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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…)

November 26, 2011

My review of Lost Airmen of Buchenwald, a new documentary about captured Allied airmen

Filed under: Germany, movies, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:51 am

Mike Dorsey, the producer and director of the new documentary Lost Airmen of Buchenwald has made several comments on a previous post on my blog.  In one comment, he wrote: “I was concerned I might get pulled into the denier rabbit hole, and here I am. So I’ll leave the thread with this: I hope you (meaning me) watch the film with an open mind, and not with the preconceived notion that it’s just veteran-worship propaganda.”

I ordered the DVD from the film’s website here.  My order was shipped immediately and I received it in a couple of days.  I tried to put aside my “preconceived notions” and keep an “open mind” while I watched the DVD.

On the back cover of the DVD box, there is this statement:

Falsely accused of being “terrorists and saboteurs,” the airmen faced a terrifying fight for survival.”

The term “falsely” implies that the Gestapo deliberately made up a false story about these innocent airmen of “the Greatest Generation” who were fighting bravely in “the Good War.”  Meanwhile, there were around 375,000 German POWs in America, who were being treated fairly, according to the Geneva Convention.  Strangely, the Gestapo had no fear that America would retaliate by killing some of these German prisoners.

The text on the back cover of the DVD also states this:

…”Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” tells their harrowing tale, from hiding with the French resistance, to the darkest days of the Holocaust…”

This implies that the airmen were working WITH the French Resistance, not that they were innocent airmen who were RESCUED by the French Resistance after they were shot down over France.  The Germans used the English word “terrorist” to describe members of the French Resistance who were fighting illegally in violation of the Geneva Convention.  These airmen had been flying bombing missions over German-occupied France when their planes were shot down; they were legal combatants.

The film starts out by describing the planes used by the captured airmen.  The airmen were flying over occupied France in the summer of 1944. However, the film does not reveal what they were planning to bomb in France.  After only 5 weeks of fighting in legal combat against the Germans, the French had surrendered and signed an Armistice, in which they promised to stop fighting.  The French continued to fight, but not on the battlefield.  The Germans referred to the men, who continued to fight after surrendering, as “terrorists.”

This film is about the Allied airmen who were falsely accused of aiding the “terrorists.”  Unfortunately, none of the seven men, who talk in the film about the horror of their capture, tell anything about why they were flying over German-occupied France.  Maybe I missed it, but they did not explain that Allied airmen were bombing railroads and supply places to aid in the invasion.  The film showed the fields where they landed.  They were falsely accused of dropping supplies to the French Resistance.

Overall, the quality of the film is excellent.  There is some great photography in the film and the authentic film footage of the war is spectacular.  I did not observe any photos that were incorrectly identified.  There was also a lot of footage of scenes in the Buchenwald concentration camp which I had never seen before.

I learned a lot from this film that I had not known before.  For example, I learned that captured SOE agents were executed in the basement of the Buchenwald crematorium by being hung with wire on hooks that were put on the wall of the crematorium for the purpose of executions. (I previously blogged about the hanging of prisoners in the Buchenwald crematorium here.) The second batch of SOE agents, who were scheduled to be executed, requested a more humane death and they were shot by a firing squad.   Score one for the Germans!  When the German war criminals requested a soldier’s execution by firing squad, the Allies denied their requests.

Now we go down “the denier rabbit hole”:  One of the pilots in the film says that Buchenwald was a labor camp, not an extermination camp like Bergen-Belsen.  The narrator of the film should have interrupted at this point and explained that Bergen-Belsen was an exchange camp that was set up to exchange prisoners. (You can read about Bergen-Belsen here.) This blooper in the film is quickly followed by another pilot who mentions that the captured pilots were not tattooed which was an indication that they were not going to be kept in the camp very long because the other Buchenwald prisoners had identification numbers tattooed on their forearms.  Again, the narrator should have explained that the Allied airmen were in the “Small Camp” section of Buchenwald where most of the prisoners were Jews who had been recently transferred from Auschwitz where they had been tattooed.  Auschwitz was the only camp where prisoners were tattooed.

Now for the worst part of the film, which I think should be cut out: the testimony of Lt. Jack Taylor who was an American imprisoned at Mauthausen.  In this part of the film, Lt. Taylor holds up a dog tag as he says that the soldier who wore this dog tag was gassed in the gas chamber at Mauthausen; he does not give the name on the dog tag.  Why was this included in a film about innocent flyers in the Buchenwald camp?    Lt. Taylor is not part of the Buchenwald story. This is just asking for deniers to lambast the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald documentary.  At the very least, it should be explained by the narrator why Lt. Taylor was included in a story about American airmen at Buchenwald.  Is it because his imprisonment at Mauthausen was for the same reason as the airmen, or was he imprisoned for a different reason?  Lt. Taylor was captured behind enemy lines on a commando mission; he was not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention because he was an illegal combatant.  After the war, the Allies changed the rules of the Geneva Convention so that the SS men at Mauthausen were war criminals because Lt. Taylor was a prisoner there when he should have been sent to a POW camp under the ex post facto law.

You can read all about the testimony of Lt. Jack H. Taylor on my website here.  You can read about the controversy over the rules of the Geneva Convention and the treatment of POWs on my website here.

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.