Friday, July 6, 2007

Another Must-Read Book-- Black Hole of Wauwilermoos by Dan Culler

Anyone wanting to get a new slant on Swiss treatment of interned Americans during World War Two needs to read Dan Culler's book, Black Hole of Wauwilermoos, possibly the most important book about the WWII Swiss internee experience. Dan lives in Arizona with his wife Betty and in recent years his story has been recognized in several major books on World War Two, the most recent being 'Masters of the Air' by Donald Miller. I did a full chapter on his story in my own book 'Untold Valor'. What follows is my review of Dan's book, done some years ago. The book is available from and you can also get copies, signed, from Dan. Contact me if you are interested.

Dan Culler headed off to war, the son of Quakers, because he felt it was his duty to his country. He put love of country and the ideals of democracy and freedom above his own faith, and in so doing, ended up in a situation where he was abandoned by the nation he loved, and left to die in a hell-hole of a Swiss prison, Wauwilermoos.

This is Dan Culler's story. No one who reads this will come away from the experience unchanged. No one will ever read about Wauwilermoos or the miscarriages of justice Culler was forced to endure in a typical history book. The story should make the United States and Swiss hang their heads in shame. The truth about some of the hardships endured by American airmen interned in Switzerland during World War II has been supressed by publishers and editors for years. Dan Culler's book does a lot to shatter some of this official silence.

The first part of this well-written, sensitive book describes Culler's training as a B-24 flight engineer. It follows Culler and his crew from the States over to England, where they almost immediately fall afoul of the operations officer, who tries to appropriate their sleeping bags. Failing this, the man makes sure that Culler's crew flies the oldest, most decrepit B-24's in the squadron, and in the worst position in the formation. This is Culler's first intimation that things are not as they seem Stateside. Their lives hang on the whims of higher-ups. Culler's plane, crippled by flak, limps into neutral Switzerland. Life as an internee is not terribly harsh, but Culler takes the command of his superiors seriously--it is an airman's responsibility to escape and return to his unit to fight another day. So he escapes.

He is caught. And for his trouble, he is sent to a Swiss federal prison, Wauwilermoos. Wauwilermoos is a maximum security prison meant for the worst criminals in Europe, both Swiss and those who have escaped to Switzerland. Culler's crime-trying to escape and return to his unit. He is thrown into a barracks which approaches Dante's Hell, where he is tortured by his fellow inmates day after day. When he goes to the commandant for help, he finds his own government has abandoned him. The U.S. military attache', Gen. Legge, has sent out a message commanding US troops not to escape, and furthermore, has decreed that any who try will be sent to Wauwilermoos, where the Swiss can deal with them as they see fit. In addition, according to the U.S. government, officially there is no such place as Wauwilermoos, and there are no Americans held there. If not for a kind British sergeant who comes to check on his own nation's troops imprisoned in the camp, Culler would never have emerged alive.

As it is, the story of his incarceration and escape is every bit as intense and thrilling as anything Hollywood could concoct. The reader is kept frantically turning the pages, empathizing with Culler and rooting for his success. Once Culler makes it back to England, he finds he has been abandoned again. There is no such place as Wauwilermoos. He has never been there, so he has never been a POW. Therefore, he doesn't qualify for any POW benefits or medical or mental treatment for his many physical and emotional wounds. He tries to continue in the military, first as a highly-qualified techinican and then as a pilot cadet, but all his attempts are foiled by the military and he is discharged.

It is my hope that the reader's interest is aroused by this review, short as it is. You will come away from this book feeling Culler's sense of hopelessness and betrayal at the hands of the US and Swiss governments. You will be angry to learn the fates of the US military attache, Gen. Legge, who countermanded official military policy, and of the Swiss commandant of Wauwilermoos. And you will be angry along with Culler as he attempts to get recognition and medical treatment for the hell he has endured in the service of his country--a country that, sad to say, let him down when he needed it. This is a powerful book, carefully and sensitively written. It deserves to be read by anyone interested in the air war, in POWs and their fates, or in the strength of the human spirit. I recommend it very highly.


Les said...

Ever since I became aware of his story after reading about him in your book and then his own book, which is wonderfully written, I have been scratching my head wondering: "Why hasn't his amazing story gotten more attention!?" I'm glad you are giving Dan and all these great men the attention they deserve.

r morris said...

Amen and well-said.

El Duderino said...

Thanks for the good work. I read "Masters of The Air" and was surprised to find out the Swiss weren't so neutral. I'll pick up "Black Hole of Wauwilermoos" ASAP.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

Mr. Culler was an "internee" that experienced “circumstances which the Secretary concerned finds to have been comparable to those under which persons have generally been held captive by enemy armed forces during periods of armed conflict.

For the POW medal, armed conflicts are defined as “World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam Era, and Southwest Asia Conflict.”

He learned the only way to be recognized for his ordeal was to complete the process on his own. He was the first Wauwilermoos internee awarded the POW medal. Unfortunately, there is only one other known airman that has received the medal. Thanks to his daughter!

President Reagan approved the medal in 1986. 21 years, and counting. According to the guideline, dated November 8, 1985, there is no question all American airmen held at Wauwilermoos Prison during WWII are eligible.

I am puzzled why there have not been members of an estimated 54 groups see that those that have endured similar circumstances receive what is due, the POW medal. Where is the support?

Robert E. Johnson