Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Pieces From The Past - The Double Cross Quilt

Today's letter is from C.M. Lankau, typewritten and easy to read...

As the year nears the end of 1947, just a few months short of 2 years from when Camp Trinidad was shut down, it would seem that those that that lived in the Russian Zone of Germany were among those that struggled the most.  With the lack of housing and food and the harsh winters must have seemed unimaginable and mind-boggling!  It also seems fortunate for Mr. Lankau that his wife had relocated OUT of the Russian Zone, yet times are still hard... and he doesn't want to dwell upon the harshness of life for them.

Rather, he draws upon his memories to sustain and recall a more pleasant time and space.  Mr. Lankau and his family were among the fortunate families to be able to start over in a new area... and to have received one of the often requested CARE packages!

He wrote of the package coming from the Winger's, who had a 600-acre farm near Trinidad.  The Winger's were not among the names that my family would recall when talking about living in Model, but the Winger's were recalled by Ernst Ruehr in his letter to Phillip and Katie that accompanied the Flower Garden block.

There is an interesting bit of a story connected to the Winger farm and a story that made  the New York Times headlines in November 1943.  The story announced the "discovery of a hidden electrically lighted 150-foot tunnel leading beyond the outer fence".  

"Fully 65 feet outside the fence, it was covered by foliage growing in a dirt-filled box, which could be lifted out by men escaping.  The entrance to the tunnel was located beneath a trap door in a closet of a barracks building in the German Officers' Compound." 
The tunnel had been completed in early September, two months earlier.  When the tunnel's exit was discovered after several escapes some crude tools were found - a small scoop which was a part of a common fire shovel, a five-foot long furnace or stove poke that was badly bent, and an improvised wooden trough about a yard long and 10 inches wide, obviously used to remove the dirt from the excavation.  The men had also equipped a glove light on an extension cord to see what they were doing.

After investigating, it was revealed that an unknown number of prisoners worked for approximately 26 days to complete the tunnel.  The entrance of the tunnel was under the floorboards of a closet in the room and covered by a trap door on which were piled coal, boxes and other movable objects. 

Here are a few details of the tunnel and escapes as recounted in Prisoners of War at Camp Trinadad, Colorado 1943 - 1946 by Kurt Landsberger...

"Due to the length of the tunnel we needed light and illumination as well as the capability of taking out all the soil dug up.  Normally, such tools were not available to POWs.  Every day the American soldiers came in with their jeeps and trucks for the daily head count and to bring in the supply of food.  From them we obtained screwdrivers, pliers, claw hammers and rope.  Empty wooden barrels, formerly filled with butter, were rebuilt into a wooden sled on which we could place empty food cans.

Inside the wooden roof of each barracks were electric cables to light up the various rooms.  We had sufficient material on hand since each barracks was about 20 meters long and had three electric cables.  One was a ground cable which carried no electricity and therefore was available for our tunnel construction.  We helped ourselves to switches, sockets and bulbs from various empty or unused barracks."

"Digging was not done in the dark.  Electricity was provided by the cable, switches, sockets and bulbs.  This resulted in a well-functioning  lighting and emergency signaling system.  The lights could be turned on and off by a switch hidden in the closet.  If there was an unexpected and sudden roll call and head count, the lights were turned on and off three times.  This meant rush back.  If flashed on and off twice it meant stop using the hammer, someone was on the POW's walking path.  When the light was switched once, that meant everything was OK again.  A second electrical circuit was installed at the end of the tunnel to provide signaling capabilities from there too."

A side note here::  My Maternal Great-Grandfather, Ralph D. Werden was contracted to install electrical services to the POW Camp in early 1943.

He was was a licensed electrician in the community from 1921 into the 1960s.  For an individual to have a  personal tie to Camp Trinidad on both sides of the family is something that can only happen in a small community!

The connection to the Winger farm was through three Japanese-American sisters employed by L.T. Winger.  These sisters may have been "accomplices" to the escape.  It is a complicated and heartbreaking story of distrust and mistreatment because of one's heritage.   The Shitara sisters, known in the contemporary press as “the Nisei Sisters,” were prisoners at the Amache concentration camp.  By Executive Order 9066, over 7,000 Japanese, most being American citizens, were forcibly imprisoned at the Granada Relocation Center in Granada, Colorado from 1942-45 - Camp Amache, about 2-1/2 hours from Camp Trinidad.  The Shitara Sisters had been hired out to work at the Winger Farm and, because of the distance, resided on-site.  They met the German POWs when they too had been hired by L.T. Winger.

From WestWord - "Haider, an Austrian, told the women he’d spent time in a German concentration camp for opposing Hitler and then was forced into military service; he hoped to escape in order to get away from the hard-core Nazis in the POW camp and join freedom fighters in Europe.  Three of the sisters agreed to help him. They arranged for him to pick up civilian clothing and maps on his next visit to the farm. The night of Haider’s escape, they met him and a fellow escapee on the road outside the camp and drove them to New Mexico in a borrowed automobile."  This was the third and last escape from the POW Camp.  

During their trial, the third treason trial of World War II, the sisters’ race, class, and sex all worked against them as the nation watched.  You can read much more of the details on this case on the Colorado Encyclopedia and Enduring Communities web-sites.

Upon Haider's and the other prisoner's return to Trinidad, "we were treated according to the Geneva Convention Article 104, and sentenced to 30 days in prison with bread and water."

"Irony of fate:  in the same prison were the three American tower guards, since we claimed that they must have been asleep as we climbed the fence.  We had decided on that story since we did not want to betray our tunnel.  The American guards suffered a much harsher treatment; a year and a half of prison and dishonorable discharges.  Therefore we were glad when our 30 days were over; however, our conscience bothered us and we felt somewhat guilty for the fate of the young Amis."

Haider had attended a reunion years later in 1964, and stated "My most important task was to make amends and to rehabilitate the three guards punished wrongly, and the officers present promised to take this up with the proper authorities.  Later we received notification that their records had been cleared retroactively."  

How interesting that Mr. Winger would send a CARE package... perhaps he to was offering some sort of restitution or correction to the unfortunate punishment and unfair trial that the Shitara sisters had endured.

Mr. Lankau's memory of Katie's cake and chicken make me smile, but the memory of the kindness extended to him makes my heart swell with pride.  And his inquiry of the "big sons" and how they worked so hard... well, yes.  Yes, all three of the sons were hard working men all of their lives.  The older two, my uncles, Bill and Leroy, and my Dad, Melvin, continued to stay active and busy even after retiring. And after working hard they would almost always reward themselves with some sweet treat.  

Clara is on the left in the front row (her husband is behind her)
Bill, Leroy and Melvin in the back row

When I inquired about cakes that Grandma would have made my Mom didn't recall any but here's a goodie that they would have enjoyed on a break ~ not overly sweet and no frosting required.  Enjoy!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

1-3/4 cup boiling water 
1 cup uncooked oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa
Chocolate chips

Pour boiling water over oats and butter.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Add sugar.  Stir until butter is completely melted.  Stir in eggs.  Sift together flour, soda, salt and cocoa.  Add to oatmeal/sugar mixture.  Add chocolate chips.  Tip:: if you toss a tablespoon of flour or so in with a cup of chocolate chips before stirring into the batter, they will distribute more evenly and not sink to the bottom of the cake.  Pour batter into a greased and floured 13x9 pan.  Sprinkle walnuts and a few additional chocolate chips on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. 

Mr. Lankau certainly had an attitude of gratitude and included a small souvenir booklet that features local landmarks of Lübeck.

From the introduction of the book... "Lubeck is a city with which one cannot help falling in love even after a very brief visit.  Seven church towers of shining red brick rise like sentinels with patina green helmets above the houses clustering thickly at their feet on the island of the Old Town, washed by the Trave and the Wakenitz.  In the shelter of gates, walls, and ramparts one feels at once secure and also welcome.  For this city reveals with every step of the appreciative visitor its proud and glorious past and its happy, energetic present.  It showers upon us its hole being:  The joyous fellowship of old and young! to preserve the good and the vigorous in everything is the inner strength of this city which will enable it to survive for centuries and will be its stay in the future.

Lubeck's access to the sea is via the Baltic spa of Trave-munde.  There, on the banks of the Trave, spreads in contemplative calm the little old fishing town.  Passing by the wharves of the ocean-going ships we reach the trim yacht harbour, and then we are facing the open sea, with the broad, white beach stretching from the Norder breakwater to the Brodten headland.  Here the sea breezes and breaking waves provide the vacationer with relaxation and new strength for his workaday world.  Thus Travemunde perfects the colorful variety of Lubeck, that old but eternally young Hanseatic city, which cannot be beheld without being deeply experienced.

It looks like a quaint village and I would love to visit!  Lubeck obviously was not severely damaged during WWII like Berlin had been.

I have rambled long enough...  On to the pattern!  Because of the scandalous connection of the Winger farm employees with one of the POW escapes I selected the Double Cross Quilt block to accompany this letter.  

This block was one of the most challenging patterns I had to write with Y-seams and such.  And to be honest that there may have been some ripping out of seams, tears and alcohol... 
However, you will be happy to know that, in the end, I was able to create a beginner friendly pattern for you!  Yay!

Before you go, leave a comment to let me know what bit of detail captured your attention.  

And don't forget to come back and link up your finished block for a chance to win a free fat quarter.  Also, remember to use the hashtag #PiecesFromThePastSewAlong and tag me in your instagram - @MelvaLovesScraps - or facebook - Melva Loves Scraps - pictures of your finished block. 

Merry Christmas!


Linking with:

BOMs Away at What A Hoot Quilts
Colour & Inspiration at Clever Chameleon Quilting
Mid-week Makers at Quilt Fabrication
Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter
Oh Scrap! at Quilting is More Fun Than Housework
Sunday Stash at QuiltPaintCreate
Patchwork & Quilts at The Quilting Patch
Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt
Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts
Off The Wall Friday with Nina Marie
Friday Foto Fun at Powered by Quilting
Scrap Happy Saturday at Super Scrappy
UFO Busting at Tish’s Wonderland



  1. Wow! Just wow! The details of the escape tunnel are fascinating. Interesting tidbit about your maternal great grandfather.

    I've been working hard to get some last minute gifts finished so I didn't quite get the last block done. I should have it finished today.

  2. An awful lot of work making the tunnel, but it sounds like there weren't many escapees. Thank you again for telling these stories about our history.

  3. That is quite a story about the tunnel, Melva! I am all caught up now, I even did sashing yesterday, so I am ready form5e next block. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and a Joyous New Year!

  4. Such wonderful letters back to the folk who befriended them when they were here in the states. That gives a warm feeling inside to know that your family was kind even during the strife of war. A Very Merry Christmas to YOU!

  5. Hi Melva! What a fascinating read today. Can you imagine, digging a tunnel in 26 days?! I am not one bit surprised that your family is known for kindness. Gosh, that just makes my heart happy. {{Hugs}} I am printing out the block instructions today and will be back to link up when it's complete. Thank you for the pattern and the sew along. I sure am enjoying it! Merry Christmas! ~smile~ Roseanne

  6. Beautiful block! As usual you've provided a fascinating look at history. Thanks for sharing on Wednesday Wait Loss.

  7. I love this block! Thanks for sharing!