Episodes & Studies Volume 1
THE CAMPS where most New Zealanders other than officers lived were Wolfsberg, in Austria (Stalag XVIIIA), Gorlitz (VIIIA), east of Dresden, and Lamsdorf (VIIIB), in upper Silesia. The important camps for non-working non-commissioned officers were Hohenfels (Stalag 383) and Fallingbostel (357). Some of these camps later changed their locations and their numbers— a source of some confusion. Airmen were imprisoned in ‘Luft’ camps, New Zealanders mostly at Sagan (Stalag Luft III), naval and merchant seamen in marlags: these are not separately described in this survey. Stalags were central camps from which men left to go out to work camps, or kommandos. A stalag had therefore a changing population, although in each there was a core of men who lived there permanently—men unsuited to heavy work or given some administrative function. But every other-rank prisoner passed through a stalag at some time in his career of captivity.
Wolfsberg in late 1943 had a population of some 8000 British prisoners, 25,000 French, and numerous Russians, Yugoslavs, and Italians. British troops were lodged in 75-man huts or in old stables: the men slept in three-tiered bunks, generally reserving the bottom bunks for their kit. They were issued with two blankets each. Hot showers were available all day, but, as in most German camps, the fuel issue for heating and cooking was insufficient. Medical care was adequate and the food in the stalag infirmary better than in the rest of the camp. The camp had a good gymnasium and a flourishing theatre but few facilities for study. Discipline was fairly lax, thanks to the venality of the guards. Wolfsberg was the central stalag for the whole of Austria, and the camps at Markt Pongau, Maribor, and Spittal-an-der-Drau were in some degree dependencies of it.
Lamsdorf (in 1944 shifted to Teschen) was the main camp in the Silesia-Poland area. It covered 13 acres and normally accommodated 10,000 men, though in 1943 at least 5000 more were crammed into it. (All the German camps in the East and South became crowded after the prisoners had been brought there from Italy.) Earlier, it had seemed comparatively luxurious. The huts were built of adobe or cob with concrete floors and tarred paper roofs, flat with a slight fall. The water supply at this camp was inadequate and inefficient. The food was poor. Discipline was ‘strict but on the whole not unjust’. The prisoners’ morale remained high. They liked to show off the superiority of their clothing and equipment and were careful to be smart and well turned-out whenever they left the camp. ‘The contrast between us and our guards was striking and caused frequent comment among the civilians.’
Residence in a stalag had the advantages and disadvantages of greater regularity of administration. Rackets, though they had to be better concealed, sometimes reached larger proportions than in kommandos. Inside the camp all sorts of intellectual and social activities were far more fully developed than in smaller groups. On the whole, relations with guards in a stalag were less close than in a kommando, and although prisoners were left more to themselves it was harder for them to escape.