's troop, Troop B, 116th Squadron, got into a skirmish near the end of April at a bridge somewhere between Landsberg and Weilheim, north and west of Bad Tölz and Bichl, and that they fought for a number of other bridges before they reached Murnau. And I know that it was here, in Bavaria at the end of the war, that members of the 101st Cavalry were horrified that they were at war with boys.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

April 29, 1945

Over the past several days, I've been in touch with a number of children and grandchildren of veterans. Only in this case, the veterans didn't serve with the 101st Cavalry. They served with the Polish Army. Their paths crossed with the 101st Cavalry on April 29, 1945. Several years ago, I posted a story about one of these men, Seweryn Majcherkiewicz, which was written by his sons, Stan and Przemo Majcherkiewicz.

I realize now that I haven't given much detail about this event, other than B Troop, 116th Squadron of the 101st Cavalry, liberated OFLAG-VIIA, where Majcherkiewicz and many others were held captive.

Over the next few blogs, I hope to write more about OFLAG-VIIA and the men who were imprisoned there. I received a number of comments--mostly questions--on both that initial blog post and on photos I have posted in my photo gallery. I have received answers to some of those questions, and hope to put together a few more posts, but first, I need to outline what happened on Sunday, April 29, 1945.

The sound of gunfire awakened the prisoners at OFLAG-VIIA in Murnau, Germany, that morning. As they left their quarters, they saw an American plane circling overhead and the sound of gunfire from the north continued. By afternoon--16:55 according to records of the 12th Armored Division--the Americans had reached the camp, and a small group of cars driven by Nazi SS drove toward the Americans. Right outside the gate of the camp, a firefight began and two of the SS were killed (Colonel Teichmann and Captain Widmann).

Two American tanks began pursuing the SS cars, which were fleeing back to Murnau. Another tank entered the camp through the main gate. The first Americans through the gate were Polish: Corporal Richard Pawlowski of Chicago and a soldier originally from Kalisz, Poland.

B Troop, 116th Squadron, liberates OFLAG-VIIA.
Photo taken by 2nd Lt. Edward Newell, U.S. Army Signal Corps

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Breaking up is hard to do

More than two years ago, I began to think I could let go of the 101st Cavalry. Updating the"old-fashioned" website became more difficult as technology evolved, leaving my old programs behind. And I didn't think I had much more to write on the blog. Breaking off that relationship wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.

The website stayed live--although not updated--so the children, grandchildren, siblings, and spouses of veterans found it and sent emails to me. They sent me names, photos and stories to add to the website.

And after two years, a few emails were a little testy: "I sent you my father's name a year ago. Why hasn't it been added." I don't blame them.

Updating the old website would be tough. Rebuilding it turned out to be easier. In the process, I changed the website's name and address. The new website is www.trackingthe101st.com, and I have been adding dozens of names and photos, some of which, I'm ashamed to say, were sent to me in 2010. The good news is that keeping the new site updated will take seconds instead of hours.

My hope is to update thisblog twice each month, pulling stories and photos from my files, and update the website as needed. To those of you who have been waiting, I apologize. I knew I wasn't alone in trying to learn about my father, but I hadn't realized how many of us there were.