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Ossian Arthur Seipel's Memoirs


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Chapter 5

The March


    Center compound was the last to leave.  As we passed the north compound you could see a number of barracks burning.  It’s surprising that there weren’t more fires.

 

ID card issued by the German army to Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel
2nd Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel's ID issued by the German -  Photo Lynn Dobyanski

    We were lucky to be the last to leave ‘cause the thousands of feet ahead of us had trampled the snow pretty well and the going wasn’t too bad.  It was cold though, close to zero.  We marched for about an hour and a half then rested for ten minutes and then resumed the march.  Many refugees fleeing from the Russians kept pace with us, following a short distance behind, taking advantage of the packed snow.  They were a miserable bunch, trying to take as much of their belongings as they could.  Some had horse drawn wagons loaded down with furniture.  The small children rode on the wagons too.  They finally turned due west while we continued in a southwesterly direction

    We encountered a lot of German soldiers taking defensive positions along the side of the road, dressed in their camouflage snow suits, armed with bazooka type anti tank missiles and machine guns.  They ranged in age from early teens to well into their sixties.  The Germans were scraping the bottom of their reserve forces.  We thought there might be a slim chance that we’d be overtaken by the oncoming Russians and our spirits rose a little.  Just being outside of the fence was enough to make a guy happy, but before noon we realized that our existence depended a great deal on the whim of the Germans.

    Popeye, the one-eyed German sergeant along with Colonel Spivey had a time keeping the men from lying down during our rest stops.  It soon became apparent that the ones who kept moving were better off than those who laid down.  Those who did lie down soon got stiff and sore and required assistance from their combine mates.  Fortunately our combine was OK.    

    The cold continued and more snow fell until we stopped in Halbe, a town of about 40,000 people.  We stood around while Popeye and the German major found us a place in a big church where we could get out of the wind.  The church was heated so we were really in luck.  Only about 900 men could cram into the church.   General Vanaman stretched out on the altar and the rest of us in the church crowded together in the pews, on the stairs and in the aisles.  There was no room to lay down, but as long as it was warm we managed to sleep sitting up.  About 1200 guys who couldn’t get into the church were finally allowed into a parochial school next to the church.  I think they had it better than we did in the church.  They could at least lie down.

    Next morning we were roused out by the guards and after a long and mixed up attempt at appel we were on the move again.  By this time we discovered those ferrets and guards that we joked with and about at Sagan, could speak English as well as, if not better than most of us.  One had been living in Chicago and attended Northwestern University, until Germany marched into Poland.  Another one had studied at Oxford in England until he was called home to Germany because of the war.

    It was still bitter cold and the wind continued to blow.  Fortunately the snow had stopped.  We continued the one or two hour march and ten minute rest until about two PM when we stopped in the lee of a fairly dense woods for our lunch break.  Twigs from the trees made enough fires to warm us pretty well until we had to leave.  By nightfall we reached our destination for the night.  It was a huge farm run by a German Count and his hundreds of slave laborers.  We were allowed to stay in three big barns filled with hay.  The only condition as stipulated by everyone with any sense was, “No Smoking”.

    Some of the kriegies knew how to speak Polish and were able to buy potatoes from the Polish laborers.  Eight potatoes for a real bash.  Tom Ledgerwood and I kept the fire going while Ted Snyder fried up some Spam and potatoes.  Somebody else got some eggs for a couple of chocolate bars and Ted scrambled them too.  It wasn’t much, but it was the best meal we had had in a long time.

    Sleeping was no problem.  When you wrapped your blanket around your body and burrowed deep into the hay it was almost warm.  Some of the guys took off their shoes and by morning they were frozen stiff and difficult to get on again.  Colonel Spivey talked Popeye into letting us staying there, under guard, another day while he and some of his men found shelter for the next night.  We spent the day resting up and trying to get our clothes dry.

    They roused us out at dawn the next day, the fourth day of the march, and we were under way with out the coffee that they promised us.  It was still bitterly cold and the wind in your face brought tears to your eyes.  We were heading in a northwesterly direction now.  Everyone seemed pretty down and grouchy as the morning wore on.  Some of the guys who still carried large packs got so tired that they couldn’t keep up and were threatened with execution on the spot.  Needless to say they unloaded some of their packs and went on.  By evening we were dragging pretty much.  Most of us were in a sort of daze, not talking just taking one step at a time behind the guy in front.  Maybe we even slept on our feet.  I can remember running smack into the back of Knox, who was ahead of me when he stopped and I didn’t.  About dusk we arrived at Muskau, which was about 50 kilometers from the farm we stayed at the past two days.

    Center compound had been assigned to stay in a huge pottery plant.  Our block was to sleep on the second floor over the ovens.  It was hot and we welcomed the heat.  We discovered that there were concrete plugs in the floor spaced evenly across the area.  The plugs had iron rings on top and if you lifted them out of the holes you had a hot flame to cook on.  It was great.  We stayed in the factory for two days and by the time we left we were glad to go.  It was hot and everyone dried out.  The rumor was that we were heading for a railroad that would take us to southern Germany, to another stalag.  The place that was so nice and warm when we arrived soon become just what it was built to be, an oven.  It was hot and dry and we forced open as many windows as we could and broke a few just to get some air to breath.

    As we formed up into columns to continue the march the German food ration showed up.  A chunk of ersatz bread and a chunk of bloodwurst sausage was issued to each man.  The first German food since the march began.  About noon we heard the start of a constant rumble of muffled explosions.  Berlin was fifty or sixty kilometers north east of us now and this must have been a mighty big raid ‘cause it went on for what seemed like hours.  You could tell it was affecting the morale of the German guards.  They didn’t talk but lowered their heads and looked at the ground.  They were probably ready to cash it all in, but still had their jobs to do.  Before dark you could see the smoke from the bombing.

    We came to a town called Graustein where we were to spend the night.  It had warmed up a lot and the snow was melting and rain was adding to the discomfort.  They had a time finding enough barns for us to stay in but somehow most everyone had some kind of cover if not in barns then in chicken coops.  Unfortunately there were no chickens or eggs.

    At dawn we moved out again, heading west this time.  Around noon we came to the town of Spremberg.  We marched to a German army post and were told to fall out and relax.  The post was extremely well fortified with artillery and many tanks.  They also served up a huge pot of some kind of thick barley soup, nothing like the watery stuff we had back at Sagan.  They even furnished some water for shaving.  Not all of us got the hot water, but the colonels and the general did.  The rumor was that the general, colonel Spivey and a couple others were to be sent to Berlin.  The rest of us were to board a train heading for the south of Germany.

    We had to march about five kilometers to the freight yard to board the train.   We were put into French forty and eight freight cars, so named because the French designated them for forty men and eight horses.  Following typical German thinking, fifty men were shoved into each of about forty cars, and the doors were barred from the outside.

    Traveling in these freight cars was worse than walking in the snow.  There was not enough room for us to sit or lie down even after hanging all our packs on the walls and from the ceiling of the car.  Some of us tried to use our blankets to make hammocks swung across the car so that others could sit or lie under us.  It worked for a while, but eventually someone’s knot would come untied and he’d fall on whoever was under him.  It was funny as hell, but for the guy on the bottom it was no joke.  There were two window/vents in the car, one at each end.  We tried to have a man who could read German posted at each so that he could see where we were going and read any signs indicating the towns we passed.  We had a bucket that was supposed to be used as a urinal, and it was passed from man to man as needed.  When it was half full it was passed to one of the guys at the window who in turn emptied it out the window.  That was a trick in itself, since the first time it was tried a lot of it came back into the car.  Not being able to stretch one’s legs every once in a while without making someone else mad was impossible.  Somebody could find humor in just about everything that happened and I think that kept us going, but the grumbling and bitching continued during the whole trip.

    After about twenty four hours or so the train stopped at Chemnitz, and the doors were opened and some bread and margarine was slipped in.  There were four German guards with ready rifles standing about twenty feet away aiming at the doors as they were opened.  We were not allowed to get off.  The stop must have taken about fifteen minutes and we were on our way again.  About noon the next day we stopped just outside Regensburg and were allowed to get off the train for a toilet stop.  There were no facilities so every man found his own space and relieved himself for the first time in forty eight hours.  The fields and ditches along the track were dotted with men squatting with their coats up over their heads oblivious to the many German civilians watching from across the tracks.

    We were herded back into the cars after about thirty minutes, and six hours later arrived at Moosburg.  Our cars were left on a siding and we were forced to remain in them for another night.  All night long we pounded on the doors and shouted but nothing happened.  It was like we had been forgotten, and the imaginations ran wild about what the future would bring.

Next

 

Chapter 1: Barksdale Field

Chapter 2: England

Chapter 3: Captivity

Chapter 4: Sagan

Chapter 5: The March

Chapter 6: Moosburg

Chapter 7: Liberation


 

 

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