A Visit To Stalag XXA Torun/Thorn Poland Patricia Egan and Andrew Bell
September 1, 2012
In September 2012 Andrew and I, went to Torun Poland where Dad (Vince Egan) was held as a POW.
Dad had written that he was held in 4 different forts/camps. Dad arrived in Torun on 31/12/1941. He was held in Stalag XXA - Fort XV. Later he was moved to Fort XIII and then Fort XIV. In mid-1944 he was moved to a "hutted camp" - Copernicus Lager. On the 20th of January 1944 he was moved out of Torun.
Before arriving I was in contact with tourist guide, Jan Rucinski, who was exceptionally helpful. He located all 4 places and arranged to take us to all of them. On our first day Jan took us to the 2 places where prisoners were taken off the trains when they first arrived in Torun, and processed. These huts were adjacent to the railway line. We were also shown the buildings built by German POWs. Whilst the 2/5 AGH men did not work for the Germans some accompanied work parties and so may have gone here.
Copernicus Lager has been completely removed. Jan took us to the foundations of a hutted camp to give us the idea of the size of the hut and to the Russian Cemetery. The Cemetery is on the site where, as Dad wrote, “The bodies were mostly in mass graves, with inscriptions in German such as ‘30 Soviet POW’, ‘50 Soviet POWs. Jan arranged to get us to the top floor of a nearby block of units from where we had a birds’ eye view of the local area and we could see the location of where the camp had been.
From here we went to Fort XIII. This fort is located on a current military base. Before our arrival permission had been sought for us to go onto the base. At this base we met retired Major Marian Rochniński who does not speak English. He has a museum within the fort and has artifacts collected from the site along with items given to him by allied (mainly British) POWs. Major Marian gave us an extensive tour of the fort including showing us hand written comments / illustrations, in pencil, by English speaking POWs.
We then went to Fort XIV a smaller fort used as a hospital. Here we were shown the barrack where the medical orderlies were held.
Lastly we went to Fort XV. This fort has had other buildings added to it and has been used by a private business. Interestingly it was used, post 1945, to house German prisoners and their families.
I had copies of Dad’s photos with me and we were able to identify the location of many of the photos.
As you probably know the forts were surrounded by moats although only one held water. The forts all had only one entry across the moat and then entry via a fortified gate. The forts were built into the ground, often under an artificial hill. We felt the lowering of the temperature as we walked along the downward sloping corridor towards the inner part of the forts – and this was the height of summer. The forts were segmented by use during WWII – we were shown where the prisoners were held; the sanitary areas; solitary confinements cells ---
gun placements with artillery storage -- exercise areas and so on. -- All very confronting.
Whilst the Forts are neglected they remain standing. Major Marian would like relatives of the 2/5 AGH POWs to know that he is working to keep the memory of their experience alive. He gave me copies of brochures about the forts – unfortunately only available in Polish.
The following day we went to a Museum (Muzeum Historyczno-Wojskowe w Toruniu) located in a school established and managed by History Teacher, Piotr Olecki. This museum has a section dedicated to British POWs. Piotr has collected artifacts and personal histories, including those of POWs. We left much better informed about the effects of war upon this town.
Amongst Dad’s photos were images of a burial at the local cemetery. We lastly went to the cemetery locating most of the photos (though not the grave site). Torun is a beautiful UNESCO walled city with many other historic sites. We stayed at the Hotel Spitzch http://www.spichrz.pl - centrally located for easy access to the Town Centre. For those who like to do “their own thing” this is a great place to stay, and visit the Muzeum Historyczno – Wojskowe w Toruniu.