He traded places to escape

René Ulric took part in the disastrous Dieppe raid ended up with a story fit for a screenplay.

"We landed at 7:30 in the morning and I had to surrender in the town that afternoon," Ulric recounted.

"When the Germans made us prisoners, I traded my identity with this Polish guy from another regiment. He was Jewish and he thought the Germans were going to shoot him."

That's how Ulric, a private with the Fusiliers de Mont Royal, became Hebert Dumbrowsky, a Polish Jew who was fighting with the British Army.

His fellow soldiers thought he was crazy, but Ulric saw it as a means to escape.

"It would be hard to get away if you were locked up in a camp," he said. "This way I thought that I might get a chance to escape."

Ulric was put into a work detail with all the other Jewish prisoners.

"Most of them were British soldiers out of Palestine," he said. "We were protected by the Geneva Convention, so the Germans didn't shoot us. They just put us to work."

Ulric's wife quickly figured out who the real Herbert Dumbrowsky was.

"She read (in French) about how this Dumbrowsky guy was going to ‘sauter la cloture'," he said. "That's when she knew it was me and that I was going to try to escape."

The prisoners were sent to work in a coal mine on the German-Polish border.

"We used to work 3000 feet underground," he said. "We would drill holes, do some blasting, and move the coal back up to the top of the mine in little wagons."

Ulric tried to escape three times. He would steal some laborer's clothes, and try to blend in with the crowds of other workers.

"They would catch me because my papers were no good," he said. "They would catch me because my German was no good, or they would catch me because I looked like what I was...a French Canadian soldier trying to get away."

That was when he was truly scared, he said.

"They would catch me, a guy who they thought was an escaped Jew, and it would have been a lot easier for them to shoot me ‘while escaping' than going to the trouble of taking me back."

He remembers walking with his hands over his head with a soldier at his back. He would listen for the ‘click' of a chambered bullet or for the second sound of a safety catch being lifted.

For obvious reasons, Ulric said that he had some touchy times in the showers.

"If the Germans saw me naked" he said, "they would know that I wasn't 'kosher.'" The other prisoners thought that he was a very modest man who did not like to shower in public.

One morning the guards were gone and Patton's tanks were there.

"At first the Americans wanted to haul me over to the Russians, but after a while, they began to believe my story. It took them two hours to confirm my identity and then I was free to go."

Herbert Dumbrowsky also survived the war.

Dumbrowsky returned to what was to become the State of Israel and was last known to be living in Haifa. Ulric tried to write him a few times but Dumbrowsky never answered.

Date modified: