Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The real Sgt. Schultz? The Germans "were hopeless at counting."

French POWs. Henri Cornioley is standing fourth from left, a German officer on the far right.

In honor of the passing of Richard Dawson, who played RAF Corporal Peter Newkirk on "Hogan's Heroes," here's a real-life anecdote that closely resembles some of the antics seen on that show.  This excerpt is taken from the Code Name Pauline, the memoir of Pearl Witherington, and relates the experiences of Pearl's husband Henri Cornioley when he was a French POW.

"Another funny thing happened to me.  There was a little wood near the camp.  After working for a while, I thought I’d had enough -- we were allowed to stop briefly when nature called.  So I left the others, found myself a nice little spot and thought I might as well have a snooze. At that time I could sleep anyhow and anywhere.  I fell fast asleep.
When I woke up, all the others had gone back to the camp.  They hadn’t noticed I was missing because no one counted the prisoners outside; we were only counted when we got back to camp.  I wondered what I was going to do, I hadn’t prepared anything for an escape, I was wearing clogs etc.  So, I decided I’d better go back to the camp and explain.
I arrived at the camp, asked for an interpreter, told him what had happened and asked him to get me in.  He went to tell the camp commander and came back five minutes later, “You can’t come in.  They don’t want you to enter, they’ve had a head count and it was correct.”
I said, “But, this just isn’t on, I have to enter.”  They discussed it for a while; obviously the idiot who had counted didn’t want to admit that he’d got it wrong!  I said to the interpreter, “It’s your word and mine against his, you know me; you know I’m in this camp.” What a palaver.  In the end they let me in.
Sometimes, when we were being counted, we changed places on purpose so they got it wrong and had to start the roll-call again.  This meant we started work later. But there are lots of stories about the Germans muddling up their counts. They were hopeless at counting.

Excerpt from the appendix "Henri's Story" from Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a WWII Special Agent.