WWII: Little Known Facts

George Duncan’s Historical Facts of World War II  is a treasure chest for WWII history buffs. Much has been written about the world’s second global war. Many know about the Big Events and the Big Names. Duncan’s website fleshes out some of the in-between facts that most have never heard about. Below are a few excerpts.

Newsapaper1ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT:  On March 13, 1943, General Henning von Tresckow and his ADC, Fabian von Schlabrendorf, placed a bomb on board Hitler’s plane after his visit to the Russian front. Disguised as two gift wrapped bottles of Cointreau liquor, they were intended as a gift for General Helmuth Stieff at Hitler’s HQ. When news of Hitler’s safe arrival reached the plotters, Schlabrendorf immediately flew to the HQ and retrieved the package and exchanged it for two genuine bottles. It was found that the detonator became defective in the high altitude cold air. From September 1938 to July 1944, there were seventeen major assassination attempts plotted against the German Führer.

BRITISH DOUBLE AGENTS:  In January, 1942, Britain had a total of 19 German spies working as double agents. These had been ‘turned’ under threat of execution and agreed to work against their homeland. Others, who were of the more fanatical type, were hanged at Wandsworth Prison. Among the 19 were two Norwegians, John Helge and Tor Glad who were put ashore at Crovie, near Banff in the north of Scotland in April, 1941. Codenamed Mutt and Jeff, they had no intention of spying for Germany where they were trained. Soon after landing they gave themselves up to the Scottish police. Jeff (Tor Glad), who failed to convince the authorities that he was genuine, was interred on the Isle of Man. Mutt (John Helge) was put to work as a double agent, feeding the Germans false information. He ended up in a British army unit attached to an American regiment disarming German troops still in Norway. Jeff (Tor Glad) was put on trial as a German spy when he returned to Norway but after a discreet word from London’s MI5 he was set free.

I. G. FARBEN:  This German company built its own camp next to the main Auschwitz camp. Called I. G. Farben, Auschwitz, it was built to produce synthetic rubber and in 1943, produced 118,600 tons. At least 50,000 prisoners died during its construction from starvation and exposure to the cold. In its foundations lie the bodies of many prisoners who were buried where they fell in the wet cement. British POWs in the camp were forced to work building the camp during their 14 months imprisonment. As the Russians approached they were given the choice of marching East towards the Russian lines or west towards the Allied Lines 700 kilometers away. All chose to march west. The gas, Zyklon B, (used to gas prisoners) was produced by I. G. Farben’s subsidiary company ‘Degesch’. After the war, Degesch’s five directors were acquitted by German judges at the Frankfurt Trial because they decided that the accused could not have known what the specially ordered gas was actually for. [Read more…]

Survival through Art

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Yehuda Bacon (Czechoslovakia, 1929) … To the Man who Restored my Belief in Humanity

The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art

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Jakob Zim (Cymberknopf) (b. 1920) View of Buchenwald, a Few Days after Liberation, 1945

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Thomas Geve (Stefan Cohn) (b. 1929) Hurrah, the FREEDOM … Buchenwald DP camp, 1945

Liberation ART copy

Israel Alfred Glück (1921 – 2007) Liberation … Bergen-Belsen DP Camp, 1945

 

Voices of the Survivors

miriamwenge-1390588644-7 Hyman Steinmetz holocaust survivor at his home in Brooklyn

Someday they will all be gone – those who survived the atrocities of the Holocaust firsthand. Today their number hovers around 195,000 but that figure dwindles every year. Are we so focused on remembering the Holocaust for the future that we’re ignoring its victims today? That’s the big question. Others come to mind as well:

Did they forget enough to rebuild and love again?

How are they faring now in their closing years?

Have they been compensated for ‘the years that the locust have eaten‘?

In an article in Tablet Magazine from January 2014, journalist Matthew Fishbane lays out the survivors’ plight now, 70-plus years after the end of World War II. Included is a beautiful audio-visual tribute to nine survivors now living in New York.

Article:  Soon There Will Be Nor More Survivors

Audio-Visual Tribute:  Portraits by Jason Florio

Dr. Seuss Goes to War

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Cages Cost Money! Buy More U.S. Savings Bonds and Stamps! PM Magazine – Dec. 15, 1941. Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD

Most people don’t equate the silly semantics of Dr. Seuss with WWII. He did, however, spend part of his career penning political cartoons both as a civilian and a captain in the U.S. army during WWII. In the early years of the war, Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel), drew over 400 political cartoons for a left-leaning New York newspaper called PM denouncing Hitler and Mussolini. His cartoons strongly supported FDR and at the same time ridiculed and railed against the American Japanese, for which he later apologized. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Army and headed up the Animation Dept. of the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Force where he wrote and produced several propaganda films including: • Your Job in Germany  • Our Job in Japan Private Snafu  Gerald McBoing-Boing … and others.

[Read more…]

Auschwitz Remembered

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Plaque at Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Plaque reads:  For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one-and-a-half million men, women, and children – mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau. 1940-1945

Many tributes were created for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this past January. One such tribute – simply called “Auschwitz” – is a beautifully done documentary filmed on location at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum – produced by Steven Spielberg, narrated by Meryl Streep, with music by Hans Zimmer. The film uses archival war footage, flyovers and computer-generated imagery that captures the scale and brutal utility of the Reich’s largest and most notorious death camp. It is a succinct and impactful education on the genocide at Auschwitz. Watch here or here.

So We Never Forget

 


 

Nazi Children

Harald Quandt, Magda Goebbels’ son by her first marriage, center back stands in uniform with his step-father Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, bottom front right, his mother Magda, third from left, and the couple’s 6 children, Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Hedwig, Holdine and Heidrun in 1942. Photograph: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sins of the Fathers

No one should have to bear the brunt of someone else’s past. On the contrary, people should be judged by their own morals and merit. Yet when something happens that is so horrendous, so horrific and beyond understanding – like the Holocaust – what then? Are the perpetrators’ progeny to blame? Recently two Nazi ‘children’ were in the news with stories that tug at the soul. Their stories beg the question:

“What if that were me?”

Below are links to articles about several children of Nazi war criminals and how they’ve dealt with the burden of their blood. Each has had to live under the pall of his/her predecessor’s name and reputation. Some have tried to erase the stigma. Others have embraced it. Still others have tried to reach out and make amends. But they have all had to come to terms with the stain of guilt and shame of their collective past. This is by no means an exhaustive list but an invitation to look further.


Adolf Eichmann – SS Obersturmbannführer  / Facilitator of ‘Final Solution’

Legacy of the Third Reich: Eichmann’s Remorseful Son  International Business Times – 01/30/2013 – Synopsis: Otto Adolf Eichmann, one of the major architects of the Nazi Holocaust, met justice in 1962 by hanging. To his oldest son, Ricardo, Adolf Eichmann was an historical figure, a father he didn’t know.

Coffee with Eichmann  Ynetnews.com – 07/06/2010 – Synopsis: For years, Ricardo Eichmann has distanced himself from the annals of modern history, where his father, Adolf Eichmann occupies one of the most horrifying places. In order to lead a normal life under the name “Eichmann”, he focuses on archaeological excavations… [Read more…]

May We Never Forget

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Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem – Courtesy of wikimedia: David Shankbone

Today, January 27, 2015, is International Remembrance Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet troops. It is a day to honor all the victims of the Nazi killing machine and to hear their stories. Below are links to a variety of tributes:

From Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum, Poland

300 former Auschwitz prisoners will take part in a commemoration event to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation. “This is the last big anniversary that we can commemorate with a numerous group of Survivors [eye-witnesses]. Their voices became the most important warning against the human capacity for extreme humiliation, contempt and genocide”, said Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz Memorial. “Soon it will not be the [eye]witnesses of those years, but us, the post-war generations, who will pass this horrible knowledge and the crushing conclusions that result from it. That is why it is so important that the crowned heads, presidents, prime ministers and high-rank representatives of international institutions are present in Birkenau today …” Read More

A Lifetime Surviving Auschwitz

As the world marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a group of now-elderly survivors of the Nazi death camp have been photographed holding wartime pictures of themselves and their murdered families. (Guardian online news)

Remembering the Holocaust

Thousands of people are gathering at events worldwide to remember the millions of people killed in the Holocaust – exactly 70 years after the liberation of the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp. (ITV online news)

History’s Footprints

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Krasinski Park, Warsaw, 1930 – Oil on cardboard – by Moshe Rynecki

 

History always leaves a legacy behind for those who are willing to look for it. Elizabeth Rynecki is one such seeker. Recently I attended a talk Elizabeth gave about her “Chasing Portraits” film project, held in a beautiful women’s clubhouse nestled in the Sausalito hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. Elizabeth is the great-granddaughter of Moshe Rynecki, a prolific Warsaw-based artist who documented the Polish Jewish community in the interwar years (1918-39) in over 800 paintings and sculptures. Sadly, most of his body of work was lost in the Holocaust. Or so people thought. [Read more…]

Women of Resistance

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Esther Wajcblum is one of four women who died for their heroic stance inside Auschwitz

The world needs heroes. During the horrific Nazi-era of WWII, it was full of them. Anyone who resisted Hitler – in whatever manner – is a hero to me. Most knew they’d never live to tell their story. Yet they did it anyway. It is up to History to tell their truth. This is the story of the Auschwitz Revolt and the 4 brave women who stood up to Evil.

Yetta cast a furtive look around then poured a pinch of powder down her blouse. She’d been pilfering it in tiny bits for months now. Last month two girls had been caught during an inspection after work. They’d been hanged that night as a lesson to the rest. She was still petrified but resistance was the only thing she had left. If she did nothing, she’d be just another hapless lamb awaiting slaughter. [Read more…]

De-cyphering

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Rosetta Stone – photo by Hans Hillewaert/Wikimedia

Growing up in the 1960s, I remember a lot of cool promotional giveaways for kids. There was the toy tanker truck and red fire engine that Texaco gas stations gave out with so many gallons of gas purchased. There was the prize hidden inside every box of Cracker Jacks and Oscar Meyer’s famous wiener whistles. But my all-time favorite was the secret decoder that came with each new pair of PF Flyers – the shoes that made you jump higher and run faster. That little plastic gadget fascinated me. It was five toys in one: a sundial, a magic whistle, a message flasher and decoder dial, all with a special hidden chamber inside. It was the ultimate purveyor of secrets. [Read more…]