Back to: May 6, 1943 - Aug.29, 1944: Formation and Training

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This map follows the movements of the 278th in 1945 from their arrival in Germany to the end of the war.




The Colmar Campaign



Walter & Bill's Story

An important part of the 278th's history is the story of Walter and Bill Plywaski, who, at the ages of 15 and 16, escaped the Dachau concentration camp in 1945 and after fleeing to the Allied line were 'adopted' by the 278th's "C" Battery. Below is an essay written by Walter on the 50th anniversary of D-Day and first published by the Colorado Daily. Posted with permission of the author.

bill and walter

THANKS, JOE!… or D-Day recalled from another perspective.

 (A Colorado Daily guest editorial 1st published on the 50th D-Day anniversary and on http:/ on12/16/98)

Let me now praise non-famous men in grimy helmets and uniforms.   They, in that unforgettable spring of 1945, brought Life’s early light into the barbed wire hells of Germany.   These men, landing on Normandy's bloody beaches, poured freedom from the muzzles of their guns for me, my brother and all our concentration camp comrades.  The Americans and other Allies transformed us from those about to die like vermin to men preparing to live again.  This is a belated thank you note to these "GI Joes" who, like we, had also danced with death (though to a different tune).  Thanks  Joe!

On this anniversary of D-day in Europe, I humbly acknowledge those who pried open the black gate of the SS hell with their bullet shattered bones and lubricated its hinges with their blood.  While there are still a few of you to read this thank-you note for my life and that of my children who might never have been without you, I salute you with "L’Chaim"….  To Life!

In mid-April 1945, my brother and I, aged 15 and 16, escaped from the Dachau Karlsfeld sub-camp (about 10 miles from Munich) during an American shelling.  The explosions brought out the true Aryan "heroism" of our SS-guard executioners, who ran from their towers and hid.   This was the first time for us outside of barbed wire since May 1940 when we, as Polish Jews, were penned in for swift or slow slaughter.

We ran through a hole blasted in the barbed wire and crawled to reach an abandoned German anti-aircraft battery visible from the camp.   There we feasted on still hot corned beef stew on a stove.  Cans of DDT for our lice ridden bodies, Wehrmacht boots and wool clothing, helmets and some weapons completed our booty.  Since, by then, we could be mistaken for German soldiers, we kept our striped jackets and left to find the Allied lines.

We were "taken prisoner" by Americans who took us back to their Battalion and were identified by a sergeant who spoke Polish.   After a shower, he got us the smallest possible American fatigue uniforms rolled up on arms and legs.  A fantastic field kitchen breakfast of hot cereal with real milk and sugar completed our transformation into mini-GIs.

Who were these men just out of heavy combat, who found it seemingly necessary to share their language, thoughts, anger and their grief?  I never knew most of their last names, but knew I was safe and free at last, free at last.

My brother and I came to them with our Polish names of Wlodzimierz and Wladyslaw and no English language.  We parted from them some three weeks later as Bill and Walter, marching to Bremen so as to go to U.S.   We were “drafted” on the way by a bunch of GIs fishing with hand grenades in a pond.  A Polish American GI among them convinced us we needed some "R&R' with his outfit.  Thus we became the mascots of the 278th Field Artillery Battalion, Battery C, commanded by Capt. John C.  Van Arsdale of Minneapolis.

The day after we “joined" the 278th, that tall young captain gave a short speech at morning's formation.  He said something like "These two boys lost their entire family.  You can't give them back what they lost, but you can teach them all you know about and how to do things.  Company dismissed!"

Capt. Van Arsdale, a chemical engineer, led our education.  One of his men taught us algebra, another how to cut hair, another American history, another yet to press a uniform, and so on.  By the end of May, we were in cut down American uniforms, stripes and unit shoulder patches inclusive, a strange sight at maybe five feet and 90 pounds.

Battery C's men bivouacked on the Danube near the town of Donauworth. That miraculous summer we wandered along the river, swam, ate and grew. The men of Charlie Battery were our buddies, our fathers, our teachers and often our playmates.  By the fall of 1945, the 278th was to return "stateside" and we had to part with those magnificent non-famous men.

My brother Bill and I now use the gift of life bought so dearly by so many to save so pitiably few out of the murdered millions.  Yet the price paid by the GI dead saved other millions of Europe and America from the planned thousand years of slavery and death factories of the Third Reich.

Bill and I now live our concentration camp fantasies of a good life in a humane new land.  We hope against all hope that the price for lives such as ours shall "Never Again!" be required to be paid and that there shall "Never Again!" be such children as we were... yet there are and probably and sadly be again. Then once again lives will have to be bought by fear, wounds and deaths!

Can anyone doubt that shortly, (in a historical sense) there shall be another "Thanks Joe!" note written by a Kosovar ex-refugee?  I do not!

Walter Plywaski (Previously Wladyslaw Plywacki of the Lodz "ghetto", Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.)