Moosburg Online:
Stalag VII A: Oral history

William Cottrill

An example of humanity during a difficult time

American on search in Landshut, Germany
Brave woman from Landshut saved 48 POW's

"Paula, good lady", The man who whispers this sentence a couple of times pulls with a fast grip a plastic cover out of his pocket. A few old photographs and postcards are falling out of it. Treating them like a treasure he takes everyone and looks at them for a long time. One photograph shows a group of young men in American military uniforms, another shows a young man who smiles into the camera, "thats me, 21 years old". The man laughs and points to the young soldier. By now it's noticeable that his laughter is not only from his heart, it will stay in his memory.

Then the American shows a picture of a young woman, it was cut out of a photograph "that's Paula, my girlfriend" he added respectfully. Paula is a young, cheerful looking woman, she is wearing a German Post Office uniform and carries a saxophone in her hand.

The post cards which show signs of age picture Landshut in 1944/45. They don't show the destruction from the war, which Bill the 75 year old American from Tampa, Florida experienced. Together with his wife Rhea (Peg) he flew to Munich six days ago to find the tracks of his past in Landshut.

William Cottrill was a Prisoner of War during 1944/45 in Landshut. He witnessed in a railroad shelter the biggest air-raid onto Landshut on March 19, 1945. "When he left the shelter he saw the destruction" translates Klaus Schermaul, director of the Kaiserhof, he volunteered as a translator during the meeting. The hotel in Landshut was the first connection between Tampa and Landshut in 55 years. "I searched the Internet home page of the city and the hotel and reserved a room. At the arrival they helped the search and we made the most important contact. The one to Hans and Edith Vorholzer" explains Bill and his wife says "for 53 years he talked about Paula and I ask him when are we going?"

POW's at the Post Office, Bill talks about his experience during the air-raids onto Landshut which he witnessed in the bombshelter of the Post Office as a POW. He went outside and saw the horrifying extent of the destruction. He thought everything was over and ran toward the city, but then it started all over again. He saw a crying woman shouting for her child who was left in the bombing area, he found the two year old boy and carried him over to his mother. The next day she thanked him with homemade cake and an apple. With his friend, also a POW who left the bunker with him ran toward downtown, but the raid ended and the police arrested them for a night because they thought they were American paratroopers. After several hours Bill convinced them he was a POW on a work party in the rail yards and later that day was returned to the guards, on meeting with the guards he was surprised to find all the POW's had survived. During the air-raid over 400 civilians and soldiers were killed, the inferno was unbelievable, more than 1000 loaded freight cars were destroyed, all in a span of 84 minutes.

Bill was a member of Company K, 115th Regiment, 29th Division and was captured with what remained of the men in Company K on October 4, 1944 near Aachen, Germany, taken to Stalag XII A in Limburg then to Stalag VII A in Moosburg. Bill was assigned to a work party in Landshut for the Post Office, loading and unloading box cars from December until his Liberation , April 29, 1945. He still has his old POW ID with the #076177, the work party (Arbeitskommando) #4125. All together 24 soldiers guarded 9 groups of POW's with 5 to 6 prisoners in each group. "Among the Post Office employees was a young man named Tony, a wounded ex soldier, he was a good man", the American remembers. He and Paula Vorholtzer were in charge of a work group and Bill worked for Paula.

Risking everything, the family never heard this story. Paula, my aunt, risked everything for these people, she was a person who helped people in need. She loved music, is a family tradition, said Hans (Chuck) Vorholzer, Paulas nephew, when things got worse she took care of my brother and me. Hans Vorholzer looks at the family photo album while talking. He tells Bill that "his Paula" died on October 26, 1955. Unfortunatly, Bill never saw Paula, the saxophone playing postal worker with the cheerful attitude again. "For many years I lived from my memories and now when I have met reality I'm disappointed", says Bill with a wistfully nostalgic voice.

We have been very happy about the telephone call and we had to meet and talk about Paula. Hans Vorholzer closes the family album and Bill puts his photographs and prison ID away. Saturday Bill and Rhea go back to Tampa. "we will meet again" they said when they left and not only Bill and Rhea are convinced of that.

Top Sources:

  • Landshuter Zeitung 10 Aug 1999 (Susanne Kowalsky)
  • E-mails by William Cottrill, Tampa, Florida, to Moosburg Online, October 2000

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