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July 17, 2012

What prompted the Luftwaffe to transfer Allied airmen out of Buchenwald and into a POW camp?

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 10:53 am

Update July 18, 2012:

A reader of my blog supplied a link to the death records at the Buchenwald camp.  According to the death records, L.C. Beck died in the Buchenwald camp on October 31, 1944.  The date that the first Allied Airmen were taken out of Buchenwald and sent to a POW camp was October 19, 1944.  So L.C. Beck died after the first airmen were taken out of Buchenwald, which means that the story told by Edwin Ritter is wrong. A big Thank You to all the readers who contributed to this correction of the facts.

Continue reading my original post:

I am writing again today, about the captured Allied airmen who were sent to Buchenwald, to answer a comment on a previous blog post about the airmen which you can read here.  In my previous post, I questioned whether Phillip Lamason was the person responsible for contacting the Luftwaffe and getting the airmen out of Buchenwald.

Here is the comment made by a reader of my blog:

Records show that Lieutenant L.C. Beck died in Buchenwald from purulent pleurisy on the evening of 29 November 1944. That’s over 5 weeks AFTER the main group of allied airmen (156 of them) were transferred by the Luftwaffe to a POW camp. So if Beck died in Ritter’s arms, as stated above, he must have been part of the small group of airmen who were not transferred with the main group on 19 Ocotber 1944. Therefore, it would have been impossible for Luftwaffe Doctor to arrange the transfer of the main group of airmen, as you elude to above. Thus, the main group of airmen must have been released / transferred because of Lamason’s efforts, as is well documented by many reliable and reputable sources.

Phillip Lamason was the senior officer, and the greatest hero, in the group of 168 pilots who were sent to Buchenwald.  He has his own page on Wikipedia which you can read in full here.  This quote is from Wikipedia:

For several weeks Lamason negotiated with the camp authorities to have the airmen transferred to a POW camp, but his requests were denied. At great risk, Lamason secretly got word to the Luftwaffe of the Allied airmen’s captivity and, seven days before their scheduled execution, 156 of the 168 prisoners were transferred to Stalag Luft III. Most of the airmen credit their survival at Buchenwald to the leadership and determination of Lamason.

The Wikipedia entry for Lamason does not give any of the details of how Lamason secretly got word to the Luftwaffe.  I have searched and searched on the Internet to find more information on how Lamason contacted the Luftwaffe. I didn’t find out anything about how Lamason secretly contacted the Luftwaffe when he was at  Buchenwald, but I did find some interesting information on the website of the National Museum of the Air Force, which I am quoting:

ARMY AIR FORCES VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST

Buchenwald, An Example
Germans built Buchenwald in 1937 as a work camp for the “undesirables” of Nazi society, mostly Jews and political prisoners. It later became one of a number of German “death camps.” At war’s end, as many as 60,000 people had died there. Even more died at such larger camps as Dachau and Auschwitz, which were run with greater “efficiency.”

In later summer and autumn of 1944, 82 AAF and 86 British Commonwealth aviators were captives at Buchenwald. Most had been shot down over France and had made connections with the French Resistance in their effort to return to their units, as they were expected to do. They had received French identification papers and were dressed as civilians to avoid capture. A traitor within the French Underground betrayed them to the Germans, and they were captured. As Allied forces prepared to enter Paris, they were evacuated with a large number of political prisoners to Buchenwald in Weimar, Germany. They arrived after a harrowing five-day train ride jammed in boxcars with little food or water. There they were shaved bare and spent the next three weeks without shoes or shelter, sleeping on paving stones. A Canadian aviator described the daily ration as “a little bowl of soup made from grass or cabbage leaves, and an inch of bread and three little potatoes.” One pilot lost more than 65 pounds during his six weeks there.

Eventually, the POWs and other prisoners were placed in a barracks, 600 men to a building designed for 250. They slept on wooden shelves, five to a bunk, so crowded that no one could turn over until all did at the same time. P-47 pilot Lt. L.C. Beck Jr. and Royal Air Force Flying Officer P.D. Hemmens died before the airmen were transferred to a POW camp in October-November 1944. There they still faced the hardships of imprisonment, but at least they were free from the horrors of a death camp.

Notice that the article on the website of the National Museum of the Air Force mentions that Lt. L.C. Beck died before the airmen were transferred to a POW camp.  This contradicts what was written in the comment on my blog and proves that I was right when I wrote on my blog, that “Jack Beck” died before the airmen were transferred to a POW camp.

I previously wrote that the reason that the Luftwaffe found out about the airmen at Buchenwald was because a Luftwaffe doctor came to the camp to sign a death certificate for “Jack Beck.”  It may have been Phillip Lamason who contacted the Luftwaffe and got the Luftwaffe doctor to come to the camp on the pretext of signing a death certificate.

The strange thing about the whole story of the American Airmen being sent to Buchenwald is that it was kept secret for years.  Why keep it a secret when the Allied Airmen were not doing anything wrong? In spite of the fact that the Allied Airmen were completely innocent, they were unjustly sent to Buchenwald which was one of the two main camps for illegal combatants who were helping the French Resistance, the other one being Natzweiler.

After World War II was over, an American Military Tribunal conducted a series of trials of the German war criminals who had served in the Nazi concentration camps in Germany.

At the opening of the trial of the Buchenwald war criminals on April 11, 1947, the court president, Brig. Gen. Emil Charles Kiel, asked their American defense counsel, “How do the accused plead?”

To this, Captain Emmanuel Lewis, the attorney for the defense, 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.”

Why would the American prosecutor of the German war criminals of Buchenwald say that American airmen “went up the chimney in smoke,” when he must have known that the airmen had been saved by the Luftwaffe?  Was it because he didn’t want to say anything good about the Luftwaffe, or because he didn’t want to imply that the American airmen had been helping the French Resistance and that’s why they were sent to one of the main camps for illegal combatants who were fighting with the French Resistance?

Edwin Ritter, the man who held “Jack Beck” in his arms when he died, admitted that he (Ritter) was helping the French Resistance, as I previously wrote in a blog post here.

4 Comments

  1. I am the son of SSgt Basil A Coats, held in Buchenwald. His story is that there was an officer at Buchenwald that had seen some old college friends, and related to one of them that they held a number of American Airmen. The friend told him that under German law, airmen could only be held at a Luft Stalag, soldiers at a Wermacht Stalag, etc. They arranged to have the men sent to Stalag Luft IIIA.

    Comment by Paul Coats — December 10, 2015 @ 9:06 pm

  2. Upon arrival, Lamason, as ranking officer, demanded an interview with the camp commandant , Hermann Pister , which he was granted. He insisted that the airmen be treated as POWs under the Geneva Conventions and be sent to a POW camp .

    Comment by gold account — July 18, 2012 @ 9:21 am

  3. Destination Buchenwald by Colin Burgess (page 145). Quote: Levitt Beck slipped into the final oblivion on the evening of 29 November 1944. His body, like that of Phil Hemmens, was wheeled directly over to the crematorium and fed into one of the ovens…… In any event, both death dates are after the main group of allied airmen were transferred from Buchenald to a POW camp.

    There is also other reiable evidence that Beck died after the main group left Buchenwald such as 168 Jump Into Hell by Arthur Kinnis & Stanley Booker (page 131). Quote: The following airmen were not on that list and were too sick to make the change with the main party. 78286 L.C. Beck……

    To rely on one piece of evidence, and then build an argument around it, is misleading and wrong. For example, in the book The Theory and Practive of Hell by Eugen Kogan, Kogan referred to Phil Lamason as an Australian (page 250). Using your mentality, Lamason must have been an Australian? However, we all know he was actually a New Zealander.

    As for Phil Lamason, I have just read his Wikipedia article. At face value, it appears to be a well written and researched article using reliable sources and references. You state above that the “Wikipedia entry for Lamason does not give any of the details of how Lamason secretly got word to the Luftwaffe”. I disagree, here is a direct quote from the Wikipedia article: At great risk, Lamason and Burney secretly got word out through a trusted Russian prisoner, who worked at the nearby Nohra airfield, to the German Luftwaffe of their captivity at the camp.[36][39][40][46] The message requested in part, that an officer pass the information to Berlin, and for the Luftwaffe to intercede on behalf of the airmen.[5]. Destination Buchenwald by Colin Burgess is used as the reference for the last sentence.

    But I leave you with this thought, a famous quote by Mark Twain. “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference”.

    Comment by James Bond — July 18, 2012 @ 1:24 am

  4. According to the online deathbook Hemmens died on
    http://totenbuch.buchenwald.de/names/details/person/16858/ref/recherche
    10.10.1944
    and Beck died on
    http://totenbuch.buchenwald.de/names/details/person/20224/ref/recherche
    31.10.1944

    So I am not sure where the date 29 November 1944 comes from, it might have been a transcribing mistake from your reader or perhaps from the online database.
    According to “Destination Buchenwald” the BBC ran a report that airmen were being held in Buchenwald just prior to their release, so I expect Lamason’s alleged efforts would have little to do with it. Probably word of mouth amongst work teams reached other POWs who alerted the Red Cross who alerted the British Government would be a plausible scenario.

    Comment by littlegreyrabbit — July 17, 2012 @ 11:27 pm


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