Paul’s POW Odyssey Begins

After being captured by the armed farmers, Paul Lynch was escorted to an uncertain destination and fate. “Presently we were on a road and came into contact with a person that I presumed to be, from his appearance and demeanor, anyway, displaced,” Paul said. “He was Polish and spoke fluent English. The farmers allowed me to speak to him.”

Paul continued: “The Pole wanted to know where I was from and what I was bombing. I figured that I had better tell him about the viaduct because a stray bomb might have fallen close to a civilian area and I wanted to let him know we were after a military target.”

Under the Geneva Convention the only information Paul was obligated to give out was his name, rank and serial number, but Paul had done what tens of thousands of other American parachutists had done, that is, he immediately disclosed to those who captured him that he had not participated in a terror bombing. In the USAAF during World War II there was an adage that it was “not a good idea” to parachute into a population center not far from a site one had just bombed.

“I asked this man,” Paul said, “if there was any way out of here and he just smiled. That was the end of my hope of escaping.”

Paul spent the night at the local jail and was fortunate to do so. Following the war, a fact-finding commission at Nuremberg exposed the very real hazard Paul faced as a parachutist:

When Allied airmen were forced to land in Germany, they were sometimes killed at once by the civilian population. The police were instructed not to interfere with these killings, and the Ministry of Justice was informed that no one should be prosecuted for taking part in them.1

While in jail, leg pain notwithstanding, Paul had time to reflect upon John Kendall’s death. He had never seen a man killed before. Paul and John had had their differences, but somehow any personal animosity that might have lingered between the two of them had been expunged. Paul felt terrible over John’s loss.

And as for his friend Owen Monkman? Paul could only hope that Owen met his fate as painlessly as he knew John had met his.

“The following morning an old truck pulled up and they put me on with several other prisoners,” Paul said. “Most were with planes from other outfits and I didn’t know any of them. I asked the driver if there were any more survivors from my plane and he told me that they recovered six bodies from the wreckage.” When he heard this Paul did not know whether to believe it or not. He knew Kendall and Monkman were dead and he saw Dave Bishop on the ground, but beyond that he knew nothing.

While waiting for the truck to move, an oddity of war took place. Several young, giggly German girls came over to Paul and the other Americans wanting to practice their English. This was unusual, Paul thought, “in that they would be so friendly towards us in spite of the bombings.”

Paul experienced additional German friendliness. Taken to a Catholic-run hospital for his leg injury, the nuns there treated him with the same kindness and care they extended to a wounded German pilot. While there he also ate the same food as the nuns—primarily potato soup with a little meat in it, “but only now and then.” Paul suspected it was horsemeat.

“The hospital was spotless and I was permitted to walk around.” Thinking back, Paul added something of a wistful note: “I wished I could have stayed there for the duration of the war, but alas, it was not to be.” Paul sensed what might be coming and kept his wormy apples.

“When I was released from the hospital after a short stay, I was taken to a railroad station under guard along with several other Americans. No one seemed to notice or care as we stood on the platform wearing our flying suits. In fact, some of the time we couldn’t even see our guards. It would have been senseless to try to escape however, dressed the way we were. There were armed German soldiers everywhere. I did something foolish on the platform. I flirted with a very attractive blonde.”

Paul remembered what she wore: a navy blue beret, a silver fur jacket, blue skirt and black knee boots. “She noticed me looking and smiled,” Paul recollected. “I smiled back and she smiled again. I thought she might come over to talk to me.”

“One of the older Americans elbowed me to knock it off. “You could get shot for that,’ he warned me. I broke off eye contact immediately and later realized that I had taken a risk. She could have been SS or Gestapo.” Paul had been wise to heed the advice of the older American; both Nazi organizations employed female operatives, and some were known to bait with good looks.

“On the train I sat next to a German soldier,” Paul continued. “He looked interested so I took a chance. ‘My name ist Paul,’ I said to him and he responded. Neither of us could communicate in the other’s language but I recognized the word ‘haus.’ I mentioned ‘Massachusetts’ and his face went blank. I then tried ‘Boston’ and he recognized the name. Eventually I found a piece of paper and drew a rough picture of a bridge and a train carrying a tank being bombed. He laughed.”

Paul attempted to find out where the soldier was going and after a period heard the word “Russia” spoken.

“Then he fell silent and didn’t want to talk,” Paul related. “I wondered if he wanted to trade places with me.”

The train trip was uneventful and of relatively short duration. Paul and the other Americans ended-up at a Luftwaffe POW processing facility near Frankfurt known as Dulag Luft, which was a collection and interrogation center for newly captured Allied aircrews.2 There were other Dulag Lufts established by the Nazis during the war in different locales, but the one near centrally located Frankfurt was the oldest and by far the largest. The rooftops of buildings and other sections of this approximately 500-acre compound were marked with the huge white letters “POW,” to warn Allied bombardiers not to attack. Officer and enlisted POWs, American and British, would be processed through a Dulag Luft before being sent on to one of the “Stalag Lufts”—the name given to the chain of POW holding camps for Allied airmen set up throughout Germany and occupied Europe. The Stalag Luft camps for officers, and most particularly pilots, were among the most heavily guarded of all POW camps run by the Third Reich. The Nazis did not want POW flyers to break out or be liberated by a raiding party, and took extra precautions accordingly.

At Dulag Luft, electrified flight suits and boots were exchanged for POW uniforms and trench boots supplied by the International Red Cross; interrogations generally followed periods of solitary confinement. Dulag Lufts had a reputation for not being nice places to stay.

Paul’s period of solitary confinement lasted four days.

“I was put in a small cell with just a cot,” Paul said, “and now I felt like a real prisoner. That night I heard a slight knock on the wall and an American voice. He was a fighter pilot and he had been there awhile. He told me not to talk during the day but talking was overlooked at night because the guards wanted to hear the progress of the war from the new prisoners. They would listen at the doors. He also told me to watch out for a huge German Army Sergeant as he had severely injured several prisoners during interrogation.”

It never occurred to Paul that the person speaking behind the wall may have been working for the Luftwaffe and that he intended to plant fear in Paul’s mind about being physically abused in his upcoming interrogation. In 1960 a commentator had this to say about the modus operandi of the camp:

At Dulag Luft each prisoner was studied by psychologists in order to learn his likes, dislikes, habits and powers of resistance. The method of procedure was then determined, and the machinery was set into operation to destroy his mental resistance in the shortest possible time. If the prisoner showed signs of fright or was nervous, he was threatened with all kinds of torture . . .3

“I don’t think the fighter pilot was a Nazi,” Paul opined, “but in any event, I didn’t give him information.” Paul explained the basis for his opinion about the fighter pilot by stating that before he went into solitary confinement he had heard from several POWs about a large sergeant at interrogation who mistreated POWs; that the fighter pilot had not told him anything that he did not already know.

From his cell, Paul heard explosions in the distance. When Paul learned that Dulag Luft was approximately 13 miles from the center of Frankfurt, he said, “There were many targets in the industrial area of Frankfurt, and in my opinion bombers could have been closer than 13 miles.” Paul added: “My barred window was high so all I could do was listen.”

“My turn for interrogation came up and I really dreaded it. I was taken to a large room with a number of booths. My name was called and I stood up. The interrogator came over, grabbed me by the collar and told me in a very loud voice to stand at attention when a German officer spoke. I did. “You Americans have no military discipline’,” Paul reported the man saying.

Although Paul was understandably anxious about the treatment he might receive, he also knew that America was winning the war and this fact stiffened his spine as a U.S. soldier. He resolved to tell his interrogator nothing more than the Geneva Convention required. It turned out the German officer already knew Paul was from the 324th Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group.

“I was led into a booth and the atmosphere changed completely. Things got relaxed and informal. I think the scene in the main room was to put on a show. Questions were routine and even some about family. I stuck to name, rank and serial number. He asked me if the apples I carried were from Washington State.”

Paul was in for a surprise, however. “I saw a huge bear of a man thump across the main room with some papers in his hand.” This of course startled Paul as it was undoubtedly intended to do. Paul did not visibly react, however, but rather continued chatting amicably, and when questioned directly again only politely offered his name, rank and serial number. After a period of this, Paul made a bold move: he complimented his interrogator on the quality of his English and asked him where had he been educated.

The friendly exchanges abruptly stopped. Paul reported that his interrogator snorted: “I ask the questions.” Almost immediately thereafter Paul was dismissed; his interrogation at Dulag Luft was over.

By refusing to show fear in the presence of the gorilla-sergeant, Paul Lynch extricated himself from a situation that could have become more serious. As stated, Dulag Luft was not a nice place to stay, yet Paul never suffered the “dog tag” or “heat” treatments, but other airmen did. Dog tags were sometimes taken away from a confined prisoner to make him feel vulnerable, like a citizen stripped of a passport. “I always had my dog tags, even at the end,” Paul remarked. The “heat” treatment was done during the summer months by placing a space heater that could not be turned off into a solitary confinement cell. At the interrogation session the next day, the interrogator would apologize profusely and explain that this was a simple mix-up easily rectified. The fake apology delivered the Nazi message: cooperate by giving information or suffer the consequences.4

Paul confirmed that his German captors never mistreated him. With respect to his stay at Dulag Luft, however, he observed: “I was pleased to get out of there. The place was no playground.”

The heavy-duty winter clothes and footgear issued to Paul by the International Red Cross were important items for him to have; the footgear, especially. A pair of proper fitting rugged military-style boots was almost as important as a parachute. The boots Paul received fit him properly. Paul probably could not have appreciated the importance of this good fit at the time, but he would later on. Not every POW was as lucky as Paul; the consequences of ill-fitting boots often proved deadly.

On December 7, 1944, while at Dulag Luft, Paul completed a preprinted “Postkarte” that he addressed to his parents. No individualized message was permitted on the card but it did convey that Paul was in good health and that he would be transported to another POW camp. This postcard was a requirement of the Geneva Convention. One can only imagine the joy that came to the Lynch family household when this card arrived in the mail, made all the better because the limited handwriting on the card was Paul’s own.

The rail trip from Middle Germany to northern Poland where Paul would be incarcerated at Stalag Luft IV encompassed approximately 400 miles, five times as long as his rail trip to Frankfurt, and it was not made on a comfortable passenger train. And in December 1944, increased distance meant increased danger.

“One day a large number of us were marched to the rail yards and divided into groups,” Paul related. “Then we were loaded onto cattle cars.” The “cattle cars” Paul mentioned were standard 40 and 8 boxcars—the same type as used by the SS to ship Jews to the death camps. And not unlike with the Jews: “There were no amenities, not even benches, only straw on the floor. We improvised a toilet by prying up some loose floorboards.” The comparison to how the Jews were transported ends there, however.

“The only humor on the entire trip was someone’s observation that our makeshift john allowed us to spread our stuff all over Germany.”

Paul indicated that none of the rail cars bore large letters denoting “POW” or the telltale red cross on a white background. “This was a cause for concern,” Paul noted. “We were locked in with no way out.”

On the first day out an incident happened that captured Paul’s attention: “Later that day the train came to a screeching halt and we could see the engineer and guards running for the ditches—an air raid. Our doors remained locked and a few of the fellows were getting excited. Some of the older fellows calmed them down by telling them that our fighter pilots liked shooting the engine to watch the boiler blow. Things finally settled down and in about 20 minutes the train was moving again.”

Paul was correct to be concerned. The famous “Ace of Aces,” P-47 Thunderbolt pilot Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, wrote about his 400-mile train trip to Stalag Luft I on the Baltic Sea coast north of Berlin. Gabreski was captured in late July 1944, and saw his situation the same as Paul:

All of us knew there was no way a P-47 pilot up there could tell our train was carrying a bunch of “Kriegies,” as we POWs called ourselves. And we all knew how much damage a P-47 could do to the train—and us. Luckily for us, the train wasn’t attacked.5

As it happened, the Germans were not required by international accord to mark rail cars to denote that they carried prisoners of war. The 1929 Geneva Convention, specifically Eight, “Transfers of Prisoners of War,” however, obligated them to pay the expense of Paul’s transfer and to forward correspondence and packages addressed to him.

Paul could not recollect the number of days the trip took but estimated “four or five.” Paul said: “Conditions in the car started out well but each day they worsened. A few got sick with diarrhea and the smell was rank. Progress was slow as we made many stops. One day we just sat on a siding and I think that was the worst day of all. It seemed to last forever.” Paul added a reason for all the stops: “Our Army Air Forces was doing its job.”

Paul continued: “As we got farther into Germany the guards became more relaxed. There was another air raid and this time they opened the doors and permitted us to dive into ditches near the tracks. We heard it from a distance.”

Paul described an act of kindness on the part of his captors, who were not SS: “Several evenings, the guards would have fires outside the cars and drink schnapps, then they would open the doors and we exchanged family pictures and found some areas of understanding to talk about. We were not allowed outside but at least we got aired out.”

When Paul and his POW traveling companions finally arrived at their destination in northern Poland, they discovered they were in the boonies. “There was a little depot and a peasant woman sweeping the snow off the walks with one of those stick brooms. We were ordered out of the car and lined up beside the train. The place reminded me of Labrador with the stillness of cold, snow and fir trees. No other buildings in sight. When the train was unloaded, we were walked to the prison camp. It seemed good to get out and be able to move again.” The walk to the camp was approximately two miles.

At the time Addison was sweating out the prospect of flying dangerous and desperate missions during the Battle of the Bulge, Paul adjusted to daily prison life at German Stalag Luft IV. Opened in May 1944 in Tychowo, Poland, which the German’s called Gross Tychow, the camp was not far from the German border, and about 25 miles from the Baltic Sea. In January 1945, according to a report of the International Red Cross, Stalag Luft IV held 8,033 Americans, 820 British (likely including Canadians) and a smattering of other POW nationalities.6 Most POWs were gunners like Paul; practically all were non-commissioned officers. These numbers would grow to approximately 9,500 in a month’s time. As stated, the Geneva Convention provided that non-commissioned officer POWs could not be made to do manual labor. Stalag Luft IV was not a work camp.

The POW camps designated as “Stalag,” as opposed to “Stalag Luft,” held significant numbers of privates and corporals, and these men of lower ranks were required to work and often under slave labor conditions. For point of example, the working POW rank and file of the large, defeated French Army was decimated by five years of Nazi forced production activity.7 To a very limited extent Paul, as an airman NCO-POW had privilege.

Upon arrival at the train depot outside of camp, Paul and the other POWs were not harassed by the German guards who were there waiting for them. That was not the case with a large group of POWs who arrived at the camp the previous summer, as they had been received in a very rough manner.8 “I recall that we lined up for a roll call and marched to the barracks,” Paul said.

The POW camp that Paul stayed in for approximately two months was rectangular in shape and surrounded by countryside. It was composed of four equal-sized sections or “lagers” named for simplicity “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” The lagers were also rectangular shaped and separated by razor wire and guarded by towers containing searchlights and machine guns. The fencing into separate sections prevented the camp prison population from massing together, or as one inmate at another stalag luft put it, “. . . the divide-and-conquer theory at work.”9 The lagers filled up one at a time, starting with “A.” By the time Paul arrived at Stalag Luft IV in mid December 1944, Lager “D” was in use and that is where he was quartered.

Paul could see the camp main gate from where he was and also a structure outside the wire known as the “Russian barracks.” Each lager was surrounded by two rows of barbed wire, with the outer row being electrified. A “warning rail” inside the lagers ran parallel to the barbed wire. If a POW ventured beyond this rail, the guards in the watchtowers were under orders to shoot to kill.

“One of our limits,” Paul volunteered, “was that we were not allowed to visit another barrack.” There were no prisoner shootings when Paul was at Stalag Luft IV but in June 1944 a G.I. POW had been shot and killed while jumping out of a window; the camp had a rule against inmates exiting through windows to prevent contraband from being removed during surprise inspections.10

Paul reflected on day-to-day life at Stalag Luft IV: Daily POW formations—the standing in ranks outside to check attendance—were conducted in the mornings and afternoons. “It was a head count,” Paul said, meaning not a roll call where names were yelled out.

Paul confirmed there was a POW chain-of-command established at Stalag Luft IV “Sort of,” he chuckled, remembering. “It was primarily the POWs who had been in camp the longest and had the most advice to give. They informed us what our limits were.”

In this regard, the 9,500 enlisted POWs at the camp were organized quite differently than officer POWs at other stalag lufts. Gabby Gabreski in his autobiography wrote that the commissioned officer POWs of Stalag Luft I, some 200 miles west on the coast (where Dave Bishop and RJ Miller were confined) had the senior U.S. colonel act as “wing commander” for the camp. Field grade POW-officers were designated “group” commanders for the individual lagers. Finally, going down the chain, each barrack was designated as a squadron “. . . with sections for intelligence, supply, and all the rest,” Gabreski observed.11 Stalag Luft IV had none of this. Paul’s memory about the military organization at his POW camp was accurate. The American camp leader was Sgt. Richard M. Chapman who “. . . came to camp in May [1944] with the first arrivals.”12 Sergeant Chapman performed an important function in dealing with the Luftwaffe chain-of-command but no one saluted him!

Two months before Paul arrived at Stalag Luft IV, the International Red Cross sent representatives to inspect the camp and issue a report on conditions there. The section of the report entitled “Accommodation” contained this:

Today [5–6 October 1944] Stalag Luft IV has twice too many inmates. The men are housed in 40 wooden huts, each hut containing 200 men. The huts are only partially finished; new arrivals are expected and more huts are being erected. The dormitories have been prepared for 16 men in two tiered beds. But there are not sufficient beds for some rooms [that] contain up to 24 men each. At camps A and B, a third tier of beds has been installed, whereas beds have been removed from camp D. There is not a single bed in camp C and 1900 men sleep on the floor. 600 of them have no mattresses, only a few shavings to lie on. Some have to lie right on the floor. Each prisoner has two German blankets. None of the huts can be properly heated. The [IRC] delegate only saw five small iron stoves in the whole camp. Some of the huts in camp D have no chimneys. Each camp has two open air latrines and the huts have a night latrine with two seats. The latrines are not sufficient as they are not emptied often, the only lorry for this work being used elsewhere. The prisoners have no means of washing; there are no shower baths as there is only one coal heated geyser in the camp of 100 liters for 1000 men. Fleas and lice are in abundance; no cleansing has been done.13

“I don’t recollect ever sleeping on a floor,” Paul said in reference to this report. “As I recall, each POW had a bunk on a double-decker bed along with the two blankets described. Also the cold weather did not seem to be a problem in the barracks.”

“I think I recall a small stove in the middle of the room,” Paul added. “Fleas and lice were not a problem as it was late in the season. There were no showers or clean clothes.”

In the section entitled “Food” the IRC report gave faint praise: “The German food is no worse than at other camps.”14

Paul had this to say by way of example about the food supplied by his captors: “German ‘black bread’ consisted of 50% bruised rye grain, 20% sliced sugar beets, 20% tree flower and 10% minced leaves and straw.” He then explained that “tree flower” was sawdust. The other German staple was a thin, potato-based soup that was not very nourishing. “We lived off Red Cross food parcels,” Paul explained. “They were quite good but the supply got less as the war progressed.” He added: “I suspect the Germans enjoyed them as well.”

After reflecting, Paul observed that the living situation at Stalag Luft IV primitive as the IRC reported, was bearable. “Most of the POWs in my immediate area were late arrivals. They did not know what to expect. Conditions were just accepted.” The seminal truth was that these POWs were glad to be alive, under a roof and out of harm’s way.

Although isolated in a camp in the wilds of an occupied country, Paul was able to be in touch with the outside world and what’s more, his family. “I was able to write several letters home,” he said, “and found later that they had been delivered.” After Paul’s family obtained his new mailing address, they of course wrote him immediately back, but again there were the postal delays. “I only received a few,” Paul indicated. As regards to his first letter from home he related: “I was thrilled of course. Mostly to learn my family was OK. I can’t remember details of what it said. It was receiving it that mattered most.” About his personal outgoing correspondence, he observed: “My letters were certainly censored but I was careful not to be pessimistic about conditions. What good would it do to cause more worry at home?”

While Paul’s family was undoubtedly also circumspect about what they wrote to Paul, particularly as it might concern the subject of Allied progress against Axis forces, Paul had a surefire way of keeping abreast of the action. “A short wave radio was hidden in one of the barracks,” Paul explained. “We would get periodic news updates from Britain so we could follow the course of the war. I understand that the radio had been put together by one of the radiomen from a downed B-17.” This hidden radio gave all the POWs at Stalag Luft IV daily hope for the future. “I think the general spirit in camp among American POWs was, ‘Let’s sweat it out ’til we win this war,’ “ Paul explained.

An intriguing aspect about this “hidden” radio was that Paul suspected the German guards were complicit in its existence. Paul questioned: “How did he [the USAAF radioman] get the materials into prison? Why hadn’t the Germans discovered the place where it was hidden? We would have periodic inspections of the barracks by the guards but they were rather perfunctory. They never seemed as if they were really searching. I wondered if the messages were monitored and the Germans wanted to keep this as a source of news.”

Paul’s suspicion made perfect sense. If a guard were caught listening to the BBC it undoubtedly would be a regulations violation that would spell trouble for him. But if a POW happened to tell that very same guard what news was coming in over the airwaves how could this be a regulations violation for the guard? Nein verboten BBC! The historical fact is, several or even most of the Stalag Lufts had hidden radios.

Paul made no mention of it but a German guard had a clever way to trade for cigarettes or soap or whatever else might be found in the Red Cross parcels. The POWs wanted photographs to show their loved ones upon their return home. Of course cameras in a POW camp were absolutely verboten—but this did not deter one entrepreneurial German sergeant. Because of his illegal trading, an important historical photographic record survived.15

“The celebration of Christmas was subdued,” Paul recollected. “And I don’t recall ever seeing a chaplain in camp.” Per the IRC report there were three POW chaplains serving Stalag Luft IV but with 9,500 inmates it is not surprising that Paul did not encounter one.

Paul was not in a position to appreciate the rich irony of his Christmas being far less stressful than the one celebrated by his friend, Addison Bartush. Paul’s time for personal stress would soon be at hand, however. In the near future he would look back at his stay at Stalag Luft IV as a good place to have been shelved during a time of war.

Paul witnessed no abuses of POWs during the short time that he was at Stalag Luft IV He was cognizant how the Japanese treated POWs, and particularly so after the Bataan Death March which happened early in the war. Japan, unlike Germany, never ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention. Moreover, the Japanese, unlike the Germans, tended to view POWs as contemptible cowards, even if they became POWs by parachuting from a crippled airplane! Japanese guards routinely inflicted indiscriminate beatings with fists and sticks, nonsensical harassments (like requiring POWs to salute when passing by an unoccupied window) and also verbal abuses. POWs held by the Japanese had little hope. They had no way of learning how the war progressed. Arbitrary rules like no smoking, card playing, singing,16 or holding worship services were enforced haphazardly by the Japanese, and differed from camp to camp.

Paul Lynch was subjected to none of this. “I don’t think there is much comparison between Japan and Germany in regard to POW treatment,” Paul opined. “I also believe that the Germans generally tried to live up to the Geneva Convention.”

Paul buttressed his statement about non-abuse on the part of his captors by offering this about his camp commandant, a Luftwaffe lieutenant colonel named Aribert Bombach: “I don’t think he was a strict military man,” Paul observed. “The story I heard is the Germans caught a couple of guys trying to tunnel out. He [the commandant] told them if they tried it again they’d be shot.” Paul explained that his barracks had little contact with the German commander. “The only time we saw him was at formation in the morning, and sometimes we didn’t see him then as it was done by subordinates.” Paul described the commandant as “a moderate fellow.” “He was not out to make life miserable for the prisoners.”

The historical record indicates that quite a number of Stalag Luft IV inmates did not agree with Paul’s assessment of the commandant, and in particular, the approximately 2,500 POWs who arrived in July 1944 shortly after the camp opened. Based upon testimony of many of these men and a U.S. flight surgeon who arrived at the camp at a later date, Bombach and others were arrested by the Allies following the war on suspicion of having committed or having ordered war crimes while at the camp. Bombach, who was commandant of Stalag Luft IV during the entirety of the camp’s existence, would also be investigated for acts of criminal negligence in connection with a forced POW march that commenced February 6, 1945 that came to be known as The Black March. Ultimately Bombach and the others were not prosecuted, though some of the evidence on the record against him and the others was strong.

Stalag Luft IV opened in the spring of 1944 with a handful of POWs. In mid-July about 2,500 Allied noncom POWs were shipped in from long distance by a sea-going vessel followed by a short trip by rail. These prisoners came from another POW camp in Lithuania that was then threatened by the Red Army. The boat trip was a five-day ordeal in cramped holds, but what awaited them when they arrived at the train depot, the same one that Paul described as tranquil, was terrifying. The Nazis turned this short march from the train depot to the camp into a really vicious gauntlet run. An authoritative commentator described this horrific event as follows:

The POWs’ shoes were taken from them; they were chained in pairs—many of them ill and wounded—then double-timed three kilometers through a cordon of guards who used bayonets, rifle butts, and dogs to keep them moving. Some were seriously injured. (German doctors later testified the injured suffered only from sunburn.) They had had neither food nor water for five days . . . [and] . . . they were strip-searched and had most of their clothing and possessions taken from them.17

Fifty years after the fact the U.S. Congress commemorated this shocking event for the veterans who endured it by reading into the Congressional Record: “Many were forced to run two miles to the camp at the point of bayonets. Those who dropped behind were either bayoneted or bitten on the legs by police dogs . . .18

The accusation was made, but not sufficiently sustained, that Bombach ordered this wrongful and inhumane treatment as a special “welcoming” gesture for POW internees at the newly opened camp. Supposedly he initiated this in order to traumatize this large body of initial POWs to show them he was boss, and to make them fearful and compliant. There were some black-shirted SS men spotted in the vicinity at the time, however, and the incident happened outside of the camp. This circumstance, and the fact that no one died as a result of the gauntlet run, probably accounted for Bombach’s release after the war. Reportedly the SS had hidden machine guns ready to use on POWs who might attempt to break away from the harassment being foisted on them in the column. While the SS may have orchestrated part or all of this, it was the Stalag Luft IV guards and a Luftwaffe officer under Bombach’s command who carried out the acts of violence.19

In 1947, sworn testimony on this horror was given by U.S. Army Flight Surgeon, Major Leslie Caplan, M.D., who, as a POW himself had served as Allied Medical Officer at the Stalag Luft IV Camp Hospital from November 1944 forward and had treated one of the victims a half-year or so after-the-fact. Caplan made this statement to the U.S. War Crimes Office:

“Yes, I personally saw the healed wounds on the legs of a fellow . . . who had been severely bitten. There were approximately 50 bites on each leg. It looked as though his legs had been hit with small buckshot. This man remained an invalid confined to his bed all the time I was at Luft #4. “20

Paul Lynch was aware of this gauntlet incident from stories he had heard while at the camp, but was quick to point out: “I did not experience anything like it.” He added: “In my opinion the camp commander never seemed oppressive. He was just there as commander.”

Paul related only what he witnessed. It is possible that Bombach could have started out cruel and oppressive and as the war went on he saw the writing on the wall and moderated his behavior.

Paul stated he had had heard stories about a brute of a Luftwaffe sergeant who supposedly abused POWs at Stalag Luft IV by cuffing their ears. “I never had dealings with him,” Paul pointed out.21

Bombach was also accused of stealing POW food. One author described it this way:

In September [1944] a Red Cross shipment came into camp, but even then conditions did not improve. At the end of the month, prisoners stood near the warningfence and watched as a truck left with their shipment of clothes. They suspected that food had also left the camp. The commandant would not let the American and British camp leaders verify shipments with the invoice, so they never were sure if they got the entire shipment or a portion of one. 22

Upon considering this observation, Paul chuckled, reiterating: “I always thought the Germans enjoyed the Red Cross packages.”

One of the early photographs of the camp showed a concrete building outside the gate near Lager “A” with the notation “solitary confinement prison.” The Geneva Convention authorized arrest not to exceed 30 days for disciplinary infractions but Paul never witnessed or heard of a POW removed to this facility. Likewise, Paul could add little about the nearby Russian barracks. The Soviets never ratified the Geneva Convention and all Soviet POWs could be made to do manual labor. A report indicated that the Germans used the Russians to drain and dispose of human waste from the outdoor camp latrines.23 Paul said: “I was aware of the Russians but never saw them perform this responsibility.”

Paul met no one that he knew during his stay at Stalag Luft IV. “I was a short-timer with the 91st,” he observed, pointing to his brief stay at Bassingbourn. He indicated he did make several friends at the POW camp, but added: “We got separated during the march.”

At the time Paul started his forced march, that is, early February 1945, the American bombing campaign over Europe greatly escalated. The United States Army Air Forces changed its heavy bomber policy and started hitting German population centers. The huge numbers of German civilian deaths caused by this decision, one that Roosevelt approved, served to put Paul and his fellow POWs at real risk. Gabreski noted: ‘The German population at that time was very hostile and in disarray, so the likelihood of our getting away alive [escaping] was very, very slim.’24Another writer described a deep concern of Allied airmen POWs in general at this juncture in history:

The principal fear stemmed from . . . [a] rumor that Hitler had ordered the execution of all of the captured bomber crews that had wreaked so much death and havoc on the Fatherland. There was no reason to doubt that this order could still be carried out. 25

Paul observed: “There was a constant concern about Hitler’s orders to kill POWs. We heard it often. Also, I would add that during our captivity we had no idea that [German] population centers were being targeted. During my stay with the 91st, military targets were attacked. I think that I can say that most of our crews would not have supported this change.”

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