Private Dan Jones was captured by Nazi sergeants in a smoke-filled forest in Holland. He and a small group of American prisoners, mostly paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne, were taken to the squalid barn loft that was to be their home for the rest of the war. In the Work Commando 311/I, Nazis forced them to work as slave laborers, repairing and maintaining German railroads that had been damaged by Allied bombs. The ill, weary prisoners, once proud members of elite U.S. fighting units, suffered unaccustomed disgrace. Bickering over the meager food supply added to their anxious depression and hopelessness.
Tired of the men’s morose outlook and individualistic ways, Herbert Marlowe, their unofficial leader, held a meeting one evening in the barn loft. Marlow explained that their infighting and irritability were not only keeping their spirits low by also amusing the Germans. He encouraged the prisoners to retaliate against their captors in careful, nonthreatening ways. Jones suggested that they work slowly, looking busy while accomplishing little. Then all the men began to contribute schemes to steal bread, turnips, beets, and coal. A glimmer of hope and a feeling of comradeship made their wretched situation more bearable. Soon they were working together to confound the Nazis in every way possible, and some prisoners even attempted escape.
Survival was the captives’ goal, and along the way they suffered sadistic guards, hostile civilians, bitter cold, loneliness, malnutrition, and illness. Work Commando 311/I follows their terrible, exciting story—told through the combined recollections of the survivors—from their early combat experiences to the Allied triumph at the end of World War II.
Claire E. Swedberg is a journalist whose expriences include reporting for newspapers and television. She earned her degree at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where she studied journalism and English with a comprehensive in writing. Currently a newspaper editor in New Jersey, Swedberg published her second book, In Enemy Hands, in 1998.