My sister Nitalynn and I are planning a trip to Northern Germany to see the place where our father was in prison camp in World War II. As you’ve read, his plane was shot down by German ME 109s over Yugoslavia on April 2, 1944. He parachuted out and the Germans captured him and took him to Barth, Germany. He stayed there until May 14, 1945, when he boarded a B-17 and was flown to France. The Germans had surrendered on May 7, and the Allies declared victory on May 8 (V-E Day) (coincidentally my sister Nitalynn's birthday).
We’ve been saving for years for this trip with tiny oil and gas checks, thanks to our parents. We are taking our husbands and wish that we could take the whole family.
It will be a trip of mixed emotions. The Germans were once our enemy; now they are our friends. They have a past which they have not forgotten, but are dealing with it in positive ways. You’ve read about the friendly encounters that Red McCrocklin had with the Germans. In the end, Hitler had ordered that all captured enemy air officers be killed. Thank goodness, the Luftwaffe colonel in charge of the camp refused to obey Hitler’s orders to move or kill the prisoners. To help him decide to disregard Hitler’s orders, Allied planes flew over and dropped leaflets on the camp and surrounding area. The leaflets had a photo of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin and said that the Germans at the camp and in the area would be held personally responsible for our safety. Now there’s a miracle.
“Red” McCrocklin's book, “Combat and Capture,” us filled in the blanks and connected us to two German women. We will visit the director of the Barth museum, Helga Radau. She herself was a young child living through horrendous experiences in World War II. We will also meet Grete Haslob Koch, whose father was a German guard in Stalag Luft 1. Her father was friendly to the Americans and once gave Red a German dictionary so he could learn German, which saved his life several times.
In addition to the former prison site, I am looking forward to seeing that church with the tall tower and visualizing the Allied prisoners walking under the arch of the ancient town wall toward the camp. We know that just about all there is at the former site is a large stone with a plaque, but it will still be an emotional time of imagination and remembering.