Fort XIII (Wild, David. Prisoners of hope. 1992. London)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Freedom is in us

Austen Deans was a soldier of New Zeland forces. He was sent to defent country far away from New Zeland...firstly North Africa and secondly Europe. When German won capampaing in Crete Austen and rest of soldiers as a POW were transported to Stalag XXA in Torun.

After four days of trip to Poland soldiers were located in old prussian forts. Austen was imprisoned in Fort XV. Below we present short part of his fascinating biography....

One of Austen Deans painting shows Fort XV

In the first few months at Stalag XX-A Austen also worked as a temporary tailor, repairing old British army greatcoats for the Russian POWs. As they were not party to the Geneva Convention they had no access to supplies and provisions through the Red Cross, and would have frozen to death had the Germans not provided the coats.

The three friends were able to continue painting. Austen carried on with his portraits of other POWs and as many landscapes as he could produce from within the confines of the camp. He could see rolling hills, wooded at the tops, with dense housing in the foreground. One corner of the camp gave a view he particularly liked and also allowed him to hear gypsy music in one of the nearby houses.

But after more than six months of forced inactivity he was yearning for physical exercise and thoroughly enjoyed his first real job, putting an electric power line across the countryside. They were digging post-holes over a distance of a mile-and-a-half, with one guard to eight POWs, and after a few weeks Austen found himself at the far end of the line, with the closest guard out of sight. He put down his shovel and climbed a steep bank to see what was on the other side. There before him was the Vistula River. It was a hot day so he stripped off and went for a swim. When he came out of the water a group of young Polish boys had gathered on the bank and indicated that they could help him escape. They pointed to his clothes, then to him, then to the village. ‘I decided against taking them up on their offer,’ said Austen. ‘I had a number of paintings back at the camp which I thought highly of and didn’t want to abandon them.

Original remains of POW Camp

In Fort XV
A part of sightseeing forts, museum and attraticions in Torun we moved to Grudziadz where Austen spent some time in hardlabour camp. Wonderful people from city helped us to find places where Austen made paintngs with beautiful landscapes of Grudziadz. Paul and Hannah had a nice surprice like interview for localmedia. Article is here .

Monument of victims in Grudziadz
For us trip with Paul and his daughter Hanna was another lesson to understand how people during the wartime were looking for elements of freedom. It seems to us that Austen found it thanks his  passion ... painting.  That's true that even hopeless circumstantes the freedom is in us ...

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