Smithville man was in­terned in Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - DANIEL NOLAN dnolan@thes­ 905-526-3351 | @dan­dun­das

Ed­ward Carter-Ed­wards was one of a small group of Al­lied air­men who en­dured a har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the last year of the Sec­ond World War.

Af­ter he was shot down and cap­tured in the sum­mer of 1944, the one-time Hamil­ton res­i­dent — who died Feb. 22 at the age of 93 at a Grimsby hospice — should have been in­terned in a pris­oner of war camp, fol­low­ing rules of the Geneva Con­ven­tion. But Carter-Ed­wards along with an­other 167 air­men — hail­ing from Bri­tain, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and the United States — were placed in the no­to­ri­ous Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp, branded as “spies and sabo­teurs.”

“We as­sumed it was a PoW camp,” Carter-Ed­wards — one of 26 Cana­di­ans — told The Spec­ta­tor in 1998. “Then we saw hun­dreds of skele­tons walk­ing around.”

He spent nearly four months in the camp that claimed the lives of 65,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing nearly his own, but when he re­turned to Canada in 1945 he didn’t talk about it. Some of the other air­men found no one ap­peared to be­lieve them be­cause they had no proof — tat­toos or doc­u­ments — and Carter-Ed­wards be­lieved the whole ter­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ence was best kept to him­self.

Over the last few decades, how­ever, the story be­gan to emerge and Carter-Ed­wards ap­peared in a 1994 doc­u­men­tary en­ti­tled “The Lucky Ones: Al­lied Air­men and Buchen­wald” and in a 1999 book called “168 Jump into Hell.” The Smithville res­i­dent — he moved there in 1994 — spoke about his ex­pe­ri­ence to high schools, uni­ver­si­ties and com­mu­nity groups, and the Ger­man gov­ern­ment paid com­pen­sa­tion to sur­vivors in 2001.

Carter-Ed­wards was 20 when he was the wire­less op­er­a­tor of an RCAF Hal­i­fax Bomber shot down by a Ger­man fighter out­side Paris on June 8, 1944. He and other crew mem­bers hid with mem­bers of the French un­der­ground, but a col­lab­o­ra­tor with the Gestapo turned them over to the Ger­man au­thor­i­ties while they were on their way, in civil­ian clothes with false iden­ti­ties, to Paris.

They had mil­i­tary “dog tags” but Carter-Ed­wards said the Gestapo ig­nored them — tore them off and threw them away — and he and the air­men were loaded onto box cars with Jewish pris­on­ers and oth­ers. They ar­rived at Buchen­wald on Aug. 20, 1944, and were ush­ered out of the rail cars at bay­o­net point.

At the time, there were 89,000 peo­ple in the camp. Carter-Ed­wards told The Spec in 2001 “that it was very dif­fi­cult for a hu­man be­ing to grasp what was go­ing on.”

“The peo­ple in there were in ter­ri­ble con­di­tion, liv­ing skele­tons, with just about ev­ery imag­in­able dis­ease,” he said. “We got no med­i­cal treat­ment at all — we were sim­ply left there to die. Some would cry out the names of their loved ones just be­fore they died ... Ex­cre­ment was flow­ing through the beds, and once in awhile some­one would come in with a hose and flush the whole place down, peo­ple and ev­ery­thing, right in their beds.”

Carter-Ed­wards de­vel­oped pneu­mo­nia and pleurisy. Placed in what he called “the death house,” he was saved by a French univer­sity pro­fes­sor who used a sy­ringe to drain the flu­ids out of his lungs. He was then placed on a work party lay­ing rail­way tracks out­side the camp, work­ing 12- to 14-hour shifts. When he com­plained, Carter-Ed­wards said he was told “I could al­ways re­port to the cre­ma­to­rium.”

He said a Dutch Un­der­ground cap­tive, forced to keep a head count of the dead, took pity on him and placed him on the dead list. He was told to keep on the move and be as un­ob­tru­sive as pos­si­ble. He min­gled with the other pris­on­ers and re­called see­ing “a great hut full of bod­ies stacked like cord wood, ready for the cre­ma­to­rium which op­er­ated day and night.”

Carter-Ed­wards and the other air­men were re­moved from Buchen­wald by the Ger­man air force, the Luft­waffe. He was taken out in Novem­ber 1944 and trans­ported un­der guard to Sta­lag Luft III in Sa­gan, Poland.

“Life there was rough — no heat, lit­tle food and con­tin­u­ous ha­rass­ment — but to me it was heaven com­pared to Buchen­wald,” said Carter-Ed­wards.

Born in Mon­treal, his fam­ily moved to Hagersville and then Hamil­ton be­fore the war. He worked at West­ing­house/Camco af­ter he re­turned home and lived in An­caster for about 40 years. He was a mem­ber of nu­mer­ous veteran groups. Carter-Ed­wards is sur­vived by his wife Lois, two chil­dren, five grand­chil­dren and three great­grand­chil­dren.

We as­sumed it was a PoW camp. Then we saw hun­dreds of skele­tons walk­ing around.


Ed­ward Carter-Ed­wards in a 2012 Spec­ta­tor photo. Carter-Ed­wards died last week. He was 93.

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