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Corporal Oliver Omanson

Company D, 179th Regiment, 45th Division

United States Army

Canova, South Dakota

                           

      Born to a farm family in South Dakota, as a young man Oliver Omanson planned to farm. After returning from World War II, however, he underwent a ďconversionĒ and became a Baptist minister. He says it was God and his faith that helped him to survive the ďNazi Hell.Ē

      Ironically, although being carried by Fate and world events to the other side of the planet, while a POW slave laborer he was put to work on an estate near Besswitz, in the then-German province of East Prussia. The baron of the estate had studied at South Dakotaís agricultural university before the war and aided the POWs as best as he and his family could, although it was strictly forbidden. Decades later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall Oliver Omanson and his son visited the former manor house, today in Poland. There, he learned that only a short time before his visit, the son of the former baron had visited, tooóbut died of a heart attack upon entering his childhood home, by then occupied by Polish peasants quartered in the subdivided manor after the war.

      The story related to the two American visitors was that as the Soviet Army advanced on a collapsing Third Reich six decades earlier, pillaging by Red Army soldiers was infamous: the Germans assumed that they would cart away everything of value, once the Germans had fled. When the baronís son walked into his childhood home in 1990, he immediately spied the ornate chandelier that had hung in the house in his youth. Reportedly, upon exclaiming ďOh, the chandelier is still thereĒ he dropped dead.

 

DIARY 1944

February 28    We worked in the bush. (Sawed down trees for firewood) Campbell was taken to the hospital. Snowed this evening. Received the O.K. paper. (This is a propaganda sheet given to us a number of times.)

February 29    Threshed today. (The harvested grain is stored in huge barns.) In the winter a threshing machine will be brought in and weíll thresh.

March 1          Threshed today.

March 2          Threshed today. The old guard (Walter) brought back some cake for us that was baked by his wife.

March 3          Loaded barley on the train this morning and threshed this afternoon. Today a woman inspector came. (A student from college, learning the trade.) Donít know how it will go.

March 4          Threshed today. This noon we were moved from the hen house to the barn.

March 5          Sunday, a day of rest.

March 6          Hauled manure this morning and threshed this afternoon. Roebuck and Karin were taken to Hammermuehle to see the Doctor.

March 7          This morning we threshed and this afternoon I worked with the straw chopper. (This machine chopped straw into two inch pieces to be spread over the sugar beets that are fed to the milk cows.) This evening we were paid. (Thereís no possibility to spend the money. Eventually they took it back from us.) Received the O.K. Paper today.

March 8          Chopped straw all day. Heard Berlin received another big bombing.

March 9          Worked in the woods today.

March 11        Worked in the woods this morning. It started to rain so we threshed this afternoon. Berlin was bombed Monday and Wednesday.

March 12        Sunday, a day of rest. Snowed again today.

March 14        We threshed this morning and worked in the swamp this afternoon. Came in with wet feet.

March 15        Worked in the bush all day. Karin received a package from home. Heard bombing again today.

March 16        Worked in the woods today. We work another hour longer now.

March 17        We worked in the woods. Some of the boys received their first letters today. They were dated January 4. Received a couple of O.K. papers today.

March 18        Worked in the woods. Rained all day.

March 19        Today we went to Techllip where the Chaplain and Harry were to hold services. Pistoh Kommando was there also.

March 20        Worked in the woods. Snowed today.

March 21        Spring commenced and it snowed today. I worked in the woods.

March 22        Worked in the bush. Today twenty more Yanks came. Some of them belonged to the Rangers. They were caught at Rome in January.

March 23        Worked in the woods. Quite a number of planes flying around.

March 24        Worked in the woods until the blizzard got so bad they brought us in.

March 25        Today I received my first letters since last July. I received five. They were from Art Wikholm, Victor Brown, Elsie Anderson and Evelyn Frey. They were dated the middle of January.

March 26        Sunday, a day of rest. Went to the Doctor to have my leg bandaged. (It is infected from cold, etc.)

March 27        Worked in the woods. Eighty Yanks escaped from Stalag 17. Heard bombing again today.

March 28        Worked in the woods. It snowed. Guards are still posted for the Yanks that escaped.

March 29        Worked in the woods. I received my first package of clothes from home today. I sure needed them. Fifteen packages in all came today. It sure is hard on the Germanís morale.

March 30        Worked in the woods. Snowed today. Heard bombing.

March 31        Worked in the woods. Blackie went after more clothes and Red Cross boxes. Four deer came within a hundred yards of us.

April l              Worked in the woods. The Germans are taking the Old Gold cigarettes again. (There were 5 packages in each Red Cross parcel)

April 2             Several more packages arrived.

April 3             Worked in the garden. More people are moving to Besswitz. (Due to the bombing of cities civilians move out) Heard bombing again today.

April 5             Worked with the Gardener. Guess I will continue to work in the garden. If so, itís a good lick.

April 6             Covered tile and worked at some odd jobs. The packages continue to arrive.

April 7             Good Friday. A day off.

April 8             Pulled weeds out of the radishes. Received letter from Wilfred and Esther.

April 9             Easter in Germany. A day I will never forget. The Baronís wife brought each man an egg and a cake. After dinner we saw what we have been wanting to see ever since we have been here... A sky black with American flying fortresses. The Germans were out in full force to see them. The old guard turned grey. ďAck, ackĒ from the nearby airfield opened up on them, but it was useless.

April 10           Another holiday. More and more kids come hanging around for something to eat. Even though they are supposed to be our enemies, I canít help but feed some of these starving kids from our Red Cross supplies.

April 11           Built hot houses for garden purposes. Stolp was bombed at noon today. It could be heard from here. They are moving dozens of children from Berlin to Besswitz.

April 12           Planted garden. The boys from the bush brought home two small foxes.

April 14           Pulled weeds in the hot box. Things are growing more serious. Folks are becoming more worried.

April 15           Another guard came today. Stettin bombed again.

April 16           Sunday, a day of rest. I received two more letters today. One from Mable and one from Ted. More and more kids are hanging around begging for something to eat. Civilian morale seems to be getting lower and lower. We are being treated more like human beings every day. I canít help but wonder what folks back home think of me for getting captured, but it was a choice of living or dying and I decided I would like to stick around awhile.

April 17           Raked the lawn. Roebuck has been helping since Jim has been sick. I have it made since I got this garden job. Very easy work. All these kids from Berlin cause much confusion. Itís a bawling mess. The little fox is as tame as a kitten. Runs all over the barrack.

April 18           Worked in the park and on the graves.

April 19           Worked in the Park. Had a little trouble with one German boy who tried to date the lady inspector.

April 20           Planted garden. One of the boys brought up a washing machine. Today is Hitlerís 57th birthday, so every family in the village had out a large swastika flag. The church, also, had four flags on it.

April 21           Cleaned off the strawberry patch. It rained a shower. Two storks moved in. A number of German planes seem to be keeping pretty close watch lately.

April 22           Worked around the Church. It rained. Received a new type of Red Cross package. They donít take cigarettes anymore. The propaganda is off and the food is better. The Russians invaded Norway. The Russian prisoners are getting better treatment all the time. So are we.

April 23           Sunday, another day of rest. A French prisoner came up from Pistoh. He says the Russians are well into Hungary and Romania. He says the Germans will last about two months. The Russians are rating higher and higher. The German morale is getting lower and lower. Their pride is slipping very fast. They beg for all the food they can get.

April 24           Finished a few odd jobs around the garden. Had a big rain today. Heard the Americans bombed Danzig.

April 25           Rained again today. We planted cabbage. A German officer came out today after some horses for the army. They are beginning to hurt. All they eat is brown bread and potatoes and their clothes are beginning to be all worn out.

April 26           Pulled weeds. Heard the Russians are still making big gains. Lots of German planes flying around today. The fox is getting to be a nuisance. Biggerstaff is over the malaria.

April 27           My birthday. It rained and we did a few odd jobs in the garden.

April 28           Weather has been pretty cold lately. Did odd jobs in the park. The gardener job sure is alright. Easy work and plenty to eat.

Apri1 29          Today I saw the largest formation of German bombers go over I have ever seen. Twelve.

Apri1 30          Sunday. Worked this forenoon. Sunshine and cold.

May 1             Today is a German holiday so no work. Winter is over now and all the boys that came out in the beginning are still here except one that went back for an operation. Two had malaria but pulled though. Winter work was rough. We came in night after night soaked and our feet were always wet and half frozen. We only had one pair of socks for most of the winter and for awhile some were just wrapped in rags around their feet. Sometimes these Germans seem inhuman. They drive on with the work no matter what the weather is like.

May 2              A rainy day. I was sick so I stayed in. Stolp was bombed today.

May 3              Hauled dirt in the garden. It rained.

May 4              Rained. I just loafed. Another family scrap in the evening.

May 5              Worked in the park. It rained again today. Old Dame went to take his physical for the army today. He is 56 years old and so stoved up he can hardly walk. They sure are needing men. Heard bombing in the west again today.

May 6              Worked in the strawberries. Rained some again today. Was sick so laid off half a day. Heard bombing in the distance again today. Karin received a package dated February 7

May 7              Sunday. No work today. Three more packages came in again today. One was dated March 10. Another Red Cross ship must have come in. The weeks roll on and the work goes on as usual. Some of the boys are getting plenty blue and homesick, including myself. I donít see how Germany holds on. As near as I can find out, the whole country is bombed flat. I traded the Baronís kid some candy for a world atlas.

May 8              Rained again today. I was sick so Nix Arbeit. The fox came to an unhappy ending today.

May 9              I was sick again today so no work. The sun shone a little bit today. See by the O.K. paper the Japs are beginning to vacate Tokyo.

May 10                        Planted beans. The Germans have been railroading considerable equipment lately.

May 11            Received another package from home today. Got another shipment of Red Cross boxes today. We, also, received more clothes. The old Germans are getting more and more unruly right along. I look for the inspector to get released any day. The people around here beg all the time.

May 12            Pulled weeds in the strawberry patch.

May 13            Air raid at Hammermuehle today. Potato planting has started. They are planting 250 acres.

May 14            Sunday. A little rest. Heard today that the Americans have Rome. Germans are trying to get the French prisoners to fight with the Germans. They sure pull some low down tricks.

May 15            Planted flowers. Rained again today and is colder.

May 16            Transplanted flowers etc. Plenty of German planes in the sky today.

May 17            Showered again today. Planted in the garden. The Germans are getting more friendly every day. This little village reports 32 men killed on the front. Berlin bombed again yesterday. 3000 killed.

May 19            Heard Rome has been taken by the Americans.

May 21            Sunday today. The Stalag band put on a concert for the POWs. The Germans are getting more generous all the time. Germans and all seem to expect the end some time this year. All the cities are bombed to pieces. We receive packages from home regularly now. We have more clothes than we need. The Germans have lost all pride and beg on for all they can get. One woman will do sewing for prunes, raisins etc. The men pick up the cigarette butts they find on the ground.

May 22            Cold again today. Tomorrow Quinn goes to the hospital. He has yellow jaundice. Heard the Russians are making a big push.

May 23            Just gold-bricked most of the day. Packages keep coming. We get more liberty and better treatment every day.

May 24            Cold and rainy today. The Confidence man from the Stalag was here today. He says the Yanks are coming and the Russians are close. He cautioned us to stay in the Lager if anything happens. I would like to write some of the stories of suffering and killing the prisoners tell us, but no one would believe them anyway. Some of these Germans have been killing maniacs in their day, but itís about over now.

May 25            Rainy and cold again. Today we didnít do much work. The Frenchmen are worried about their homes in France on account of all the bombing.

May 26            Cold. Fritz took Don to the hospital for an operation. I received two letters today. One from home and one from Audrey Callice. The one from home was dated February 20.

May 27            Sunshine today. Plenty of German planes out today. Seems to be quite a lot of troops moving by. Lots of horses and hay moving up, also.

May 28            Sunday. On account of the holiday the Baronís wife brought us each a cake and an egg.

May 29            Another holiday. Pretty warm again today. A good day for bombing.

May 30            Hot again today. The days sure are long here. It starts out light about half past four and doesnít get dark until about half past ten. France is getting bombed pretty hard. Civilian casualties are high. The Germans sure play this up trying to turn the French against us. I still donít do much wok. The garden business is alright. Packages continue to come in.

May 31            Hoed again today. Sounded like some city nearby took another bombing today.

June 1             Worked in the strawberries.

June 2             Transplanted celery today. It rained most of the afternoon.

June 4             The rain let up and the sun shone a little this evening. This Germany is certainly a damp, rainy, cold country. Here it is June and I am still wearing long-handle underwear. Time marches on but it is beginning to look like the second front might open any day, due to all the bombing the Allies are handing the Germans.

June 5             Hear today Rome fell Saturday. Today I received a letter from home and one from Evelyn. Also, received the card I sent home last October. Crops sure look good here, even if it is Germany.

June 6             Some of the boys went to Rhumelsberg today after more Red Cross parcels. They, also, brought along a phonograph and a sweater for each man. Also soap, belts etc. And, a big box of garden seed. Now we all have to bum a little land from the Baron to plant it on. This is sure strange weather here in Germany. It rains nearly all the time. It has even got the old German men worried. It hasnít been like this before.

June 7             Rained again today. Things are sure making a big change around here. Most of the Germans are as solemn as if they were at a funeral. They know the end is near. They admit Rome has fallen, that bombing is getting heavier. The gardener expects the end in August. Also, heard Tokyo has been bombed for two months.

June 8             Today I heard what sounded like a big artillery or bombing barrage near Stettin. It lasted nearly all day.

June 9             Rained again most of the day. It is a pretty well authorized fact now that the Allies hit France.

June 10           Rained again today. Since the invasion of France, the Germans all look pretty sick. Hans says one of his brothers was captured by the Americans.

June 11           Rained again today. According to the grapevine, the Yanks have gotten a pretty good toe-hold in France. The civilians around here have pretty well given up. It seems as though the way this Hitler Motherhood works, the girls get fifty marks for the first child and seventy-five for the second. For every child they get a dot in their insignia and after having five healthy specimens the get a medal. Eliacis went away this winter and received her second stripe.

June 12           Rainy again today. All this wet weather is helping the weeds and holding up work. According to the grapevine, the war should end in about a month. The old Germans around here look pretty sick. I often wonder just what the Russians will do when it ends. It is pretty apt to get a little rough for awhile. Today Karin and I had a hot argument with the Baronís daughter and her girl friend. Insults sure flew for awhile. They claim we are not good, yet they follow us around like a couple of pet dogs, same as a lot of others do. The old German men stand at attention and salute the Baronís daughter, but we treat her same as anyone else. This sure burns the Germans up.

June 13           Ploughed in the garden today. The Yanks are coming fast.

June 14           Sawed wood for the gardener. Rained again today. Americans are nearly to Paris.

June 15           Rained again today. I received seven letters today. Things are sure changing around here. The Germans are doomed and know it. What the end will be is more than I can guess. Some of them say that Germany is going to fight as long as there is a German left and the way they are hanging on makes me wonder if they wonít do just that. They are being pounded every day by our bombers and they are completely surrounded. They have hardly anything to eat and their clothes are about all worn out. Most of the women and lots of men just wear wooden shoes and no socks. Many go barefoot.

June 16           Hoed in the garden today. Pee Wee claims he saw four B-38s today. One dove down and fired a burst. They have a stricter watch on us now. Guess the Yanks are getting a bit too close.

June 17           Hoed onions. They have a guard on us all night now. Orders are to shoot anyone that makes any peculiar move.

June 18           Sunday. Went swimming today.

June 20           Hoed in the garden again today. We caught a young deer today. Hammermuehle had another air raid alarm again today.

June 21           Pulled weeds. The Corporal came today and got a little rough. Kraft, Clark, Crowder and Brewer go back to Stalag.

June 22           Rained all afternoon. They just got their hay cut and raked up and now a big rain. They handled it nine times. They do it with hand rakes. I hope it rains until it all rots from the bottom up. Today we heard another air raid alarm. Heard bombing and flak all around. These Germans are sure beginning to squeal. Everything is bombed to pieces.

June 23           Rained again today. Fritz brought back five more men. Also, brought a banjo along.

June 24           Rained and hailed today. This is the fifth day of

summer and I have wool underwear on. I wore an overcoat part of the day and a jacket nearly every day. This cold weather is sure ruining the garden.

June 25           Sunday, but they are about over in Germany until after the war. And for the prisoners as well. Today we started on a house building project for the bombed out refuges. They are building five here. They are built of stones and will have straw roofs. They have four rooms and two families in a house. They walk guard from here to Hammermuehle and have guards on in the village all night.

June 26           The hay is finally loaded and it makes the fifteenth time it has been handled. I had my first strawberries today.

June 27           Today the Russians went to a picture show. These Germans are beginning to show their colors now.

June 28           Rained again today. I received one letter. According to all the noise we heard around here today, several more cities must have disappeared.

June 30           Hoed weeds. Hear the Yanks are 15 kilometers from Paris.

July 1              Today one more of our guards left for the front. Before leaving he pressed his trousers with a flat iron we stole from the Germans. He has been a pretty good guard. He shook hands and wished us all back to America soon. Tomorrow night he will probably be fighting, perhaps fighting my brother... who knows!

July 2              Today, which is Sunday, we had to dig foundations for another house this forenoon. Work six days and a half a week, wouldnít be so bad if we had anything to eat, but all the Germans give us for breakfast is ground barley, the very same thing we feed our hogs at home, and some brown barley bread that our dog wouldnít even eat. The other two meals are just potatoes. They give us a little meat once a week. I canít see how these Germans keep alive on it. If it wasnít for the food we get from the Red Cross, I would be a walking corpse.

July 3             Hoed weeds again today.

July 4              Iíll never forget this fourth. It was just another day of work for me. I wonder what the next year will bring forth?

July 5              Worked in the cabbage patch. The new guard that came in Fritzís place brought another man from Stalag. We have thirty-eight men now. The Germans talk a lot about their secret radio-controlled plane.

July 6              Pulled weeds today. The Germans are going to wreck England in one month with their new rocket plane.

July 8              Hoed weeds today. I got another fill of strawberries again today.

July 9              Today ten of us went to Rhummelsburg after Red Cross parcels. I got a pair of new shoes. Things are sure looking dead. Confidence man says the end is near. He says September.

July 10            A big rain storm this evening. These Germans are sure beginning to cry on our shoulders now. The Russians are in East Prussia.

July 11            Hoed strawberries today. Today a family from Danzig moved in.

July 12            Picked peas. It rained some more today. I received four letters.

July 13            Ate cherries today. Worked a little.

July 14            Don came back from the hospital today. He brought news that things are about ready to crack.

July 16                        Sunday and itís raining again today. They only had ten Yanks work today. According to what news we get, the Germans are nearly surrounded. The Russians and Americans are breaking through all over, but still the war goes on. I know they donít have anything back here and so for that reason I canít see what they are keeping the war going with. I wonder how long it is going to go on. Every day we have nothing to look forward to but work. If we had enough to eat it wouldnít be so bad, but potatoes and sour brown bread day after day gets pretty old.

July 17            Picked cherries this forenoon. Rained at noon. It wouldnít surprise me much if a revolution would break out here any day. Everyone is getting panicky. They donít get enough to eat and their clothes are wearing out. They either go barefoot or wear wooden shoes.

July 18            Cultivated in the garden today. Found out today they are starting to evacuate East Prussia. The net is slowly closing in. These Germans are sure getting more friendly all the time. I sure wonder just how it is going to end up. Received another package today.

July 19            Hoed weeds this morning. Stayed in this afternoon. Ashley and Speedy slugged it out this evening.

July 20            Cool today. A snake bit a Russian twice. A girl is helping in the garden now.

July 21                        Picked peas today. The army has been out here gathering up scrap iron today. They hauled off a pile of 4-inch water pipes.

July 23            Heard today that Hitler was wounded in that attempted kill. It was a time bomb and he hasnít talked for several days. These people all want to quit fighting, but donít dare to. The only thing that keeps them going is fear. It looks like the only thing that will stop it is a revolt or some action to overthrow Hitlerís gang. Back here they are starving and donít have anything to work with and hardly any clothes.

July 24            Rained this morning. Today Otto and the inspector had a long spat. Things are sure coming to a head fast.

July 25            Picked peas all day. I believe the German government is starting to crumble. The attempted killing of Hitler is the beginning. The Germans are trying to enforce this Heil Hitler more than ever lately. The prisoners just make a joke out of it.

July 26            Three of the boys went to Rhumelesburg today and brought back some more clothes, food parcels, sport equipment etc. Troop trains are moving toward Russia. We get German newspapers pretty regularly now. I picked strawberries today.

July 27            Picked peas again today. I received two letters from Evelyn. One dated April 3. Flies sure are bad here. It would be a miracle if some of us donít get sick before the summer is over. There sure is nothing easy about being a POW over here. I reckon most any man would give a lot to leave here and go back to the front.

July 28            It rained nearly all day.

July 29            A big rain again today. Worked in the park.

July 30                        It rained again today. Had to take a team and haul a couple loads of bricks for the house project today. These people sure are starving over here now. They beg from us all the time. They try to beg clothes, also. They stole four more Red Cross parcels from us. Hans left today probably for the front. The new guard came, too. They started harvesting rye yesterday.

July 31            It rained again most of the day. All this rain is sure knocking these crops to pieces. Things sure are getting in a sorry shape around here. These Germans beg, bum and steal everything they can get. How this is going to all end up is more than I would dare guess. There was a big explosion close by today and some of the boys heard a plane strafing. According to latest reports all Germans under forty five are going to the front or to the factories. Everybody is evacuating North Prussia.

August 1         It rained again today. Franz went to Rhumelsburg so we didnít do much.

August 2         My job in the garden runs out today so I went back on the farm. I hoed turnips. I received three letters today.

August 4         Hoed turnips this morning and loaded straw this afternoon. An American 38 dropped a bomb on Hammermuehle the first of the week. At present we are having very chilly weather.

August 5         Hoed turnips this afternoon and shocked rye this afternoon.

August 7         Shocked rye today. There is plenty stirring around Besswitz today. They rounded up nineteen girls, women and men to send to the front to dig foxholes and gun impalements for the Germans as the Russians drive them back. They sure are hurting. I canít see how they can hang on.

August 8         Shocked with the old women today. Bombing close again. Slim stopped a German and a Russian from killing each other with pitchforks. Everybody is getting panicky. If they are ever going to revolt, now is the time with all these girls and boys going to the front.

August 9         Sacked rye in the barn today. Heard Turkey declared war on Germany. These Germans, especially the inspector, are running around in circles trying to get the work done and it started to rain again this evening.

August 10       Shocked until it started to rain. The gang leaves from here for the front tomorrow. Hear the Russians are patrolling the Baltic.

August 11       Shocked rye and hoed turnips. Heard bombing today. Hans left for the front.

August 12       Sacked grain in the barn. It is pouring down rain tonight. As many as can be spared are going to East Prussia to help dig in. Defeat is near.

August 13       Had to shock this afternoon. Itís cold today.

August 14       Raining and cold today. I split wood and hauled straw

today. It was cold all day. They caught Clark today. The guards never even knew he had left.

August 17       Hauled bundles. Clark is back working. Heard a big explosion.

August 17       Spike pitched yesterday and today. When they caught Clark they just brought him back and put him to work. All they have done so far is take our pants and shoes away at night. We are rationed to a pound of potatoes a day. Potato crop is a failure this year. Small grain is poor, also; donít see what the people will eat this winter!

August 18       Threshed a little today.

August 20       Sunday but we shocked grain this forenoon. The Germans checked our clothes this morning.

August 21       Stacked grain in the barn.

August 22       Sprayed trees. Heard southern France was invaded. Lots of artillery in the distance today. We were paid tonight.

August 23       Sprayed again. Heard more planes and bombing again today.

August 24       Worked in the timber today. I received two letters today.

August 25       Threshed. Moved hay back in the barn etc.

August 27       No work this Sunday. A couple of German officials were around taking pictures. Hear Paris fell.