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Letters dating back to the war are arranged on Coenraad Stoltz’s open “war-box”

Earlier this month, Frank Vaccarezza and I received a note from Conradt Stoltz, who lives in South Africa, concerning the March 2015 post on this site entitled “Vaccarezza Family—P.G. 52 Escapees Protected.”

Conradt wrote, “Regarding the escapees sheltered in your family’s barn, it seems quite possible that it could have been my grandfather Coenraad Stoltz and two of his compatriots‎, Migiel van der Schyff and Hennie de Bruyn.

“I have not been able to track down any of the two’s family or war records, as I do not have their service numbers. However, I have attached some photographs.

“Hope you can add something more, ‎as it would seem I have reached a dead end.

“It would be really amazing if it is verified these three South Africans were indeed amongst those sheltered by the Vaccarezza family between September 1943 and April 1944.”

Conradt sent several photos.

He continued, “The photographs are from my grandfathers ‘war-box,’ as we call it. There are several letters dated between February and August 1941 written by my grandfather to my grandmother.

“There is also a letter from a certain Mr. van Rooyen in Pretoria which seems to be an answer to an inquiry made to him regarding the whereabouts of Hennie de Bruin and Magiel vd Schyff. The letter is dated May 1957 and includes the passage ‘I was unfortunately not able to establish the whereabouts of the two gentleman, with regret I can inform you that the last that was seen or heard from them was the train tickets they where issued after discharge’ (my translation from Afrikaans).”

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Photo of Hennie de Bruyn from the war-box. Written across the face of the image is “H. F. J. de Bruin – 11/9/43 [September 11, 1943] – Italy”

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Photo of Magiel van der Schyff from the war-box. Written across the face of the image is “I. M. vd. Schyff – 11/9/43 – Italia”

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Regarding this photo, Conradt wrote, “The man in the garden is unknown, I assume he is a person of interest of that period as he was in the war-box. Hopefully someone somewhere will recognise him and thus supply another piece of the puzzle.”

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“The enclosure photo with the soccer match going on has ‘K52’ in pencil on the back, which I presume stands for Kamp 52,” Conradt wrote. “Again, perhaps someone can ID the photo one way or another.”

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Another unidentified photo from the war-box

“The escape is mostly tied to a stubborn family legend and the water stained stamp collection.

“The stamp album and Italian concertina somehow also made it through the whole ordeal. I also have what seems to be a moneybag made from soft white leather, canvas puttees, and his medals and certificate of issue.

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Stamp album turned to a page featuring a 1929 Vatican stamp series (Poste Vaticane)

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Italian Bastari concertina and storage case

I wrote back to Conradt, “You may have noticed on my site several posts with names for prisoners from P.G. 59 drawn from the “alphabetical list.” (See The Alphabetical List—British Soldiers A–B.”)

“This list of British POWs in Italy that was compiled during the war was sent to me by friend the late British researcher Brian Sims. Brian also sent me an alphabetical list for South African prisoners.”

I found that the South African Army list contained the following names:

Van Der Schyff, I. M. – Pte. [private] – Force Number 39953 – Camp 52
De Bruyn, H. F. J. – Pte. [private] – Force Number 77198 – Camp 52

These names correspond to the names and initials on the two photos and both are identified with P.G. 52, the camp where Coenraad was interned.

Conradt replied, “Thank you for providing this info, which basically proved they [Coenraad Stoltz and the two comrades] were detained together. This further strengthens the ‎‘legend.’

“[With Hennie and Magiel’s force numbers] I will now be able to locate their military record in the archives in Pretoria. Unfortunately here in South Africa that means you have to physically go and search for the files, a process that can take a couple of days. That said, I can’t wait for some time off to go‎ digging!

“I will shortly send you some excerpts from grandfather’s records proving he was in PG 52. He, Hennie, and Magiel were definitely close friends, maybe even in same troop and I know they sailed together, disembarked in Suez together, and were captured on same day.

“The concertina has been identified as a late 1890’s model Bastari with its original box. The hand straps had been changed in the 1980’s.”

I asked Conradt if his grandfather could play the concertina.

“Yes, Oupa‎ could play that concertina very well,” he said.

“If you look closely you’ll notice his nail marks on the wood at buttons that was used a lot. He would lift the mood with a fast mazurka or polka. I have a few photos from when the family would come together and dance the night away. My dad played harmonica and guitar, my uncle guitar and bass, Oom Boet could play anything that made a noise but is mostly remembered for his skill on the violin and (wood) saw. As a child these where wonderful times and are still amongst some of my fondest memories.

“Oom Boet was actually my grandma’s brother,” Conradt explained, “He was called Boetie (little brother) by his parents. When he got older he become Boet (brother), and now as children we call elder people ‘oom’ (uncle) as a sign of respect. Thus Oom Boet.

“Other times he’d sit under the old wild fig alone and silence even the birds with his almost sad waltzes. Whilst he never talked to anyone, besides grandma I suppose, about the war, I think in a sense he did his talking with the concertina under that tree.

“A little nostalgic, but I hope it helps.”

See also “Coenraad Stoltz—Escapee from Camp 52.”

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