Jewish-American Prisoner of War
Mr. Tom Tannis was born Thomas Tikochinski in Ratzka, Poland in 1916, the son of Harry and Esther Tikochinski. He had four sisters and was raised in an orthodox Jewish environment. He and his family came to the United States in 1922 and settled in Spring Valley, Illinois, about 100 mile west of Chicago, where his parents worked in the produce business. He attended All Township Vocational High School and upon graduation moved to Detroit in 1935 to join his sisters.
Mr. Tannis worked in a produce market until he was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1941. His basic training was in Mineral Wells, Texas, and then in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and he became a member of Co.H, 28th Infantry, 8th Division. He was trained as a machine gunner. His unit was subsequently shipped to Northern Ireland where they received additional training until their entry into France in 1944.
While in combat near Luxembourg, his heavy machine gun position was overrun by the German army on December 9, 1944, and Mr. Tannis with about 20 others, were captured. To avoid any adverse treatment from the Germans because of his being Jewish, he threw away his “dog tags” (metal identification plates) while being transported in a truck, since the plate included – besides his name and serial number – also the letter “H” for Hebrew. At the time Mr. Tannis still had his original name Tikochinski, so during interrogations he claimed to be a Roman Catholic of Polish ancestry. The deception worked and he was not subjected to any harassment.
Mr. Tannis was confined in Stalag 11A which he believes was near the German-Luxembourg border. He does not recall any mistreatment or any measures to find and segregate Jewish soldiers. Food consisted of one meal a day, mostly cabbage soup and bread, but he justified that by stating that food shortages also existed in Germany itself at that time. On the other hand, Mr. Tannis stated that in an adjacent prisoner of war camp for Russian soldiers, they were treated very badly, had to work, and many walked with rags on their feet instead of boots.
Shortly before liberation, an American soldier, possibly an OSS agent (now CIA) was parachuted into the camp and conferred with the camp commander, a German colonel. After the meeting the American soldier was picked up by a helicopter and flown out. Mr. Tannis attributes to this meeting the fact that the camp inmates were well treated and were not forced to march from the camp prior to their liberation which occurred on May 2, 1945 by American forces.
Following liberation, Mr. Tannis was flown to Luxembourg and from there went to
Le Harve and then back to the United States where he received a 60 day furlough. He was discharged from service on December 1, 1945, and few years later entered Wayne State University where he subsequently received a Bachelor and Masters degree, becoming a teacher in the Detroit Public School system.
Mr. Tannis is now retired, widowed, and is very active with the Jewish War Veterans pursuing matters pertaining to veterans. In his closing remarks, he paid tribute to the GI Bill which allowed him to obtain a college education, at no cost to him, and thus made it possible for him to have a successful career in the field of education.
Date of Interview: May 13, 2003
Length of Interview: 29 minutes
Interview & Synopsis: Hans R. Weinmann
Format: Video recording