KLB Club

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KLB Club pin designed by the airmen while detained in Buchenwald

The KLB Club (initials for Konzentrationslager Buchenwald) was formed on 12 October 1944, and included the 168 allied airmen who were held prisoner at Buchenwald concentration camp between 20 August and 19 October 1944.[1][page needed][2] 166 airmen survived Buchenwald, while two died of sickness at the camp.[3][4]

Background[edit]

As allied air forces took control of the skies over Europe in the summer of 1944, Adolf Hitler ordered the immediate execution of allied flyers accused of committing certain acts.[4] The most common act was to be captured in civilian clothing and/or without their dog tags by the Gestapo or Secret Police.[5][page needed] These airmen had been shot down mainly over France, but also over Belgium and the Netherlands and were turned over to the Gestapo and Secret Police – by traitors within the French Resistance – while attempting to reach England along escape routes such as the Comet and Pat Line.[6] A notable traitor within the French Resistance was Jacques Desoubrie, who was responsible for betraying a significant number of allied airmen to the German authorities.[3][page needed][5][page needed][7]

These captured airmen were given the name "Terrorflieger" (terror flyers), and were not given a trial.[4][8] The German Foreign Office however, expressed concern about shooting prisoners of war (POWs) and suggested that enemy airmen suspected of such offenses not be given the legal status of POWs. Following this advice, the Gestapo and Security Police informed these captured allied airmen that they were criminals and spies.[2][4] Using this justification, 168 allied airmen from Great Britain, United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica were taken by train – in overcrowded cattle boxcars – from Fresnes Prison outside Paris, to Buchenwald concentration camp.[9][page needed] After five days in the boxcars, they arrived at Buchenwald on 20 August 1944.[1][3][page needed][8][page needed]

Buchenwald[edit]

Nationalities of the 168 airmen[1][10][11]
United States 82 American
United Kingdom 48 British
Canada 26 Canadian
Australia 9 Australian
New Zealand 2 New Zealander
Jamaica 1 Jamaican

Buchenwald was a forced labour camp of about 60,000 inmates of mainly Russian POWs, but also common criminals, religious prisoners (including Jews), and various political prisoners from Germany, France, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.[12] For the first three weeks at Buchenwald, the prisoners were totally shaven, denied shoes and forced to sleep outside without shelter in one of Buchenwald's sub-camps, known as 'Little Camp'.[12] Most airmen doubted they would ever get out of Buchenwald because their documents were stamped with the acronym "DIKAL" (Darf in kein anderes Lager), or "not to be transferred to another camp".[13][page needed] After the war some of the airmen recounted that officers of the German Air Force had visited Buchenwald a few days after an Allied air raid on Weimar in late August 1944 to assess the damage inflicted upon the armament factory adjacent to the camp. According to these recollections the German officers talked to the airmen and saw after it that they were transferred to the POW camp.[14] Years later veterans identified Johannes Trautloft from photos as one of the officers and credited him with saving their lives.[15] Until now it was not possible to verify this story with archival records. In his war diary Trautloft does not mention the events.[15] The Gedenkstätte Buchenwald stated that a visit by Trautloft or other officers might have happened and that this might have influenced the decision making process what to do with the airmen. On the other hand, there might have been no connection whatsoever, because the decisions were not made by a single officer like Trautloft.[15]

To address the constant stress, long appells (roll calls), boredom, insecurity and apprehension, it was decided amongst the 168 airmen to hold formal meetings to give them a sense of purpose and order.[3] Thus, the exclusive KLB Club came into existence with several chapters; Canada, United States, Great Britain, and Australia/New Zealand.[2] Elected representatives of each nationality held separate meetings to collate the previously scattered efforts of those who had proposed address lists, meetings after the war and other pursuits. The meetings at Buchenwald displayed the 168 airmen's militariness and solidarity, forming a bond that brings them together more than 60 years after the liberation of Buchenwald.[2][3]

At one meeting, it was agreed to design a club pin. The winning design, put forward by Bob Taylor from Great Britain, showed a naked, winged foot, symbolising the airmen's barefoot condition while in the concentration camp. The foot is chained to a ball bearing the letters KLB, with the whole mounted on a white star, which was the crest of the Allied invasion forces.[3] Canadian airman, Willie Walderam, also wrote the poem titled, A Reflection, about Buchenwald[1] (see below). On the night of 19 October 156 of the 168 airmen were transferred from Buchenwald to Stalag Luft III by the Luftwaffe. Two airmen died from sickness at Buchenwald, while the remaining 10 were transported in small groups, over a period of several weeks.[1]

In the book 168 Jump Into Hell, the purpose of the KLB Club was described as being to perpetuate the comradeship already shown by the flying personnel of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada, by the interchanging of pamphlets, ideas and visits.[1] More than 30 years later, in 1979, 4 Canadian KLB members made the first serious attempt to trace all club members.[7] Of the original 168 members, only 28 have not been located or accounted for.[1]

Members[edit]

Poem[edit]

Walderam, Willie, A Reflection[1] R.C.A.F. KLB 78402

I'll think of you dear KLB
Again some future day,
When the world is gay and free
And I am so far away.

Of those long appells in pouring rain
With neither boots nor shoes,
And the SS guards who counted us
Hitting whom they choose.

When I bounce my children on my knee
I'll think of the Gypsy kids,
Who, instead of wearing ball and chain,
Should have been wearing bibs.

When I Lay in my cosy bed at night
I'll think of your hard boards,
With a single blanket to cover us,
And fleas and lice in hordes.

Ironically, I'll think of how
You took our dog-tags from us,
'Nix soldat-civil' you said,
Smiling fanatically at us.

Yes, you gave us soup and enough black bread
To etch out a mere existence,
Enough to keep us wanting more
And weaken our resistance

How two of our number lost their lives
For lack of medical aid;
You wouldn't even give them food
To help save them from the grave

And then: after eight weeks spent in your filthy soul,
Which seemed to me like years,
The Luftwaffe came, took us away,
I felt like shedding tears

And so to all you Konzentrators,
A toast I offer thee;
Here's wishing you a happy life,
And to Hell with KLB

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]