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November 27, 2011

Allied airmen in Buchenwald, a secret that was kept for years by the American government

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:43 am

The first time that I ever heard about the Allied airmen, who were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp in August 1944, was around 10 years ago when the daughter of one of the American flyers [Edwin Ritter] sent me an e-mail in which she told her father’s story in great detail.  Frankly, I didn’t believe it.  If this had actually happened, why didn’t the American government include this war crime in the accusations made against the Germans at the Nuremberg IMT?

Lt. Jack Taylor, an American prisoner in the Mauthausen camp in Austria, did testify at Nuremberg that Americans had been sent to Mauthausen and that two of them had been murdered in the gas chamber there. (He showed their dog tags to prove it.) It was briefly mentioned during the “Dachau trials” conducted by the American Military Tribunal, beginning in November 1945, that Allied pilots had been killed at Buchenwald. When challenged by the defense attorney to prove this accusation, the prosecuting attorney could not supply their names, so this charge was quickly dropped.

The part of Edwin Ritter’s story that I found to be incredulous was his claim that a microchip had been implanted in his foot and it was taken out at a Boston hospital after he returned to America.

Here are the exact words of Edwin Ritter, as told to his daughter who tape recorded his statement on June 18, 1993.  She typed up his statement and sent it to me.  I am quoting from the statement:

I was also called up on the hill by the Belgium internees and the Jewish internees up there on the hill.  And they asked if I would do them a favor.  And they needed microfilm taken out of Buchenwald.  Well Martini and I — Fred Martini was a flyer on a B-17  — volunteered also to go up there and we allowed the Jewish doctors to put microfilm in our feet — front edge just below the toes in the hard part of the meat, and taped them up and made it look like walkin’ in those wooden shoes calloused our feet.  And we were to carry those back to the United States so then the government would know all about it by the time we got there.

At the time that the microchips were implanted in the feet of Edwin Ritter and Fred Martini, the Allied airmen had already been saved by a Luftwaffe doctor, whom Ritter identified as “Captain Black.”  A couple of days later, Ritter and Martini were put on a train which reached the Stalag III camp for POWs on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1944. The Germans did not have time to find out about the secret operation, done by a Jewish doctor, to implant the microchips.

Can you understand now, dear reader, why I dismissed Edwin Ritter’s whole story because of his unbelievable account of the implanting of a microchip in his foot?

In November 1944, the Jews at Buchenwald must have known that the American flyers, who were on their way to a POW camp, would not reach America until after the war.  What was on the microfilm, implanted in the feet of two airmen, that a Jewish doctor wanted to send to America?  (I was not aware that this technology was available in 1944, but what do I know?)

Now with the release of the documentary Lost Airmen of Buchenwald, I am beginning to believe Ritter’s story because so much of what Ritter said in the statement that he gave to his daughter, is confirmed by the stories of the 7 airmen who tell their stories in the documentary. But there is one serious difference between the story told by Edwin Ritter and the 7 airmen in the documentary: Edwin Ritter admits that he was dropping supplies to the “French Underground” which is his term for the French Resistance.

According to the statement given by Edwin Ritter to his daughter, who recorded it on June 18, 1993, Ritter was with the American Air Force, but he was sent to England to join the Eighth Air Force.  He trained at Westover Field in Massachusetts before being sent to northern Ireland, where his group waited for assignment.  He was temporarily assigned to the southern part of England and made several bombing runs on Frankfurt and Berlin. After participating in the raid on Ploesti, Romania, his group came back to the field in Ipswich, England.

Here is an exact quote from Ritter’s statement given to this daughter:

And when we came back to our field in Ipswich, England, the Second Division, 93rd Bomb group, 328 Squadron —there were only three of us — and they began to re-assign us to different squadrons.  Well, they found out they needed a group to supply the French underground in France, and they took our plane and they took all the numbers off from it and painted it black.  Between the group of us we were known as the Gypsy Flyers.  We, up until the time the organization was set, we were flying with anyone, anytime, any place.  We had no assigned aircraft.  And once the group was formulated at night to carry supplies, ammunition and food to the French underground, we were known as the Carpetbaggers.

Edwin Ritter was on his fifth mission in the southern part of France and just after he had made the drop of supplies to the French underground, his plane was hit by ground fire.  Ritter mentioned in his statement that he was aiding “the Free French.”  You can read about “the Free French” on this page of my website.  Buchenwald and Natzweiler were the main camps where French Resistance fighters were sent when they were captured.  So naturally, Ritter was sent to Buchenwald.

From this point on, Ritter’s story matches many of the details told by the 7 airmen in the documentary.  Ritter’s story does not prove that the Allied airmen in the documentary were supplying the French Resistance.  However, you can’t blame the Germans for assuming that all the airmen who were shot down over occupied France were illegal combatants who were aiding the illegal combatants in the French Resistance.  And you can’t blame the American government for keeping the story of the Lost Airmen in Buchenwald a secret for years because of course, we Americans didn’t want it known that Americans were fighting as illegal combatants in violation of the Geneva Convention in the “Good War” against those evil Nazis who wanted to kill all the Jews and rule the world.

May 7, 2010

Dutch heroine Coba Pulskens hid downed Allied flyers in World War II

Today I was searching the news on google, as I do every morning, and I came across the remarkable story of Coba Pulskens, a Dutch woman who was part of the Resistance movement in the Netherlands in World War II.  A monument to Coba Pulskens, who died in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück in February 1945, has been erected to her in Tilberg in the Netherlands.

I previously blogged about the Ravensbrück gas chamber here.

Monument to Dutch heroine Coba Pulskens in Tilberg

The photo above and the following quote is from the ww2museums.com web site which you can see here:

The monument for Coba Pulskens in Tilburg, The Netherlands, has been erected in memory of the lady in the resistance movement who perished only a few months before the liberation. Jacoba Pulskens (1884-1945) During the Second World War she offered shelter to Jews, members of the resistance movement and to stranded allied aircrew.

On Sunday 9 July, 1944, a command group of the Gestapo (German Secret State Police) raided the house of Pulskens at the Diepenstraat. Contrary to the rules of engagement, the three hidden airmen were not taken Prisoner of War, but immediately shot in the kitchen and in the backyard. Mrs. Pulskens, 60 years of age, was arrested and deported to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women. In February 1945, she died in the gas chamber. According to survivors she voluntarily took the place of a mother with children hoping that to save their lives.

This story got my attention because of this phrase that leaped out at me: “Contrary to the rules of engagement…”

What rules of engagement?  The Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention?  Coba Pulskens was an illegal combatant under the rules of the Geneva Convention, which states that after a country surrenders in a war, the people in that country who take up arms and continue fighting as civilians are illegal combatants who do not have the protection of the Geneva Convention.  By mentioning the “rules of engagement,” whoever wrote this is making a legal case that the killing of the Allied airmen was a war crime; it gives a signal that there might be another side to the story.

I did a little research on this story and the first thing that I learned was that the airmen were wearing civilian clothes when they were found by the German Sicherheitsdienst (Security police) from the town of Den Bosch.  The Netherlands had surrendered and was under German occupation at this point in World War II. If these airmen had turned themselves in, instead of hiding with the Dutch resistance, they would have been treated as POWs and sent to a POW camp where they would have been treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention.

Michael Rotschopf, the man who shot the airmen at Coba Pulsken’s house on July 9, 1944, was prosecuted by a  British Military Court in Essen, Germany in June 1946, along with nine other Sicherheitsdienst men who were included under the “common design” principle used by the Allies in war crimes trials. Rotschopf, along with three others, was convicted and sentenced to be hanged.

The following quote is from the Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals. Selected and Prepared by the United Nations War Crimes Commission. Volume XI, London: HMSO, 1949:

Mr. Nico Pulskens, whose house was opposite that of Aunt Coba, stated that on the morning of 9th July, 1944, at about 11.0 to 11.15 a.m. he had called on Aunt Coba and seen three English pilots. The latter were carrying no arms and were dressed in civilians clothes. Shortly afterwards he returned to his own house and heard shots and groans from the direction of Aunt Coba’s house. Looking in that direction from his own house, he saw a man in a blue raincoat “threatening with a sten gun,” the shooting continued until the groaning of the victims ceased. He identified Rotschopf as the man who performed the shooting.

[…]

Rotschopf claimed that his orders were to arrest persons of a Resistance group but of whom he had received no description. His instructions from Hardegan at Tilburg were to pass through the house and secure the back of it. According to his evidence, while passing through the living room with his sten gun under his overcoat, he saw three persons in civilian clothes at a table. When he reached the yard behind the house, he saw three men running towards him. When they ignored his shouts of  “Halt. Hands up,” he shot at them and they fell immediately. Cremer then came over the wall from the right, Hardegan and possibly Roesener from the left.

Rotschopf admitted that, in his view, the three men died as a result of his firing. He said that he did not know that the three men were members of the Allied Forces and that “ We did not go there to murder them.” He denied backing the men into the yard and there shooting them in accordance with a concerted plan. He admitted that his gun was loaded when he entered the house but he denied that the three pilots surrendered. Rotschopf said : “ I saw no other way out, and I considered myself under pressure.” Hardegan had told him that if he was attacked he should use his gun, as the persons to be arrested might be armed. He said he did not think that if he had merely pointed the gun at the men it would have stopped them. He said that the events all happened suddenly, and his act was done in self-defence.

[…]

The Defence argued that no plan to commit murder had been proved. The Prosecution, on the other hand, maintained that “ this was a concerted action to murder three British pilots, three people who were known to be British pilots and that they, having surrendered to the accused Rotschopf, were in fact murdered in accordance with the plan.”

Much of the argument of Counsel concerned the inferences to be drawn from circumstantial evidence. Thus, the Defence pointed out that Rotschopf was a war-wounded person who was subject to fits, and who had been posted to the DienststelIe to perform office work. Schwanz also was primarily an office worker. The Defence drew the conclusion that neither could have been chosen for the task had it been intended to involve killing people. The Prosecution, on the other hand, emphasised that Rotschopf had had considerable experience of street fighting in Russia which would make him a suitable person to send on a killing mission, and that since Schwanz spoke fluent Dutch he could make enquiries without arousing suspicion. Again, the Prosecution produced evidence to show that Rotschopf’s firing had been divided into two bursts, with a short period intervening. This would tend to show that the killing was intended, but the Defence claimed that it was due to spasmodic muscular movements to which Rotschopf was alleged to be subject.

The Defence maintained that it was most unlikely that the victims would be led outside into the open air if the intention were to shoot them, and the Prosecution on their part used the fact that the victims were later cremated as a significant fact.

The complete text about the trial can be read here.

I previously wrote about Allied flyers being sent to Buchenwald which you can read here.