|John A. Kemper
106th Infantry Division
SOLDIER'S STORYWWII VET ESCAPED FROM GERMAN PRISON CAMP
BELLBROOK - Give Army veteran Jack Kemper the chance to
reminisce about his involvement in one of the most pivotal battles of
World War II, and he'll spin stories for hours. A 90-minute documentary
that aired recently on WPTD-TV, Channel 16, and WPTO-TV, Channel 14,
gave the 77-year-old Bellbrook man a chance to do just that.
as a member of the 106th Infantry Division, was among those
captured at the
was a part of the 106th Infantry sent to fight at the Bulge, interviewed
more than 100 survivors for the documentary, said officials at
Guggenheim Productions Inc. in
The other lives in
was a tall, 19-year-old private first class when he was captured. He
documented his experiences in a journal and sent postcards from Bad Orb,
the first prison camp he was sent to, to his parents in
and the rest of the soldiers in the 106th knew their situation was
hopeless when they saw a
`We were put into
the line at the
their weapons in a pile, the soldiers were forced to march for one day
before spending three days on a boxcar headed for Bad Orb. There,
Kemper and his fellow soldiers were assigned to barracks where they
slept on straw mats, two to a bunk. When they were allowed to eat, there
were six men to one loaf of bread.
`Within a few
days, the only conversations that went on was about food and what they
liked to eat,' Kemper said.
couldn't remember how long they were at Bad Orb, but remembered the
motive behind the Nazis bringing them there.
`They were trying
to separate the Jews and put them all in one barracks,' he said.
Although Kemper is not Jewish, he was taken with the soldiers of
Jewish descent because the Germans needed to fill a quota at Berga.
There were 350 soldiers who were sent to Berga. While there, they were
sent a mile from camp and made to help the Germans dig at least seven
tunnels by drilling holes and packing them with explosives.
"They were going
to build an underground plant that couldn't be bombed," Kemper
said. The soldiers were forced to work 12 hours a day. They had every
other Sunday off.
Some of the Jewish
people taken to
soldiers and civilians who supervised the work would use sticks to beat
the soldiers and Holocaust victims they didn't like or thought didn't
work fast enough.
"I was hit a
couple of times with a stick. I wasn't working fast enough, hard
enough," Kemper said. "They would knock a guy down if they didn't
like him. They were brutal. They didn't care. We weren't people to
The soldiers were
also losing weight because they weren't eating properly.
getting thinner and thinner," said Kemper, who weighed about 130
pounds before his capture and 90 pounds after.
"You kept thinking
about how long it was going to be before you get out of this mess," he
said, recalling what was on the minds of his fellow soldiers when they
weren't longing for a break from work.
As for his
thoughts, Kemper said, "Just to try to survive and get out of
there . . . I was trying to take care of myself. Survive myself."
never saw anyone killed at the camp, but said he was aware that some
soldiers were shot to death. There were a couple of failed escape
attempts, said Kemper, momentarily forgetting about his
On April 10, the
Germans started marching their captives away from Berga because the
Americans were coming, Kemper said. During the march, known as
the Death March, Kemper and fellow soldier Lawrence Gillette
ducked into the woods and hid in a barn for two days.
`We got to
talking. I said I think we can get out of this thing. It looked doable,'
Kemper said. "We sort of went cross country to this farm."
The older couple
who lived there had a Polish man working for them. "He took us to the
barn and covered us up with hay. He was a good friend to us," Kemper
said. "So much went on in a short time. I wish I was able to thank
The day they were
rescued, Kemper and Gillette saw an American tank and ran toward
it. The tank turned its gun toward them as a precaution.
"We were just so
happy to see them," Kemper said. "I guess we looked so bad and
decrepit. We started yelling, 'We're Americans! We're Americans!' ''
believes they would not have survived had they tried to escape earlier
because Berga was fenced in and German guards had barracks outside the
said that at the end of the war, 70 of the 350 soldiers who went to
Berga died, most during the Death March.
"The rest of the
guys in the march got liberated within a few days" after he and Gillette
were rescued, Kemper said.
On April 23, 1945,
advance units of the 11th Armored Division discovered the soldiers who
had been in the Death March. The German guards fled. The GIs ran and
crawled toward their liberators, according to Guggenheim Productions.
stateside, Kemper left the Army in December 1945. By the time he
got out, the war was over in
`I did pray a lot. I did a lot more praying when I was a prisoner,' he said.
will talk about his experience if you ask him, but he hasn't let his
past keep him from living.
`I had nightmares.
I would always dream about being captured again. That's the worst thing
that could happen to me,' he said.
chemical engineer with General Motors married his wife, Jean, in 1950 in
|Comments by his
Grand-daughter, Melissa A Kemper, 02/2008
My grandfather was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and then sent to the prison camp Berga in Germany. He remained in the camp from his capture in December until April, when the prisoners were lead on a march later known as the Death March. At that point he and Lawrence Gillette, another soldier from the 423rd/L, managed to escape. They hid in a barn until the American troops arrived.
He now lives in Dayton, Ohio
|Page last revised 02/03/2008|