The Former World War II Prison Camp at Luckenwalde

Part Two

The next morning we were brought before the landowner. One of the German soldiers who brought us to Drewen left again. I don’t know where he went and theother soldier, a relatively old man, brought us to the landowner. This soldier also guarded us during the whole time we were prisoners in Drewen. The next morning we were escorted out of the kitchen and assembled in front of a farmhouse that was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Twenty women came out to see us because they were curious about the Italian men. They had never seen an Italian man before. Those women weren’t prisoners of war, but were workers that the landowner hired for his farm work. We were led out of the barbed wire fence, had to line up in front of the cow stall where we were introduced to the landowner. His name was Karl Weltschow. We had to greet him with the Hitler salute and without a lot of talking he assigned us to the different tasks which had to be done on this farm. (It wasn’t really a farm; it was a huge property.) I was assigned with twelve other Italian prisoners to field work. Besides us, on this farm there were twenty-five Italian men, six Frenchmen, twenty to thirty women and two to three Polish men. The Polish men were not prisoners. The women helped us with the field work and this group was always escorted by a German soldier. Because we didn’t know whether we were going to stay on this property or not, we always tried to steal and store food. Finally on the fourth day, Enrique told us that we were allowed to remain here and so we stopped stealing, since we felt we would not suffer from hunger.

The German soldier escorted us in a disciplined way for only four days. From that point on, he believed that he could trust us, that we wouldn’t try to escape, and so he came by only once in a while for a few weeks. After two to three months, he would only accompany us to our work place in the morning and pick us up at night. The rest of the day we didn’t see him. Only the landowner Weltschow, visited us regularly and inquired as to how the work was going and in this way controlled us. Between the prisoners and the women, of course, a busy exchange developed, and friendships developed. They also taught us some German. In addition, they were an important information source for us because they were able, I don’t know how, to listen to the radio. And so they were informed about the development of the war and we, too therefore, were better informed than during our time in the prison camp.

A few days before Christmas in 1943, I got very sick. I was then escorted by the German soldier to a doctor in Kyritz and they diagnosed me with water in my shoulder which was probably caused by having to sleep on the cold bare floor in Luckenwalde which caused inflammation. That is why the doctor declared that I was unfit for work detail and I was brought to the camp hospital in Luckenwalde. Because I wasn’t a civilian, I was not brought to a regular hospital but to stalag 3a. There I was brought to the sick station and I was there until the end of march 1944. The hospital was a big barrack as were all the other barracks. But it was divided into rooms while the other barracks were like a big open space. In front of every room, stood a soldier who guarded that room. Only Italian men were in my room. There were five of us and the doctor, also Italian visited us daily. During the entire time in the sick barrack, I never received any medication because there wasn’t any.

The only treatment was to put hot glasses on me which had been rubbed previously in alcohol. This treatment helped to suck a little of the water from my shoulder. That was the only treatment that I received. We were not allowed to leave our sick barrack. We spent the entire day there and received the same food ration that I received when I was deported to Luckenwalde the first time. On Easter 1944, I left the barracks for the first and only time because an Easter mass for all prisoners was organized.

That was the only time I saw the prisoners from the other sections, because all nationalities were separated by nationality and lined up next to each other in their respective groups. An Italian priest conducted the mass. The mass seared itself deep into my memory because in his sermon, the priest cried out to God: “ God, if you do exist, look down on us and free us from our pain.!”

And, I thought about this, and didn’t understand because the church in our village would pound into our heads that there is a God for sure and now suddenly this priest says “If there is a God, he should help us!”…The sermon remained in my memory and since that time I do not go to mass and I have a certain resentment against the church.

Because my hunger was growing stronger and stronger and became unbearable for me, I asked the doctor if it would be possible for me to leave the camp and be brought back to Drewen. I wasn’t healthy, but the food distribution in Drewen was much better than in the camp. I had much better chances to survive over time than remaining in the camp. The doctor looked into it and days later, a few weeks after the Easter mass, I was brought back to Drewen. I have to add one more thing: in front of my hospital window, transports passed by with people who died in the camp. Only at the end of October, 1995, on my visit, did I learn that the cemetery was located directly next to the camp. I had only imagined earlier where they had brought the dead. We had only seen the death transports pass our room and disappear into the forest. We never knew what happened to the dead. There were transports almost every day. There were really a lot of dead.

Two soldiers then brought me to the train station and I drove the already familiar route from Luckenwalde to Kyritz and from there I was brought to Drewen. When I arrived in Drewen, I did not work for the first three weeks. So I spent some time at home in our sleeping and living room. I wasn’t alone there. There were two Italians, Pichalle and Fitalli and one of them was responsible for the food and he also had to cook and keep the living room in order. While the other one had to work as a barber and was also responsible for clothing repair.

At the end of august 1944, our status as prisoners changed. The German soldier left…I don’t know where he went…but, he didn’t return and they announced that we were no longer prisoners of war but civil internees. The reason was that we wouldn’t be able to hold the German government responsible when the war ended because we weren’t officially prisoners during the war, we were civilian prisoners. We received identification which allowed us to move freely up to a fifty kilometer radius from the property. Our daily work schedule did not change whatsoever and we had no additional rights. We were still prisoners; we only had more ease of traveling, but nothing had really changed in our situation.

Between the end of October and the beginning of November 1944, they ordered me to replace a friend, Batristelli, who worked with the cows, because he got sick. I told Weltschow, that I wasn’t able to do this kind of work because of my sick shoulder and the work in the cow stall was very taxing. One day later a German dressed as a civilian appeared and asked me why I rejected this kind of work and I again explained my reasons. He made notes and left. Around two to three months later, Enrique called me and told me that two German officers had reported to Weltschow, and they wanted to talk to me. So I went with Enrique and the two officers asked me the same questions that the civilian had asked me two or three months earlier. They tried to find out why I rejected work there. They both took painstaking notes and remarked that we would see each other again.

Shortly before the arrival of the Soviet army, on May 1st or 2nd, 1945, in Drewen, I received a post card telling me that I would be picked up a few days later to be interrogated in Kyritz. That never happened because the war came to an end. Later I thought how absurd this war was…the Germans were about to lose the war but, they still found time to bother about my refusal to work, which, at that time, was such a trifle.

At the end of August and in early September 1944, one of the six Frenchmen tried to escape from Drewen. He was responsible for bringing potatoes to the train station from where they would be transported to diverse front lines. The Frenchman knew that the shipment on this day would be taken to France. So he brought the potatoes to the train and hid amongst them. In the evening when we all arrived at the farmhouse again and were counted, the guard realized that this Frenchman was missing; He informed the German authorities and two days later, just before reaching the French border, they removed him from the train wagon. He was caught and brought back to Drewen and as far as I know, he was tortured during interrogations and then marched off. We never saw him again and I don’t know what happened to him.

In October 1944, the air war between the Germans and allies was raging over West Berlin and therefore, over Drewen and Kyritz, as well. One day we were working in the fields…..an American bomber flew over Drewen and then a German fighter took off and shot down the American bomber and he crashed right next to our potato field where we worked. We saw that two American soldiers had parachuted. One of the soldiers lay next to the crashed airplane and he seemed to be still alive…he was still moving. We didn’t know whether we should go there or not because we did not know if he would shoot at us. Eventually, we struggled through our fear and went there. The man was full of fear and shock. He was in no condition to shoot at us. We took him to our farmhouse and there the German authorities picked him up and we never saw him again. We couldn’t find the other soldier who had ejected, but Batritistelli found him a few months later by accident in the field. Another soldier who had also ejected and whose parachute didn’t open, crashed on the street next to the potato field and was killed immediately.

After liberation by the Soviet army we were free and our group took flight quickly, except for four of us..I was one of them and all the other prisoners set out in an attempt to return to Italy. We four, me, my best friend Busseron and Batritiselli and Pauluco…stayed for about an additional month in Drewen. For different reasons we weren’t in a terrible rush to return home..on the one hand we were unmarried, no wives or kids waiting for us and on the other hand, because we weren’t married, friendly relationships between inhabitants in Drewen had developed and we were the only young men in Drewen following the war and so volunteered to help the women as far as possible….so we stayed until the end of May in Drewen, but then we became very homesick…so eventually, we tried to get away. We didn’t dare tell the inhabitants goodbye ..so at night we ran to Dessau, because we had heard that from there, trains to Italy departed. We arrived in Dessau. This was a collection center for all Italian prisoners in that area. It was overcrowded with people who were trying to get home…it was so full that we couldn’t find a place to sleep…so we had to sleep in a military tent on the floor. The first night we spent there, it was raining hard and the water ran through our tent and because of chaotic circumstances that wouldn’t change soon, we decided to return to Drewen and wait until the situation could resolve itself .so we went back to Drewen and spent an additional five to six weeks there. After that, we decided once more to return to Italy. After a little journey through different German cities around Berlin, we finally got onto the train. About a week later, moving slowly through destroyed tracks, we finally arrived in Italy. I then split up from my three friends with whom I spent time in Drewen. With one of them, Busseron, who came from Padua, I had contact through letters. This eventually ceased. That’s it then!