Humanity During Conflict: Mighty Eighth Airmen Interactions with Civilians and Soldiers in Europe.

Section VI: Prisoner of War Life By: Michael Elmore

Photo Caption: A photograph of the courtyard of a prison camp. Name of the camp not stated. National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
The Eighth Air Force Airmen’s stories did not end once the Axis forces captured them, as they tried to evade and make it back to England. For most of the men arrested, they were sent the Stalag Luft camps, where they remained for the remainder of the war. Life in the camps was difficult and monotonous, as the airmen had few freedoms and little entertainment in the stalags. The men did their best to survive the guards, cramped living conditions, and lack of nutritional food. Some prisoners, like Carelton Gillmore, grew acquainted with the guards at their camp and occasionally traded with them. This was dangerous for both groups involved, as the guards were reprimanded or even shot for trading with the prisoners.

Living conditions at the camps near the end of the war became miserable as the Germans moved more prisoners into fewer bases as the Allies pushed the front-lines in toward Berlin. John Thurmon describes his experience at Stalag Luft III, where over 70,000 prisoners were put into a space that initially made for 10,000. The increasing numbers of prisoners at camps also put pressure on their ability to get enough food to keep their strength. Red Cross food parcels became a saving grace, as it helped to provide the prisoners with enough nutrition to keep them alive to see the end of the war.

Photo Caption: Loevsky and three others two days after liberation from Stalag VIIA. Loevsky is the shorts airman. Louis Loevsky collection | National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
John and Louis Loevsky recalled their experiences of being liberated by the American Army from Stalag Luft VIIA. For many of these prisoners, rescue was a distant dream for them, as the men had been imprisoned for months. Seeing the troops open the gates and having General Patton speak to them brought forth the realization that they were indeed freed. Louis described it as a dream that he did not want to wake from. Hearing the airmen’s stories of their captivity¬† showcases the desperation they felt at having their freedoms taken aware and unsure of what the future held for them. It also shows their spirit and the strength they had to continue to survive until they made it back home.

  To read more of their stories, click the link below.

Humanity During War Section 6