14 February 2010
When love could not be chained
He was a British Prisoner of War in Silesia; she was a camp translator hiding her Jewish roots. The story of Horace Greasley and Rosa Rauchbach had the makings of a great romance. Sadly like story of Abelard and Heloise or a certain young Montague and a certain young Capulet... unbounded love does not lead to a happy ending.
The Telegraph carries an obituary of Greasley, who died on February 4 aged 91. He held a record Second World War PoWs of escaping from his camp more than 200 times. Unlike those who ended up in Colditz he would creep back into captivity each time.
For Greasley had embarked on a romance with a local German girl Rosa Rauchbach who was, if anything, running even greater risks than he did. A translator at the camp where he was imprisoned, she had concealed her Jewish roots from the Nazis. Discovery of their affair would almost certainly have meant doom for them both.
Greasley served with the 2nd/5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment that landed in France at as part of the British Expeditionary Force; on May 25 1940, during the retreat to Dunkirk, he was taken prisoner at Carvin, south of Lille.
When assigned to a PoW camp near Lamsdorf, he encountered the 17-year-old daughter of the director of the marble quarry to which the camp was attached. She was working as an interpreter for the Germans, and, emaciated as he was, there was, Greasley said, an undeniable and instant mutual attraction.
Within a few weeks Greasley and Rosa were conducting their affair in broad daylight and virtually under the noses of the German guards – snatching meetings for trysts in the camp workshops and wherever else they could find. But at the end of a year, just as he was realising how much he cared for Rosa, Greasley was transferred to Freiwaldau, an annex of Auschwitz, some 40 miles away.
The only way to carry on the love affair was to break out of his camp. Greasley reckoned that short absences could be disguised or go unnoticed. Messages between him and Rosa were exchanged via members of outside work parties, who then handed hers on to Greasley, the camp barber, when they came to have their hair cut. When, with the help of friends, he did make it under the wire for an assignation nearby, he would break back into the camp again under cover of darkness to await his next opportunity.
Sometimes, Greasley made the return journey three or more times a week, depending on whether Rosa's duties among various camps brought her to his vicinity. Rosa repaid his attentions, he said, by providing small food parcels and pieces of equipment for him to take back into the camp, eventually including radio parts which enabled 3,000 prisoners to keep up with the news by listening to the BBC.
Greasley was liberated on May 24 1945. He still received letters from Rosa after the war's end, and was able to vouch for her when she applied to work as an interpreter for the Americans. Not long after Greasley got back to Britain, however, he received news that Rosa had died in childbirth, with the infant perishing too. Horace Greasley said he never knew for certain whether or not the child was his.
After demobilisation he returned to Leicestershire. He finally married in 1975, retiring to the Costa Blanca in Spain in 1988. Ge is survived by his wife and by their son and daughter.
Greasley recounted the almost incredible details of his wartime romance in the book Do The Birds Still Sing In Hell? (2008), While the book is described as an "autobiographical novel", his story was largely confirmed at his debriefing by MI9 intelligence officers shortly after the war.
What can one say? It may not have had a happy ending but it is truly one of those stories that deserve to be told.