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The Norwegian Resistance

The Norwegian resistance was successful, in part, because they had many advantages over the Germans – “a long coast line with vast amounts of the country uninhabited. Norway also had a long border with neutral Sweden which could be easily crossed. In such an environment, a focused resistance movement could do great harm to an occupying army” (Source).

Unfortunately, though, the Norwegians were divided in the fact that many did not want to commit the acts of treason and raids that led to more Nazi atrocities – as had taken place in other countries.

Background:

Germany invaded Norway in the early hours of April 9, 1940. However, the Norwegian government refused to capitulate, saying: “We will not submit voluntarily; the struggle is already underway” (Source). The entire government evacuated Oslo and, during an emergency session, gave full authority to King Haakon VII and his cabinet – this gave the king the authority to reject Germany’s ultimatum.

However, this did not stop German invasion. Thanks to WWI, the Norwegian military was “underfed and undertrained by the late 1930′s.” (Source). Germany was able to invade Southern Norway with very little initial resistance.

[Below: Coins with the H7 monogram were worn by Norwegian nationalists as jewelry during the occupation, and subsequently confiscated by German authorities]

Fichier:Norway 1 Krone 1940 obverse H7 monogram.jpg — Wikipédia

 

Resistance:

To aid the resistance, Sweden aided the Norwegians with equipment and training by setting up “a series of camps” camouflaged as police training camps, all along the border (Source). Some 7,000-8,000 men were trained through the camps.

Although Norway did not partake in many battles officially, their military still went to great lengths to subvert the Germany army whenever possible. For the most part, this consisted of more acts of sabotage. However, their military was up and running by the time they were liberated.

Many civilians practiced their own means of civil disobedience. For example, the first outbreak was started by Oslo University students who wore paperclips attached to their collars. This was a sign demonstrating resistance, solidarity, and unity.

Another means of civil disobedience was known as the Ice Front. Here, Norwegians refused to speak to Germans, pretending to not understand German. They also refused to sit next to a German on public transportation. This only lasted until the Germans made it illegal to stand on a bus if seats were available. 

XU (Unknown Undercover Agents): These agents collected maps and photos of German fortifications. They also had Nazi connections – “Several of their members were couriers for M15 agent Paul Rosabund, who had vital information regarding German nuclear research” (Source). An interesting fact: Two of the members were female.

Osvald Group: These agents performed some 110+ sabotage missions, “storing” explosives around the country. They also provided support for the NKVD, though, becoming a military group. Through this, 35 members were killed. Below are some important dates:

July 20, 1941: Their first railway sabotage mission.

February 2, 1942: Blew up the Oslo Central Station.

August 21, 1942: Attacked Statspolitiet’s Office.

April 20, 1943: Sabotaged an employment office in Oslo.

October 25: 1944: Assassinated a policeman in Stapo.

November 9, 1944: Robbed a bank (Laksevag Sparebank)

Heavy Water Sabotage: Allied sabotage “to prevent the German nuclear energy project from acquiring heavy water (deuterium oxide)” (Source). Operations-Codenamed Grouse, Freshman, and Gunnerisde were used to completely render the Vemork Hydroelectric Plant  inoperable as of 1943.

Operation Grouse consisted of dropping a team of 4 SOE trained agents into the wilderness on October 19, 1942. From there, they were expected to ski to their location. However, they were dropped off at the wrong point and got off course several times, meaning they reached their location much later than expected. However, their mission was still successful.

This operation was followed by Operation Freshman, which was, unfortunately, unsuccessful. On November 19, 1942, “two Airspeed Horsa gliders, towed by Handley Page Halifax bombers, each glider carrying two pilots and 15 Royal Engineers of the 9th Field Company, 1st British Airborne Division, took off from RAF Skitten  near Wick in Caithness” (Source). Thanks of poor weather conditions, one of the two Halifax tugs crashed into a mountain, killing all seven of those aboard. Its glider was able to take off, but its crash claimed several more lives. The other Halifax, however, was unable to even locate its landing zone, “owing to the failure of the link between the Eureka (ground) and Rebecca (aircraft) beacons” (Source). Deciding to give up and head home, though, only proved more treacherous, and the second Halifax came down not far from the first flight, killing several more.

This was followed by Operation Gunnerside. On February 16, 1943, another six agents were dropped by a “Halifax bomber of 138 Squadron from RAF Tampsford” (Source). Their drop was mercifully successful and they met up with the team from Grouse a few days later. The next part of their plan was to take place between February 27th and 28th. However, their job was made more difficult thanks to the mines, floodlights, and additional guards placed around the plant by Germans after the failed Freshman attempt. 

Agents of the combined Grouse and Gunnerside operations were to infiltrate the plant and place “explosive charges on the heavy water electrolysis chambers, and [attach] a fuse allowing sufficient time for their escape” (Source). They left a Thompson submachine gun, hoping to show this was a British SOE mission and not a Norwegian effort, afraid of backlash from the Germans.

Their mission was successful. Over 500 kg of heavy water was destroyed.

Acts of Resistance: Destroying ships & supplies (such as the Bismarck); Distributing illegal newspapers; Killing Nazi collaborators & officials; Smuggling people in and out of Norway; Destroying Norsk Hydro’s plant and stockpile of heavy water; and numerous other acts of sabotage.

[Below: The Vemork plant blowing up.]

Article 1 (July 2018): The Catcher was a Spy : Repco Inc

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Denmark in WWII

 

On April 9, 1940, Denmark was invaded by German. Prior to this, they had been rescuing people from other occupied countries, such as Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Holland. Occupation would change all that.

Almost immediately after the invasion, the Danish surrendered. Their reason for such an early surrender was that Denmark wasn’t only small, but their military was equally as small. In short, they didn’t stand a chance against the Nazis, not without way too many Danish deaths.

In some ways, Denmark was luckier than other Nazi occupied countries. Or at least, so it appeared on the surface. See, the Danish government and the Danish monarchy remained in tact. Furthermore, their newspapers could continue, under censorship, of course. And their military wasn’t seen as enough of a threat to be disbanded. Even Danish Jews were saved from the prosecution Jews from other countries endured.

Why was this allowed?

To put it simply, the Danish weren’t subhuman. Not like the Polish or the Jews, at least.

The Danish were considered to be pure Aryans.

[Below: Nazis parading through Denmark]

 

Well, and then there was the fact that they could supply the Nazi army with supplies, food, and even transportation. They were vital to Nazi Germany wining the war. Thus, they could receive a pass.

Oh, and they agreed not to resist. (But we all know they did. As next week’s post will show). And they held out until the summer of 1942. It was about that point that Allied nations began to pressure them to finally resist Nazi occupation.

And, believe it or not, Hitler was just looking for an excuse to tighten restrictions on the Danish. He sent Werner Best, “a Nazi official to administer Germany’s occupation of Denmark in September 1942” (Source). Best was instructed to rule with an iron fist. Denmark would change from a country friendly with the Nazis to a country occupied by the Nazis.

Or, at least, that was Hitler’s plan. Best didn’t operate quite that quickly, though. Instead, he decided to be much more lenient, provided Denmark continued to cooperate. He realized that too strict an occupation could threaten their most valuable food source.

But resistance continued and Hitler was growing more and more put out with Denmark. Eventually, he “demanded that the Danish government declare a state of emergency and introduce the death penalty for sabotage” (Source). Of course, the Danish resisted.

Then, on August 29, 1943, the Germans began disarming the army and the navy (though the navy sank itself). This was followed by General von Hanneken announcing martial law. This was a major turning point in Danish-German relations. The collaboration had ended.

Mere weeks later, on October 2nd, anti-Semitism found it’s footing in Denmark. The Nazis attempted to round up all Danish Jews.

But, thanks to Best, their plan wasn’t as successful as they would have liked. Only about 500 Jews were rounded up (a sum much, much lower than other Nazi occupied countries). These 500 Jews were taken to Theresienstadt. Most of them survived.

However, another 7,000 Jews subsequently escaped from Denmark to the neutral Sweden. Many other Danes played a role in their successful escape. Resistance grew more and more.

And thanks to the British SOE (Special Operations Executive), various resistance groups were brought together. Thanks to all the various groups being brought together as one larger force, they Danish were able to convince the “Allies to recognize Denmark as an allied power, but were met by resistance from the Soviets” (Source). Go figure.

But, an agreement was eventually met.

Then, on May 4, 1945, the announcement came: the Liberation of Denmark. “Thousands of Danes tore down their blackout curtains and put candles in the windows” (Source). Five years and a month after invasion. Some 7,000 lives were lost during the fierce occupation.

[Below: Men in soup lines]

 

Up Next: Danish Resistance

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Norway in WWII

This post features an amazing book called Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin. What’s really amazing about Almost Autumn, though, is that it was written in Norwegian and later translated in English.

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Summary: 15-year-old Ilse Kern is sure that this autumn is going to bring about new changes, good changes. Hopefully, specifically, where next door neighbor Hermann Rød is concerned. But with the Nazi occupation and Hermann’s new mysterious classes, that doesn’t seem likely. First, Ilse’s father is taken away, then so is the rest of the family. Now, what will Ilse and Hermann do? Almost Autumn is one of those amazing books written from multiple perspectives. 

On April 9, 1940, Germany launched an amphibious attack against Norway. The Royal Navy was present, and attempted to aid their allies, but the Nazis were triumphant, nonetheless. The Nazis had more than just expanding their land in mind. They hoped to gain 

access to the iron-ore shipments that came in from Norway’s neutral neighbor, Sweden.

It took a mere two months before Norway was forced to surrender. On June 10, 1940, Norwegian King, Haakon VII, Crown Prince Olaf, and the entire government escaped to London. In his place, the Norwegian Nazi party leader (or, I suppose, more accurately put, the Norwegian who founded a party that mimicked the Nazis), Vidkun Quislilng, was named prime minister. Quisling, admittedly, didn’t last real long, because the Nazis quickly set up their own government in Norway, with German commissioner, Josef Terboven, at its head. And we all know what happens thereafter. It was also thanks to Britain’s failure in Norway, that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

It didn’t take long for resentment and, thus, resistance to crop up in the Norwegian people. It started off with in different forms of passive resistance, including acts of general strikes. The Nazi government reacted quickly and fiercely. Martial law was put into place and death sentences rapidly followed for those not cooperating.

As one can imagine, this was all the fuel Norwegians needed to continue their resistance movement. Pretty soon, a fully organized resistance movement was formed, committing a wide range of sabotage.

[German officers during the occupation of Norway]

Norway in WW2 Resistance - Norwegian dictionary

 

As far as the occupation of Norway is concerned, the Nazis “requisitioned homes, businesses, private property, and schools. Norwegians were not allowed to move around freely; they were not allowed to show any patriotism towards their homeland. This included banning their anthem and their flag.

They also forced the dissemination of Nazi ideologies and symbols. Norwegians were not allowed to listen to non-Nazi approved radio or read non-Nazi newspapers. All throughout their occupation, Nazi soldiers in Norway placed more and harsher roles on the Norwegians, arresting people for minor infractions, even for simply being suspicious.

Everything was rationed. But not in the way that it was in Britain or in America. Food, toys, furniture, clothes were all rationed because the Nazis simply took what they wanted. Sugar, flour, and coffee were the first victims, but by 1942, this list had lengthened to include bread, butter, meat, eggs, and all diary products, even vegetables and potatoes were rationed.

Of course, life was hardest of all for the Norwegian Jews. At the time of the invasion, there were some 1,700 Jews living in Norway (some of whom had escaped to Norway from Germany and Austria back in the ‘30s). Harsh restrictions and treatment were sporadic in the early months of occupation. But, by the fall of 1942, things began in earnest. In early October, all male Jews living in Trondheim were arrested. Then, between October 26 & 27, a total of 260 more male Jews were arrested in Oslo. A month later, in the middle of the night, on November 25, all the remaining Jews were rounded up. Jews were then deported on the Donau, via Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the weeks that followed, more and more Jews throughout the country were rounded up and departed. But, thanks to advance warnings, the Norwegian people were able to help 900 Jews escape to Sweden via the underground. Throughout the occupation, more than 760 Jews were deported by the Nazis. Only 25 of them returned to Norway, the rest were murdered at Auschwitz.

Scariest of all, though, was bomb raids from both sides that leveled towns all throughout Norway. Bomb raids left thousands of Norwegians homeless.

During the invasion of Norway, roughly 1,000 Norwegians were killed as well as nearly 2,000  British, and 500 French and Polish soldiers.

[Below: German infantry attacking through a burning Norwegian village]

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The Katyn Massacre

After the Soviets invaded Poland on September 17, 1940, what transpired was something very similar to what transpired in Western Poland: death, torture, imprisonment, starvation, etc. What makes the Soviet invasion stand out in a way that even the Warsaw Ghetto can’t, is one of the largest mass shootings in history: The Katyn Massacre.

Now, the Katyn Massacre is the term referring to the mass execution of Poles throughout the Soviet Ukraine and Belarus republics. The mass burial was in the Katyn forest.

But a bit of background, first. At the end of WWI, Poland finally became an independent country. Then, in 1921, the Poland, Soviet Union, and Ukraine signed the Treaty of Riga, which effectively established an Eastern Polish boarder, separate from Soviet Russia. As one can probably guess, the Soviet Union were quite angered by the loss of their occupied land, and were already planning their expansion West back into Poland. This, long before WW2 was on anyone’s mind. Even then, a pact was signed in 1932, the Polish-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Of course, at this point, we’re fully aware of how non-binding Non-Aggression Pacts actually are. The Soviet Union felt no more need to abide by them than the Nazis did. The Pact promised that if one of the countries should be attacked, the other would not help the aggressor. Of course, when Poland was invaded on September 1, 1939, the Soviet Union moved forward 16 days later to also invade Poland.

After the Soviet invasion of Poland, on September 26th,  Germany and the Soviet Union officially divided up Poland, a land that didn’t even belong to them. After this division, the NKVD and the Gestapo coordinated their efforts, or rather, their atrocities.

A mere two days after their invasion, the NKVD created the Directorate of Prisoners of War, effectively taking into custody “Polish prisoners from the Army” and “organizing a network of reception centers and transfer camps and arranging rail transport to the western USSR” (Source). In other words, on both sides of the division line, Poles were being sent to concentration camps for the mere reason that they were Polish.

The camps, located in former monasteries now converted into prison camps, were located in Kozelsk, Starobeisk, and Ostashkov. While here, between October and February, the Poles were subjected to intense interrogations as well as relentless political agitation.

[Below: Katyn Massacre]

80 rocznica rozkazu o zbrodni katyńskiej wieszwiecej - tvp.info

During the days of April and May in 1940, the Poles who were interned in the Soviet concentration camps, were transferred amongst three separate execution sites. Those interned at Kharkov were sent to Piatykhatky on April 5th. At night, groups of Poles were shot in the basement of the NKVD headquarters. By May 12th, 3,840 citizens had been killed in Piatykhatky. Those Poles interned Kalinin were transferred to Miednoye on April 4, 1940. There, some 6,311 Poles were shot in the basement of the NKVD headquarters, between April 4 and May 22. It is important to remember, here, that “the territory of Miednoye cemetery has never belonged to Germany” (Source). Lastly, those interned in Smolensk were transferred to Katyn by cattle cars. Like with the other execution sites, they were shot in the basement of the NKVD headquarters and then transferred to the forest. By May 11th, 4,421 Polish citizens had been executed in Katyn. Of the 250,000 Polish citizens who were taken prisoner (15,000 of whom were officers, police, and gendarmerie) only 395 managed to survive. In total.

In the meantime, other officers, clerks, judges, prosecutors, political prisoners, and social activists were kept in Western Ukraine and Western Belarusia. Here, 7,300 Poles were murdered while another 1,980 were killed in Bykivnia (near Kiev), and up to 200,000 more were murdered and buried in mass graves in the Kuropaty Forest.

The list really is endless. The Soviets, like the Germans, killed anyone who might be a threat to the sate: doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, industrialists, scholars, writers, librarians, on and on the list goes. Of these, it is believed that up to 327,000 Poles were deported, mostly to Soviet camps.

All of this went unknown until April 13, 1943, when Germans drew attention to the killing fields. The Soviets – being the dishonest Communists that they are – told the world that the Nazis were responsible for these deaths. And even today, people chose to believe this. While the Nazis aren’t exactly known to be truthful and honest, to automatically assume the verity of the Soviet claims is, well, a bit asinine. And even if, for probably political reasons, one was to believe the Russian lies, it still calls into question why, exactly, they were holding tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of Poles in camps in Russia.

On the part of the US and British governments, well, they know full-well who was to blame for the mass killing of the Poles, (both, in all reality). But the culprit of the Katyn Massacre was the NKVD, and the Allied governments knew this, but acknowledging this could make whatever negotiations between them and the Soviet Union only less likely than they currently were. Remember that negotiating with Stalin was no easy task to begin with. The lie was carried on to the Nuremberg Trials, were Stalin and the Soviets attempted to hang German war criminals for the death of 11,000 Polish officers at Katyn. However, the evidence of this was so disputable that it wasn’t even included in the final documents. Yet, despite these obvious facts, people today still claim that the Germans were responsible for the Katyn Massacre.

[Below: Mass grave in the Katyn Forest]

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The Winter War

A direct result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which the Soviets “got” Finland. This resulted in a 3 ½ month war between Russia and a not-so-happy Finland.

After the fall of Poland in September, “Russia sought to extend its influence over the Baltic” (Source). Then, on October 5th, “Russia invited Finnish representatives to Moscow to discuss political discussions” (Source). On the 12th, JK Paasikivi went to meet Stalin and Molotov to “discuss” the Finnish boarder.

“Stalin wanted Finnish islands in the Gulf of Finland, including Suursaari Island, handed over to Russia; he wanted to lease Hanko as a military base and to establish a garrison of 5,000 men there and he demanded more Finnish land on the Russian border to be ceded to Russia. In return, Stalin offered Finland land in Soviet Karelia and the right for Finland to fortify the Aaland Islands. Stalin couched all his land requirements in terms of defending parts of Russia, be it Leningrad or Murmansk, from attack” (Source).

Paasikivi took these terms back to his people, but after many decades of tensions between the two countries, Finland was not eager to once again be part of the Russian Empire. At the same time, Stalin didn’t exactly trust Finland, either. He was afraid that they might be all-too eager to allow their “land to be used as a base by invading forces for an attack on Russia” (Source). And who could blame them?

Predictably, the Finnish did turn down Stalin. However, there were two men who thought that giving Russia some of their Gulf Islands as a way to “pay off” Russia in the event of the inevitable war – their fear that they’d have to fight Russia on their own.

And they did.

Because, inevitably, Germany forces “urged” Finland to give the land.

Problematically, Finland could only muster a small army, despite its peacetime conscripts and their small reserves. But this did little to boost their professional army, and they were no match for the Red Army.

Not only could they not match the Red Army in its numbers, but the Finnish Army was also woefully lacking in the important necessities such as equipment, uniforms, and artillery. For example, they only owned 112 anti-tank guns. Additionally, they had no convenient ways of producing more. 

Likewise, the Navy was minuscule with only some 100 planes, most of which were not even flyable. And neither branch had much experience in large-scale maneuvers. 

The only area that they could possibly beat the Red Army was in the knowledge of their own land. “Finnish troops were trained to use their own terrain to their advantage” (Source). This included everything from the forests to the snow-covered territories.

[Below: Russian T-26 light tanks and T-20 Komsomolets armored tractors advancing into Finland]

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On the other side, predictably, the Red Army was more than prepared for battle. Even with the large numbers in Poland, Stalin was still able to send 45 divisions to Finland! With each division containing 18,000 men, the roughly 810,000 sent equalled “nearly 25% of the whole of Finland’s population” (Source). In fact, Russians were able to supply 1,200,000 men, 1500 tanks, and 3000 planes.

Outside of terrain, the Red Army had only one other major weakness: A chair of command so complex that it brought many delays in decision making.

Truthfully, though they had more men and more supplies, the Red Army was not actually prepared for the particularly severe winter in which the Winter War took place. Additionally, most of the 600 miles of boarders were impassable, giving Finland a pretty good idea of the route the Soviets would take.

“Led by Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, they hunkered down behind a network of trenches, concrete bunkers and field fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus and beat back repeated Soviet tank assaults. Elsewhere on the frontier, Finnish ski troops used the rugged landscape to conduct hit-and-run attacks on isolated Soviet units. Their guerilla tactics were only aided by the freezing Finnish winter, which bogged the Soviets down and made their soldiers easy to spot against snowy terrain” (Source).

Unfortunately, though, in February 1940, the Soviets were able to come through with “massive artillery bombardments to breach the Mannerheim Line” (Source). This allowed them to march northward to Viipuri.

The Finnish “troops were ultimately no match for the sheer immensity for the Red Army” (Source). The Finnish, backing aid from Britain and France, were exhausted and lacking ammunition.

On March 12, 1940, the Finnish agreed to the treaty – The Treaty of Moscow. With it meant ceding 11% of their territory to the Soviets.

And later, as Stalin had predicted, in June 1941, the Finnish allowed “German troops to transit through the country after the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union,” undertaking the War of the Continuation (Source).

[Below: Finnish soldiers and reindeer]

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Polish Resistance

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Summary: Irena Gut is a normal Polish girl in 1939. She loves her family and four sisters. And she’s pretty sure she wants to be a sister – or maybe a nurse. In fact, she’s studying to be a nurse when the Nazi bombing of Poland begins. She barely escapes with her life. But, in fact, the next 6 years of her young life, are a constant of trying to avoid brutality from both the Germans and the Russians. After being brutally abused by the Soviets, she’s locked in a Soviet hospital as a prisoner. With the help a friendly Polish doctor, she manages to escape and hide out with his aunt. Eventually, she receives the blesséd news that the Soviets are kindly letting those Polish who were separated from their families when the country was divided to be reunited. But it seems to Irena that this is just another scheme to capture and torture her again. But she manages to escape their clutches once again, only to land in the hands of the Germans. Her time working for Nazis doesn’t seem quite as bad. She works for a rather friendly German cook and, it’s during this time, that she starts hiding away Jews from the nearby ghetto. When the Nazi, Major Rügemer, asks her to keep house for him, she finds the blessing of a basement with hidden rooms. Rügemer has just provided her with the perfect place to hide away Jews. And right under the Nazis’s noses. Of course, this is hardly the end of Irena’s problems. She finds herself again and again fighting for her life and for the lives of the Jews she has promised to protect. But, she has decided, she has been called on by God to protect these people and to fight both the Germans and the Soviets for the sake of her beloved Poland.

As of September 1939, the Poles may have been occupied by two different countries, but they were not about to lay back and take it. No, like so many other countries after them, the Poles would fight back. In fact, they “organized one of the largest underground movements in Europe with more than 300 widely supported political and military groups and subgroups” (Source). In fact, Polish armies would, at the end of the war, play a large part in their own liberation – at least, from Germany. Many Poles fought alongside the Allies, never giving in to occupation, but always fighting for their own freedom.

By the spring of 1940, while the Poles had been defeated not once, but twice, they were already busy fighting for other occupied countries. That spring, some 80,000 soldiers and officers were in Norway, battling it out at Narvik. Following that, they aided the French in the Battle of France. Of course, since many Poles had found liberation in France following their own occupation, they were once again forced in flee. This time, to Britain.

Also in 1940, they set up a government-in-exile in London. From here, the I Polish Corps, the Polish Armed Forces fought alongside the Allies in France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany, and even Poland! See, the Polish Armed Forces trained a very special unit, known as the 316 Clandestine Unite, to be dropped back into occupied Poland.

Back home in Poland, those who remained set up a special secret state. The Government Delegation for Poland, was an underground, civilian structure made up of 15 departments:

• Domestic Affairs: Oversaw provincial & regional delegates & prepared the structure of future territorial administration.

• Press & Information: Office of Information & Propoganda – published books and other press.

• Labor & Social Welfare: Cared for political prisoners, unemployed scholars and artists, as well as Jews.

• The Department of Education & Culture: Formed a secret system of education. It saw some 100,000 students by 1944. They were also tasked with rescuing artifacts from the hands of the Nazis.

• The Civilian Resistance Office: Secret Courts & monitoring public opinion (Source).

[Below: Polish Resistance]

Image result for warsaw uprising

They also played an important role in intelligence. Without this aspect, it would have been impossible for the Polish to keep in touch with the Allies in Britain and later in the Soviet Union and America. In fact, Britain was inundated with repots from the Poles, receiving as many as 10,000 messages in 1943 alone. The number may seem dauntless, but it was the only way for the intelligence units in Britain to keep track of events in Poland.

On top of this, they formed an underground army known as the Union of Armed Struggle (ZWZ) and later changed to the Home Army (AK). The main purpose of the underground army was, essentially, an uprising. But, however, because the Government-in-Exile was very much against anything overly aggressive, the army was pretty much reduced to propaganda efforts, diversion actions, sabotage operations, counter intelligence, protecting their people, as well as carrying out death sentences. In a mere four years, they carried out some 730,000 different operations. The Poles successfully destroyed “1,935 railway engines, derailed 90 trained, blew up three bridges, and set fire to 237 transport lorries” (Source). All of that from June to December 1941. Unfortunately, German response to these acts of sabotage was excessively severe. It was so extreme, that all Polish resistance was put on hold for a mere 10 months. It was not much better on the Soviet side. In fact, Germans found 4,500 Polish officers in Katyn Forest. It was proven that Stalin was behind the murders. More on that later.

They even set up underground courts, “trying collaborators and others and clandestine schools in response to the Germans’ closing of many educational institutions” (Source). In response, universities across Poland – such as in Cracow, Warsaw, and Lvov – all operated clandestinely, as well.

Part of the underground movement was a man named Jan Karski. Graduating with law and diplomatic studies at the Jan Kazimierz University in 1935, he was working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1939 when Poland was occupied. From the beginning, he took part in the underground army. He served “as both an emissary for ZWZ to Great Britain and the United States, as well as author of reports about the condition of Europe’s Jews” (Source). Then, in the fall of 1942, he was given an enormous assignment by the Government’s Delegate Cyryla Ratajskiego. Karski, was assigned to inform the Allied armies about the mass extermination of the Jews and to demand an intervention. Following this, in July of 1943, he even met with President Roosevelt. But it was until 1944 and the publication of his The Story of a Secret State, that the Jewish plight in Poland became a widely known fact.

Speaking of the Jewish plight in Poland, even the Jews and Poles living in the concentration camps were performing their own acts of underground sabotage. Even here, they did not go down without a fight. In fact, some even managed to escape into the woods, where they created their own partisan units. Within the ghettos, they forced organized networks, “including the Jewish Military Union and the Jewish Fighting Organization” (Source). The most famous act of resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which took place from April 19-May 15, 1943 – an awful long time for a ghetto resistance movement. Here, they forced the Germans to retreat. Following this, forms of resistance broke out in other camps. For example, on August 28, 1943, some 350 prisoners escaped Treblinka. A similar attempt was made at Sobibor Camp on October 14, 1943. Additionally, on October 7th, the crematorium workers at Auschwitz managed a major rebellion. 

[Below: Training course at Audley End in Essex]

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Poland in WWII

Not sure how I missed such an important entry, but here it is now. As we know, after the Jews, the Polish probably received the worst Nazi brutality – and let’s not forget that for nearly two years, they were also occupied by the Soviets . . . and then again by the Soviets after the war. But more on that later.

You know what the amazing this is, though? Despite this, despite all of this, Poland never was willing to capitulate.

Background:

To fully understand Poland during WWII, we need to understand Poland between the two wars. First off, there was the issue of the Treaty of Versailles Marshal Ferdinand Foch (we remember him from WWI) felt very troubled by the treaty. He assumed – correctly – that it would be “An armistice for 20 years” (Source). He couldn’t have been any more correct. Well, except that it was 21 years.

Their second problem was location. They laid between their two biggest enemies. Yup, Germany and Soviet Union. To solve their problem, they signed not one, but two nonaggression pacts. In 1932 with the Soviet Union and in 1934 with Germany. But they most have known that pacts were meaningless. Of course, what followed a mere 5 years later was the German-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, during which time Europe (and Poland, in particular) was divided between the two world-dominating dictators.

See, after the invasion many Polish were able to flee, many of them to France. “The Polish forces fought with the French against the Germans, and then when France surrendered, scrambled to escape yet again, this time to Britain” (Source). While in Britain, many continued to fight with the Allies. In fact, the Polish fighter pilots “were instrumental in helping to save Britain during the most desperate hours of the Battle of Britain in the summer and fall of 1940, and the Polish tank divisions at Normandy that won the hard-fought Battles of Falaise” (Source). Despite occupation, the Polish were instrumental to Allied victory.

After the defeat of France, the Polish did attempt fleeing to Britain, but not everyone escaped. In fact it is estimated that only about 18,000 were able. The rest were either “imprisoned, interned, or demobilized,” which was similar to what those left in Poland were facing (Source).

But, of course, those left in Poland received the worse of it. After all, Poland was the ‘experimental state’ – the state where the Nazis would practice displacing and exterminating the Jewish population. It was in Poland that the practice of sending Jews to ghettos started (remember that concentration camps, or ghettos, had been around since 1933, but were not yet for Jews). Some 145,000 Jews perished between Warsaw and Łódź, though there were as many as 2,000 different camps throughout Poland. The Final Solution itself began in Poland (Operation Reinhard was specific to Jewish Poles). “Already in December 1941 . . . Germans initiated the killing through the use of fumes from truck exhausts” (Source).

Here’s the thing, though, Hitler had similar plans for those of Polish decent. “I have sent my Death’s Head units to the east with the order to kill without mercy men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only in such a way shall we win the Lebensraum that we need” (Source). The Polish, he had declared, were an inferior race.

There were any number of reasons that a person could be sent to a prison camp: being part of the resistance; aiding Jews or POWs; dealing on the black market; avoiding work; tardiness; not supplying the Nazis with their ‘share’ of the quota; or, quite simply, the sin of being born Jewish or Polish.

So, one might think that being victims themselves, that the Polish would see no reason to aid those even more unfortunate than themselves. And, in some cases, this was very true – even in the Soviet occupied territories. But, to the credit of the Polish nation, it was not always the case. In fact, there were “several hundred thousand Poles involved in aiding Polish Jews. There are 700 documented instances of Poles paying the highest price for aiding Jews” (Source). While there were some that were blackmailing Jews, denouncing Jews, or reporting Poles who hid Jews, there were those – namely involved with the Polish Government in Exile – who handed out death sentences to Poles who blackmailed Jews.

[Below: German occupation of Poland]

Image result for lodz ghetto

 

And all while fearing that one might slip up and end up in a ghetto, Polish daily lives under the occupation of two dictators were filled with the same rules and regulations of any other occupied country at the time. The Polish, Germany had decided, were really not good for anything but forced labor. Ahem, forced labor and a source of food.

It was quite simple, really. For the Polish to work for their occupiers. Then, to ensure that all the food would go to their occupiers, the Poles were starved. “For example, in 1941, the daily wage of a laborer in Warsaw allowed for the purchase of 40 decagrams of bread on the black market” (Source). Now, using the black market was illegal and punishable by, well, by being sent to a concentration camp. But since the Germans (and the Soviets) were taking all their food and they weren’t exactly being paid for their work, the Polish didn’t have much of a choice. Well, except to rob the German factories were they were employed or start their own illegal businesses. Both of which they did.

There were some 400,000 POWS captured during the September Campaign of 1939. They were made into “laborers.” Throughout the entire war, some 2.8-3 million Poles served as forced laborers. Often, these laborers lived on the territory of the factory – and even those in the camps were usually sent into town to work in the local factory. Essentially, there wasn’t much of a difference between the two. Both groups were starving and both lived in squalor. To make their lives even more abysmal, these were the same factories that the Allies were busy bombing. So, if you weren’t killed by the hands of the Germans, you risked the chance of being killed by the Allies.

In the country, life as a forced laborer wasn’t much better. Out here, many of them worked as farm hands. But it was pretty much luck of the draw. If you were lucky, the family you were working for might treat you like a member of the family. But more likely than not, you were treated as subhuman.

But that bears the question of Soviet-Polish relations during this occupation. And that’s not often discussed. In June of 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, which meant that the Polish now only had one enemy, not two. That the Soviets were now a Polish “ally.” But on July 30, 1941, Winston Churchill forced General Wladylsaw Sikorski to sign the Sikorski-Maisky Pact. This pact “enabled the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the establishment of a Polish Army in the USSR” (Source). It did not deal, however, with Poland’s Eastern border. Nor did it deal with the several thousand missing Polish officers, all of whom were interned by the Soviet Union. Why was this? Probably because the NKVD had murdered all of these officers back in 1940.

During the remaining years of the war, though, Stalin was quietly planning his, well, re-occupation of Poland. And the Poles were beginning to suspect what was the in the works. More about that will be discussed as we come to posts about 1945, but it is important to keep Soviet offenses in mind.

Between the two occupiers, Poland lost as much as 40% of all intellectuals – some of them even operated on, such as the women at Ravensbrück. Hitler could control Germany through forced labor and the fear of concentration camps, but that was made even easier if he got rid of all the elites: intellectuals, priests and other religious leaders, political and social workers, officers, policemen, entrepreneurs, civil servants, landowners, and others. Besides, now that Germany owned Poland, Nazi officers would take the place of these Polish officials. On November 6, 1939, “183 professors of Jagiellonian University and AGH University of Science and Technology arrested and sent to their death in Sachsenhausen” (Source). Between May and June of 1940, another 3,500 Polish elites were arrested and murdered. Still more were sent to Auschwitz. And, of course, it grew even worse under Soviet occupation.

Those who managed to avoid arrest lost all means of employment, meaning that in many cases, they were supported by the underground. Those living in the Soviet sector prior to 1941, faced the horror of deportation – being forced from one’s home with no place to go – instead. “By the Spring of 1941, at least 840,000 people were brutally uprooted from their homes and stripped of all their possessions” (Source). During the journeys, the Soviets treated the deportees inhumanely and harshly. As a result, many did not survive.

After Germany defeated the Soviet Union, Germany planned to resettle still more Poles. In fact, between November 1942 and August 1943, 300 Polish villages with some 110,000 Poles were displaced. Still more were displaced after the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 when the land shifted and it was no longer considered Polish territory. 

[Below: Churchill reviewing the Polish troops]

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Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was built in July 0f 1936 by prisoners from other camps in Oranienburg, Germany. Eventually, 44 other subcamps to Sachsenhausen were built. It housed its first prisoners in September 1938 under the commanding of Hermann Baranowski, Hans Loritz, Walter Eisfeld, and Anton Kaindl.

At first, the main prisoners at Sachsenhausen were German Communists, social democrats, and Jews, as well as some asocials, numbering some 5,000 in total. Later Soviet POWs were also sent to the camp. Two months after Sachsenhausen was opened, Kristallnacht shook the streets of Germany. Afterwards, some 1,800 more Jews were rounded up and sent to the camp. A mere year later, the prisoner count had climbed to 11,300. “Hundreds of prisoners died as the result of a typhus epidemic and the refusal of medical aid to the sick. The corpses were initially taken to the crematorium in Berlin; it was in April 1940 that a crematorium was set up in the camp itself. Executions were a daily occurrence. . . . In autumn 1941, the effects of the gas wagons were tested on the prisoners in Sachsenhausen ahead of it’s planned use in the east” (Source). In 1939 alone, more than 800 prisoners died due to lack of medical care. The number, however, jumped significantly in 1940, to a whopping 4,000 deaths.

Like other concentration camps across Europe during WWII, the punishments were harsh, to say the least. These included daily executions, the “Sachsenhausen Salute” – in which prisoners were forced to squat while holding their hands outstretched in front of them – as well as the unusual punishment of walking around the perimeter of the camp, essentially wearing in military footwear. Some were punished by being sent to the Punishment Company, where they were killed through torture, beatings, and starvation. Worse yet, “Some would be suspended from posts by their wrists tied behind their backs. In cases such as attempted escape, there would [be] a public hanging in front of the assembled prisoners” (Source).

While the SS guards lived and used several brick buildings, the inmates themselves, of course, lived in overcrowded wooden barracks. These were just beyond the roll call area. “The layout was intended to allow the machine gun post in the entrance gate to dominate the camp but in practice it was necessary to add additional watchtowers to the perimeter” (Source).

Image result for sachsenhausen concentration camp

The standard barrack layout was two accommodation areas linked by common washing and storage areas. Heating was minimal” (Source). There was also in infirmary, a camp kitchen, as well as a kitchen laundry. Just outside the perimeter of the camp was an industrial yard containing SS workshops. Prisoners were forced to work here. In fact, the Heinkel He 177 bomber was made at Sachsenhausen. Between 6,000 and 8,000 prisoners were forced to labor on the He 177 during the workshop’s operation.

Then, on January 31, 1942, the SS demanded that prisoners would build “Station Z.” The sole purpose of “Station Z” was extermination. Following this, the SS of Sachsenhausen invited high ranking Nazi officers to watch the inauguration of their new installation. On May 29, the SS tried out “Station Z” with the execution of 96 Jews. The following March, a gas chamber was added.

As the Allied advance began in 1944 & 45, the numbers in Sachsenhausen grew exponentially. This continued until April 20th & 21st, when, as the Red Army drew in, the SS began the Death March. “They were divided in groups of 400. The SS intended to embark them on ships then sink those ships” (Source). However, so many of the prisoners were already too weak to walk. Thus, thousands were shot.

Sachsenhausen was liberated by the Red Army on April 22nd.  At that time some 3,000 prisoners were still interned. Overall, it is estimated that some 200,000 prisoners passed through Sachsenhausen, some 30,000-35,000 perishing.

However, what isn’t often discussed is that the Soviets kept it as a concentration camp. Soviet Special Camp No. 7 moved into Sachsenhausen. Here, many German prisoners were kept as well as “political prisoners and inmates sentenced by the Soviet Military Tribunal” (Source). These included anti-Communists and others opposed to the Soviets. The Soviets kept the camp open for another five years, during which time some 60,000 more people were interned. Some 12,000 had died of malnutrition and disease.

In 1956, the East German government decided to make the former camp and national memorial. It was inaugurated on April 22, 1961. Then in 1990, mass graves from the Soviet camp were discovered. Today there is a museum to document the camp’s time as Sachsenhausen and a museum documenting it’s time as a Soviet camp.

Image result for sachsenhausen concentration camp

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The 1st Assassination Attempt on Hitler

 

On the 16th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsh, Hitler made a special speech to the Old Guard Party members. Twelve minutes after his departure, a bomb went off – the first assassination attempt on Hitler had taken place (if you’ll remember, exactly one year earlier, party member Ernst von Rath died after being shot by a revenge-seeking Jew).

The next day, the Voelkischer Beobachter (Nazi newspaper) “squarely placed the blame on British secret agents, even implicating Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain himself” (Source). Whether or not even the Nazi’s believed this wasn’t as important as what they hoped to accomplish: Stirring up hatred for the British while whipping up a German frenzy for war.

At the same time, Gestapo Chief, Heinrich Himmler, sent a fake “Major Schaemmel” to meet with British intelligence agents to find out what they knew about the German anti-Nazi movement. He accomplished this by pretending to seek British aid in case the anti-Nazi movement ever chose to rise up and take action.

But, this wasn’t enough for Himmler. “He wanted the British agents themselves” (Source). So, on November 9, SS soldiers kidnapped Payne Best and R.H. Stevens in Holland. They were stuffed into a Buick and driven over the boarder into Germany.  

[Below: Newspaper headline of the event]

Image result for hitler escapes explosion in beer cellar

 

Another Version of the Story:

Actually, the plan to assassinate Hitler went back to early 1938. See, carpenter Georg Elser (a communist) decided that by killing the leader of the National Socialist party, he could help prevent the impeding war and the inevitable financial downfall (Remember that Germany had faced an even more severe depression than America, thanks to their war reparations from WWI).

Elser planned his attack out well. During the summer of 1939, “Elser gained access to the venue and found that the hall was not guarded” (Source).  So, he started “constructing a detonator mechanism and obtaining explosives” (Source). The bomb contained a 144-hour timer so that it would go off at 9:20 pm, right in the middle of Hitler’s speech. Bomb complete, Elser moved to Munich and got to work preparing the Beer Hall for his attack. Sneaking into the Hall, he began hollowing “out a cavity in a stone pillar behind the speaker’s podium” (Source).

Despite planning “his bombing to perfection … luck was not on his side” (Source). In more than one way, Elser did not have time on his side. First, by this time, WWII had already started. Second, Hitler moved his speech from 9 up to 8. By 9:12, Hitler had already wrapped up his speech and left the building. Eight minutes later, the bomb went off, “leveling and pillar and sending a section of the roof crashing down on the speaker’s podium” (Source). Unfortunately, while Hitler survived, 7 others were killed and 63 injured.

Elser was later captured while attempting to cross the Swiss boarder. After facing several days of interrogations, he confessed to the crime. “While it seems certain that Elser did plant the bomb, who the instigators were—German military or British intelligence—remains unclear. All three ‘official’ conspirators spent the war in Sachsenhausen concentration camp” (Source). On April 16, 1945, Elser was dragged from his cell and executed by the SS. (Though, another source claims he was in Dachau and executed on April 9. Not sure which is true). 

 [Below: Beer cellar after bomb]

 

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The Battle of the Atlantic: An Overview

 

The first battle of WWII took place as early as the day after Britain declared war on Germany. The Battle of the Atlantic, or the “contest between the Western Allies and the Axis powers (mainly Germany) for control of Atlantic sea routes” (Source). (Remember, the Soviet Union in the East was still an ally of Hitler).

This battle lasted the length of WWII.

For the Allies (namely Britain), the battle had three main objectives: 

  • Blockade the Axis
  • Secure Allied sea movements
  • Protect military power across the sea

The Axis’s objective was much more simple: Frustrate the Allies

The first phase lasted from September 4, 1939 through June of 1940. Here, they established their German blockade, while Germans worked hard to inflict any amount of damage they could. At this point in the war, not much was happening.

However, all this changed with the fall of France to Germany as well as Italy joining forces in the Atlantic with Germany. Thanks to the losses incurred during the evacuation of Dunkirk, Britain could definitely have used France’s support. But instead lost it.

As a result, their route through the Mediterranean Sea to the Suez Canal was barred, forcing Britain to use the alternate route through the Cape of Good Hope, cutting the “total cargo-carrying capacity of the British merchant marine almost in half” (Source). Then, that fall, Germany started their U-boat attacks which, while successful, did not result in Britain’s surrender. 

At this point, the U.S., while still not in the war, came to their aide. Through the Destroyers for Bases deal, Roosevelt gave Britain over 50 destroyers, helping combat their previous naval losses. 

In addition to this support, “the United States also began neutrality patrols, ostensibly to protect neutral shipping rights in the western Atlantic but also to give American naval commanders vital experience should the United States enter the war. The United States also agreed to build escort vessels for the British under the Lend Lease Program. It was this program, combined with America’s experimentation with the World War I Eagle Boats, which ultimately led to the development of the destroyer escort” (Source).

[Below: U-boat attack]

 

In May 1941, “German surface attacks on Allied trade routes collapsed with the loss of the battleship Bismarck” (Source). Meanwhile, U.S. naval forces took on a bigger role that autumn (now mere months before Pearl Harbor), fighting U-boat battles off Iceland and Greenland. Unfortunately, with America’s entry into the war, Germany only found more venues for U-boat attacks – in the Pacific theater. And, they were largely successful, spiking between January and June of 1942. “In the first months of 1942 alone, German submarines sank hundreds of Allied ships, mostly along the eastern United States” (Source).

That fall, however, U-boats were forced back. The next six months saw a climax in the Battle of the Atlantic. By March 1943, though, the crisis peaked again, when the “Ultra program suffered a lapse in intercepting  and decrypting German communications for mid-ocean U-boats” (Source).

During this time, Germany saw their last (though maybe greatest) major success: they successfully sighted every Allied convoy, attacking over half. But “improving spring weather by April, modern radar equipment, repenetration of the U-boat codes, new escort aircraft carriers, very-long-range patrol aircraft, and aggressive tactics had resulted in a major defeat of Germany’s submarine fleet by May” (Source).

Germany attempted a renewed assault that autumn, but was unsuccessful. U-boats retreated inshore, instead wagging guerrilla warfare against shipping. “Allied victory in the Atlantic in 1943, coupled with the opening of the Mediterranean to through traffic later that year, translated into significant reductions in shipping losses. For the balance of the war, the Allies exercised unchallenged control of the Atlantic sea-lanes” (Source).

[Below: U-boats even attacked U.S. ships carrying much-needed supplies for Britain]

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