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Nickdfresh
09-30-2006, 10:13 AM
The German around the corner

Former POW describes encounter in Stalag Luft 1

By TOM ERNST
News Staff Reporter (http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20060930/1007989.asp)
9/30/2006


Irwin Stovroff says he couldn't make up the story of what happened to him after he was shot down during World War II.

He was 21, the bombardier on a B-24 Liberator out of England flying what was scheduled to be his 35th and final mission Aug. 13, 1944. It was supposed to be a "milk run," bombing bridges in France to block the German retreat, he recalled this week before sitting down with filmmakers preparing a documentary on veterans of the war.

The second lieutenant from Buffalo had been lucky on his previous 34 missions, but that changed suddenly when anti-aircraft fire knocked out the two port engines.

The "Passion Pit" was going down and the order was given to bail out. Stovroff used his .45-caliber pistol to destroy the Norton bomb sight - the highly advanced device used to aim the bombs - so it wouldn't fall into enemy hands. Then he parachuted out of the nose of the doomed aircraft.

It was daylight, and German soldiers shot at the parachuting airmen, but Stovroff landed safely. He was immediately captured.

"For you, the war is over," he was told.

Eventually he and the rest of his crew ended up in a POW camp, Stalag Luft 1, near Barth, Germany.

He was kept in solitary confinement and while not tortured physically, he was subjected to intense psychological torture and questioned relentlessly by a young SS officer.

"He spoke perfect English," Stovroff recalled.

The Germans wanted to know everything they could about the Allied bombing campaign, but Stovroff would provide only the standard name, rank and serial number.

In truth, he didn't know much because other than details of that day's mission, the fliers were kept in the dark as a security precaution.

During the third and final session with the same SS officer, the German told him: "I can help you. I know who you are and what you are."

While puzzled over the statement, Stovroff was more concerned about the "what" than the "who" because he's Jewish.

"I knew I was in trouble," recalled Stovroff, who, during the parachute drop, had discarded his dog tags that identified him as Jewish.

The SS officer then proceeded to name Stovroff's parents, the fact he lived on Ashland Avenue in Buffalo, the grammar school he attended and even the name of a former girlfriend.

"I can't believe it," thought Stovroff, stunned at the information the interrogator had.

The SS man then told him, "You delivered the newspaper to my parents' home" on Claremont Avenue.

The SS officer - Stovroff never did find out his name - said he had grown up in Buffalo, had gone to visit his grandmother in Germany before the war and decided to stay.

Looking back now, Stovroff said the absurd reality that he was in a German POW camp being interrogated by a man who once lived around the corner from him did not immediately hit home.

"I was so scared I didn't know what to think," he said. "I couldn't make something like that up."

Whether the Buffalo connection helped remains unknown.

When he was eventually liberated by Russian troops after 13 months as a POW, he obtained his personnel file, which had been abandoned by the fleeing Germans.

On the line listing religion, it says "Jude?" meaning there was a question as to whether he was Jewish.

Stovroff tends to think he would not have been executed, because despite what the Nazis were doing to Jewish civilians, they apparently spared Jewish POWs.

He said the Germans somehow knew the tail gunner on the "Passion Pit" was Jewish. One day the tail gunner approached Stovroff and said he had been told by the guards "we don't kill our prisoners."

Still, the tail gunner was scared. "They know I'm Jewish," he said. "What should I do?"

Stovroff replied: "Get the hell away from me. They don't know I am."

Eventually, Stovroff made his way back home and made some inquiries about his former "neighbor," but never found out who he was.

Stovroff, now 84 and living in Boca Raton, Fla., volunteers as a national service officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, counseling and helping obtain benefits for other former POWs.

In 2000, the retired furniture executive was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Vietnam War POW, doing the honors.

He shared his story with independent film producers Mark and Christine Bonn, who are making a documentary on the reminisces of World War II veterans.

Stovroff was visiting at the Town of Tonawanda home of his brother, Morton, retired co-founder of Stovroff & Herman Real Estate.

Morton Stovroff said his own story - four combat patrols in the Pacific as weapons officer aboard the submarine USS Balao - is "boring" by comparison.

The Bonns, who are from Western New York but now live and work near Los Angeles, hope to sell their film to the History Channel or some other outlet.

They are interested in hearing from other World War II veterans and can be contacted through the Web site www.letterstodefiance.com.

Mark Bonn agreed that Stovroff's story is amazing.

"But it's just one of thousands of amazing stories that are being lost at the rate of 1,200 a day [as World War II veterans die]," he said.

"These were just kids doing heroic deeds, yet none will ever admit to being heroes."


e-mail: ternst@buffnews.com

Firefly
09-30-2006, 02:12 PM
A very interesting tale that, I never cease to be amazed by pure circumstance. The truth is generally stranger than fiction.

Norris
09-30-2006, 07:19 PM
its a good story nicely told by nickdfresh and nicely quoted..........not that took much work