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U-35 Crewmember Dr. Karl Rabe

Rabe01a.JPG (44705 bytes) Dr. Karl Rabe, 1950.

Karl Rabe was born on 04 April 1905 in Frankfurt. He joined the Reichsmarine on 03 April 1923, attaining the rank of Oberleutnant zur See on 01 July 1929. 

On 18 February 1932, he was expelled from the Reichsmarine, having been accused of defrauding fellow crewmembers. He had been the victim of very unfortunate circumstances. He had planned evening activities one day, but found himself short of cash.  Knowing that the petty cash reserves were to be checked on the following day, he borrowed some cash with the intent to return it the following morning. Unfortunately, an unfriendly associate took advantage of the situation and arranged for an early accounting of the petty cash, which ultimately resulted in Karl Rabe's expulsion.

After 1932, Karl Rabe entered medical school and earned a doctoral degree. In the Fall of 1939, Dr. Karl Rabe was re-admitted to the Kriegsmarine at the rank of Matrose, and served briefly (23 October until 04 November) on U 54. On 05 November 1939, he was assigned to U-35, and became a prisoner of war when U-35 was scuttled on 29 November 1939.

He was assigned POW Number 37342.

In Canada, Dr. Karl Rabe made repeated escape attempts, as documented in two books:

From "Trop Loin de Berlin" by Yves Bernard and Caroline Bergeron (http://www.cam.org/~ybern/septentrionE.html) [86]:

It was nearly 1:00 a.m. The hospital corridors were deserted. Having been sitting for several hours, the corporal on guard and another sentry had dozed off. The third guard usually on duty had just left the room to call his relief. Karl Rabe had been awaiting this moment for days. He quietly got out of bed.
Still dulled by the medicine he was given each day, Rabe nevertheless succeeded in creeping over to the chair where his clothing lay. The corridor was empty. Rabe took the stairs and descended to the first floor. Freedom was not far off. The first doors he tried to open were locked. Then he noticed another door in a small room. Ah! It was not locked, and there he was, outside.
First he ran, then slowed so as not to be noticeable. The night was very cold. While crossing a parking lot, he noticed a trash can full of various documents. A map of Ontario! What luck! He unfolded it carefully, because the paper was disintegrating. Rabe established that the United States was only 50 kilometers away. He devised an itinerary that would take him to Lake Ontario.
Rabe removed his uniform jacket and carried it under his arm. "I mustn't attract attention," he thought. He resumed his journey, using the least traveled streets. Day dawned. Rabe was still walking, but his strides were shorter now. His feet were hurting him. They were numb with cold.
"I must hide and rest now," decided Rabe.
He found a little wooded area. Despite his nervousness, he managed to fall asleep, hidden in a thick bush. When night fell, Rabe resumed his journey, and some hours later finally reached Lake Ontario.
There, he found a sloop moored to a small dock. He approached, looked around him, then stopped suddenly. The proximity of the water awakened recent memories. For a few seconds he was back at his command post by the torpedoes on U-35, that famous evening when they were put out of action by the British navy.
"I will return to Germany," he murmured to encourage himself. He boarded the sloop and began to row. Scarcely twenty minutes had passed when he found himself in a thick fog. Rabe continued to row, without the benefit of landmarks...
Two hours later, the submariner felt he was lost.
"Where am I?" Suddenly he distinguished lights in the distance. "There it is, I've found it," he said, comforted.
Quickly, he set to rowing toward what seemed to be a small village. Soon he touched the shore. A little farther away, some houses were visible. Rabe tried to find a sign identifying the village.
"Where exactly in the US am I?" he asked himself. His search was in vain, not the smallest sign was to be seen. He decided to return to his boat. He walked with difficulty, his head was swimming, his strength ebbing. He had not had anything to eat for more than 24 hours.
As he prepared to reboard his boat, some men approached and asked him to identify himself. Rabe took the opportunity to tell them he was a German prisoner and that he had just escaped from Canada.
"But you are still in Canada," retorted one of them.
Rabe had no choice but to give himself up. They took him to Stanley detention barracks in Toronto. After a detailed interrogation by soldiers, he was finally given a meal and warm clothing. Rabe was sent back to the Toronto hospital, this time under better guard.

From "POW - Behind Canadian Barbed Wire" by David J. Carter (http://www2.memlane.com/djcarter) [16]:

In the Lethbridge camp, one man was always trying to escape. His name was Rabe, he had been a Lieutenant in the Navy but had been demoted to private because of mishandling the money of his crew members. In 1943 he made four escape attempts from the Lethbridge lager. Early in the summer he made careful notes of the times of guard movements. Each evening big empty plywood boxes for the handling of bread were placed between the inner and outer main camp gates. One night he got into one of the boxes and with a handmade saw started to saw his way out of the box at a time when he calculated no guard was around. However in the silence of the prairie night his sawblade together with the vibrating of the pliable plywood made a terrible noise. Soon a sentry came to the box to watch he was joined by about twenty guards who watched him emerge from the box. His hair was shaved and he received two weeks detention.

Later in the heat of the summer Rabe having studied the drainage system the camp, decided to escape via the storm sewers. He successfully entered the pipes and had arranged to signal his escape to his comrades. However hours went by and no signal. Finally some of the prisoners could hear a faint cry for help. They ran to the guards and asked for help. Gottfried Dukes was one of those in the rescue party which was allowed to go under guard to the drainage exit. There they found Rabe tightly pressed against the grill work at the end of the tunnel with water flowing around him. �€˜He was holding on for dear life, shivering and holding his face amidst paper, wood and empty bottles as other waste too big to pass the bards, up to his mouth in the dirty and stinking runoff.�€™ Again a crew cut and two weeks detention.

Escape attempt number three involved power lines connecting the camp buildings. On a rainy night Rabe attached two wheels with handles protruding on top of the wires and rolled off into the night. Again came the cry �€˜Help!�€™ This time the wire spanning the distance over the fence, had drooped and he was left hanging helplessly 3 meters above the ground halfway between the poles but he dared not jumping down because in the dark he couldn�€™t see what was below. This time the prisoners got him down before the guards discovered the event, so no crew cut or two week detention for Rabe.

The most ambitious escape attempt by this escape-a-holic was the preparation of a hot air balloon to fly over the barbed wire. Gottfried Dukes learned how to stitch the balloon �€˜fabric.�€™ Ten prisoners helped in taking army sleeping bags apart, dipping them in a type of glue solution and drying them on the heating pipes. The big sheets were stitched together by hand and eventually the balloon took shape. The appropriate dark, cloudy night with a stiff west wind arrived. They gather the airship to fill it with gas and slowly it filled. �€˜It was a real monster, about 24 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. We were all excited, this was the real thing! The decline of our spirits came fast. Filled nearly to bust, big and round the balloon take not an inch to the air. Like a big pumpkin it settled there. The heating gas was heavier than the air, it was not possible to lift the balloon from the ground. The incident wasn�€™t reported as far as I know.�€™ [16]

On 01 February 1944, while still in captivity, Dr. Karl Rabe was re-admitted to the officer ranks, perhaps as a result of the many escape attempts. He was given the rank of Oberleutnant zur See der Regierung. He was repatriated on 18 June 1946.

Dr. Karl Rabe established a medical practice after repatriation. He died on 10 September 1971 in Bad Homburg, and his wife Thea Rabe passed away on 22 August 2002. They are survived by their daughter, Viola.


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