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|Stalag Luft IV|
|Groß Tychow, Pomerania|
|Stalag Luft IV monument|
|Controlled by||Nazi Germany|
|Occupants||mainly American Air Force NCOs|
The camp was opened in May 1944. In July of that year a military report was released which described such problems as inadequate shower facilities, unfit distribution of Red Cross parcels, and that prisoners complained about the food situation often. Two letters and four postcards were permitted per month. These letters were harshly censored forcing prisoners to tell families that they were being treated well and that there were no problems whatsoever.
A report by the International Red Cross in October 1944 described camp conditions as generally bad. The camp was divided into five compounds (A-E) separated by barbed wire fences, with the POWs housed in 40 wooden barrack huts, each containing 200 men. Prisoners in compounds A and B had triple-tiered bunks, but there were no bunks at all in compounds C and D, and POWs slept on the floor. None of the huts were heated, with only five small iron stoves in the whole camp. Latrines were open-air, and there were no proper washing facilities. Medical facilities, and supplies of food and clothing were also inadequate. At this point there were 7,089 American and 886 British POWs (of these 606 were from the British Isles, and included 147 Canadians, 37 Australians, 58 Poles, 22 New Zealanders, 8 South Africans, 5 Czechs, 2 French and 1 Norwegian).
On February 6, 1945 some 8,000 men of the camp set out on a march that would be called the "Black March". The prisoners were given the remaining Red Cross parcels; you could carry as much as you could. The march from Gross Tychow lasted approximately 86 days. They were forced to march under guard about 15–20 miles (24–32 km) per day. There was much zigzagging, to escape the encroaching Soviet Red Army from the east. At one time, they traveled 40 miles, only advancing a few.
The treatment was very bad. The sick were mistreated when dysentery and diarrhea set in. The Germans could not be collaborated with. Some prisoners were bayoneted; others kicked and hit. Shelter was either a barn or under the stars, in the rain, snow, or whatever happened to be. As for the food, a bushel or two of steamed potatoes for a barn full of men was the best ever received at the end of a day. Often, the food was placed in the barn in the dark of night for the men to get what they could. Clothing was misfit being the most dominant, gathered from what they could; the German government provided no clothing. They carried two blankets, and an overcoat for bedding.
At this point, the average POW lost 1/3 of his body weight since capture. Water (often contaminated) POW's drank from ditches beside the road or ate snow when available. Using cigarettes, watches, rings or whatever they had to trade with the farmers along the way, for food. However in doing so risking the farmers and the POW's lives. The POW's ate charcoal to help stop dysentery and every POW became infected with lice. Pneumonia, diphtheria, pellagra, typhus, trench foot, tuberculosis and other diseases ran rampant among the POW's.
Acts of heroism were virtually universal. The stronger helped the weaker. Those fortunate enough to have a coat shared it with others. The Germans sometimes provided a wagon for the sick. However there seldom were horses available, so teams of POWs pulled the wagons through the snow. When a wagon was not available and a POW fell out along the road, a German guard would drop back and a shot would be heard. The guard would then come back into formation alone. However, not all Germans were hated - the guard Shorty was carried by several prisoners after he couldn't go on.
They reached Stalag 357 (Stalag XI-B), near Fallingbostel around April 3, 1945. Many camps on the eastern edge of Germany were combined into one large camp there. The treatment was a repetition of previous camps, with the exception of food, of which there was virtually none. The treatment was a little worse. No beds or bedding in the buildings. The prisoners, and the Germans as well, knew liberation was close at hand. The sounds of the encroaching American artillery could be heard getting louder and louder at this camp. When the sound of Allied artillery grew closer, the German guards were less harsh in their treatment of POWs, because the prisoner roles may soon be reversed.
The POWs were only in this camp for about a week; when lagers A and B from Stalag Luft IV were taken out on their final march, this time east. This last march lasted approximately three weeks; but was just as harsh as the previous march except for the treatment by the Germans, which was somewhat better. There was still little or no food available, and the pace was much slower, advancing 4-5 miles a day. On the morning of May 2, 1945 the POWs were all sitting in a ditch next to the River Elbe near Lauenburg, Germany, when the British arrived and liberated the "camp". Soldiers were given virtually nothing and told to march west. Thus Stalag Luft IV ended.