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.