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November 26, 2011

My review of Lost Airmen of Buchenwald, a new documentary about captured Allied airmen

Filed under: Germany, movies, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:51 am

Mike Dorsey, the producer and director of the new documentary Lost Airmen of Buchenwald has made several comments on a previous post on my blog.  In one comment, he wrote: “I was concerned I might get pulled into the denier rabbit hole, and here I am. So I’ll leave the thread with this: I hope you (meaning me) watch the film with an open mind, and not with the preconceived notion that it’s just veteran-worship propaganda.”

I ordered the DVD from the film’s website here.  My order was shipped immediately and I received it in a couple of days.  I tried to put aside my “preconceived notions” and keep an “open mind” while I watched the DVD.

On the back cover of the DVD box, there is this statement:

Falsely accused of being “terrorists and saboteurs,” the airmen faced a terrifying fight for survival.”

The term “falsely” implies that the Gestapo deliberately made up a false story about these innocent airmen of “the Greatest Generation” who were fighting bravely in “the Good War.”  Meanwhile, there were around 375,000 German POWs in America, who were being treated fairly, according to the Geneva Convention.  Strangely, the Gestapo had no fear that America would retaliate by killing some of these German prisoners.

The text on the back cover of the DVD also states this:

…”Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” tells their harrowing tale, from hiding with the French resistance, to the darkest days of the Holocaust…”

This implies that the airmen were working WITH the French Resistance, not that they were innocent airmen who were RESCUED by the French Resistance after they were shot down over France.  The Germans used the English word “terrorist” to describe members of the French Resistance who were fighting illegally in violation of the Geneva Convention.  These airmen had been flying bombing missions over German-occupied France when their planes were shot down; they were legal combatants.

The film starts out by describing the planes used by the captured airmen.  The airmen were flying over occupied France in the summer of 1944. However, the film does not reveal what they were planning to bomb in France.  After only 5 weeks of fighting in legal combat against the Germans, the French had surrendered and signed an Armistice, in which they promised to stop fighting.  The French continued to fight, but not on the battlefield.  The Germans referred to the men, who continued to fight after surrendering, as “terrorists.”

This film is about the Allied airmen who were falsely accused of aiding the “terrorists.”  Unfortunately, none of the seven men, who talk in the film about the horror of their capture, tell anything about why they were flying over German-occupied France.  Maybe I missed it, but they did not explain that Allied airmen were bombing railroads and supply places to aid in the invasion.  The film showed the fields where they landed.  They were falsely accused of dropping supplies to the French Resistance.

Overall, the quality of the film is excellent.  There is some great photography in the film and the authentic film footage of the war is spectacular.  I did not observe any photos that were incorrectly identified.  There was also a lot of footage of scenes in the Buchenwald concentration camp which I had never seen before.

I learned a lot from this film that I had not known before.  For example, I learned that captured SOE agents were executed in the basement of the Buchenwald crematorium by being hung with wire on hooks that were put on the wall of the crematorium for the purpose of executions. (I previously blogged about the hanging of prisoners in the Buchenwald crematorium here.) The second batch of SOE agents, who were scheduled to be executed, requested a more humane death and they were shot by a firing squad.   Score one for the Germans!  When the German war criminals requested a soldier’s execution by firing squad, the Allies denied their requests.

Now we go down “the denier rabbit hole”:  One of the pilots in the film says that Buchenwald was a labor camp, not an extermination camp like Bergen-Belsen.  The narrator of the film should have interrupted at this point and explained that Bergen-Belsen was an exchange camp that was set up to exchange prisoners. (You can read about Bergen-Belsen here.) This blooper in the film is quickly followed by another pilot who mentions that the captured pilots were not tattooed which was an indication that they were not going to be kept in the camp very long because the other Buchenwald prisoners had identification numbers tattooed on their forearms.  Again, the narrator should have explained that the Allied airmen were in the “Small Camp” section of Buchenwald where most of the prisoners were Jews who had been recently transferred from Auschwitz where they had been tattooed.  Auschwitz was the only camp where prisoners were tattooed.

Now for the worst part of the film, which I think should be cut out: the testimony of Lt. Jack Taylor who was an American imprisoned at Mauthausen.  In this part of the film, Lt. Taylor holds up a dog tag as he says that the soldier who wore this dog tag was gassed in the gas chamber at Mauthausen; he does not give the name on the dog tag.  Why was this included in a film about innocent flyers in the Buchenwald camp?    Lt. Taylor is not part of the Buchenwald story. This is just asking for deniers to lambast the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald documentary.  At the very least, it should be explained by the narrator why Lt. Taylor was included in a story about American airmen at Buchenwald.  Is it because his imprisonment at Mauthausen was for the same reason as the airmen, or was he imprisoned for a different reason?  Lt. Taylor was captured behind enemy lines on a commando mission; he was not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention because he was an illegal combatant.  After the war, the Allies changed the rules of the Geneva Convention so that the SS men at Mauthausen were war criminals because Lt. Taylor was a prisoner there when he should have been sent to a POW camp under the ex post facto law.

You can read all about the testimony of Lt. Jack H. Taylor on my website here.  You can read about the controversy over the rules of the Geneva Convention and the treatment of POWs on my website here.


  1. Dear Herb,
    I would gladly translate your reference for English-only readers, but there is something, I should address in the first place.
    Your quote (doesn’t matter, where it came from) is greatly contradicting already established story about wires, or piano strings. The witnesses had spoken. and the “wire story” must stay on the record. Too late, to change this story now. The German word “der Strick” can be translated as a “rope” or “cord”. The next question would be: what type of “cord” are we talking about. Josef Lang could not use some sort of electrical cord, could he? No, he lived in 19th century. He could not use the electrical cord.
    Here is the video of execution of Karl Hermann Frank using the technique of Josef Lang:

    Comment by Gasan — November 27, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

  2. Gasan-FG
    PS.: I do not think that Josef Lang’s “Humane” method of hanging would have applied to those that attempted the assassination on Hitlers life.

    Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — November 27, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

  3. Dear Gasan-FG
    The German Version of the hanging after the assassination attempt on Hitler.
    I did not translate but no Piano Wire was used, rather the Austrian method was applied, as your German is excellent let others ponder what it says or Google and have it translated :
    Während des zweiten Weltkrieges starben Tausende von Menschen am Galgen; darunter auch die Attentäter auf Adolf Hitler, die am 20. Juli 1944 versucht hatten, mit einem Bombenattentat das Ende der Schreckensherrschaft herbeizuführen. Sie wurden in Berlin Pötzensee gehängt, allerdings nicht, wie es mittlerweile üblich war durch einen schnellen Tod mittels Genickbruch, sondern nach der österreichischen Art der Jahrhundertwende. Von den Hinrichtungen, die stundenlang dauerten, sind Filmaufnahmen gemacht worden, welche Hitler sich später persönlich ansah.
    Bei der österreichischen Methode des Hängens hoben zwei Henkershelfer den Straffälligen empor. Im selben Moment legte ihm der Scharfrichter einen Strick um den Hals und auf sein Kommando hin, drückten die Assistenten die Schultern des gefesselten Körpers in Richtung Boden. Sofort wurden Luft- und Blutzufuhr unterbunden. Der Henker selber drehte den Kopf des Verurteilten zur Seite und verdeckte das Gesicht so mit seinem Oberarm, dass die Zuschauer den Todeskampf nicht wahrgenommen konnten. Der österreichische Scharfrichter Josef Lang verfeinerte diese Methode seiner Meinung nach solchermaßen, dass “kein Delinquent mehr als eine Minute leiden müsse”. Lang berichtete weiter, dass mit seiner Methode der Delinquent absolut keinen Schmerz verspüre, da er durch die völlige Abschnürung der Halsschlagader mit augenblicklicher Wirkung entweder eine Gehirnlähmung oder einen Herzschlag herbeiführe. Im Augenblick des Zuziehens des Strickes verfalle er sofort in tiefste Bewusstlosigkeit. Die kraftlosen und geringfügigen Zuckungen der nächsten Sekunden erklärte er als unbewusste Reflexe, die nur wenige Augenblicke – bei der ersten Hinrichtung fünfundvierzig Sekunden – anhalten würden. Danach sei der Körper sofort reg- und leblos.

    Comment by Herbert Stolpmann — November 27, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

  4. They must be joking, right? They have never hold the piano wires, or better strings, in their hands. The thin ones would just cut the heads off under the weight of the body alone. The thick ones…
    How would you make a noose with a thick steel wire with copper windings. That would require inhuman strength of the hands. Not to mention, that the piano strings several times more expensive than just a rope. And how about the length of them? The longest piano strings were made for Steinway & Sons D series concert grand pianos, 9 feet even. This is an American-made piano. The strings produced in other countries, are under 7 feet long.

    Comment by Gasan — November 27, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

    • I think that you are correct that piano wire would have cut into the necks of the victims under the weight of the body. There would have been blood spurting all over the crematorium. I have lived among German-Americans and I also lived among German people in Germany. I know that the Germans do not do anything in an inefficient way that would create more work for themselves. Using piano wire would create a huge mess and require a lot of work to clean it up. I have doubts that anyone was hung by the neck until dead in the crematorium at Buchenwald, whether with rope or with wire.

      Note that the web site that I cited in my previous comment specified that the piano wire was used with “meat-hooks.” The hooks on the wall of the Buchenwald could be described as meat-hooks. Were the 4,980 Germans who were executed after the July Plot hung at Buchenwald? Or did they have meat hooks on a wall somewhere else for hanging people?

      Comment by furtherglory — November 27, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

  5. …”hung with wire”…
    Did they specify, what type of wire it was? Were they talking about the “piano wire” AKA “strings” like witnesses from camp Ohrdruf?

    Comment by Gasan — November 27, 2011 @ 11:00 am

    • They did not specify what type of wire, but I assume that it was “piano wire,” like the piano wire allegedly used to hang prisoners at Ohrdruf.

      The men involved in the July 20th plot to kill Hitler were also hung with piano wire, according to this quote: “It is etimated (sic) that 4,980 Germans were executed after the July Plot. Hitler decided that the leaders should have a slow death. They were hung with piano wire from meat-hooks. Their executions were filmed and later shown to senior members of both the NSDAP and the armed forces.” You can read the quote on this website:

      Comment by furtherglory — November 27, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

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