The idea that two mortal enemies can somehow be reconciled is a uniquely compelling human condition, Mr Schrenk and Mr Müller showed the way. I was immediately struck by their story and hoped that I might be able to get both men to sign.
This documentary captures their story beautifully:
What the documentary does not include however is that after bailing out of the B-17 “Pot O Gold”, on 22 Feb 1944, Schrenk would endure progressively degrading, inhumane treatment at the hands of his captors over the next 15 months at Stalag Luft 4 and Stalag Luft 6.
By February 1945, with the Russian army threatening from the east, the camp’s guards ordered the prisoners to evacuate. The guards simply drove the exhausted starving men back and forth across snow-covered Germany like a herd of cattle. Most survivors simply refer to it as “The March” and Schrenk was one of the over 80 000 that started it.
The death march lasted three months, over 800 bitterly cold kilometers with no food. “If you couldn’t keep up, you were shot.” Schrenk’s comrades died all around him. He was constantly on the verge of freezing and starving. “I was lucky to be from Minnesota; I knew about snow. Those guys from Florida had never seen a snowflake.”
I initially reached out to authors of online articles however it was a songwriter named Loretta Simonet who instantly sent my request to Mr. Schrenk. Within 24 hours Les had emailed me back accepting my request for his autograph. (“Alive and kicking!!” he emailed)
Les signed and returned the logbook within a day of receiving it; the fastest turnaround for a signature. He was determined not to add further wear to its frail condition, such is the man’s caliber. In the year since his signing, I have been privileged to come to know Lester Schrenk. The thread of modesty and stoic principled work ethic common in all the signatories is strongly evident in this gracious man.
“I only did my duty, nothing more. To me the real heroes were the ones who carried their buddies on their backs just so the Germans would not shoot them. They are the true heroes knowing that their deeds would never be acknowledged no medals or such”Lester Schrenk in an e-mail to Nick Devaux June 2017.
Unfortunately Mr. Müller, though still alive at the time, was too frail to sign when I contacted the family.