At the weekend the film Lost Airmen of Buchenwald was on television. It told a fascinating little known story of 168 allied airmen who were illegally sent to a concentration camp in WWII, and how Acting Squadron Leader Phil Lamason kept them alive. Lamason is a kiwi, and amazingly is still alive aged 93.
The 168 airmen were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, which was technically not an extermination camp, but still saw 55,000 people shot or worked to death.
Lamason as the senior officer assumed command of the airmen, and many of them say his leadership kept them alive. Lamason kept asking for them to be transferred to a POW camp, but this was denied. They were ordered to work as slave labour. Lamason refused to order the men to work, as allied soliders could not work for war production for the Nazis. He refused to back down even when threatened with summary execution by an SS officer.
Lamason managed to get word to the Luftwaffe, about the airmen being held at the concentration camp. He was hoping they would intervene, as they would not wish their captured airmen in the UK to be treated in the same way. Two Luftwaffe officers visited the camp pretending to inspect bomb damage, and talked to Lamason. They reported to Hermann Goering who ordered them transferred.
However before news of the transfer came through, they were ordered to be shot on 26 October. Only Lamarson knew this, but didn’t tell the others to keep morale high. Then the transfer came through on 19 October. They were just one week away from execution. 166 of the airmen were transferred and survived.
It was a fascinating documentary and well worth watching. New Zealanders can be very proud of Mr Lamason, a true war hero.