Scrapbookpages Blog

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.

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.

November 29, 2011

No Buchenwald ID number — No soup for you!

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 3:03 pm

Earlier today, I blogged about Edwin Ritter, one of the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald.  I quoted several passages from a statement that he gave to his daughter in 1993.  His daughter tape recorded his statement, transcribed it and sent it to me several years ago.  One thing I forgot to mention is that Ritter said in his statement that all the prisoners at Buchenwald had to memorize their prisoner ID number and recite the number before they would receive any food.  The daily fare in the camp was a bowl of soup and one slice of bread.  If a prisoner forgot his number, he was told “No soup for you.”

According to Primo Levi, a famous prisoner at Auschwitz, the prisoners there had to show the ID number tattooed on their arm before they could receive their soup and bread.

I thought about this when I read an article, posted on November 26, 2011, on the Elie Wiesel Cons the World website which you can read here.  This article confirms that Elie Wiesel did not have an identification number at Buchenwald.  Of course, that does not prove that Elie Wiesel was not a prisoner at Buchenwald.  He could have conned another prisoner into sharing his food with him. Or he could have just grabbed the food away from a weak prisoner.  At Auschwitz, a weak prisoner was called a Musselman.  I have read survivor stories about how the other prisoners would grab the food away from the weak prisoners who could not defend themselves.  As for the Allied airmen who were sent to Buchenwald, they looked out for each other and maintained strict discipline inside the camp, even marching in step when they were ordered to move from place to place in the camp.

Edwin Ritter, a Lost Airman of Buchenwald, tells about his transfer to Stalag III as a POW

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.

November 28, 2011

Edwin Ritter — the Lost Airman of Buchenwald who admitted that he was helping the French Resistance

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:50 am

Previously, I blogged about Edwin Ritter, one of the Allied airmen who was imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp for two months before being rescued by a German officer in the Luftwaffe (German air force). Ritter gave a statement on June 18, 1993 which his daughter recorded.  As far as I know, his statement has never been published.  Ritter’s daughter gave me permission to put it on my website. I was reluctant to do that because I found his story hard to believe. Now that a new documentary entitled Lost Airmen of Buchenwald has just been released, there is renewed interest in this subject, and I think that Edwin Ritter’s account of his experience in World War II needs to be told.  (Scroll down to near the bottom if you want to read about how Ritter was saved from certain death by a Luftwaffe officer.)

Ritter said in his statement that he parachuted out of his plane after it was hit by ground fire as he was flying over occupied France.  He discarded his parachute and found shelter for the night.  Early the next morning he heard a girl whistling Yankee Doodle.  He answered back by whistling the last half of the song.  Ritter said that he had been in a plane that was flying low enough to drop packages of food, weapons and supplies to “the Free French,” which was one of the French Resistance groups. Apparently the girl who rescued him was waiting for the drop and there was a prearranged signal for the Free French resistance group to make contact with any downed flyer.  (more…)