Visit to Poland by Descendants of US Army Officers held POW in Oflag 64

I am the son of a prisoner of war who served two years two months and 10 days with the best of the best, his fellow prisoners. I am forever indebted to all of my brothers and sisters who have shared the same experience and grown up together. We are all bonded by the years our dads spent as the "guest of the Germans" (daddy would have referred to it that way) in beautiful Szubin, Poland. A land unto its own, for the people were so kind to Americans and so helpful to their survival. We are all truly grateful.

George Patton ‘Pat’ Waters, son of Lt. Col. John Knight Waters

On September 3rd members of the Oflag 64 Association, descendants of US Army officers who were held POW in the largest US ground force officers' prison camp in Europe arrived in Poland for a week’s visit. Although their primary goal was to visit the former camp site where their fathers were held prisoner, they wished to commemorate the sacrifice of Polish soldiers with a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, as well as a second wreath-laying to honor the suffering of Polish civilians of all faiths and the various nationalities held POW in Szubin. They also held meetings regarding the creation of a Hall of Remembrance and a Language Lab at the former camp site. 

The first US Army officers brought to this camp were taken prisoner in February 1943, after the Battle of Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia and arrived in Szubin in June of 1943.  Among them were two officers who had been taken under duress to Katyń in May 1943. They were Lt. Colonel John H. Van Vliet, Jr. and Captain Donald B. Stewart, who upon their return to the oflag advised Washington D. C., via coded letters, of the truth about Katyń. 

Others included the future General John Waters, Lt. Craig Campbell (aide-de-camp to General Eisenhower) and Larry Allen, an Associated Press correspondent and winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize for his war reporting. Prisoners continued to arrive after D-Day and the camp reached some 1,500 men by January 1945. The camp was the site of what was planned to be the largest escape ever planned – which was scuttled by plans for Operation Overlord (D-Day).

Although some of the POWs arrived in Oflag 64 in June 1943 (Waters, Van Vliet, Stewart), others arrived later, and represented in the visiting group were descendants of both POW groups:
  • 2nd Lt George A. Cobb, taken prisoner on February 12, 1944 in Anzio Italy (at the Battle of the Factory);
  • 2nd Lt Reid F. Ellsworth, taken prisoner on January 24, 1944 in Italy, escaped from the January 1945 march and headed east through Poland, made it out through Odessa;
  • Lt Col Nathaniel R. Hoskot, taken prisoner on June 6, 1944, repatriated on compassionate exchange on January 7, 1945;
  • 1st Lt Robert T. Thompson, taken prisoner on September 22, 1944; on January 21, 1945 marched out of Szubin, reached Oflag XIII-B at Hammelburg on March 10, 1945;
  • Lt Col John K. Waters, who was the son-in-law of Gen. George S. Patton, and later was nominated general, taken prisoner on February 14, 1943 at Kasserine Pass, North Africa, on January 21, 1945 marched out of Szubin, reached Oflag XIII-B at Hammelburg on March 10, 1945.

From left to right: 2nd Lt George A. Cobb, 2nd Lt Reid F. Ellsworth, Lt Col Nathaniel R. Hoskot, 
1st Lt Robert T. Thompson, Lt Col John K. Waters

The members of the group included Elodie Ellsworth Caldwell and Janet Ellsworth; Tom Cobb; Anne Hoskot Kreutzer and Tom Kreutzer; Marlene Thompson McAllister and Nancy Thompson Wyatt with Taylor McAllister; and George Patton “Pat” Waters. The group’s travel was coordinated by Krystyna Piórkowska, historical researcher and author of “English-speaking Witnesses to Katyn Recent Research”.

The group have also visited the Katyn Museum and Museum of the Uprising in Warsaw, as well as Częstochowa, Auschwitz, Wieliczka and the Wawel Royal Castle in Cracow. 

* * *

Their visit to Szubin began at the Railroad Station through which almost all POWs were brought by train. Red Cross parcels were regularly picked up by some of them from this Railroad Station as well. After that they met with the Director of the Regional Museum, Kamila Czechowska, and visited the Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej to view the exhibition about WWII times in Szubin County and the general history of POW camps in Szubin. From the Regional Museum the group took a walk to the Main Square of Szubin to take a group picture in front of the statue of the pelican wounding its breast to feed its chicks – the coat of arms of Szubin. By the way they also visited the buildings of the former printing house in which the camp newspaper "The Oflag 64 Item" was printed. They were welcomed by Marek Kapsa, the grandson of Józef Kapsa, who was the founder and primary owner of the print house where Willi Kricks printed ‘The Item’. Later, the group toured the Old Town of Szubin and visited the ruins of the knights' medieval castle from the XIV century, as well as the Church Of Saint Martin The Bishop founded at the same time. After that they went to the Szubin cemetery to see the place where POWs who died in POW camp, including Capt. Richard H. Torrence of Oflag 64, were buried during WWII. They also saw the place where the movie theater ‘Balten-Lichtspiele’ was, where POWs were allowed to attend for a short time, under guard, to see German movies.

Before the visitors finally reached the site of the former POW camp, they met with the President of the Council, Remigiusz Kasprzak, the Mayor of Szubin, Artur Michalak and Vice Mayor of Szubin, Krystyna Sichel, to discuss the city’s plans to create a Hall of Remembrance in one of the original remaining barracks.

After that the guests walked in the direction of the former camp to stop at the Flame Memorial for a  brief ceremony to commemorate the Polish civilians, and the Polish, French, and Commonwealth of Nations POWs, as well as the Americans who were held POW in the camp at various times. They laid a wreath at the memorial to honor their fathers and all POWs who were held there in the previous camps known as Stalag XXIB and Oflag XXIB.

Oflag 64 represents a very personal place in my life. My father, George Cobb, was captured on February 12, 1944 at Anzio Beach, Italy and was at Oflag 64 until the march from the camp in January 1945. He remained in the service, fought in Korea and retired as a major.  He died at the age of 49, I had just turned 16. Like most veterans, my father rarely spoke about his experience in the wars that he fought or the time he spent as a POW. The one time he did speak about any of his experiences was to express his appreciation for the kindnesses and help he received from the Polish citizens after his escape from the march in January 1945, and as he walked his way through the countryside. (…) we know that many Polish citizens put their own lives in jeopardy during the war as they assisted POWs with escapes and shared what little food they had.  We, as descendants of American POWs are very grateful for the sacrifices of your forefathers and would like to say thank you Poland, then and now, for your support and continued interest.

Excerpt from presentation by Tom Cobb

Their visit culminated with a tour of the remaining Camp Complex – the former camp hospital, the former Brig, the Chapel, the Commandant’s house, and most importantly the ‘White House’ where the senior officers were held. They then entered the MOAS (Home for At Risk Youth) where the majority of the barracks were previously located. Their host there was Wiesław Guziński, Director of MOAS. There they viewed the scale model of Oflag 64 built by the residents of MOAS under the supervision of their teachers, Tomasz Kmieć and Mieczysław Luchowski. The woods, located near the camp site where the Jewish Cemetery was before the war, were visited as well. At the Jewish cemetery the mass execution of Polish citizens of the pre-war County of Szubin occurred. These were Poles who were incarcerated in 1939 in the internment camp for civilians (Ilag, an abbreviation of the German word Internierungslager) which was located in the same buildings which later became the POW camp. Afterwards they journeyed to the location of the Sierniki Farmhouse, where their fathers spent the first night after being marched out of the camp on January 21, 1945 and from where many of them escaped from the Germans. At the former POW camp site they were guided by Mariusz Winiecki, a local resident and historian of the Camp Complex. 

Another of the goals of the visit was to support the US Embassy’s plan to create a Language Lab, to be located at MOAS but also available to the local community. This is a furtherance of the Oflag’s educational program of schooling the POWs in various areas, including languages.  Involved in this project is Col Warren Barlow, Office Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation U.S. of the US Embassy.

* * *

The history of the Oflag 64 Association dates back directly to post-war times. There was a core group of men, former POWs of Oflag 64, who organized and planned reunions for a number of years, with the first Oflag 64 reunion being held in 1946 in Newark, New Jersey just a year after the war ended. Originally they were held for the Kriegies and their wives and generally for the same purpose as they are held today. The men and their families became very close and formed lasting friendships. Not until 1986 were they held yearly. Previous to that there was a span of several years between them. As time has passed, reunions have also been attended by children of Kriegies and sometimes friends. Unfortunately, as the years have gone by most of the Kriegies have also passed away. Out of the original approximately 1,500 Kriegies who were in captivity at Oflag 64, there are about 50 Kriegies still living, each over 95 years of age.

When their reunions finally come to an end due to the passing of the Kriegies, association members will continue to honor them on their Oflag 64 Association website. They will continue producing a quarterly newsletter entitled The Post Oflag 64 Item, loosely patterned after the original camp newspaper, The Item, designed to keep everyone informed as it did in previous years. Currently it is mailed in hardcopy format to all living Kriegies and their spouses, or widows of deceased Kriegies, while other association members receive notice that a digital version has been posted electronically to the www.oflag64.us website.

Over time, because of reunions or other get togethers, members of the Oflag 64 Association have become like family.  Even though they’re spread across the entire United States, they have bonded with each other and continue to enjoy each other’s company at reunions and wherever they meet. Many have developed close relationships, just as their Kriegy fathers and grandfathers did in earlier times, and keep in touch with each other on a regular basis. They maintain an email list which helps keep them connected with news and information when it is provided by others.

Photos by Mieczysław Luchowski, Mariusz Winiecki

More photos at the website of:

Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej and szubin.pl

More Press Coverage:

TVP Bydgoszcz

Radio PIK

Gazeta Pomorska

© Mariusz Winiecki


Rodzina byłego jeńca, porucznika Alvina Warda Vogtle'a, odwiedziła teren byłego Oflagu XXI-B

We wtorek, 5. lipca, teren byłego Oflagu XXI-B odwiedzili potomkowie Alvina Warda Vogtle’a. Jego syn Alvin Ward Vogtle III; córka Anne Moore Vogtle Baldwin oraz wnuczka Katie Baldwin Kirtley (wraz z małżonkami) przemierzają Europę śladami niewoli ich ojca i dziadka, byłego jeńca wojennego w Szubinie. Następnie skierowali się do Żagania by odwiedzić Muzeum Obozów Jenieckich w miejscu, gdzie znajdował się Stalag Luft III, w którym ich przodek także przebywał i skąd kilkakrotnie podejmował próby ucieczek.

Urodzony w Birmingham, w stanie Alabama, USA, Alvin Ward Vogtle, był porucznikiem i pilotem spitfire’a w czasie II wojny światowej. Służył w dywizjonie walczącym na terenie Algierii w Północnej Afryce i tam w styczniu 1943 r., kiedy to jego lecący na resztkach paliwa samolot rozbił się, dostał się do niewoli. Po spędzeniu 21 dni w Dulagu Luft (obozie tranzytowym dla lotników) w Wetzlar został wysłany do Oflagu XXI-B. Podróż wagonami 3 klasy trwała 3 dni, aż w końcu 4 lutego 1943 r. wraz z grupą 80 amerykańskich i brytyjskich oficerów dotarł do Szubina.  Z szubińskiego obozu w marcu 1943 r. podjął jedną próbę ucieczki, która niestety się nie powiodła. Planował uciec w tym samym czasie, kiedy miała mieć miejsce ucieczka tunelem, prawdopodobnie wraz z uciekinierami Asselina, ale możliwe, że miał też zamiar zgrać się z grupą pracującą nad którymś z innych kopanych w tym samym czasie tuneli - na przykład z grupą uciekinierów pracujących nad tunelem znanym jako Tunel Edge’a drążony równolegle do Tunelu Asselina z sąsiedniego baraku albo Tunel Williamsa, drążony w kierunku południowym z obozowej kuchni.

Na podstawie pamiętnika wojennego swego dziadka Katie Kirtley opisała tę ucieczkę następująco: “Niezwłocznie po przybyciu Vogtle zaczął szukać sposobności do ucieczki z obozu. Wkrótce pozyskał wspólnika w osobie innego Amerykanina, kapitana Jacka Olivera, z którym wspólnie dalej analizowali wszelkie możliwe warianty ucieczki. Odkryli miejsce wzdłuż drutu kolczastego, w którym można się było do niego podczołgać pozostając niewidocznym dla strażnika znajdującego się na wieżyczce w narożniku obozu. Byli także strażnicy, który patrolowali teren obozu wzdłuż zewnętrznej strony ogrodzenia, ale Vogtle i Oliver zwerbowali do pomocy obserwatorów, których zadaniem było stać na czatach i zaalarmować ich gdyby któryś z patrolujących strażników się zbliżał. Zwój drutów był dość gruby w tym miejscu i oszacowali, że przebicie się na drugą stronę zajmie im około 4 dni. Mogli pracować jedynie przez 30 minut w ciągu dnia, między 12:00 a 12:30. Wtedy to teren obozu stawał się wolny od niemieckiego personelu, który właśnie w tym czasie udawał się na posiłek. Postarali się o aprobatę komitetu ucieczkowego dla swojego planu oraz o nożyce do cięcia drutu. Czatujący pomocnicy zostali rozlokowani i operację ku wolności rozpoczęła się . Początkowo podczołgiwali się do drutu pojedynczo, by go ciąć na zmianę, ale zadanie to okazało się na tyle ciężkie, że wkrótce zdecydowali się robić to razem. Przygotowali sobie małe kołki z nacięciem dla podtrzymania zewnętrznego zwoju drutów, który rozciąwszy naciągali za pomocą tychże kołków [tak jak konstrukcję namiotu naciąga się za pomocą śledzi]. Nie była to łatwa praca, ponieważ ich dłonie bardzo marzły z powodu marcowego zimna.”

“Po czterech dniach mieli przecięte wszystkie zwoje do drugiego ogrodzenia z drutu kolczastego. Kołki były opalone na czarno, więc nie były łatwe do zauważenia, ale wąski szlak, który wycięli w zwojach drutu był jednak widoczny, ponieważ kołki podtrzymujące zewnętrzny zwój pozostawały w swoim miejscu odkąd zaczęli pracę. Żeby częściowo zamaskować swoją aktywność w tym miejscu, odkładali na miejsce drut, który przecięli w pierwszym ogrodzeniu z drutu kolczastego. Czwartego dnia, kiedy do końca pozostało im tylko kilka stóp drutu do przecięcia, podjęli decyzję o ucieczce po zmroku. Mieli przygotowane swoje pakunki i już zdążyli pożegnać się ze starszymi brytyjskimi i amerykańskimi oficerami. Jednakże dnia poprzedniego brytyjski oficer ciekł z obozu kryjąc się w wielkiej skrzyni. Skrzynia ta była wywieziona z obozu na ciężarówce zdążającej w kierunki stacji kolejowej i dla pozoru załadowanej także innymi skrzyniami. Oficer wysunął się ze skrzyni, kiedy wóz opuścił obóz i zniknął.”

Wspomniana wyżej próba ucieczki brytyjskiego oficera prawdopodobnie dotyczy ucieczki kapitana lotnictwa A.H. Goulda (pilota RAFu), który 11 marca 1943 r. wydostał się z obozu na ciężarówce. Został złapany, gdy dostrzeżono go na ciężarówce, gdy ta wjeżdżała na lokalną stację kolejową i odprowadzono powrotem do obozu.

“Popołudniem czwartego dnia  –  dnia kiedy Vogtle i Oliver planowali w końcu wydostać się z obozu,  nieobecność brytyjskiego uciekiniera została odkryta przez Niemców. Przez kilka dni podczas apeli jego nieobecność udawało się zatuszować, ale uznano, że czwartego dnia jego nieobecność musi być ujawniona. Czujność Niemców byłaby wówczas uśpiona przez pozorny sukces okrycia kolejnego uciekiniera. Niestety podjęta rutynowo kontrola stanu drutu kolczastego wzdłuż ogrodzenia pozwoliła odkryć wyciętą w jego zwojach drogę do wolności Vogtle’a i Olivera. Próba ta miała miejsce w marcu [12-go] 1943 r.”

W Oflagu XXI-B Alvin Ward Vogtle pozostał do 15 kwietnia 1943 r., kiedy to został przetransportowany do Stalagu Luft III (w Żaganiu). Tam podejmował wiele prób ucieczek. W końcu odzyskał wolność  uciekając z obozu Moosburgu i przedostając się piechotą do Szwajcarii w marcu 1945 r. Po wojnie znalazł zatrudnienie w Alabama Power Company, gdzie przeszedł wszystkie szczeble kariery aż do prezesa i przewodniczącego rady nadzorczej Southern Company, jednego z największych dostarczycieli prądu w USA. Southern Company uhonorowała go nazywając elektrownię jądrową we wschodniej Georgii Elektrownią Alvina Vogtle’a.

  • Informacja przesłana przez Katie Baldwin Kirtley na podstawie Dziennika wojennego Vogtle’a.
  • Artykuł w Wikipedii o Alvinie Vogtle'u: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Vogtle.
  • Camp history: Oflag XXIB (Schubin): Air Force personnel Sept 1942 - Apr 1943, The National Archives, Kew, UK (Thanks to Keith Morley).
  • Fotografia porucznika Alvina Warda Vogtle'a z archiwum rodzinnego Vogtle'ów.
© Mariusz Winiecki
Photos by Mariusz Winiecki


Family members of former American POW, 1st Lt Alvin Ward Vogtle, visited the site of Oflag XXI-B

On Tuesday, July 5th, the former Oflag XXI-B site was visited by descendants of Alvin Ward Vogtle. Vogtle's son, Alvin Ward Vogtle III; daughter, Anne Moore Vogtle Baldwin; and granddaughter, Katie Baldwin Kirtley (+ spouses) came to walk on the same ground, where their ancestor passed many years ago. Their travel through Europe traces the places related with Vogtle’s military service and captivity and from Szubin they have traveled to Żagan to visit the Museum of Allied Prisoners of War Martyrdom (previously Stalag Luft III, Sagan).

Alvin Ward Vogtle, born in Birmingham, Alabama, was a 1st Lt. Spitfire pilot in World War II. In January 1943, while he was in a squadron that ran out of fuel over Algeria (North Africa), his plane crashed and he was captured. After spending 21 days at Dulag Luft (Transit Camp for Air Force) at Wetzlar he was sent to Oflag XXI-B (Schubin). Together with about 80 American and British officers he traveled on third-class cars for about 3 days and finally arrived to Schubin on Feb 4th, 1943. From Oflag XXI-B he had one escape attempt in March '43 – that unfortunately was never enacted. His plan was to go the same month as the tunnelers – supposedly the Asselin Escapers, but possible also those who were simultaneously developing other tunnels known as Edge’s Tunnel and Williams’ (or Cookhouse) Tunnel.

As basing on her grandfather’s journal notes Katie Kirtley wrote: “Upon arrival, Vogtle immediately began looking for ways to escape. He enlisted the help of another American, Captain Jack Oliver, and they began to search the camp for a possible way to escape. They discovered a point in the wire at which it was possible to crawl up to the wire without being seen by the guard in the guardbox at the corner of the wire. There were also guards who strolled along the outside of the wire, but the prisoners developed a system of watchers ("stooges") who would warn them of the approach of the walking guard. The wire was thick at this point so the men estimated that it would take them approximately 4 days to cut through it. They worked only 30 minutes a day, from 12:00 pm-12:30 pm, when the compound was practically free of German personnel because it was their lunch hour. Vogtle and Oliver secured permission (from an escape committee) and wire cutters, the stooges were placed, and they began operations. At first they took turns crawling to the wire and cutting it. Eventually the job got so heavy it took both of them together. They had prepared small notched stakes to support the inner bulky wire, part of which they cut away, and the rest they supported by using the stakes. It was difficult work because it was very chilly so their hands suffered the most.”

The story continues: “After 4 days, they had cut all the way through to the last fence. The stakes had been burnt black so they wouldn't be so noticeable, but the little pathway they had cut through was fairly obvious since they had to leave the stakes supporting the inner coil in place from the minute they had started working. To partially conceal their work, they replaced the little doorway they'd cut in the first wire fence. On the 4th day, they only had a few more feet to cut so they decided to leave that evening. They had prepared their pack and been bidden farewell by the senior British and senior American officers. However, on the day before, a British officer had escaped from camp by means of a large box. This box had been carried from the camp on a wagon, ostensibly bound for the railroad station in the company of several other large boxes. The officer had slipped from the box when the wagon left the camp and disappeared.”  

The above mentioned escape attempt of British officer supposedly refers to the escape attempt of Flying Lt. A.H. Gould (RAF), who on March11th get out of the camp on a truck. He was recaptured as seen as the truck arrived at the local railway station and taken back to the camp.

“The afternoon of the 4th day –  the day Vogtle and Oliver were planning to escape – the absence of the British escapee was discovered by the Germans. The roll call had been covered up several times, but it was felt that his absence must be revealed on the afternoon of the fourth day. The reason for this was that he might have been caught and the Germans would then by on to their game of covering up roll call. They immediately called for a routine check of the wire and discovered Vogtle/Oliver's passageway. This attempt was March
[12th?] 1943”.

In Oflag XXI-B Alvin Ward Vogtle stayed till 15th April 1943, thereon he was transferred to Stalag Luft III (Sagan). While POW he made many escape attempts and ultimately made it to freedom – escaping from Moosburg to Switzerland on foot – in March 1945. After the WWII he was employed at Alabama Power, and rose through the ranks to become President and Chairman of the Board of Southern Company, one of the largest electric utility holding companies in the nation. Southern Company named a nuclear power plant in eastern Georgia the "Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant" in his honor.

  • Information shared by Katie Baldwin Kirtley on the base of the Vogtle’s War Log.
  • Wikipedia article about Alvin Vogtle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Vogtle.
  • Camp history: Oflag XXIB (Schubin): Air Force personnel Sept 1942 - Apr 1943, The National Archives, Kew, UK (Thanks to Keith Morley).
  • The photograph of 1st Lt Alvin Ward Vogtle courtesy of the Vogtle family.
© Mariusz Winiecki
Photos by Mariusz Winiecki


The Big Break: The Greatest American WWII POW Escape Story Never Told

The photo used for the book's cover (researched by Laura Hanifin, courtesy of Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej) shows POW Camp in Szubin, particularly the building of communal latrine, where the Asselin tunnel had been dug.

The Greatest WWII Escape Story Never Told’
By Stephen Dando-Collins

Will be published on January 10, 2017 in the USA and UK, and in Australia and New Zealand in May, 2017, by St Martin’s Press of New York.

Zostanie wydana nakładem nowojorskiego wydawnictwa St Martin’s Press: w Stanach Zjednoczonych i Wielkiej Brytanii – 10 stycznia 2017 r., w Australii i Nowej Zelandii w maju 2017 r.

Available at: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.it | Amazon.fr | Barnes&Noble.com | BookDepository.com | Indigo.ca | Saxo | Kobobooks | WHSmith |


Between 1943 and 1945, there were many attempts by Allied Prisoners of War to escape from the Nazi POW camp located at Szubin, German-occupied Poland, culminating in the successful escapes of 250 American officers in January, 1945.

W latach 1943–1945 z nazistowskiego obozu jenieckiego w Szubinie alianccy jeńcy wojenni podejmowali wiele prób ucieczek, wieńcząc te próby udaną ucieczką z niewoli 250 amerykańskich oficerów w styczniu
1945 r. 

For the first time, the full true story of these escapes, and the parts played by brave Poles in helping the escapees, is being brought to the world by ‘prolific military historian’ (US Library Journal) Stephen Dando-Collins, author of 40 books including Caesar’s Legion and several other books about ancient Rome’s legions published in Poland (by Bellona) and in many other countries including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Albania, Russia, Brazil and Korea.

Kompletna historia tych ucieczek, podejmowanych przy pomocy dzielnych Polaków (ówczesnych mieszkańców Szubina), po raz pierwszy ujrzy światło dzienne za sprawą ‘płodnego historyka wojskowości’ (US Library Journal), Stephena Dando-Collinsa, autora 40 książek, w tym Legionów Cezara oraz wielu innych pozycji o legionach starożytnego Rzymu, wydanych w Polsce (nakładem wydawnictwa Bellona) oraz w wielu innych krajach, jak: Stany Zjednoczone, Wielka Brytania, Kanada, Australia, Nowa Zelandia, Hiszpania, Portugalia, Włochy, Albania, Rosja, Brazylia czy Korea.

General Eisenhower’s personal aide, General Patton’s son-in-law, and Ernest Hemingway’s eldest son were all POWs involved in this previously untold story of escape from the Nazis.

Wśród jeńców wojennych, którzy uczestniczyli w tej dotychczas nie opisanej w historii ucieczce z
nazistowskiej niewoli można wymienić osobistego asystenta (aide-de-camp) Generała Eisenhowera, zięcia Generała Pattona czy najstarszego syna Ernesta Hemingwaya.

‘The Big Break’ charts the most successful WWII escape by POWs of either side, leaving in the shade the story told in ‘The Great Escape’, the famous book by Paul Brickhill, another Australian, whose biography Dando-Collins has also written.

"The Big Break" opisuje tę najbardziej pomyślną w historii II wojny światowej ucieczkę w wielu aspektach przyćmiewając historię opowiedzianą w "Wielkiej ucieczce", słynnej książce autorstwa innego australijczyka, Paula Brickhilla, którego biografię także napisał Dando-Collins.

Gritty, sometimes very sad, and often darkly humorous, the superby researched and written book traces the fates of colorful American escapees who reached the advancing Russians. It also tells the stories of plucky Poles including Stefania Maludzińska, Alfons Jachalski, Franciszek Lewandowski, and Henryk Szalczyński who aided escape attempts from the camp, with Stefania and Henryk being punished by the Nazis.

Drobiazgowa, czasem bardzo smutna i często z dozą czarnego humoru, znakomicie napisana książka, podąża śladem barwnych losów amerykańskich uciekinierów, którym udało się dotrzeć do zmierzających na zachód Rosjan. Książka wspomina także udział odważnych Polaków, w tym Stefanii Maludzińskiej, Franciszka Lewandowskiego, Henryka Szalczyńskiego oraz Alfonsa Jachalskiego, którzy wspomagali podejmowane próby ucieczek z obozu, a spośród których Stefania oraz Henryk zostali ukarani przez Nazistów zesłaniem do obozów pracy.

Stephen Dando-Collins has worked closely with the families of former POWs and historical researchers in Poland and Germany, including Mariusz Winiecki in Szubin, to chronicle this gripping story of irrepressible Americans determined to be free, brave Poles risking their lives to help them, and dogmatic Nazis determined to stop them.

Stephen Dando-Collins spisując tę porywającą historię pełnych energii Amerykanów, zdeterminowanych by być wolnymi, dzielnych i ryzykujących życiem Polaków, starających się im pomóc, oraz bezkompromisowych nazistów, zdecydowanych by ich powstrzymać, współpracował blisko z rodzinami byłych jeńców oraz historykami w Polsce i Niemczech, włącznie z Mariuszem Winieckim, z zamiłowania badaczem historii obozów jenieckich w Szubinie.

‘So well written, so comprehensive, and so personal for me – I knew many of these men and their
families.’ Elodie Caldwell, daughter of escapee Reid Ellsworth.

‘Tak dobrze napisana i kompleksowa, a zarazem bardzo dla mnie osobista – znałam wielu spośród tych oficerów jak i ich rodziny’. Elodie Caldwell, córka uciekiniera Reida Ellswortha.

© Stephen Dando-Collins
Copyright © for the Polish translation by Mariusz Winiecki


About the Kapsa’s printing house where Kricks printed ‘The Item’

During WWII, between November 1943 and January 1945, the American Officers, POWs in Oflag 64, published the camp newspaper named “The Oflag 64 Item”. There were fifteen issues in total, released monthly. In fact there was no issue for January 1944, but in December 1943 the paper was published twice – at the beginning of month and shortly before Christmas. The newspaper usually consisted of four pages, but three times an issue consisting of 6 pages was published – in April, October 1944 and in January 1945, and once – in June 1944 – it had 8 pages. It was the anniversary issue, to emphasize, or rather to celebrate [sic!] the first anniversary of incarceration in Oflag 64. The circulation grew from 250 copies for the first issue to over 1400 for the last issue – each prisoner had his own copy from the beginning to the end.

The Christmas issue, December 1943, printed with green ink (digital copy from Susanna Bolten Connaughton).


It was the first Polish printing house founded in Szubin after Poland regained its independence in 1918. In 1920 Józef Kapsa (born in 1892) bought the property at Paderewski Street 7. He settled there with his family, and the outbuildings located in the courtyard were transformed into a printing press and bindery.

After 1850, in the city of Szubin, the German print house and bindery operated, where during Prussian times the following newspapers were printed: “Kreisblatt des Szubiner Kreises” (Official Journal of Szubin County), “Schubiner Kresiblatt” (Szubin County Journal) or “Schubiner Zeitung” (Szubin County Newspaper). After 1919, the last German owner of this print house, Fritz Lach, continued his printing house and printed the newspaper, “Orędownik na powiat szubiński” (The Spokesman for Szubin County) in Polish and German.

The headers of “Schubiner Kresiblatt” and “Schubiner Zeitung” (source: Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej).

The Kapsa printing house, soon filled with the best printing machines available on the market and a richly equipped typesetting room and bindery, became a very prosperous business, providing services for institutions, as well as for the residents of Szubin County. According to “Dzieje Szubina” (The History of Szubin), the press enjoyed  relatively high readership among the people of Szubin and played an important role in shaping the culture. Since 1925, and until the outbreak of World War II, printing of the Szubin County Newspaper, published in the interwar period under the titles: “Orędownik Urzędowy Powiatu Szubińskiego”, “Orędownik Powiatowy Powiatu Szubińskiego”and “Orędownik Powiatu Szubińskiego” (variations around: The Official Spokesman of the Szubin County) was entrusted to the Józef Kapsa printing press. The paper, which was the official organ of the municipal and the county authorities, was issued twice a week and contained various ordinances, communications, and news from local organizations and associations.

 The headers of “The Spokesman…”, printed by Lach (upper), and printed by Kapsa (lower) (source: Kujawsko-Pomorska Biblioteka Cyfrowa).

Invoice form printed in Kapsa’s printhouse (source: Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej).

A few days after the outbreak of World War II in Poland (September 1st, 1939), the German Army annexed Szubin. On Tuesday, September 5th, on the main square of Szubin the local Germans welcomed approximately 20 soldiers, who arrived in two cars and several motorcycles. The new Nazi German authorities from the very first days of their tenure began a planned extermination of the Polish population of Szubin County. Since the moment of the creation of the Posen Reich District, (initially called Reichsgau Posen, later The Reichsgau Wartheland), Wielkopolska (The Greater Poland), including Szubin and the Szubin County were incorporated into the territory of the Third Reich.

Nazi German soldiers at the main square Szubin, September 5th, 1939 (source: Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej).

In the first weeks of Nazi German occupation, Józef Kapsa was deprived of his print shop like many other homeowners and business owners in Szubin. Expropriation by the Nazis followed by rules “In fünf minute raus” (“Get out in five minutes”). Military police officers would give orders to entire families to leave their premises within a few minutes. Each family could bring no more than 50 kg of luggage, mainly food and personal clothing, and all valuables were confiscated. The evicted residents of Szubin were gathered at the Polish House (Dom Polski) located at the School Street, at which the German occupiers established the temporary displacement camp (Umsiedlungslager) for displaced people. The Kapsa family was divided. Józef’s son Adam (born in 1924), who had begun to apprentice in his father’s printing shop before the war, together with his mother and the rest of the family, managed to escape to their old family homein Wągrowiec (Eichenbrück), while Józef was displaced along with other families from Szubin to the General Governorate. He spent practically the entire five years of WWII in Minsk Mazowiecki trying to secure physical labor of various kinds, for example sweeping the streets.

During the German occupation, the Kapsa printing house had no administrator for some time. Hearing this rumor, the native of Szubin County, whose ancestors came from East Prussia, returned to Szubin. His grandfather, Franz Nicolaus Krix, was born in Grudziądz (Graudenz), while his father, Paul Kriks was born in Bydgoszcz (Bromberg). Paul Kriks, married Maria Magdalena nee Sułkowska and had thirteen children. To the youngest, born in 1907 in Rynarzewo (Netzwalde), they gave the name Willi Richard. Paul Kriks was a chimney sweeper and when he got the position of master in the Szubin railway circle, he moved to Szubin and bought a house on Raatz Street (Raatzstraße, currently Winnica Street).

Willi Kricks attended school in Szubin, and after completing school – as described by his son Rainer – Willi trained in typesetting at the Fritz Lach printing house on Bydgoska Street (Bromberger Straße). This information is inaccurate, inasmuch as according to the German city plan of Szubin (supposedly earlier than the date indicated in the caption), there was the Kapsa printing press (marked with a green spot) on Bydgoska Street, and the Lach printing house in the other place (marked with a red spot). It is not known to the author exactly when the name of Bydgoska Street was changed to Paderewski Street, but might have been in the 1920s.

The city plan of Szubin, dated 1935 according to the source, but supposedly it was the city plan of Szubin before 1919 (source: “Der Kreis Schubin”).

The Kricks family left Szubin in 1927, for political reasons, and settled in Haale/Saale (Germany). Most likely at the same time, the German printer Lach closed his print house and also left Szubin. Willi married in 1935 in Halle/Salle and got the position of Composing Room Manager for the “Die Mitteldeutsche Nationalzeitung” newspaper. In 1940, wanting to be closer to his small fatherland, he successfully applied for the position at a newspaper issued in Poznan. From there he repeatedly visited Szubin. When he learned that the Polish owner (Józef Kapsa) of the printing press at Szubin was expropriated, and the print house needed a financial manager (fiduciary), he decided to apply for the job and return to Szubin. Over time, the opportunity arose to buy the print house from  the German authorities. In the printing house operated under the management of Kricks, a number of Polish workers were employed including a typesetter, a bookbinder, an apprentice, a female helper, and Józef Kluczkowski, who worked as a foreman (overseer) and typesetter and, like Willi Kricks, supposedly apprenticed at the Fritz Lach print shop. Mr. Kluczkowski’s daughter, who helped deliver leaflets, was also at the printing house. At that time, a monthly newspaper, the “Altburgund Heimatbote” (Fatherland messenger from Altburgund), was printed, addressed to German soldiers on the front.

The header of “Altburgunder Heimatbote” (issue from October 1944) printed by Kricks (digital copy obtained from Rainer Kricks).

The photograph of the Evangelical Church in Rynarzewo, 1900/01, taken from the article on the first page of "Altburgunder Heimatbote” (digital copy obtained from Rainer Kricks).

Full issue of “Altburgunder Heimatbote”:
Page 3 upper | Page 3 lower | Page 4 upper | Page 4 lower 

 The post-evangelical church in Rynarzewo (Netzwalde). Currently church of St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, 2016.

In 1943, Willi Kricks was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, while running the printing was taken over by his wife Anni. As Rainer Kricks emphasized – his father never was a member of NSDAP, though he was naturally a staunch German patriot.

Rainer Kricks at the doors of the printing house; Willi Kricks with his children Rainer and Brigitte in the garden at the backyard of the residential building; photos taken in 1943 (private archive of Rainer Kricks).

Willi was a guard at Oflag 64, and when the Americans learned that he operated the printing house in the town, the idea of printing the camp newspaper was born: “Considering the circumstances, it was hard to imagine why Germans agreed to such a project, and more that “The Oflag 64 Item” was printed in the printing house taken over from the Poles, currently owned by one of the guards of the camp, Willi Kricks”. Frank Diggs, the chief editor of the camp newspaper, years later recalled – “the printing was done by the wife of the guard, (...) and the Polish staff turned out to be very helpful, especially in the typesetting”. In his book “Americans Behind the Barbed Wire”, Diggs wrote: “It [the Item] was printed by Willi Kricks, the same German guard who was operating the print shop in nearby Schubin and who assisted Don Lussenden in setting up the camp bookbindery. With a staff of four Polish printers, Willi did a good job of it too after all the language typos were corrected. Every month I would be escorted by an armed guard to the print shop downtown, usually accompanied by Larry Phelan or Seymour Bolten, a New Yorker who spoke fluent  German.”

As Rainer Kricks recalls: “Since the organization of printing the newspaper required investments, my father was transferred to security personnel [of the camp], in order to organize the purchase of sets of new fonts, and other professional equipment. During the editing of the camp newspaper the experienced professionals among American prisoners of war worked for us as typesetters. Good contacts were established between us. My father was a German patriot, for whom the obvious duty was to engage on the side of his country. This does not mean, however, that there was any improper relation to people or any kind of ill-treatment. His behavior in relation to the Polish associates, as well as to the prisoners of war was characterized by responsibility, reasonableness and a willingness of mutual assistance in the difficult times of war”. This was confirmed in my conversation with the daughter of Józef Kluczkowski who said: “Kricks always treated Poles working for him very well. My father used to repeat this many times”.

“The Americans left their home addresses with my father – said Rainer Kricks – which he could use after the war in case any help was needed. I remember Carl Hansen [1st Lt.  Carl V. Hansen ] – the professor of German philology and Carter [2nd Lt Amon G. Carter Jr.] – the owner of one of the larger newspapers in Fort Worth, Texas. Both [after the war] sent us parcels to the Soviet occupation zone [Deutsche Demokratische Republik] and we have maintained a correspondence”.

In autumn 1944 Kricks started rebuilding the right side of the barn located behind the printing house. In order to expand the printing equipment he also purchased the press of Johannisberger Schnellpresse which – as Rainer mentions – already lacked printing rollers, which were cast in Leipzig. As Rainer Kricks also recalls –  in the typesetting room some fonts for printing the American newspaper were missing, so with the approval of the German authorities he bought more of them at the Bauer Type Foundry in Frankfurt am Main, among them the “Bodoni-Antiqua” typeface known around the world.

On  January 21st, 1945 the American POWs were evacuated to the West. Also on that day, Willi Kricks with his family, like the vast majority of local Germans, left Szubin with a horse-driven cart.

After his return to Szubin in 1945 Józef Kapsa took back his home and found his printing press in surprisingly good condition, so immediately returned to work. He was able to run it as an owner until 1949, when according to the new nationalization law [the process of transforming private assets into public assets by bringing them under the public ownership of a national government or state] introduced by the Communist government, the print shop with all the equipment was taken from him again. He was an established specialist and therefore he was allowed to continue working in the printing house, together with his son Adam, but the state-owned printing facility was established and the managing director was posted by the local authorities (actually several during those years). He kept his home, in which the Kapsa family was allowed to live, although the Communist authorities would not allow them to fully manage it – every now and then sub-tenants were assigned to them or part of the house was assigned for other purposes, such as the separate apartment for a teacher of the nearby school or store.

Marek Kapsa, grandson of Józef, recalled growing up in the environment of this business and even today, after many years, he would be able to recreate the print house as it was from his memory. He also recalled that his grandfather Józef and father Adam were often persecuted by the Communist authorities – for example, they were repeatedly fired. Marek also started training to be a printer, but later worked in the other print shop.

Józef Kapsa retired in 1968 and died soon thereafter in 1970. The printing house, which he founded in Szubin, together with all its pre-war equipment operated until the beginning of the 1970s. In 1974, it was liquidated and the machines were transported to another printing house in Żnin.

Józef Kapsa (from private archive of Marek Kapsa).

After the war Willi Kricks leased a printing house in Beetzendorf/Altmark in Eastern Germany. In June 1950, however, he fled from the Communists to Western Germany. Through the refugee camps in Uelzen, Freiburg/Breisgau and Osthofen he arrived at the Westhofen Worms, which became his new home. Willi Kricks, with his wife Anni, revisited Szubin in the 1970s. They then visited Mr. and Mrs. Kluczkowski and the printing house of Józef Kapsa. Willi died on March 16th, 1988 in Westhofen.

In 1951 his son Rainer began to apprentice as a typesetter. After passing the master exam and after several years of practice in another printshop, he took over his father’s printing house in Westhofen and ran it until it was taken over by his son Volker, a graduate engineer in printing.

The beginning of a free Poland presented a new opportunity for reprivatization [the process of restoring to its former owners properties seized by a government or the process of compensating previously uncompensated former owners], but despite many attempts through the years 1990-2008 to finalize the process of such regulations, Poland remains the only country of the former Soviet bloc, in which this re-privatization has not been carried out. Adam Kapsa (the son of Józef) and his descendants have never received any compensation. He died suddenly in 1992. Thereafter the Kapsa family was able retain the buildings, but never got back the equipment.

The Kapsa family still lives in the same place at Paderewski Street. The buildings which used to be the print shop where “The Oflag 64 Item” was printed, now house the professional recording studio Electric Eye HD and record label Electric Eye Records owned by Kuba Kapsa and his brother Bartek Kapsa, who are great-grandsons of Józef Kapsa, and musicians associated with bands like Something Like Elvis, Contemporary Noise Quintet (Sextet), Kuba Kapsa Ensemble or Tropy.

Buildings of former printing shop of Józef Kapsa, 2016.


In searching for the printing machines from the Szubin printhouse, I’ve traveled to Żnin where, after the liquidation of the Kapsa’s printpress, his machines were taken. I believe it is probable that the printing machines from Kapsa’s printshop may be among the collections at the exhibition dedicated to the history of local printing in Muzeum Ziemi Pałuckiej. For example, the machines from the Reform School at Szubin can be found at the exhibition. After WWII, in one of the barracks built by prisoners of war, another printing house operated until 1994. However, no one has actually been able to confirm whether any of the machines located there were in fact taken from the Kapsa printshop.

Looking through accurate pictures of machines collected in the Museum, Rainer Kricks has found that as far as he remembers, the Victoria printing press was certainly equipment of his father’s print shop (or Kapsa’s) in Szubin (“Der Victoria-Tiegel im Vordergrund sowie der Boston-Tiegelstandenwohl in der Druckereimeines Vaters bzw. Bei Kapsa”).


My special thanks to Marek Kapsa, grandson of Józef Kapsa and to Rainer Kricks, son of Willi Kricks, for sharing their time and memories. Thanks to Muzeum Ziemi Pałuckiej for permission to take photos at the exhibition dedicated to the history of printing at Pałuki region and thanks to Muzeum Ziemi Szubińskiej for providing photos for the article. My special thanks also to Elodie and Bill Caldwell for regular editing and proofreading of the English language versions of my entries.

  • "Dzieje Szubina", Marian Biskup (ed.), Warsaw-Poznań, 1974.
  • "Spacer z historią w tle" by Kamila Czechowska, Urząd Miejski w Szubinie, Szubin, 2015.
  • "Der Kreis Schubin", Heimatkreis Schubin - Altburgund e.V., Bergen, 1990.
  • "Oflag 64 The Fiftienth Anniversary Book", Evanston Publishing, inc. Evanston Illinois, 1993.
  • "Americans Behind the Barbed Wire. World War II: Inside a German Prison Camp", by Frank J. Diggs, Vandamere Press, 2000.

© Mariusz Winiecki