Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Private George Ellis, Prisoner of War of the Nazis For Twenty-Seven Months

George Ellis, Private 6th Armored Infantry 1st Armored Division Was a prisoner of war of the Nazis for twenty seven months having been captured by the German Africa Corps in an attempt to break through the Fiad Pass, Tunisia. Pvt. Ellis was imprisoned in Tunisia, Italy, Northern and Southern Germany and Poland and was released in May of 1945.

This is his story from the Pottsville Journal and in his own words.
On February 17, 1943 the Pottsville Journal ran an article entitled Pottsville Soldier Reported missing a Prvt. George Ellis, Jr. lost in Northwest Africa.
Attorney and Mrs. George Ellis of 221 Mahantongo St., Pottsville, received a telegram this morning stating their son; Private George Ellis Jr. is “Missing in action in Northwest Africa since February 3rd.

Private Ellis, 24, is a member of an armored infantry outfit. He enlisted in the armed services at Wilkes Barre on June 6, 1942 and was sworn in on June 10th after he graduated from Wyoming Seminary.

Private Ellis received basic training at Fort Meade, Md. He was transferred to Camp Kilmer N.J. and to Camp Picket, Va. For advanced training. On December 5th his parents received word that he was being shipped abroad. No word was heard from him until January 20th 1943 when a letter arrived announcing his safe arrival in North Africa.
Later official notification from the War Department, Adjutant General in Washington D.C. announcing that George Ellis is a prisoner of the Italian Government. Private Ellis was reported missing on February 3rd in Northwest Africa. On the 17th the family received news that he was missing, this was the time of the big drive on Tunisia. Today’s message indicates that he is alive but a prisoner.

Mr. and Mrs. Gorge Ellis have heard from their son, Private George Ellis who is a prisoner in the hands of the Italian Government. The form card reads:
My Dear:
I am alright. I have not been wounded. I am a prisoner of the Italians and I am being treated well, shortly I shall be transferred to a prisoner of war camp and I will let you have my new address. Only then will I be able to receive letters from you and to reply. With Love,
Signed Private George Ellis, Jr.
U.S. Army.
This card was signed in Private Elli’s handwriting.
With the card was enclosed this letter from the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, Office of the Provost Marshall General, Army Services Forces, Washington D.C. dated May 8th 1943
The Provost Marshall General directs me to forward the enclosed card received by this office from the International Red Cross at Geneva, Switzerland. Rest assured that when further information is received it will be promptly communicated to you.
Sincerely yours,
Howard Bresee, Col. M.P. Chief Information Branch.

In 1945 Ellis returned home. The Pottsville Journal reported

A Pottsville soldier arrived back home yesterday after being liberated from a Nazi prison camp to find his father was stricken seriously ill the day before.
Pfc. George Ellis Jr., is home after spending 27 months in a prison camp. Pfc. Ellis will be home for 60 days and then will report to Lake Placid, Country Club, New York, for assignment and new duty, He entered the service in June 1942 and went overseas in December 1942. He was taken prisoner at Faid Pass, Tunisia in February, 1943, and was liberated on May 3rd, 1945. He returned to the states in a convoy, last Sunday. He served in the 6th Infantry regiment, 1st Armored Division.

Note: Faid Pass, directly east of Ferriana, had intrigued the leaders of the Tunisian Task Force for sometime. This was one of the few gateways through the eastern Dorsale mountain range to the coastal plain. Control of this pass would provide protection to the British First Army flank to the north, as well as posing a threat to the Axis lines of communication with Rommel to the south. The estimated strength of the enemy guarding the pass at this time was between two hundred fifty and six hundred men.

The following interesting narrative was written as an editorial musing on the dates of January 18, 1946 and January 21, 1946 by George Ellis Jr.
The Germans continually violated the Geneva Convention, their excuse being that through translation into German, the regulations took on a different meaning. When we were transported by rail, the Germans saw to it that tanks, armored cars, cavalry, big guns and troops were sent along with us, making us a beautiful target from the air. On one occasion we were locked into the forty and eight box cars during a late nite air rid. We were in a freight yard and the high explosives dropping nearby rocked the cars on the rails.
“At one time, a punishment and to serve as an example to other prisoners of war who might be tempted to misbehave, the Germans sent 600 Americans to work at Camp Oberdack, near Fredericshaven. The camp was in a peat swamp, where a hydroelectric plant was being constructed. The laborers included, Russian, Poles, French and Americans. The small area in which we were confined, housed two billets one latrine and a wash house. The only water we had for drinking or bathing turned on for an hour each night. Our one and only daily meal was a watery soup made of potato skins and grass. We were there for five weeks before the Red Cross food packages reached us.
“At night our shoes and trousers were taken from us and were locked up in a barracks. The only toilet facilities in our billet was a large pot at one end of the building and the stench at night was so terrible that we could only sleep if we were near a window or if we pulled the covers over our heads. Our working hours were from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. with one hour for lunch although we had no food. One group of prisoners, laying a pipeline from Lake Constance, left for work at 4:30 in the morning, returning at 6:30 p.m. In this particular camp medical treatment was unheard of and disease and infection prevailed.
“Prisoners of the Nazis who were sick received prompt care if they could bribe the guards to take them to a doctor. Many prisoners never saw a doctor and many died from pneumonia, acute appendicitis and other aliments. Many were allowed to suffer until there was no hope for a cure before they were given medical aid. Frequently the hospitals discharged patients before they were cured unless the sick man had smokes, coffee, chocolate, soap or other articles from his Red Cross box to give to the Nazi doctors.
“With the International Red Cross to look after them, the American and British prisoners received much better treatment than the Russians. In the spring of 1953, while a prisoner at Stalag 7-A near Munich, it was my job to work, along with others, in a prisoner of war cemetery. At the stalag, the Russians were dying in great numbers from typhus and other causes. The Nazis stripped them of their clothing and tied them into burlap bags before burial. I saw many of these bags and it was nothing uncommon to see some of them move or hear groans coming from the bags. OCCASIONALLY, the Nazi officer in charge would notice movement or hear groans and would order the bag and its contents taken back to the camp. There were no single graves for the Russians, four or five bodies were dropped into each grave which was afterwards marked as the grave of only one man.
“At the same camp, British and Russian prisoners said that when a Russian prisoner died and there were many of these deaths his death would not be reported until the odor of the decomposing body became offensive. Instead two prisoners would take the body between them to roll call, hold it up and until the officer answered to roll call, so that section would get extra rations.
“Often the Russians went on hunger strikes and this so enraged the Nazis that they turned fierce and half starved wolfhounds into the billets. The men were hungrier and fiercer than the dogs, however. The prisoners caught the animals, tore them to pieces, ate the flesh and tossed the bones out the window.”
“At Stalag ll-B, near the Polish frontier, the Germans sent the Americans out to farms to replace the men taken into the army. Some of the Komandos in charge of the prisoners were fair, and others were bad. It all depended upon the Germans. The living condition of the prisoners who were not sent to the farms for punishment was somewhat better than that of hose who were being punished.

Editors note Info from WWW.Darbyrangers.com web site……..Stalag ll-B ….1943 the Stalag was reported as newly opened to privates of the US ground forces with a strength of 451. The Hammerstein installation acted as a headquarters for work detachments in the region and seldom housed more than 1/5 of the POWs credited to it. Thus at the end of May 1944, although the strength was listed as 4807, only 1000 of these were in the enclosure. At its peak in January 1945, the camp strength was put at 7200 Americans, with some 5315 of these out on 9 major Kommando Compaany. Fences formed compounds and sub-compounds. Ten thousand Russians lived in the East Command, while the other nationalities - 16,000 French, 1600 Serbs, 900 Belgians - and the Americans were segregated by Nationalities in the North Compound. Within the American enclosure were the playing field, workshops and dispensary, showers & delouser. At times more than 600 men were quartered in each of the 3 single-story barracks. 15 yards wide and 60 yards long, made available to the Americans. Although this resulted in extremely crowded conditions, it contrasted well with the Russian barracks which held as many as 1000 POW apiece. Barracks were divided in two by a center washroom which has 20 taps. Water fit for drinking was available at all hours except during POWs last 2 months when it was turned off for part of the day. Bunks were the regulation POW triple-decker types with excelsior mattresses and one German blanket (plus 2 from the Red Cross) for each (man). In the front and rear of each barracks was a urinal to be used only at night. Three stoves furnished what heat there was for the front half of each barrack, and 2 for the rear half. The fuel ration was always insufficient, and in December 1944 was cut to its all-time low of 12 kilos of coal per stove per day. On warm days the Germans withheld part of the fuel ration. TreatmentTreatment was worse at Stalag IIB than at any other camp in Germany established for American POW before the Battle of the Bulge. Harshness at the base Stalag degenerated into brutality and outright murder on some of the Kommandos. Beatings of Americans on Kommandos by their German overseers were too numerous to list, but records that 10 Americans in work detachments where shot to death by their captors.
Food From the Germans, POW received daily 300 grams of coarse bread and 500 grams of potatoes; twice weekly they received 300 grams of meat and 20 grams of margarine; once a week they drew 50 grams of cheese; marmalade was issued sporadically. All these rations were found in the midday meal, which was always in the form of soup. The breakfast consisted of ersatz coffee. There was no supper.

“ Although there was room for much improvement. During the summer months and at harvest time, we worked about 14 hours a day. In the winter, pour time was cut to eight hours or less. Our rations consisted of all the potatoes we wanted and two and a half “kils” of brot per week, also a pound of margarine divided weekly among twelve or more men. The sugar and jam allotment was a tablespoon full per week. Together with our Red Cross parcels, we fared pretty well. But we could never work enough or fast enough for the Germans on these farms. In an attempt to get more work from the prisoners of war, the civilians and the guards would beat and kick the men without mercy.
“Less than a year ago, on a cold and windy, bitter February morning, several thousand allied prisoners were massed near the Polish frontier in Northern Germany for what was to be a forced march across Europe. We had all of our processions with us, 3 or 4 Red Cross packages, clothing etc. We were forced to almost trot for the first 9 kilometers. Our loads were to heavy and we discarded precious articles of food and clothing which the Germans confiscated greedily.
“Many nights were spent locked in filthy barns, so closely packed that many men were unable to lie down and rest. There were many days that we had only a crust of bread to eat. It is amazing what the human body can endure when put to the test. The weather was damp and bitterly cold with a freezing wind sweeping across the plains from the Baltic Sea. Many men, insufficiently shod, and with no socks and no gloves suffered frozen feet and hands.
“ The reason for this hectic dash across northern Germany was to get the prisoner clear of the Soviet spearhead which was closing in on that area. We marched from Laurenburg on the Polish frontier through Stolp, Kolberg and Swinenmunde, down to Domitz on the river Elbe and then across to Lunsberg to within 24 kilometers of Hanover. It was here that the Germans realized that their game was up and they marched us back to Domitz, then north to Lubeck where we were liberated in May 1945, actually we covered on foot about 1500 miles.
“Many days were spent going in circles or just walking with no particular destination. The object was to keep us so worn out that at night we would not make any attempt to escape. This didn’t dampen our spirits, as many men did escape. In the last few weeks on the road, our progress was slowed down by the continuous danger of being strafed and dived bombed by our own air forces. The Germans often moved their own troops along with us. During the air attacks we lost a few of our men, either by the planes or by the Nazis shooting as we dashed off the road to avoid being targets for the planes. Our marches covered from 9 to 56 or more kilometers in a day.
“There were many other instances of the Nazis forcing prisoners of war to long and rigorous marches in North Africa, when the enemy captured a thousand and more men on their break through to Tebassia, the prisoners were forced at bayonet point to march across the hot sands without water or rest, they fell out to perish.
“Much credit is due the American red Cross and the Y.M.C.A., through whose tireless efforts food, clothing, literature, sports equipment and medical supplies reached us at regular intervals.
“Although the Nazis were capable of starving, torturing and beating prisoners of war, they were unable to break the American morale which carried the men through a living hell.”

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