The 371st Fighter Group and the Aftermath of the Holocaust

Today, April 28, 2014, is National Holocaust Remembrance Day. The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as America’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Though the terrible events of that time happened a long time ago, the impact of this trauma rippled far and wide. Even the 371st Fighter Group bore witness to this, and in a way, did its part to help bring it to an end by contributing to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

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.

Capt. Rudy Augarten, a P-47 pilot in the 406th Fighter Squadron of the 371st Fighter Group, is seen here in the cockpit of a P-47D Thunderbolt during WWII. (Courtesy Eric Bogomolny)

Capt. Rudy Augarten, a P-47 pilot in the 406th Fighter Squadron of the 371st Fighter Group, is seen here in the cockpit of a P-47D Thunderbolt during WWII. (Courtesy Eric Bogomolny)

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.

Bodies were stacked like cordwood on this cart of concentration camp victims in Germany, 1945 (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Sgt. Tom Boliaris)

Bodies were stacked like cordwood on this cart of concentration camp victims in Germany, 1945 (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Sgt. Tom Boliaris)

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.

Unidentified prison compound in Germany, 1945 (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Sgt. Tom Boliaris)

Unidentified prison compound in Germany, 1945 (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Sgt. Tom Boliaris)

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, standing at left with unidentified fellow soldiers in 1946, served in the 371FG late in WWII, including when the group was based in Germany. (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Cpl. Tom Boliaris)

Sgt. Tom Boliaris, standing at left with unidentified fellow soldiers in 1946, served in the 371FG late in WWII, including when the group was based in Germany. (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Cpl. Tom Boliaris)

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.

Unidentified prison compound adjacent to the 371FG’s living area which was approximately 2.5 miles away from Fürth/Industriehafen Airfield (R-30).  (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Sgt. Tom Boliaris)

Unidentified prison compound adjacent to the 371FG’s living area which was approximately 2.5 miles away from Fürth/Industriehafen Airfield (R-30). (Courtesy Ms. Nancy Beaumier, daughter of 371FG veteran Sgt. Tom Boliaris)

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.

Avia S-199 fighter flown by 371FG veteran Rudy Augarten depicted in action on 16 October 1948 when he shot down an Egyptian Spitfire during the Israeli War of Independence. (Courtesy Roy Grinnell)

Avia S-199 fighter flown by 371FG veteran Rudy Augarten depicted in action on 16 October 1948 when he shot down an Egyptian Spitfire during the Israeli War of Independence. (Courtesy Roy Grinnell)

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 371st Fighter Group Airmen, may we remember, and be resolved to prevent another such human catastrophe from occurring.

References

371FG History, May, 1945

“The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.” Army & Navy Publishers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1946

Bogomolny, Eric, “Rudy Augarten – avenging the Holocaust,” at:
Written by Eric Bogomolny.
http://www.elknet.pl/acestory/augarten/augarten.htm

The List of the Concentration Camps and sub/satellite camps
http://www.jewishgen.org/forgottencamps/general/listeeng.html#dachau

Grinnell, Roy, “Strange Encounter,” painting of Rudy Augarten in Israeli AF Avia S-199 downing Egyptian AF Spitfire, at: http://www.roygrinnell.com/gallery/aviation_art/other/strange_encounter.htm

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1 Response to The 371st Fighter Group and the Aftermath of the Holocaust

  1. Samuel Beloff says:

    An AMAZING piece of History! This should be remembered! The vets of the 371st are true heros. God Bless them all!

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