Sunday, April 19, 2015

70th anniversary

In just three days we leave for Murnau, Germany, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of a prisoner of war camp that held several thousand Polish officers during World War II. We will attend because, when that camp was liberated, my father was there.

Troop B, 116th Squadron, 101st Cavalry and Combat Command A of the 12th Armored Division of the 7th Army are officially recognized as liberating Oflag VII-A at 4:55 p.m., April 29, 1945. Members of Troop B were out in front of the 12th Armored Division, doing reconnaissance on the way to Austria. At around 3:00 in the afternoon, they approached the camp. As the Americans arrived from the north, a small group of SS were coming from the south. They met just outside the camp, and a fight erupted. Two members of the SS were killed, as prisoners climbed the fence and cheered on the Americans.

This commemoration feels as much like a reunion as anything else. Not everyone attending is a stranger to me--although we've never met in person. For example, Martin Lohmann, one of the organizers, and I have been  emailing back and forth for more than a year, and Tom Wodzinski, whose father was a prisoner in the camp, sent me his father's story at least three years ago and is now helping get the names of all the prisoners listed on my website.

Most attendees probably will be the children and grandchildren of the Polish prisoners, but a few descendents of American soldiers will be there. As far as I know, no men from B Troop will attend--the youngest are now in their late 80s--but I continue to hope. I interviewed several members of B Troop--2nd Lt. Joseph Borkowski, Frederick Altizer, Charles Covey, Clinton Thompson, and Lou Gergley--and my memories of those conversations are precious. And I was lucky to also hear Roy Ramuar's and Charlie Kashuba's stories from their families.

I often wonder what my dad would think of all this. I like to think he'd be honored, but, knowing my dad, he'd be just as likely to say I was crazy for making a 5,000-mile trip to the other side of the globe for day of commemoration. He never discussed the war, so I can't say for sure how he would feel. But I'll take his photo, along with photos of other Troop B members, and, as we tour the camp and hear speakers talk about what happened in 1945, I will feel my father close to me. And that is worth a journey of any length.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Five thousand names

I'm sitting in my office today, entering another 20 to 30 names of Polish officers and enlisted men who were held in Oflag VII-A in Murnau, Germany, during World War II. I struggle with the Polish spellings, but I did discover that creating keyboard shortcuts for Polish letters
not found in English was easier than expected. Just a few of today's names (and their ranks, which are in German) are:
Schütze Marian Konisiewicz, 4.10.1907, worker in Moosburg
Feldwebel Stanisław Judziński, 12.4.1896 aktir, sanitar
Feldwebel Jan Kołacz, 10.3.1899, schofeur
Feldwebel Adam Oligórski, 3.3.1896, hausbegitzer
Feldwebel Władysław Pałka, 11.2.1898, schmidt
Unterfeldwebel Czesłwan Adamczyk, 8.3.1913, schneider
Unterfeldwebel Sylwester Budzynski, 21.12.1908, aktir
Unterfeldwebel Marcin Burzyński, 23.10.1904, aktir-schofeur
Unterfeldwebel Edward Gałkowski, 30.7.1908, sanität
Unterfeldwebel Antoni Garasiński, 6.8.1906, schuster
Unterfeldwebel Marian Grabowski, 23.6.1896, mason
Unterfeldwebel Roman Przybylski, 30.7.1898, tapezir
Unterfeldwebel Piotr Twardo, 29.6.1905, dersicherungagent (or tersicherungagent)
Unterfeldwebel Leor Zielke, 15.4.1910, accountant
Unteroffizier Kazimierz Beśko, 26.8.1910, farmer
Unteroffizier (marine) Jan Bieńkowski, 23.6.1913, eisenb--(indecipherable) This name was crossed out with a word written above it in pencil. It was difficult to read, but looked like "entlanberg.")
Unteroffizier Henryk Bilski, 30.7.1914, fleischer
Unteroffizier Franciszek Boryczka, 16.9.1903, aktir
Unteroffizier Jan Bujnowski, 7.2.1909, schneider
Copying  the  records

Gefreiter Stanisław Gawronski, 24.10.1909, farmer
More than 5,000 men were imprisoned at Oflag VII-Aa lot of namesespecially at 20 to 30 a day. Most of the men whose names I have entered so far were born between 1896 and 1915around the same time as my grandparents.

The numbers following the men's names are their birthdates, which I have left in the same order as in the records: date, month, and year. Their occupations were in German, and, in a few cases, I have attempted to translate them. I finally gave up, deciding that accurate German was better than inaccurate English.

The documents listing these names are housed at the Pilsudski Institute in New York City. Megan Suttles and her friend, Jason (whose last name I regrettably do not know), spent a couple of hours there photographing the documents for meand for the descendants of these prisoners. They photoraphed more than 600 pages, making it easier for those descendants  to learn a little more about the service of their grandfathers and fathers.

I wonder, sometimes, why I am doing this. I could be doing something else today; I don't do it out of boredom. Why spend an afternoon straining to read a list of names written by a German soldier bent over a desk somewhere in Bavaria more than 70 years ago. Our only connection comes from a few short minutes on April 29, 1945, when my father's platoon from Troop B, 116th regiment, 101st Cavalry, happened by Oflag VII-A on the way to Innsbruck. They are credited with the camp's liberation. But, for whatever reason, I am compelled to do it. It seems important that I do.

Pilsudski Institute