Written by Dabney B. on Tuesday, June 5th, 2012
It can be hard to find quality viewing entertainment as an Air Force buff. Hollywood tends to push the envelope, and as much as we may like seeing an F-22 go up against a flying saucer, movies like that aren’t very faithful to this little thing the rest of the world calls “reality.”
If you’re looking for a truly great film that combines drama, history, and the struggles of airmen in World War II, then allow me to suggest “Lost Airmen of Buchenwald.” Written and directed by Michael Dorsey, this documentary film tracks the little-known story of 168 Allied airmen as they struggled to endure the German concentration camp, Buchenwald.
For some WWII veterans, their story started with Pearl Harbor. Others began their struggle on the D-Day invasion. For these Allied airmen, we must travel back to 1937, when the Nazis built Buchenwald in Weimar, Germany. It first opened its doors to 300 prisoners, and that number quickly swelled to 80,000 by March 1945 as the Nazis continued to pack innocent men, women, and children into death camps.
All of the terrible things you hear about concentration camps — hard labor, cruel experiments, starvation, murders — were all common in Buchenwald. One witness at the famous Nuremberg trial testified that people were skinned alive, and their hides were tanned and tattooed so that they could be put on display. It was not an environment for any human, let alone 168 Allied airmen.
They came from all over the world — Canada, the US, England, Australia — and they all came to Buchenwald by different roads. Many of them were betrayed in France by a man who sold them to the Gestapo for 10,000 francs each. Seven of those 168 airmen sat in front of Dorsey’s camera and shared the ugly, haunting truth of their ordeals. Their stories are matched perfectly by Dorsey’s powerful filming techniques, which keep the audience fully engaged.
Within months of entering the hands of the Gestapo one of the airmen, Chasten “Chat” Bowen, weighed a mere 89 pounds. At one point Bowen was brought in front of the firing squad and rifles were raised against him. Bowen describes what it’s like to face your own death at the hands of uncaring, anonymous soldiers, “I can’t explain it, but a calm came over me. I knew where I was going, and I knew where they were going. From that day on, I never get riled.” He was spared, miraculously, but his luck would not last. He was packed into a cattle car with hundreds of others and sent to Buchenwald.
When he arrived his guards promised him, “The only way you’ll leave this place is smoke coming out of [that chimney].”
But these were airmen who weren’t about to just roll over and die. They quickly rallied around each other and drew strength from their common plight. One of the survivors reports, ”If we went from one place to the other we would kind of march in unison like we were still in the military. That upset the guards tremendously.” Together, they endured disease, torture, interrogation, hard labor, and all with only one daily bowl of grass soup and bread made with sawdust.
How did they escape the crematorium? How did these airmen finally return to their native soil? For that, you’ll simply have to watch the documentary, and to experience the gripping stories of these concentration camp survivors. After all, it is about time that our country finally heard their story. After being called liars by the government and being told to shut up about their ordeals in Buchenwald, these survivors finally have an audience: you.
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