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"The whole thing there was to try to keep these men's minds occupied lest they go berserk with the monotony of the thing." (Audio Interview, 21:49)

   Eugene Lewis Daniel, Jr.
Collection image
Eugene Daniel [1993]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army
Unit: 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division
Service Location: Camp Polk, Louisiana; Africa; Italy; Germany; European Theater
Rank: Major
POW: Yes
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In two lectures, from 1980 (on audio) and 1993 (on video, with questions from his audience of students), Eugene Daniel tells the harrowing story of how he came to be captured in North Africa by German soldiers in February 1943. He spent the remainder of the war in several POW camps, one of which was the basis for Stalag 17 and another the basis for The Great Escape. In some ways, Daniel's life changed less than that of other men, as medical personnel and chaplains were the only captives allowed to exercise their duties.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (10 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (51 min.)
Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (6 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (35 min.)
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»Chaplains: On a Divine Mission
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (10 items)
Explains what a chaplain does; how he was captured by the Germans; they did appreciate his caring for the German POWs; how the Germans were under Hitler's spell; German officer explaining that Hitler's leadership would be the difference between the outcome of WWI and the current conflict. (03:40) Belatedly learning about the Red Cross parcels the POWs were supposed to receive after he had lost a lot of weight; Red Cross kept him alive; Russians refused these packages and many starved to death. (01:30) Was allowed to carry on with his work; Germans allowed it "begrudgingly;" Germans checking up to make sure he was sermonizing about what he promised them he would talk about; YMCA supplied enough Bibles to go around. (02:08)
In a way, the enlisted men were better off than the officers because they had work to do; a lot of men took Bible lessons in what they called Kriege College; some men just took to their bunks and deteriorated. (01:07) The Great Escape: tunnels dug by British prisoners; Germans executed 50 of the escapees and cremated them; Allies allowed to have a memorial service for them after the cremation; mail was permitted, but it was censored both ways; mail having mixed effect, with bad news driving men to consult him. (02:40) Tracking final days of war on radios they kept on the sly; would trade cigarettes from Red Cross packages with guards for tubes to construct the radios; betting on the end of the war; winning a night on the town in New York on such a wager; liberation day. (02:50)
Keeping his spirits up after hearing the troubles of others; a chaplain "better be in touch with the Lord;" he wasn't always in that frame of mind during his captivity. (00:56) Favorable impressions of the Germans: how methodical and efficient their army was; felt more at home with them than the French; witnessed a Nazi rally in Munich, did not think Americans could be so efficiently massed for one cause as that. (01:27) Knew there was a death camp near theirs: Dachau; inmates were political and religious prisoners; knew of some ministers who were interned and one who was executed. (01:43)
After Liberation, camp was flooded with all kinds of people including one VIP who insisted on sleeping in their barracks one night so he could tell his grandchildren that he'd spent a night in POW camp; next morning, all they had to eat was blood sausage; VIP went off with his driver and came back with potatoes, eggs, and preserves; he claimed they had "liberated" them from a German farmer; visit from General Patton, who promised to get them home soon. (03:11)  
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (6 items)
During an Allied retreat in North Africa, he was captured with some injured German prisoners who needed caring for; requested that as a non-combatant he be returned to the Americans under a flag of truce, but Germans refused; conversation with German officer about difference between World War I and World War II; transported to Tunis awaiting flight to Germany; offering a service to the men while waiting; how his reading of the 23rd Psalm came to be prophetic. (05:28) Learning that American soldiers were ignorant of the Bible; devised a study course for prisoners, held three days a week. (01:43) Returning to first camp he'd been in, near Munich; enlisted men's camp; he and a doctor were only American officers; influx of fliers; two or three of them collaborated on the play Stalag 17, which was "very realistic;" having to show outline of his Sunday sermons in advance to Germans, who would then attend services; they were nervous about his criticizing Hitler or the regime; negotiating one Sunday over the "political" content of one sermon. (03:46)
One point of teaching the Bible was to keep the men's minds occupied lest they go crazy from the monotony of captivity; many men finding religion; story of one soldier from Wyoming who had rarely been in church back home. (02:08) As Russians advanced on camp, senior Allied officers letting German commandant know that if anything "like an atrocity" happened, the Germans would be called to account for war crimes; having to evacuate camp in the snow; interring 50 soldiers captured, shot, and cremated after the Great Escape; march in the snow proved a test of faith; soldier recalling his mother's advice to pray during his time of trial (05:15) Proud of his fellow prisoners for not cooperating with Germans; liberation post-mortems; all concluded that you "can't get in a situation where God can't get through to you." (02:17)

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  October 26, 2011
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