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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for Beer Hall Putsch

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

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

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

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

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Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact


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



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.]



Up Next: 

Dachau Concentration Camp

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The Three Kings: Czechoslovakian Resistance


Hitler had marched into Czechoslovakia (or Slovakia) in March of 1939. In defiance of the Munich Agreement. Shortly thereafter, “a Czech representative council had been established in London” (Source). In early 1940, they made contact with the Czechoslovakian resistance. At that time, all of the various resistance groups morphed into one large group: The Central Leadership of Resistance at Home (UVOD). However, Communist resistance groups refused to join forces with non-communist groups, mostly because of the Nazi-Soviet Pack (aka the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact).

See, like all European occupied countries (whether occupied by Hitler or Stalin, it didn’t matter) the Czechoslovakians were treated cruelly. Collaborators helped the Nazis keep everyone under control. Additionally, many thousands of Germans were deported to Germany to work as forced laborers (aka slaves). Back in Czechoslovakia, the people were forced to ration food and salaries, and weren’t given nearly what they needed of either.

Then, in September of 1941, Hitler sent Reinhard Heydrich to Prague. Within weeks, some 5,000 people were rounded up – all those that were thought to be involved with the Resistance. Unfortunately for Heydrich, this only seemed to spur on the Resistance. Acts of sabotage grew exponentially. These included bomb attacks, setting fires, as well as publishing and distributing pamphlets. One of their favorite acts was “reporting news to the government-in-exile” (Source).

The UVOD would receive intelligence (information) from their contact, Agent Paul Thümmeland, who cooperated with both postal workers and railway employees. Another good source of information was actually Czech policemen (unlike in France, clearly), who were always ready and willing to act as translators for the Germans! This, of course, supplied them with vital intel.

Of course, all of this resistance work drove Heydrich crazy.

[Below: Bombing of Prague]



One of the major components of the Resistance was “The Three Kings” codenamed as such by, of all people, the Nazis (the Prague Gestapo, to be exact) . . . mostly because they wanted to, well, do away with them. The Three Kings, established in 1939, was compromised of only three members. That’s right. Three. Josef Mašín, Václav Morávek, and Josef Balabán.

They were best known for setting off two different bomb assassinations in Berlin. The first was “aimed at the German Ministry of Airship and Police Headquarters,” the second aimed at Heinrich Himmler (Source). The first was successful, the second . . . not so much. See, Himmler’s train arrived . . . at the wrong station!

In the first bombing, Mašín’s brother-in-law (pretending to be a German collaborator) was the one to place a suitcase of explosives in the headquarters and then another at the Ministry of Air Travel.

They were also responsible for bomb attacks in Leipzig and Munich, though these acts weren’t nearly as well known. They also successfully bombed a transport of German soldiers “by adding an explosive to coal on the locomotive’s tender” (Private).

Then, in May of 1942, another resistance movement took place: Operation Anthropoid. Operation Anthropoid was mission to assassinate Heydrich. This time around, the British sent out two trained Czech agents. On the whole, the UVOD was not exactly supportive. Not that they didn’t want to get rid of Heydrich, I’m sure they did. But, what they feared was the consequences of taking out such a high ranking Nazi officer.

Turned out, they had every reason to be fearful of the consequences. As a result of the assassination, “as the village of Lidice and Lezaky were destroyed along with their inhabitants, thousands of hostages were shot and many more sent to concentration camps” (Source). Additionally, the UVOD suffered greatly. As a result, they were forced to operate in separate units again. Furthermore, the base in London informed them that they could only act on the “defensive.” AKA: Intelligence.

Now, the Czechs were very good at intelligence, but they wanted something more efficient, specifically those loyal to Stalin, of all people. So, they decided to join up with the Red Army or the Russian resistance fighters. Eventually, the Germans did retreat. But then, the Red Army began to assert itself in Czechoslovakia, and they dominated all of the key resistance posts. I’d be willing to bet that the Czechs regretted that collaboration.

Meanwhile, the seven Czechs were forced to hide in the nearby Parachutists Church. Actually, they hid in the crypt of the church.

In the early morning hours of July 18, 1942, 700 SS members stormed the church and began shooting. They’d been tipped off by a fellow parachutist, Karel Čurda, who collaborated with the Gestapo for one million Reichsmarks. The Seven Czechs and Slavs were able to hold out for hours. But then, the Nazis flooded the basement with fire hoses.

Instead of facing capture, the seven men took their lives. “Some shot themselves, others took cyanide” (Source).

This act is still important to Czechs today because it shows that they never gave in to Nazi occupation, they fought, and were willing to give their lives, if only to see their country free again.

[Below: Parachutist Church crypt]



Up Next:

Denmark in WWII

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Czechoslovakia in WWII

The long-awaited post! At least for me. I finally, finally checked out and read another WWII story, just for the sake of a new history post. I was really beginning to miss those. 

Now, before I continue, let me just say how much I loved this book. I was able to read it in one sitting and, as soon as I was through, desperately wanted to reread it. I highly recommend Joan M. Wolf’s Someone Named Eva.



Summary: When the Gestapo raid the village of Lidice, Milada is taken away from her best friend and her family. Thanks to her Aryan looks, Milada is taken to a special school in Poland, where she is dubbed Eva and then spends the next two years being indoctrinated with Nazi ideology, all so that she can become the perfect German wife one day. At the end of her schooling, Eva is adopted into a very important SS family, and while she doesn’t exactly trust Herr Werner (and for good reason, since he runs Rävensbruck, which is practically in his backyard), she comes to love her new Mutter, her new sister Elsbeth, and even her new pesky brother Peter. But she dreams of the day when the war is over and she can return to her family and her beloved Czechoslovakia. Her grandmother’s pin becomes the only piece of her from her former life.

On March 15, 1939, Hitler’s men marched into Czechoslovakia.

After that, Slovakia became an independent state (though supported by Hitler), while the Czech government was taken over by Hitler.

Forced to proclaim their non-Jewish, non-Roma heritage by showing family trees as far back as their grandparents, with harsh rationing, and blackouts, most Czechs felt trapped. Many even sough suicide as a way out. Swastika flags lined their streets, as did SS guards. Still more drove through the streets in Swastika-decorated vehicles. School books were replaced with pro-Nazi books. Likewise, any permitted books, music, and plays were filled with Nazi propaganda. And the only movies allowed could not be nationalistic and had to contain German subtitles. Foreign radio stations and political jokes were banned. And, as in any Nazi-occupied zone, executions were regular. It’s no wonder so many people preferred suicide.

As the war wore on, conditions grew worse. Their streets were garbage-ridden. Most people worked 64 hours per week, with “as many as 10 hours on Sunday” (Source). Between these long hours and poor diets, infectious diseases were common. By 1944, most shops in Prague were closed due to lack of supplies.

[Below: German troops move into Prague]



Like many other occupied countries, Czechoslovakia had a well-organized resistance group. Their resistance was tightly collaborated with Britain, and some 2,489 men fought with the 11th Infantry Battalion-East from both Slovakia and the Czech government.

Then, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Czech communists formed a Soviet intelligence organization in Prague. (Which did them a whole lot of good, considering the post-war Soviet occupation that lasted oh . . . decades.)

“Operation Anthropoid was the code name for the assassination plot of the Nazi leader, Reinhard Heydrich” (Source). In 1941, Hitler sent Heydrich (father of Operation Reinhard) to Prague. Wasting no time with his new assignment, he handed out death sentences as soon as the next day. This earned him nicknames such as “The Butcher of Prague” and “The Hangman.”

Wanting to “stir up the nation’s consciousness,” seven paratroopers were chosen to assassinate Heydrich” (Source). Unfortunately, the Gestapo got wind of their plan and were able to attack them down in a Prague church. In the subsequent shootout, three of the men died “trying to buy time for the others who were attempting to dig an escape route” (Source). These four later took their own lives with their remaining bullets.

The onslaught was devastating. Karl Herrmann, Heydrich’s successor, had 10,000 Czechs executed. Additionally, two villages were leveled, one of them Milada’s Lidice.

On June 10, 1942, Hitler ordered the Gestapo to murder “all 173 males over 15″ (Source). Later, several others were arrested and executed.

At the same time, some 184 women and 88 children were deported to concentration camps (such as Rävensbruck). Those few children who looked German enough (such as Milada) were Germanized and then handed over to SS families. The remaining children were sent to Chetmo Execution Camp and gassed.

Meanwhile, the village of Lidice “was set on fire and the remains of the buildings were destroyed with explosives” (Source). All animals were slaughtered. The graves were dug up and looted. Even streams and roads were rerouted. And, lastly, the entire area was covered with topsoil and crops were planted.

After the war, only 153 women and 17 children returned.

[Below: Lidice in the 1930s]



Up Next: 

The Three Kings: The Czechoslovakian Resistance

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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.


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]



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]



Up Next: 

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

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Germany Occupies the Sudetenland


The Sudetenland: made up of western Czechoslovakia (mostly inhabited by ethnic Germans) as well as parts of Moravia and countries associated with Bohemia. Because of the many ethnic Germans living in this area, Hitler wanted it annexed as well. And so, during the Munich Agreement (to be discussed later), Chamberlain all but handed it over – with, of course, the never-intended-to-be-kept-agreement that this would appease Hitler. This is largely why Chamberlain (and his biggest supporters) is now almost synonymous with appeasement.

Ultimately, this act just emboldened Hitler to continue his annexation – or invasion – of other countries.


Prior to the Munich Agreement, in March of 1938, Hitler had met with Konrad Helein, head of the Sudeten-German party. Initially, Helein had promised to compromise with Hitler, allowing his citizens free reign “to pursue membership in Germany’s Nazi Party” (Source). This was known as the Carlsbad Decrees. However, Hitler already knew this would never go over well with the Czech government. These demands would seem too unreasonable. So, he appealed to Britain and France instead. The German citizens in Czechoslovakia were being unfairly oppressed. And only he could right this wrong. By incorporating the Sudetenland into Germany.

Prime Minister Chamberlain and other Western Powers were in strong agreement that they wanted to avoid another war. So, Chamberlain pressured Czechoslovakia President, Evard Benes, to give in. Benes resisted and, instead, in May 1938, “ordered mobilization of his nation’s military in response to reported German troop movements. Europe was on a path to war” (Source).

[Below: Germans enter the Sudetenland]



PM Chamberlain now attempted to pressure President Benes to mediate the situation. Needing to stay on good terms with the Western Powers, President Benes reluctantly agreed. He soon put forth the Fourth Plan, essentially giving Nazi Germany everything it asked for. This did little to help the situation.

Violence still erupted across the Sudetenland via protesting Germans. This, unfortunately, only reinforced Hitler’s theory of the oppression of “his” people in the Sudetenland. Czech troops responding to the violence only made this worse.

On September 15, Hitler and Chamberlain met. Hitler made his demands clear: Sudetenland or war. 

Chamberlain gave him Sudetenland.

But, the Czech government resisted this agreement, so Chamberlain offered them his own ultimatum: Give up the area or lose any future assistance from western Europe” (Source).

Czechoslovakia still refused to budge. Their army was well-equipped with modern conveniences. They were ready to go to war. But only with Britain and France as their allies. “A stalemate ensued” (Source).

And so, on September 29, Hitler met with Britain, France, and his alley, Italy. Again, Czechoslovakia was left out. This meeting resulted in the Munich Agreement. Czechoslovakia had no choice but to agree.

[Below: Germans greeted by ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland.]



Up Next: 


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Austria in WWII


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[Below: Vienna circa 1945]


Prince Otto von Habsburg:

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

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

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

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

[Below: Otto von Habsburg]



Up Next: 

Germany Occupies the Sudetenland

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The Anschluss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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]



Up Next: 

Austria in WWII

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The Enemy Within: Stalin’s Purge of the Red Army

It’s another short post, guys. And there is an inordinate amount of quotes this time around as well. Unfortunately, this is a rough post. Sorry about that. Maybe, hopefully, next week’s will be longer (and better)!

On June 11, 1937, Stalin sentenced “some of the most senior officers in the Red Army to execution” (Source).

Their crime?

Supposedly working alongside Nazis to coordinate a military-fascist plot of sabotage and espionage, wanting to “overthrow the Stalinist regime” (Source).

“The sentences – carried out just hours later – marked the point when Stalin’s military purge burst into the open and sparked nothing short of international scandal. [Stalin] was decapitating his military at the very moment that Europe was bracing itself for total war” (Source).

Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky was among the men found guilty. They were all sentenced to be shot. But they were innocent.

This did not stop the purge, however, and it continued it’s course through 1938, some 30,000 men were discharged, “thousands were arrested and executions were widespread” (Source).

[Below: Mikhail Tukhachevsky (left) and the marshals of the Red Army in 1935]



Tukhachevsky was the army’s greatest strategist and, above all else, extremely loyal to Stalin and his politics, even the most repressive acts. He even fully backed Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture – the seizure of private property and land by the government that cost anywhere from 6,000,000-13,000,000 deaths. These resources were meant to be funneled into the Red Army. However, many peasants understandably revolted with mass violence and were, thus, thrown into “a sprawling network of gulag camps” (Source).

On the whole, actually, none of the officers who were executed showed any kind of opposition. However, “officers were denounced by their own soldiers” (Source). There reasons were various. Some were afraid of the consequences if they did not denounce someone. Others held on to past grievances and decided that this was the perfect time to seek revenge. What is clear here, is that the purge had gotten out of hand.

If  Stalin’s primary concern was actually about maintaining his position as dictator, then launching a military purge throughout the Red Army “in such a dramatic (and ultimately uncontrollable) fashion” was not only extremely risky, but awfully foolish (Source). Especially with a second world war on the horizon and so many other dictators hungry for world domination. So, then, “why were tens of thousands of army leaders subsequently drawn into a mass purge?” (Source). Surely, Stalin could not have believed that this was the best way of maintaining his own power. The strength of his own military should have been paramount in the face of other domineering dictators; when the Soviet Union – like most of Europe – was facing the threat of occupation from another source. If anything, his decision to purge some of his brightest and most loyal only threatened his own position in the face of like-minded world powers, such as those of Mussolini and Hitler.

“The impact of the military purge must be seen alongside serious intelligence failures leading up to the German onslaught as well as Stalin’s stubborn refusal to accept the reality of the danger facing the Soviet Union” (Source).

However, this was hardly the first, nor the last example of violence within the army of the U.S.S.R. From early on, there was a long history of suspicions of loyalty and reliability. Additionally, they were constantly drumming up “cases of supposed counterrevolution and espionage in the ranks” (Source). Clearly, someone was feeling a bit paranoid.

Eventually, Stalin himself did review the charges and Tukhachevsky was reinstated.

[Below: Russian soldiers parade on the Red Square.]



Up Next: 

The Anschluss

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The Ethiopia Campaign


On October 3, 1935, “Italy attacked Ethiopia without a declaration of war” in a battle known as the De Bono Offensive (Source). This was led by Italian General Emilio De Bono. Similarly, Italians along with their Somali counterparts pushed into Italy from the south.


Italy was declared the aggressor, but much like with Russia and Germany, no one bothered to do much of anything about it. Italy declared it’s actions necessary because “the Ethiopian government treated it’s citizens badly and deserved to be attacked” (Source).

Meanwhile, American journalists, bored with the one-sidedness of the war, decided to paint the Ethiopians with a fighting chance, claiming they were giving Italy a fair fight. However untrue this may have been. It did manage to build up sympathy, though.

Truthfully, Ethiopia was no match for Italy, giving them very little fight. In fact, Italy barely lost 1% of the army Mussolini had sent over.

[Below: Italian artillery in Ethiopia]



That is, until the Christmas Offensive. Here, the Ethiopians bushed back the Italian armies, hoping to split the Italian armies “in the north with the Ethiopian center, crushing the Italian left with the Ethiopian right, and invading Eritrea with the Ethiopian left” (Source). With their force 200,000 strong, the Ethiopians proved that maybe the Americans had been right all along – and the Italians wrong in their assumption that the Ethiopians wouldn’t give them much of a fight. Using old school tactics, they defeated the Italians at “Dembeguina Pass in the northwest of the country” (Source).

“The Italian commander, Major Criniti, commanded a force of 1,000 Eritrean Infantry supported by L3 tanks. When the Ethiopians attacked, Criniti’s force fell back to the pass, only to discover that 2,000 Ethiopian soldiers had occupied it. Criniti’s force was encircled and taking fire from all directions. In the first Ethiopian attack, two of Major Criniti’s officers were killed, and Criniti himself was wounded. Criniti’s force attempted to use their L3 tanks to break out, but the rough terrain immobilized the vehicles” (Source).

In short, the Italian infantry was slaughtered. In response, the Italians sent for a relief column, led by Major Criniti. But they, too, were ambushed by the Ethiopians, who swarmed the Italian tanks, blocking their path with large boulders. Two more Italian tanks were immobilized by the terrain and, unable to move any further, found their tanks set on fire by the Ethiopians.

“Meanwhile, Major Critini achieved a breakout, having ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge” (Source). They were eventually able to escape their Ethiopian encirclement, but not without some 3,000 deaths.

Frustrated that their invasion wasn’t as easy as they’d planned, the Italians “decided to use mustard gas, bombers, and long-range artillery to force the Emperor Haile Selassie I to capitulate” (Source). The Ethiopians, with their spears and swords, couldn’t hope to meet this kind of invasion.

As a result, their emperor fled, and the capital, Addis Ababa, slipped into chaos, “slipped into anarchy when an angry mob destroyed all shops owned by Europeans” (Source). By June 1, they had been annexed by Italy.

[Below: Italian soldiers and immigrants leaving for Ethiopia in 1935]



Up Next: 

The Enemy Within: Stalin’s Purge of the Red Army

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