On the last train out of Paris, just before the Allies liberated the city, were 168 American fighter pilots who had been shot down over France. They were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, not as POWs, but as “terrorfliegers” (terror flyers) because they had been aiding French Resistance fighters, whom the Nazis called “terrorists.”
According to the Geneva Convention of 1929, the French Resistance fighters were non-combatants who did not have the rights of Prisoners of War if they were captured. The same rules applied to Americans who aided the French Resistance. That’s why the 168 flyers wound up at the Buchenwald concentration camp instead of a POW camp.
This blog post gives information about a new book that will be coming out soon; the book tells the story of Joseph F. Moser, one of the American flyers who was imprisoned at Buchenwald. According to the book, Joe Moser very narrowly survived bailing out of his P-38 with an engine on fire. He and 167 other Allied pilots were sent to Buchenwald on orders from Berlin to be executed as “terrorfliegers.” Four days before their scheduled “extermination,” they were rescued by Luftwaffe (German Air Force) officers and shipped instead to the most famous POW camp in Germany: Stalag Luft III.
World War II started when France and Great Britain declared war on Germany after Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. By September 28, 1939 Poland had been conquered, with the help of the Soviet Union, which invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, but Poland never surrendered and there was no peace treaty. The Poles continued to fight throughout World War II, not on the battlefield, but as “illegal combatants” according to the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929. Captured Polish Resistance fighters were sent to Dachau, instead of a POW camp.
Germany invaded France on May 10, 1940, and on June 17, 1940, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, the new prime minister of France, asked the Germans for surrender terms; an Armistice was signed on June 22, 1940. The French agreed to an immediate “cessation of fighting.”
The French Resistance movement was in direct violation of the Armistice signed by the French, which stipulated the following:
“The French Government will forbid French citizens to fight against Germany in the service of States with which the German Reich is still at war. French citizens who violate this provision are to be treated by German troops as insurgents.”
The Buchenwald concentration camp held many French Resistance fighters as prisoners. The photo below shows a monument at Buchenwald in honor of the Resistance fighters.
The excerpts from the book about Joe Moser, which were posted on the blog, caught my attention because it was mentioned that the American flyers at Buchenwald complained about the Germans not treating them in accordance with Geneva Convention of 1929.
For example, this quote is from the new book which will soon be published:
After our first meal, we gathered back together in the open area where we had slept. It was about this time that Colonel Phillip Lamason stepped forward. Col. Lamason was the senior officer among the 168 of us, a tall, good looking Squadron Leader from the New Zealand Air Force. I consider it one of the greatest blessings of this challenging time to have Col. Lamason as our commander. His quiet, strong but aggressive leadership was a critical factor not only in holding us together but also in facilitating our eventual release.
“Attention!” he said unexpectedly in his clipped New Zealand accent. We instinctively quickly got up, tried to get ourselves in some semblance of order, and stood stiffly waiting.
“Gentlemen, we have ourselves in a very fine fix indeed,” he went on. “The goons have completely violated the Geneva Convention and are treating us as common thieves and criminals. However, we are soldiers! From this time on, we will also conduct ourselves as our training has taught us and as our countries would expect from us. We will march as a unit to roll call and we will follow all reasonable commands as a single unit.”
The “goons,” to which Col. Lamason was referring, were the Germans who were fighting on the battlefield while the French, who had signed an Armistice after only 5 weeks, were fighting as what Americans today call “terrorists.” Great Britain and America were aiding the “terrorists” in France, which meant that these flyers, who were captured while aiding the French Resistance, were fighting in violation of the Geneva Convention.
The American flyers were scheduled to be executed on October 24, 1944, but Luftwaffe officers came to Buchenwald just in time to rescue them.
Here is another quote from the blog about the forthcoming book:
“One thing is certain, Col. Lamason never let an opportunity pass by where he didn’t make it clear that we strenuously objected to our treatment and that our tormentors were violating the Geneva Convention.”
The attitude of the British and the Americans in World War II was that the Geneva Convention applied only to the Germans. No British or American soldiers were ever put on trial for violating the Geneva Convention with regard to German POWs.
At Dachau, American soldiers executed the Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent from the battlefield to surrender the camp. At Bergen-Belsen, the British executed some of the Hungarian soldiers who had been sent to the camp to help with the voluntary transfer of the camp to the Allies. After World War II ended, the British held the first trial of the Germans; staff members of the Bergen-Belsen camp were put on trial as war criminals. Staff members of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps were prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal for violating the Geneva Convention with regard to Soviet POWs although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention and the Soviets were not treating German soldiers according to its rules.
The British SOE was formed in order to aid the French Resistance, which was a violation of the Geneva Convention since the French had signed an Armistice and promised to stop fighting. After the war, Germans were put on trial for allegedly executing British SOE agents, although there was no proof whatsoever that the agents were even dead.
The Allies made sure that there were no German Resistance fighters after Germany surrendered in World War II; they kept millions of German soldiers in captivity for years after the war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower designated German POWs as Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEF) so that America would not have to follow the Geneva Convention with regard to German POWs. The Soviet Union kept German POWs in camps for ten years after World War II ended.
Out of the 168 flyers that were sent to Buchenwald, 166 survived their two months imprisonment at Buchenwald. Instead of being grateful that the Luftwaffe officers took them out of Buchenwald and put them into a POW camp, the survivors of this fiasco are still whining about the Germans not following the Geneva Convention with regard to what we now call “terrorists.” These Allied flyers should have been advised, before they were sent on their mission, that they would not be entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention in the event that they were captured.