Eliot, Marvin “Sonny”

Eliot, Marvin “Sonny”

Jewish American Prisoner of War
Detroit, Stalag Luft I

Eliot was born in 1920 as the youngest of seven children to Jewish parents. He attended Detroit public schools and then entered Wayne University (now Wayne State University), graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Eliot enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp on December 8, 1941, the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was called into active service in March 1942. After training at various locations, he became a bomber pilot and was comissioned as a 2nd lieutenant.

Eliot was assigned to the 8th Air Force, KD Group, 577th Squadron, based in Norwich, England, flying B-24 bombers. On February 24, 1944, while bombing ballbearing factories near Gotha, Germany, Eliot’s plane with him as command pilot was shot down by German fighter planes forcing him and his entire crew to parachute out. Eliot was picked up by two armed German civilians and was turned over to the authorities. Following a series of interrogations, Eliot was taken to a transit camp in Frankfurt am Main and from there transferred to Stalag Luft I, a prisoner of war camp primarily for air corp officers. This camp was located near Barth in northern Germany on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Since the policy in German POW camps was to segregate Jewish prisoners, Eliot refused to reveal that he was Jewish and claimed to be Lutheran. He had previously lost his metal identification tags worn by the U.S. military which would have identified him as being Jewish.

Eliot considers the treatment received at this camp as reasonable under the circumstances. Food was sparse unless it was supplemented with Red Cross packages. Eliot describes the living conditions as adequate until the end of the war when very little food was available. Initially the camp was guarded by Luftwaffe, German Air Force, later by the Volkssturm, an armed group of civilian men either too old or too young for military service. The fact that this camp was administered by Luftwaffe personel might explain its apparent conformance to the Geneva Convention rules regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Nevertheless, identified Jewish airmen were segregated and placed in separate barracks with the intention of deporting them. According to Eliot no deportations took place due to the encroaching Russian forces.

Eliot was liberated by the Russian army and, following a short stay in Paris, returned to the United States for a discharge from the Air Corps.

Upon his return from World War II, Eliot decided on a career as an actor and moved to New York. Following his return to Detroit, he became one of the best known, respected, and beloved radio and TV personalities in the Detroit area.

Interview Information:

Date: February 18, 2001
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 49 minutes
Format: Video recording