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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.