The Spearville News – Spearville, Ford County, Kansas May 10, 1945
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Writes of Horrors of German Prison Camp
John Liebl Liberated After 4 Months; Germans Starved Their Prisoners
Mr. and Mrs. Gus Liebl have received an interesting though horrible, letter from their son John, who was recently liberated after having been held a prisoner of the Germans for four months. The letter was written from France on April 22, 1945. John gives a sketch of his life as a prisoner in a letter which follows:
This is Sunday and I just returned from church. Have been going pretty regularly since being free as a prisoner. I have a lot of things to be thankful for. I am still in the hospital and think I will stay here for a while. Have written a V-mail to you with my new address. I hope that when you get this letter you will already have received the V-mail and have the letter on the way by the fastest means possible. By the way, I am feeling better every day and will soon be back to normal. Still haven’t quite regained my appetite, but I am getting more used to the food. My chief reason for being in the hospital is malnutrition or just plain starvation. My weight was down to 120 pounds. Lost over 45 pounds. I don’t know how long they will keep me here, but anyway I guess they are going to restore some of the lost weight and vitamins.
Captured Just Before Christmas
Will try to relate some of my experiences just before and after being captured. I think that the last time I had written to you I was in Paris on a 48-hour pass. I left Paris on the 18th of December and returned to the outfit. We had just moved back out of Germany into Holland for a rest. It was that time that the Germans were having a lot of success with their offensive and re-entered Belgium. We were sent down to help stop them and that we did for a while, or at least we slowed them up. It was four pretty rough days, but I have spent worse days on the front lines. We were finally cut off the night of the 21st of December. The next 24 hours I sent trying to get back to our lines, only to run into a mess of Germans. That was the night of the 22nd of December, at Saint Vith, Belgium. Don’t think I will ever forget that date. And that begun about four of the roughest months I ever spent. We started marching to the area and walked for 10 days, from Saint Vith to Linburg, Germany. We never took a short or easy route any place, always in more or less circles, and over trails. We hiked about 20 miles a day on this march. We walked about five days before we were given our first rations. It consisted of German black bread. We were given one loaf for five men, the next day were given some hardtack and crackers and that was all the rations we received on that march except for a few potatoes we were given a couple of times. At Linburg we were put into an old brick factory where it snowed inside just as much as it did outside. It was a good thing that there were quite a few of us, because we could huddle together and stay half-way warm. We had very few blankets and so many men had on very few clothes. The Germans took our best clothes and all the overshoes off us. Guess they were hard up for warm clothing. They also took all valuables such as watches, rings, etc. I lost my ring but did succeed in keeping my watch by hiding it in my field jacket lining. We were kept in the brick factory for five days. The second day there, we were given some more rations, and every day after that while there. The ration consisted of a couple of slices of bread and about two ounces of cheese a day. Finally they loaded us in box cars and we were in those for another five days with no water and one loaf of bread for five men. There were fifty men in the car I was in. One didn’t have room to lie down so we had to stand or sit. There was a little straw on the floor. Lot of the men were suffering from dysentery so you can imagine was a mess it was in those cars at the end of five days. We were all so thirsty that some of the men licked the walls of the box cars trying to get the ice which formed from our breath. We sat in one railroad yard for one and one-half days, but they wouldn’t let us out of the car. On this ride is where the first deaths among the man occurred. First it was one now and then and later as the men’s resistance wore down deaths became more frequent. Just before we were liberated it seemed like some one of the group died every day. In fact, I believe with the group I started with it would have averaged more than one a day.
Rations Were Very Meager
After reaching the prison camp (In Germany it is called a stalag) and registered as a prisoner we were treated somewhat better, still nothing to brag about. We were given soup once a day, about a pint, sometimes a little more. It was usually mostly water, and one-sixth of a loaf of bread and about three-fourths of an ounce of margarine. We were also given what they called coffee once a day. It was made of barley or some kind of grain. On Sundays we were given a small hunk of cheese instead of margarine. Our beds were just triple decks, with seven sleeping on a deck. No mattresses, and boards were nailed about two inches apart to make it more uncomfortable. After about a week there we were finally issued a blanket. Cigarettes were money if you were fortunate enough to obtain them. You could buy food, watches or anything with cigarettes. About 300 cigarettes would buy a hundred-dollar watch. Our camp was located at Garlitz, Germany. We were kept there a little over four weeks. Then the Russians started getting near and they began evaluating the prison camp. On February 14th, (Ash Wednesday) we started marching again. They told us we would walk about 80 kilometers (60 miles) and would be on the road four (sic) days. Instead of that we walked about 600 miles and were on the road 41 days. The food while on the march this time was one-fourth of a loaf of bread a day, and some sausage or raw hamburger for about one sandwich; some days we were given a little soup or a few potatoes. Quite a few men died on this march, some were shot for trying to get a cowbeet or turnip along the road, others for no reason at all. Lots of men died from dysentery and other diseases. I never, nor I guess anybody else, knew just how many did die.
Diphtheria Broke Out in Camp
We finally ended up at Braunschweig (Brunswick) on Easter Monday. We were there two weeks. Here diphtheria broke out and the first couple of men died before they knew what was wrong with them. We had an English doctor there with us, but he had nothing to work with. A German doctor would come around once in a while, but it was usually a big joke, about all he would do was a lot of shouting. If a man was almost dead he sometimes was lucky enough to be taken to the hospital. As I said before we were at Brunswick two weeks, and then started out again, this time trying to evade the Americans, but they had us cut off, and it was a happy day when we saw our tanks moving up. Some cheered, others just sat down and cried, still others just sat and stared. We had been looking for them for three days. We only hiked three days this time. When on the march we always slept in barns or what old building they could find. Always overcrowded, sometimes not enough room for everybody to lie down. At the stalags the barracks were constructed of tile or concrete and the ventilation was poor. It would continually sweat inside and floors were damp with puddles of water. We were given very little coal for heat, hardly enough to even bother with lightning a stove. I guess that is enough on prison life for this time. You will probably get tired of reading it anyway. What I am anxious for more than anything is a letter from you. Tell me how all of you are and things in general. Must close for now, will write soon again. Hope you are all well. My best wishes, Love, John.”
John Henry Liebl was born on August 25, 1914, in Barton County, Kansas. He was the third child of seven born to August and Mathilda Feist Liebl. The family lived in Hodgeman and Ford counties during the 1930s and 1940s. John passed away on February 24, 1969, and is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.