[Updated 28 Jan 21 to include a news story about a priest who saved Jews in Warsaw.]
On 27 Jan 1945, Soviet Union troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In doing so, it revealed the horrors the Germans had perpetrated there. Auschwitz was a series of camps designated I, II, and III with also smaller satellite camps. Auschwitz II at Birkenau was the place where most of the exterminations at Auschwitz were done. Using four “bath houses,” prisoners were gassed to death and cremated. Prisoners were also used for ghastly medical experiments overseen by the infamous Josef Mengele (the “angel of death”).
As the Red Army approached, the SS began a murder spree and blew up the crematoria to try to cover up the evidence. When the Red Army finally got there, they found 648 corpses and 7,000 starving camp survivors. They also found six storehouses full of men’s and women’s clothes and other items the Germans were not able to burn before they left.
On 15 Dec 1961, an Israeli War Crimes Tribunal sentenced Adolf Eichmann to death. Eichmann joined the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) in November 1932. The SS were an elite organization that had broad powers of authority (policing and intelligence) and enforcement of antisemitic policies. Eichmann rose within the SS and in 1938 was sent to Austria after Germany annexed it. In Vienna, he was given the task of ridding the Jews. After setting up an efficient deportation system, he was sent to Prague to do the same thing. Then he was sent back to Berlin to help run the Jewish section of the SS central security office in Berlin.
He was also part of the now infamous Wannsee Conference in January 1942. The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior government officials from government ministries and the SS to discuss the coordination of the “total solution of the Jewish question” as ordered by Reichmarschall Herman Göring. This order was given to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich who headed the Reich Main Security Office. The decision had been made to eliminate Jews and would need the assistance of many government agencies in order for it to be done. Eichmann was given the task to coordinate the major aspects of this program from identifying Jews, assembling them, and transporting them to the Nazi death camps. Eichmann proved to be ruthlessly efficient in carrying out this task.
He was captured by U.S. troops after the war but escaped in 1946 before the Nuremberg trials began. Using an assumed name, he traveled in Europe and the Middle East before arriving in Argentina in 1950. Israel was informed in 1957 by a German prosecutor that Eichmann was in Argentina. Agents from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, were sent to Argentina and located him in 1960. He was found living in the San Fernando section of Buenos Aires using the name Richard Klement.
Using the 150th anniversary of Argentina’s revolution against Spain in May 1960, the Mossad used this as an opportunity to send more agents to Argentina. Believing that Argentina would not extradite him, it was decided to abduct him and bring him to Israel for trial. On 11 May 1960, Mossad agents abducted him as was walking home from the bus stop to home on Garabaldi Street. He was disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident (he was in fact drugged to prevent him from attempting escape). He arrived in Tel Aviv and three days later Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced Eichmann was in Israeli custody.
Argentina did protest but Israel charged Eichmann with 15 crimes against humanity. His trial was covered on live television. He claimed he was following orders but the judges disagreed finding him guilty of all counts on 15 December 1961. He would be executed by hanging on 31 May 1962 and was cremated with his ashes thrown into the sea.
SS-Obergruppenführer was equivalent to Lieutenant General in the American and British armies.
On this date in 1941, Japan launched a carrier based strike on U.S. military forces based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their strategy was to use this attack to convince the country and its leaders that war with Japan would be futile. They achieved tactical surprise as no warning of an attack had yet been received. While decryption of their codes had revealed their intent, the warning did not reach Pearl Harbor until after the attack had begun. The Japanese legation in Washington did not deliver their government’s official response to a recent diplomatic exchange until after the attack due to problems in transcribing the message. The attack began at 07:55 local time (12:55 p.m. eastern standard time). It was early afternoon when President Roosevelt was notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the attack. There was some doubt among some staff as to the validity of the report but President Roosevelt believed it. And subsequent reports would show it was true. Radio was soon reporting on it as well and the entire nation soon learned of the shocking event that had taken place in the faraway location.
The purpose of the attack was to seriously cripple the U.S. naval and air operations (both the Navy and Army Air Corps). The surprise was effective and sank or crippled numerous American ships. However the jewels of the fleet were the aircraft carriers and they were not there. And the Japanese had no idea where they were. After conducting the first two strikes, a third strike was considered to more completely wipe out the storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities. Captain Minoru Genda,who helped in the planning,argued for invasion to maximize American losses. Admiral Nagumo decided to retire because of deteriorating weather, the unknown location of the American carriers, the long turnaround time required for a third strike that would allow American forces to gather and counterattack, and the fact the Nagumo’s strike force was at the extreme limit of logistical support. They were low on fuel and another strike would require them to travel at reduced speeds to conserve fuel. So he headed home. Much later Admiral Yamamoto, who supported the decision at the time, would in retrospect say it was a mistake since it allowed the U.S. to come back quickly.
The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)
Most of those who died at Pearl were sailors aboard the ships that were damaged or sunk. Of the 2,008 sailors killed, 1,177 were killed when the forward magazine on the USS Arizona exploded. Eighteen ships were sunk, beached, or run aground. 188 aircraft (mostly Army Air Corps) destroyed, 159 damaged. Most of the planes were destroyed on the ground. Only eight pilots got airborne and did attack Japanese aircraft but only one was shot down. Some pilots were killed or shot down later by friendly fire. Five inbound planes from USS Enterprise were shot down. The Navy lost 24 of its PBY planes. Additional casualties came from when Japanese attacked barracks. 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Since the U.S. was not at war, they are all classified as non-combatants. The Japanese lost 55 airmen, nine submariners and one captured. They lost 29 planes in battle and 74 were damaged by antiaircraft fire.
Most Americans were enjoying a pleasant Sunday. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with the Japanese ambassador around 2:30 p.m., just when the first reports were coming in about the attack. Popular Sunday afternoon radio shows were interrupted with the stunning news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. From coast to coast, Americans were riveted to their radios listening to the latest updates. Lines of volunteers began forming outside military recruitment centers. The isolationist sentiment was ushered to the rear while most of the nation united against the Japanese. On 8 November before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt Signing Declaration of War Against Japan 8 Dec 1941
National Archives and Records Administration
And a hour later Congress officially declared war on Japan. Far from causing the U.S. to cower, it brought Americans together like never before. Hitler’s decision to join with Japan on 11 Dec was somewhat of a surprise-to his German High Command! They had not planned with war with the United States so soon and now they faced a two front war with an highly industrialized power against them. Mussolini foolishly committed Italy to the war with the U.S. as well.
For Japan they had control of the Pacific until June 1942. That is when the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. At the end of the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk to our one (the Yorktown). It was a shocking loss to the Japanese (and one they kept secret for as long as possible). The Doolittle Raid had convinced them to take on the American Navy directly. They did and lost spectacularly. And it shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had been correct in his assessment of how the war with America would go:“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”
Yamamoto would not survive the war. President Roosevelt ordered that he be taken care of for his part in planning the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to the work of U.S. Naval Intelligence that had broken Japanese codes (code named Magic), his travel plans to the South Pacific in April, 1943 were learned. Orders were given and select pilots were used to target a very important high officer but were not told who it was. On 18 April 1943, a squadron of Lockheed P-38’s were assigned to intercept and bring down his transport being escorted by Japanese zeroes. There were two Japanese transports. After a dogfight with the Zeroes and transports, the transport with Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea. Japanese search parties found his body, thrown from the aircraft and under a tree. He had two .50 caliber bullet wounds, one in his left shoulder and the other that had exited through his right eye. The true manner of his death was hidden from the Japanese public and not revealed until long after the war had ended. He was cremated, given a state funeral, and given posthumous titles and awards. Today the place where his plane crashed is a tourist attraction.
On 30 November 1939, in what later be called the Winter War, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Finland. The objectives were both strategic and territorial. Under the (secret)terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed in August, Finland was placed into their sphere of influence. Prior to the invasion, the Soviet Union wanted Finland to cede land that would provide more security for Leningrad (formerly known as St. Petersburg, changed to Petrograd during World War I, and renamed Leningrad in 1924 after Lenin’s death).
Everyone, including the Russians, believed it would be easy. The Soviet Union had more troops and aircraft. It was expected the Finns would easily surrender. It did not turn out that way at all. After the initial attack and bombing of Helsinki where 61 would die, the Finns instead showed remarkable resistance. The Finnish government used pictures of the raid showing women with dead babies and those crippled by the bombings to engender sympathy from the outside world and to generate the Finnish resistance to the Russians. The Soviet Army, dressed in summer clothing as winter started to set in, quickly realized they were facing stiff opposition. President Roosevelt extended $10 million in credit to Finland (they paid it back after the war). The League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union for its invasion.
The Soviet Union though reorganized and came with different tactics in February 1940. Finnish defenses were overcome and resistance, though still strong, was up against a better organized Soviet Army this time. In March 1940 the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed. The Soviet Union got what it initially demanded and more as well. Finland’s sovereignty was preserved but it came at a cost for the Soviet Union. Most Western governments considered the Soviet Red Army as poorly led.
Hitler and his generals viewed the Red Army as weak and that an attack on it would be successful. They would invade Russia in June 1941. Finland though would go to war with the Soviet Union. as well. There are different views as to why but generally it was to get back the land lost in the peace treaty of 1940. Unfortunately, a faction of Finnish military and political leaders decided to work closely with the German Wehrmacht for a joint attack. While never signing formally the Tripartite Pact that made them an ally of Nazi Germany, the did sign the Anti-Comintern Pact. This pact signed by Germany, Japan and other countries created an alliance against the Soviet Union.
Finland would retake the territories given to Russia but continued on. They participated in the siege of Leningrad by cutting its northern supply. The Soviet Army would eventually push them back and a ceasefire was called on 5 September 1944. The resulting agreement would require the expulsion or disarming of German troops in their territory. Under pressure from the Soviets to expel German forces, Finnish troops fired on German soldiers resulting in exchanges between the two. By November 1944 nearly all German troops had withdrawn. With the end of the war in 1945, the borders were restored to the 1940 treaty. Finland had to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union. Since they fought with Germany, they had to accept responsibility for their part in the war and acknowledge they had been a German ally.
One of the things I like about Thanksgiving is the gathering of friends and relatives. You spend time sharing and catching up on a lot of things that happened during the year. Kids would be playing together, outside and inside. Laughter and warmth would be the atmosphere of the home as the wonderful smell of turkey slowly cooking filled the air. It had been properly defrosted and brined (brining is an absolute must for a delicious turkey). Some of us would be in the kitchen doing the final stages such as warming up the cranberry sauce made the day before, making the mashed potatoes (often my task), or preparing a nice salad (Greek style).
Sometimes you learn new things as well. A missed item like whipped cream makes you learn how to make it yourself. It is not so hard to do even if you do not have a stand mixer. You do it the old-fashioned way my grandmother did. A chilled bowl, whipped cream, a little vanilla and a large whisk. You stir fast to get those stiff peaks and that it will not easily fall out of the bowl when you turn it over (a test required in culinary school to make sure you have done it right). Once you realize how easy it is to make, those store ones are hardly needed. Those aerosol ones are pretty awful (mostly air and sometimes not even any cream in it-just flavorings!) so making it yourself means some pretty delicious whipped cream for your pumpkin pie.
This year Thanksgiving was very different. Restrictions differed from state to state and even within states. Mandates on how many could be present, mask requirements, having to do it outdoors and more. Some officials even said to avoid the holiday and stay home. It was hard for families, used to visiting with each other, to not gather. Many states are already going back to nearly shutting up again. Once again small business owners are being impacted and for some, I fear, it will be the final blow. They endured months of lockdown and only managed to stay afloat with disaster funds. Some were reopening just as those riots hit destroying the business they had worked so hard to build. Shattered windows, doors busted in, and all the products taken by the mob that had done this. Most just gave up at that point. Signs of “For Rent” or “For Sale” now appear on boarded-up storefronts in many areas.
Black Friday saw thousands storm into stores and malls to shop the bargains. Massive traffic jams occurred keeping police busy directing traffic. News and police helicopters were overhead also watching what was unfolding below. This year it will be much quieter. Most major stores are directing people to their websites to get the same deals they would have gotten in the store. If the store is allowed to open (and that varies depending on state and county), there are restrictions on how many can be in the store. Masks are required and markers indicate where you need to stand for assistance at counters or at checkout stands. Plexiglass screens are up everywhere as well.
Recently I had to travel using our local rapid transit system for a required appointment. It was a Tuesday morning, and the parking lot was mostly empty. The train never really filled up as it made its way to its destination. After I arrived, I walked out of the mostly empty station into what normally would have been a crowded area of people heading to work. It was nearly devoid of people. There were some people about but not many. The coffee shop person indicated that their only traffic now were critical federal office workers from the nearby federal courthouse and government office. The post office, banks and the nearby UPS Store were open but that was about it for the area. With so many offices and businesses closed, they only had a quarter of what was once a booming trade. They had to lay off some staff as well since they could no longer afford them. Money is still quite tight. Now with the prospect of having the coronavirus restrictions extending well into the New Year, it will get harder for the small business owner to stay afloat.
Christmas will be dramatically scaled down as well. Not as many outdoor or even indoor events will be held. Christmas tree lighting will occur but will be streamed instead. Probably a lot of Christmas concerts, stage plays, and ballet will not be held as well (possibly streamed, though to an Internet audience). Every business that used to rely on Christmas events to bring in revenue is going to suffer, both large and small. Some companies will weather it by selling online. Many businesses though cannot do that so easily or at all (like event production companies that create, staff, or build equipment for events). And that will trigger, sadly, a lot more businesses that will shutter triggering more problems for the local and state economies.
When I returned back from my appointment, there had been no extra cars that had parked in the lot. I was just one of a handful of people that got off the train. As I walked the plaza to the parking lot, it was just as empty as it was when I came in earlier that morning. I stopped at the grocery store on the way back. It was fairly crowded but then again it is Thanksgiving week, so people were busy stocking up. I spotted some familiar faces and they indicated they were only buying for themselves and not for the usual crowd they would have over. I mentally calculated that must mean fewer sales of some items. A lot less Yukon gold potatoes, spices, items needed for stuffing, less gravy needed etc.
As I headed home, I wondered how it was we went from a nation that once said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” to now shutting ourselves down because of a virus. I am not downplaying its seriousness, but something is out of whack here. We rose up from that terrible day we were attacked on December 7, 1941. We rebuilt our fleet, got our industrial sector producing needed war materials rapidly, and got sailors and soldiers trained. By the end of 1942, we had won a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway where we sank four Japanese aircraft carriers. We went on from there to push the Japanese back to their main islands and ended the war in 1945.
Now we are in fear and retreating into isolation. Sheltering in place, nonessential businesses closed, and houses of worship shuttered. Is this the hallmark of a post-industrial civilization that mastered malaria, fought measles, and made polio a thing of the past? We made it through a Great Depression that wracked our country in the 1930’s. Millions were out of work, yet we managed some impressive things like building the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam to name a few. Roosevelt was right about fear and that generation knew not to let fear guide them. It appears that lesson has been lost and giving into that fear will cost us enormously economically and politically as well.
In the aftermath of World War II, there was debate about how to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and especially the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels were already dead by suicide. Churchill had the simplest approach of wanting to simply execute them but it was decided that tribunal would be a better method. The tribunal would reveal to the world the extent of the crimes upon humanity the persons were responsible for.
The concept of an international tribunal was novel and had never been done before. Then again, no nation had before committed to full scale extermination of whole peoples as the Nazi’s had tried to do. An international tribunal composed of representatives from Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States was formed. Defendants faced charges that varied from war crimes to crimes against humanity. Twenty- four were indicted along with six Nazi organizations such as the Gestapo that were also determined to be criminal. One was declared medically unfit to stand trial and another committed suicide before the trial began.
Each defendant was allowed to choose their own lawyers. They all pled not guilty and either argued that the crimes they committed were declared crimes after the London Charter (meaning ex post facto) or that they were applying harsh standards as they were the victors. The trials would last under October 1946 when verdicts were handed down. Twelve were sentenced to death and others got prison terms. Hermann Goering committed suicide the night before he was to be executed.
On 15 November 1943, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler made public an order that Roma (also called Romani) people were to be treated the same as Jews and sent to concentration camps. When the Nazi’s came to power in 1933, they focused on German Jews. The Nuremberg Laws of 14 November 1935 did not mention Roma. At the time there were an estimated 26,000 Roma in Germany.
A month later though they were defined as aliens and enemies of the people. The result of this was to put Roma into special camps starting in 1936 and to classify them under Nazi racial policies. Roma fell into two broad categories: inferior and asocial. Some Roma had Aryan blood while others had mixed blood under these doctrines.
Like Jews they were stripped of their citizenship. Until the deportation to concentration camps, they were kept in municipal internment camps usually outside of cities. Disagreement within the Nazi’s on how to deal with Roma was an issue. Some wanted deportation of all Roma to concentration camps. Himmler wanted to keep those with Aryan blood. However he decided in 1943 to begin deportations of Roma to concentration camps like Dachau and Auschwitz where they would be killed.
There are differing numbers on how many Roma were killed by Nazi Germany (and its puppet states or allies). It is believed to be between 220,000-277,000 of the approximate 700,000 Roman in Europe. The US Holocaust Memorial Center believes it between 220,000-500,000. Like the Jews, Roma were subjected to medical experimentation such as by the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele of Auschwitz. Those experiments included putting people in pressure chambers, freezing them, changing eye color, and other brutal surgeries.
Sadly the persecution of the Roma was not recognized after the war ended. However as it became more widely known, recognition has started being made and comparing the Roma Genocide to the Shoah experienced by the Jews. In 1982 West Germany officially recognized it but prior to that memorial had been erected in the Polish village Szczurowa to commemorating the massacre that took place there. A Gypsy Caravan Memorial also travels between the main remembrance sights in Poland as well. In 2007 Romanian President Traian Basescu publicly apologized for his nations role in the Roma Genocide. He also ordered it be taught in schools as well. Other commemorations have taken place as well.
Oskar Schindler (immortalized in the movie Schindler’s List), was a German industrialist and Nazi Party member who saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust. He employed them in his enamelware and munitions factories in Poland and in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. His connections to the Abwehr and Wehrmacht helped him protect his Jewish workers from being sent to an extermination camp. He also used bribes to Nazi officials (and also luxury items he procured on the black market) as well. Initially he was more interested in making money and thought the Jews were cheaper to use for labor than the Poles.
With his factories deemed essential to the war effort, he was able to help his Jewish workers. He not only sought exemptions for them but also their wives and children. He was also able to claim Jewish workers with disabilities for exemptions as well. He expanded the Krakow facility to include a kitchen, dining room for workers, and an outpatient clinic. When he learned of the planned deportation of Jews from his Wehrmacht contacts, he had the workers stay at the factory to prevent them from coming to harm. He witnessed the Nazi’s doing this, changing his view forever about them. From that point on, he decided to save as many Jews as he could
With the establishment of the Plaszow concentration camp in 1943, the camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer* Amon Göth wanted to move all factories inside his camp. Göth, a sadist and feared by everyone, was convinced by Schindler not to do this. And he allowed Schindler to build a subcamp to house his workers keeping them safe and fed from random executions. With the Red Army approaching in July 1944, Schindler learned of plans to close all factories not related to the war effort. He switched the enamelware factory to making anti-tank grenades and moved it to Brunnlitz. However there were two harrowing episodes for his workers. 700 on his list were initially sent to a concentration camp before being re-routed back to the factory in Brunnlitz. 300 hundred women on his list were sent to Auschwitz and were in danger of being killed. Schindler, since his regular connections did not work this time, had to send his secretary with bribes of luxury items and food so that they could be freed. Schindler would continue to pay bribes and help Jews he found until the end of the war.
Schindler was broke by the end of the war and accepted assistance from Jewish organizations. He emigrated to Argentina in 1949 but his business ventures were unsuccessful. Back in Germany in 1958, he did not have much luck either and went bankrupt in 1963. He also suffered a heart attack as well. He remained in contact with many Jews he had met during the war and received support from them as well. He died on 9 October 1974 and is buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. He is the only member of the Nazi Party to be honored in this way.
A tree was planted in his honor in 1962 on the Avenue of the Righteous. In 1993 he and his wife Emelie were named Righteous Among the Nations. This award, bestowed by the State of Israel, is reserved for non-Jews who took active role in saving Jews from the Holocaust. The book Schindler’s Ark (Schindler’s List in US) by Thomas Keneally is a historical novel based on Oskar Schindler. The book was adapted into the 1993 movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg.
*The SS rank and rate structure was different from regular Wehrmacht owing to their origins as a separate unit initially as personal bodyguards to Hitler. The Hauptsturmführer was equivalent of a captain in most armies. In the SS, it meant he was the head storm leader of a company sized unit.
On 2 October 1944 the Warsaw Uprising came to an end with the surrender of surviving Polish rebels to German forces. The uprising began two months earlier when the Red Army was approaching Warsaw. The rebels supported the Polish government-in-exile and hoped to gain control of the city before the Soviets arrived. They did not want the Russians to gain the city and establish a communist regime in Poland.
While the rebels had initial gains, they were poorly supplied. Hitler sent reinforcements and the rebels and German soldiers engaged in brutal street fights. The Red Army did take a suburb of Warsaw but proceeded no further. Stalin ordered the Red Army not to assist the rebels and denied a request to use their airbases to supply the rebels. This would be remembered down the road by the Polish people. Both Churchill and Roosevelt asked for his assistance. Churchill, without Soviet approval, had supplies dropped by the RAF, the South African Air Force, and the Polish Air Force. Stalin finally relented and gave air clearance for the U.S. Army Air Force to make supply drops. However, it was too late by the time the supplies came.
Out of arms, supplies and food, there was no choice. After 63 days, they had no choice but to surrender. In retaliation for this uprising, the remaining population of Warsaw was deported. The Polish people were always meant to be eradicated as were the Jews. Plans had been drawn up before the war to turn Poland into a German colony. Warsaw was to be Germanized. Once the remaining population was deported, German destruction of Warsaw was sped up. They had started after the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Using flamethrowers and explosives, special teams went to work destroying whole neighborhoods, historical monuments, archives, and any place of interest.
By January 1945, 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were gone. Approximately 25% was done during the Warsaw Uprising. The losses are staggering to consider:
923 historical buildings (94% of these were destroyed)
14 libraries which includes the National Library
64 high schools
The University of Warsaw and Warsaw University of Technology
Of course, prior to this all Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were seized, looted and destroyed as well.
The Soviets took the position that the rebels did not coordinate their plans with them. Of course, the chief reason they did not aid them is that they supported the democratic Polish government-in-exile in London. And Stalin was not interested in supporting them. His goal had been before the war to allow the west to fight themselves to exhaustion allowing for the Soviet Union to expand in their direction. Those that led the uprising and members of the Home Army were persecuted by the Soviets after the war. They were arrested, tried, and deported to Soviet gulags. They had a show trial, not unlike ones during the Great Purge, where confessions were introduced to show they were actually in league with the Germans!
Fortunately, those captured by the Germans and freed by American-British forces were spared this. Stalin and his propaganda machine twisted the facts to show the failings of the Home Army and the Polish government-in-exile. All criticism of the Red Army and Soviet Union by Polish people were forbidden. All references to the Home Army were censored, all books and movies on the Warsaw Uprising were either banned or edited out the Home Army. When that did not work, they made the Home Army soldiers into heroes that were betrayed by their corrupt officers. This would remain in effect until the 1980’s with the rise of Solidarity that challenged the Soviet backed regime. It was not until 1989 that a monument was built in Poland.
In the West, stories of the heroism of the Home Army were told. They were valiant heroes fighting against the Germans. The Soviets were criticized for their non-involvement and that it helped them get rid of partisans that would have opposed them. Despite all the official censorship that existed, many Poles knew what happened and led to growing anti-Soviet sentiment that manifested into the Polish labor movement Solidarity. This peaceful movement in the 1980’s would effect change in Poland and later, as the days of the Soviet Union waned, Poland would gain back the freedom it had lost in 1939.
When World War II came to an end, it was decided to hold accountable officials and others responsible for crimes of war and the Holocaust. Some like Martin Bormann were tried in absentia. It was the first time in history this ever had been done. Usually when wars ended, treaties were signed, and prisoners of war released. In this case an international tribunal comprising representatives from France, Great Britain, United States, and the Soviet Union (USSR), held trials for defendants who faced a wide range of charges.
The defendants were both high ranking officials of the Nazi government as well as military and SS leaders. 199 defendants were tried in Nuremberg. 161 were convicted and 37 were sentenced to death (there were some tried by the US outside of the tribunal, namely those involved with the Einsatzgruppen). Unfortunately, Hitler and some of his closest aides (like Joseph Goebbels) committed suicide so they were never brought to trial.
Many Nazi’s fled Germany and were never held accountable for their crimes. Trials of Nazi’s would continue after the tribunal ended in many countries as they were brought to justice. Adolf Eichmann, who helped plan and carry out the deportations of Jews, was found in Argentina. Israeli agents captured him and brought him to Israel in 1960 where he stood trial. He was found guilty and executed in 1962.