I never did meet Max although he was known to my parents. Max was often discounted as “odd” but after reading what he endured during WWII I understand why – it was horrific.
Ernest Maxwell Sawyer was born 7 May 1920 at Tinonee, son of Ernest Wiseman Sawyer and Minnie (Wynter) Sawyer.1 He joined the 2nd Australian Imperial Forces in 1939 and saw action in North Africa before being captured in Greece in April 1941.2 He was sent to a German Army prisoner-of-war camp where he worked on various Austrian farms.
In 1943 Sawyer was unfairly arrested on a charge of ‘insubordination’ and was sentenced to a prison camp at Graudenz in northern Poland – a breach of the Geneva Convention.3 This imprisonment was the start of a “harsh and cruel episode…that would last effectively until the end of his life.”4 In 1944, Sawyer escaped Graudenz, and sought shelter under a farmhouse in the Polish countryside. Unfortunately he was seen and local police arrested him and took him to the nearest Gestapo office where he was interrogated and tortured.5
Sawyer was then imprisoned in the death and concentration camp Majdanek, Lublin. No official records document Sawyer’s incarceration, but this is not unusual as only a small proportion of the camp files survive.6 It is believed that 360, 000 people were murdered at Majdanek with a third of those Jewish.7 Sawyer undoubtedly saw many horrors which haunted him for the rest of his life. He physically survived the war, but his medical records and memories show a slow decline of a man who suffered trauma consistent with imprisonment in a concentration camp.
I urge all to read this thesis which illuminates the horrors of war and man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.
Author: George Sawyer based on the thesis by Paul Damian O’Shea, “From the Manning to Majdanek: The war history of Private Ernest Maxwell Sawyer NX1488.” Master of Arts, Macquarie University, 1997.
1 O’Shea, “From the Manning to Majdanek,” 41.
2 NAA: B883, NX1488.
3 O’Shea, “From the Manning to Majdanek,” 149-151.
4 O’Shea, “From the Manning to Majdanek,” 153.
5 O’Shea, “From the Manning to Majdanek,” 184-185.
6 O’Shea, “From the Manning to Majdanek,” 188.
7 O’Shea, “From the Manning to Majdanek,” 202.