Vet speaks on surviving concentration camp

Published on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Joe Moser, a WWII prisoner of war and Ferndale resident, easily held his audience’s attention at the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday.

The fit 88-year-old told his harrowing story to a group of about 25 chamber of commerce members at the Thousand Trails Birch Bay resort. Moser spent two months in Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp, from August to October of 1944 with 167 other Allied airmen.

Moser’s ordeal started when he was shot down while flying his P-38 Lightning fighter plane. With one engine on fire, Moser inverted the plane in attempt to bail out. P-38 pilots were taught to escape their planes in emergencies by rolling upside down and dropping out.

This would have worked, had Moser’s shoe not gotten caught on part of the cockpit.

“I was actually talking to the plane, ‘move on, come on, move on,’” Moser recalled.

After freeing himself, Moser was finally able to open his parachute; less than 50 feet from the ground. 

Moser was quickly captured by the Germans and sent to Buchenwald because he and his fellow airmen were considered in German eyes to be “terrorfliegers,” or terrorist pilots. The U.S. government did not recognize there were U.S. pilots at Buchenwald until one year ago, Moser said.

Moser was one of about 80,000 prisoners at Buchenwald, the majority of whom were Jewish. He lived among pilots from 19 other Allied countries, including England and Russia.

The two months Moser spent in Buchenwald were as close to the hell war is compared to as anyone could get.

Moser and his fellow airmen lived outside in tents with nothing but the ground to sleep on. They were fed wormy cabbage soup and one piece of a bread a day. The bread was 35 to 40 percent sawdust, Moser said.

“It was very filling, but it took a while to chew,” Moser remembered.

The stench of death constantly hung in the air. Moser said the crematoria ran day and night disposing of the bodies of executed Buchenwald prisoners.

“They smelled like burning bacon,” Moser said.

Moser lived and went to the bathroom outside for two months, until German air force officers learned airmen were being kept in Buchenwald. The officers made it so Moser and his fellow flyers were transported to an actual prisoner of war camp on Oct. 20, 1944.

Had Moser stayed just two days longer, he would have been executed.

The camp where Moser spent the remainder of the war was liberated on April 11, 1945. 64 years later, Moser was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in WWII.

For more information about Joe Moser and how to purchase his book,  “A Fighter Pilot in Buchenwald,” visit his website at