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Untold Valor: Forgotten Stories of American Bomber Crews over Europe in World War II

Jan Paczkis|Sunday, November 22, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars Includes the Surprising Nazi Tolerance of American Jewish POWs, November 21, 2009 Instead of repeating other reviewers, let's focus mostly on seldom-mentioned content. Interestingly, Werner Goering, the nephew of Hermann, fought on the American side. (p. 136-on). Though both Sweden and Switzerland were neutral, the latter tilted strongly towards the Germans (p. 173), and treated downed American flyers accordingly. There is a brief account of the evacuation of Stalag Luft III in the face of the advancing Red Army (p. 203)--an evacuation that took place several months after the famous GREAT ESCAPE.

  4.0 out of 5 stars Includes the Surprising Nazi Tolerance of American Jewish POWs,

Although much has been written, in recent years, that bemoans the plight of German civilians killed by Allied bombing, this book reminds us that the bomber crews themselves faced heavy casualties in their campaigns. At one point in the book, there is a quoted discourse in which the Nazi killings of the Jews (and--not mentioned--that of millions of non-Jews) is equated with Allies and their killings of German civilians through bombing. (p. 212). Some readers may find this false comparison offensive.

The most fascinating part of the book deals with American Jews. Morris writes: "There were tens of thousands of Jewish airmen flying over the Reich in World War II. An unknown number, certainly several thousand, were shot down and ended up as prisoners of war in German Stalag Lufts, or prisoner camps." (p. 77). The Nazi treatment of American Jews was far from monolithic. Morris writes: "Some Jewish airmen who ended up as POWs reported that their experiences as guests of the Germans were nearly devoid of anti-Semitism or mistreatment...However, there were instances of Jews being mistreated." (p. 78).

In early 1945, towards the very end of the war, the Nazis did separate the Jewish POWs from non-Jewish ones, and made other moves against them. (p. 84-on). However, nothing more was done against them. [The reader familiar with Holocaust history may recount that this, ironically, occurred after the Birkenau crematories had been shut down--in November 1944--two months before the arrival of the Red Army would have forced this development.]

There were American Jews in Nazi captivity for quite a few years. But when all was said and done, the Nazis did not, in fact, extend the Final Solution to American Jewish POWs. Morris comments: "Though the Third Reich was a system dedicated to the complete destruction of the Jewish race, almost all the Jewish aircrew POWs lived to tell the tale of their captivity." (pp. 78-79).

All this is counterintuitive. We had been led to believe that the Nazis would spare no effort to kill every single possible Jew within reach, even if it went against German military, economic, and political interests. We see from this book that such was not necessarily the case. [The reader who is a student of WWII POWs may recount the fact that the Germans murdered over 3 million Soviet POWs, mainly through starvation. The USSR had not signed the Geneva Convention; the Americans had done so. Clearly, the Germans put observance of the Geneva Convention ahead of their plans to exterminate all possible Jews. It is sobering to realize that the American Jewish POW had a greater right to live, in Nazi eyes, than did the Byelorussian-gentile or Ukrainian-gentile Soviet POW.]  
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