New Paltz, NEW YORK May 19, 2014: Robert Jagoda, a resident of Woodland Pond at New Paltz, was captured and held as a prisoner of war during World War II. On the beachheads of Salerno and Anzio, Germans attempted one final massive attack to retake Italy. During this combat, Jagoda and fellow GI’s of the 45th, 3rd, and 36th Infantry Divisions were captured and held as prisoners of war. In honor of Memorial Day, Jagoda is sharing his inspirational story of survival.
“After we were captured, fellow Americans and I were kept in a cramped studio where we were forced to sleep on the floor or stand against the wall,” said Jagoda. “Over the course of the next three months we would be transitioned to different stalags, German prisoner of war transit camps. We suffered from malnutrition and a host of other problems, ranging from scurvy to malaria. Our meager subsistence consisted of two meals per day: a loaf of rock-hard black bread to be shared by five men, at noon; supper brought a tepid beverage served as soup, consisting of water, lard and cabbage leaves. At one point, I weighed 79 pounds.”
Jagoda and fellow prisoners loved the Italians, as they attempted to smuggle food and other basic survival items to the prisoners. When the prisoners were marched through towns with allies, they too would try to give food to the prisoners. In one town, women were in the streets throwing loaves of bread at the men. The German guards fired overhead shots to ward off the women, but they just went to the second story of their homes and threw the bread like football passes down to the prisoners.
“As prisoners we had to get creative in the ways in which we could do things,” said Jagoda. “We would take Klim milk cans and turn them into little stoves using belts and can openers. Wooden shavings from our bunks would help ignite and sustain a small fire. Most of us used these for cooking, but others would use it to make a cup of tea. Some of the British prisoners would sneak into the toilet area and make tea with these Klim cans late at night. You would hear people go into the bathroom to use the toilet and they’d shout, ‘Cut it out matey, you’re peeing in my brew!’ Despite our circumstances, we had some comedic moments.”
Jagoda recalls that prisoners tried to escape by digging tunnels or jumping fences. They were never successful, and were typically the victims of machine guns. After three months of captivity, Jagoda and 18 other prisoners were sent to the village of Bebenhausen, in Germany, to work on the Anton Markthaler’s farm. Anton’s daughter, Senzi, oversaw the prisoners and was persistent in her efforts to ensure that the 19 “kriegies,” prisoner allies, were treated fairly and, in acknowledgement of their work, were to join the farm families at meal times. He was one of the only prisoners that spoke German, so he acted as an interpreter between fellow prisoners and the Germans.
“I was 20 years old when I met Senzi, and we developed a close friendship when I worked as a prisoner of war on her family’s farm,” said Jagoda. “During our time on the Markthaler farm, Senzi interceded with our guards so we could invite villagers to ‘Good bye My Bebenhausen Baby,’ a musical that a fellow prisoner, Flannery, and I collaborated on to produce. We received a standing ovation, guards included. Next, in early autumn, we introduced the villagers to baseball. We set up in a cow pasture behind a church and graveyard. The ball, which was the size of a large cantaloupe, was stuffed with tightly packed felt; the bat weighed close to four pounds and was crafted of ash by the village wagon-maker. The game barely lasted three innings; the ball split at the seams, sending scraps of felt in all directions. Flannery, the man on base, mistakenly slid into a fresh cow flop – to the joy of villagers.”
After eleven months had passed, two S.S. officers came by the farm to guide Jagoda and other prisoners to a large stalag where they said the prisoners would be safe. Senzi did not trust these men, so she packed Jagoda a rucksack with a map, compass, milk, cheese, bread and cold cuts. She urged Jagoda to escape as soon as the forest offered a safe haven. Jagoda sneaked away from the officers, and hid in a farmhouse. Later that night, he ran into allied forces while trying to escape. They brought him to a farmer who provided him with civilian clothes. Together, they rode bicycles and canvassed the area until they found the other 18 prisoners of war who were penned up in a small wire enclosure. They freed the men and the guards fled as American 10th armored tanks rumbled into the area. The war was finally over. Jagoda caught a ride back to the village of Bebenhausen, where he reunited with Senzi.
To commemorate her friendship and bring light to his experiences, Jagoda published “Senzi: A Woman to Remember,” a memoir about his experiences as a prisoner of war. In this, Jagoda honors the memory of his time with Crescent Markthaler, known by the name Senzi, the woman who aided his escape, and to whom he credits his life.
Several years later, a friend and former colleague of Jagoda’s traveled to Germany and visited the village where Senzi had lived. To his surprise, his colleague found Senzi who had not spoken to Jagoda in years. The two had lost touch over the years and did not have each other’s contact information. From that point on, Jagoda and Senzi stayed in correspondence sharing gifts, letters and finally Jagoda’s memoir. One of Senzi’s granddaughters spent several evenings reading the book to her.
“We are excited to honor Mr. Jagoda and other veterans at Woodland Pond in recognition of Memorial Day,” said Sarah Hull, resident services director for Woodland Pond. “Hearing their tales of service, bravery and hardship, makes us all grateful for their sacrifice. Anne and Ray Smith, Woodland Pond residents, are compiling stories for a second edition of Wartimes Remembered, a novel with a collective array of true stories based on veterans’ personal experiences during World War II and the Korean War. It will be wonderful to have the tales recorded in print for future generations to enjoy.”
ABOUT WOODLAND POND
Woodland Pond at New Paltz is located in New Paltz, New York, and is a not-for-profit, upscale, continuing care retirement community (CCRC), tailored exclusively for those 62 and over. Nestled beneath the shoulder of the breathtaking Shawangunk Ridge, the community opened in 2009 and is the only CCRC in the Mid-Hudson Valley area. Woodland Pond offers an 83-acre campus that includes a professionally-staffed Health Center and a Community Center with an art studio, fitness center, heated indoor swimming pool, salon, market basket, billiard room, library, woodworking shop, game room, computer lab and more.
As a true CCRC, Woodland Pond at New Paltz offers independent living with a choice of a private residence (24 cottages and 177 apartments), services, and amenities. Under Woodland Pond’s Life Care program, residents are provided privileged admission to the assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing center. Life Care functions similar to a long-term care policy wrapped in a healthy and fulfilling resort lifestyle – so that residents can enjoy this chapter of their lives in an inspiring and supportive environment free from worrying about future escalating long-term care expenses.
Woodland Pond caters to a diverse group of accomplished individuals with a variety of interests and a zest for life. The community is operated by HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley, an integrated health care system committed to providing quality and compassionate medical care for patients, their families and the Hudson Valley community. For more details, please visit: http://wpatnp.org.