Alvin "Buddy" Rothstein z"l

How They Got There

He’d been shot down before, so that was nothing new. He’d flown 16 previous missions. And a few weeks before he’d ditched his plane in the North Sea – that was in February of 1945, when hypothermia sets in in 20 minutes.

Now it was March 17th of the same year. And, finding themselves just barely recovering from a flak attack, not knowing whether they were upside down or right side up, Lieutenant Alvin “Buddy” Rothstein of Mountaintop, Pennsylvania, and his co-pilot, Lt. John Bogardus, were lost.

“We were bombing out of England, March 17th, to Ruhland. We ran into flak, anti-aircraft, the electricity was knocked out. Right wheel fuel tank didn’t seal. The hydraulics were out, fear of a spark, lost 10-15 thousand feet. We were in the scud-cloud cover-can’t see wingtips-needle [the magnetic compass], ball and airspeed still working. My co-pilot and I- he was great- got the plane recovered out of a spin, but didn’t know where we were.”

Over their Ruhland [southeast of Dresden] target at 28,000 feet above cloud cover called “scud,” they’d released their bombs when the right wing of the plane was hit by German anti-aircraft fire. The plane had gone into a flat spin and dropped into the scud-visibility zero.

In fact they’d been attacked by German anti-aircraft guns. Four planes were shot down and Buddy and his crew were the only survivors, a nine-man crew. “We were doing strategic bombing over Ruhland-the target might have been an oil field, factories, ball-bearing factories, anything to impede the war effort there.”

It was morning, “very early. We flew from England on ten-twelve hour missions-these were listed on a board at the briefing. A bomb group had four squadrons each with 12-13 planes. Each plane had an 8 or 9-man crew, 25 bomb groups in a formation, like a bomber stream, one bomb group after another over the target.

“The British flew at night. Going over you’d see the British planes coming back, single ships, one at a time. They didn’t want to fly formations at night. Even one at a time it was dangerous. Often a green crew came in and both planes went down. Collision. No survivors. We flew three, four days in a row. One day’s flying was a mission 10 or 12 hours long.”

So here they were, hearing “kerchunk, kerchunk,” as flak tore through the plane. The intercom was dead. They were still airborne, barely under control but had no idea of crew casualties or damage to other planes. As it turned out, a white-hot piece of flak had torn a hole in Sgt. George Livers’ shoe and sock, scorching his ankle. Sgt. Joe Brown’s wrist was scorched by a piece of shrapnel tearing through a metal table his hands were resting on. And damage to the plane was severe.

Lt. Rothstein realized they could never make it back across Germany, the Western Front, and the North Sea, to England. The navigator had brought maps of Germany, France, Holland, not of Poland or Czechoslovakia. Their only hope, risky at best, was to keep the plane airborne, fly east, and hope to reach the Russian-occupied zone. They flew on three engines, with only the magnetic compass working – no hydraulics, none of the cockpit indicator lights or gauges functioning; the gyro-compass had tumbled. Nonetheless they got ready to make an emergency landing, with no real idea where they might be coming down.

“At least we were in the East, behind the Russian lines. I started letting the plane down slowly. We could have run into a mountain. We couldn’t see. But through a break in the cloud we saw a city in the distance. It was early afternoon, 1:30-2:00 pm.

“We see a small grassy field, small planes. What is it? What is the city? Russian reconnaissance and fighter planes were parked. We were trying to get our landing gear down, cranking by hand, hoping to get close to the edge of the field.”

They didn’t know how much fuel they had left, only that when it was gone the plane would go down under little or no control. The precarious landing meant that while Rothstein circled the field, Lt. Bogardus worked the wobble pump next to his seat to provide emergency hydraulic pressure to the landing gear and the braking system. Engineer and Top Gunner Leroy Genoway was lowered by his wrists to make sure the landing gear was locked, and only then could Rothstein touch down as close to the end of the field as possible and immediately drop the tail so that tail drag would act as a brake.

As soon as he thought it safe, Lt. Rothstein stood on the brake pedals-they worked. The B-17 rolled along the short grass field, rapidly approaching a stone wall. Rothstein released the right brake pedal, the plane spun left and stopped.

Parked on the field were several small aircraft which Rothstein hoped were Soviet planes, and they were – small Soviet artillery spotters and some fighter planes, one of whose pilots the crew would soon meet.

Welcome to the Soviet Zone

“The war had taken a turn,” recalled Rothstein. The Russians and Americans, so recently Allies, were mutually suspicious. The Russians had reportedly encountered Germans in American planes, wearing American uniforms, so they were understandably wary. “The Russians,” Rothstein said, “were taking no prisoners, killing American flying crews. We decided to leave our pistols on the plane.” Warily the men descended from their airplane.

“We’re immediately surrounded-bayonets, burp guns [machine guns].” Rothstein, the Captain, salutes the man in charge and offers the only Russian he knows: ‘Ya vas drug, ya Amerikans. Speak English?’


“‘Parlez Francais?’

“‘Non Nyet.’

“I didn’t want to speak German and get shot, so I took a long shot. ‘Redden Sie Yiddish?’

“The guy says, ‘Du bist a Yid?’

“Turned out he was Officer in Charge, a Jew from Odessa, Boris Petrovich Kasig, a Russian fighter pilot,. saved our lives.”

Rothstein and his crew learned later, mostly by means of sign language, that the unit surrounding his plane had been ordered to shoot all captured prisoners. Because of Lt. Kasig the order was quashed.


They were in fact in the Russian zone, and the now-nearby city they’d seen in the distance as they approached was Częstochowa, Poland, two months after its liberation from the Germans.

“The little village where the Russian military hosted us was 16 kilometers from Częstochowa.”

Since Lieutenant Kasig still didn’t know when the fliers would be repatriated, they had much time on their hands.

“One day we all walked into the city. There seemed to be very little war damage. The mayor offered us a house to live in, but since we were military we felt we should stay where we were. We attracted a huge crowd, people shouting ‘I have sister Chicago, ‘I have cousin Detroit.’

“The Poles hated the Russians. Their history hasn’t been that great. The Ghetto. The Warsaw Uprising. The word was out the Americans were here to liberate them from the Russians (all nine of us).

“Paul Dempsey, the nose gunner, had Bugs Bunny painted on the back of his jacket. Wherever we went, ‘Micky Mouse! Micky Mouse!” The friendly crowd grew larger and larger, soon pressing in closer and closer, backing them finally into a wall. “Mounted police had to disperse them to allow us to walk through the city.

“They took us on a tour.A priest gave us a special tour of the monastery (Jasna Góra, shrine of the Black Madonna), and told us about the abuse they suffered during the German occupation. They plundered, they stole all the valuable art objects that were hidden away. It was heartbreaking what the Germans and Russians had done.” The airfield where Rothstein and his crew had landed had previously been used by the Luftwaffe. The Russians had removed the mines they’d left when they retreated from the area.

The Americans were escorted to the Hotel Europa, the front doors were locked from the inside, and the police dispersed the crowd outside again. Into the lobby came a Soviet officer. Lt. Rothstein saluted him and was in return saluted. Understanding that they were Americans, the Russian took Rothstein by the arm and escorted him and his crew into the dining room where they joined other Russians.

The Soviet officer ordered meals for everyone-“with the usual, black bread, garlic pickles, potatoes and vodka.” Before the Americans had quite finished, the Russians took their leave. French leave, as it turned out-the bill had not been paid. Rothstein tried as best he could to explain to the hotel manager that none of the Americans had money of any kind. He seemed to understand, and the American crew walked back to their village.

“Another day, a few officers took a young chick and me into the city in a long touring car. They treated me to a Russian style haircut, but were dismayed when I refused to allow them to replace my chipped front tooth and the one next to it with two shiny stainless steel ones. Apparently that was the plan.

“Częstochowa looked like a busy place. I remember seeing a glass sign on a door: ‘Goldberg.’ I got excited. Knocked. Man answered. ‘Goldberg?’ I asked. Shook his head. Like everything else, they took over.”

Rothstein found no Jewish presence in Częstochowa on that visit, although there were probably around 5,000 Jewish survivors there at that time. It was two months after the liberation by the Russians, and a year before the Kielce pogrom.

In the meantime, back in England, Buddy and his crew had been declared Missing In Action.

“For a few weeks we lived with the Russians. They moved a family out of a small house outside the village, and we used the public bath.” The house had a hand-pump. Nuns from the local Roman Catholic church did their laundry, only asking that they be allowed to keep half the soap.

Boris Petrovitch Kasig checked on them everyday.

“‘What do you hear?’ Buddy would ask him.

“‘Alvin, Moscva gavrit nyet – Moscow says nothing.'”

Passover in Ukraine

After more than a week as guests of the Russians, the Americans learned that an American Air Force DC-3 had landed at the airfield. They boarded and were told by the pilot that they would take off as soon as a truck from a nearby village, carrying a downed American B-24 crew, arrived.

Rothstein had heard about “Special Operation,” under the command of Otto Skorzeny, through which English-speaking German troops were causing havoc behind the Western Front. Fearing a similar trick, and a one-way flight to Siberia, Rothstein questioned the pilot to make sure he was really American and not an English-speaking Soviet officer. He was indeed an American, from Buffalo, and the plane took off for the joint Soviet-American base at Poltava in Ukraine.

As they were landing, Rothstein looked down at the airfield and thought it looked like a junkyard, it was littered with so many aircraft. “They were not in great shape.” Many wrecked aircraft strewed the ground, Soviet and American, bombers and fighter planes.

“Poltava was a creative idea, but brief. The Allies used it for shuttle bombing. Drop their bombs in Germany, go to Poltava, fuel up and get bombs and bomb the Germans on their way back to England.

“So once the Germans followed them. Stukas. German dive bombers leveled the place.”

But while Buddy and his crew were there, they had a far happier experience. At Poltava there was a meteorological centre run by a Major Marvin Rubin, and two small hospitals manned by American doctors, where Rothstein was treated for deteriorating skin conditions and Sgt. Joe Brown was treated for a near-fatal case of dysentery.

“There was a rough rustic building where they handed out clothes.” The officer in charge was Sgt. Rubinoff. When he gave clothes to Lieutenant Rothstein, he asked him, “‘Do you have any other Jewish boys? We have eight here.” Two Jewish guys named Abramowitz and Brown were part of Rothstein’s crew, so there were three more Americans.

“Seder in two days,” Rubinoff said.

Some of the American Jewish men at the base had managed to requisition the necessary food. The Russian cook at the base was Jewish and was more than glad to prepare the dinner.

And Seder there was, in a bombed-out building, with matzos flown in, “pesadiche cake, catered by a Jewish guy in the Russian army. He’d been a caterer in civilian life. He’d bring in the food and leave. He was not allowed by the Soviets to stay.” Nor were other Jewish guards at the base.

Buddy paused for a moment. “I can’t go to or have a Passover Seder,” he said, “without knowing what freedom really is. So if I seem happy, I am.”

From Poltava, Rothstein and his crew were flown back to England via Teheran, Cairo, Athens, Naples, and Marseilles.

Going Home

When the American crew returned to England, “they thought we were dead. They took us to the Dead Man’s Room where they had all your stuff to send back to the ‘next of kin'”

He mused about the aftermath of the war. “There are four of us left from the crew. We were never able to find Joe Brown, the radio operator. He was from Scranton. His wife and my wife were in Brownies and Girl Scouts together. Almost a fluke he ended up on my crew.

“I came back to the States after Germany surrendered, and I was classified to go over to the Pacific to learn to fly B-29’s. Beulah and I decided to get married. We were on our honeymoon when Japan surrendered.” Abramowitz survived the war. He was from New York, but it’s not known where he lives now.

“There was a point system. You enlisted for the duration plus six months. But with enough points you could get out. I was not a military man. I enlisted because there was a war, a bad war.”

How He Got His Start

In fact Rothstein had first worked in a defense plant, Westinghouse, making turbines for the Navy, and was draft exempt.

As the war got hotter, he wanted to go. “I was twenty, twenty-one years old. I had two six-month deferments, then three six-month deferments. After seeing too many war movies, a lot of anti-semitism, I decided that’s really where I belong, and I was fortunate enough to get started and complete pilot training.”

After arduous training he graduated a Second Lieutenant from the Blytheville, Arkansas, airfield. He wanted to go into the Air Force, the Army Air Corps as it then was, and had crammed for the entrance exams and passed.

“I had total confidence that no one was getting better training than I. I was always a very physical guy, played varsity football in high school. And when I got into combat I didn’t choke.

I marvel at what they did. The pressure was great. More intense in each place until the four-engine bomber, bigger than a house. I thought, I’ll never ever learn how to fly this. That was good later on.”

It was in Jackson, Tennessee, early on in in primary flying school and ground school classes that he learned something that saved their lives over Częstochowa.

“I flew a Stearman, two-passenger ‘yellow peril’ for the Navy, very maneuverable, learned how to recover in a spin. Very uncomfortable. You’re looking down but it’s sky. You look up and it’s earth. They teach you how to recover the plane, recover your senses and do it in a hurry.

“In combat you’re in all kinds of different circumstances-plane shot out under you, engines out.”

At the end of Mission 17, Buddy and his crew were able to land near Częstochowa precisely because of their extensive training in coming out of spins, flying through soup. But that was to be his last mission.

A Full Life and a Happy Coincidence

“I ended up being the father of four children, six grandchildren, married 59 years, a builder, developer, in real estate. A full, rich, happy life.”

One of the happy coincidences of that life was an unexpected reconnection with Boris Petrovitch Kasig, the Odessa Jew who saved their lives in the Soviet zone in Poland in 1945.

“My son Dan practiced law for nine years in Moscow, is fluent in five languages. There was a charismatic leader of the Jewish community, Colonel Goichberg.

“Dan said to him, ‘What can I do to help?’

“‘We’d love to teach people Hebrew,’ Goichberg said, ‘but the Russians won’t let us, but maybe you could.’

I Am Boris Petrovitch

“Dan set up two classes, beginning and advanced. Then he told the man he ‘wanted to set up something for my father. He wanted to find Boris Petrovitch Kasig.

‘The guy said, ‘That’s not a Jewish name. There can’t be such a person.’ There was a small Jewish newspaper there, four, five pages. In a few weeks they put in a story about him with Dan’s law office phone number. It had big circulation, that paper.

“A few weeks later a phone call came: ‘I am Boris Petrovitch, and I’ll remember that day as long as I live.’ Boris told Dan to ask his dad about ‘the secret word – laughing-hyena.'”

It turned out “laughing-hyena” was the punch line to a joke.

“Dan flew to Yalta, 1,200 miles away. He met Boris, such a wonderful guy, sweet, warm guy. He wanted to get a job after the war. The answer was, No – you’re a Jew. He married a Russian woman whose father was an Orthodox priest, killed by the Russians. They had two kids. He spent two days with them. Later on they kept in touch. Got stuff weekly to them with the firm’s courier.”

Buddy and Beulah Rothstein had made plans to meet Boris and his family, but “Boris died before we got to see him.”

More Recently

Far from living in the past, however, Buddy has long been active in Rotary International, making friends the Rothsteins are still in touch with.

“We spent three weeks in Tamil India and three weeks in Sri Lanka, and we’re in touch with people there. We were team leaders for a Rotary program. Studied the factories and farms, learned how they did business, exchanged ideas, and they sent a team over here for six weeks. In a letter dated December 9th, 2004, one of the daughters writes, ‘Dear Auntie Beulah and Uncle Buddy'” with news that though the Rothsteins had stayed with them in Gall Seaport, they now live in Colombo and so escaped the horrors of the tsunami. The daughter is now a medical doctor, her brother an engineer studying aeronautical engineering in Wichita.

“I contacted the district governor in Rotary there,” Buddy said, “to see he has help and so on. The parents were in Colombo when the tsunami hit.”

On September 25, 1997, The Honorable Paul E. Kanjorski delivered a tribute to Buddy Rothstein in the House of Representatives, in connection with Rothstein’s being honoured by the Ethics Institute of Northeastern Pennsylvania. He mentions Rothstein’s military service and his realty company, Rothstein Inc. and Rothstein Construction, Inc., his presidency of Wilkes-Barre Rotary, his service to B’nai B’rith in housing for the elderly, as well as service to the Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

A second-generation American, Buddy Rothstein, born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, indeed had a full rich life.

[Webmaster: Sadly, Buddy passed away, at the age on 90, on 25th January 2012 in Wilkes-Barre.]

Submitted by:

Iris Rosencwajg

Iris, who teaches English at Houston Community College’s central campus, is a second generation survivor and serves on the Holocaust Museum Houston’s Academic Committee. Her father emigrated from Częstochowa to Houston.

She based this article on interviews with Buddy Rothstein and on various newspaper articles,
including one written by Ray Saul, in the Hazelton, Pennsylvania “Standard-Speaker”.