Home » Radio » Shortwave Radio » Remembering the Radios of Buchenwald

Remembering the Radios of Buchenwald

radios of buchenwald
Guest Article by R.B. Sturtevant AD7IL

One man’s ham radio ingenuity and desperation built the radios of Buchenwald and saved lives. Let’s look back.

In April 1945, the Allied armies were pushing their way through what was left of Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich.  At the time, the Allies had no knowledge of what the Concentration Camps were or what was going on inside them.

Buchenwald was one of the first concentration camps.  It was set up, not for people of any special ethnicity. Rather, it interred people with strong anti-Nazi political feelings and a long record of violence against the Nazis.  The prisoners had met the Nazis in the streets with fists, clubs, knives and heavy boots.  They were political street fighters and some pretty tough customers.

One of the Polish prisoners was Gwidon Damazyn, an Electrical Engineer and Ham Radio operator with a pre-war call sign of SP2BD. He had been a prisoner in Buchenwald since March 1941. In the summer of 1942 Damazyn and some friends built a secret radio receiver.  He started with a DKE 38, shown above left.  (DKE 38 stood for Deutscher Klienempfanger 1938, which translates as German small radio model 1938.) The radio had been created at the order of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to provide education and entertainment for the German people, and as a tool of indoctrination.  The radio was sold cheaply, and as a model which eliminated the possibility of listening to foreign radio stations, particularly shortwave stations.

Damazyn modified the tuning circuit to receive shortwave and was able to pick up stations from as far away as London and Moscow.  Listening to the news from the Allies, the prisoners found out about D-Day and the Allied progress moving toward German.  In 1944, Damazyn and his friends “found” another radio and converted it into a transmitter.

Now, they needed an antenna, power supply and amplifier.  These were found in the camp’s movie theater, shown above right.  The sides of the two story theater supported lightning rods which were quietly turned into antennas.  The audio system from the projector was “borrowed” to beef up the modulator. (More information)

Radios of Buchenwald Call for Help

At noon on April 8, 1944 the conspirators sent out the message, likely on 8 MHz.  “To the Allies. To the Army of General Patton.  This is the Bushenwald concentration camp.  SOS.  We request help.  The want to evacuate us.  The SS wants to destroy us.”   The message was sent out three times each in English, German and Russian.  Shortly after, a reply was received  “Kz Bu  Hold out. Rushing to your aid. Staff of the Third Army”.

When Damazyn heard the reply, those with him reported that he fainted dead away.  The prisoners jumped to work.  They took the 91 rifles and machinegun they had stolen from the camp guards over the years and drove all the Nazis out of the camp.

On April 11, 1944 the Allies at full strength arrived at the camp and found nobody there but ex-prisoners.  It was the first concentration camp that the Allies had seen and the news was front page for weeks to come. Following the war, Gwidon Damazyn was elected to the Board of Directors of The Polish National Association of Radio Amateurs. He passed away in 1972.


  1. Laurence Lyons KI4UUG says:

    In keeping with this excellent article on radio history, readers may be interested in this article, published in the October 2020 issue of the “Journal of Military History” by Mike Bullock, Larry Lyons and Phil Judkins. Here is the abstract:

    The Resolution of the Debate about British Wireless in World War I

    For the past eight years the first two authors have been engaged in a debate with a British academic military historian, Dr. Brian N. Hall, regarding the development of British continuous wave (CW) wireless in WWI. Dr. Hall contends the British Army did as good a job as could reasonably have been expected given the circumstances (finite resources, unfavorable conditions on the Western Front, etc.), applying this new (as it was then) technology to warfare. The authors contend that it did not and previously have contrasted British efforts with those of the Americans, who did apply the technology more quickly and successfully, but later than the British, because of their delayed entry into the war. The debate has generated articles in the “Journal of Military History”, “War in History” and other journals as well as three books.
    This article was written to present the resolution of the debate. Dr. Hall was invited to co-author the article but the press of other work, as well as the current stress of dealing with COVID-19 in academia prevented him from doing so. On the other hand, he has engaged in a vigorous correspondence with the authors and agrees with the resolution of the debate presented herein.
    The article introduces two new and related research findings, not referred to in earlier articles, that are highly relevant to resolving the debate: first, the successful effort by the French Army to develop CW wireless communications; second, the surfacing of new evidence detailing the belated application of the French Army’s work to British CW wireless. This new evidence also includes what was understood by the British in 1916 of the difference in performance between what they referred to as “hard” (high vacuum) and “soft” (containing a residual amount of gas) vacuum tubes (valves in the British nomenclature) which is critical to the resolution of the debate. Both Dr Hall and the authors are now in agreement that the British decision to use the “soft” Marconi/Round vacuum tube rather than the “hard” French Télégraphie Militaire (TM) tube significantly delayed their ability to deliver CW wireless sets to the Army.
    The French Army, under the leadership of Colonel Gustave Ferrié, head of the Radiotélégraphie Militaire (the French organization similar to the British Signal Service) developed CW technology much earlier than either the British or, obviously, the Americans. By the end of the war the French are recorded as producing approximately 1,000,000 militarized TM (Télégraphie Militaire) vacuum tubes per year (per Michel Amoudry and Robert Champeix ). They delivered carefully engineered CW military radio (transmitter-receiver) sets to the field early in 1917, well before the British fielded first-generation CW sets and, certainly long before the Americans did so.
    The new evidence, specifically Major Rupert Stanley’s “Treatise on Valves”, written in 1916, published in early 1917, which is described later on in this article, conclusively establishes that the British Signal Service was well aware of the French achievement. This evidence caused the authors to reevaluate the framework of their debate with Dr. Hall. The authors’ contention has long been that the British, for various reasons, did not implement CW communications early enough to fight more efficiently and save lives. The authors had argued that the Americans showed that it was possible to have done so in eighteen months, where it took the British four years to do the same. Dr. Hall countered by saying, among other points, that the Americans fought the war with CW technology borrowed largely from the French because American technology wasn’t ready in time. This is a fair observation. But, and it’s a big but, the new evidence proves that reliable French TM vacuum tubes were available to the British in late 1916. The appropriate question for the resolution of the debate is, then, would the British have delivered CW wireless to the field earlier if they had based their designs on the French TM tubes instead of the British Marconi/Round tubes? The authors and Dr. Hall now agree that they would have. It was a fateful decision made for seemingly good engineering reasons that proved incorrect. That the choice wasn’t from lack of knowledge of the French achievement is conclusively proven by Stanley’s “Treatise on Valves”.

  2. Brie says:

    “In April 1945 [..] the Allies had no knowledge of what the Concentration Camps were or what was going on inside them.”

    They knew since 1942 at least, just dismissed the reports as “propaganda” and ”minor news”. I won’t provide links here, as akismet will treat the commentary as spam then, but look for reports of Zygielbojm, Pilecki and Karski.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.