Photo of Barry Caplan taken in England in 1942.Courtesy of Barry Caplan
Photo of Barry Caplan taken in 1942 while on leave in England.
Photo taken of Barry Caplan before going overseas in 1942.Courtesy of Barry Caplan
"But it was an ordeal in that you had to be on your toes all the time and you had to be just, you know, not in trouble."
We were going to Leverkusen and on the way back, we got hit by flak [anti-aircraft ammunition] very badly. I could tell right away and he ordered us to bail out. And being the navigator, I’m sitting on the hatch that I can take out and the front part of the plane is able to come right behind me. And the opening would be there, so we got out, all the crew, I guess, except the pilot. And I can go through a lot of different things of even, you know like, I’ve talked about it, bailout and so on and so forth, but it’s all part of the deal. And it didn’t take long while I was trying to walk westerly, I was caught up by, actually, it was lucky I was caught by a policeman, not a regular army man or the Nazis, or whatever. He took me to an airport and being sort of in the same thing, they really looked after me for... But then, of course, after that, they took me away.
If you didn’t do anything or didn’t go with the rules, you could have a problem. But if you were just normal and minded your own business, at least they didn’t hurt us. And the only thing that did happen was after one year, we got the order that all Jewish personnel was marching out. And we didn’t know what was going on. We knew that we weren’t liked, but we didn’t know what was actually going on. So, but we were concerned. And the first time was cancelled and then the second time, we marched out. But instead of marching away, I guess the war was near the end there, I don’t know why, but they put us all into a separate barracks on the American side. So we were separated. But nothing happened, the war ended and we got home.
This was a little old building the Canadians came into with smaller rooms and as far as the sleeping is concerned, it’s like you see in concentration camps in the sense that most of the time, in our camp anyway, I can’t talk about every camp, but it was up on the below and top, but it was just a wooden thing like you see in the camps. We had a straw mattress of sorts, something with straw in it. So the way we lived, it’s just basically, it wasn’t that bad. But it’s just like you see in concentration camps. It’s just wooden top and bottom, and sometimes we had a table, you know, some don’t have tables. And a few chairs and that’s about it. And then they had a little heater, but we never got the coal all the time, so we were freezing quite a bit. But it was very basic. And that’s the way it was. The Americans got new ones because when they were coming in so fast, they had to build new buildings, little buildings, but they were the same.
It was just like, I think if you see the movies with the war, POWs [prisoners of war], it’s pretty close as far as how we lived. But it was an ordeal in that you had to be on your toes all the time and you had to be just, you know, not in trouble.
Periodically, the [Red] Cross or whatever, would send in something. Like they would send in say cards, so then we would play bridge or we’d learn how to play bridge. But you would only do it for a certain length of time and you’d get, you’d sort of get fed up with it. So that doesn’t last long. But they always tried something. One time, they brought in a bat and a ball, somebody, some Red Cross or something, and we started to play baseball. So we played baseball a little bit. And they tried to have, you know, a little library and that unfortunately was okay, but I don’t think too many of the guys, a very small proportion were readers or something, I don’t think that they used it that much, but they did have something trying their best to do it. It’s very basic, but it was something.
And I can tell you one terrible thing. I was in a bunk. I was top and we had somebody underneath; and one night, I heard some funny kind of noise and I looked down, I saw a lot of blood. So I woke up my other fellow next to me in the top, close to me in the top and we found this fellow, poor guy, he was air crew, he was a POW, and he wasn’t acting very, shall I say, was a little off before that for about two or three months. And he tried to commit suicide, which he did. By the time we got someone to come from the Germans, he passed away. And they made a very big funeral for him in the camp, just to show everybody that, you know, have to do the right thing, I guess. And that’s it. And I went through that. I didn’t shave for quite a few months.
The Russians went past us, left us alone. But we couldn’t go anywhere, we had to wait for them to fly over and pick us up. So it took two weeks. So we had just stayed there two weeks, the Germans were gone, the camp people, and we just waited for our planes to come in. And eventually they did, so it took two weeks before we got out of the camp.