31 sie 2017

Living history - Oflag 64

Historical events depicting the daily life as well as escape attempts of former WWII American POWs held in Oflag 64, a POW camp for American ground force officers, will be re-enacted on Saturday, September 16, 2017. The Living History re-enactments will be held on the site of the former camp, located on the current premises of the MOAS (Młodzieżowy Ośrodek Adaptacji Społecznej) Home and School for At-Risk Youth in Szubin, Poland.

This unique event is organized by the Mayor of Szubin Artur Michalak, the Municipal Office of Szubin, the Regional Museum of Szubin and the Historical Re-enactment Group “Green Light” in conjunction with the MOAS Reform School in Szubin, The Szubin Culture Hall, the Schools Complex in Szubin, the Club of Photography Lovers “Flesz”, and Mariusz Winiecki, the local historical researcher of the Szubin WWII POW camp for allied forces and author of “The Oflag 64 Record” blog. Besides the Historical Re-enactment Group “Green Light” members, approximately 70 re-enactors from many other Poland-based re-enactment groups are expected.

The gate of the former POW camp will open at 10:00 a.m. Ceremonies will begin at 1 p.m. with three main historical re-enactment shows scheduled for 1:30, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.

The first historical show entitled “Arrival of American POWs” will present the arrival of US Army officers to Oflag 64 in June 1943. During the following months, new American officers continued to arrive at the camp after being captured at various WWII battlefields. After D-Day, the camp population rapidly increased by over one thousand additional American officers, eventually reaching a maximum population of approximately 1550 POWs in January 1945.

The second historical show entitled “The Fake Drunk Party” will present the clever escape plan masterminded and carried out by 5 officers held in Oflag 64. In the middle of May 1944, Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet II, 2nd Lt. Frank N. Aten, 1st Lt. Roy J. Chappell Jr., 2nd Lt. William F. Higgins and 1st Lt. Richard W. Secor convincingly feigned an alcoholic drinking event. The officers brewed wine from fermented raisins and after the afternoon Roll Call, they poured the stinking liquid on their faces and uniforms and rinsed their mouths with it. The officers began yelling and singing, took a cart filled with metal trash into the cobbled camp courtyard and began to make loud unbearable noises. The provocation proved to be effective and they were immediately arrested. They were quickly sentenced: “10 days in solitary on bread and water for drinking and rowdiness” as they cunningly anticipated. As soon as they reached the confinement cells located across Adolf Hitler Street outside of the barbwire fence, they immediately began sawing the bars on the cell windows with the saw blade smuggled in by Secor. On the morning of the ninth day, all the bars were cut enough to break them easily. Four of the five officers escaped, but were recaptured a short time later.

The third historical show “The Escape of a British Aviator” dates back to the time when the site was called Oflag XXI-B and held the POW officers of the Commonwealth Air Forces who were later moved to Stalag Luft 3 in Sagan in April 1943. After breakfast on September 26, 1942, Flt/Lt. Robert Howard Edwards announced that he was fed up with being held, lit up a cigarette, walked to the barbwire fence and started to climb over it. He was shot to death at point blank range after refusing a challenge from a German guard. It is probable that one of the scenes in the Hollywood motion picture “The Great Escape” could have been directly inspired by this event. Edwards was buried at the Szubin cemetery, but after the war was over, his body was disinterred and moved to the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery.

In between the three historical shows, the re-enactors will recreate the Kriegy’s daily life with scenes depicting his normal work and recreational activities. Period musical selections will further establish the atmosphere that existed 70 years ago in the former POW camp. Excerpts of recordings of the camp Swing Orchestra, Swing Band, Symphony Orchestra, Glee Club, POWs talking about their cultural and educational activities in the camp, and a portion of a chapel service recorded by the Swedish YMCA delegate Henry Söderberg in June 1944 will be aired as well.

A mock-up of the POW camp built by MOAS students supervised by MOAS teachers Tomasz Kmieć and Mieczysław Luchowski will be displayed in the main hall of the MOAS Correction and Juvenile Detention Center. The 1:125 scale model was built during the 2012 “Oflag 64 – Save From Oblivion” educational project created by the Principal of the Reform School, Mr. Wiesław Guziński.

The Szubin Regional Museum has organized two premiere open-air exhibitions, which will be shown at the site during the event:
  • The first exhibition entitled “Scenes from POW Camp Life” presents the watercolors painted in captivity by Yves-Marie le Bot, a French POW of Oflag XXI-B Szubin in years 1940-41. The watercolor paintings were found in 2016 at the estate of his grandson and donated to the Szubin Museum.
  • The second exhibition entitled Stalag XXI-B, Oflag XXI-B and Oflag 64 as seen by the ICRC Visitors presents the photographs taken during the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) delegates visits in Szubin POW camps. The photos from the archives of the ICRC Photo Library in Geneva depict interviews with Oflag 64 POWs and their daily lives.
Szubin School Complex students will perform excerpts from the Leo Brady “Brother Orchid” play staged during Thanksgiving in 1943 by “The Little Theater” POW actors. The students will also recreate how the handwritten news announcements were prepared for the “Daily Bulletin”.

The photography club “Flesz” will photograph the reenactment sessions. Flesz plans to create a photo essay scheduled to be presented at the Szubin Public Library exhibition this fall.

The historical shows will conclude at 5:00 p.m.

It has become a tradition that many family members of the former Oflag 64 Ex-Kriegies visit Szubin annually. Five members of the Oflag 64 Association will be attending the “Living History – Oflag 64” on September 16. They are: Susanna Connaughton, daughter of the late 2nd Lt. Seymour R. Bolten, Dave Stewart, son of the late Capt. Donald B. Stewart, Cindy Sharpe Burgess, daughter of 2nd Lt. Wilbur B. Sharpe, Lauren Burgess, granddaughter of Sharpe, and Glenn Burgess, son-in-law of Sharpe.

Also attending will be producer David “Wino” Weinstein, the great-nephew of 2nd LT. Leonard Feldman, who will be filming the reenactment for a US documentary entitled “Feldman, Portrait of a POW”. Weinstein has worked in the film industry in Pittsburgh for the past 27 years as a producer and location manager. His body of work includes such movies as “Striking Distance” (1993) starring Bruce Willis, “Sudden Death” (1995) starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, “Dogma” (1999) starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, “Wonder Boys” (2000) starring Michael Douglas, “The Next Three Days” (2010) starring Russell Crowe (2010), “Warrior” (2011) starring Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton, “Foxcatcher” (2014) starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015) or “Love the Coopers” (2015) starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and John Goodman (2015), and an adaptation of the book “Where'd You Go, Bernadette” (2018) starring Cate Blanchett is in post production. Weinstein is currently raising funds for the documentary filming on GoFundMe.com, and intends to return to Szubin for a screening of the documentary when it's complete.

The Historical Re-enactment Group “Green Light” was formed in 2011 in Poznan, Poland. The group specializes in recreation of past events involving WWII paratrooper units of 82nd Airborne Division involved in the battles in Sicily, Normandy, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. The group also recreates units of the Women's Army Corps in Europe; in particular, from the period of preparations of Operation Overlord until the end of WWII in France. The group's activities consist of training, maneuvers, shows, staging, reenactments and commemorative history lessons. The group collects authentic period field and dress uniforms as well as equipment and weapons.

“The theme of our event is different from other living history events and is the only event of this type in our country, or even, to our knowledge, in Europe. It will be held on the original site of the former Schubin POW camp. The re-enactors from all over Poland will perform at the highest level and present Oflag 64 as it was 70 years ago. Every attendee will be able to experience the living history of the POW camp” – said Rafał Górecki, one of the co-organizers and the commander of the Historical Re-enactment Group “Green Light”.

Oflag 64 held many prisoners over the years including some who were considered quite notable. Among them were POWs:
  • Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr., Capt. Donald Stewart – most noted for being eyewitnesses to the Katyn Forest Massacre exhumation in 1943.
  • Lt. Col. John K. Waters – the son-in-law of Gen. George S. Patton – after WWII, Waters became a US Army Four-Star General, serving as the Commander in Chief of Pacific Operations from 1964-1966.
  • Larry Allen – an Associated Press war correspondent during WWII, winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize for his war reporting, a post-war AP correspondent in Warsaw.
  • Wright Bryan – an associate editor of the “Atlanta Journal”, following the war received the Medal of Freedom in 1947 from then NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • 1st Lt. Craig D. Campbell – aide-de-camp to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commanding general in North Africa.
  • Col. Thomas D. Drake – the commander of the 168th Infantry Regiment, served in WWI and was the first SAO at Oflag 64 during WWII.
  • 2nd Lt. Amon G. Carter Jr. – was from a prominent family in Fort Worth, Texas. His father was the founder and first publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram which had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the South. Following the war, Carter served as the publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
There were a number of West Point graduates in the POW camp. Many other POWs, after the war, had very distinguished careers as teachers, professors, doctors, artists, gardeners, business owners, dentists, lawyers, barbers, scientists, writers, congressmen, newspaper editors, government workers, etc. Some continued in their previous professions after their return, some discovered new interests during captivity and followed new paths while some continued their military careers serving in other military theaters and campaigns. For more information, go to www.oflag64.us.

The Oflag 64 Association Hall of Remembrance (HOR) US Advisory Council is a subgroup of the descendants of the approximately 1550 US POWs who were held at Oflag 64, a German POW camp located in Szubin, Poland. The HOR US Advisory Council emerged as a result of an Oflag 64 Association trip to Szubin in 2016 to tour the camp and to meet with the Szubin Mayor and City Council. The HOR US Advisory Council has been participating in the Mayor's and town's planning for a Hall of Remembrance at Oflag 64.

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