|clearly, however, the mountainous areas or their winding roads.
Thus, the small convoy had attempted to cut straight through the Cévennes
in order to reach the Rhone valley near Valence, and had ended up in a
mountain cul de sac, trapped.
Deeply discouraged, and separated from their commanding officers, these
air force "crawlers" - as we called them in French - were ready to give
up. They had picked up some of the leaflets dropped by the RAF, which
guaranteed the bearer safety if he surrendered to the Maquis.
When I arrived at the scene, civilians were already swarming around,
as were a few armed Maquisards who, though the Germans had no intention
of resisting, kept them under close surveillance. The German sergeant,
in charge of the group, was eager to relay his men's request to surrender
and to find out whether the leaflets had told the truth. I assured
him they had, and that he and his men would be treated properly as prisoners
of war. Upon learning about the American silk map, which had brought
them to their mountain impasse, I confiscated it immediately. It
has remained one of my prized possessions ever since. It was only
then that I was told about two wounded men who were on the truck, one with
a flesh wound in his arm, the other with a bullet in his thigh, which had
broken the bone. As the leaders of the Maquis arrived, I introduced
the German sergeant to them and placed the German contingent into their
hands as prisoners of war.
Since the lowlands were still crawling with fleeing Germans, and skirmishes
were a daily occurrence beyond our mountains, we could not evacuate our
prisoners toward Nîmes. So, we marched everybody down to Lasalle's
elementary school, which was transformed into a prisoner-of-war camp.
I made sure that the wounded received treatment, though we were unable
to take the man with the broken leg to a hospital, and had to put the leg
in a cast ourselves and hope for the best. I saw this man more than
the other prisoners. He was a painter from Bad Gastein, in Austria,
and a devout Catholic. Trying to keep up his morale, I spent hours
at his bedside.
Another prisoner had a Leica camera, which I took into temporary custody,
though everybody advocated that I keep it. I returned it to the owner
when he was transferred to a more permanent prisoner-of-war camp.
No doubt somebody there would confiscate the Leica for good, but I refused
to take another person's property, even if he was a German prisoner of
war. I did keep the American map, though, since it was U.S. government
issue and had never really belonged to the Germans.
A number of years after the war I received a touching letter from Mr.
Petutschnigg, the painter from Bad Gastein, who thanked me for what I had
done for him during his illness in Lasalle. He told me that in spite
of his shorter leg he was working at his trade and invited me to come and
see him in his home, but Bad Gastein was not on the routes of my travels
in Europe, and I lost track of him some years later.
CHAPLAIN TO THE GERMAN PRISONERS
My second contact with German prisoners was more purposeful and in line