The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – a summary

On 19 April 1943, the Jews interned in the Warsaw Ghetto revolted against their Nazi oppressors. They fought determinedly with limited resources for almost a month, before their resistance was finally quelled and the vast majority were deported to extermination camps. Seventy years on, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising remains symbolic of collective Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

Forced Resettlement

The internment of Polish Jews in ghettos began in October 1939, mere weeks after the Nazi invasion of Poland and consequent outbreak of World War Two. Hitler’s regime had been implementing anti-Semitic policies in Germany since its rise to power in early 1933 and as the Third Reich expanded, discriminatory measures were steadily instigated against Jews living in the other areas of Europe that came under Nazi rule.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising(The German holding the rifle on the right of the iconic photograph above was Josef Blösche. Blösche was notoriously called ‘Frankenstein’ for raping and killing women in the ghetto. He escaped justice for over 20 years, was finally arrested in 1967, and executed in East Germany in July 1969).

Poland was home to around two million Jews in 1939 and following the Nazi invasion, large parts of the country were immediately incorporated into Germany. Hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles from these areas were then forcibly moved from their homes so that Lebensraum (living space) would become available for ethnic Germans.

The initial destination of these displaced people was the Generalgouvernement, an area under civil administration situated between the Soviet and Nazi occupied zones, which included the Polish capital city of Warsaw. Jews were subsequently crowded into designated areas of towns and cities where they were segregated from non-Jewish society and could be contained and controlled: ghettos.

Inhumane Conditions

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Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp – a summary

Whilst in the Bergen-Hohne area of Germany, writes Stella Milner, a friend took me to a village called Belsen.  I knew nothing of the lovely rustic area other than how beautiful is was. The long wooden hut on the roadside seemed unaccountably odd in the tranquil suburb; and the inside was equally intriguing but very disturbing.  Indeed, the photographs were so grisly and distressing it was a relief to get outside, but the morbid atmosphere was worse.  The bright sunshine had disappeared, leaving an ominous grey sky, with not a single cloud, nor the smallest breeze; no wildlife, not even a blade of grass between the huge concrete blocks; and there was not a sound, until the repetitive firing in the distance echoed amongst the hushed graveyard.  Looking at the massive concrete block to my left, I remembered one of the photographs; on the edge of what seemed a gigantic hole was an enormous heap of human bones; bones that were all that was left of many human beings.  In the background of the picture there was an army dump-truck waiting to shove them into the dark soil.  Even in death they were without respect. It was the place where, sometime in early March 1945, Anne Frank died.

That brief subjoin into the past moved me far more than anything I had seen or heard before.  I felt sad and yet angry as I left, but wanted to know more.

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp1933-1939

1933 – GERMAN CAMPS AND SUB CAMPS

The first German camp was Dachau which became their prototype and the model for all that followed during the Second World War.  The Dachau camp was built on the sight of an abandoned munitions factory about 16 kilometres north-west of Munich and in the southern state of Bavaria.  It was opened on 22 March 1933 and was a concentration camp for Germany’s own nationals; mainly political and those who opposed the Nazi regime.

Ironically, between 1945 and 1948 the Dachau camp contained SS officers; later, German people who had been expelled from Czechoslovakia and had nowhere to go; and lastly, it became a base for the Americans. It closed in 1960.  During its first twelve years, Dachau’s intake was around 206,200 and of those people about 31,950 prisoners died.

SUB-CAMPS

It is thought that the Germans established about 15,000 camps and sub-camps, which were split into three uses; concentration, death and labour camps; of which, at least 600 camps were in Germany.  But that is just an estimate and it is doubtful that an exact number will ever be reached.  It is also thought that there were at least two sub-camps in the area of Belsen, but they were probably destroyed in 1945 along with the complete base camp.

BELSEN and BERGEN

Between 1935 and 1937 the Wehrmacht built an expansive military training complex between Bergen and Belsen.  It was the largest exercise complex in Germany and was built as part of the Reich’s grand re-armament plans. They obviously chose the area because of its sparse population and varying landscapes, which were ideal for battle-size exercises with their armoured vehicles.  It not only meant the relocation of around 3,635 residents but also the destruction of most of their twenty-five villages.

BELSEN SECTOR

The Belsen sector consisted of over a hundred barrack blocks, fifty stables, forty massive garage blocks, a hospital, storage depots and a factory for making targets for the firing ranges, and, in the southern area, an ammunition dump.  The construction workers were housed in huts in Fallingbostel- Oerbka.  The two villages were neighbours that made up the West camp. By 4 May 1936 some units were in residence and in 1938 the entire complex was in use.  However, when the training complex was finished the huts were redundant until just after Germans entered Poland in September 1939.

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Bombing Hitler: Georg Elser, Man Who Almost Assassinated the Führer – review

The date is 8 November 1939, the location – the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich. With their uniforms freshly-pressed, their buttons gleaming, their shoes polished, Hitler’s longest-standing comrades filed into the hall, their chests puffed-up with pride, their wives at their sides. This event, on this day, had become an annual occasion in the Nazi calendar, a ritual of celebration and remembrance. The climax of the evening, awaited with great anticipation, would be Hitler’s appearance and his speech in which he would praise and pour tribute on these self-satisfied men, his old-timers.

Bombing Hitler- The Story of the Man Who Almost Assassinated the FührerBut there was one man who awaited Hitler’s appearance with equal anticipation – but for entirely different reasons. This man was 36-year-old Johann Georg Elser, a carpenter. For Elser, a long-time anti-Nazi, had planted a bomb with the full intention of killing Adolf Hitler. And his bomb was due to explode half way through the Fuhrer’s speech.

Kill Hitler

Georg Elser had always been quietly defiant in his hatred of the Nazi regime – he’d supported the communists and, once Hitler was in power, refused to give the Nazi salute. He feared Hitler’s aggressive warmongering and foresaw the coming of war and resolved himself, in his own way, to do something to prevent it – and that was to kill Hitler.

Exactly a year earlier before the fateful night, on the 8 November 1938, Elser attended the same annual commemoration in Munich marking the anniversary of Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. And it was this annual event, he decided, that would provide the perfect opportunity to implement his audacious plan. The following night, he witnessed first-hand the vicious Kristallnacht, when Nazis throughout the country terrorized Germany’s Jews in a concentrated orgy of killing and violence. Seeing for himself this state-sponsored anarchy merely confirmed for Elser that what he was doing was right.

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The Kapp Putsch – a summary

It was March 1920. It had only been eighteen months since Germany’s defeat in the Great War and the subsequent signing of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles in which the politicians of Weimar Germany had agreed to pay massive reparations and accept Germany’s guilt for the conflict that had engulfed Europe. It was within this chaos that the ill-fated Kapp Putsch took place.

The German Revolution of 1919 had failed, and the communist-led Spartacist Revolt had been suppressed when the Weimar government ordered the Freikorps – demobilized soldiers – to attack the workers and end the unrest.

Freikorps

Wolfgang KappBut it was these very Freikorps (or Free Corps) that staged their own uprising against the Weimar government. General Walther von Lüttwitz, a 61-year-old war veteran, instrumental in the defeat of the Spartacists, teamed up with Wolfgang Kapp (pictured), an American-born German and founder of the recently defunct far-right Fatherland Party. (One member of the Fatherland Party was a Munich locksmith by the name of Anton Drexler, who, in January 1919, founded the German Workers’ Party, DAP, which, in 1920, became the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, NSDAP, otherwise known as the Nazi Party).

Appalled by the signing of the Versailles Treaty, especially its stipulation that had greatly reduced in the size the German Army, Lüttwitz and Kapp marched at the head of a 6,000-strong group of Freikorps, with the swastika emblazoned on their helmets, into Berlin, determined to overthrow the government. The date was 13 March 1920. They received the support of Erich Ludendorff who, along with Paul von Hindenburg, had led Germany through much of the First World War.

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Horst Wessel and his Nazi Song

During the Nazi era, the Horst Wessel Song became an anthem sung at all official and solemn Nazi occasions alongside Deutschlandlied, the German national anthem. Named after the young man who penned its lyric, Horst Wessel died on 23 February 1930 from a gunshot wound sustained five weeks earlier.

Brownshirt

Horst WesselThe son of a Lutheran minister, Horst Wessel was born on 9 October 1907 in the German city of Bielefeld. Much to his mother’s displeasure, he dropped his law studies and became an active member of the Brownshirts, a paramilitary wing of the Nazis. His fanatical devotion to the Nazi cause soon attracted the admiring attention of the future propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels who, in 1928, sent Wessel to Vienna to learn the subtle art of Nazi leadership and tactics.

On returning to Germany, Wessel relished the street brawls with the rival communists. (At this stage, the Nazis, although a powerful force in Germany, were not yet in power.) In one concerted assault, Wessel organised an attack on a regional communist headquarter in Berlin.

Shot

On 14 January 1930, Wessel got into an argument with his landlady Elisabeth Salm, whose late husband was a communist. The finer details are lost in the mists of time – but it centred round his rent and Wessel’s female guest: either he was refusing to pay an increased rent demand or refusing point blank to pay it at all, or that the young woman, Erna Jänicke, a former prostitute, was staying in Wessel’s flat for free. Either way, his manner was abusive, and the aggrieved landlady stomped to a local bar filled with communists and complained to whoever listened about her troublesome tenant.

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Hermann Goring – a summary

Born in Bavaria, 12 January 1893, to a well-to-do Prussian family, Hermann Goring fancied himself as a cut above the rest, a cultured man, fond of fine-living, the arts and women. Indeed, as a young fighter pilot during the First World War, Goring cut a dashing figure and in June 1918, won the Pour le Mérite, otherwise known as the Blue Max, Prussia’s highest award.

Hermann GoringAt the time of his birth, Goring’s parents were stationed in Haiti, his father working for the German consul there. His mother returned to Germany to give birth, then promptly returned to Haiti, leaving baby Hermann with a friend, not to see her child again for three years.

After the First World War, Goring worked as a commercial pilot in Denmark and Sweden, where he met his future wife, the Swedish baroness Carin von Kantzow. They married in Munich on 3 February 1923. Serving as a Prussian deputy in the German Reichstag, he met the young Adolf Hitler and soon afterwards, in 1922, joined the fledging Nazi Party.

Austria

A year later, on 8 November 1923, Goring was shot in the leg and badly injured during the Munich Putsch, Hitler’s failed attempt to seize power by force. From there, together with his wife, Goring escaped to Austria. In Innsbruck, his wound was operated on but such was the pain he was given morphine, thereby starting an addiction which would last until his final days. At one point, during his forced sojourn in Austria, and later Italy, where he met Italy’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, Goring’s addiction had become so severe he had to be incarcerated in a mental hospital, occasionally having to be restrained by means of a straitjacket. In 1927, after four years away, Goring returned to Germany.

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Paul von Hindenburg – the man who was never allowed to retire

Paul von Hindenburg, the last German president before Hitler’s Third Reich took over, was the man who was never allowed to retire. Born 2 October 1847 into an aristocratic Prussian family, he had had a successful if not spectacular career in the army, decorated in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and then, aged 64, retired in 1911.

But with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Hindenburg was recalled to service. With Erich Ludendorff as his deputy, he scored an impressive double victory on the Eastern Front against the Russians at the Battles of Tanneburg and Mausaurian Lakes (August and September 1914). But a total victory against the Russians was not forthcoming which Hindenburg blamed entirely on his counterpart on the Western Front and the German Army’s Chief of Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, and his excessive need for troops.

Chief of Staff

In August 1916, Hindenburg replaced Falkenhayn as Chief of Staff. Ludendorff, in theory, remained his deputy but in practice became more of a partner – all orders were issued under their joint names. With the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, increasingly sidelined during the war, the duo ran a virtual military regime. Hindenburg implemented Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, allowing his subs to attack civilian as well as military targets; dictated the harsh terms of the Treaty of Brest Litoski, in which Russia, having rid itself of its Tsar, Nicholas II, accepted defeat in the war under instruction from its new leader, Vladimir Lenin; and helped Ludendorff launch Germany’s last throw of the dice against the Allies, the Spring Offensive of 1918.

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Tea with Hitler

A fine-looking silver teapot is expected to fetch up to $1,500 (£920) at a US auction this week. Add another $300 (£185), and you could bid for a silver dessert fork. The appeal, albeit a warped one, is that they once belonged to Adolf Hitler.

Hitler, whose diet was often poor, especially in his latter years, was an avid tea drinker and consumer of cake. The teapot, seven inches tall, is embossed with the Nazi eagle and swastika combined with his initials, while the delicate three-pronged fork with its beaded edge also bears his ‘AH’.

These macabre items are to be sold by auctioneers Alexander Historical Auctions based in the Connecticut town of Stamford.

Also on sale are a serving bowl with lid, a serving platter and a soup bowl, which, between them, could fetch up to $2,000 (£1,230). All three pieces of dinnerware are adorned with a gold-embossed Nazi eagle and are rare pieces of Allach porcelain.

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August Kubizek, Hitler’s friend

August Kubizek provides the only substantial witness account of Adolf Hitler’s early years in Linz and Vienna between 1907 and 1912. Born within nine months of each other they met in their hometown of Linz where a shared love of art and music, especially the operas of Richard Wagner, brought them together. They became firm friends to the point Hitler became resentful if Kubizek paid too much attention to anyone else. While Hitler dreamt of being a great artist, Kubizek, or ‘Gustl’ to Hitler, dreamt of becoming a famous conductor.

In 1912, Hitler moved to Vienna while August Kubizek remained in Linz to work as an apprentice for his father’s upholstery business which was destined to become his trade. But Hitler somehow managed to persuade Kubizek’s father to allow Gustl to join him in Vienna and be allowed to pursue his musical ambitions.

Vienna

Thus the two friends were reunited and sharing a room in Vienna. But while Kubizek was successful in his application to the Vienna Music Conservatory, Hitler failed twice to get a place at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. So ashamed of his failure that for a while Hitler managed to keep it hidden from his friend.

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Jews Out Board Game

The Wiener Library in London has on display a macabre board game intended to be a bit of fun for your average family living in 1930s Nazi Germany. It is called Juden Raus! ‘Jews Out!’ – with an exclamation mark.

The object of the Jews Out board game is to force the Jews beyond the medieval walls and out the city. The first player to rid the city of six Jews wins the game.

The game comes with a dice, a 50×60 cm board and a number of figurines. The board has thirteen circles representing various Jewish-owned shops and businesses. Each player adopts one of six red figurines with a pointy hat and a belt around its waist, representing the German police force, and the idea is to land on the Jewish business and eject the Jew. The Jew is represented on 32 hat-shaped counters, the same shape as the hats Jews were compelled to wear during the Middle Ages. Each Jew is depicted with a vile, contorted face.

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