My father and his friends left Kiel on January 17th 1944. The destination was Vechta. They figured it must be quite a long trek because they were given bread and coffee for the journey. They walked through the ruined city and saw dejected and sad people and bomb craters everywhere. It made them aware that they were lucky not to have been hit while in the Kiel Prison! People were dragging their few belongings on carts or in prams with nowhere to go.
The wind was howling as the men marched from Vechta station to their ‘new home’. It was mid-winter and freezing cold. They were divided into groups of 4-6 depending on the size of the cells. The cold was overwhelming and they put on all the clothing available and went to bed. The treatment was much like Kiel prison, but the soup was thinner and the mouldy bread slices smaller. They thought they had lost all the weight it was possible to lose, but a further 4-5 kilo- disappeared during the four months they spent in this terrible place. The work handed out was different too. Some were told to make brushes, others became tailors, and a third group helped build a new barrack. My father’s friend, Kåre, was in this third group. He died later on, in Kaisheim, and they knew it was due to the harsh conditions he had suffered in Vechta.
The men became aware that the war was not going the way the Germans wanted. There were daily bombing raids, and the local people suffered dreadfully. There is no mercy in war-time!
The prisoners were loaded onto a train on May 17th 1944. This is Norway’s Independence Day, and one can only imagine how they all felt – not knowing what was in store. The windows were tightly shut, and they sat there like ‘sardines in a tin’ for 48 hours. It was pure torture and when they arrived at their destination several men collapsed. The city they had arrived at was Donauworth. The new prison was an old monastery in Kaisheim. The thick walls made the place feel very cold inside, whilst the nice warm weather had arrived and outside was pleasant. Kaisheim, in Bavaria, was the best prison they stayed in, by far. The food was better and they had the companionship of friends. During the eleven months there several men dies. They were all nice family men with wives and children at home.
After two weeks with no work, and too much time on their hands, they were finally let out. Belgian prisoners, who had also come from Vechta, joined them. Together they set up a choir and were even allowed to start exercise classes. The poet – Alf Seljenes, recited a poem about Bergen and all the things he was going to do when he was free again.
Towards Christmas 1944 they were moved to a large room and were pleased to see they were able to sleep on proper beds again. The atmosphere was easier than it had been because everyone realised the war had to be drawing to a close. The signs were all around them, and even the German guards were less hostile.
On the 7th of April 1945 private belongings were handed over – they were on the move again – but where to? By now the Allies had moved so close and bombed Donauworth so often that the whole town was one big ruin. If their journey had been delayed by just one day the awful place, Dachau, – the next destination could have been avoided. The Americans took control of Donauworth shortly after they left.