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German POWs at Urfahr
as told to Dan O'Brien
by Rainer Kliemann*
As World War II in Europe came to an end, fragmented and disorganized enemy units raced to surrender to American forces, fearing harsh treatment at the hands of our ally, the Soviet Army. Under terms of an understanding between the allies, those who had been engaged in combat on the eastern front were ordered to remain in place, facing an uncertain future as prisoners of war of the
Soviets. This is the true story of two young German soldiers who after capture by the Soviet Army, escaped and fled to the west, only to be recaptured by soldiers of the 11th Armored Division.
When the fateful year of 1944 began, two 17 year Olds, Karl Heinz Kliemann and Wolfgang Barthel were in the Flyer Hitler Youth, training to become glider pilots. As the year progressed, and the German position in the war deteriorated, they were abruptly transferred to the Arbeitsdienst (work service). In January 1945, they were conscripted into the German Army, and were sent to Berlin/Spandau, for basic training.
Training completed, the two young soldiers, along with many other hastily trained youth, were assembled at Brandenburg, where they boarded a troop train bound for Czechoslovakia and the eastern front. On the way, between Bardubize and Kolin, two P-51 Mustangs from the U.S. 9th Air Force attacked the train. One plane destroyed the locomotive, while the second straffed the wagons. Many young boys between the ages of 15 and 18 died. Karl and Wolfgang escaped the carnage by jumping from the train as the planes attacked. Survivors were collected and reorganized, and eventually arrived at the eastern front along the An der March river. There they engaged Romanian and Russian army units in battle. When hostilities ended on May 8th, they surrendered to Russian troops at Deutsch-Brod, Czechoslovakia.
A week later, the two escaped, fleeing west and south into Austria. After walking for 10 days with little food or rest, they encountered a check point manned by soldiers of the 11th Armored Division. For the second time, they became prisoners of war. They were taken to a temporary POW compound in Urfahr, a suburb of Linz that is situated across the Danube River from the central part of the city. There they received fair treatment from the guards, and were helped by a friendly G.I. who spoke fluent German. The crew of an armored car assigned to guard duty furnished them with clean white socks, and Austrian cigarettes.
Before capture by the Russians, they had destroyed their Wehrpasse (soldier's passports), but retained their flying school identification documents. US Army interrogators accepted them as flight school students, and approved their early release. Carrying travel warrants issued by the 11th Armored Division, they made their way to their homes in Jena, Thuringia, and the start of new lives.
*Rainer Kliemann is the son of Karl Heinz Kliemann