Final Reunion of Stalag XVII-B Survivors Slated
The last reunion of Stalag XVII-B survivors will be held this spring honoring all the men interned in the Krems, Austria, prison camp during World War II, including the many internees who are no longer with us. The reunion will be held April 30 to May 3 at the Crowne Plaza, Spirit of St. Louis Airport, Chesterfield, Missour. Tentative events will include the grand opening of the Jefferson Barracks POW-MIA Museum, St. Louis, and viewing of WWII-era aircraft at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport.
The reunion is for POWs who were air crew members of the U.S. Army Air Forces; most of whom had begun their Nazi detention in similar ways. During missions over German cities such as Bremen and Stuttgart and other Nazi strongholds, their B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators had been shot down by German fighters or anti-aircraft guns, sending crewmembers plummeting to the ground while fumbling with parachutes and praying for survival. When captured, the American pilots, bombardiers, flight engineers, gunners and other crewmen were funneled into a processing center, Dulag Luft, near Frankfurt, Germany, for interrogation. At Dulag Luft, the German Luftwaffe officers separated the commissioned officers from the noncommissioned officers, sending the noncoms to Stalag XVII-B as POWs.
On April 8, 1945, the gates of Stalag XVII-B were opened, and 4,000 filthy, scrawny, and hungry airmen were force-marched by guards onto the road west. (About 200 sick prisoners stayed behind and were liberated by Russian troops on May 9.) Days passed slowly as the men struggled along in eight groups of 500; airmen were hesitant to drink from nearby streams or even relieve themselves for fear of retaliation by guards' rifle butts and bayonets. Feet crammed into worn-out leather boots or camp-issued wooden clogs swelled, bled, and blistered - food remained scarce. Finally, after more than three weeks on the march, American forces liberated the POWs on May 3, 1945.
The Stalag XVII-B Reunion Dinner has been held each May 3 in joyous celebration of that liberation. Nineteen POW survivors attended the May 2012 reunion; and we pray the 2013 reunion will also be successful, for it will be the last reunion of Stalag XVII-B.