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Ukraine in WWII

 

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[Pictures, as always, taken from goodreads.com]

Description: This is one of those books that follows several main protagonists. For myself, I find that this adds an extra depth and understanding that cannot be achieved with only one point of view. I’ll keep it short: Maria’s father, Ivan, has managed to survive Babi Yar, but is now a broken man. Shortly thereafter, Maria is sent to Germany as a slave worker. Luda, despite abuse from German officers, may have finally found a family and love. And, of course, there is the token arrogant German officer, here Frederick, who is really using his arrogance to cover up his true emotions.

Background: In 1922, Ukraine was unified with Russia, making it part of the Soviet Union. Then, on September 1, 1941, after Operation Barbarossa Ukraine had become a separate civil German entity. Hitler’s Plan? To exterminate, expel, or enslave most or all Slavs from their native lands so as to make living space for German settlers.

On August 14, 1941, Hitler ordered that Kiev be bombed. However, due to insufficient materials, the plan was never carried out. Instead, they decided to starve the city. That being said, Kiev was under siege from August 15 – September 19. During this time 65,000 Soviet troops were captured. [Below, Kiev burning]

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With the arrival of the Germans, some Ukrainians saw their liberation from the Soviets. As a result, some 4,000 operated under the Germans, some even under a German SS unit, the Waffen-SS and the 4. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS. There was no true collaboration, however, between the Ukrainians and the Germans, since the Germans saw the Ukrainians as inferior. In fact, Göring suggested that “all Ukrainian men should be killed, and the SS men be sent in to re-populate the land with German blood” (Source).  Conversely, some 4,500,00 Ukrainians served with the Soviet army. 1,400,00 of them killed in service. Ultimately, this meant that Ukrainians were fighting and killing one another in their separate fights for liberation and freedom. 

Atrocities

Atrocities against the Ukrainians are thought to be some of the greatest that took place during the war. For starters, it is estimated that 3-4 million Ukrainians and non-Jews were killed, with another 850,000 to 900,000 (possibly even up to 1,000,000) Jews. Within Hitler’s Generalplan Ost, 65% of the 23.2 million Ukrainians were to be killed through genocide or ethnic cleansing. These tortures included imprisonment, mass shootings, concentration camps, ghettos, forced labor, starvation, torture, and mass kidnapping. In addition, over 2,300,000 Ukrainians were deported for slave labor camps. [A chart can be found of the total percentages of the different Slavic ethnic groups Hitler planned to eliminate here]

Considered to be “the single largest massacre in the Holocaust,” Babi Yar took place in Kiev from September 29-30, 1941 (Source). 33,771 Ukrainians were shot, most of them Jewish. Additionally, the Nikolaev Massacre took place in Mykolaiv from September 16-30, 1941. 35,782 were killed. Again, mostly Jews.

Massacres were “carried out by a mixture of SS, SD, security police, and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police” (Source). This meant, again, that Ukrainians were killing their own people. In total, there were 14 massacres on Ukrainian soil. The list can be found [here: Massacres]. Then, “when the Soviet Army approached in 1943, the Nazis tried to cover their tracks by ordering the concentration camp prisoners to dig up the corpses and burn them, after which the prisoners were killed” (Source).

Although it took place before the war officially began, the Holodomore needs to be counted amongst the atrocities the Ukrainians were forced to endure. The Holodomore or The Ukrainian Genocide of 1932-1933 was a man-made famine planned by Stalin to eliminate the Ukrainian independence movement. It included the “rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs, and restriction of population movement confer intent, defining the famine as genocide” (Source). The famine killed 2.5-2.7 million Ukrainians.

From 1932-1933, Stalin murdered 7 million Ukrainians and sent 2 million more to concentration camps. “Ukraine was sealed off. All food supplies and livestock were confiscated. NKVD death squads executed ‘anti-party elements.’ Furious that insufficient Ukrainians were being shot, Kaganovitch – virtually the Soviet Union’s Adolf Eichmann – set a quota of 10,000 executions a week. Eighty percent of Ukrainian intellectuals were shot. During the bitter winter of 1932-33, 25,000 Ukrainians per day were being shot or died of starvation and cold. Cannibalism became common. Ukraine, writes historian Robert Conquest, looked like a giant version of the future Bergen-Belsen death camp. The mass murder of seven million Ukrainians, three million of them children, and deportation to the gulag of two million more (where most died) was hidden by Soviet propaganda.” (Source). Reports about Stalin’s atrocities did not start coming out until the 1990′s. More on that later.

Because of being hit from both sides as well as being occupied by two separate oppressors, after the war, Ukraine saw 700 cities and towns and 28,000 villages destroyed. However, despite their large death toll and their destruction, 2,544 Ukrainians helped save Jewish lives. [Below, the Lvov Ghetto]

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Today in History: June 3, 1940 – Germany Bombs Paris

For roughly one hour, the Nazis bombed Paris for the first time. Fifty-five planes dropped nearly 11,000 bombs. Roughly 48 people were killed. Homes were destroyed, schools destroyed, hospitals wrecked. Some 97 buildings were destroyed and 61 fires were set by the Nazis.

In return, the Germans faced a heavy anti-aircraft barrage. The French shot down six of the German planes.

A second wave came at Paris at 1:50pm, lasting until 2:18. During this time, Germans came in five waves of 25 planes with an additional wave of 30 planes. Because of their high altitude of around 30,000 feet, their objective of hitting military objectives rarely ever hit their target.

Those who survived began the mass exodus, pushing bicycles, pulling wagons, all fleeing on foot.

Paris was abandoned.

 

 

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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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Denmark in WWII

 

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

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

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

Why was this allowed?

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

The Danish were considered to be pure Aryans.

[Below: Nazis parading through Denmark]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, an agreement was eventually met.

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

[Below: Men in soup lines]

 

Up Next: Danish Resistance

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Norway in WWII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[German officers during the occupation of Norway]

Norway in WW2 Resistance - Norwegian dictionary

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Katyn Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Below: Katyn Massacre]

80 rocznica rozkazu o zbrodni katyńskiej wieszwiecej - tvp.info

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

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

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

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

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

[Below: Mass grave in the Katyn Forest]

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The Winter War

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

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

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

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

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

And they did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Below: Finnish soldiers and reindeer]

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Today in History: September 27, 1939 – Poland Surrenders

On September 27, 1939, after being invaded by first Germany and then the Soviet Union (we Americans have a tendency to FORGET that part of the story), Poland was forced to surrender.

As a result, 140,000 Polish troops were taken prisoner by Nazi armies.

As soon as the country was theirs, “the Germans began a systematic program of terror, murder, and cruelty, executing members of Poland’s middle and upper classes: Doctors, teachers, priests, landowners, and businessmen were rounded up and killed” (Source). On the same night 214 Catholic priests were shot. “And hundreds of thousands more Poles were driven from their homes and relocated east, as Germans settled in the vacated areas” (Source).

That November, the Soviet government went through the process of fake elections in their Polish territory. This was basically just an excuse to “legitimize” Soviet force. What resulted was some 13.4 million Poles being terrorized by the NKVD. Political murders took place, much as they did in the German territory. The Soviets, too, attacked members of Poland’s middle and upper classes: Military officers, police, and priests, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and librarians. Essentially, anyone with a degree; anyone intelligent enough to fight back. Hundreds of thousands were sent to Siberia to live in gulags and forced labor camps.

Poles were made into slaves on both sides of the boundary; by Soviets and Germans.

So, uhm, why exactly do we not talk about the brutality the Poles had to endure? Let’s not forget that after they were liberated from the Germans after WWII, that they were once again occupied by the Soviets until the early ‘90s. They were harassed, murdered, made into slaves, sent to concentration camps/gulags, and who knows what else? Maybe their plight should be discussed.

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Poland in WWII

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

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

Background:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Below: German occupation of Poland]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Below: Churchill reviewing the Polish troops]

Image result for newton abbot uk 1940s

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Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

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

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

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

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

Image result for sachsenhausen concentration camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for sachsenhausen concentration camp

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