Henry Owens, Stalag XXb, Camp 946 and Camp 210
Elbing, East Prussia, 1944-1945
Stalag XXb, Camp 946, Elbing, East Prussia.
This was a prison camp on the outskirts of Elbing, and was what you might call a “Bed and Breakfast” camp (without the breakfast!). It contained maybe up to two hundred men, who marched out every day to work in and around Elbing. Some did shift work, so arrivals came and went all the time. The nine of us who had been posted from Marienburg were sent to work at a metal factory, making all sorts of things for the German railways. We only stayed at Camp 946 for a few weeks, until accommodation was provided at our workplace. It was, however, our parent camp, and it was to this camp they withdrew us when the Russians advanced.
Stalag XXb, Camp 210, Elbing, East Prussia.
This was not a camp as such, as it was part of Herr Korner‟s Metal Ware Fabrik, Langemarke Strasse, Elbing. There were nine British POWs housed in a secure dormitory, with bars on the windows. We had our own guards, and were locked in after we had finished our day‟s work until 6am the following day, when work commenced again. It was here that I befriended Marian Brzezicki, one of six Polish civilian workers billeted at the factory. Marian was a lifesaver to me. He used to pass on food when he could. When he went on leave he used to bring back potatoes, greens, meat, etc. He took considerable risks, and, despite regular beatings from the Gestapo, refused to become “Eingedeutsched” (to turn German). This would have meant extra rations for him, but also that he could have been conscripted into the German Army.
I corresponded with Marian after the war, but after I sent him a parcel containing food and clothes, I received a very worrying postcard, as it had a concentration camp heading. I believe he had got into trouble with the Russians, as his letters were very critical of the Soviet regime, and he was forced to join the army. I stopped writing for his safety. Stalag 111d, Steglitz, was a German propaganda camp to which selected British POWs were sent in 1943 / 44. It was supposed to be a holiday camp for good workers. I did not go, but my mate “Darky” Bryant did. He stayed for about three weeks, and, along with other POWs, was taken on a “Cooks” tour of Berlin‟s places of beauty.
When he returned to Elbing, he said he was disgusted at the attitude of the senior British officers at the camp, saying he thought they were Nazis. He gave me the propaganda photographs (these were handed out by the Germans), as he wanted nothing to do with them. Many years later, it turned out that the Senior British Officer (I think his name was Chapman) was acting for British Intelligence, and was in constant communication with them. He was decorated after the war, and a friend of his wrote a book after Chapman died, telling his story.
The factory was only small, employing about thirty German civilians, nine British POWs, and six Polish civilians. We sent a protest to the senior British officer at Marienburg about our being employed making parts for the German railways. After consulting the International Red Cross, it was decided that, as our wounded were transported by train, and our Red Cross parcels also came by train, it was in order for us to carry on. We were never happy about this, but seemingly, we had no option.
Conditions were not too bad, as there were only nine of us. The soup was a little better, with perhaps noodles or macaroni for a change, the bread ration remained the same; two loaves between nine men, but with regular Red Cross parcels, and better news on the War front, it was bearable. We were at this camp until late December 1944, when, unexpectedly, we were returned to Camp 946 (this must have been to keep us together as the Russians advanced).
Christmas 1944 was spent at Camp 946, though there was no feasting, I assure you. A fear and apprehension about the future ran through the camp; if we were to be liberated by the Russians, how would they treat us? We never at any time thought that we would have to endure another march.
For some reason, in early January 1945, Darky and I were sent to help at Elbing gas works. There was very little to do, as there was too little coal, and hardly any gas. We were billeted there with about thirty other POWs. On the second night, I was in my bunk, when all Hell broke loose, there was firing in the streets (heavy machine guns and rifles), we were locked in our billet. The door suddenly opened, in rushed our guards, one said “You are now back in the Front Line, any attempt to escape and you will be shot!” We had literally minutes to dress and pack up our belongings before evacuating the place. Outside was freezing temperatures, and deep snow.