Joseph Aaron “Joe” Friedman was a Romanian-Jewish Canadian tail gunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force who enlisted when he was 17 years old. Friedman took part in carpet bombing operations before he was shot down and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Listen to Friedman describe his experiences in the Air Force and comment on the controversy of carpet bombing.
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(Courtesy of The Memory Project/Joseph Aaron "Joe" Friedman)
"There was a lot of targets but both sides were doing cruel things. There’s nothing sweet or easy about war and there’s nobody fighting clean wars anymore."
TranscriptMy name is Joseph Friedman. I was born July 5, 1925 in Montreal. I came from a big family. We were nine kids but the three older children went into the services. I think one brother was I guess a radio mechanic on the airplanes. He was in the Air Force. Another one was an air frame mechanic and my sister was a wireless operator. She was stationed in Prince Edward Island during part of the war. I was at home. I was a rebellious kid, unhappy. I thought that would be adventure. Who knows, I might have ended up to be a hero one day. So I signed up.
And I signed my parents’ signature. I was underage. When they found out, they wanted to expose me and I threatened I would join the Merchant Marine because the Merchant Marine was taking them at 17, no questions asked. So they relented and I, I continued on.
I grew up in a home, a Jewish home. My parents came from Romania. They were traditional. My father was a dry goods store owner who eventually had to close it because the people he was serving was during Depression years and they couldn’t pay the bills. So he had to go out and work and did all kinds of jobs.
I wouldn’t say we, I think we… we were like Orthodox and not Orthodox. We went to synagogue but if we had to work, we would work. And that’s the way it was. But I was in a RAF squadron. I was attached to the RAF. Part of the crew were Canadian, part were British. The station we flew out of was in England. It was a place called Wratting Common, that’s in Cambridgeshire, about 17 kilometers from Cambridge.
I was actually shot down on my fourth flight. The place we were to… This will sound like a bit of a shocker. It’s a place…Witten was a target and it was a town of 50,000 people. We’re now in December 1944. I remember vividly the briefing we had and we were told it was a town that had escaped any effects of the war, that the purpose of going there was to bomb it because they manufactured small arms.
That would be pistols, rifles, machine guns, that would be small arms. We were 400 planes that went out and bombed a town of 50,000. At that time, we thought that was our duty and we did it and there was no question about it. In retrospect, it was a pretty heavy handed attack on a very miniscule target, but that’s the way the war was fought, it was … You know, they had a series a number of years ago, which [Brian and Terence] McKenna did on the Air Force and questioned saturation bombing. It’s funny how the airmen were very upset by his report. But he was right about it. There was a lot of targets but both sides were doing cruel things. There’s nothing sweet or easy about war and there’s nobody fighting clean wars anymore.
We were attacked by Focke-Wulf 190s. That’s one of the best planes that the Germans had, fighter planes. We were shot down. I was wounded. I was a tail gunner. So you have to straighten the turret out and crawl back and get your parachute and clip it on. As I was going through the tail section, crawling back to, to get it, I was wounded. Apparently, when the plane was hit, it must have fallen off the hook or the seating but I hadn’t seen that and I ran to the door to go and get out. I hadn’t my parachute when I was doing this, I must have been in a kind of shock. I couldn’t open the door to squeeze through. But had the door opened and squeezed through, I would have jumped. There was flames and I was scared and I, I didn’t know. But it got stuck. And apparently, there’s a kind of sheet on the bottom of the Lancaster, like a sheeting every Lancaster would have it, and it, as I opened the door, it kind of corrugated. And the door wouldn’t open and I couldn’t squeeze through. And at that moment, I realized, what am I doing, I’m jumping without a parachute. I turned around and I look on the floor of the plane and there was the parachute. I hooked it on and then I closed the door, stepped down on the, on the corrugated metal, opened it and jumped.
When I landed, they were waiting for me. Remember, I said it was a daylight raid and they saw me coming down. I landed at the end of what might have been a cultivated field, you know, farming field. They were waiting for me. There were civilians and there were a couple of what I think were Wehrmacht army soldiers. The soldiers got to me a step or two ahead of the civilians. The civilians were very angry at me. They wanted me and they said, leave him alone. Look, he’s hurt, you know, I can make it out. I knew a little bit of Yiddish but I, I could figure it out.
They protected me and they were pretty upset. You have to remember, we were bombing their homes, their women and children. It wasn’t a happy time for them and they were very angry at airmen. And then they shipped me to Dulag Luft, in interrogation centre. They put me on a train and we went diagonally across Germany to the Baltic coast. It was several days we crossed in the boxcar. It was a prison camp with over 10,000 prisoners of war. Maybe more than that. There were four compounds in it. Three compounds were American. It was for airmen, three compounds were American and one compound was the British forces, it could be New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, mostly English and Canadian.
It was an officers camp, so I was lucky, as a sergeant, to go to an officers camp because I think as bad as things were and they were at that point in the war, and that was already now January, shot down in December but it was by January, I got there, things were pretty bleak, you know. But we were better off than those who were not in an officers camp. So I was there until the end of the war, until I was flown out.
When I was shot down, if I was picked up by the Gestapo, I would never have seen the day of light.
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