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The Diary of Alan Forster, POW 3921, Stalag VIIIB (October 1944 — May 1945) Part 4.

by Bill Forster

Contributed by 
Bill Forster
Article ID: 
A7261607
Contributed on: 
24 November 2005

Continued from A7280291

THE COAL MINE AT KLIMONTOW: E702 STALAG VIIIB
24 October - 30 November 1944

Stalag VIIIB was originally at Lamsdorf, the German name for Lambinowice, near Oppeln on the River Oder in Silesia. Most of Silesia had been German for centuries, either as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or latterly of Prussia and it became part of unified Germany in 1871. The population in the heavily industrialised region of upper Silesia in the far South East was, however, predominantly Polish and Roman Catholic but after 1939 many Silesian Poles were deported and replaced by Germans settlers.

Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf was the largest Stalag in the Third Reich with many tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Russian but with a smaller camp of some 16,000 POW from Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa in its midst. Confusingly, at the end of 1943 Lamsdorf was designated Stalag 344 and a sub-camp at Teschen, some 125 km to the south east, became the new Stalag VIIIB. The Imperial War Museum in London has a large number of books by former POW at Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf in its library and there is a web site (http://www.lamsdorfreunited.co.uk/About links) devoted to stories posted by former prisoners run by the daughter of the author of one such book as well as many postings on the “Peoples War” web site.

Unlike Lamsdorf, there were only a few hundred prisoners at Teschen, which was mainly an administrative centre for the Arbeitskommando, work detachments, away from the main camp. When the ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross, who regularly inspected of POW Camps), sent their inspectors to Teschen on the 17 January 1945, days before its final evacuation, there were only 389 prisoners (of which 64 were in the hospital) but Teschen was also responsible for 13,336 at 64 Arbeitskommando. These were identified by a prefix to the Stalag VIIIB designation which began with an E. For example, the 1,200 POW making synthetic rubber and petroleum at the giant IG Farben industrial complex at Monowice, known as Auschwitz 111, 30 km. south of Katowice, were at E715 Stalag VIIIB (www.auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.plAbout links).

The Vojensky ustredni archive in Prague holds the captured German records of Stalag VIIIB including lists of all the Arbeitskommando where British POW were held giving the location, type of work, employer (often a private company), number of POW held and the army unit responsible for their security. There were 66 Arbeitskommando on the lists in Appendix 3.1 and 3.2 issued by Stalag VIIIB Teschen on the 1 June 1944. E702 Klimentowgrub in the Bendsburg administrative area had 254 British KGF (POW) employed by Werksdir. Bismarck in mining. A separate report on South African POW dated 22 April 1944 (see Appendix 3.3 and 3.4) listed Arbeitskommando with 9,442 British POW and there may be similar reports for other nationalities.

The diary begins at a camp near a coal mine on the 24 October 1944. Neither the place or even the region is identified in the diary but his letters home to Bunty gave the address as Stalag VIIIB E702 and this provided the clue which led to its identification as Klimontow, a small village on the outskirts of the city of Sosnowitz (Sosnowiec) in Silesia.

The ICRC sent its inspectors to E702 Klimontow on two occasions, on the 21 June and on the 18 September 1944, and translations of their reports are held at the NRO in Kew (Reference WO 224/27). In June there were 250 POWs but another 150 were expected shortly (these were from Stalag XXID and included Alan). In September the number had increased to 309 with 70 working underground in the mine in three shifts of 8 3/4 hours (but the mine was stopped work at the time of their visit). There was a complaint that the only meat was horse-flesh and a lack of vegetables but the main complaint was the lack of a sports ground which had been crossed by a defensive trench making it unusable. The recent intake of POW from Posen were unhappy about the loss of their kit which had remained in a locked waggon of the train and sent to Lamsdorf.

Kamil Nowak who has been researching the history of Klimontow (www.klimontow-sosnowiec.prv.pl) where he lives and is keen to hear from former British POW at Klimontow. Although his web site is mainly in Polish the photographs give some idea of what it was like at the time.

Sosnowitz (Sosnowiec), the third largest city in upper Silesia, had a population of some 220,000 in 1939, 22% of which were Jewish (but they had been sent to Auschwitz, 30 kms south, by 1943). There were seven or eight coal mines in the area and about five POW labour camps linked to Stalag VIIIB. Courtney Smithers was at E902 in Hindenburg (Polish Zabrze) and Jack Bryson at E579, near Saznowitz. Today Klimontow has been absorbed into Sosnowiec, one of the cities in the massive industrial and mining conurbation centred on Katowice.

In 1944 Klimontow had a population of around 15,000 with the coal mine, Bismark II, on its northern outskirts. There were 267 British POW at E702, including six South Africans (see Appendix 3) plus other nationalities living in timber barracks on sandy ground to the north of the mine.

Eric Marchant's experience as a POW at Klimontow is described on the Peoples War web site at A6471245.

"In June 1943 Eric and 12 others were sent to camp number E702 at the coal mines in Sosnowiec in southern Poland. The mines here were deep, going down four levels, and it was frightening as the cage plummeted down to the shafts.

The prisoners of war worked as the labourers for the Polish men working in the mines. The prisoners did the hardest tasks, and conditions were not pleasant - the mines were damp and wet, there was water everywhere. Each man was issued with an ID tag and a carbide lamp every time he went down into the mine. The lamp had a flint on it so that it could be lit and it made a gas that burnt when water from the mine dripped onto the lamp.

There were three shifts each day, each shift being about 8 hours long: 6am till 2pm, 2pm till 10pm and then the night shift which was 10pm until 6am the next morning. The morning and afternoon shifts dug out the coal and the evening shift moved equipment and supports into position for the next day's work. Eric worked at night moving equipment and putting in new support structures, it was unpleasant and dangerous work.

Prisoners thought about trying to sabotage the mine, but there were always men working on the lowest levels so any attempt would inevitably endanger many prisoners. On occasion the lift was damaged and men in lower levels had to escape by a complex system of ladders, but nothing more extensive was done because the resultant loss of life would have been great.

The men lived in huts beside the mine. There were 10 to 12 men in each hut; men on different shifts were billeted together, this made it very difficult to get any real sleep. The food was the same as at the other camps - bread and coffee for breakfast and one meal a day of soup. Thankfully the men were still able to receive their Red Cross Parcels; Eric is sure that without them they would not have survived.

After a short while Eric got bronchitis and was sent to the infirmary. The infirmary was run by a Jewish prisoner John Gotea, who had joined the British army but was from Athlith near Haifa. Eric has always felt very grateful to John Gotea because he persuaded the German doctors that Eric was too ill to work and should be sent back to the main camp at Lamsdorf; without this help Eric might not have survived."

Alan was sent from Stalag XXID to the main camp at Teschen on the 18 August but by the 24 August he had arrived at E702 at Klimontow where he was a surface worker, the underground work being done by Polish miners. All the books by former POW at Stalag VIIIB say they dreaded being sent to work in the coal mines. Conditions were very severe and they were not allowed to send photographs with their letters home but the Polish people were friendly and the prisoners would sometimes give gifts of food and chocolate (received in Red Cross parcels) to Polish children.

After the evacuation of the camp in January 1945 and the arrival of the soviet army it was used as a prison camp for German POW and, probably, for the internment of German civilians. It was demolished in 1965. The closure of the mine in 1995 was a major blow to the local economy.
___________________________________________________________________________________
LETTER HOME - KRIEGSGEFANGENENPOST

Stalag VIIIB
31 September 1944

"Only One, I don't know - I really can't imagine - my precious, what you'll be thinking of me when you receive this letter. It's such a long time since I've been able to write you ... I feel very bitter about it for the circumstances were beyond my control and I thought in my innocence that we 'old kriegies' would never return to 1940 days again. I was, however, mistaken (note change of address and here we are on a pit-head, growing steadily dirtier). I thought, darling, that I'd been browned off at times during the last three years in the home (we came to regard it as a 'home') we had - but my feelings were never as deep as this. However, I can't put it down here in black and white so I'll just have to explain (with a wealth of detail) when I get back."
___________________________________________________________________________________

Tuesday Oct 29/44

Out to work morning until 11.30 on PM ... had free day last Thursday. Wrote letter ... Bun telling her how bloody things are here - should I send it or not? .... stopped yesterday. Weather ... - not too cold.

___________________________________________________________________________________
LETTER HOME - KRIEGSGEFANGENENPOST

Stalag VIIIB E702
28 October 1944

Darling, another wordless week gone by. This is certainly a deadly place without letters and I don't fancy spending winter here a little but especially as parcels have also stopped with a consequent cessation of fags. ... It's a Sunday afternoon which may have meant something sometime but here it is just another day complete with work: I did my share of a task this morning so until tomorrow (6,00) I'm relatively free. But what to do? Forgive me if I appear rather gloomy my love but honestly this place is enough to give anyone the willies and when I think how near our reunion seemed to be three months ago and how much more distant it appears now, my optimism nearly deserts me entirely.
_______________________________________________________________________________
Monday October 30

Quite a reasonable day ... the fact heaps of letters and about 50 parcels ... up and my not receiving any. ... worked at 4.00 after being ... do afternoon. ... two bars ... packet 17 left. Had one bar ... room issue which consisted of 12 for 25 .... - quite inadequate. Saw the .... engine for the first time 48 inch x 40 inch ... lovely job. Heard two of a kit ... a 70 ft face.

Tuesday Oct 31

... a bad day again. Finished at ... Another 23 parcels up but again ... I don't figure - how much longer. Dear French fags are for next month (25) - foul weeds! A lovely afternoon with a warm sun.

Continued on A7261841

Return to "CONTENTS" page on A7280291

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