After the months of brutality that my father endured at Kamp Amersfoort, he spent the next eight months in the AEL slave labor camp near the municipality of Offingen, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany. Conditions and treatment of the prisoners at this confinement were horrible.

Of the eighty-some prisoners in his unit of this camp, with whom he labored for months, laying railroad tracks in the Bavarian hills, more than half perished from starvation, exposure and dehydration. Prisoners were seldom fed, anymore. They tried to hydrate themselves, with water that trickled from a rusty old faucet in the camp.

Winter mornings in Bavaria were bitterly cold, often well below freezing. My dad recalled Christmas morning, when the prisoners were made to strip down for roll call, then stand naked in the frozen prison yard. On occasions like this, roll call was made to last from 7 a.m. until noon. By noon, a number of prisoners had died from exposure. They literally dropped to the ground and froze to death. My dad realized, that if he did not escape this place, he would surely succumb to the elements.

As part of their slave labor pay, the prisoners were given a stamped postcard to send home, despite the fact that there was no mail service from the camps in 1944. But, my dad did, like he did with everything he earned in life, saved his postcard for future use.

On Sunday, January 21, 1945, my father managed to escape the camp. The first thing he did, shortly after his escape, was write his postcard and put in the mail to his family in Holland. This is the card translated from Dutch:

Dear parents, brothers, sister and brother in law,

I do not know if this card, will ever reach you. Nevertheless, I want to try it. How are you? I still have not heard anything from you and that is already since I was picked up in May, 1944. The packages have never been handed to me, as I was in prison at that time, but now I am a free man again. Taking into account the circumstances I am doing well. Many things have happened, for which I cannot find the words. Luckily Providence saved me up till now. Thinking of home. What was that always such a good time and badly appreciated. Dear people, I have to finish now. Please try to get contact. Greetings from Jogchem

Initially, his intention was to head west, to the advancing Allies. That’s all he knew, to head west, over the snowy hills that surrounded Offingen. He even looked to the sky, to see if any of the Allied airplanes that flew over the camp the night he escaped were anywhere in sight. But there was nothing but snow blowing down from the sky.

Regrettably, his much anticipated freedom was miserable and short-lived. He wandered the snowy back streets of Offingen, tired, cold, emaciated and very hungry. One morning he came upon a farmhouse. In desperation, he asked the farmer who lived there if he might spare him a bite to eat in return for work. The farmer obliged and welcomed my dad into his warm kitchen. In the meantime, the farmer's wife went into another room, got on the telephone and notified the police of their new guest. Before my dad could sit down to have his first bite to eat, the police arrived at the farmhouse, and took him into custody. The farmer said nothing, but my dad could see from the helpless expression on his tired, middle-aged face, that he felt bad that he wasn’t able to feed his starving guest.

My dad was summarily rearrested, and returned to the dreadful labor camp. There, the guards asked him, "So you were hungry?", as they laughed, and tossed bread coated with human feces at him, and forced him to eat it. One week later, on February 1, 1945, my dad would turn 23.

Van der Hout lives in Southeast Portland.