A sentry strolled over, stood guard directly under them. At 11:00 p.m., another sentry relieved him, then another at 1:00 a.m., and another at 3:00 a.m.
“For some unknown reason,” says Izac, “they all refused to leave that spot. We could not move for fear of making a noise.” At sunrise Izac and the aviator snuck back down.
A few days later, Izak was on a train to Villingen, a high-security POW camp in the Black Forest. While the usual ratio was about one guard for every seven prisoners, Izac had two, with “equally foul” tempers.
Izac was in a foul temper himself. Before he boarded the train, soldiers had frisked him for contraband. Another tore the soles off his shoes, then hammered them back on just firmly enough to secure them while also making them flap. Plus, the train was moving in daylight. At Karlsruhe, the captives had all agreed that night was best for escape.
Nonetheless, Izac decided he must jump the train in daylight.
“We were in a fourth-class carriage filled with German soldiers. They obstructed the passageway and thronged around the door.” One guard sat next to Izak; the other faced him on an adjoining bench. Each pointed a gun at Izac, who “took pains to see that the guns were loaded.”
Suddenly, the train, a small locomotive with six cars, sped up. Thus far, it had been rising slowly in elevation. Now on a downgrade, it clacked along at 40 miles an hour. The increased speed made jumping much more dangerous.
Izac noticed that the window across from their seats — maybe 18 inches wide and 24 inches high — was open. Deep ditches filled with rainwater flanked the track on both sides.
About five miles from Villingen, amid close quarters and warm, musty air, one of the guards dozed off. When someone asked the other guard a question, Izac saw his chance. He shot up and dove through the window.
Almost. His head and shoulders made it through. His lower body got stuck. Guards flocked behind him, grabbing for his feet; manic shouts rang in his ears. He kicked and squirmed himself forward. There was nothing to grab outside the train. So he pushed off and fell head first.
And “all went dark.”
When he came to, his head felt split in half. It had smashed into a rail on an adjoining track. His body ached from hitting crushed rock and rolling over and over before he finally stopped. Three hundred yards ahead, the train screeched.
When he tried to stand up, he “made a terrible discovery. He couldn’t bend his knees. They “had apparently struck the tie next to the one that damaged my head. My body was all bruised, and my hands and arms had small pieces of rock ground in.”
The only good news: “no bones broken.”
Years later, Izac swore that if his knees hadn’t been so damaged, he could have run away. Instead, as he tried to stand up, the guards hopped from the train and ran toward him, “firing as they came.”
As bullets pinged around him, Izac felt nailed to the ground. Every movement exhausted him. He tumbled over and tried to crawl. He grabbed fistfuls of grass and pulled himself forward. Three bullets came close. Then one zinged between his ear and shoulder “and buried itself in the ground in front of me.”
Guards were 75 yards away and closing. Gaunt from weeks of bad food, in pain from head to toe, Izac decided to surrender.
“I just had time to turn over, raise myself into a half-sitting, half-lying posture and elevate my hands above my head.”
The first guard ran up, grabbed his rifle-barrel with both hands, and smashed Izac on the head with the butt end. The blow knocked Izac out. His body flopped like a rag and rolled down the slick embankment into the ditch. The guards slid down after him. While he was still unconscious, they pummeled Izac.
Izac came to just as one of the guards, “cursing in broken English,” kicked him hard in the back. Izac sprawled facedown.
When he looked past the mud-caked boots of the guards, Izac saw a strange sight: “Many of the people from the hayfields nearby had gathered to watch the fun. Not one bystander showed compassion. And these were the best people of Germany, the pious, church-going Baden peasants!”
An old man came forward shaking a pitchfork: if the guards needed any help, he’d gladly lend a hand.
Every time Izac tried to stand up, the guards beat him down. One blow came from behind, striking Izac behind the left ear so fiercely it snapped the gun in two.
“All this time I had not even tried to protect myself. Had I done so, it would have given them the opportunity they wanted of shooting me.” The people were witnesses.
They might have reacted differently, Izac surmised, to a “cold-blooded murder.”
“Things like that were common enough behind the lines where there were no civilians to tell the tale and where many dark deeds could be done under the plea of military necessity.”
Izac passed out again. When he came to, the train was gone. The guards dragged him to a nearby station to find out when the next train would arrive. On the way, they bought bread and milk from a peasant. They made Izac stand at attention while they ate.
No trains for hours. So they decided to walk the five miles to Villingen. They prodded Izac — broken, bleeding all over, stiff-legged — with bayonets. “Occasionally, in a burst of rage, one would knock me down with a blow from his gun or fist, probably when he would remember how close he had come to losing me” — which would have earned the guard at least two weeks of solitary confinement.
Somehow Izac made it to Villingen. “I shall never know how I bore up under that torture.” What strengthened, with each painful step, was his resolve to escape and enact “vengeance on the German people.” ■
Read Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4