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September 23, 2010

Why did the U.S. government deny that American flyers were held in Buchenwald?

This post is in response to Peg, a reader who commented today on a previous post that I wrote about the American pilots who were held in the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II.

Peg’s comment is quoted here:

My uncle, Robert Ward from Boone, Iowa was one of the men that was taken to Buchenwald. He is no longer alive, he nearly died while being held, but did manage to survive. He broke his ankle when they had to jump from their airplane and was then forced to walk without ever being treated for his injury. The story of their captivity is an amazing, but terrible one. I am amazed that they lived to tell about it.

He was definately a different man when he returned. For many many years even the American government denied that they were held in this camp.

One would think that the American government would have had a field day in condemning the Germans for violating the Geneva Convention of 1929 by putting POWs into a concentration camp instead of a POW camp, as required by the Geneva Convention. In fact, why didn’t the American government take advantage of this situation to retaliate against the German POWs being held in America?   

Peg’s uncle, Robert Ward, and 167 other Allied pilots had been sent to Buchenwald in August 1944 with orders from Berlin to be executed as “terrorfliegers” (terror fliers). Four days before their scheduled execution, they were rescued by Luftwaffe (German Air Force) officers and shipped instead to the most famous POW camp in Germany: Stalag Luft III.

America didn’t totally deny that Americans had been sent to Buchenwald because this subject was brought up in the charges brought against 31 war criminals from Buchenwald by the American Military Tribunal, held at Dachau on April 11, 1947, exactly two years after the Buchenwald camp was liberated by American troops.  The 31 war criminals from Buchenwald had been charged with participating in a “common design” to violate the Geneva Convention of 1929 and the Hague Convention, but among the specific charges was the abuse of American prisoners.

At the opening of the proceedings against the Buchenwald war criminals, the AMT court president, Brig. Gen. Emil Charles Kiel, asked the defense counsel, “How do the accused plead?”

To this, the chief defense attorney, Captain Emmanuel Lewis, replied:

As chief defense counsel, I enter a plea of not guilty for all of the accused. Before we begin, if it please the court, there is a matter of great concern. The accused are charged with victimizing captured and unarmed citizens of the United States, and they seek to defend themselves against this charge. But despite our repeated requests, the prosecution has failed to furnish us with the name or whereabouts of even one single American victim.

Lt. Col. William D. Denson, the chief prosecutor, replied:

We are unfortunately unable to comply. The victims were last seen being carted into the crematories. From there they went up the chimney in smoke, and all the power of the United States and all the documents in Augsburg cannot tell us which way they went. We are sorry that we cannot furnish their whereabouts, but we fail to see that it is material whether one American or fifty thousand were incarcerated in Buchenwald. The crimes of these accused would be just as heinous.

Contrary to Lt. Col. Denson’s colorful story of what had happened to these American POWs, it is now known that, after a few months in Buchenwald, the Americans were rescued by a Luftwaffe General and transferred to Stalag III, a POW camp.

So why did the American government refuse to name the Americans, and why did the prosecution at the AMT proceedings claim that the Americans had been killed and that there were no documents about them?

This whole subject is very controversial, but here is my explanation: After World War II, the Allies went to great lengths to accuse the Germans of being “war criminals” and for being totally to blame for the war.  At the same time, the Allies refused to admit to committing any war crimes themselves.  The killing of Waffen-SS soldiers at Dachau after the concentration camp was surrendered was kept secret for over 40 years.  The killing of the guards at Buchenwald, which American soldiers participated in, was never mentioned.  At the Nuremberg IMT, the Soviet Union accused the Germans of the Katyn Forest massacre, when this was actually a crime perpetrated by the Soviets themselves.

World War II was fought by the American good guys of the Greatest Generation against the evil Germans who were the only ones guilty of any wrong doing.  So how could America admit that Americans had been helping the French Resistance,  in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1929, and that the Americans, who were sent to Buchenwald, had been fighting as “illegal combatants” according to the Geneva Convention. Even today, the official story is that the 168 Allied prisoners had not been helping the French Resistance.  I don’t know whether the American pilots had anything to do with the French Resistance or not, but that is what the Germans thought, and that’s why the Americans were sent to Buchenwald.

Just recently, there was a story in the news about an American soldier who was awarded a medal many years after his death.  The reason for this delay was that America could not admit that this soldier was killed in Laos where Americans were not supposed to be during the Vietnam war.  This is the same reason that America would not admit that there were Americans in Buchenwald; the 168 Allied fliers had been captured while in the company of French Resistance fighters who were violating the Geneva Convention of 1929.  We have proof that the American government knew about the Americans in Buchenwald because it was mentioned during the AMT proceedings against the staff at Buchenwald.

Another reason that America kept quiet about the Americans in Buchenwald might be because they were rescued by the Luftwaffe, an act that was a good deed.  It could never be admitted that the Germans ever did anything good; the only good guys in World War II were the Allies.


  1. I think that the American POW’s at Buchenwald, if questioned, might have done what Rassinier did: Said there wasn’t tattoofromed skin, shrunken heads, etc. And thus to protect the Psych Warfare operation conducted there, maybe that’s why the names weren’t furnished.

    Arthur Butz mentions Christopher Burney. Was he an American POW?

    Comment by Budham — September 24, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    • The American POWs were there for a couple of months after August 1944. They would not have seen the tattooed skin and shrunken heads which were allegedly in the medical building. Among the first American soldiers to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp was First Lieutenant Edward A. Tenenbaum, who spoke “American German,” according to The Buchenwald Report. He arrived on April 11th, along with a civilian named Egon W. Fleck, at 5:30 p.m. in an American jeep. The two men stayed in Buchenwald that night in Block 50, the medical building. They would have found the tattooed skin and the shrunken heads.

      BTW, Edward R. Murrow was at the camp only a day or two after it was liberated on April 11th, and although he talked with many of the prisoners, none of them told him about the lampshades and shrunken heads.

      I don’t know if Burney was one of the POWs.

      Comment by furtherglory — September 24, 2010 @ 10:50 am

  2. Why is it surprising that the Germans in WW2 would have used Buchenwald as a POW camp at least temporarily? Auschwitz, for example, had also been used to hold Russian and American and British POW’s as well.

    I think the problem is that those individuals would have been far less likely to lie their heads of about gas chambers and mass murders the way the Jews did.

    Comment by Friedrich Paul Berg — September 23, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

    • The Germans did not put POWs into concentration camps because POWs were protected by the Geneva Convention which Germany had signed. Exceptions were made for Soviet POWs who were Communist Commissars; Hitler ordered that all Commissars should be sent to a camp and executed. The Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention so Soviet POWs did not have the protection of the Geneva Convention; that’s why they were sent to concentration camps, but most of the time, they were kept in a separate section. American and British POWs were not sent to concentration camps unless they were accused of being “illegal combatants” under the Geneva Convention. The British POWs at Auschwitz were in a separate camp that was close to the Auschwitz concentration camp; I don’t know of any Americans who were prisoners at or near Auschwitz.

      After World War II ended, the Allies made a new rule that the Soviets were protected by the Geneva Convention even though the Soviet Union had not signed the Convention and was not following it. The Allies also made a new rule that prisoners who had been captured as “illegal combatants” were entitled to the status of POWs under the Geneva Convention. The Allies did not have to follow the Geneva Convention during World War II because they were the winners. Only the losers were war criminals and new rules were made after the war in order to prosecute the losers.

      Comment by furtherglory — September 23, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

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