ARTHUR DANGEL

"The INCORPORATION OF FORCE (August 1942): The memory of a drama"


from a work prepared by his grandson


Thiébault Dangel


May 1977


 
The misery...

 
Brigades of woodcutters in the forest of Rada

 
A hut of the camp 188.
 

 
General Petit and General Petrov inspect prisoners a last time before their departure.

 
Leaving the camp 7 July 1944.
 
 

ARTHUR DANGEL



It had been 25 years when he received at his home in Bendorf, a peaceful village of the Jura Alsatian, the order of mobilization of the Wehrmacht, the cursed induction order, so feared by the young Alsatians-Lorrains susceptible to be concerned by the incorporation by force in the army of the Reich (prescription of 25 August 1942). Arthur Dangel no longer had any idea in his head but to escape to Switzerland. But having had knowledge of his project, the Gestapo stopped him 13 February 1943 in Ferrette at the wheel of his bus. As a lot of youths in his class, he will see his native Alsace only in May 1945. After the Russian front in the Middle East then passing by the camp of Tambow, Arthur Dangel will have known tests and tears of Malgre-Nous (in spite of?) taken in the chain of a war that no one wanted.

In returning to Mulhouse at the wheel of his bus between Winkel-Mulhouse that Wednesday 13 February 1943, Arthur Dangel, younger son of a family of 4 children and son of the flour dealer of Bendorf, reflected on the manner that he was going to take to pass clandestinely the Swiss frontier, a distant of only 3 km of the village. He had his share of projects to finish. His flawless knowledge of places invited him to appear trustful as for his odds of success. But he arrived the road station of Ferrette, to the painful surprise to see climbing in the bus two men of the Gestapo that summoned him to follow them. A. Dangel had to render to the obviousness; his plan had been leaked.

The Nazi vice shut on the rebellious.

After a strong first muscle interrogation in Ferrette, A. Dangel was sent to Mulhouse where he passed his first night in prison. The next day, enclosed in cellular trucks, A. Dangel and his comrades of misfortune were transferred to the camp of Schirmek. According to an implacable chronology, 7 to 8 weeks he worked in quarries as well as daily deprivation, sufficed to suffocate all passing fancy of resistance. The Nazi thought that A. Dangel and his comrades that had dared to defy the Reich were henceforth okay to integrate the Wehrmacht. A train took them to Prague where they passed the Council of Revision before sending them to the Crimea; waiting for them severe discipline of a regiment of infantry specially conceived for difficult cases. But A. Dangel was not among those that gave up easily. Resistant to the fascist ideology and to its propaganda, he had only one desire: to join Russian ranks when the opportunity was presented.

And finally the opportunity was presented 10 September 1943, during of an attack of artillery in the direction of the Russian lines. A. Dangel accompanied then by 6 other comrades passed to the camp of the liberators. To the humiliation from the incorporation by force, succeeded the hope to find dignity lost.

But the hope collapsed rapidly. At his arrival in the Russian camp, it was impossible, despite all the sincerity that he used, to convince the soviet officer that he was of French nationality. For the Red Army Arthur Dangel and his comrades were only simple deserters of the German army. Thus began for him a second calvary that was be marked by a long and difficult confinement at the sadly famous camp of Tambow, where close to 10,000 Alsatians-Lorrains found death.

The first stop on this path was at Scharkov after more than 10 days of walking. This camp, conceived for prisoners of war characterized by conditions of extremely precarious hygiene but equally by its brewing of peoples and ethnic groups (Italians, Poles, Germans...). Arthur Dangel, exhausted by the daily work no longer found even the force to feel resentment with regard to Russians, or even of his homeland, he submitted to his detention and listening to the Russian propaganda.

And after three weeks of confinement, Russian authorities transferred the best to them to the camp of Tambow, where no prisoner had at that moment heard of. After first sorting, all the prisoners they gathered and posted. They walked through a hostile and monotonous Russia.

After 15 days of walking necessary for the convoy of prisoners to join the camp of Tambow, situated 450 kilometers from Moscow. At their arrival, the captive Alsatians were sorted and brought to camp 188.

At first light of the day, Arthur looked to the skylight of the cabin and discovered the environment of the camp. Composed a hundred of huts connected by paths of sand, he was surrounded by imposing enclosures equipped with watchtowers. To the view of these impressive devices, he was constrained to reason: an escape would have been a suicidal action.

Concerning his hut in the woods, composed of four rows of platforms at two levels, a table and a stove of brick, he characterized was worn out by discomfort.

They first met with the administration of the camp at place during of the "proverka", the assembly and the reporting of prisoners. Exposed during several hours to the biting cold of Russia, Arthur felt his forces leave him. But he resisted and was astonished at the "Chant of the departure". After the passage of the commander and the traditional "zdrawstwyi tovaritch kommandant," he reentered his hut, paralyzed by the cold and hunger.

The day of his entry to the camp, he learned, "Whoever does not fill the norm of work in the USSR, does not eat". Arthur discovered at his new job, consisting of sawing  wood in the forest of Rada. Because of swollen legs, he decided to stop an instant. But the Mongol guard make him understand by insulting knocks that the work does not wait.

Soon, another injury at the camp provoked the placement of Arthur in quarantine. Reserves of water were insufficient and the Russian authorities decided to stock water in a nearby pool. But this bacterium infested water fathered an epidemic of amoebic dysentery. Arthur was brought to the hospital of the camp to be nursed there.

He benefited from commodities sent by Americans, he gradually recovered with the help great spoonfuls of sunflower oil. It was a miracle, and Arthur was authorized to rejoin his cabin.

In the beginning of the month of May, after nine month of confinement, rumors begin to circulate as to a possible departure from the camp. To questions of prisoners at that time the reply without ceasing was "savtra", they were told tomorrow. But, three later days, Arthur exulted when during a "proverka" it was announced the official Alsatian departure. It improved the morale of their forces.

The whole month of June was devoted to medical visits and to the various preparations for 1,500 likely Alsatians to be repatriated to Algiers. The selection was based on precise criteria, that were seniority and their physical condition, Arthur seemed to meet these different criteria but did not rejoice much.

On 4 July 1944, Arthur was given a Soviet uniform: the calvary came to an end! On 5 July General Petit and the Alsatian Captain Neurohr arrived to visit the camp. At this time, the water had been quickly installed as well as dishes and a strip of flowers surrounding the huts.

On 8 July, all this masquerade was finished to make the regime look good was finished. The day of 9 July began early for 1,500 Alsatians, impatient to leave the cursed place. After hours passed in sorting and an alphabetical call, the convoy, divided in four sections was put in motion after lying down in the sun. It was with an emotional thought for prisoners remaining that Arthur passed the portal of the camp, adorned for the opportunity by a red star.

Appearing at the station of Rada, the prisoners embark on a train of carriages for prisoners.

For about 22 hours, the convoy shook and  went in direction of the south.

The convoy passed successively by Voronesh-Rostov, the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, from Machatschkala to Baku, to reach the Iranian frontier on 14 July 1944.

At Djoulfa, the last stop before leaving Russian territory, the commissioner Ollari harangued the soldiers a last time to return in Russia only as friends. The train continued then to Sofian, the terminus of the journey through Russia.

1,500 men were then conducted by Russians in the direction of Teheran, to an English camp. The change of regime was hard for Arthur, accustomed to rare and poor food, he regurgitated all that they ate. Consequences were not made to wait: indigestion and vomiting succeeded. Another contrast: the climate. Accustomed to the cold climate of Russia, he did badly  in the sultry temperature of Iran. Note that he changed for the third time his uniform to that of the English army.

But aside from these annoyances, life summarized his rights: the proof was the recovered liberty of religious worship.

On 27 July, the convoy left at night to avoid the unbearable heat of the day. After making stops in Takesstan, Kermansha and Bagdad, the breadth of Mesopotamia and the desert of Syria they reached the port of Haifa in Palestine. Amazed by the beauty of the city in total harmony with the ocean, Arthur and his companions were welcomed in the British camp 209, situated 12 km from Haifa. Seeking protection from the suffocating heat, he found refuge in pyramidal tents under cedars. But Arthur felt frustrated not to be able to visit the Holy Land by reason of his shaved cranium, all the more that he got his first pay of 250 thousands.

On 8 August 1944, a delegation of the association of Free Alsace-Lorraine visited the camp so as to investigate conditions of their incorporation in the German army and on circumstances of their confinement in Russia. In view of their skeletal aspect, they rendered accounts of deprivations endured during the long months. This very cordial encounter finished by tasting composed of Alsatian specialties to which 1,485 were honored.

On 17 August, GMC trucks transported Arthur and his companions to the port of Haifa. They embarked then in a boat, the Ruys, accumulated in overheated holds.

The next day, authorized to climb to the bridge, Arthur observed that the boat sailed already in high seas in direction south. Sudden, the siren of the boat resounded in a rescue exercise. The men were then informed of their destination: they were going to Port-Said where a convoy awaited them for their destination of Taranto, in Italy.

At the exit of the canal of Suez, the Ruys was joined by a series of escorts, the sea being infested with German submarines.

On 21 August, the alert was given on board the boat at the locating of a submarine enemy. It emerged almost simultaneously and two men shook a white flag. The submarine surrendered in Egypt with the agreement of the allies: the tension fell on board the ship.

On 23 August, the boat arrived in the port of Taranto. Immediately they disembarked, men were ordered to a barracks so as to avoid all contact with the population. Many encounters had already taken place between Italians and French soldiers.

In evening of 27 August, they embarked on board the  ship, City of Oran, passed the Italian sea coast, then to Maghreb and appeared on 29 August, at the beginning of the afternoon, in the port of Algiers.

At the beginning, Arthur observed with astonishment that an immense merry making crowd was massed in the port. It was established that the Committee of Free France and the Red Cross were behind this welcome. Questioned by the press on conditions of their detention, the old convicts did not risk to frustrate the Russians, thinking of their comrades remaining at Tambow. At what cost their feeding of the Stalinist propaganda.

Conducted to an old barracks in the suburbs of Algiers, they changed into the French uniform, the fourth since the start of the conflict. Having retained the hard discipline from the Nazi camps, they do not take long to be accustomed to the French arms handling and to the long parades.

On 14 September, not seeing real improvements of health, the generals decided to accelerate the improvement in form. They send men to Ténès, in buildings adjoining the sea.

In the month of September, representatives of the French army were delegated to Ténès, so as to incorporate Alsatians according to their own will. Arthur, after mature consideration, was committed to the 675th heavy automotive preparation and transportation company.

On 6 October, the Company was driven in trucks to a camp in the suburbs of Algiers to get American material: all men were then given arms, following their allocation, and a haversack containing all American equipment.

Day nine of instruction passed until the news of the return to France. To the morning of the departure for Marseilles, passengers of the Joseph Dickmann supported badly rolling conditions caused by a sea strong. Arthur was saved from the pain of sea and observed the escorts tower to tower to appear and disappear in the waves.

Angered to find the land closed, the men spent the night in a new camp situated in the heights of Marseilles.

The campaign for Germany began really for Arthur during his arrival at the base in Dijon. They had fight to insure a connection between Dijon and Treves, notably to transport there  supplies and material for the soldiers.

The campaign for Germany ended on 8 May 1945, the date of the surrender without condition of Germany. It was for him the end of a long journey that had led him through all Europe and the Mediterranean.

His arrival in Bendorf provided relief for his parents that clearly meant that their son could be alive as well as dead...

 
François and Arthur Dangel

 
Arthur and Jim Dangel


 


Here are the different decorations that Arthur has obtained concerning the drama of the war of 1939-1945:

-Medal of fugitive (1971)
-Medal of the Voluntary Combatant
-Military Medal (1977)
-Cross of War with Palm
-Knight of the Legion of Honor (1984)


James R. Dangel
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