American Airmen in the Holocaust

As Allied air forces took control of the skies over Europe in the summer of 1944, Adolf Hitler ordered the immediate execution of Allied flyers accused of committing certain acts. Branded as a “Terrorflieger” (“terrorist flyer’), the unfortunate airman was not given a trial. However, the German Foreign Office expressed concern about shooting prisoners of war, and suggested that enemy airmen suspected of such offenses not be given the legal status of POWs. Following this advice, the Gestapo and Security Police sent 168 captured Allied airmen (including 82 Americans) to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. These airmen had been shot down over France and turned over to the Gestapo and secret police by traitors in the French Resistance.

Arriving at Buchenwald on August 20, 1944, these men received the same horrible treatment as other inmates. After sleeping outdoors for the first three weeks, the 168 airmen were moved into an overcrowded, filthy 150′ by 30′ hut along with another 757 inmates – including about 350 Gypsy boys aged eight to fourteen. Most of the boys were soon removed (probably executed) to make room for the Allied POWs, but they still slept five men to a bunk. With medical care essentially nonexistent, the injured and sick airmen suffered immensely. On the night of October 18/19, 1944, 156 of the 168 were transported from Buchenwald and arrived at Stalag Luft III on October 22. Earlier that year, the Gestapo had murdered fifty Allied POWs who had escaped from this same Stalag. Too sick to travel, twelve of the POWs remained at Buchenwald. Two of them died, including an American who contracted pneumonia. The remaining ten were later transported to POW camps.

In 1999, the German government paid 34.5 million Deutschemarks in reparations to various survivors of the Holocaust who were United States citizens, both civilian and military, interned in concentration camps during World War II. American POWs who had been at Buchenwald were among those receiving reparation payments.