Basketball game between American prisoner teams
Prisoners did many different things in Stalag XVII B. Some printed newspapers. Some listened to hidden radios. Some bribed the guards. Some played sports. Some taught classes in a variety of subjects. Some formed a band. Others performed comedies, plays and musicals. Some dug escape tunnels. Some tried to escape.
To relieve the boredom, the American POWs created a "culture committee" whose members were responsible for organizing and maintaining all of the various camp activities. For sports activities, each compound had a sports and exercise area. Barracks within a compound formed their own teams and competed in sports like volleyball, baseball and American football. One of the barracks was even turned into a boxing ring and exercise gym!
Announcement for boxing and wrestling matches, with music by The Table Toppers.
Some prisoners spent their time drawing, writing or making things. Empty tin cans were used to make all sorts of items, from Christmas decorations to lamps that burned margarine and animal fats. One prisoner spent months making a large, detailed model of the Eiffel Tower from empty tin cans!
For entertainment, POWs converted one barracks into a theater nicknamed the Cardboard Playhouse. Prisoners formed musical bands and performed well-organized variety shows there, complete with dramatic and comedy performances and dance routines. Empty Red Cross boxes were also used to build stage backgrounds, props and decorations for the "Cardboard Playhouse".
Bob Garcia's band and chorus group
American Prisoners present their performance of Hellzapoppin
Cardboard Playhouse's flyer for the Christmas Eve 1944 Program
For educational and cultural activities, American prisoners had their own "IAI" (Interned Airmen's Institute) with a large library containing thousands of books all sent to the POWs by families back in the US. Some prisoners taught classes offering a wide variety of topics, from art to business and engineering.
Alex Haddon, Librarian for the Interned Airmen's Institute
Various sections of the prison camp also printed their own (secretly produced and distributed) newspapers; the most well-known of these was the French "Le Gai Mat".
French "Le Gai Mat", December 1941
French "Le Gai Mat", February 1942
American "The Gremlin", May 1944 (first issue)
Serbian "Our Days", September 1942