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The Evacuation of Dunkirk

 

“So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence. In that harbour, such a hell on earth as never blazed before, at the end of a lost battle, the rags and blemishes that had hidden the soul of democracy fell away. There, beaten but unconquered, in shining splendour, she faced the enemy, this shining thing in the souls of free men, which Hitler cannot command. It is in the great tradition of democracy. It is a future. It is victory.” New York Times, 1 June 1940

“For us Germans the word “Dunkirchen” will stand for all time for victory in the greatest battle of annihilation in history. But, for the British and French who were there, it will remind them for the rest of their lives of a defeat that was heavier than any army had ever suffered before.” Der Adler, 5 June 1940 (Source)

The Battle of Dunkirk. The Dunkirk Evacuation. Code Name: Operation Dynamo.

After declaring war on Germany, Britain sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to help defend France. The problem, though, was that while France had the Maginot Line between them and Germany, they stupidly believed that the Ardennes forest was “impenetrable.”

So what did Germany do?

On May 10, 1940, the German army attacked Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg. Fighting continued for four days until the Allies were forced to push back when France and Belgium positions failed to hold. 

On May 12, though, Germany entered France through none other than the Ardennes forest.

“The Germans advanced in an arc westward from the Ardennes in Belgium, along France’s Somme River, and to the English Channel, cutting off communication between the Allies’ northern and southern forces” (Source). The Allies were quickly finding themselves surrounded and trapped against the northern coast of France. By the 19th, British commander, General Viscount John Gort, was considering a BEF withdrawal by sea. However, the Allies decided to launch a counterattack on the 21st. By the 24th, German army commander in chief, Walther von Brauchitsh was ready to take Dunkirk. It was actually Hitler who prevented the attack, having been convinced by Hermann Göring that the Luftwaffe “could destroy the Allied forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk” (Source). 

Evacuation Dynamo was initiated on May 26th. They expected to have 48 hours to evacuate what they hoped would be 45,000 troops. However, the following day, King Leopold III of Belgium surrendered to Germany. As a result, Germany “resumed the land attack on Dunkirk” (Source). The break in fighting had allowed Britain to fortify their defenses, but they did not last long under advancing Germans. “As there were not enough ships to transport the huge masses of men stranded at Dunkirk, the British Admiralty called on all British citizens in possession of sea-worthy vessels to lend their ships to the effort. Fishing boats, pleasure yachts, lifeboats, and other civilian ships raced to Dunkirk, braving mines, bombs, and torpedoes” (Source). Some 933 ships took part.

Between the Luftwaffe and the counterattacks (some 3,500 missions) from the RAF, the Dunkirk harbor was beyond use. “Small civilian vessels had to ferry the soldiers from the beaches to the warships waiting at sea. But for nine days, the evacuation continued, a miracle to the Allied commanders who had expected disaster” (Source).

The battle ended on June 4, with the German army closing in. “With Western Europe abandoned by its main defenders, the German army swept through the rest of France, and Paris fell on June 14” (Source). On May 22, the armistice at Compiegne was signed by Henri Petain. “Germany annexed half the country, leaving the other half in the hands of their puppet French rulers” (Source).

“The inability for the German army to move on the survivors of Dunkirk is noted by many historians as one of the most critical mistakes Hitler made, one that that Rundstedt even called ‘one of the great turning points of the war’” (Source).

Casualties & Losses:

British: 198,000 troops were rescued; 68,000 dead, even more ended up MIA or as POWs. French: 140,000 troops were rescued; 290,000 dead. Germans: 27,074 dead; 111,034 wounded. Additionally, Britain lost some six destroyers, five minesweepers, eight transport ships, and a further 200 vessels had been sunk or badly damaged. They also left behind hundreds of thousands of guns, vehicles, and ammunition in what was now German territory.

[Below: Troops awaiting evacuation.]

Нолан, может, и гений, но не в военной драме – мнение - Свежие ...

 

“Soldiers of the West Front! Dunkirk has fallen … with it has ended the greatest battle in world history. Soldiers! My confidence in you knows no bounds. You have not disappointed me” (Source). ~ Hitler, June W5, 1940

Back home, Prime Minister Churchill was equally as pleased with his own troops. Praising and warning his people: “We must be very careful not to assign to this the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations” (Source). 

The bulk of the British army had been rescued. This meant that Britain still had hope. A number of miracles and extraordinary factors helped make it possible. “The decision of Gort (the commander of the BEF) to ignore Churchill and the French commanders and head to the coast, the halt order, the weather, the survival of the Eastern Mole (the pier from which the majority of troops were evacuated), and the incredible determination of the Royal Navy, all combined to save the BEF” (Source).

Had the evacuation been unsuccessful, with a quarter of a million British troops held in captivity, Churchill would not have much other choice but to surrender – and sign Hitler’s peace treaty, as France had done. Had the evacuation been unsuccessful, the German army would have been left with additional provisions on their side, “including the 40 divisions which Britain’s continued hostility required in Africa and on the Atlantic Wall, as well as the 1,882 aircraft, and their experienced pilots and bomber crews, which were lost over Britain in the coming months” (Source).

“Hitler never wished to enter into war with Britain. He admired the country whose Empire he believed powerfully reinforced his ideas of racial domination, commenting that ‘To maintain their Empire they need a strong continental power at their side. Only Germany can be that power.’ After Dunkirk, however, he was stunned to find that his ‘sensible peace arrangements’ were continuously and categorically rejected. Even as late as 6 July, Hitler insisted that the invasion of Britain would only be tried as a last resort ‘if it cannot be made to sue for peace any other way’” (Source).

Dunkirk aroused America’s sentiment and caused them to realize the importance of aiding Britain. “It is a matter of inestimable importance to our own security that we should instantly remove all restrictions on the rendering of realistic, material aid to the Allies,” the Washington Evening Star declared (Source). By mid-June, America shipped roughly half a million rifles to their aid. The American support boosted both countries’ resolved and Churchill promised that “Britain would preserve ‘the whole world, including the United States’ from sinking ‘into the abyss of a new Dark Age’” (Source).

In June of 1940, Britain stood alone against Germany, Italy, & the Soviet Union.

[Below: Operation Dynamo]

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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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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 September Campaign

 

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On September 1, 1939, the Axis Powers launched the September Campaign – their invasion of Poland. Over a million and a half troops, from 3 different sides – Germany from the West, East Prussia from the North, and Slovakia from the South. The size of the attack was never seen before.

Germany, alone, came with 2,600 tanks and 2,000 aircraft. While Poland only had some 180 tanks and 420 aircraft.

The thing is, Poland hand long-known the attack was coming. In fact, with the threat hanging over their heads, Poland signed an agreement with Britain and France – the Agreement of Mutual Assistance, in which both countries agreed to come to Poland’s aid when Germany invaded.

Poland did prepare itself for Hitler’s inevitable invasion by digging trenches, setting up blockades, and arming themselves. However, “Poland’s French and British allies bullied the Poles into delaying mobilization out of fear of ‘provoking’ Hitler. As a result, only part of the Polish army was ready when the attack came” (Source).

But first, some important background:  It may seem like a simple “Hitler invaded Poland,” but as is always the case with Hitler, there is more to the story.

See, in 1934, only a year after Hitler had come to power, he played a similar game with Poland we saw him play with the Soviet Union by signing the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. He proposed a “treaty” with Poland, The German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact, in which “both countries pledged to resolve their problems by bilateral negotiations and to forgo armed conflict for a period of 10 years” (Source). Or make that 4 ½ years.

But again, like with the Soviet Union, Hitler was already, of course, we’re all sure, planning to break the pact.

For example, Hitler had been trying to break the ties between Poland and France. He also tried maneuvering Poland into the Anti-Communist Pact, “forming a cooperative front against the Soviet Union” (Source). Despite his pact with the Soviet Union.

Hitler made Poland great promises if they agreed to cooperate – such as territory in Ukraine and Belarus. However, this agreement would also, technically, make Poland “largely dependent” on Germany. Sounds a bit like a trap.

Additionally, Poland held a piece of land known as the “Polish Corridor” as well as Danzig – land that had became part of Poland after the Treaty of Versailles. Land that Germany desperately wanted back. Land that Hitler saw as the perfect reason for war.

The story, unsurprisingly, continues.

After “several German-staged incidents,” (to be discussed in a later post. Promise.) Hitler attacked, claiming he was doing it in self-defense (Source). There you have it. Hitler used propaganda to “excuse” his absurd desire for war.

[Below: German armies marching  into Poland.]

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At 4:40, the Luftwaffe attacked Wieluń, “destroying 75% of the city and killing close to 1,200 people” (Source). Five minutes later, the German pre-dreadnaught battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on Westerplatte. At 5:00, the German army attacked Mokra. All three assaults (German, Prussian, and Slovakian) converged in Warsaw.

“Warsaw everywhere was burning.  Huge billowing columns of smoke filled the sky with thick massive clouds as red as blood. Railway tracks were so heavily bombed that they became like twisted pretzels. Huge craters where 
bombs had been dropped lined every street in Warsaw, and other cities. Enormous hills of rubble marked areas where buildings used to stand, and protruding from the rubble were scattered the bodies of people who had been crushed beneath the collapsed buildings.  Military posts, as well as residential areas were bombed and strafed.  Defenseless civilians were gunned down as they ran from burning buildings. Peasants were massacred as they worked in the fields in the countryside. Men, women, and children were slaughtered. Churches, schools, hospitals, monuments, museums – all were targets for destruction.  The Polish people, their culture, and the very existence of the Polish nation were targeted by Hitler for annihilation. Warsaw, the Paris of the east was transformed into a wasteland – an open grave” (Source).

It wasn’t until September 3rd that Britain and France declared war on the Axis – thus beginning WWII. However, they failed to provide the support Poland really needed. Prime Minister Chamberlain merely dispatched the RAF to drop leaflets over German armies! Meanwhile, the British Expeditionary Force joined French forces along the Maginot Line. This “farce” became known as the Phoney War because Britain and France mainly kept themselves busy over the next several months with pointless raids into No-Man’s Land and bombings over the Siegfried Line.

The Polish military saw some minor victories, but ultimately, they were pushed back from their own borders towards Warsaw and Lwów.

Thanks to their destroying Polish communications, coupled with the approximately 98 airman who retreated to the then-neutral Romania, the Luftwaffe easily opposed the Polish Air Force.

  • September 9: Warsaw is attacked
  • September 9-19: The Battle of Bzura takes place, the largest battle during the campaign.
  • September 10: Commander-in-Chief Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły orders a general retreat to the southeast. The Germans are “penetrating deeply into Eastern Poland”
  • September 13: Warsaw is under siege. Also, German armies reach Lwów.
  • September 17: The Soviet Union joins forces with Germany – attacking from the east
  • September 24: Warsaw is bombed by 1,150 German aircraft

The Soviet joined the battle at over 800,000 strong, breaking, of course, the Soviet-Polish Non-Aggression Pact. It was at the time that the Soviets attacked that Poland realized their defeat.

“The campaign against Poland was conducted with a cruelty previously unknown in modern European warfare. Polish civilians and prisoners of war were systematically shot by German and Soviet forces. Although the Nazi SS and Einsatzgruppen and the Soviet NKVD committed the worst crimes, regular army and air forces of both totalitarian states were full and willing participants in the slaughter. The German use of Einsatzgruppen or special action units in Poland was a test run. The death and destruction carried out deliberately by the Wehrmacht and the police during the period of military control of the country between September 1 and October 25, 1939 was merciless and systematic” (Source).

From September 17-20, Poland fought the 2nd largest battle, the Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski at Kraków and Lublin. On September 22, Lwów fell to the Soviets, having suffered from German attack just days prior. Warsaw held out until the 28th, falling on the 29th to the Germans.

On October 6th, General Franciszek Kleebergy surrendered near Lublin.

531 towns and villages were burned. “714 executions took place with over 16,000 civilian victims, most of them Christian Poles” (Source).

[Below: Warsaw Burning]

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Up Next: 

Battle of the Atlantic

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Today in History: October 8, 1923 – Beer Hall Putsch

The Beer Hall Putsch is mentioned time and again in the Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke as Gretchen’s father is an added member of the Putsch – he obviously wasn’t there in real life. Which means, of course, that the Beer Hall Putsch was an important event in history. But one not often discussed.

The Putsch was Hitler’s “attempt at seizing control of the German government” (Source). See, Hitler very likely never would have ever gained momentum for his party (much less being elected) had it not been for the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty forced Germany to pay billions of dollars in reparations – money that they would never be able to repay. This left Germany in an even deeper depression than America, which, in turn, made Germany desperate for a way out. So desperate that they more than welcomed Hitler’s ludicrous plans to free them from the bonds of the depression.

The Beer Hall Putsch, then, was essentially Hitler’s coup against the government (yes, for paying war reparations). Hitler’s hope was that this would stretch far, all the way “to the dissatisfied German army, which in turn would bring down the central, democratic government in Berlin” (Source). So, on the evening of the 8th, under Hermann Göring – later head of the Luftwaffe – Bavarian government officials met with local business leaders.

During this meeting, Hitler burst in with his group of Nazi storm troopers (SA), discharged his pistol, and declared that “the national revolution has begun” (Source). The Bavarian leaders, held at gunpoint, reluctantly agreed.

But, then, in the early morning hours of November 9, the leaders repudiated this forced agreement, ordering quick suppression of Nazis. “At dawn, government troops surrounded the main Nazi force occupying the War Ministry building” (Source).

In response, Hitler marched the SA, some 3,000 men, into the center of town.

Here, they came face-to-face with 100 armed policemen. Shots were exchanged, during which time 16 Nazis and three policemen were killed. Hitler himself dislocated his shoulder while Göring escaped with wounds. In Gretchen’s story, her father saves Hitler’s life. That’s all I’ll say on that. Wouldn’t want to give away the plot!

Image result for Beer Hall Putsch

Three days later, Hitler was arrested for treason and was sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison. One might think that would be that. Of course, thanks to history we know it wasn’t. It was while he was imprisoned in Landsberg that he wrote Mein Kampf.

Thanks to pressure from the Nazis (very likely with some forceful persuasion by the SA), the government reduced Hitler’s sentence to a mere nine months. If only they’d forced him to complete the sentence!

In the late 20’s, the Nazis were declared a mass movement, by none other than Hitler, of course. And, as we all know, in 1933 Hitler was nominated Chancellor and a mere two months later was the Reichstag Fire followed by Hitler declaring himself dictator. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, except that exactly 16 years later, on the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, the first assassination attempt on Hitler failed. But more on that in the very near future with a full article.

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Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

 

This topic has, admittedly, been touched on in a post about Operation Barbarossa(or will be, in this case). However, I felt a personal need to go back and learn more. A person need, in fact, that will (hopefully) mean this will be a tad more chronological than they’ve previously been.

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Despite obvious disregard for each other (maybe mostly due to their all-too similar world domination goals), it seemed important to improve relations between Germany and the Soviet Union – especially in the face of war. This seemed necessary, maybe also because of their distrust, Hitler reportedly calling Stalin “the greatest danger for the culture and civilization of mankind which has ever threatened it since the collapse of the . . . ancient world” (Source).

So, to reduce the chances of fighting another two-front war (which we all know he did not avoid), Hitler “begun exploring the possibility of a thaw in relations with Stalin” (Source).

These negotiations began on an economic front, and eventually they were able to reach a truce regarding trade and supplies. Additionally, they spoke of the reasons behind their earlier “foreign policy hostility,” hoping to find “some common ground in the anti-capitalism of both countries” (Source). However, previous relations on the Soviet Union’s part with France and Britain (to be discussed soon!) made this difficult.

On August 22, 1939, while Hitler was working on plans to invade Poland, German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop flew to Moscow to meet with both Stalin and Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov to work out further negotiations. Of their earlier hostilities, von Ribbentrop explained that their Anti-Comintern Pact had, in fact, not been directed at the Soviet Union, but at Britain: It was “aimed at Western democracies” mostly “British financiers and English shopkeepers” (Source).

[Below: Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact]

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With von Ribbentrop came a non-aggressive proposal agreement from Hitler: 100 years of peace between the two countries. Stalin countered that 10 years “would be sufficient” (Source). Hitler added another stipulation, another one that seems odd given the knowledge of his later plans and actions: “Neither country would aid any third party that attacked either signatory.” Lastly, he included “secret protocol” about their plans for (aka influence over) Eastern Europe once Hitler invaded Poland (Source). Stalin could have control over Eastern Poland, as well as the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland. 

In the early hours of August 23rd, von Ribbentrop called to inform Hitler that they’d been successful. Hitler “was ecstatic” (Source). In the later hours of the 23rd, Germany and the Soviet Union would sign the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it’s signers being Molotov and Ribbentrop.

The Pact would be beneficial to both sides. Stalin viewed it “as a way to keep his nation on peaceful terms with Germany, while giving him time to build up the Soviet military” (Source). For Hitler, it would “clear the way for Germany’s attack on Poland” (Source).

On August 25th, the signing of the Pact was publicly announced with great fanfare. Meanwhile, Hitler’s plans of a blitzkrieg on Poland for the same day were foiled by Poland’s pact with Britain and France. Hitler’s plans were not cancelled, though, only postponed.

News was met with shock, largely because of the Britain-French-Soviet relations, but was also met with shock by Germany’s other allies.

[Below: Soviet colonel and German officers discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of Poland.]

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Up Next: 

Dachau Concentration Camp

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Austria in WWII

 

Admittedly, this is a repost. But, when I decided to try reading a book for each occupied country, well, I realized it would give me a chance to attempt revitalizing this particularly short post.

Also, it reminded me that I’d read a book about the Nazi occupation of Austria. I decided to add it to this post instead, since it was a bit . . . lacking.

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Summary: Julie Weiss is a Jew living in Vienna, Austria. Through her diary entries, she tells of the experiences of being one of the few Jews in her class. Her family, like so many other hard-working Jewish families, is well-off, living in a fancy apartment. But once the Nazis occupy her beloved Vienna, the changes are sweeping. Her family endures being kidnapped in the night to remove pro-Austrian signs of sidewalks. And worse. But mercifully, Julie is sent to New York to live with her aunt and uncle. But she most go alone and make a new life for herself.

Unlike the resistance in other countries – such as Norway or the Netherlands– the resistance in Austria was never exactly cohesive. Not many Austrians saw the Nazis as a threat, at least not initially.

In fact, most Austrians jumped on board the anti-Semite bandwagon relatively quickly. “The Nazi anti-Semitic legislation, barring Jews from their professions, from attending government schools and universities, and from marrying Gentiles, were rapidly introduced. There was also considerable anti-Jewish violence as many Austrians reacted strangely enthusiastically to the Nazi takeover and the persecution of the Jews” (218).

The Zionist movement was strong in Vienna under the leadership of activists like Aron Meczer, who ultimately gave his life to help the Jewish youth escape Vienna. Some 44,000 Jews were able to escape Vienna for Palestine, then British-controlled, and “which became the republic of Israel” (221). Unfortunately, though, strong anti-Semitism throughout the world made it difficult for European Jews to find refuge in many other places. Many were still able to find refuge in America, Britain, and Shanghai. Some “32,753 people from Germany had been admitted to the United States by the end of 1938, 80 to 85 percent of whom were Jews” (221). However, the U.S. closed its gates in 1940. Sadly, many Jews never found out what happened to their relatives.

Resistance: 

Because of this strong anti-Semitism, Austrian sabotage mainly consisted of distributing anti-Nazi leaflets . . . to already arrested citizens. Others resisted by refusing a military posting.

Because of the anti-religious and anti-Austrian views the Nazis pressed upon the people of Austria, those to fight back the hardest were the religious organizations. But even here, there were never any large acts that were seen in other countries. Mainly, several members were secretly in contact with the United Sates Military Intelligence Service (MIS).

However small their acts of aggression may have been, saboteurs did not fair any better in Austria than in other countries. Those who were discovered were usually then executed or sent to concentration camps, namely Mauthausen. This first purge occurred in the Spring of 1940, when Gestapo and SS arrested some 100 suspected activists, having them interrogated and tortured.

In another scenario, the Gestapo paid the actor, Otto Hartman, to spy on suspected resistance groups. Through him, in late 1944, they were able to arrest 10 leaders. All of them were sentenced to death.

[Below: Vienna circa 1945]

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Prince Otto von Habsburg:

Most notable for resisting Hitler and his Nazism was the former crown prince of Austria, Otto von Habsburg. Even before the Anschluss, Otto did everything in his limited power to keep the enemies at bay. He was the one urging von Schuschnigg to resist Hitler and not sign a treaty.

As a result, Hitler ordered Rudolph Hess to execute Otto if he were ever found. He wasn’t. However, his cousins, Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg, and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg (sons of Archduke Ferdinand) were not so lucky. Both were sent to Dachau. And upon Nazi arrival, Otto’s “personal property and that of the House Habsburg were confiscated and not given back after the war” (Source).

Otto not only managed to get away, but he also managed to help 50,000 Austrians (including some tens of thousands of Jews) escape. For his own part, Otto escaped to America, where he became an exile, in constant contact with President Roosevelt and the federal government. It was in this position that Otto founded the Austrian Battalion of the U.S. Army, which due to unfortunate setbacks, never, unfortunately, saw battle.

Otto did have more success in other areas. For example, he was able to prevent the bombing of his beloved Austria, until sometime in 1943. He also made sure that the American people would never forget those held in liberation in Austria or in other European countries by starting the Overrun Countries stamp series. And lastly, he sought and earned support from PM Churchill in an effort to make Austria a free and democratic country once again. Unfortunately, Stalin put a kibosh on the last of his galant efforts.

[Below: Otto von Habsburg]

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Up Next: 

Germany Occupies the Sudetenland

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The Anschluss

A little late, admittedly, but I feel like things are (at least starting to get) back on track!!

On March 12, 1938, Hitler announced the Anschluss – or the “union” with Austria, successfully annexing the country. In other words, Hitler made Austria a subordinate addition to Germany.

Since 1919, a union between Germany and Austria had long been a dream of Austrian Social Democrats. It’d also been a major goal of Hitler’s, who was a native Austrian. However, in an ironic twist, such a proposition seemed much less attractive to the Austrians, following Hitler’s rise to all-powerful authoritarian rule in 1933. However, despite the lack of full support within Austrian Social Democrats, “the rise of a pro-Nazi right-wing party within Austria in the mid-1930′s paved the way for Hitler to make his move (Source). 

As with many European countries after WWI, Austria was “weakened by a period of economic stagnation and political strife” (Source). Because of this, as early as a year and a half after Hitler came to power, Nazis attempted to take control of the Austrian government. They only managed to assassinate the chancellor. Kurt von Schuschnigg was named in his place. His reign as chancellor was not necessarily  successful, thanks in part to the Nazis, and made supremely worse by Germany’s pact with Italy (who, up until this time, had been aiding Austria).

Of course, Hitler’s goal all along had been to unite the two countries. But, in order to do so, he had to play his game carefully, since the Treaty of Versailles forbade any such maneuvers. So, he directed his Nazi party leaders in Austria to reek as much havoc as they could: “His Austrian Nazis held parades and marches, set buildings on fire, let off bombs and organized fights” (Source).

It was on February 12, 1938, then, that Austrian Chancellor von Schuschnigg, reluctantly not only agreed to “a greater Nazi presence” in Austria, but also agreed to appoint a Nazi minister of police, and even went so far as to announce “an amnesty for all Nazi prisoners” (Source). 

Like many others before and after him, von Schuschnigg believed that appeasing Hitler would help prevent future invasion. But as seems to always be the case with Hitler, this was only the beginning.

See, shortly after von Schuschnigg made this agreement with Hitler, he attempted to deny any agreement signed at Berchtesgaden, “demanding a plebiscite [vote] on the question” (Source). This failed, and von Schuschnigg was forced to resign.

Von Schuschnigg claimed Austrians wanted a “free, independent, social, Christian united Austria” (Source).

However, even the Austrian President, Wilhelm Miklas, refused to cooperate. Desperate, Hermann Göring was forced to fake a crisis within the Austrian government. 

[Below: Cheering crowds greet the Germans in Vienna.]

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On March 12, “German troops entered Austria, and one day later, Austria was incorporated into Germany” (Source).

The evening of March 12, (after a stop in his birthplace, Braunau), Hitler was “enthusiastically welcomed” at the Linz city hall (Source). Here, he finally named Arthur Seyss-Inquart the governor of Austria, something he had tried and failed to do earlier, thanks to von Schuschnigg and Miklas. 

Surprisingly, the Nazi presence was greeted with “enthusiastic support” and when von Schuschnigg’s earlier-planned plebiscite was carried through in April, the Anschluss was approved. Admittedly, the results were manipulated to give the Anschluss “more than 99%” approval – that, and both Jews and Roma were forbidden to vote (Source).

Immediately, antisemitic actions spread throughout the country, coupled, of course, with political violence. Those who had previously held government positions were arrested, along with anyone who opposed Hitler and his Nazis, as well as Communists and Social Democrats. As always, the Jews took the brunt of the humiliation and violence. Gestapo and Nazi sympathizers “looted Jewish belongings, seized Jewish businesses, and arrested those who refused to surrender their property. Furthermore, anti-Jewish legislation was in place almost immediately, forcing Jews from their positions, and essentially expelling them from the country’s economic, social, and cultural life” (Source). 

On March 13, Hitler announced that Austria was a province of Ostmark. On the 15th, he travelled to Vienna, where he gave a speech declaring that Germany was Austria’s “liberators.”

Even then, he did everything in his power to suppress opposition, and as many as 70,000 people were arrested. At this time, thousands of German troops moved into the now German-controlled Austria. There was no Allied military action to oppose this move. 

This was only the first step to combine all ethnic Germans into one, large German-controlled country. “Having succeeded in gaining Austria, Hitler then used similar tactics to gain the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia that contained over three million Germans” (Source).

[Below: Members of the League of German Girls wave Nazi flags in support of the German annexation of Austria in Vienna, Austria, March 1938]

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Up Next: 

Austria in WWII

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Dachau Concentration Camp

 

“The first concentration camp for political prisoners.” ~ Himmler

 

Dachau Concentration Camp was the first Nazi concentration camp. It opened its gates on March 22, 1933, just two short months after Hitler came to power as German chancellor and just one month after the famous Reichstag Fire. It opened the day before the Enabling Act was passed. Hilmar Wäckerle was the first commandant.

Dachau is located in Southern Germany, just outside of Munich. It was an old, abandoned munitions factory – which was perfect since Nazis loved to disguise their camps to avoid prying from outsiders. Dachau was divided into two sections: The main camp and the crematoria area. The main camp contained 32 barracks, plus one barrack for imprisoned clergymen and another barrack to be used for medical experiments. Also in the main camp was the gatehouse located by the main gates, as well as buildings for the kitchen, laundry, showers, workshops, and bunkers. Executions took place in the courtyard between the kitchen and the bunker. The perimeter of the camp was fortified by an “electric barbed-wire fence,” a water-filled ditch, and seven guard towers (Source). Dachau had its own unique feature: a museum “containing plaster-images of prisoners marked by bodily defects or other strange characteristics” (Source).

Because of the timing, it was easy to see why Dachau’s original prisoners were political prisoners – mostly Communists, Socialist, and Unionists. Throughout its history, Dachau prisoners would also include not only Jews and those who opposed Hitler’s ideologies, but also “members of any group considered by Hitler to be ill-equipped to reside in new Germany” (Source). This included: artists, intellectuals and other independent thinkers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Catholics. Also included were: Gypsies, criminals, the physically and mentally handicapped, and anyone else considered racially or physically impure – including Polish, Soviets, and Austrians. “Between 1941 and 1944, several thousand sick and handicapped Dachau prisoners were sent to a Nazi ‘euthanasia’ center in Hartheim, Austria, where they were put to death by exposure to lethal gas” (Source).

Dachau was mainly used as a camp for political prisoners, and Jews were hardly among the first to be housed there. In fact, “during the early years, relatively few Jews were interned in Dachau, and then usually because they belonged to one of the above groups or had completed prison sentences after being convicted for violating the Nuremberg Laws of 1935” (Source). After Kristallnacht, some 11,000 Jews were imprisoned in Dachau. Most of the Jewish men were released after only a few months and with promises to emigrate from Germany. Then, with the start of WWII in 1939, Dachau’s prisoners were relocated to Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Flossenbuerg so that the camp could be used as a Waffen-SS site. By early 1940, the camp was again being used to hold prisoners.

Dachau was also a forced labor camp, and in 1937, labor was used to destroy the old munitions factory and then rebuild the camp. Work was completed in August 1938 – a little over a year before war broke out. After the camp was rebuilt, forced labor would include building roads, working gravel pits, and draining marshes, as well as being employed in “small handcraft industries established in the camp” (Source). 

[Below: Entrance to Dachau]

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“Detainees were subjected to harsh treatment” (Source). Only three days into its operation, a perfect example of this “harshness” arose. On the 25th, a former schoolteacher by the name of Sebastian Nefzger was beaten to death. While SS administration claimed he had committed suicide, the official autopsy showed that he had actually likely lost his life to asphyxiation or strangulation. “The Munich public prosecutor summarily indicted Wäckerle and his underlings on a murder charge. The prosecutor was immediately overruled by Hitler, who issued an edict stating that Dachau and all other concentration camps were not to be subjected to German law as it applied to German citizens. SS administrators alone would run the camps and hand out punishment as they saw fit” (Source). 

Wäckerle was quickly replaced with a new commandant in June, Theodor Eicke. Immediately, regulations were put in place: All rule-breaking was punishable by beatings, and anyone who attempted to escape or express political views differing from Hitler’s was executed on the spot. This blueprint would serve all future concentration camps.

While thousands of prisoners were executed, thousands more died of overwork, malnutrition, and disease. Then in 1942, construction began on Barrack X – Dachau’s crematorium. Here, four ovens were used to incinerate thousands of corpses. But, while the crematoria did have a gas chamber, “there is no credible evidence that the gas chamber in Barrack X was used to murder human beings. Instead, prisoners underwent ‘selection’; those who were judged too sick or weak to continue working were sent to the Hartheim ‘euthanasia’ killing center near Linz, Austria. Several thousand Dachau prisoners were murdered at Hartheim” (Source). Instead, the SS used the firing range and the gallows.

On top of executions, Dachau prisoners were subjected to brutal medical experiments. While other camps specialized in experiments dealing with bullet wounds, Dachau specialized in learning how to revive “individuals immersed in freezing water” (Source). Thus, prisoners were immersed for hours at a time in tanks filled with ice water. Roughly 400 prisoners underwent this experimentation and between 80-90 died during the process.

Experimentations also included “high-altitude experiments using a decompression chamber, malaria and tuberculosis experiments [Approximately 1,000 victims], hypothermia experiments, and experiments testing new medications. Prisoners were also forced to test methods of making seawater potable and of halting excessive bleeding” (Source). Some 200 inmates were used in the high-altitude experiments; 70-80 of them died.

As Allied forces began to march towards Germany, more and more prisoners arrived from other camps. “Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau” (Source). Typhus became a serious problem.

April 26, 1945: American troops were approaching, yet, some 67,665 prisoners were still living at Dachau and its sub-camps, more than half of them at Dachau main camp – with some 22,100 Jews, another 43,350 political prisoners, and many other groups. On the 26th, 7,000 prisoners were forced on a six-day long march to Tegernsee. Anyone who could not continue was shot, and many more died of cold, hunger, and exhuastion.

On April 29, Dachau was liberated by Lt. Col. Felix L. Sparks, leading the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. At the same time, Brig. Gen. Henning Linden, leading the 222nd Infantry Regiment of the 42nd Infantry Division accepted the formal surrender of Lt. Heinrich Wicker. On their way to the camp, the Allied troops “found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies brought to Dachau, all in an advanced state of decomposition” (Source). On May 2nd, those who were sent on the death march were subsequently liberated.

30 countries were represented at Dachau. Some 206,206 prisoners were registered at Dachau. There were some 31,591 deaths from 1933-1945.

[Below: Prisoners being liberated]

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Up Next: 

The Nuremberg Laws & Beyond

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The Reichstag Fire 

In my previous research, I started with Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman– the Reichstag Fire. So, I decided that would be my first topic here, as well.

Just a quick summary/recommendation first: Gretchen Muller is the darling of the Nazi party, the pet of none other an Adolf Hitler. But thanks to a young Jewish reporter, Gretchen begins to see the truth about her beloved party and the truth about her papa’s death. This information, however, sets her up as a prime target of the SA (of which her brother is apart) and the Nazis. Blankman’s stories are terrifying and mesmerizing, and better yet, thoroughly researched (each book contains a works cited page). She gives readers an inside look at not only the inner workings of the Nazi party, but also explores the psychological state of Hitler and many Nazis/SA members. Book #2 focuses largely on Hitler’s rise to power and the story behind the infamous Reichstag Fire. [summary & picture mine]

The Facts: On February 27, 1933 at 9:45 PM, a half-blind Communist Dutchman named Marinus van der Lubbe set fire to the Reichstag. He was arrested on the scene and confessed. He was tried, and on January 10, 1934, was sent to the guillotine. (Sources: varying, but I used the author’s note at the end of Conspiracy specifically)

Now it gets interesting, though. On January 30, 1933, Hitler was named chancellor of Germany. On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag caught fire. Hitler claimed it was the Communist party trying to overthrow the state (Source). Some sources believed then, and still believe, it was the Nazi’s plan all along so that Hitler could go ahead with his plan and that “Nazi storm troopers under the direction of Göring were also involved in torching the place. They had befriended the arsonist and may have known or even encouraged him to burn the Reichstag that night. The storm troopers, led by SA leader Karl Ernst, used the underground tunnel that connected Göring’s residence with the cellar in the Reichstag. They entered the building, scattered gasoline and incendiaries, then hurried back through the tunnel” (Source). [Below: the Reichstag on fire]

The meeting place of the Bundestag (“Federal Assembly”), the lower house of Germany’s national legislature.

Whether the Nazis were behind the fire or it was, indeed, a lone arsonist, the fact remains the same: This was a pivotal event in Nazi history. After all, “in addition to destroying the physical embodiment of democracy in Germany, the conflagration provided the first step down a path that led to the solidification of Hitler’s dictatorship and to the most devastating war the world has ever known” (Source).

The next day (February 28), “Hitler declared a state of emergency and issued the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State” (Blankman, Conspiracy 31). This decree would suspend all major civil liberties. This included: “Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed” (Source).

Then, on March 9th, Himmler was appointed provisional president of police in Munich. (Source). Immediately thereafter, both the SS and the SA “roared through the streets bursting in on known Communist hangouts and barging into private homes. Thousands of Communists as well as Social Democrats and liberals were taken away into ‘protective custody’ to SA barracks where they were beaten and tortured” (Source). The first concentration camp, Dachau, overseen by Himmler, opened March 22, 1933, with approximately two hundred Communist, Reichsbanner, and Socialist leaders as its first occupants (Blankman, Conspiracy 397-398). In addition, 51 anti-Nazis were murdered (Source).

Hitler, as we well know, did not stop here. Six days after the fire and his Reichstag Fire Decree, was a general election to dissolve the Reichstag. Even with a secret meeting at  Hermann Göring’s residence with 20-25 industrialists, Hitler was unable to gain absolute majority in parliament. However, on March 15, he and his cabinet began to draw up new plans to rid him of this dependency. These plans would ultimately become the Enabling Act. Simply put, the Enabling Act made Hitler dictator over Germany. It also gave him power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The full text to the Enabling Act, as well as Hitler’s speech prior to passing said act, can be found by clicking the underlined Enabling Act above. [Below is Hitler giving his Enabling Act Speech]

Blankman, Anne. Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

Blankman, Anne. Prisoner of Night and Fog. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. Print.

Up Next: 

Dachau Concentration Camp

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