Another ‘Great Escape’

Another ‘Great Escape’

By Roger Heid

Once  I knew a man, by the name of Karl, an ex-Wehrmacht soldier. He told me this story sometime in the mid-late 1950s. He was quite elaborate with some details, but I cannot remember in which city or train station he said this took place. I also cannot testify to the truth of the story. However, having known this man rather well and having lived during those days, in the aftermath of WWII, I am quite certain that he was not making this up.

Before we get into the story, I need to mention that, by the end of WWII, it had become quite apparent that the degree of hatred toward Germans varied by the nations affected. If you were a German soldier about to be captured or to surrender, it was considered very undesirable to be captured by the Russians or the French. One would much rather be taken prisoner by the Americans, so it was the common consensus. Not much was mentioned about the British that I am aware of, as I happened to live in the US occupied zone.

So, this was in Southwest Germany in 1945, shortly after VE Day. The French were transporting a bunch of German prisoners in a motley collection of rail cars. They were all packed like the proverbial sardines in a can. This train was heading south for whatever purpose. Karl was on this train. He had a bullet wound in his left thigh and was therefore mobility restricted.

Somewhere along the line, a railroad bridge did no longer exist, and this French train was forced to take a detour going through territory occupied by the US Army. Upon entering the American Zone, the French military personnel had to surrender their firearms to US Authorities, only to get them back after departing from the US Zone. If this was common practice I don’t know, but so I was told.

The train pulled onto a siding in a fairly large and busy RR Station. There were armed US Troops all over the place, keeping a close watch on the general on goings. One of Karl’s comrades peeked out of small window, getting a limited glimpse of the outside world.

“Guess what, we are in the American Zone. Let’s get the hell out of here, now.”

Somehow, he managed to yank the door open, and he hopped on the ground. Others followed in quick succession. Other car doors were opened; more and more prisoners jumped off the train, running in a direction away from the Main Station Building. There were a couple of US Army Machine Gun Jeeps lurking in that vicinity, but they suddenly disappeared, speedily racing toward wherever. They were gone. The French just stood there, yelling from the top of their lungs. There was nothing the few of them could do to stop the prisoners from leaving.

Karl’s wound had started to bleed again, and he was in considerable pain. He just could not muster enough strength to jump out of the freight car.

“Just leave me here. I will be all right. The French cannot do anything worse to me but kill me, if they ever get their guns back.”

“No Karl, you come with us. We’ll take you to the Station Building. There we will surrender to the Americans. We will most likely get something decent to eat, and you will get the medical attention you need.”

Two of the prisoners managed to carry Karl toward the Station Building. It was necessary to drag him across the station platform, busy with all sorts of folks, including US Army personnel. This one MP struggled with his carbine, which “apparently” was hopelessly jammed. He did not say a word. The other MP turned away to help some woman lift a baby carriage into a passenger car. Yet another one seemed to be “afflicted” by a never ending coughing spell, rendering him unable to intervene. The last MP encountered just simply turned around and got “very busy” observing some illustrious event occurring who knows where. That’s what you call turning the other cheek.

(Having been a GI MP myself, I recall certain occasions when, for a variety of reasons, Army Regulations and Orders did either not exist or had never been heard of before.)

Once reaching the Station Building, the MPs on guard all of a sudden had the urge to go to the latrine. It must have been something they ate. Karl and his two buddies entered the building unhindered. Karl was placed on a bench. Some nurse brought him a blanket, a pillow and a canteen cup filled with water.

In the meantime, a group of escaping prisoners had opted to flee toward the Station Building, as well. Once there, they were herded outside and assembled in front the building by a group of GIs, closely supervised by some fierce looking senior officer. Karl was held upright by his two buddies.

The officer paced up and down in front this prisoner formation consisting of about 60 men, a seemingly disgruntled expression carved on his rugged face. It was quite apparent that he was struggling hard to come up with some plausible decision.

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“These are not our prisoners! What on earth are they doing here?” he finally yelled.

“Sir, they just escaped from this French transport train. Should we turn them back over to the French?” some NCO reported.

“Hell no, that’s way too much trouble, and besides that, we don’t owe the French any favors that I am aware of. Also, we have absolutely no use for these prisoners. We already have enough of them, as it is. Just send them home where they belong. The war is over if you haven’t noticed, by now; and take the wounded to the Infirmary.”

“Yes, Sir!”

The officer executed a smart about face, slipped into his staff car and simply vanished. In the meantime, the locomotive of the French prisoner train had been placed on the other end of the train. It commenced to haul the now empty freight cars back up north. This certainly did not make the French officer’s day.

Karl was hauled to a hospital to get the needed attention. Once he was able to be up and around, he was released and sent home.

*****

During the early post-war years, I heard a number of conflicting stories about surrender, capture and such. In fact, one of my teachers, managed to escape from the Eastern front, riding in a hiding place on a Russian tank heading west. Once he heard the chatter of GIs, he got off the tank and surrendered. He was sent home, as the war was just about over.

2 Responses to Another ‘Great Escape’

  1. Werner Pfannenschmidt says:

    a cute little essay. My parents and grandparents had some interesting train stories too.

  2. William E. Weizel says:

    Great story!! There must be a bunch of similar stories out there that should be equally interesting. War makes for strange situations, both during the period of hostilities as well as during the aftermath…

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