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.