Stalag Luft III
“For you the war is over.” That was the almost universal greeting to shot-down American airmen when they fell into the hands of the German enemy, a statement as far from the truth as any lie concocted by the Third Reich’s propaganda machine.
The war was not over for the new POW; it just became a different war, a war not without its own brutal casualties.
For the average World War II flier who ended up at Stalag Luft III — the prison camp for downed airmen run by the Luftwaffe — his last mission became the Longest Mission.
Typically, his mission began before dawn at an airfield somewhere in England, North Africa, or Italy. It ended months or years later with the liberation of Stalag VIIA on April 29, 1945.
While at Stalag Luft III, his mission continued unabated, but not his role.
He went from flier to prisoner of war in a matter of minutes. His new task was to contribute to the war effort as a Kriege, from the German term for prisoner of war, Kriegsgefangener.
His duty now was survival, communication, and escape. He no longer engaged his enemy in the air, but met him in the isolation of an interrogation cell at Dulag Luft or at another enemy installation. He met him behind the barbed wire at Stalag Luft III, on a forced-march in the dead of winter, or in the mare’s nest of Stalag VIIA.