The release of German prisoners of war played a very important part for the moral of the German people in the second half of 1945. Nearly 100.000 German prisoners were released from Weeze in this short period – 100.000 husbands, fathers and sons and even women who had served as Wehrmachthelferinnen, made their way home to their loved ones from this small town at the Niederrhein.
Weeze had been taken by the allied forces on 1st March 1945. The POW camp already existed as early as April 1945. The countess of Schloß Wissen, Isabelle von Loe, remembers in her diary:
" The family Krauhausen hardly returned back to their home at Gut Neuehaus, when it was announced the manor had to be cleared again. The animals were marched off across the railway tracks to Laarbruch. British soldiers were lined up along the road, shouting and waving, but no one understood what they tried to tell us. Only on our way home were we told about the danger our people just had escaped – the fields they had just marched through were covered in mines. The field was cleared of mines and then being used as a POW release camp and for months on end German prisoners found their way home through here............"
13th/14th April 1945: ".....went to the camp, was dealtwith abruptly."
Gut Neuehaus - then and now.
The first official paperwork of the camp dates from the early days of June 1945. It was situated on a field along the Reichsstraße between Weeze and Kevelaer, between the manor "Gut Neuehaus" in the south and a pub run by the family Kösters in the north. Parallel running to the road and the camp was the railway line from Geldern to Kleve.
Pictures taken 14th June 2009.
A former inmate recalls his time at the camp, end July-beginning August 1945:" We were marched by British guards from the station to a fenced in area near the Hegenerstraße, then called Lämmerstraße. In the distance I saw bombed out houses and a castle. The camp itself was roughly three acres in size, located between the manor and the embankment of the railway. The earth was soaked through, puddles of rainwater everywhere. I spent the night crouched down between two puddles, covered by a Zeltplane. Just mud everywhere. The last night in the camp I was drenched by the rain of a thunder storm, standing in mud coming up past my ankles."
An eyewitness from Kevelaer recalls:
"On driving by I had a good view on the milling mass in the camp west of the now called B9. I remember that I was convinced at the time that this stretch of land could probably never be used as farmland again."
The bit of paper that everyone was awaiting eagerly was the "Control Form D.2" – the Certificate of Discharge, the "Entlaßschein".
The first part of this D.2 contained the personal details like name, place and date of birth, profession, marital status and home address. The second part was the medical certificate and the third part contained the date of release, which part of the Wehrmacht one was released from, a print of the right hand thumb and the signature and official rubber stamp of the camp commandant.
The certificate of discharge was the most precious possession for the released POW, as it guaranteed him ration cards and a job on registering with his local authorities. Another valued item could be obtained with this D.2, the blue dye which was needed to change the colour of the Wehrmacht uniform. The discharge paper was an improvised ID, a vital paper to start a new existence in the new Germany.On release everyone received rations. 500 grams of bread and 125 grams of cold meat or 500 grams of bread and 40 grams of butter. In the months from July to December 1945 a total of 98.874 rations were handed out to the POWs.
Women were released from Weeze as well, but their number was incredibly low. The only written account is by Reinhard M. Bongartz who recalled in a questionnaire that his fiancee, a Nachrichtenhelferin who served in Norway, was released from this POW camp.
Excerpt from the Rheinische Post 24th April 1946:
We received two letters of thanks from former POWs who had been released at Weeze. One former POW wrote to us from DüsseldorfOnly when being on the truck to Düsseldorf, I was informed that the bread and cold meat I had been given was a donation by the people of your rural district. Please be so kind to thank the ones responsible for this deed of love on my behalf. It meant so much to me when I received the food on returning home after such a long time, I felt greeted by mother homeland.
Another former POW from Opladen told usThe first greeting of home was received by us in the form of butter and bread. I do not think it is hard to imagine how much joy this deed of remembering brought to us. For all of us it was the first friendly greeting. In the name of my comrades I would like to thank you with all my heart.
The POW camp in Weeze was disbanded on 28th January 1948. More than 200.000 German POWs had been released from here.