Seth Meyerowitz’s book, The Lost Airman: A True Story of Escape from Nazi-Occupied France, is the engrossing story of his grandfather’s saga as an airman shot down over Nazi-occupied France and then hiding in plain sight of the Nazis, his eventual escape across the Pyrenees to Spain, and finally his voyage on a dilapidated fishing boat to Gibraltar.
Seth Meyerowitz begins the book by detailing his grandfather’s early life growing up in the Bronx, his initial enlistment in the Army, his reenlistment following Pearl Harbor, and his eventual acceptance as a flight engineer. Following his training, Arthur hoped to be sent to China, but his hopes were dashed when he learned he was being assigned to the British Isles. As it turned out, Arthur found himself on the run in the French countryside only four weeks after arriving at his duty station, Seething Airfield in England.
Taking off New Year’s Eve 1943 in a B-24 Liberator bomber named Harmful Lil Armful, Staff Sgt. Arthur Meyerowitz’s second mission was one that he was not supposed to be on and in a plane that should not have flown. After dropping bombs on a secondary target, Harmful Lil Armful was shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Not all of the crew was able to parachute from the doomed bomber and Meyerowitz, having badly injured his back, was separated from the rest of the crew who were quickly captured near Lesparre-Médoc, France. Moving away from the Lesparre, Meyerowitz’s decision to risk his life by approaching a farmer’s wife outside her barn was rewarded. Unbeknownst to Meyerowitz, the farmer’s family knew a legendary figure within the French resistance, Marcel Taillandier, who took a personal interest in Meyerowitz’s safety and survival.
Seth weaves the story of Taillandier and how he became the leader of the feared Réseau Morhange(Morhange network) into the narrative. Born in the central French province of Auvergne, Taillander was an intelligent, athletic, and a natural leader with an early interest in military history. As a member of the Troupe Billom, a military-style club for schoolboys, Taillandier learned about military radios and codes, and how communications and intelligence played key roles in successful military operations. Prior to World War II, Taillandier was already a member of the French Army’s Counter Espionage Branch—and being fiercely patriotic, he abhorred the idea of Vichy France (French State). Taillandier accepted an offer by France’s chief spymaster to take on a role to undermine the Germans and all Vichy traitors. Having brazenly led his Morhange network for months, Taillandier was killed by the Gestapo 11 July 1944 in Toulouse.
Arthur quickly earned the respect and inordinate interest of Taillandier and was treated as a high-priority escapee. Arthur was entrusted to the Brutus Network, a resistance band that specialized in moving Allied pilots and crewmen out of occupied France to neutral Spain. Under the tutelage of agents within the Brutus Network, Arthur became a deaf-mute named Georges Lambert. As Lambert, Arthur hid in plain sight for months as he moved from one safe house to another. The author does an outstanding job of conveying the daily menace of the Gestapo and the dread of being reported by Vichy collaborators felt by all with the French Resistance.
Arthur completed his escape to Gibraltar on 3 June 1944. Arthur’s story of successful escape is a page-turning book that puts many fiction novels to shame with the details involved in the planning, coordination, and execution of the many escapes assistance by French Resistance organizations. Seth’s story of his grandfather’s escape provides a testament to man’s ability to persevere under unimaginable conditions. His book is a heroic saga of both the human spirit that any person with military experience will appreciate.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Kevin Lee Watson, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia