WWII MEMORIES

Information for Veterans and their families


Red Cross Camp Reports

The following are copies of reports primarily of Stalag XXA and XXB conditions reported by the International Red Cross inspectors.  They were located at the PRO and are freely available to any members of the public.  Due to the fact that all the documents are originals and have already been photocopied, the quality of reproduction when they are scanned is extremely poor.  I have therefore transcribed as many as I can.

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These are almost the first reports on camps in Germany by the International Committee so far, at all events, as camps are concerned where there are British Prisoners of War. It is satisfactory that Dr. Marti was able to speak with some of the prisoners without a witness.

Stalag II D. This is regarded by the Germans as a model camp. The rooms are described as very modern and the hygiene is on the whole satisfactory. The infirmary is in perfect order. The military hospital is a model hospital. There are 40 British prisoners who had at the time the report was written, received no money. They are stated to bear the effects of their difficult experience in Norway. It seems that this camp is a transit camp so far as the British are concerned.

Stalag XX A. 403 British prisoners from Norway. It consists of forts made of brick which are described as being damp. There is a lack of electric lighting. The British had received neither parcels nor letters, although they had been in the camp for four weeks. They made no complaints about conditions in the camp and are not being over worked. Dr. Marti thinks that this camp will probably be the centre camp for all British prisoners. He considers that there should be proper huts erected as in other camps or decent buildings of some kind.

 

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No. RBI-164

The American Ambassador presents his compliments to His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and, with reference to Mr. Kennedy's note of 59 of March 20, 1940, and of previous communications transmitting reports of prisoners of war camps in Germany, has the honor to transmit herewith a copy of a note from the American Embassy at Berlin dated May 23, 1940, enclosing a report on a visit to Stalag XXA and XXIB. Copies of this report have also been furnished to the Prisoners of War Information Bureau.

London, June 11, 1940.

Report of Visit of Representative of American Embassy Berlin to Stalag XXA.  May 15, 1940.

1)  General Description
The camp is located in 2 (with the addition of a military hospital 3) forts of a ring of fortifications surrounding a town considered of military value before 1914.  The forts are extensively built of brick, covered by sod, and are of an extremely substantial construction affording excellent air raid shelters.  The mean are housed in caserates, i.e. barrel-vaulted rooms opening on a corridor at one end with windows at the other.  The rooms, while recipients of little or no sunlight, are sufficiently lighted and ventilated.  One fort, housing the men, contains two large courts one of which is being arranged as football-field.  Exercise is possible in these courts which are sunny, and also on a terrace connecting them from which a view may be obtained and the sense of confinement somewhat dissipated.  The other has an adjacent large exercise ground already fenced.

2) Capacity and Present Personnel
The total capacity of the seven forts which are available for housing prisoners, is estimated by the comandant of being about 10,000 men.  At present, however, there are 240 British combatants; a number of Polish prisoners of war, some of whom are sailors taken at Hela, are housed in one of the forts, but in a section apart from the British.   The two groups of prisoners, however, share the two courtyards.  The British personnel were all taken in Central Norway (Lillehammer and Tretten), and were mostly territorials with some older reservists.  Their ages are understood to run from 17 to 38.  The regiments are: Leicestershire Regiment, Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and Eighth Sherwood Foresters.  The present personnel is expected to be augmented by May 20 by some 6000 additional British prisoners.  At the time of the visit on May 16 the commandant of the camp was unaware of the place of capture of these troops which, however, was presumably on the western front.  Arrangements were being made to utilise vacant space in the two forts at present occupied as well as to renovate another fort of similar category whcih, however, had sheds suitable for summer accommodation.   Any overflow may be accomodated in tents provisionally.

3)  Interior Arrangements (Quarters, Heat, Bedding, Light.)
The men are well housed in barrel-vaulted rooms opening on a dark corridor, but lit from windows at the other extremity.  They sleep on straw-sacks on a wooden floor.   The commandant stated that the floor was not damp and that bunks did not seem necessary at the present time.  Where concrete or stone floor exist, wooden bunks will be built in triple tiers.  Each man was supplied 2 blankets, and the non-commissioned officers had three.  Heat was by porcelain stove (Kachelofen), warmed by coal.  Heat was on at the time of the visit and the rooms were comfortable although windows were open for ventilation.

4)  Bathing and Washing Facilities
Bath troughs with cold running water were provided in the basement.  4 showers and one tub have been provided in the basement with constant hot water.  The men were alloted hours for bathing so that one or possibly two bathes were given each week.  A delousing plant had been built adjoining the showers providing disinfection in one hour.   No vermin had recently been detected in the camp although the Poles had brought some at the time of their arrival.

5)  Toilet Facilities
There were eight latrines of six holes each of somewhat primitive construction; cleanliness was obtained through the use of Lime.  These facilities seem to have remained unchanged since before 1914 when the forts were occupied by German troops.

6) Food and Cooking
Cooking was likewise done in the basement in large kettles by Polish cooks supervised by German non-commissioned officers.  The food corresponded to that which is more or les standardised in all the camps and which has been sufficiently described in other reports.   Rising hour is at 5:30, after whcih morning coffee with the accompaniment of bread and margarine is provided.  One loaf of bread is served to suffice for three men for one day.  Complaint was made as to the insufficiency of this ration.  At 12 o'clock the principal meal of the day is served consisting usually of a meat, potato and cabbage or carrot stew.  At 6 o'clock evening meal is given, consisting of bread, coffee, unrelieved by sugar, but with the accompaniment of margarine for the bread.   The food seemed well cooked, but is undoutedly uninteresting.  As yet no Red Cross packages had relieved it, since the men had been in the camp for hardly over one week.

7)  Medical Attention and Sickness
Each fort contains a small dispensary with some 10 cots, but cases of any seriousness are sent to the hospital in the above mentioned fort situated between the two forts occupied as living quarters.  This lanaret has 170 beds, but was occupied by 43 patients of whom 3 only were Britshers; two were surgical cases and one man was suffering from pneumonia.  These men were being looked after by a British sanitary corps man (Sydney Freakley) who had, however, complained to the commandant of his detention and expressed a belief that he was entitled to repatriation.  He was being detained, it appears, to look after his sick compatriots.  The surgical cases were minor ones, one suffering from a cyst while the other had an injury to his knee.  They were able to walk out of doors.  Lee Chell, the pneumonia patient, was improved, his temperature chart showing a marked decline.  One man had been taken the night before to a nearby town for appendicitis operation.The medical personnel of the hospital consisted of two Polish doctors who, at least according to the German commandant, had expressed willingness to remain in the hospital rather than be released.The lasaret was clean and well kept; its 15 closets which were provided with newspapers for use and had been recently installed, provided a welcome contrast to the unattractive closets of the forts.

8)  Clothing
The prisoners were clothed in their uniforms and wore boots; their leather jerkins and overcoats had been recently stored (or so it was said) by the camp officers, since owing to the advent of milder weather, they were supposed to be no longer necessary.  The Embassy's representative was assured, however, that this equipment was being retained in the camp and would, if rendered necesary by adverse weather conditions, be returned to the men.  The men expressed a desire for changes of shirts, underclothing, and stated in particular that their socks were worn out.  The camp commandant stated that each man would be given three shirts, underclothes and either socks or "Fasslappen", probably the latter.  Also see note below.

9)  Laundry
The camp had a laundry and the men had already had access to it.  It was planned to have a laundry detail take care of laundering shirts, underclothing etc.

10)  Money and Pay
The men had but little money on them at the time of their capture; thus in one fort they had about 60 Pounds and in hte other about 15 Pounds altogether.  Pending the determination of a rate of exchange the commandant had advanced 3 Marks to each man which would be deducted either from the amount placed to his credit on the camp books, or from his pay when he was put out to work.

11)  Canteen
A decidedly dismal canteen, lit only by electricity and by no means well equipped, was in fort No.1.  this, the commandant explained, was a Polish canteen and stated that the Briishers would get one of their own.  Teh second camp, where only Britishers were stationed, had a modest stock of articles such as cigarettes, tooth-brushes, rasor blades and bread and beer for sale.

12)  Religious Activity
A Roman-Catholic religious service had been held but no Protestant service had as yet been given.  teh commandant stated that the Roman Catholics presented no difficulty, since their services were mostly in Latin, but no English speaking German pastor resided in the neighborhood of the camp.  He expressed the hope that an English speaking clergyman might hold services.  (It should be possible to arrnage for such services through the intervention of the pastor of the American Church in Berlin or the pastor of the [?plecopal] Church at [???aden].Note:  The cooks wore drill working clothes, and working clothes will also be handed to men who will have to do rough work.

13) Recreation and Exercise
Walking and gymnastics were possible in the two courts which, as stated, were sunny and open to fresh air.  The men having expressed a desire for a football, the Embassy representative ordered one from a near-by town, together with some games, playing cards, etc.  Books will be sent from Berlin.  The Y.M.C.A. representative in Berlin who has initiated the start of a larged fenced recreation ground near camp 2. [unreadable sentence overtyped]

14)  Mail
Mail and parcels are delivered daily, but the British prisoners had not yet received any although they had been authorised to send 2 letters and 4 postcards monthly, in addition to the card announcing their arrival at the camp.

15)  Welfare Work
None as yet.

16)  Complaints
No serious complaints were heard, although the men expressed an urgent desire to receive cigarettes and smoking tobacco.  The German cigarettes available in the canteen were not to their taste and also insufficient.  They also expressed a desire to receive books and magazines and wished tooth-brushes, paste, and a shaving kit (although a barber-shop had been set up and razor provided for each room).  This last arrangement, however, may not be considered sanitary.  Towels and soap had been provided and, as stated above, the commandant assured the men that shirts, underclothing and socks would be made available.  The food did not come in for particular complaint although the stew was described as thin and more bread was required.

17)  General Impressions
The camp, while the prison-like character of hte old fortifications did not give it an airy and cheerful appearance, seemed suitable for occupancy and, indeed, had been regularly used by German soliders up to the time of abandonment of the fort which is understood to have taken place before the last war.  The commandant impresed the Embassy's representative as being vigourous and energetic and capable of meeting emergencies such as the sudden announcement of the arrival of 6000 additional "guests".  The commandant (and it is the commandant who gives the tone to each camp) was an officer who had lived in England and spoke very good English.  He was assisted by other officers who gave a good impression, and a non-commissioned staff some of whom had been in prison camps during the war of 1914/18.  One of these last, who had been in Great Britain, stated that the quarters now provided were much better than any he had enjoyed, but it was suggested that a general ameloration in the condition of prisoner of war camps had been a consequence of the adoption of the Convention Concerning Treatment of Prisoners of War of July 27, 1929.

 

Resume of Report visit of Representative of U.S.A. Embassy, Berlin to Stalag XX on May 15th 1940

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Stalag XXA, May 25, 1940 (French)

 

Stalag XXA, July 31, (French Report) and follow up Resume

 

 

Letter from the International Red Cross Committee, Geneva, to The Lord Chamerlain's Office in London, September 27, 1940

 

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