Excerpts from "Thirteen Is My Lucky Number" - Chapter 7.
Escape from Prison Camp
At the end of World War II , fact is often stranger than fiction. Gilbert and Sullivan could have turned the bizarre elements of
the following fragments into a comic opera. Our lack of reaction to the "surrender" can be
explained by our total exhaustion. We were driven only by our desire to reach the American lines.
(In April 1945 Soviet forces were closing in on Stalag IVB. The German guards had already
deserted the watchtowers around the camp)
................The gates were guarded, so we cut a hole in the barbed wire fence and left the camp at 10 a.m., watched by a group of our undecided friends. A few minutes later, another of our group, Jan Thomas came through the same hole and caught up with us. We were overjoyed to be free again, although we were also nervous not knowing what we would run into on our way across the
narrow strip of land over which the swastika still flew.
Our first obstacle was the broad River Elbe. We were certain that the closest bridge, in the small
town of Strehla, would be heavily guarded. We met up with a convoy of British POWs that were
being marched westward under army escort. Deren was fluent in German and talked to the
sergeant in charge and convinced him, with the help of some American cigarettes, to let us join
the group. At the same time I explained our dilemma to the English. Quickly, they let us into the
middle of the ranks so that we were surrounded by the tallest of the prisoners. This way we
crossed the pontoon bridge guarded by SS troops. Fortunately, they had more serious problems
on their minds and didn't pay any attention to the prisoners guarded by German soldiers. Once we
were safely past the town, we thanked our hosts and left them to continue at our own pace........
...............(on the evening of the second day)......... we walked into the center of the small
town, Mützchen. The defeatist attitude of the Germans made us much bolder. We calmly entered
the inn situated in the town square, sat down at a table and demanded food, even though a group
of (German) army officers was sitting at another table close by. They glowered at us but made no
move. The waiter brought some soup and while we were eating this the town mayor came in,
stood in front of us, clicked his heels and bowed, welcoming us, "Meine Herren, Ich grüsse euch
(Gentleman, I greet you)." He ignored the two women, "I have hoisted the white flag on the town
hall tower. We await the Americans. They will enter the town tonight."
In effect he was surrendering the town to this ragged group of ex-prisoners! Only a couple
of days earlier he would have been summarily arrested. Now the German officers at the table in
the corner, turned their heads away and pretended they had not witnessed this extraordinary
event. Shortly afterwards, some Polish farm workers came in and invited us to spend the night at
"their" farm. We accompanied them to the farm house. The farmer and his wife looked at us
sullenly, but did not react at all while their "slaves" calmly gave us beds with clean linen. For the
first time in nine months we slept in luxury in soft beds, our heads on goose-down filled pillows.
Lili and I were astounded at this amazing turn of events, but our weariness quickly overcame our
excitement and we fell into a deep sleep.
Morning came but no Americans. The white flag was still flying over the town hall but there
was no sign of any military activity. We wolfed down a substantial breakfast, served by the
downcast and frightened farmer's wife. Then, we decided that, as the Americans did not want to
come to us, we would have to go and look for them. We learned that the Americans were still
near Grimma, ten miles away, and apparently had made no move for several days. We trudged
along the country road..................
..........A farm tractor pulling a cart came up from behind. We hitched a ride. The sun was shining from a
clear blue sky. It was quiet as if the entire world were at peace, the only sound the song of some
larks flying above us. Finally, we came over a slight rise and saw three partially wrecked farm
buildings and nearby a crowd of people and vehicles. The vehicles were all German, but most of
the people were workers and prisoners of war of various nationalities. We were told that an
American outpost was positioned a few hundred yards further down the road and was not
permitting anyone to pass.
I set off down the road by myself, dressed in my German army gray-green trousers, dirty black
jack-boots, black leather jacket with a worn red and white armband on the left sleeve, on my head
a Polish officer's four-cornered cap, called a rogatywka, on the cap a Polish crowned eagle and a
second lieutenant's silver star. I noticed two tanks with white stars on their turrets, dug in on
either side of the road. When I got closer a sergeant and two GIs, arose out of their foxholes and
stood with their guns at the ready.
"I am very glad to see you," I said, "I am Lieutenant Biega of the Polish Underground
Army. I and my seven comrades have been walking for three days from a prison camp on the
other side of the Elbe river."
"Where are the Ruskies?" asked the sergeant. "We have been waiting for them for a week"
"The last I heard they were still at the Elbe. If you hadn't sat here waiting, you would be
meeting them there, and we wouldn't have had to walk so far," I said. "Any way we are tired,
hungry and thirsty and want to come through."
"Wait here, I'll get the captain," the sergeant responded.
In a few minutes a jeep drove up with the captain. He explained that they had orders not to
let anyone through except surrendering German soldiers, because the town was already
overcrowded with refugees. I told him that most of the people back at the farm houses were all
allied people, some civilians, the rest prisoners of war trying to reach freedom. He said that they
couldn't tell one from the other and they can't talk to anyone, because none of those people spoke
"Could you get things organized back there, split all the allies into groups, civilian and
soldiers. Tell all the German civilians to go back home?"
I agreed and he promised to return shortly. I walked back to my group who were waiting
anxiously on the edge of the noisy throng. Quickly, we got the groups organized as requested,
and in about half an hour, the jeep returned with the captain and a major. The major greeted us
and then made a statement to the assembled people, which we translated into various languages.
Then the captain escorted us to the badly damaged bridge over the Mülde River. We noticed a
small monument decorated with the Polish and Saxon eagles and an inscription honoring August,
King of Poland and Saxony (in the early 18th century). I pointed this out to the captain and some
photos were taken.