Posts tagged ‘world war ii’

April 16, 2010

Happy 90th birthday, Richard von Weizsäcker!

Former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, born on April 15, 1920

“PITY THE LAND THAT needs heroes,” Bertolt Brecht once wrote. But today, on the ninetieth birthday of former West German president Richard von Weizsäcker, I think I’m entitled to say: “Envy the land that produces – and honors – great statesmen.”

Richard von Weizsäcker was born on the run in a side wing of the former Württemberg royal palace in Stuttgart. His mother and his diplomat father had been forced to flee Berlin with the rest of the Reich government just a few weeks earlier in the face of the failed right-wing Kapp Putsch against the struggling Weimar Republic…


April 9, 2010

Alleged Auschwitz sign thief deported to Poland

TODAY, JUST IN TIME for Holocaust Remembrance Day this weekend, the man suspected of commissioning the theft of the “Arbeit macht frei” sign from the gate of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp last December has been transferred to Polish custody by the Swedish authorities. He faces theft charges in a Cracow courtroom.

At first glance, thirty-four year-old Anders Högström would appear to be an unlikely candidate for such a crime. While he had been an active member of the far-right Swedish Nationalsocialistik front until 1999, Högström soon abandoned Nazism and joined first the left-wing Social Democratic Party and, later, Sweden’s conservative Moderata samlingspartiet. Högström soon joined an anti-Nazi organization called “Exit”…


April 7, 2010

Poland and Russia mark 70th anniversary of Katyn Massacre

Memorial in Katyn Forest

TODAY, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER Vladimir Putin and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk are scheduled to take part in a joint ceremony marking the seventieth anniversary of an historical event. This sort of item would normally fall under the news desk, since government leaders are constantly marking historical events of one kind or another. But this ceremony is different, since it is taking place in Katyn Forest near the Russian town of Smolensk, where – among other places – up to 22,000 Polish officers and other members of the Polish elite met a gruesome death at the hands of Josef Stalin’s NKVD secret police.

Pursuant to a secret clause of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and following Germany’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, Soviet forces…


February 19, 2010

Just a dumb blonde? A new look at Eva Braun

SHE IS THE WORLD’S most famous dumb blonde, the ultimate victim of personal stupidity. It was not just her hair color that made her reputation, but also her very name: Braun/Brown is one of the most ordinary in any European language, and reflected the brown of the Nazi Party uniform. And if there is anything everybody can agree on, it is that she got what was coming to her.

That’s the cliché that the “History” Channel and dozens of poorly researched biographies have served up to us for the past sixty-five years. But was there more to Eva Braun? German historian Heike Görtemacher, whose new biography of Hitler’s intellectually challenged mistress hits bookshops this month, certainly thinks so…


February 17, 2010

Prague recalls 1945 “Ugly Wednesday” with a photo exhibit

IT WAS ONE OF the cruelest and stupidest of the many thousands of cruel and stupid mistakes that made the Second World War into the global massacre Americans still insist on calling “the Good War.” On February 14, 1945 sixty-two B-17 Flying Fortresses assigned to the US Army Air Force’s 398th Bomb Group got lost on their way to the firebombing of Dresden and erroneously released their payloads over the Nazi-occupied Czech capital, Prague. At precisely 12:35 p.m., 152 tons of high explosives rained down on the central city and two suburbs, destroying around a hundred houses and many historical monuments. Another two hundred buildings were heavily damaged. Ironically, the destroyed monuments included one of Prague’s main synagogues. The raid killed 701 civilians and injured 1,184. 11,000 people were left homeless. No military or industrial targets of any kind…


February 14, 2010

Dresden says “nein” to neo-Nazis

A barricade burns in Dresden on February 13, 2010

SIXTY-FIVE YEARS AGO this weekend, in four raids from February 13 to 15, 1945, 1,300 British and American bombers dropped a total of 3,900 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs on the Saxon capital Dresden. The city center and much of the surrounding residential areas, by now swollen with refugees fleeing the Soviet onslaught from the East, burned to ashes. While Nazi and, later, communist propagandists originally spoke of up to 350,000 deaths, more recent studies estimate that between 18,000 and 25,000 German civilians and foreign slave laborers met a gruesome death in the firestorm.

As Kurt Vonnegut – who survived the bombing in a slaughterhouse cellar and later dug out corpses for the Germans – later wrote, “So it goes.”

No wonder, therefore, that Dresdeners have commemorated this event in various ways since the end of the war. The militant demonstrations against the murderous work of the “Anglo-American terror bombers,” a hallmark of the East German regime, have since given way to more conciliatory prayer services and calls for global peace. But ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, German and international neo-Nazis have been flocking to Dresden…


September 29, 2009

Did Adolf Hitler survive the Bunker after all?

Were reports of Hitler’s death “greatly exaggerated”?
Cover of
Time Magazine, May 7, 1945

BACK WHEN I WAS growing up, Hitler sightings were a running joke, a semi-comical preview of the Elvis and Jacko sightings that haunt our tabloids today. I still have a vivid memory of one such story in the National Enquirer. The front page depicted a wrinkled, grizzled ex-Führer hiding out in Argentina. According to the Enquirer, Hitler had been the driving force behind the recent Falklands War and was now on the run yet again. This came just a couple of years after the appearance of The Boys from Brazil starring poor old Gregory Peck as Josef Mengele in the most thankless role he ever let himself get talked into playing. These sightings finally dried up around 1989, when Hitler passed the hundred mark, and I thought we were well rid of them. But now that new evidence has surfaced challenging the standard version of Hitler’s suicide in the Reich Chancellery Bunker in April of 1945, you would be well advised to fasten your seatbelt and prepare for a Hitler sighting renaissance.

A scoop to die for

The sudden upsurge in online speculation about Hitler’s true fate has been provoked by a History Channel documentary called Hitler’s Escape, which was first aired on September 26. It promises to be the scoop of the young century. For the making of the film, American archaeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni from the University of Connecticut flew to the Moscow State Archive to examine a skull fragment with a bullet hole through it that the Russian government has been publicly claiming belonged to Hitler since 2000. Bellantoni swabbed the bone fragment and had the genetic material analyzed at a laboratory back home in New England. His examination revealed it to be not that of the fifty-six year-old dictator but rather the remains of a young woman.  …


September 10, 2009

How Pat Buchanan is rehabilitating Hitler

Nazi soldier executing Polish civilians:
Was it all Britain’s  fault…?

WHEN PAT BUCHANAN’S RECENT op-ed piece commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of World War II hit newspapers on September 1, those of us who follow such things largely assumed it was merely a delusional but marginal essay that would quickly slip under the radar to a well-deserved oblivion. As the days pass, however, “Did Hitler want war?” has taken on a life of its own and can be found splattered all across the Internet, garnering over 6,000 Google hits and counting. When I posted my own retrospective on the Polish invasion for OS that same day, I did so in the hope that we had all finally put the debates of past decades behind us. Instead, Buchanan’s piece demonstrates that in many people’s minds “Case White” (the Nazis’ codename for the invasion) is as wide open as ever.

Buchanan’s basic argument in the piece (essentially a digest of his recent book Churchill, Hitler and ‘The Unnecessary War,’ which is itself a rehash of A.J.P. Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War from 1961) is that the German invasion of Poland and the ensuing Second World War with its tens of millions of deaths were not the consequence of Adolf Hitler’s own policies but rather the fault of the British, French, and Polish governments…


September 2, 2009

Angela Merkel commemorates outbreak of World War II

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2009, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders met in Gdansk, Poland, to commemorate the German invasion that began exactly seventy years before, touching off the Second World War in Europe. Merkel’s speech received an extremely positive response and was widely quoted in the press. Since I wanted to post her comments here to show just how far Europe has come since then, I searched for the text online and was surprised that there is still no official English translation of the entire speech. So I went ahead and translated it myself and have posted it here for free distribution.

The German attack on Poland seventy years ago today marked the beginning of the most tragic chapter in European history. The war Germany unleashed brought immeasurable suffering to many peoples – years of oppression, humiliation, and destruction.


No country has ever suffered as much suffering in its history as Poland under German occupation.


Particularly in this dark time, which we are talking about today, the country was laid waste. Towns and villages were destroyed. After the crushing of the uprising of 1944, no stone was left standing in the capital. Random cruelty and violence permeated everyday life. Scarcely a single Polish family remained untouched by it.


Here at the Westerplatte, as the Chancellor of Germany, I commemorate all Poles who were subjected to unspeakable suffering due to the crimes of the German occupiers.


The horrors of the twentieth century culminated in the Holocaust, the systematic persecution and murder of the European Jews.


I commemorate the six million Jews and all others who suffered a cruel death in German concentration and extermination camps.


I commemorate the many millions of people who lost their lives in battle and in the resistance struggle against Germany.


I commemorate all those who died in innocence as the result of hunger, cold, illness, the violence of war, and its consequences.


I commemorate the sixty million people who lost their lives because of this war that was unleashed by Germany.


There are no words that could even come close to describing the suffering of this war and the Holocaust.


I bow my head before the victims.


We know that we cannot undo the atrocities of the Second World War. The scars will remain forever visible. But we have our own task: to shape the future in the consciousness of our enduring responsibility.


In this spirit, Europe has transformed itself from a continent of horror and violence into a continent of freedom and peace. That this has been possible is nothing more nor less than a miracle.


In the process, we Germans have never forgotten this: That Germany’s partners in the East and West have smoothed this path through a willingness for reconciliation. They have extended the hand of reconciliation to us Germans. We have clasped it in gratitude.


Yes, it is a miracle that in this year we need not only think back to the abysses of European history seventy years ago. It is a miracle that we can also think of the happy days that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, and the unity of Europe twenty years ago. After all, Europe’s path to freedom was only made complete with the fall of the Iron Curtain.


Back then, in the tradition of Solidarnosc in Poland, people everywhere courageously pushed open the gate to freedom. We Germans will never forget


  • the role played by our friends in Poland, Hungary, and former Czechoslovakia,
  • the role played by Mikhail Gorbachev and our Western partners and allies,
  • and the role of the moral power of truth that no one embodied more convincingly and credibly than Pope John Paul II.

It was thus also an issue of Germany’s special responsibility to smooth the path of Poland and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the European Union and NATO, and to stand alongside them.


Yes, it is a miracle, it is a blessing, that we Europeans can today live in freedom and peace. Nothing symbolizes the difference to 1939 better than the close, trusting cooperation between Germany and Poland and the multitude of friendly relations between our two countries.


The unity of Europe and Germany’s friendship with its neighbors owes its strength to the fact that we face our history. The chairmen of the German and Polish Bishops Conferences summed this up in their recently published statement on today’s anniversary. I quote:


 ”Together we must look to the future, which we would like to approach without ignoring or playing down the historical truth in all its aspects.”  


When, in my country, we today also recall the fate of the Germans who lost their home regions as a result of the war, then we always do so in the spirit described by the bishops. We do it in awareness of Germany’s responsibility, with which everything began. We do it without trying to rewrite anything in Germany’s enduring historical responsibility. This will never happen.


And it is precisely in this awareness that today – seventy years later – I have come to Gdansk. To this once sorely afflicted, but now gloriously restored city.

Mr. President, Mr. Minister President, your invitation to me to attend today’s commemoration as Germany’s Federal Chancellor touches me deeply. 

I understand this as a sign of our trusting neighborliness, our close partnership, and the true friendship between our two countries, between the people of Germany and Poland. I would like to express my profound thanks!

September 1, 2009

It began with a lie: Remembering September 1, 1939


THEY ATTACKED THE RADIO station at eight p.m. sharp. A half dozen German SS men dressed as Polish partisans burst into the broadcasting house beside the wooden radio tower near the Silesian town of Gleiwitz and trussed up its German staff. Then one of the men barked a brief speech into the microphone: Achtung! Achtung! This is Gleiwitz. The station is in Polish hands. … The moment of freedom has arrived! … Long live Poland!” To give the stunt an authentic feel, the agents had brought with them a local German dissident who had been arrested by the Gestapo a day earlier. They  dressed him in the same kind of clothes they were wearing, shoved a set of forged Polish identity papers into his pocket, pumped him full of narcotics, and shot him dead, leaving his corpse behind as “evidence” of this “cowardly Polish attack” on German soil. Their work done, the gang then beat a hasty retreat.

The Gleiwitz attack was just one out of some twenty-one false flag operations dubbed “Operation Himmler” that the SS launched on the eve of Germany’s invasion of Poland. After six years in power, Adolf Hitler was still uncertain of his people’s loyalty, let alone that of his General Staff. “The war will be unleashed through appropriate propaganda,” he had told his commanders a week earlier. “Credibility is of no concern, because victory will make it right.” The next morning, in the early hours of September 1, 1939, he hurled 1.5 million soldiers at Poland’s porous borders. (They would be joined by Red Army forces attacking from the east on September 17). Then at a few minutes past ten, a seemingly outraged Hitler proclaimed to the Reichstag and a nationwide radio audience that “Last night Poland fired on our territory for the first time using regular soldiers. Since 5:45, we have been shooting back. From now on, we will pay them back, bomb by bomb!”

The war began with a lie. Almost six years and sixty million deaths later, it ended with one, too, when the Greater German Radio announced that “our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has fallen this afternoon in his command post in the Reich Chancellery fighting to his last breath against Bolshevism.” In reality, he and Eva Braun had committed suicide to avoid facing the consequences of his actions…