Tech Sergeant Jack Bloom (1923 - 2003)
US Army, WWII
Excerpts from a school research project by nephew David Valetta
(Jack Bloom graduated from Benezette High School in 1940. Served in the 106th Infantry in Europe and spent most of this time as a prisoner of war. After the war he married a high school “sweetheart” – Shirley Winslow- , had two children- Edna Mae and Ricky, and lived much of his life in Youngstown, Ohio. The following was taken from a school research project by his nephew David Valetta in 1999. This is a little longer than some of the other stories here, but it is worth it to listen to the perspectives of a WW2 prisoner of war from Benezette.)
I(David) was lucky to have a chance to sit down and ask a few questions about the (prisoner of war)situation with a man whom was quite familiar with it since he himself was one of the unfortunate American soldiers that was held as a prisoner of war by the German military during World War II. That was my uncle, Jack Bloom. Jack was drafted into the Army in March of 1943. For the first year and a half of his term in the military he went from camp to camp to be trained and help train other soldiers. Finally, near the end of 1944 his division, the 106th infantry, received orders to be sent to Scotland. While Jack was in Boston at Camp Miles Standish waiting for their ship he had to have surgery on his hand and arm because of an infection that he had contracted. He was in the hospital for a few days before he was finally released. When he made it to the ship the men were boarding and he convinced them to let him go with the others even though he did not have his military papers with him. They allowed him to board ship but he was put with a group of MPs instead of his division. Once the ship reached Scotland all of the men were sent off to carry out their orders. Since Jack did not have his papers with him they didn’t know what to do with him.
He was sent with a group of soldiers to stay at Aintree Race Stables in Liverpool. From there they were sent to Glasgow Scotland by train where they would pick up huge trucks off the delivery trains and drive them back to the Stables in Liverpool. He continued doing this for quite some time until he heard that his original division was in Sto In The Wall England. The day after he found out where his division was he went to board the train as usual but instead of going to Scotland to get another truck he headed in the opposite direction toward his division. When he finally met up with the 106th infantry division, they received orders that they were to board flat bottom boats and head for France.
They were crossing the English Channel when they came upon an ammunition ship that had been sunk but was not far enough under the water for them to pass over it. They were forced to wait for two days for the water to rise to a level that was high enough for their boat to safely go over the drowned ship. The men approached land around Dec 10th or 11th and were told to swim to shore and relieve the 2nd Infantry Division which was stationed in Belgium.. The men began to settle in and wait for further orders when on December 16, 1944 the men heard that the Germans were beginning to move in on Belgium with tanks.
Bloom was in charge of the company’s trucks so he ordered the drivers to move out the trucks to avoid the German tank assault. He and 12 or 15 other men took the trucks and headed out of Belgium. Along the way as the men would come across towns they would clear out the people and take them over. As they continued to move farther, they would pick up more soldiers that wanted to join them. At one time they had about 30 or 40 American soldiers traveling with them.
On December 20, 1944 the men were driving through a small town when they saw some tanks up on a hill in the distance. They asked some of the anti-tank specialists that were with them where the tanks were from and they determined that they were U.S. tanks along with German infantry men. The men decided to go up the hill and find out exactly who they were. Once the men reached the top of the hill they found that the tanks were German and not American vehicles. The German soldiers ran back to get their tanks and began shooting at the trucks. The Germans then started to maneuver their tanks across the fields trying to crush any of the American GI’s who may have been hiding in the grass. After demolishing the trucks, and trying to kill a number of soldiers, the German army soldiers proceeded to gather up all of the American men that remained and take them prisoner. The troops, including Tech Sgt Bloom, were taken and thrown in a barn for the night, however they were removed from there so that the Germans would have a place to keep the high-ranking officers.
The next day the troops were forced to march toward Germany. The prisoners were herded 80 men per car into boxcars that were designed only to hold at most 40 people. The train reached Limburg Germany on Christmas Eve and parked for the night. Suddenly the whole place was lit in a red light from flares that were being dropped by British planes. The flares served as light to mark the targets on the ground for the bombers that were following behind the planes.
The men on the train knew what the flares were used for and beat back the barbed wire fence that covered the windows on the cars for fear that the train was probably a target of the allied forces. The bombs did not hit the train, however they did hit all around it recalled Tech. Sgt. Bloom. The men would have been better off to stay on the train than to get off like many of the men did.
Once the bombing had ceased, the prisoners began to look around for survivors. They dug out men that were buried by dirt from the impact of the bombs, and they carried them along with all of the other wounded men to a prison work camp that they saw on a nearby hill. Upon reaching the camp they found that it had also been bombed. There were a couple of buildings that were still standing and that is where the soldiers laid their injured brethren on some tables. They did all they could to help the injured but the had no supplies of any kind.
The next morning the German soldiers rounded them back up and forced them back into the boxcars. This time, due to the bombing, there were only about 60 or so men in each boxcar. The trip ahead would last for nine days. The men were not given anything to eat and received a drink only once during the entire time. Some of the men ate the little bit of snow that fell into the cars. The only time that the men got any water it was cold and many of the men got dysentery from drinking it right away. Tech Sgt. Bloom was one of the men that knew that he had to let the water sit in his mouth to adjust in temperature so he would not become ill.
The prisoners finally arrived at the prison camp in Muhlberg, dehydrated and not to mention starving. When the men arrived at Stalag IV B prison camp in Muhlberg there were already 2400 American and 6000 British soldiers being held captive there. Tech Sgt Bloom and the other men who were captured with him were originally put in with the British prisoners which caused many problems. The British troops did not like the American soldiers at all but the American soldiers knew not to cause any problems with the British POWs because it was the British soldiers that ran the inside of the camp. Generally the Germans kept the camp separated by nationality and kept the nationalities apart with barbed wire fencing. Bloom and the men captured with him were moved to the American side of the camp with the other United States troops. Although the British troops ran the inside of the camp, it was the French prisoners that were in charge of the cooking. The American prisoners had no real role in the camp.
Tech Sgt Bloom recalls that the only food that the prisoners received was a handful of soup at one o’clock every afternoon. The men held at Stalag IV B during this time were not fortunate enough to get Red Cross parcels so they had to make their food. Many of the British soldiers had received them prior to the arrival of Bloom and the other troops. The British Red Cross became to stretched out that they had to stop delivering parcels to Stalag IV B. The men would usually only have water and some very poor quality vegetables to make a meal so they would usually make soup made of carrots and water, but on occasion their men would get soup made with barley, wheat, or grain. To make matters worse very few of the men had utensils of any kind. This meant that in order to get their one spoonful of soup they would have to put it in their hands.
Every morning the prisoners were forced to get up and “Toe the Line”. This meant that the men had to stand side by side and were not allowed to move. If a prisoner moved or fell, quite often he was shot. The prisoners had to stand still in the line until about 10 o’clock A.M. Tech Sgt Bloom also remembers that the freezing winter weather only made things worse. The barracks did not have heat and the windows were only covered with plastic sheets.
The buildings were all very overcrowded also. Each barrack had bunk beds that were three bunks high and each individual bunk had three men in it. They had no mattress or blankets of any sort. Tech Sgt Bloom and a couple of other prisoners found a tent which they split and used as a cover. Everyone had to sleep with their clothes and shoes on to stay warm, and also to prevent swelling. If they took any of their clothes off they would not be able to get them back on because of the severe swelling that the horrible conditions caused.
In Stalag IV B there was little to keep a man busy so many of the men went off to other camps to work. When they asked Bloom if he wanted to go he said no and they left him alone. As for the men who did go, when they came back their skin was extremely thin because they were fed mostly potatoes which contain a lot of starch and the starch along with the dehydration would cause their skin to become paper thin.
Stalag IV B was not marked as a prisoner of war camp, so the allied forces were under the impression that it was a military base for the Germans. The German Air Force helped to promote this idea by flying their aircraft over the camp at low altitude to make it look as if they were coming in for a landing at the camp. Some of the planes would fly so low that they would knock the power lines off of the roofs of some of the buildings at the camp. The allied air forces would shoot at the slow flying German planes and often hit the prisoners of war and their barracks. After a few of these terrible mistakes, some of the prisoners took rocks and anything else they could use to spell out POW on the roofs of the buildings and on the ground to alert planes that flew overhead what kind of camp it was. Unfortunately many of the pilots thought that is was just an attempt by German soldiers to trick the pilots into not shooting at them and so many of the pilots continued to fire on the camp.
On April 25, 1945 Russian troops came into Stalag IV B and liberated the prisoners of war that were being held there. Tech Sgt Bloom said that many of the Russians rode bareback into camp on horses. At the gates of the camp there was a large sign with a swastika on it and that was the first target of the Russian troops that were there. Bloom recalled that the soldiers covered the sign with explosives and blew it sky high. The prisoners were now free to go, however there was nowhere for them to go. Many of the liberated troops followed the Russians and traveled with them. Among the men that did this was Jack Bloom, whom said that although they were free men following a troop of allied forces, they were still being treated like prisoners. The Russians led the American and British troops that followed them to a German Engineering camp where the men all received physical evaluations and a place to stay. While the men were there, fourteen Red Cross trucks came to the gates to pick up the soldiers and return them to American lines. The Russian guards that were at the gate sent the trucks away and began to hold the men as if they were prisoners once again. Tech Sgt Bloom and a few other men that saw the trucks get turned away, decided to break out of the camp through a window in the building were they were being held. They were on the second story of the building and had to jump for freedom. The men walked and crawled for eleven miles before they found safety. They found a dormitory that offered them a place to stay but they needed a Russian signature before they were allowed in. The war was declared over and the people were out in the streets firing anti-aircraft missiles and guns in celebration. They found a Russian man and got his signature and returned to the dormitory and stayed there for the night. The next morning the men got up and began to walk toward American lines again. The men walked all day and came to the Elbe River. Across the river they could see an American flag and they all began to run for it. They reached the American lines about May 9th. Since the war was over, men were getting sent back home. Jack was put on the ship George Washington, which was a hospital ship, because of his poor health due to the deplorable conditions that he endured as a prisoner. His ship entered the New York Harbor on the fourth of July 1945 to a spectacular fireworks show. Although it was meant to honor these men that were finally returning home, the loud noises and bright flashes immediately sent some men mentally back into the war. The men were finally allowed to get off the ship on July 5th. Tech Sgt Bloom only weighed about 80 or 90 pounds at this time so he was sent directly to Halloran Hospital in New York to receive treatment and rehabilitation. Bloom didn’t go home until December 19, 1945 because he was sent to many different veterans hospitals for treatment.
When I asked Tech Sgt Bloom what the toughest part of being a prisoner was, he said the malnutrition was very difficult. He remembered that everything he and every other prisoner thought about revolved around food. Bloom recalled that a single day did not go by where he did not dream about food. Jack also said that the men being help prisoner with him in Stalag IV B were somewhat fortunate that malnutrition was their main enemy. Fortunately for the prisoners of this camp, the German guards were not as brutal as the guards at many of the other camps. This is not to say that men were not beaten or killed in Stalag IV B, but it was not as common as in many of the other German and Japanese prison camps.
Lest We Forget- WWII Prisoner of War- Jack Bloom of Benezette