M. GEORGE LUKES
with Mike Babich and Andrew Rybar
LAUFEN AND TITTMONING
These are lightly edited extracts from George Lukes’ emails to Anthony Barnett about
civilian alien internment in Laufen and its subsidiary camp Tittmoning
George Lukes was interned in both. Henry Crowder was interned in Tittmoning
Some further editing for clarification may be pending
Reference is made here to The Bird-Cage: Ilag VII, Laufen (1945) for which
there is an annotated entry in the bibliography in Listening for Henry Crowder
These extracts cannot be fully understood without reference to the newspaper
interviews with Henry Crowder, Freddy Johnson, Reginald Siki reprinted in
Listening for Henry Crowder
The latest extract is posted first and the earliest last
Copyright © M. George Lukes and Allardyce Book 2007
Do not reproduce or quote in print or online without the permission of the publisher
Apart from copyright there is the danger of disseminating incorrect information
because of the way these extracts unfold during an exchange of emails
AB’s emails are not included
George Lukes by Josef Nassy, Laufen, sat for December 1944, dated 1945, courtesy George Lukes
This privately owned work is not part of the currently largely inaccessible Nassy Suite held at USHMM
Two incarnations of the Swingternees, Laufen
above: summer 1944, courtesy George Lukes who is seated third from left
above: 1944, in The Bird-Cage with George Lukes seated far right
19 August 2007
Fact is that we did not know more than was obvious about each other. One did not ask personal questions and even information that was volunteered was often viewed with suspicion because people guarded privacy where there was precious little of it. Moreover, we thought the Germans had informers in the camp, and also gathered information given unwittingly. The camp had a “Sonderfuehrer” who was always next in rank to the military commander but was political, a member of the Nazi party and regarded apprehensively, much like a Russian Commissar. Some internees had purchased or otherwise obtained life-saving passports from a number of countries they hadn’t visited. There were people who had been transferred from tough concentration camps, some captured on the high seas, some who arrived in the later war years after working in Germany. Some were conscientious objectors; I knew of an American who fought on the Republican side in Spain, and another who fought for Franco. Some Brits apparently fought with the Finns against Russia in Karelia; there was a Moseley Fascist follower or two. Many among us were retired former Allied military men. Most of us had relatives and friends in German-occupied countries. Many of us had relatives in other internment or concentration camps and had experienced unpleasant encounters with the Gestapo. The rule “ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies” worked for peace where there would have been conflict.
In my report about my experiences to the Justice Department I included the following: Our transport from Prague to Tittmoning was managed by members of the S.A. These were the kind of hoodlums Remarque describes in his Der schwarze Obelisk, sadistic brawlers who now wore brown uniforms. They threatened us, and shoved us about, and were intimidating. They forbade us to converse with each other as they did not understand English. At one point during the trip John H. stood up to reach for something in his valise and was immediately knocked down and beaten about the head with much yelling as a warning to us, while other S.A.’s aimed their guns at us. I met others in camp who had much worse experiences. Camp life was initially regimented, intimidating, and marked by scarcity of food. Improvement came with CARE parcels, but it was some time before they began to arrive and even then we received them irregularly, for which the Germans blamed Allied air raids on their railroads. Interestingly, deliveries appeared to be more regular as the raids intensified and even some of the fanatics began to appreciate that the war turned unfavorable to the Germans. The CARE parcels enabled us to get better treatment from the guards and generally improved our circumstances, although it varied with the guards’ personal experiences with the “enemy.” A detachment of paratroopers from the Caucasus could be particularly nasty, while a detachment of old-timers from Swabia was more easy-going.
Our day started with the roll call. Sometimes this involved standing in the five-deep ranks for long periods, particularly if one of the internees was not accounted for, or if we were being dealt group punishment for whatever infraction. On one occasion in Laufen an officer who reportedly had been a professor in a secondary school and liked to practice his English on us, had us standing in the snow for hours while he berated us. I don’t recall the man’s name; we referred to him as “Penholder.” The occasion for this officer’s tirade apparently was a complaint to the Swiss Protecting Power about our treatment and housing. To make his point, he arranged to have three machine guns mounted on tripods and aimed at us from three corners. After having us stand for a very long time, he stood on a table he had his men bring into the yard and began his pompous speech, in a distinct German accent: “You complained to the Swiss about having to live in an old castle, that Germans in America do not have to live in castles. That is because America has no castles. If America wanted castles, America would have to get them from Germany . . . etc. etc.” At another time the same man lectured us at roll call (this time without machine guns) about allegedly wasting potatoes while peeling them, thereby showing off more of his wit: “. . . But that's alright . . . if you won’t eat them our pigs will.” It is true that in general our treatment improved as the war progressed, and some of the German NCOs, and I believe officers, as well as some of the local civilians were inclined to treat us decently. But it has struck me as curious that the rough times have somehow been repressed. Forget about standing in the snow for hours with machine guns aimed at you? I doubt there was mention of it in the Bird-Cage, and even Andy who stood in snow with hundreds of others said to me when I recalled the incident years ago, “Gee, I forgot that incident.”
25 July 2007
Thank you very much for the photo, I had forgotten about it. Apparently I did not even notice the photo when I flipped through The Bird-Cage years ago. But the pic is the Swingternees, only with more people than in the one I previously sent. Ted White is standing at the left; seated in the front row is Kishelewski, Tony Schoen, Dr Gluecklich, unrecog., Ron Stocks, unrecog., Ernie Webster, unrecog., myself. Second row with cello is Bill Williams, Hughes, Ray Loder, Andy Rybar (guitar), Joe Skerski, Joe Pawlowski, Sprengle, Len Collins, unrecog. Hal Lancaster standing with bull fiddle; the man standing next to him could be John Belland but I don’t recognize him. The man behind Pawlowski is George Loder, Ray’s brother, drums. Ted did the arrangements and I also helped transcribe some of the parts for trumpets, clarinets and saxes.
I roomed with the Loders in the Zellenbau and maintained contact and visits with them for many years. Andy Rybar lives in Bellevue, WA and we like to meet once in a while
in Washington’s wine country. Not often enough, distance and age are factors.
I think much of our difficulty recalling events of ILAG VII has to do with repression of an unwanted past. In Prague I lived just a couple of blocks from the spot where Heydrich was knocked off and in fact I came upon the scene a short time after it happened and had to make a detour to get home. I witnessed the consequential revenge and the tramping of hobnailed boots and for years have been unable to sit through a movie dealing with such matters. Injustice in one form or another continues, lessons are not learned, even if rubber soles are used instead of hobnails. Today I rely on reading rather than only on memory, even though much of what I read does not match what I’ve learned.
3 July 2007
I believe I can finally clarify some of the happenings in Tittmoning and Laufen. To begin with, I was wrong to state that I roomed with Raska, Horvath, Gostovich, Taylor, Johnson, Mitchell, Mathis, Welch and Nassy in Laufen. It was in Tittmoning that the ten of us shared a room.
Freddy Johnson’s statement about internment is clear and accurate. He was sent to Laufen on 1/28/42 and stayed there to 9/26 when he was moved to Tittmoning where he stayed to 2/26/44 when he was repatriated.
Many of us, apparently also Nassy, were transferred to Laufen in about January 1943. Crowder and others would have arrived in Tittmoning after, or at least around the time, we were moved, which explains why we did not know him. That also explains why I was unaware of Johnson’s involvement with music in Tittmoning. (Andy recalled he played the piano there at one recital.) All of Nassy’s outside drawings in Monica’s catalog are of Laufen [except those from Beverloo, Belgium] not Tittmoning. The sketch of Johnson had to be done in Tittmoning because Nassy and Johnson were not together in Laufen.
To answer your other questions: The band pictured was called The Swingternees. We played such tunes as “In The Mood,” “Sunrise Serenade,” a Mozart tune called “In an 18th Century Drawing Room.” In general, popular dance music of the ’30s and ’40s. Also Rhapsody in Blue, Hughes at the piano. I recall playing viola (loaned by a local physician at the request of the Stabarzt) in our rendition of the Unfinished Symphony, orchestra expanded with many others, not pictured. In smaller combos we played things like “Tea for Two,” “Saving Myself for Bill,” “I Get the Neck of the Chicken,” etc. to entertain the guys when the canteen was open. Or we provided incidental music at play performances.
Professionals in the picture are John Belland, baritone singer, Gil Hughes, Ernie Webster, Ted White. I believe Hal Lancaster, Bill Williams and Ray Loder were sort of semi-pros; I don’t know about the others. Lancaster, Collins, Williams, Webster, White and Stocks are Englishmen; Hughes is an Aussie.The others are Americans.
I do not know anything about a band in Tittmoning but Johnson’s statement seems to indicate they had one; he talks about instruments from the YMCA, which also made the Laufen band possible.
The Brit side in Laufen had a booklet published after the war, titled The Bird-Cage. I had a chance to glance at it years ago but was not impressed, it sounded to me as if they treated internment as a lark. But I have not read it through and it could contain information of interest to you.
23 June 2007
Thank you for the article on Siki and the names. Many of the names Siki mentions I do not recognize. Some of the men who returned with him most likely are from camps other than Tittmoning or Laufen. The article has some inaccuracies but my experience with the press is such that I do not attribute them to Siki. I do not recognize the name of Oscar Lee Matthews. I met Oscar Lee Mathis in Prague before we were interned together, but he was not a boxer. Mathis was from Georgia. The Tittmoning castle was built in 1232 or 1234, not in 800 A.D. The contribution of the Red Cross cannot be overstated, but delivery of food parcels depended on the good will of the Germans, who sometimes punished us by withholding the parcels and blamed it on Allied air raids. I never met a Red Cross representative in camp and am not aware of monthly visits by the R.C.; the Swiss acted as the Protecting Power and visited the camps infrequently, but I never met a Swiss rep. while in camp. It is true that the Gestapo did not pick us up until August 1942, but Germany was not at war with the U.S. until after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After Hitler declared war, I had to report to the police HQ every Wednesday to have my ID stamped, I had to apply for permission to reside in the city every three months and pay a fee while at the same time I was not permitted to leave the city without permission. I did not find the Germans as benign as the article seems to indicate. This is not to say that a few of the Germans did not treat us decently, especially in the later stages of the war.
I do not know when or where Nassy drew Freddy Johnson’s likeness. My group from Prague arrived in Tittmoning at about the same time John Welsh arrived from Berlin. There was a large group of us housed under the red roof of the tallest part of the castle. I do not recall any African-American in that large room other than John Welsh and Oscar Lee Mathis. Most of the people in that room appear to have been transported from a number of different countries. I do not recall John bringing the silent keyboard with him to Tittmoning but he may have had it sent to him later. I do recall John practicing on the keyboard in Laufen.
After we were moved to Laufen there were about 400 of us on the American side, inclusive of men from Mexico, Brazil and San Salvador. The British side had about 800 men, mostly from the Channel Islands. Many of the latter had been conscientious objectors who had been sent to the islands to work. Initially in Laufen there were ten of us in the new room: Oscar Lee Mathis, John Welsh, Neil Raska, John Horvath, Mike Gostovich, and myself; and new acquaintances and room mates Fred Johnson, Joe Nassy, Jack Taylor and John Mitchell. That arrangement lasted several months before I was moved to the Zellenbau, a separate building in which some of the (unlocked) cells were occupied by Brits and some by Americans. I don't recall Joe drawing Fred then but I remember Fred’s pipe and Joe’s sketch of Mitchell with his guitar. Joe may have drawn Fred before he came to Laufen but I don’t think he had many of the necessary things for painting before he came to Laufen. I think that all of Joe’s work in Monica's catalog was done in Laufen, with the possible exception of the pencil drawings.
I knew two talented Polish musicians in Laufen but they were both violinists. One was Joe Pawlowski who studied at the conservatory in Warsaw, and the other was Kishelewski. I have their pictures in the band. I have found the photograph of the band and have made a fair copy on my copier—in fact faces are clearer than in the photograph which is a little smaller than an index card. I will try to take a picture of it and will e-mail it if it’s clear enough. I will airmail the copy I made.
18 June 2007
I am sorry that we have failed as a “definitive source” to identify who was who, where and when in Tittmoning and Laufen. Time, distance and fog are factors. Andy thought he could identify Crowder as the “man who played classics on the silent keyboard.” The man with the keyboard I definitely know was John Welsh, but then there is the possibility that Crowder also used the keyboard. Andy recalled some of the people who were repatriated before us more clearly than I remember and thinks Crowder had left on an earlier transport as you said. We left Laufen in late December ’44 to Marseilles via St Gallen and Geneva. Andy also recalled clearly that Fred Johnson performed with the band, although Fred is not in the picture of the band in Laufen I have. But then neither is Andy in that photo because he was in the hospital in Salzburg when it was taken. I am in the photo, but have no doubt missed some performances when I was unloading coal at the RR station, digging peat, sifting and loading sand on the banks of the Salzach or sitting in the “cooler.” My usual residence was on the third tier of the “Zellenbau,” so somewhat separated from the main buildings housing most Americans and Brits.
I knew Oscar Lee Mathis in Prague, where I had also seen Siki wrestle a couple of times. I thought both Oscar and Reginald Berry [Siki] had arrived on the Gripsholm in January ’45, when we did. Oscar was unmarried, but Reginald arrived with his Czech wife. Most of the people I knew in camp dispersed to their homes when we landed in New York. If you can give me more names of African-Americans from Laufen or Tittmoning, it may help to jar my memory, and I will share the names with Andy.
31 May 2007
I do not recognize Henry Crowder from the picture, nor do I recall meeting him in camp. As you know from my e-mail to Andy and Mike, I've asked them to contribute any recall that would be useful. I will also call them to see if I could help recall through some free-association. Both Andy and Mike were in a different section of the camp than I was and had a variety of contacts that I did not.
Andy, Mike and I were on the later Gripsholm sailing. I remember hardly anyone else on the ship, however. I was pretty sick all the way on that trip. There were mostly airmen on the ship. They put together a band. I know that because one of the returning flyers borrowed my sax to play in it, but I never heard them play and I don’t know anyone who played with them aside from Ray Loder.
I vividly recall John Welsh playing Bach on his silent keyboard, accompanying himself with a low bass hummmm, stopping occasionally to warm his hands by breathing on them and wrapping them around his cup of hot water for awhile, then taking a sip and playing on. The priests let some of us use the area next to their quarters for practice. There was a piano which John tuned, but I never heard him do more than a few chords on it. He once spoke of his ambition to be a concert pianist but thought that he started on the piano too late in life and the interruption of his studies would put an end to his career. I used to practice my sax there too, the edgy guys in camp elsewhere wouldn’t tolerate the noise I made. John told me he started out on a sax and he gamely tried on mine before giving it up, laughing. The only time I heard Fred Johnson play was on that piano, hitting the bass notes with one finger, also humming along, but he didn’t play with the Swingternees and I never heard him give a concert, although I think he did give a performance in camp. Mitchell and some of the other black men who were married to European wives were quite ambivalent about returning to the U.S. because of prevailing racial bias in those days.
To my knowledge, none of the black men played with the Swingternees. They could have played but chose not to. Actually the only pros in the band were Ted White and Ernie Webster, maybe also Hughes, the Aussie pianist. The rest of us were amateurs. This was also true of the English pros. There was Bill Rowe, violinist formerly of the London Symphony who instructed me in violin, with whom I played Bach in a concert but he would not play in the band. Mr Careno (son of Teresa Careno) who studied at the Berlin Conservatory, then in his 50s, with who I paired in the Brandenburg Concertos, a former organist at St. Paul’s in London and perhaps others who took leave of their music while in camp. A professional group from San Salvador who were arrested while touring did play a few times.
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