18 wrz 2015

Sidney Thal’s Story - Part 2: "From Tunis to Oflag 7B"

Sidney Thal (1940/41)

This trip was started as soon as it was day light. Shortly after we started a flight of 3 fighters appeared in a distance. I immediately ordered everyone to pull off their undershirts to wave to indicate we were Americans so the pilots would not shoot at us. When they flew over us they rocked their wings to let us know they caught the signal. But they dropped their bombs on a German motor pool nearby destroying everything. Then they flew down the near highway shooting up the traffic very badly. We passed many burning vehicles on our way to trains waiting to take us to Sfax. From Sfax we went to Sousse and then to Tunis.

Once in Tunis they took us to a camp for interrogation. We were put in small groups in a series of officer and then question by the Gestapo. The interview lasted only a few minutes. The main question was the information about the weapon called the BAZOOKA! – an anti-tank weapon which I had tested while at Kasserine Pass. My test of the weapon was made to determine the amount, if any, about the percussion effect when fired at close range. There was none, no matter how, close to the tank! When we were in bivouac in Old Point Comfort in Virginia we had a meeting for all officers to learn that a spy ring had been discovered and exposed. They were all arrested and jailed but they had looted a lot of information before discovery and sent copies of our 201 files to Germany. Those files were in the hands of the Germans when they questioned us in Tunis. We discussed it for hours after interrogation and flown in JU52's to Naples, Italy. We arrived shortly after a bombing by the Americans air force. We were loaded into trucks and driven through the narrow streets of Naples to a prison camp, a very large camp, in the suburbs of Naples – Capua.

Shortly after we arrived we were issued a Red Cross pack of food – our survival package that kept us from starvation for our life as a POW. It contained a can of corned beef, a can of PREM, a can of sardines. The most wonderful 5 packs of cigarettes, a one pound can of whole powdered milk, a can of condensed milk, a pound box of raisins (sometimes prunes) 4oz. can of Nescafe powder coffee, ½ pound of sugar cubes, a 6 oz. bar of chocolate square. Later we discovered the trading value of cigarettes, coffee and chocolate with Germans (and the Poles) which were used as much as possible to get other things that were “verbotin” (properly in German: ‘verboten’ = 'forbidden'). [Later in Oflag 64] I also, with Jim McArevey, opened a store in the basement of the camp hospital and shower center to barter our stock of cigarettes for goods from home. As soon as our cigarettes were gone, so was the store. OUT OF BUSINESS!

From Capua, Italy, we were loaded in cars used to ship cattle, to Stalag 7A [in Murnau], near Munich, We had traveled 3 days. We went through the Brenner Pass into the Italian Tyrol (beautiful), stuffed 80 of us in Each car. When we finally arrived we were all suffering from dysentery. We were deloused, bathed and fed in 7A and given our first medicine for dysentery. We all recovered quickly. Here we were introduced to our first meetings with French, Russian and other POWs from other Allied nations.

From Stalag 7A we were moved, after a week, to Oflag 7B in Eichstätt, Southern Bavaria. This was a camp of several thousand British and Canadian's captured in Dunkirk (and many other commonwealth soldiers). The Canadian were all in handcuffs as a reprisal for tying up the Germans captured in the Dieppe raid (an all Canadian raidearlier across the channel from Dover). The camp 7B was well organized and from them we learned how to run our camp at Oflag 64. They taught us how to deal and negotiate with Germans, how to pick locks, how to trade with guards and value of goods for exchange. We have learned how to operate our camp, about the escape possibilities and how to subsists in camp activity.

They provided us with a show that was an all British story and we, 22 of us, decided to put on a 4th July show for them, even though it was May. We knew we would be leaving before July, so we decided to reciprocate with a little Americana. We did our “Yankee Doodle Dandy” best-made a big hit and left behind a good impression of our friendship. Through their friendship and advice we escaped, 4 of us, from the train on the way to Oflag 64, successfully.

© Sidney Thal
Edited by Mariusz Winiecki
Special thanks for Cheryl Ellis, for corrections on her father's story

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