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Charles Ota Heller
Monday, March 17, 2014
Thursday, January 30, 2014
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."