Although Germany had invaded Poland two days earlier, on the 1st, Britain had been hoping to avoid another major war. But, they’d made a promise to Poland, and were obligated to keep it.
Unfortunately for Poland, while Britain and France may have declared war against the Axis powers, they didn’t do much in the way of actually giving Poland the support they needed to fend of the Nazis. Their idea of “helping” was to drop a ton of anti-war pamphlets on the Germans. This, after handing over Czechoslovakia to Nazis. When, oh, that’s right, Hitler promised he’d be content with just that land. Of course, we all knew that wouldn’t last long.
[Below: British newspaper announcing the start of WWII & PM Chamberlain]
Back in America, while we wouldn’t join the war for another two years, President Roosevelt took the opportunity to address the American People via his famous Fireside Chats. Fireside Chats were something that American people looked forward to, gathering around their family radioes to listen to the President speak to them – right in their living rooms! It felt like he was speaking directly to them.
Despite the breakout of war across Europe, Roosevelt proclaimed neutrality. He may have been keeping his boys out of war, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t willing to lend a helping hand. He told the people of his plan to sell arms to Britain and France. He also intended to send them all the supplies and food they needed. Unfortunately, most of everything sent via ship was sunk by U-boats.
Europe was at war, fighting off the vicious foes of Fascism, Naziism (which is Fascism), Socialism, and Communism.
[Below: Roosevelt’s September 3, 1939 Fireside Chat]
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.
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]
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.]
“Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned, too.” ~ Heinrich Heine
On September 15, 1935, during an annual party rally, the Nazis announced the laws that “institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology” (Source). These laws would, essentially, deprive Jews of most political rights. It also set out to define a “Jew”: Someone with three or four Jewish grandparents, regardless of wether they practiced Judaism, Christianity, or no religion at all.
These laws also forbade Jews from marrying Germans. Additionally, Jews could not employ German females under 45 in their households. The Nuremberg Laws were just the “precursor to other more degrading decrees” (Source). They may have been a “precursor” of more to come, but they certainly were not the beginning.
The slow build-up to these precursor laws began two years earlier, barely three months after Hitler’s rise to power. In fact, it was a mere week after the Enabling Act was passed that, on April 1, Nazis would make their first boycott: Jewish owned shops.
Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels gave a speech in Berlin, urging Germans to boycott the shops in response to “atrocity propaganda” spread by “international Jewry” (Source). Nazi stormtroopers blocked Jewish businesses (even those of doctors and lawyers). “The star of David was painted in yellow and black across thousands of doors and windows” (Source). Acts of violence against Jews and their businesses occurred, but few Germans actually listened to Goebbels’s “warning.”
By April 7, The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, forcing “all non-Aryans to retire from the legal profession and civil service” (Source). Before long, they were forced to retire from other professions as well.
[Below: Boycott of Jewish-owned businesses.]
On May 10, 1933, university students gathered in Berlin and 33 other university towns to burn some 25,000 books containing “unGerman” ideas, “presaging an ear of state censorship and control of culture” (Source). In Berline alone, some 40,000 students took part. Books by Freud, Einstein, Thomas Mann, Jack London, Karl Marx, Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, H.G. Wells, and many others went “up in flames as they [gave] the Nazi salutes” (Source). Students also marched in torchlight parades and took part in rituals lead out by Nazi officials, professors, and university leaders.
Goebbels gave a speech concerning this, as well: “And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation of the November (Democratic) Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise . . . ” (Source).
In July of 1933, Jews were stripped of their citizenship, and those who had recently immigrated were deported. “Many towns posted signs forbidding entry to Jews” (Source).
On July 14, 1933, The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed, calling “for the compulsory sterilisation of people with a range of hereditary, physical, and mental illnesses.” Likewise, it “was also used to force the incarceration in prison or Nazi concentration camps of ‘social misfits’ such as the chronically unemployed, prostitutes, beggars, alcoholics, homeless vagrants, and Romani people” (Source).
In 1935, assaults, vandalism, and boycotts against Jews spread across the country after nearly a year of being curbed. The violence was again moderated during the 1936 Olympic Games to prevent international criticism. But persecution stepped up again in 1937 and 1938. Jews were required to register their property. Germans also took steps to Aryanize Jewish shops by dismissing all Jews and replacing them with Germans.
October 18: The Law for the Protection of the Heredity Health of German Peoples was passed, requiring all “prospective marring partners to obtain from the public health authorities a certificate of fitness to marry. Such certificates are refused to those suffering from ‘hereditary illnesses’ and contagious diseases and those attempting to marry in violation of the Nuremberg Laws” (Source).
November 14: The Nuremberg Laws were extended to other inferior races.
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]
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.
“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]
“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.