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Most Fantastic Escape Of The War

Discussion in 'A Soldier's Story' started by Jim, Nov 2, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    This story was first told in newspapers around April 1945

    A man who was thrice condemned by the Gestapo to be executed first by hanging, then by shooting and, finally, by an injection of poison returned to England a few days ago after one of the most fantastic escapes that have ever been recorded.

    He is a British artillery officer who was dropped by parachute in France. His name cannot be given for security reasons. Here is the story as he told it to me, in a quiet, unemotional voice, as though he were describing an ordinary everyday occurrence.

    "After I had been in France some time I was betrayed. The Gestapo carne to a house in which I and three Frenchmen were staying. They had hoped to catch some Jewish black market operators but they seemed quite pleased to capture us instead. For six months i was kept a close prisoner in a dungeon cell in France, but, two days before the Americans reached Paris. I was evacuated to Germany with a number of others. We were taken to Buchenwald and immediately on arrival we were stripped and all the hair was shaved from our bodies. We were then confined in an isolation block for nearly a month to make sure that we were suffering from no infectious disease. There was nothing to complain of in our treatment. We were special prisoners and the food, after the starvation diet in the French prison, was excellent.

    They Simply Disappeared

    But one day we got a shock. An N.C.O. came to the isolation block with a list of the names of 15 of us. The fifteen men were ordered out of the block and were marched off. We saw them once after that. They were confined in a different part of the camp and we saw them exercising by marching round and round. After that they simply disappeared. At first we assumed that they had been sent off to work some where else, but one day we learned through the prisoner who was in charge of the block that they had been hanged. The story seemed incredible but it was soon confirmed by the doctor another prisoner who had carried out the post-mortem examination on their bodies. The doctor suggested to us that there was a remote chance at saving three of us by giving us injections that would produce the symptoms of typhus, for which there was a special ward in the camp hospital.

    Three Given Injections

    It was a dreadful thing to have to make the selection, since those who were not chosen were condemned to almost certain death, but at last it was done. Three, of whom I was one, were chosen by the senior officer of the party, and the process began. We were given injections which produced a high fever and all the appearances of typhus cases, and we were rushed off to the typhus hospital. The plan was that when a man died from typhus one of us should change identities with him. At first we were unfortunate. The prisoners who died were Russians, and I could not assume the identity of a Russian, since I do not speak the language. Then the second list of 15 names of men to be executed was issued and my name was on the list. The camp commandant was informed that I had typhus and I could not be moved, but he said that made no difference. I was to be taken out and hanged. The typhus doctor told him that I was not able to stand, and that I was certain to die anyhow, but the commandant was obstinate. He ordered that if I could not be hanged I could be shot, and that he proposed to send an Escort to fetch me. On the Sunday the doctor decided to take one more chance. He warned me that it was a slim one, but said that it was worth trying. He gave me an injection which made me very sick and made my temperature soar. I looked and felt like death. Soon afterwards two Gestapo men arrived at the hospital to take me away. They were terrified of the disease, and when the doctor brought them to my bedside and I told them that if they wanted me they would have to carry me on a stretcher they snatched at the excuse that they had no stretcher with them and would have to go back to the commandant. The commandant was furious and telephoned an instruction that if I were too ill to be shot or hanged I could at least be executed by an injection of poison, and he ordered the doctor in charge of the camp general hospital to put the sentence into effect.

    Could Not Face It

    Once again good fortune was with me. The doctor in charge of the general hospital was a rabid hater of England, and would have gloried in the opportunity of killing an English officer, but at that moment he was away on leave. His deputy was an elderly man who duly arrived at the typhus block with a syringe of poison, but could not face the job. He explained to the medical prisoner in charge that he had never killed a man, and did not want to do it now. He passed the syringe to the prisoner with a request that he, who must have done such things many times, should do it for him. The typhus doctor grinned as he carne up to my bedside and told me what had happened, and in due course returned the empty syringe to the other man. That night a Frenchman died in the typhus block, and the exchange of identities was made. The dead man with my prison number written in indelible ink on his thigh was carried off to the incinerator and was burned immediately. Later I learned that the regular doctor from the general ward returned soon after. He hurried to the incinerator and demanded to see the body, but of course he was told that he was too late.

    Became French

    The other 14 men named in the second list were duly executed. From that moment I became a Frenchman with the prison number F 76635, and after a while I volunteered for a working commando and was sent with others to work at the Junkers factory near Magdeburg. Ever since last Christmas I have been planning escape. I was, of course, still in striped prison clothing, and I was sent to work on the building of fortifications along the Elbe to meet a possible Russian penetration. At that time there was no thought in the minds of the Germans that the Allies would reach the Elbe first, and it came as a great shock to them when they knew the truth, The working party and their guards were ordered to re-cross the Elbe and to withdraw, but there was so much disorder and confusion that I had little difficulty in slipping away. I made my way across country until I came to a deserted German strong-point. I broke in and found some German clothing from which I selected a pair of army trousers, a pullover, and some boots to replace the sabots I was I wearing. My next step was to make for the American lines, but each time I tried to leave a little wood in which I was hiding I was fired on, so I had to stay put. For two days I had had nothing to eat, but after a while I came across some seed potatoes, built a small fire, and started to cook them in the shelter of the wood. Suddenly I saw two men in German uniform walking towards me and hailed them. They told me they were Belgian and had volunteered for the S.S. and could not afford to be taken prisoner by the Americans, who would certainly shoot them.

    Took Them Prisoner

    I pretended that I was a French volunteer for work in Germany and that I, too, wanted to escape. I suggested that they should change into civilian clothes, really with the idea that they should shed their equipment. They readily agreed and when the first man dropped his belt with a pistol in the holster I dived for it and grabbed it. Then I ordered them to put their hands up, told them that I was a British officer, and that they were my prisoners. A battle was still raging near Magdeburg between the Americans and the Germans and it was impossible to leave the wood, but when the battle died down I marched them to the nearest village and handed them over. From there I was flown to England. And now I am going for a spot of leave."
     

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