Produced by Mike Dorsey, Gerald Baron, Frank Imhof, Duane McNett
168 WW II Airmen Were Sent to Buchenwald and Told to Lie About It
It is difficult to ponder all the wars to which our Congress has sent our men and women, and not weep in horror at the impact combat inflicts upon the living soul, his/her human body, psyche and spirit. How anyone physically survives the killings is utterly remarkable. Not so surprising is that many suffer painful emotions from having survived war at all.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Desert Storm, Persian Gulf, Vietnam, Korea, WWs I & II etc. And the beat goes on. The kaleidoscope that is war is constantly changing shape. Only the patterns are never pretty and the only real vibrant color is red. Blood red. Long held has been the tradition that (s)he who served was to stand tall and remain silent against the brutalities that are combat. Isolated in the horrific memories, the combat veteran could only hope that by trying to act “normally,” one will, indeed, return to “normal.”
Doesn’t happen. One adapts, one goes crazy, one changes…all in stages, varying dimensions and at various times..but one can never define “normal” again.
With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increasing at an alarming rate among our returning troops, one must keep insisting that help begin with listening…listening to the traumas lived and endured, the terrors that stalk each night. Slowly, painstakingly, at a snail’s pace, the United States is finally beginning to look inside the uniform to the human; past the human to the honorable commitment to duty, sacrifice and job at hand; beyond the honor to the nobility of those who were trained to kill and did, but who remained a vulnerable human being with hope, searching for the good in others. Finally, we are listening to our Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, and even our Vietnam and World War II veterans.
Filmmakers are eagerly documenting more of the history of wars as seen through the eyes of the warriors. The stories the veterans share are startling, amazing and humbling. The films are a lasting legacy of these remarkable individuals.
Mike Dorsey was a very, very good listener. In listening attentively to a very unique group of WW II veterans, filmmaker Dorsey with Gerald Baron, Frank Imhof, and Duane McNett discovered a secret that needed sharing. The result is an exceptionally compassionate documentary called “Lost Airmen of Buchenwald.” The film is spectacular.
Weimar, Germany, was home to the likes of Goethe and Bach. Unfortunately, the Nazis liked the area so well that they opened up the Buchenwald concentration camp to its first 300 victims in 1937. By March 1945, the prisoners had grown to a population that reached over 80,000. Murders were conducted by lethal injections, medical experiments, shootings, strangulations, hard labor, deplorable conditions, and starvation. At the Nuremberg trial, a witness described how persons were skinned, and then the skin was tanned, tattoed and hung. Into this camp walked the 168 airmen who had been shot down on enemy-occupied soil.
“Lost Airmen of Buchenwald” is an award-winning film that recounts the experience of these 168 airmen from the United States, England, Canada, Australia and other allied countries who were captured by the German Gestapo in France and ultimately sent to the concentration camp in Germany. Astoundingly, most of the airmen survived. Seven of the survivors are interviewed in the film. No, that’s not quite accurate. “Interviewed” implies someone asked questions and someone answered. These astounding heroes did more than simply answer questions. So let me begin again.
Seven of the surviving airmen articulately walk you through the tragedy that placed them behind enemy lines, the betrayal that got them captured, the ongoing interrogation (torture), and the horrors they endured in the camp. Like all combat veterans, their recall of the experience is vivid and highly detailed. Their narratives are intensely riveting…and sad. After one hears of what they lived through, one wishes their memories would not be so sharp; for surely, it must be hell to have been them, then.
Beguilingly, in being themselves and telling their stories, these seven airmen put the viewer into an acute yet harmonious dichotomy about the human soul. The devastation of the spirit and body on such a massive scale as this would understandably emphasize human’s potential for brutality. Simultaneously, the same devastation shines a light on faith, hope, discipline, and something more powerful than yourself alone. Each airman knows the hell he went through…but each airmen went through it…and came out the other side not only intact, but with that glorious light of good still shining in their hearts. “Evil is a choice,” they seem to tell us,” …and so is good.”
But upon returning to the states, a funny thing happened to our veterans on the way to the truth…the men were called liars. The authorities suggested to the survivors that they remain mum about the concentration camp. Captured U. S. airmen were never sent to concentration camps, they were told. And for decades, no one spoke and no one listened. Now, thanks to Dorsey’s impressive film, people are listening to the truth for perhaps the first time, and the unparalleled tenacity and courage of the airmen.
Although the story is supremely intriguing and a heart wrenching part of WW II’s history, there is something that must be said about how the story itself was filmed.
The somewhat staid and predictable description of “documentary” does not do Dorsey’s “Lost Airmen” a lick of justice. Even the music that plays quietly in the background while one prepares to push “play” to begin seeing the film captures your attention. It is haunting and suggests serious matters to come. The movement of the camera is gentle, effective and potently engaging. The shots are beautifully framed from the first moment the film begins, all the way through to the end. The transitions from scene to scene are effortless and graceful. The individual narrative of each airman is masterfully wrapped into the photographs and historic footage. One is taken back in time with each man to experience the imprisonment, instead of simply hearing about it 60 plus years later.
In other words, Drosey did not just do a documentary. He and his choice of top-notch, artistic professionals successfully wove a rich and fascinating tapestry of the airmen’s “secret” imprisonment in one of the worst concentration camps of all time into an evolutionary movie of emotional truths. Nothing you heard or saw was this, that, or the other in isolation from anything else…it was all part of a greater picture and just as enveloping, captivating, poignant, and soulful.
To say Dorsey, his team and the airmen themselves got to the heart of the matter is insufficient…they got to its soul. And that soul is the utter cruelty of mankind upon itself; the courage of individuals; and, ultimately, mankind’s escape from the darkness back into the light.
To all the airmen who suffered both in the camp and in having to keep this as a secret for all these years, thank you, thank you. Thank you for your service to this country. Welcome home. I am so glad you made it back. Thank you for forgiving our ignorance in not allowing you to talk about Buchenwald and your experiences, when you could have and should have.
To Mike Dorsey, Gerald Baron, Frank Imhof, Duane McNett, the talented staff and crew: thank you for sharing this remarkable story in such a beautifully crafted presentation. I look forward to your next documentary, whatever that may be, as I cannot see you doing anything less than extraordinary with any subject matter that you choose to film.
To learn more about this incredible story or to purchase the award-winning film, visit the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald website.
Posted by St. John on April 5, 2012, With Reads Filed under Veterans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.