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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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Battle of Rotterdam

The battle began on May 10, 1940 and lasted for four days, ending with dreadful bombings. The Nazis chose to take over the Netherlands because they believed that it would be the ideal place for an Air Force base. For one, Rotterdam was a port town. A port town that just happened to be in close proximity to Britain, Hitler’s dream target.

The Dutch, on the other hand, had wanted to remain neutral in this war, much liked they done last time. In large part, the Dutch wanted to remain neutral because they knew that their military just didn’t have what it would take to stand up against the Axis powers. They were woefully lacking in military necessities such as aircraft, vehicles, and . . . oh, troops.

Hitler was sure that he could capture and occupy the Netherlands in just one short day of battle. Little did he know that the Dutch would put up such a big fight.

Now, while the Dutch didn’t necessarily have the number of troops needed to take part in a world war, they also weren’t necessarily lacking in troops. In fact, in the Rotterdam neighborhood of Hillegersberg was an artillery battalion with some 7,000 men. In nearby areas they had machine guns, cannons, and even the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Their biggest problem was simply that they just weren’t equipped enough to fight against the Nazis, who’d been preparing for battle for years.

Whether Hitler was aware of the seize of the Netherland’s military or not, his initial plan was for his own task force to attack Rotterdam and seize its bridges, all using the advantage of surprise. This plan was scrapped, however, and in its place was born the idea to use Heinkel He 59D’s. Much easier to surprise the Dutch with parachutists. They could easily capture the bridges, especially with even more men in the air for cover.

So, early May 10th, 80 Nazi soldiers landed. They easily captured several bridges. So far, there was no resistance. Everything was going as planned.

What they didn’t realize was that the Dutch troops were hiding in houses along the various routes to the bridges. They ambushed the approaching Germans. Meanwhile, another group of Dutch were waiting in the square. Turns out, they had been alerted to the German arrival by the sound of their plans. Yes, this was the same problem the Germans ran into over in the Hague . . . on the same exact morning.

Even though the garrison was run by a lonely captain, he quickly assembled his men and sent them out around town to places such as bridges, railway stations, and along the Nieuwe Maas.

Meanwhile, “a small delegation of Dutch Marines and an incomplete army engineers company” took positions north of the bridges and began deploying machine guns (Source). They were able to push the Germans back into a small perimeter by a mere traffic bridge – which probably isn’t exactly what the Germans had in mind when the planned to “take” Dutch bridges.

The Dutch continued to push and, gradually, the German pocket grew smaller and smaller. Later in the morning, they were gratefully aided by the Dutch Navy – however small their contingent may have been with only a small gunboat and a motor torpedo boat. Unfortunately, Luftwaffe bombs caused serious damages to the two boats, causing 3 deaths.

It was difficult, but the Dutch were able to hold out until that afternoon. It was then that German help in the form of the 10th Company of the 16th Air Landing Regiment.

But the Dutch continued to push the Germans back until the Germans withdrew into a National Life Insurance Company building. Turned out, this was better for the Germans than the Dutch. For one, the Germans had been reinforced with more anti-tanks guns. Furthermore, their location inside the building proved to hamper the Dutch.

[Below: Destroyed Rotterdam]

Museum JoCas onderwijs geschiedenis erfgoed uitvindingen ...

 

The next morning, the Dutch actually received reinforcements. After reorganizing them, Colonel Scharroo deployed them along the river. Then, at 4:00, the fighting continued. That being said, the Dutch still failed to infiltrate the National Life Insurance building. But, at the same time, the Nazis had failed to replenish their weapons. But, then the Royal Netherlands Air Force stepped in, bombing bridges. They missed their intended targets, but somehow managed to take out several machine gun nests, instead. Which was responded to by Messerschmitt Bf 110s. In all, five German plans were lost and 3 Dutch ones. But of course, the Germans had many more planes to spare than the Dutch did. At the same time, the SS Statendam was bombed, catching fire.

On the 13th, the Marines came to lend aid. Unfortunately, as they advanced, they came under German attack. Germans also attacked the two Dutch armored cars trying to cross the bridge. They were forced to retreat without firing on the insurance building. But then the Marines, previously unaware that the Nazis had overtaken the insurance building, came under German even more fire. The Marines returned fire, but after several casualties, were forced to retreat. They found shelter under the bridge. They were fired on again and had to retreat even further.

“After the war, the German occupants of the insurance building admitted that they had been on the verge of surrender. They were very short on ammunition, half of them had been wounded, and they had reached the point of utter exhaustion. But just when they were about to yield, the marines disappeared” (Source).

It had become clear that everything rested on the defense of Rotterdam’s two bridges. So, they put seven infantry companies, 3 anti-tank guns for each bridge. Additionally, three batteries of 105 mm howitzers were placed at Kralingse Plas bridge. In the meantime, three German tanks arrived, starting an all-out tanks assault. They were met by great Dutch opposition.

Then Hermann Göring stepped in. He decided that the best course of action was for an all-out aerial attack. Then, General Georg von Küchler, the Dutch operational area commander-in-chief, sent the Dutch an ultimatum: Unconditional surrender of the city was being demanded.

Finally, on the morning of May 14, the letter was delivered to General Scharroo. The Dutch insisted on a final notice with the German officer’s signature, name, and rank.

It was during this time, that Göring ordered the attack. A group of 27 bombers arrived to the south of the city. Aware of the attack, the Germans raised a red flare. Seeing this, 24 of the bombers turned and headed west. The remaining three dropped their payload.

“About one square mile of the city was completely destroyed. In total, over 25,000 buildings were leveled. Below is the breakdown of the type of buildings destroyed

 24,978 homes

2,320 businesses

24 churches

62 schools

775 warehouses” (Source).

Only a handful of buildings survived. One of these building was the 1898 high-rise, Witte Huis. It did receive some damage; the bullets holes of which can be seen to this day. Rotterdam, itself, was set ablaze. As bombs were dropping, many of the buildings that were struck caught fire. They became uncontrollable. “Over the course of a week, the fires began to join and create one huge inferno. It’s been said that after night, on the first night after the bombings, the sky was red from all the fires” (Source).

With their city on fire, it didn’t take long for the Dutch to surrender. Immediately, Germans took control of the city, ablaze or not. The following day, the British began bombing the Ruhr in retaliation.

It is reported that the Dutch casualty toll was somewhere around 1,000. However, thanks to German occupation, some 85,000 citizens were now homeless.

[Below: Rotterdam burning]

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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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Kristallnacht

 

The Night of Broken Glass or, literally, The Night of Crystal

In short: On November 9-10, 1938, Nazis “torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed close to 100 Jews” (Source). 

 Kristallnacht is probably one of the most-well remembered Nazi anti-Jewish events. To put it simply, it was disgusting. It was simply an excuse to get rid of the Jews and push forward their Nuremberg Laws. Sort of like, oh I don’t know, The Reichstag Fire.

But let’s continue.

Prior to this, while Hitler’s anti-Semitic views had been well-known, they had mostly been nonviolent. And even the camps that had already opened their doors had mostly political prisoners, not Jews. This marked the turning point.

Background:

According to Nazi officials, this outbreak was a “spontaneous outburst of public sentiment in response to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath” (Source). An embassy official who had been stationed in Paris, vom Rath had been shot by a Polish Jew on the night of the 7th. This was in response to the news that thousands of Polish Jews living in German territory were being kicked out of their country. Many of these Jews were “initially denied entry into their native Poland” and Herschel Grynszpan, living illegally in Paris at the time, decided to seek revenge for his parents, who were among the displaced Jewish Poles (Source).

Vom Rath died two days later, on November 9, the 15th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch. Falling on such an important National Socialist date, gave Nazi leaders all the pretext they needed to “launch a night of anti-Semitic excesses” (Source).

[Below: Onlookers at a smashed Jewish shop]

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It’s no surprise that propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, was behind Kristallnacht, encouraging his minions to carry on, so long as their destruction did not appear too coordinated. He told them that Hitler wanted everything to appear spontaneous. Even then, after his speech, he gathered regional Party leaders and issued instructions.

Hours later, Reinhard Heydrich sent out an urgent telegram with his own directives: Only harm Polish Jews and their property. Also, be sure to gather all records from synagogues before vandalizing the synagogues themselves. (After all, the Nazis wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.)

In all, Nazi Party officials, SA, and Hitler Youth rioters destroyed 267 synagogues, many of them burning throughout the night with firefighters only on scene to be sure the fires didn’t spread to other buildings. Additionally, they shattered the windows of some 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, after looting their wares, of course. Even Jewish cemeteries could not escape destruction. In fact, they became quite the target.

In Berlin and Vienna, mobs of SA men mobbed the streets. They beat and humiliated any Jews they came across and attacked Jews in their homes. Although there were no directions given about killing, the SA went ahead a killed approximately 100 Jews. 

In the aftermath, “a high number of rapes and of suicides” were reported (Source). Heydrich instructed that SA and the Gestapo arrest up to 300,000 Jewish males and send them to Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen (or the other opened camps). 

On November 12, the German government immediately pronounced that the Jews themselves were responsible for all the damage. Not only were they fined one billion Reichsmark ($400,000,000 US dollars in ‘38), but they also had their insurance payouts confiscated, meaning they had to pay out of pocket for any repairs and items stolen.

In short, leaders such as Hermann Göring “decided to use the opportunity to introduce measures to eliminate Jews and perceived Jewish influence from the German economic sphere” (Source). This included more laws, like the ones discussed earlier, meant to prevent Jews from associating with Germans and depriving them of making a living or keeping their properties.

[Below: Synagogues burning]

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Up Next: 

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

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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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Hitler’s Violation of the Treaty of Versailles

 

In 1930, Hitler began an era that would break the treaty that had put an end to WWI.

 

Background:

WWI came to an unofficial end on November 11, 1918 with the Armistice – the agreement to lay down weapons and cease fighting. The war officially ended on June 28, 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty was negotiated by the Allied Powers at the Paris Peace Conference. In short, it “required Germany to accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage during the war” (Source). Similar articles were signed by the other members of the Central Powers. This was called the War Guilt Clause.

The Treaty of Versailles, however, required Germany to pay reparations for these damages. And to prevent another similar war, Germany was also forced to disarm and “make substantial territorial concessions” (Source). But, because these provisions were later deemed unsatisfactory, later treaties were signed in an effort to amend these problems.

In September 1924, the Dawes Plan went into effect, providing an end to the Allied occupation in the Ruhr. It also set forth to stagger Germany’s payment plans and, hopefully, to boost their economy. Then, on December 1, 1925, the Locarno Treaty was signed, dividing Europe into two categories: East and West. It was hoped that this would prevent Germany from going to war while also trying to normalize relations with them. The Dawes Plan failed, and so in 1929, the Allies once again set to work, hoping to fix it. In January 1930, the Young Plan was signed, effectively reducing Germany’s payments again.

All of these plans were cancelled by 1932, “and Hitler’s rise to power and subsequent actions rendered moot the remaining terms of the treaty” (Source).

In March of 1935, Hitler announced his new and improved Luftwaffe, but in the name of appeasement, no one reacted. Goaded to push the boundaries even further . . .

[Below: The public announcement of Germany’s Re-Armament.]

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On March 16, 1935, Hitler introduced conscription and began building up Germany’s air force and navy. Of course, by this point, Hitler had long since been ignoring the rules set into place by the Treaty of Versailles.

See, in 1934, he began secretly giving orders to triple the size of their army to 500,000 men and to build bigger and better planes and submarines. At the same time, Göring was beginning to train air force pilots. Furthermore, Hitler began making speeches about a war in Europe, though claiming to be opposed to the idea of war.

Re-Armament:

Hitler’s not-so-secret rearmament did help to pull Germany out of her own depression by way of putting factories back into business. For example, shipyards “created branches that began to design and build aircraft” (Source). Plus, while other countries were practicing appeasement, Germany was busy building and experimenting with new weapons – these “advanced and sometimes revolutionary, technological improvements” left England and other countries even further behind. As Hitler later bragged: “We rearmed to an extent the like of which the world as not yet seen” (Source).

These new weapons would then be tested on Spanish soil during the Spanish Civil War with Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

On of the reasons many other countries stood back and allowed Hitler to rearm Germany was because many saw this as the “potential bulwark against the emergence of the USSR which, under Stalin, had successfully undergone a late military-industrial revolution” (Source). Of course, the two countries would later join hands instead – all while planing to invade one another. (And, can I just point out that pre Operation Barbarossa that Stalin was considered the supreme evil? And then we somehow forgot that? Hmm?)

While France and Britain (and to a greater extent America) did not want to rock the boat with Germany, France did take action by building the Maginot Line between themselves and Germany. At the same time, the Stresa front was “formed between Britain, France, and Italy (Italy had not at this time fully invaded Abyssinia and was not yet a German ally) in April 1935” (Source).

Britain went so far down the appeasement path, that she even made an agreement with Germany under the Anglo-German Agreement, effectively enlarging the number of submarines Germany was allowed to have. England hoped this would ease up the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles “and help assuage Germany’s anger towards Europe and reduce the chances of further conflict” (Source). Of course, though, Hitler would only push the boundaries even further . . .

[Below: Pre-war German re-armament produces the Heinkel He 111.]

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Up Next:

The Nuremberg Laws & Beyond

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The Night of Long Knives

 

June 30-July 2, 1934: Operation Hummingbird: A purge in Nazi Germany, designed to insure and strengthen Hitler’s absolute power over Germany.

 

Background:

By mid-1934, there were over 4,000 Nazi stormtroopers (SA) or “brown shirts” (Gretchen’s brother, Reinhard, in Prisoner of Night and Fog &Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke was a brown shirt).

The SA was a paramilitary branch of the NSDAP and significant to Hitler’s rise to power. “It’s primary purposes were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of opposing parties, fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties, especially the Red Front Fighters League (Rotfrontkämpferbund) of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and intimidating Slavic and Romani people, unionists, and Jews – for instance, during the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses” (Source). However, they predated Hitler’s Nazi party, having originally been used in WWI as specialized assault troops. 

While the SA helped Hitler gain power, once Hitler and his Nazis had said power, it became clear that the SA was becoming “increasingly eager for power itself” (Source). As a way to prevent too much SA power, Hitler reassigned the off-shoot branch, the SS, to Heinrich Himmler. And, as a result, the SS became more and more important to Hitler, slowly replacing the SA as his official bodyguards. He simply came to see them as being “better suited to carry out [his] policies, including those of a criminal nature” (Source).

See, the SA took more seriously the “socialist” part of National Socialism then, perhaps, Hitler wanted them to. They wanted a second revolution, even though other Nazis were completely content with the results of their first.

Meanwhile, they and their leader, Ernst Röhm, were posing a real threat to the regular Army High Command, whom Hitler had promised to restore to “former military glory and break the ‘shackles’ of the Treaty of Versailles, which limited the Army to 100,000 men and prevented modernization” (Source). 

A former street brawler himself, Röhm had been with Hitler from the very beginning, an instrumental part. As a result, Röhm had been given a seat at the National Defence Council, where over time, he became more and more demanding about his say in military matters, much to the annoyance and concern of other members, General Werner von Blomberg (Minister of Defence) and General Walther von Reichenau (Chief of the Reichswehr’s Ministerial Department).

[Below: An SA parade with leader, Ernest Röhm]

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Meanwhile, the SA party members were becoming more disliked throughout Germany because of their “arrogant, gangster-like behavior, such as extorting money from local shop owners, driving around in fancy new cars showing off, often getting drunk, beating up and even murdering innocent civilians” (Source). Many of Hitler’s lieutenants (even Hitler himself) were becoming progressively more worried by Röhm’s “growing power and restlessness” (Source). SS leaders Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, along with Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, and Rudolf Hess began plotting against Röhm. By May 1934, “lists of those to be ‘liquidated’ started to circulate amongst Göring and Himmler’s people, who engaged in a trade, adding enemies of one in exchange for sparing friends of the other” (Source).

Many world leaders tried telling Hitler the importance of taking away power from Röhm and the SA. But he didn’t immediately listen. Eventually, Blomberg had to warn Hitler that if he did not intervene himself, “that Hindenburg was close to declaring martial law and turning the government over to the Reichswehr if Hitler did not take immediate steps against Röhm and his brownshirts” (Source). This pressure gave Hitler no choice but to act. He now intended both “destroying Röhm and settling scores with old enemies” (Source).

In preparation, Himmler and Heydrich concocted evidence suggesting that “Röhm had been paid 12 million Reichsmark by France to overthrow Hitler” (Source). On June 25, the Reichswehr were placed on high alert and the promise of the army’s full cooperation was secured.

On June 30, “Hitler first ordered the arrest of the SA” (Source). That taken care of, a car took Hitler, Hess, and others to an SS-secured resort hotel, where Röhm and the present SA men were arrested and sent to Stadelheim prison (just outside Munich) to be executed.

At 10 am, Hitler called Göring in Berlin, exchanging the code word: Hummingbird. This code word unleashed “a wave of murderous violence in Berlin and twenty other cities” (Source). The SS and Göring’s own personal police took to the streets, executing anyone appearing on the prepared list. Röhm, however, was “given a pistol containing a single bullet to commit suicide” (Source). But Röhm refused, insisting Hitler had to do it. Instead, SS guards, Theodore Eicke (commander of the Totenkopf (Death’s Head) guards at Dachau), entered Röhm’s cell and “shot him point blank” (Source).

The bloody purge lasted until July 2nd, but did not end before Hitler held a tea party for his cabinet members in the garden of the Chancellory as a ploy to ensure citizens that all was going back to normal. When it was all over, deaths totaled, some say, as high as 1,000 or more. Only half of those deaths were actually SA officials.

On July 13, Hitler gave a speech announcing the 74 “justified murders”: “If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this: In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people” (Source).

By he proclaiming himself the supreme judge of Germany, he placed himself above law, making his word law. And, by aiding Hitler in the raid, the German army aligned themselves with Hitler.

[Below: Removal of Murdered SA bodies.]

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Up Next: 

 Hitler’s Violation of the Treaty of Versailles 

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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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