Scrapbookpages Blog

November 29, 2011

Edwin Ritter, a Lost Airman of Buchenwald, tells about his transfer to Stalag III as a POW

Edwin Ritter was one of the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald, a group of 168 Allied airmen who were accused of being Terrorfliegers (terror fliers) and sent to a concentration camp after their planes were shot down. Most of these airmen were falsely accused of being illegal combatants who were aiding the French Resistance; they were actually legal combatants on bombing missions.

After the Allied invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944, France was being heavily bombed by Allied planes in an effort to win the war by destroying bridges, railroads, power plants and supply depots. The Allied airmen were falsely accused of dropping supplies to the French Resistance and sent to Buchenwald which was one of the two concentration camps where illegal combatants in the French Resistance were sent.  Edwin Ritter and a few others were not falsely accused; their planes had been shot down while dropping supplies to the French Resistance.

After the Luftwaffe (German air force) found out that there were Allied airmen in a concentration camp, the airmen were taken to Stalag III, which was a POW camp.  When the airmen arrived at the POW camp, there were 10 men who were separated from the group, including Edwin Ritter.

In 1993, Edwin Ritter gave a statement, which his daughter recorded and then transcribed.  This quote is from his statement:

We reached there (Stalag III) and it was the day of Thansgiving, November 24th (1944), I believe it was. We were put into camp and examined by the German commandant and he says, “You know, none of you are righteously permitted to come in here for the simple reason we have no records, no nothin’.” And he said he’s gonna to get the American colonel to come up, which was Goodrich at that time. Goodrich seemed to have everything well in hand.  Him and Colonel Clark.  Goodrich said that he could not let us mingle among the other Americans until we got cleared.  [...] Then Col. Goodrich came up with the post commandant, the German commandant, and he says, “We have all of you cleared so we’ll assign you to barracks.”  He said that “although there are ten of you that have to be separated from the rest of the group.”

And my name wasn’t called.  Martini wasn’t called and several others weren’t called.  Bob Johnson wasn’t called.  And, of course, Col. McNichols wasn’t called and we were just wondering why.  Well, of course, being directly involved with the OSS and the Free French Underground, we were liable for continuous prison because we had been found guilty of being saboteurs.  But they were going to clear us and get us mixed up in and amongst our own people, you know?  And they were gonna coach us exactly what we’d have to say, if anything slips up.

Ritter said in his statement that he never got any letters from his wife while he was in Stalag III, the POW camp.  He said that the American military “would not acknowledge that I was there at the camp.”  He said that he “Never got any information from them as to my acknowledgment in the Eighth Air Force or not. But the colonel vouched for me personally because he knew of my training with Westside T. Larson at 90 Church Street in New York in Columbia University. So he vouched for me specially.”  So according to Edwin Ritter, he was sent on missions to aid insurgents in France, and when he was captured, the American military would not acknowledge that he was in the American Air Force.

When the war was over, Ritter was sent first to Belgium, then to France, and finally put on a ship to America.  This quote is from his statement:

And finally we reached our shores thinking that we’d see the Statue of Liberty and into New York Harbor, where the rest were all goin’, but to our surprise and amazement, we were diverted from the convoy and sent to Boston.  Because of the nature of the incident, they deemed it necessary to separate us from the rest of the welcoming committee, and Fred Martini and myself were sent to Boston Hospital to remove the micro film from the bottoms of our feet. [...]  That following morning, we were wheelchaired into …. he was wheeled to a Trenton, New Jersey train and I was wheeled to a train head (sic) straight for Chicago (his home town).  And got home thinking, oh, what a welcome and everything else.  I did (get a welcome) from the family, yes: a dead man had returned.  My wife, your mother, was already given my medals and everything else post-humously, as a dead man.  It still didn’t catch up with our government that I was alive.  I was still AWOL until I got into Fort Sheridan and they straightened it out.  They changed the AWOL to MIA due to Col. McNichols and Col. Clark at that time — now Generals, of course.  And they got the government to clear us and give us passes for home.

From the rest of his statement, it is clear that the Army did not acknowledge his service in the war as an illegal combatant who was aiding the French Resistance.  When he became ill, he was not allowed to go to the VA hospital for treatment.  Ritter said that he submitted to several tests in which he was given sodium pentothal  and “they couldn’t believe what they heard from me.”

In this last quote at the end of his recorded statement, Ritter says that the United States would not acknowledge that he was a prisoner in a concentration camp:

And they can’t understand…and today, they can’t understand why the United States government…not the government, but he said, the services, the combined services, will not acknowledge that we were prisoners of war in a concentration camp.

One would think that the US government would have charged the Germans at Nuremberg with illegally putting captured Americans into a concentration camp instead of a POW camp, which was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.  Or was it?  In the case of Edwin Ritter, who admitted that he was on a mission to drop supplies to the French Resistance, it was not a war crime to send him to a concentration camp.

Another documentary with the title Bomber Boys is also being shown currently on British TV.  You can read about it here.  One of the survivors who speaks in this documentary said, regarding his stay in Buchenwald: “Instead of being treated as prisoners of war many were sent to concentration camps and faced the threats of starvation, disease, beatings and the gas chamber.”

There was at least one American in the Dachau concentration camp, but you don’t hear much about that. The story of the Allied airmen at Buchenwald is much better known than the story of an American at Dachau.

This quote is from my own website, scrapbookpages.com:

On the day that Dachau was liberated, there was at least one American, Lt. Rene J. Guiraud, a member of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who had been arrested as a spy. There were also 5 other American civilians who were prisoners in the camp, according to Marcus J. Smith in his book, The Harrowing of Hell.

Nerin E. Gun wrote that there were 11 Americans imprisoned at Dachau at various times in its history.

According to a newspaper article by Mark Muckenfuss in The Press-Enterprise, Cecil Davis was a B17 pilot who was shot down during a bombing raid, and subsequently sent to a POW camp. He was with a group of American Prisoners of War who got lost while marching through the German countryside in late April 1945; the lost POWs were picked up by a patrol and dropped off at the Dachau “death camp” for three or four days. Davis was assigned to work in the crematorium where he saw the bodies of children that were being burned in “gas ovens.”

On January 26, 2009, Ron Simon, a staff memeber of the Telegraph-Forum, wrote an article about an American soldier, Porter Stevens, who was one of 8 American POWs at Dachau when the camp was liberated. Stevens had spent the last month of his 11 months as a POW at Dachau.

Another American at Dachau on the day the camp was liberated was Keith Fiscus, who was a Captain in American intelligence, operating behind enemy lines. According to a news article by Mike Pound, published in the Joplin Globe on April 29, 2009, Ficus was captured on April 29, 1944 in Austria and held at Dachau for 9 months after first being interrogated by the Gestapo.

The most famous American at Dachau was Rene Guiraud. After being given intensive specialized training, Lt. Guiraud was parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, along with a radio operator. His mission was to collect intelligence, harass German military units and occupation forces, sabotage critical war material facilities, and carry on other resistance activities. Guiraud organized 1500 guerrilla fighters and developed intelligence networks. During all this, Guiraud posed as a French citizen, wearing civilian clothing. He was captured and interrogated for two months by the Gestapo, but revealed nothing about his mission. After that, he was sent to Dachau where he participated in the camp resistance movement along with the captured British spies. Two weeks after the liberation of the camp, he “escaped” from the quarantined camp and went to Paris where he arrived in time to celebrate V-E day.

3 Comments »

  1. “The Jews were not “executed.” The Jews were genocided by an order from Adolf Hitler.”

    Right. And the Hitler order is where?

    “The Jews who could work were worked to death, or they were starved to death and replaced by new workers. Those who were too old, too young or too sick to work were sent to the gas chamber immediately after they got off the train.”

    Which is why Elie Wiesel claims he was treated in a camp hospital and decided to follow his murderous SS captors on a march out of Auschwitz and not wait for the Red Army to liberate him.

    Totally off topic, but I’m dying to know if Jewish male babies born in German concentration camps were allowed to be ritually circumcised by mohels according to custom?

    “During her imprisonment, Stanislawa helped deliver over 3,000 babies. But there was something even more remarkable than her trying to cope amidst these hostile conditions. As she explained to her son, the Lagerarzt ordered her to make a report on the infections and mortality rate for mothers and infants. She replied, “I have not had a single case of death, either among the mothers or the newborns.” The Lagerarzt’s response was a look of disbelief. “He said that even the most perfectly handled clinics of German universities cannot claim such success. In his eyes I read anger and envy.” In a self-deprecating manner, Stanislawa attributed this to fact that “the emaciated organisms were too barren a medium for bacteria.” However, her children and fellow inmates ascribe this miraculous record to causes more than natural.” http://catholicinsight.com/online/christianjewish/printer_auschwitz.shtml

    Comment by who+dares+wings — November 30, 2011 @ 11:16 am

  2. The wartime service of these captured OSS spies must have been acknowledged by the US Army or another branch of government. It seems odd that only Edwin Ritter, out of all the US spies who survived their captivity in German concentration camps, would be denied his veteran’s benefits. Also, has his account of the 10 airmen hung to death on meathooks at Buchenwald been corroborated by documents, or other eyewitness testimony? Do any of these American survivors ever describe a gassing, or a gas chamber in the camp they spent months in? Why would the Germans execute spies by meathook hanging (the mechanics of which I can’t quite visualize), Jews by gassing, and everyone else by overwork, starvation and shooting? No wonder they lost the war. Their “Jerry rigged” industrialized extermination program was a joke. Why, look at what we accomplished in just two days with only two A bombs.

    Comment by who+dares+wings — November 29, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

    • When Edwin Ritter bailed out of his plane, he had no identification on his person, except for his dog tag. When he was eventually betrayed by a Double Agent and turned over to the Gestaspo, he had no papers to identify himself. All he had was his dog tag; the Gestapo men thought that he had killed a soldier named Edwin Ritter and taken his dog tag. When he got back to America, the various agencies did not believe his story. He was finally given “truth serum” and then they believed his story and gave him his veteran’s benefits.

      In Ritter’s account of the 10 Canadian airmen being hung, he described a regular gallows on which they were hung with a rope; the other airmen were forced to watch. He did not say they were hung on meat-hooks with wires. The meat-hook story was told by one of the seven airmen in the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald documentary who said that 16 British SOE agents were hung at Buchenwald with a wire around their necks. He did not say that the other airmen were forced to watch this hanging. Edwin Ritter did not mention the SOE agents.

      I have read other accounts given by some of the other 168 airmen in which one man said that he was taken into a room that he thought was a gas chamber, but it turned out that it wasn’t. It was also stated by one or two other airmen that there was a gas chamber at Buchenwald. I read these accounts on the Internet but did not quote them.

      The hanging from meat-hooks was allegedly the method used at Buchenwald for people who had been condemned to be executed. This method was allegedly used so as to save time. The hanging was done in the crematorium and the bodies were then put on an elevator and taken up to the cremation ovens. At Dachau, the crematorium building had a basement, but the morgue room was on the ground floor next to the oven room. To save time at Dachau, prisoners were hung by rope from a bar over the oven doors, so the body could be taken down and shoved into the oven immediately. The gallows was right outside the crematorium building, but it was much more efficient to hang the prisoners in front of the oven door.

      The Jews were not “executed.” The Jews were genocided by an order from Adolf Hitler. The Jews who could work were worked to death, or they were starved to death and replaced by new workers. Those who were too old, too young or too sick to work were sent to the gas chamber immediately after they got off the train.

      The Germans were working on an A bomb, allegedly at a secret place near the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald. If they had been successful, they would have dropped two bombs on the two American cities with the highest number of Jews in the population (New York and St. Louis) and the war would have been over.

      Comment by furtherglory — November 30, 2011 @ 6:49 am


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