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June 16, 2012

Phil Lamason, one of the Allied airmen who were imprisoned at Buchenwald

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 5:47 pm

In doing reseach on the Buchenwald concentration camp, I came across the obituary of Phil Lamason in an article in the online Telegraph here, dated May 31, 2012.

Phil Lamason was one of the 168 Allied airmen who were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp as illegal combatants because they were caught wearing civilian clothes behind enemy lines, hiding with the French Resistance.

This quote is from Lamason’s obituary:

Squadron Leader Phil Lamason, who has died in New Zealand aged 93, was the leader of a group of Allied airmen sent to Buchenwald concentration camp by the Gestapo.

In this quote from Lamason’s obituary, it is implied that it was due to his efforts that the Luftwaffe rescued the Allied airmen from Buchenwald and took them to a POW camp:

Once at Buchenwald, he risked his life on numerous occasions as he sought to obtain the men’s release and to smuggle news of their plight to the Luftwaffe — RAF prisoners of war were the responsibility of the Luftwaffe, not of the Gestapo. By negotiating with the camp authorities he was able to secure extra blankets, clothes, clogs and food for the airmen. In October he learned that the Gestapo had ordered their execution, and he increased his efforts to secure the fliers’ release.

On October 19, Luftwaffe officers arrived at Buchenwald and demanded the airmen’s release, and they were transferred to Stalag Luft III, where their shaven-headed, emaciated appearance shocked their fellow PoWs.

Lamason may have tried his best to get the airmen released to a POW camp, but were the airmen really released because of his efforts?

This quote is from the statement given by Edwin Ritter, one of the airmen at Buchenwald, who had actually been caught after he was shot down while dropping supplies to the French Resistance:

Well that day we woke….the next following day, we came out and they counted us early in the morning with snow on the ground — just a little bit.  And they told us that the first ten were going to be hung.  And we looked at him and we looked at each other, and we saw them marching ten other different people from the other area who were Canadians.  They put these ten Canadians up there on the rafters and they accused them of sabotage and murder and other situations as they went by.  And there was a well-speaking English German who read the convictions in English.  And as he completed all ten of  ‘em he says “Now you will pay your supreme sacrifice for your country,” he says “because you are about to die.”  They pulled it and the bottom fell out from beneath the platform, and ten of them hung there, and we had to stand and watch them hang until sunset.

He said, “Next is the Americans.”  Then he came by and he called our names and I was on the first list.  He said, “You’ve got three days.”  And I said, well, this is gonna be it.  I’ve got three days to make peace.  And about that time, it so happened it fell on a weekend, and the commandant and the so-called medical doctor of Buchenwald and several others, were on a weekend pass when a lieutenant died in my arms, Jack Beck.   He died in my arms from malnutrition, infection and he just couldn’t hold on anymore…dysentery just claimed his body.  And we got a hold of the outside guard and we told him what happened.

And being that the German is a very regulated type of person, he went and got his sargeant (sic).  The sargeant says, “Well, there’s got to be a death certificate made out.  Does somebody know his name?”  I told him, yes, I did.  He says, “Good.” He says, “We’ll have a doctor here in a little while. You help the doctor make out the death certificate.”   And it so happened, approximately and hour later or so, this blue uniform walked in, a German captain.  He said he was the doctor, Luftwaffe, and he understood that there was a person who died here and had to have papers made out on the death certificate.

But why would a Luftwaffe doctor have been sent to Buchenwald?  It just so happens that the Luftwaffe maintained a small airfield near Weimar, which was 5 miles from Buchenwald.  This was the closest place to find a German doctor who could sign a death certificate when the Buchenwald doctors were off duty on the weekend.

The quote from Edwin Ritter’s statement continues:

And why he (the Luftwaffe officer) didn’t know he was called and (Fred) Martini says, “Well because we’re all Americans and Canadians.”  He says, “You’ve got to be kiddin’.”  And he (Martini) says, “No.”  He (Martini) said, “That man is an American.  He’s a pilot, a P-47 pilot.” And he (the Luftwaffe doctor) said “You are all American?”  (We said) “Yes, we are all Americans. and we were tried and convicted in Frenes (sic) Prison and sent here for demise, for death.”  He said, “I don’t understand this. You are American flyers?”  “Yes, we are.”  He says, “Can you give me your name, rank and serial number.”

We all got up, Martini and five of us did, and we gave him our rank, name and serial number. And he says, “Don’t anybody move from this square.  Don’t anybody be talked out of leaving this area.”  He says, “I’ll post two men right now over at the gate.  Nobody comes in or out.”  So he went out and it was a couple hours later that we saw this big train.

The big train took the Allied airmen to Stalag III, a POW camp.

I previously blogged about a documentary on the story of the airmen at Buchenwald here.

I also wrote a review of the documentary here.  You can read the full story of Edwin Ritter on my blog here.