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November 19, 2011

“Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” — a new documentary (updated)

Update, Nov. 20, 2011:

I’ve been searching for more information on the documentary Lost Airmen of Buchenwald to find out if the film mentions the role of the Luftwaffe in the transfer of the prisoners to a POW camp after 2 months at Buchenwald.  I found an interview with the director which you can read in full here.

Here is a quote from the interview with Mike Dorsey, the director:

WAMG: Why were these particular prisoners not treated according to the Geneva Convention?

MD: What happened was, if you were a commando dropped behind enemy lines, and the Germans caught you, then they would say that you’ve voided your rights as of the Geneva Convention, that you will not be treated as a prisoner of war. You broke the rules. These guys were airmen that had been shot down. They were all hiding with the French Resistance. The Germans claimed they should have turned themselves in as soon as they crashed, but since they were hiding with the resistance, they were labeled saboteurs and terrorists and were treated the same way they would have treated a commando who purposely dropped in behind enemy lines. It’s because they were caught by the Gestapo and not by the regular military that that happened.

So it appears that the director of the documentary knew the reason why the airmen were sent to Buchenwald and not to a POW camp.  But did he also know that the airmen were saved by the Luftwaffe.  At least one of the airmen, Joe Moser, knew that the Luftwaffe was involved.  According to a 2009 newspaper article by Mike Siegel of The Seattle Times, 1st Lt. Joe Moser was a 22-year-old pilot from Ferndale, WA who was shot down over France on August 13, 1944 while he was flying his 44th mission in a Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft.

The following quote is from Mike Siegel’s article:

French farmers tried to hide Moser, but German soldiers who saw the crash soon caught up with him and demanded to know the whereabouts of his co-pilot, not realizing the P-38 was a one-man plane.

Moser was first taken to a French prison, but a week after his capture he and nearly 170 other captured Allied fliers were crammed into railroad boxcars for an five-day ride to Germany.

Fortunately for Moser, conditions in the SS-run camp apparently shocked even some members of Germany’s power elite, including high-ranking members of the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force.

Luftwaffe officers had heard that Allied aviators were at the camp, and arranged a visit with the top officers among the prisoner group, a colonel from New Zealand and an American captain.

“The disgust they felt for their fellow German SS officers was clear,” Moser said. “It was also certain that they did not approve of the way we were being treated.”

An unusual sense of fraternity was at work: Although Allied and German pilots wouldn’t hesitate to blast each other out of the sky in battle, they felt a kinship that predated World War II.

A week after the Luftwaffe visit, the Allied pilots at Buchenwald, which included about 60 Americans, were told to gather up their belongings. They were marched to a warehouse and handed back the clothes they had arrived in.

Continue reading my original post:

You can read all about a new documentary Lost Airmen of Buchenwald on the Huffington Post here.  The “lost airmen” were 168 Allied pilots who were captured after they were shot down over France; they were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp for two months before they were transferred to the Stalag III prisoner of war camp.

Here is a quote from the article on the Huffington Post:

While most captured airmen — pilots, navigators, radiomen — were held in prisoner-of-war (POW) camps and treated according to the Geneva Conventions, some were falsely accused of being “terrorists and saboteurs” and subjected to the far worse conditions — starvation, torture, isolation — of the notorious concentration camps. Whether for reasons of state secrecy or because it was the conventionally “known fact” that Allied combatants were never sent to the concentration camps, this tale has remained untold over the decades.

But why has the story of the lost airmen at Buchenwald remained untold for decades? The author of the article on the Huffington Post has a theory, which you can read in the quote below:

Adding to the film’s value are the archival footage — scenes of occupied Paris, of French citizens who risked their lives to help the airmen, of Buchenwald itself, and of the P.O.W. camp where finally, just as the war was ending, the airmen were marched.

This last-minute maneuver may explain why this tale went untold: One veteran surmises that, as the war closed, the U.S. Government was in negotiations with Germany’s rocket scientists to emigrate to the U.S.; that Allied combatants were treated to anything less than Geneva standards could have been a sticking point.

The veteran who gave this explanation implied that the German rocket scientists wanted to emigrate to the United States.  I agree with that — it was a choice between the United States or the Soviet Union and many of the German rocket scientists made their way to the American zone where they surrendered to the Americans.  However, I don’t think that America would have rejected Werner von Braun on the grounds that American airmen had been sent to Buchenwald.

The Huffington Post article continues with this quote:

Still, when General Dwight D. Eisenhower, head of all Allied forces, made his official visit to Buchenwald, he invited along a large contingent of the surrounding villagers — who entered the camp laughing and left somber or crying, even fainting, at the skeletal inmates. Why was there no media follow-up of the full story? Clearly, Eisenhower invited full scrutiny.

General Eisenhower did not make a visit to Buchenwald, official or otherwise.  The only camp that Eisenhower ever visited was Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald.  Eisenhower did not invite a large contingent of surrounding villagers to enter the Buchenwald camp.  Buchenwald was not surrounded by villages.  The nearest city was Weimar which was 5 miles from the camp.

After the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated on April 11, 1945, by the prisoners themselves, the prisoners set up a tour of exhibits to be shown to German civilians. On April 15, 1945, the German civilians from Weimar were marched at gunpoint to see the evidence of Nazi atrocities including the shrunken heads and pieces of tattooed skin.

Weimar citizens forced to view dead bodies at Buchenwald

Famous photographer Margaret Burke-White arrived at Buchenwald on the 15th of April, just as a procession of German townspeople entered the camp, according to the Buchenwald Report. Her shot of a German woman, wearing walking shoes and her Sunday dress, hiding her eyes in shame, was one of several that were published in Life magazine. Another photo taken by Burke-White is shown below.

Weimar residents view Buchenwald camp

General George S. Patton wrote in his autobiography that the number of Weimar citizens brought to the camp was 1,500, although other accounts say it was 2,000. The German civilians had to march five miles up a steep hill, escorted by armed American soldiers. It took two days for the Weimar residents to file through the camp. No precautions were taken to protect them from the typhus epidemic in the camp.

General Patton had visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945 along with General Omar Bradley and General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

On April 15, 1945, the day that he visited Buchenwald, General George S. Patton wrote the following in a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

We have found at a place four miles north of WEIMAR a similar camp, only much worse. The normal population was 25,000, and they died at the rate of about a hundred a day. The burning arrangements, according to General Gay and Colonel Codman who visited it yesterday, were far superior to those they had at OHRDRUF.

I told the press to go up there and see it, and then write as much about it as they could. I also called General Bradley last night and suggested that you send selected individuals from the upper strata of the press to look at it, so that you can build another page of the necessary evidence as to the brutality of the Germans.

General Eisenhower did not visit Buchenwald himself, but he did follow General Patton’s advice to “build another page” about the “brutality of the Germans.” A group of “upper strata” reporters were flown to Germany, arriving at Buchenwald on April 24, 1945, and given the grand tour of the Buchenwald atrocities.

I have another theory about why the story of the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald was not generally known until now.  The Allied airmen were rescued from Buchenwald by a Luftwaffe officer.  General Eisenhower was trying to “build another page” about the “brutality of the Germans.”  The last thing that he wanted to tell the “upper strata” reporters was that the German Luftwaffe had done something good.  That would have ruined his efforts to build another page about the brutality of the Germans.

After the war, the American Military Tribunal at Dachau began trials of German war criminals in a building at the Dachau concentration camp complex on November 15, 1945.

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

To this, Captain Emmanuel Lewis of the defense counsel 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.

The American prisoners at Buchenwald were members of a group of American Air Force pilots, who had allegedly been supplying the French resistance; they were captured after being shot down in France.

Buchenwald was one of the main camps for French resistance fighters, and the American pilots had been lumped in with captured French civilians who were fighting as insurgents.

According to the Geneva Convention of 1929, it was a war crime to aid insurgents in a country that had signed an Armistice and promised to stop fighting. Technically, these pilots had violated the Geneva Convention by helping insurgents that were illegal combatants who had continued to fight after their country had surrendered.

The defense motion to have the prosecution furnish the names of the Americans killed at Buchenwald was denied.

So this proves that the Allies lied about the fate of the “Lost Airmen” and claimed that they had been killed. But why?  The truth is that the Americans were desperate for war crimes, with which that they could charge the Germans.

According to the Huffington Post article:

“But now, at long last, history has been corrected with a moving documentary…”

I’m not sure that this moving documentary is correcting history, but it is at least putting it out there, so that somebody can correct it.

I previously blogged about Joe Moser, one of the Lost Airman in this post. Now Joe’s book is out and you can read about it on this website.

April 10, 2010

The liberation of Buchenwald at 3:15 p.m. on April 11, 1945

The clock on top of the gate house at the Buchenwald concentration camp has been permanently stopped at 3:15 p.m., the exact time that the Communist prisoners in the camp took over and liberated the camp, forcing the SS guards to flee into the surrounding woods.

Four American soldiers with the 6th Armored Division of General George S. Patton’s Third Army arrived a short time later. Pfc. James Hoyt was driving the M8 armoured vehicle which brought Capt. Frederic Keffer, Tech. Sgt. Herbert Gottschalk and Sgt. Harry Ward to the Buchenwald camp that day. They arrived just in time to see 15 SS guards who had been captured by the prisoners and brought back to the camp.

The gatehouse at the Buchenwald concentration camp, 1999

There were 21,000 prisoners in the Buchenwald camp on the day that it was liberated, including around 4,000 Jews, most of whom had been brought to Buchenwald after the Auschwitz camp was closed. The typhus epidemic in the camp was being brought under control, but there were still 3,000 sick prisoners.

At 5:30 p.m. on April 11th, First Lieutenant Edward A. Tenenbaum arrived in a Jeep, along with a civilian named Egon W. Fleck; they stayed in Buchenwald that night in Block 50, the medical building.  (Source:  The Buchenwald Report, a book about the camp written by a special intelligence team of the American Army, led by Albert G. Rosenberg)

Fleck and Tenenbaum wrote a detailed report on what their lengthy investigation of the camp had revealed. Alfred Toombs, who was Tenenbaum’s commanding officer, wrote a preface to the report, in which he mentioned how “the prisoners themselves organized a deadly terror within the Nazi terror.”

The following quote from Fleck and Tenenbaum’s report describes the power exercised by the German Communist prisoners at Buchenwald:

“The trusties, who in time became almost exclusively Communist Germans, had the power of life and death over all other inmates. They could sentence a man or a group to almost certain death … The Communist trusties were directly responsible for a large part of the brutalities at Buchenwald.”

The next day, on April 12, 1945, soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division arrived in the nearby town of Weimar and found some of the liberated prisoners roaming around, looking for food.  That same day, Edward R. Murrow arrived in Weimar; he reported in his famous radio broadcast from Buchenwald that the liberated prisoners were hunting down the SS soldiers who had escaped from the camp the day before and killing them while the Americans watched. Marguerite Higgins wrote in her book News is a Singular Thing, that American soldiers joined in and helped the prisoners beat the German SS soldiers to death.

According to the Buchenwald Report, it was not until Friday the 13th that the rest of Patton’s troops arrived, accompanied by Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton.

Although the Buchenwald Report says that the three top American generals saw the camp on April 13, Patton himself wrote in his memoirs that it was not until April 14, 1945 that he heard some of the gory details about Buchenwald from General Gay and Colonels Pfann and Codman, who had visited it.

Patton wrote in his book that he immediately called General Eisenhower, even before seeing the camp himself, and suggested that he send photographers and members of the press “to get the horrid details.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley had visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald, along with General Patton, on April 12, 1945 but neither Eisenhower nor Bradley ever bothered to visit the Buchenwald main camp.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower on a visit to Ohrdruf camp, April 12, 1945

General Patton’s impression of the Buchenwald camp being controlled by the inmates was confirmed by Colonel Donald B. Robinson, chief historian of the American military occupation in Germany, who wrote an article for an American magazine after the war about the report of Fleck and Tenenbaum:

“It appeared that the prisoners who agreed with the Communists ate; those who didn’t starved to death.”

General Patton had visited the Ohrdruf  sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945 along with General Omar Bradley and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. On April 15, 1945, the day that he visited Buchenwald, General George S. Patton wrote the following in a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“We have found at a place four miles north of WEIMAR a similar camp, only much worse. The normal population was 25,000, and they died at the rate of about a hundred a day. The burning arrangements, according to General Gay and Colonel Codman who visited it yesterday, were far superior to those they had at OHRDRUF.

“I told the press to go up there and see it, and then write as much about it as they could. I also called General Bradley last night and suggested that you send selected individuals from the upper strata of the press to look at it, so that you can build another page of the necessary evidence as to the brutality of the Germans.”

General Eisenhower did not visit Buchenwald himself, but he did follow General Patton’s advice to “build another page” about the “brutality of the Germans.” A group of  “upper strata” reporters were flown to Germany, arriving at Buchenwald on April 24, 1945, and given the grand tour of the Buchenwald atrocities.

Robert Abzug wrote the following in his book entitled Inside the Vicious Heart:

Soon after seeing Ohrdruf, Eisenhower ordered every unit near by that was not in the front lines to tour Ohrdruf: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.'” Eisenhower felt it was essential not only for his troops to see for themselves, but for the world to know about conditions at Ohrdruf and other camps. From Third Army headquarters, he cabled London and Washington, urging delegations of officials and newsmen to be eye-witnesses to the camps. The message to Washington read: ‘We are constantly finding German camps in which they have placed political prisoners where unspeakable conditions exist. From my own personal observation, I can state unequivocally that all written statements up to now do not paint the full horrors.”

The photo below shows American soldiers who were brought to Buchenwald to see the horror.  The prisoners had prepared exhibits for the visitors.

American soldiers enter a barracks at Buchenwald to see an exhibit

Exhibit at Buchenwald shows human lampshade and shrunken heads

Exhibit shows how the prisoners were whipped at Buchenwald

Although the whipping block was used for punishment in all the camps, no such block was ever found in either the Ohrdruf sub-camp or the Buchenwald main camp. The survivors of these camps had to improvise a wooden block to show the American soldiers how they had been punished. According to the testimony of Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on April 15, 1946, this punishment was discontinued in 1942 after Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler gave a new order that the SS men were forbidden to whip the prisoners.

The words on the top sign in the photo above, translated into English, read as follows:

“Model! The original was destroyed by the SS Murdering Bandits before their departure”

The English translation of the first two lines on the sign below it reads as follows:

“The so-called Support!”

“A Nazi cultural monument in all concentration camps”

The words on the lower sign then describe how the prisoners were whipped with 25 or more lashes on their naked buttocks until they were nearly unconscious. Then cold water was thrown on them to revive them and they were beaten some more.

All punishments in the Nazi concentration camps had to be authorized by the main office in Oranienburg after a report was made by the SS guards regarding an offense committed by a prisoner. A doctor had to be present during the whipping.

Another punishment that was no longer used was the infamous hanging punishment which was portrayed in another exhibit at Buchenwald.

Exhibit at Buchenwald shows the famous hanging punishment

The sign on the hanging punishment at Buchenwald

The words on the sign, shown in the photo above, are “Ein Strafvollzug der Nazi-Kultur: Das sogenannte an den Baum hängen.” The last two words are illegible. The English translation is “A Punishment of Nazi Culture: The so-called hanging on a tree.”

Martin Sommer, the innovator of this cruel punishment, was put on trial by SS officer Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen in a Nazi court in 1943 at the same time that Buchenwald Commandant Karl Otto Koch and his wife Ilse were put on trial by the Nazis for embezzlement and abuse of the prisoners at Buchenwald. After the trial, Sommer was transferred to the Russian front as punishment.

Sign put up by Polish prisoners at Buchenwald

The words on the sign in the photo above say “We from Silesia are ready to go back home and destroy the Fascists (Nazis).” Silesia is a province that became part of the German state of Prussia after the country of Poland was divided in 1772 among Prussia, Austria and Russia.

In 1871, Silesia became part of Germany after the German states united under the Kaiser who was the King of Prussia. After World War I ended, Silesia was given to the newly formed country of Poland. After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Silesia was annexed to Germany and became part of the Greater German Reich. Since the end of World War II, Silesia has been part of Poland.

At the end of World War II, the ethnic Germans in Silesia were expelled, after their homes and farms had been taken from them by the Poles. So it turned out that the former Polish political prisoners at Buchenwald did in fact participate in destroying the Nazis in Poland after the war.

Building where exhibits were set up at Buchenwald

On April 15, 1945, German civilians from the town of Weimar were marched five miles up a steep hill, at gunpoint, by American soldiers and forced to see the exhibits that had been set up by the prisoners.  Some of the Jewish survivors, wearing their striped prison uniforms, sat at a table in one of the barracks, ready to confront the German civilians with stories of what they had suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

The American soldiers were angry when the German civilian population said over and over: “We didn’t know.”  The American army was determined that the ordinary German people should see the atrocities that were committed at Buchenwald and other camps.

Bodies of prisoners who had died at Buchenwald

Postcard from Buchenwald shows the barracks for the prisoners

Exhibit shows how prisoners were hung from hooks in the crematorium

US Congressmen on a tour of Buchenwald, April 24, 1945

According to the exhibits put up after the camp was liberated, the Germans had a unique method of killing prisoners at Buchenwald.  Instead of gassing prisoners in the crematorium, as was done at Auschwitz-Birkenau, there were hooks on the walls of the crematorium where prisoners were hung a few inches from the floor until they were dead.  The photo above shows US Congressmen as they view the club that was allegedly used to kill prisoners who didn’t die fast enough when they were hung on hooks in the morgue.

However, a different explanation for the hooks was given by one of the former Polish prisoners to Cpl. Norman W. Paschen when he toured the camp shortly after it was liberated by American troops.

The following quote is from a letter to his family, written by Cpl. Paschen:

“We then went to the crematory, a cold, dismal building resembling a dungeon. A large chute similar to a coal chute had been used to convey the bodies to a cellar. On the walls of the cellar were many hooks which were used to hold the corpses until it came time for them to be elevated to the crematory upstairs. The hooks had been forced into the neck behind the ear. They were still blood-stained. In this room, also men were executed if they were deemed no longer useful to the Nazi. The methods of execution were varied. Sometimes a bullet was used, but our guide informed us that his captors had said many times that a bullet was too expensive a price to pay for the death of a slave. Poison gas or starvation was much cheaper.”

The morgue at Buchenwald which was the alleged execution room

General George S. Patton, who toured Buchenwald on April 15, 1945, wrote the following in his autobiography regarding what he was told by the former prisoners:

“If a sufficient number (of the Buchenwald prisoners) did not die of starvation or if, for other reasons, it was desirable to remove them without waiting for nature to take its course, they were dropped down a chute into a room which had a number of hooks like those on which one hangs meat in a butcher shop, about eight feet from the floor. From the execution room in the Buchenwald set-up there was an elevator, hand operated, which carried the corpses to an incinerator plant on the floor above.”

The “chute” which Patton saw was built to drop dead bodies down into the morgue in the basement.  According to the Buchenwald survivors, the basement room at the end of the chute was an execution room, not a morgue. This means that there was apparently no morgue for storing the bodies at the Buchenwald crematorium before they were cremated.

According to the camp guidebook, which I purchased on a visit to Buchenwald in 1999:

“Approximately 1,100 people were strangled to death on wall hooks in the body storage cellar. Ivan Belevzev from Kharkov, 8 years old, was the youngest victim of the murderers.”

Under German law in the Third Reich, no one under the age of 16 could be executed, but an exception was apparently made for the 8-year-old who was executed at Buchenwald.

According to the book entitled IBM and the Holocaust, by Edwin Black, the Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald were assigned to “the Little Camp, where they were expected to lose 40 percent of their body weight and then move on to other barracks.” The Little Camp was the quarantine camp where prisoners had to be confined for several weeks after they first entered the camp.

According to information that Black obtained from an Army report, the Jews were “arbitrarily condemned to death,” one shelf at a time. A shelf was a three-tiered bunk bed where 16 prisoners slept together.

The following quote is from IBM and the Holocaust in which Edwin Black describes the corpse slide at Buchenwald.

Once the murder decision had been made, all sixteen Jews in the shelf were immediately marched to a small door adjacent to Buchenwald’s incinerator building. The door opened inward, creating a short, three-foot-long corridor. Jews were pushed and herded until they reached the corridor end. There, a hole dropped thirteen feet down a concrete shaft and into the Strangling Room. A camp worker recalled, “As they hit the floor they were garroted … by big SS guards and hung on hooks along the side wall, about 6 1/2 feet above the floor … any that were still struggling were stunned with a wooden mallet … An electric elevator … ran [the corpses] up to the incinerator room.

Elevator in the corner of the “incinerator room”

On April 14, 1945,  the 120th Evacuation Hospital arrived in Weimar with a staff of 273 service personnel to take care of around 3,000 sick prisoners at Buchenwald; a hospital was set up in the barracks of the SS soldiers who had been stationed at Buchenwald. There was a typhus epidemic at Buchenwald and also at Dachau, where the 120th Evacuation Hospital was sent after Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945.

One of the soldiers with the 120th Evacuation Hospital was Tech. Sgt. Warren E. Priest from Haverhill, MA. In his letter home to his mother, Warren Priest told about objects made from human skin that were found at Buchenwald:

“I saw lampshades made of patches of human skin – anyone who came to the camp with a tattoo on him evidently didn’t enjoy himself quite as much as he might have. The commandant of the post collected these as a hobby, and had lampshades, pictures, even a ship’s sails made from human skin. I have that boat now. Ironically, it’s called the Santa Maria and has pictures of the Virgin & Child on the sails, with crosses garnished about. Quite a charming fellow, this commandant.”

The sailboat with sails made from human skin was donated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.