Czech saboteurs in World War II

                                                                                     

In my book, Prague: My Long Journey Home, I write about Czech collaborators with the Nazis and the Svejks–those who simply stood by and did nothing. But there were also many Czechs who resisted and who provided assistance to the Allies via clandestine activities. One doesn’t often hear about such resistance coming from those Czechs who were most repressed–Jewish concentration and slave labor camp prisoners. My friend Paul Laric sent me a story which describes one such heroic act, as submitted to a Naval Academy alumni website by one of Paul’s classmates, Mickey Gassow:

“Elmer Bendiner was a B-17 navigator during WWII. He tells the story of a bombing run over Kassel, Germany, and the unexpected result of a direct hit on their gas tanks. “Our B-17, the Tondelayo, was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That was typical, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a 20 millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was more complicated. On the morning following the raid, Bohn asked our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of our unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that, in addition to that shell, another 11 were found in the gas tanks. Eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had parted for us. A near-miracle, I thought. Even after 35 years, this awesome event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from Bohn. Bohn was told that the shells were sent to the armorers to be defused. The armorers told him that Intelligence had then picked them up. They couldn’t say why at the time, but Bohn eventually sought out the answer. Apparently when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless. Empty? Not all of them! One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper with a scrawled message in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually they found one to decipher the note. It was amazing! Translated, the note read: “This is all we can do for you now. Using Jewish slave labor is never a good idea.”

 

10 Comments

  1. Paul Laric on February 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

    You bring out some great material in your blog, Charlie, and I’m proud that it includes the item I referred you to about the blank ammunition for the Nazis, compliments of their Czech-Jewish slave laborers. All your Blog material is excellent and I wish you tons of success with your wonderful book. Best regards, Paul

  2. jrsligo on April 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    I WAS BORN JULY 10, 1924. BORN IN A ROOM
    ABOVE A KITCHEN WITH A KITCHEN STOVE
    THAT USED COAL, NOT WOOD. MY MOTHER,
    BROTHER, AND I WERE RAISED BY MY MOTHER’S PARENTS. THEY CAME FROM
    SLOVAKIA. THAT PART WAS BOHEMIA.
    NOTORIOUS FOR ACTIVELY SUPPORTING
    THE NAZI. MY COMMENT: GRANDFATHER
    AND HIS FRIENDS NEVER WANTED TO RETURN TO THEIR HOMES. THEY LOVED
    THE USA AND GRANDMOTHER WANTED HER DAUGHTERS TO LEARN TO SPEAK
    AMERICAN BECAUSE THEY WERE AMERICANS. WHEN I WENT TO GRAVEL
    HILL SCHOOL, I WAS SURPRISED TO LEARN THAT I WAS READING ENGLISH
    AND NOT AMERICAN! YOUR BOOK IS EXCELLENT. THANK YOU.

    jrsligo@earthlink.net TUESDAY APRIL 14, 2014. SUNRISE OF GILBERT AZ 85296
    PEACE! SENT 3.20 PM MST END OF MESSAGE.

    • Joyce Smith on March 8, 2021 at 11:57 pm

      I just tried to send this as an email to the e-dress given in your comments, but it bounced:

      Hello jrsligo~

      On
      https://charlesoheller.com/2014/01/30/czech-saboteurs-in-world-war-ii/ ,
      I just read about the US bomber during a WWII raid whose fuel tank didn’t explode when hit due to shells sabotaged by Jewish slave laborers, and your poignant comments. It’s cute that you said you were ” … SURPRISED TO LEARN THAT I WAS READING ENGLISH AND NOT AMERICAN! … ”

      [I emailed], thanks to your including your e-dress in your comments, and because of your location when you wrote them in 2014, Gilbert, AZ, as I’m in Tucson (permanently since 1998; and some years part-time before then.)

      Am very glad that your family and you made it to the US. Have you ever visited the “Old Country”?

      There seems to be a debate about whether the story could be true. My friend (in Queens, NY) who emailed me the story and I both hope it is. What do you think?

      Well, now I see this:
      ” … there is a detail … that does not appear in Bendiner’s book. The closing line ‘Using Jewish slave labor is never a good idea’ does not appear in Bendiner’s account of the story. Bendiner wrote that the note found in the artillery shell was written as ‘This is all we can do for you now’. … ”

      in the book The Fall of Fortresses by Elmer Bendiner, page 139
      Posted 04/23/14 Updated 4/28/14

      So that probably is the actual fact.

      I’m afraid my friend will be a bit disappointed when I email her that detail about what the note in the shell said. I guess I’m more inclined to fact check (although she’s very smart, a librarian before retiring, and is very successful in her life).

      Anyway, I hope that you and your family are well. And that you don’t consider this [message] an intrusion! Thank you for reading it. Please reply if you wish. jtsmithh1@gmail com

      • Arieh Lebowitz on January 16, 2022 at 1:08 am

        It seems that the reference to Jewish slave labor first appears not in the book, but in this sermon by a rabbi in January 2014. See here: https://www.aish.com/tp/ss/ssw/239817051.html

        GOOD MORNING! What would you do if you were flying in the face of death — wherever you go and whatever you did — the enemy wanted to kill you? What would you do?

        Elmer Bendiner was a navigator in a B-17 during WW II. He tells this story of a World War II bombing run over Kassel, Germany. The following story is from his book, The Fall of Fortresses:

        “Our B-17, the Tondelayo, was barraged by flak from Nazi anti-aircraft guns. That wasn’t unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a 20 millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple.

        “On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but 11 had been found in the gas tanks. 11 unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had been parted for us. A near-miracle, I thought.

        “Even after 35 years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from Bohn. He was told that the shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused. The armorers told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They could not say why at the time, but Bohn eventually sought out the answer. Apparently when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were as clean as a whistle and just as harmless. Empty? Not all of them! One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech.

        “The Intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually they found one to decipher the note. It set us marveling. Translated, the note read: ‘This is all we can do for you now.’ ”

        Using Jewish slave labor is never a good idea!

        There is a wide misconception that Jews went to their death “like sheep to the slaughter” with virtually no resistance or fighting back. Many people know of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but few know that it took the Germans longer to conquer the Warsaw Ghetto (27 days) than it took them to conquer all of Poland (18 days). The might of the German nation against a few hundred starving and poorly armed Jews… They even awarded the General in charge an Iron Cross First Class for his momentous “victory”.

        In the face of a largely hostile society with little outside support, starved, worked nearly to death — Jews organized resistance in approximately 100 out of 400 ghettos. They revolted in the Sobibor death camp which led to the Nazis destroying the camp, plowing it under and planting it with crops. Seven hundred Jews rebelled in Treblinka killing guards, setting buildings on fire and making their escape — though few survived. In Auschwitz-Berkenau the Jews smuggled dynamite from a munitions factory and blew up one of the four crematoriums.

        There are many books on Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. There is one, I Escaped from Auschwitz, about two Jews who brought to the world a 50 page report detailing the workings of the death camp.

        Though their oppressors tried to break them, dehumanize them and denigrate their faith, perhaps the greatest resistance of the Jews during the Holocaust was their spiritual resistance. Large number of Jews strove to study Torah, organize classes to teach Torah, to pray — with a minyan if possible, to wear tefillin, to bake matzas, light the menorah, blow the shofar, celebrate the Shabbos and holidays.

        The multitudes made every effort to retain their humanity towards others, to do acts of kindness and to help others. In a time when seemingly the whole world had gone insane, when human life appeared to many as worthless, when one was struggling for survival — the stories of caring for others, sacrificing for others are legendary. I highly recommend To Vanquish the Dragon by Pearl Benisch. It is the true story of women who were students of the Beth Jacob school who kept their humanity in a time when so many had lost theirs.

        At the end of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC there is a little amphitheater playing short clips. In one, a man relates while in a death camp seeing his friend praying at a time that was too late for the morning service and too early for the afternoon service. He asks his friend what he is praying. The friend responds, “I am thanking God.” For what?” enquires the man, “Look around you!” His friend replied, “I am thanking God that I am one of us and not one of them.”

  3. Smoke Hill Farm on April 27, 2014 at 3:28 am

    I have always been very suspicious of this story since there seems to be no mention of this sabotage in any historical record — and there is a LOT of wartime intelligence material released.

    The German 20mm flak gun would only shoot about 7500 feet in the air, whereas the B-17 usually cruised as close to its ceiling as possible — about 35,000 feet. That gun might have brought down some low-flying aircraft like recon or close air support fighters, but it’s unlikely to have ever hit a regular bomber on a long-range mission.

    And would that “empty” ammunition even fly straight enough to hit anything, or have enough mass to do much damage?

    Wartime stats show that less than 2% of 20mm flak shells hit anything — so the odds of that many hitting a single bomber, all from a single source (that particular camp) seem pretty small.

    Another question — this ammunition would obviously weigh probably half of what real shells would. Considering all the people, military & civilian, that would have had to handle these big boxes of ammunition destined for the flak batteries, wouldn’t all of them have noticed the unusual light weight? How could they miss this?

    And was there absolutely NO quality control in these camps? Wouldn’t someone there have spot-checked the product or at least noticed the extraordinarily light weight?

    Things get chaotic in combat, and a lot of the tales passed around get pretty confused, or simple conjectures turn into absolute “facts.” I just don”t think this story passed the smell test without some corroboration.

    • KAOS on December 8, 2014 at 2:56 am

      I am from Czech Republic and it’s is nice to believe such a story but you are right, it’s reallz suspicious. I found a man who told me, he saw that piece of ammo (and paper with message) in museum on his trip to USA. Still not trustworthy enough to me…

  4. Paul B on November 29, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    Smoke Hill. Really this story is not blowing smoke – check out:
    http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/b/Fall-of-Fortresses-Bendiner.htm#.VHqJzzHF8ng

  5. Lawrence Starr on February 22, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    There is a misconception as to the shells that were found in the planes fuel tank. Anti Aircraft shells or “Flak” that were used against bombers flying at over 20,000 ft were 80mm not 20mm. The Me 109 an Fw 190 fighters used 20mm cannons that fired explosive rounds. With a firing rate of about 650 rpm it would not be out if the question to find numerous inactive rounds from an attacking fighter in a bombers fuel tank.
    As for the weight of the rounds, you are confusing the propellent charge with the explosive charge. The propellant would still be present to fire the round. It is the explosive charge that was missing. That weight of that charge is negligible compared to the weight of the heavy round and the shell. It would be less noticeable with a heavy single 80mm round. The 20mm is belted and the large quantity of rounds would make it even more difficult to notice a few “duds” mixed in.

  6. Max on March 26, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    I am also suspicious of this story. Although it’s lovely.

    My primary doubt comes from the armorer disassembling the 20mm shell to discover it’s a blank, or to find a note.

    Usually unexploded ordinance is destroyed by explosion, not examined and disassembled.

  7. Phil Fishman on January 15, 2022 at 7:52 am

    I choose to believe the story. Yes, it boggles the mind to place any credibility in it. Yet, there is so much in the universe and life that we just take for granted. So many unexplained coincidences that defy statistical. belief. Are we to disbelieve them all, or just cherry pick those that seem to us plausible? Call me naive. That’s OK. I still believe.

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