Sergeant Peter Joseph Markey from Newry was part of the unsuccessful British parachute assault on Arnhem in September 1944. (see also https://www.newryjournal.co.uk/2007/06/22/dickie-the-paratrooper/ )
Markey was captured and incarcerated in Sagan prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. With the others there he was liberated by the Russians in February 1945.
Desparate to return to Britain, Markey considered that the best route was to go east, via Odessa. Plodding along, he met with a horse and cart on the road which turned out to be driven by two Jews, Hans Andriesse from Holland and his friend Sal Berkovitz, a Czech-born Belgian.
They invited Markey to climb aboard and travel with them. Their story was heart-rending.
Both had been rounded up by the Nazis in their determination to exterminate all Jews from the face of the earth. They would first be exploited in the war-effort forced labour camps.
Hans had been imprisoned in Westerbork transit camp and was on the train to Auschwitz along with 1,710 Dutch Jews when it stopped in Kosel where the able-bodied were ordered off. For thirty months in the forced labour camp there Hans survived the most extreme of conditions. He ended up in Kittlitztreben. There he met Sal, who had had similar experiences. Remarkably they survived until the close of the war, as the Germans were pressed from all sides.
Due to severe illness, they had been left to die when most of the inmates had been force-marched by their ruthless captors deeper into Germany before the Russians arrived.
When Peter Markey met them on the road, Hans and Sal had just been liberated by the Russians.
Markey resolved to find a way to repay their kindness.
Markey concocted a cover-story for Hans and Sal which saved their lives. He gave them false identity papers, Royal Engineers’ numbers and Sagan POW numbers. At every stage of their tortuous journey east, Markey persuaded doubting Russian and British officers that Hans and Sal had volunteered their services to the British in Arnhem.
The journey to Odessa took fifteen days. Eventually the friends boarded a troop ship for Glasgow. They celebrated St Patrick’s Day on board with Markey who waved wistfully at his native country as they sailed around the west coast of Ireland for Scotland.
Of the 107,000 Dutch Jews transported to the East by the Nazis, only 5,000 survived. Of the 550 men who alighted from the train at Kosel, only 30 survived. The women, children and elderly who remained on that train were murdered in Auschwitz.
Not one of the Kittlitztreben prisoners force-marched West before the Russians liberated the camp, survived.