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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:


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.