Airmen Remember the Holocaust

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as America's annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Holocaust Remembrance Day is Monday, April 28, 2014.
Though the terrible events of that time happened a long way away from Oregon, the Oregon Air National Guard has some history related to it which is appropriate to recall for such an important remembrance as this.

Brigadier General Fred Rosenbaum (1926 - 2010), who served in the Oregon Air National Guard from 1953 to 1986 and for whom the Camp Rosenbaum youth program is named after, was himself a youth in Austria when Nazi Germany occupied and annexed the country in 1938. As the Jewish community became increasingly oppressed, he was able to make his escape from Austria, initially to England, before the beginning of WWII.

His parents later escaped Austria, and all would eventually settle in Portland, Oregon. In 1944, at age 17, he joined the U.S. Army, and wanted to fight the Germans, though as things turned out, he was sent to the Pacific as a paratrooper ion the 11th Airborne Division.

But members of Brig. Gen. Rosenbaum's extended family were not so fortunate. His grandparents perished in the Nazi concentration camps.

There is also some organizational connection to the Holocaust as found in the history of the 142d Fighter Wing. During World War II, the wing was designated as the 371st Fighter Group, a P-47 fighter-bomber unit that flew combat in the European Theater of Operations as part of the 9th Air Force.

Capt. Rudolph "Rudy" Augarten was a P-47 pilot assigned to the group's 406th Fighter Squadron. He flew ten combat missions in 1944 before being shot down by flak over German-occupied France. Given his Jewish heritage, with H for Hebrew as religious preference indicated on his dogtags, one can easily imagine what could have happened to him if he was captured by the Germans. And he was captured, twice, but each time managed to escape amidst the chaotic battle situation in Normandy. After two months of evasion and escape, he successfully made it back to American lines.

After his two-month ordeal, the Army thought it best to send Augarten back to the United States, but he formally requested to be allowed to continue to fly and fight against the Nazis. His request was granted and fly and fight he did, completing a total of over 90 combat missions, shooting down two enemy Me 109 fighters and destroying an unquantified number of the enemy from extensive air-to-ground missions flown in the Thunderbolt.

As the war continued into 1945, the 371st Fighter Group moved into Germany. On May 5, 1945, it made Fürth/Industriehafen Airfield in Bavaria its new home base. Allied armies had recently liberated many thousands of prisoners in a number of concentration camps, and were horrified at what they found.

In the Fürth area and nearby Nuremberg, there were several sub-camps of the major concentration camp at Dachau. Many of these sub-camps were established in 1944 near armaments factories in southern Germany to take advantage of slave labor, and many prisoners were mercilessly worked to death.

At Fürth, the 371st Fighter Group's Information and Education Officer, 1st Lt. Marvin A. Litke, requisitioned a school building for use in the unit's educational program. He wasted no time in putting up photographs in conspicuous positions of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich, "...for the benefit of men who might have an inclination to fraternize with some pretty fraulein." The group's official history continues: "Photographs showing the horrors of Nazi concentration camps in Dachau and Buchenwald and a fitting statement to the effect: "When you fraternize, you fraternize with the people who did this..."

Sgt. Tom Boliaris was a 371FG member stationed at Fürth who appears to have witnessed the aftermath of the Holocaust. Photographs shared by his daughter Ms. Nancy Beaumier reveal some of the horror from that time. Seeing these things first hand left little doubt among group personnel of the importance of their efforts in World War II.

The ripple effect of the Holocaust continued after the war. Rudy Augarten, out of the service and studying International Relations at Harvard, was concerned by the news of the fighting in the Middle East that occurred as Israel was established in 1948. He did not want to see another Holocaust, left his studies and volunteered to help, and flew in combat again. Ironically, one of the fighters he flew in the newly-established Israeli Air Force was the Avia S-199, a postwar Czechoslovakian-built version of the German Messerschmitt 109 - the type he had shot down in World War II.

Augarten achieved four more aerial victories during Israel's War of Independence, but perhaps more importantly, he stayed afterward to help train new pilots. He returned to the U.S. to complete his studies in 1949, but then returned to Israel to serve again in the Israeli Air Force, doing what he could to prevent another Holocaust from happening.

Years later, as the World War II generation fades away, many memories do too about the tragedy of the Holocaust. But we should make the effort to remember it, and the warning it provides to all of the dangers of genocide and ethnic cleansing still present in this world. Through the reflections of these Airmen with an Oregon connection, may we remember, and be resolved to prevent another such human catastrophe from occurring.