Tag Archives: Adolf Hitler

Remembering History: Kristallnacht (9-10 Nov 1938)

Kristallnacht, 1938, Magdeburg
German Federal Archives

On November 9-10 1938, a violent wave of anti-Jewish pograms broke out in Germany, Austria and Sudetanland. Called Kristallnacht (means literally Night of Crystal but commonly called Night of Broken Glass) violent mobs destroyed synagogues, looted Jewish owned businesses, homes and schools, and arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps. Police and fire were ordered to stand down and only act to prevent damage to German buildings. Nearly all the Jewish synagogues were torched, except those close to historical sites or buildings.

Thanks to the presence of foreign reporters in Germany at the time, this event became known to the world changing perceptions about the Nazi regime.

Nazi officials depicted the event as a genuine response of the people to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan on 7 Nov 1938. Grynszpan, a 17-year old boy, was distraught over his family’s deportation from Germany to Poland. Vom Rath’s death two days later coincided with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazi Party leadership assembled in Munich used the occasion to push for demonstrations against the Jews arguing that “World Jewry” had conspired to commit the assassination. However, Hitler ordered that the demonstrations should not look they were prepared or organized by the Nazis’. They had to look spontaneous. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was the chief instigator following Hitler’s orders in his speech to the assembled party officials.

The regional Nazi party leaders issued instructions to their local offices about how to proceed. Reinhard Heydrich, as head of the Security Police, sent instructions to headquarters and stations of the State Police and SA leaders about the upcoming riots. The SA, Hitler Youth and others were ordered to wear civilian clothes so it would like genuine public reaction. Heydrich ordered the rioters to not endanger non-Jewish German life or property.  The rioters were also ordered to remove all synagogue archives prior to vandalizing and destroying them. Police were ordered to arrest as many young Jewish men their jails would hold.

Violence began to erupt in the late evening of 9 November and in the early morning hours of 10 November. The two largest Jewish communities, Berlin and Vienna, would see massive destruction. Mobs of SA and Hitler Youth shattered store windows. They attacked Jews in their homes and looted. They publicly humiliated Jews in the streets. Many Jews were killed as well though numbers vary but likely in the hundreds. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Those who were arrested by the SS and Gestapo ended up in Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen and other camps as well.  Many would die in the camps and many who were released had promised to leave Germany. Kristallnacht would spur Jews to emigrate from Germany.

Aftermath

German leaders blamed Jews for the riots and fined the Jewish community one billion Reich Marks. To pay the fine, Germany seized property and insurance money. This left Jewish owners personally responsible for repair costs. Kristallnacht accelerated more laws and decrees to deprive Jews of the property and their ability to make a living. The Aryanization of businesses required many Jewish owned businesses and property to be transferred to non-Jews. Usually they got paid a fraction of the true value of the business or property. By this time, Jews could not be government workers or in any aspect of the public sector. Now many professions in the private sector were unavailable as well (doctors, lawyers, accountants etc.). Jews were no longer allowed to have a driver’s license, expelled from any German school they were still attending, be admitted to German theaters (movies and stage) or concert halls.

Kristallnacht was covered by newspapers in the United State and elsewhere. It was front page news in the United States in large banner headlines and perhaps the largest story of Jewish persecution to be reported during the Nazi years. Despite attempts by German censors to prevent images from getting to newspapers in the United States, pictures got out and got printed in the 28 November 1938 issue of Life magazine. A telling heading published on the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner says it all:

Nazis Warn World Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies (23 Nov 1938)

President Roosevelt denounced the attack on Jews at a press conference on 15 November 1938 and recalled the US ambassador to Germany (the US was the only one to do this) and not replaced till 1945. A chargé d’affaires would handle diplomatic relations with Germany until war was declared in 1941. The US and other countries had restrictive immigration quotas in place at the time. However, 12,000 German Jews already in the United States were allowed to stay and not be sent back to Germany. Attempts to allow refuge for children under 14 were introduced in Congress but despite widespread support did not get voted into law.

Kristallnacht is rightly seen as the turning point in Nazi policy and world-wide opinion of the regime. The Nazi’s began concentrating their pogroms into the hands of the SS and more restrictive policies on the Jews. They radicalized and expanded the measures to remove Jews from the economic and social life of Germany. It would lead to policies of forced emigration and deportations to the East and the goal of Judenrein-a Germany free of Jews.

Sources:

This Day in History (History.com)
Kristallnacht (Brittanica.com)
Kristallnacht (Holocaust Encyclopedia-US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

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Remembering History: Beer Hall Putsch (8-9Nov 1923)

Munich Marienplatz during the failed Beer Hall Putsch (9 Nov 1923)
Photographer unknown
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

The end of World War I had left Germany in dire economic straits. The allies demanded reparations through the Versailles Treaty resulting in staggering inflation as Germany tried to pay. By 1923 the German mark was valued at four billion marks per dollar causing many who disliked the new democratic government to join the nationalist Nazi Party. Others were drawn the Nazi’s as well for their strong anti-communist views and their vocal dislike of Jews.

Adolf Hitler planned a coup in Bavaria that he hoped would spread and bring down the central government. On 8 November 1923, Hermann Goering surrounded the Munich beer hall where Bavarian officials were meeting with local business leaders. Hitler, with the aid of Nazi stormtroopers, charged into the hall with Hitler firing off a gun proclaiming the revolution has begun. The Bavarian officials decided to reluctantly support Hitler. However, the following day they would rescind that support and ordered troops to surround the Nazi forces that had taken control of the War Ministry building. Hitler decided to lead a March to the center of Munich. He had 3,000 marchers with him to 100 or more policemen blocking them. Shots were fired and 16 Nazis and 3 policemen were killed. Goering was wounded the groin and Hitler had a dislocated shoulder and managed to escape.

The Beer Hall Putsch collapsed, and Hitler was arrested. He was charged with treason and sentenced to 5 years in jail. During his time in the Landsberg fortress, he wrote his autobiography Mein Kampf. Political pressure on the Bavarian government got his sentence commutated and he ended up serving only nine months in jail. The Nazi movement would continue to grow in strength in the 1920’s gaining more support against the Weimar government, Communism and Jews. The Beer Hall Putsch would be remembered by the Nazi Party.  Although they lost, they used it for propaganda purposes and celebrated the heroes of that day.

Sources:

Remembering History: Hitler Invades Poland (1939); Japan Surrenders Ending World War II (1945)

Hitler attends a Wehrmacht victory parade in Warsaw on 5 October 1939
Public Domain

On 1 September 1939, German forces using the pretext they were acting in self-defense against Poland, invaded. The German infantry was not fully mechanized but had Panzers and fast-moving artillery that included truck mounted artillery. The German strategy was to quickly concentrate forces and encircle an enemy quickly. Thanks to the relatively flat terrain of Poland, it made it easy to move mobile infantry about. The invasion came one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August. This non-aggression pact meant neither side could assist the enemy of the other. A secret protocol to the agreement defined German and Soviet spheres in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. This protocol would not be proved until the Nuremberg Trials. So, when Germany invaded, Poland was already split with defined borders between the two countries. With this pact, Poland signed defense agreements with Britain and France. Talks between those powers and Germany did take place and the invasion was held up until they were concluded. Hitler did not believe they would declare war, and if they did would be willing to compromise after the invasion of Poland. Germany wanted the restoration of Danzig (in Polish Gdansk) as a free city (it had a large German population), the Polish Corridor, and the safeguarding of Germans in Poland. Germany demanded that a Polish representative with the power to sign such an agreement be present. The British, remembering what happened before when Czechoslovakia was forced to capitulate to the Germans, did not like that demand. When the Polish representative met with Ribbentrop on 31 Aug, he was dismissed when he had no power to sign. The Germans then claimed that Poland had rejected their demands and Hitler ordered the invasion for 1 September. The Germans were better prepared for war than the Polish. They had higher numbers of troops and had air superiority. Poland had older fighters while the bombers were more modern. They waited too late to upgrade so newer fighters and bombers would not be there when the Germany invaded. Poland had two armor brigades and its 7TP light tank was better armed than the German Panzer. But they only had 140 of those and 88 tanks they imported from Britain and France. The Polish Navy was a small fleet with destroyers, submarines and support vessels. Most of the surface vessels escaped and joined the British Royal Navy. Submarines did engage German shipping in the Baltic Sea but it was not successful. Polish merchant ships that did escape or elsewhere would join the allies and take part in wartime convoys. By 3 October both German and Soviet forces had secured their spheres ending the Second Polish Republic. Both German and Soviet governments quickly took control of their territories, organizing and annexing, and setting up regional controls. Government and military leaders who did escape would form a military force in support of the Polish government-in-exile. In response to the invasion of Poland, Britain and France formally declared war on Germany on 3 September but little else (France did invade the Saar but quickly withdrew). ==

Japan Surrenders

Surrender of Japan, Tokyo Bay, 2 September 1945: Representatives of the Empire of Japan on board USS Missouri (BB-63) during the surrender ceremonies.
Army Signal Corps, Public Domain

On the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese formally surrendered ending World War II. By this time Japan was no longer the military power it once was. The Battle of Midway in June 1942 had been the turning point when four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. Since then Japanese control over its captured territories were pushed back under massive effort of U.S. and Allied forces. By the summer of 1945, and with the capture of Okinawa, Japan was being blockaded and being bombed often. Plans for the invasion of Japan had been drawn up. After the bloody experience of capturing territory such as on Iwa Jima, it was expected to be a difficult invasion that would cost a lot of allied lives. However, the dropping of two atomic weapons on Japan in August on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed things dramatically. Members of the Japanese War Council and Emperor Hirohito favored accepting the peace terms; some objected and acted to stop a surrender. On 15 Aug a coup was attempted against Prime Minister Suzuki, but it was crushed. At noon that day, and for the first time in Japanese history, Emperor Hirohito addressed the nation by radio. “We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.” The US and the allies accepted the surrender.

 

 

Remembering History: Warsaw Uprising Begins (1 Aug 1944)

Rare Agfacolor photo (invention from 1936) dated August 1944 taken in Warsaw, Poland in the Old Town Market Place during Warsaw Uprising in August 1944
Ewa Faryaszewska (1920-1944)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On 1 Aug 1944 Poles in Warsaw launched a major uprising against the Nazi occupation. The Soviet Army had advanced to the Vistula River on the eastern suburb of Warsaw prompting the revolt. Polish General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, commander of the Home Army (an underground resistance group of around 40,000). The Home Army had ties to the government-in-exile in London, which was anti-communist. The hope was to gain at least partial control of Warsaw before the Soviets arrived.

By this time, the German Army had been pushed back considerably from its gains in Russia. And their taking Warsaw seemed likely. Despite this, Adolf Hitler ordered that the uprising be suppressed at all costs. The Nazi SS directed the defense force and engaged in brutal street fighting. The Polish Home Army fought back hard despite having limited supplies and no support from the Soviet Army (which cause friction between Poland and the Soviet Union for years).

The Red Army did capture several bridgeheads across the Vistula River in preparation to take Warsaw but held back doing anything more. Only under intense pressure from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt did Stalin relent and allow Allies to drop supplies to the rebels. But it was too late as by that time, both the rebels and the citizens ran out of food, supplies, and medical supplies. The uprising came to an end on 2 October when the remaining forces surrendered. The revolt had lasted 63 days but the cost for both sides was high. An estimated three-fourths of the Home Army died along with 200,000 civilians. The Germans suffered 10,000 dead, 9,000 wounded, and 7,000 missing. In keeping with their dislike of the Polish people (they were seen as just a notch above the Jews but were slated for either slavery or death by the Nazis) the survivors were deported.

Deploying demolition squads, most of the remaining intact buildings in Warsaw would be destroyed over the next several months. All of Warsaw’s treasures were looted, burned, or destroyed. Meanwhile the Red Army sitting outside Warsaw did nothing to stop the Germans. They would not move until January 1945 when their final offensive was launched. On 17 January 1945, the ruins of Warsaw were liberated by the Soviets who faced little or no opposition. Thus, making it easy for them to establish a Communist state in Poland. After suffering from Nazi occupation, the Polish people would suffer a longer one under the Communists.

 

Sources:


Remembering History: Germany and Italy Sign Pact of Steel (22 May 1939)

The signing of the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939 in Berlin
Photographer unknown
Public Domain/WIkimedia Commons

On 22 May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance that became known later as the Pact of Steel. This began the formal military and political alliance between the two countries. Initially Japan was to be part of the agreement but there was disagreement on the focus of the pact. Germany and Italy wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France, while Japan wanted the Soviet Union to be the focus. The agreement was signed without Japan but would later join in September 1940.

The agreement brought together two countries that opposed each other in World War I. It also required each country to come to the aid of the other if it were in armed conflict with another nation. Neither party could make peace without the agreement of the other. One of the assumptions of the agreement was that war would start in three years at the latest. Italy needed the time to get its war production into high gear. The agreement was for ten years but there was some concern within the Italian government the agreement would suppress Italian autonomy. The agreement was still signed despite these objections, which also came from Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Hitler, however, would soon declare his intentions of invading Poland. Mussolini was not happy he was not consulted on this, nor about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement. Italian forces did not commit fully to war until June 1940 when German forces had defeated British and French forces with lightning speed. Italy seized Nice as its prize. Other countries it tried to invade proved more difficult. Greek partisans brought the Italian force to a halt. Germany would intervene to help there and in Yugoslavia where Italian troops also pushed back by partisans. A disastrous attack on British Egypt from Italian Libya required German assistance as well. The economic consequences of the war were bad for most Italians generating widespread resentment that would lead one day to Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.

Sources:

History.com
School History
World War II Database


Remembering History: Hitler Commits Suicide;War in Europe Nearly Over

U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes announcing Hitler’s death
2 May 1945
Original source: U.S. Army
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler–the leader and founder of the 1,000 Reich–committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun in the underground bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. It would lead to the end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945 when Germany unconditionally surrendered to Allied powers.

Since the defeat of German forces in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, it had become increasingly apparent that Allied forces had turned the tide. Germany had been pushed out of North Africa at this point, faced Allied armies in Italy, and of course on 6 June 1944 the Allied invasion of Europe had occurred. An attempt on his life was unsuccessful in July 1944 (he was saved when the briefcase with the explosive was pushed under a heavy table) but resulted in imprisonment and executions for many who were involved. Field Marshal Rommel was forced to commit suicide rather than a public court martial.

Hitler had become more erratic, and many were concerned with his mental state. After withdrawing to the underground bunker in January 1945, he met with Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels. By 22 April 1945 though he realized the war had been lost with Soviet troops now in Berlin. On 23 April, Goering seeing that Hitler was encircled in Berlin, tried to take over as his presumed successor. Hitler stripped him of his powers and orders his arrest (this was futile since Goering surrendered himself to American forces). Himmler also had hopes of succeeding Hitler. In April, he was negotiating through a Swedish diplomat and with the Americans. When Hitler learned of this, he was stripped of his powers and his arrest ordered. Himmler tried to escape posing as an ordinary soldier but was caught and arrested. He committed suicide by taking poison.

By the end of April most of his aides and lieutenants (with some exceptions such as General Krebs) had deserted him with only Goebbels and Martin Bormann staying along. Albert Speer had declined to carry out Hitler’s orders to carry out a scorched earth policy in Berlin. Believing Germany had been unworthy of his genius and allowed themselves to be defeated, he decided to commit suicide. He married his long-time mistress Eva Braun in the early hours of 29 April 1945. He then dictated his last will and political testament that justified what he had done.  The will itself is quite short while the separate political testament that laid out a defense of his life and work, as well as appointing those who would lead the German government after his death.

In the afternoon of 30 April 1945, Hitler pointed a gun to his head (though he may have taken poison as well) and committed suicide while Eva took poison. Their bodies were burned, in accordance with his instructions, in the Chancellery garden. Goebbels transmitted a message to Admiral Karl Doenitz that Hitler had died and appointed him Reich President. Six hours later Goebbels and his wife committed suicide after poisoning their six children with cyanide.

Hitler’s death was broadcast on 1 May 1945 by Hamburg Radio. On 2 May 1945, German troops in Italy surrendered (it was signed on 29 April 1945) and Berlin surrendered to Russian Marshal Georgi Zhukov. More surrenders of German forces would follow. German forces in Denmark, the Netherlands, and northwestern Germany surrendered to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on 4 April 1945 (effective the next day). The German Ninth and Twelve armies surrendered to U.S. forces.

Sources:

Books

Snyder, Lewis: Encyclopedia of The Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York, 1976

Internet

Britannica.com
History.com
World War II Database


Remembering History: Italian Fascist Party Founded and Ardeatine massacre (23 March)

Remembering History:

  • Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)
  • Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Benito Mussolini, publisher of Socialist newspapers and veteran of World War I, founds the Fasci di Combattimento (“Fighting Bands) based on 19th century Italian peasant revolutionaries. In forming this party, more commonly called Fascist Party, Mussolini formally broke away from his Socialist peers creating a movement that fused elements of Socialism and Nationalism into this new movement. Fascism repudiated, as both Communism and Socialism does, democracy and civil liberties with governance done by a single party with a powerful central figure. Fascism rejects the Communist argument against capitalism and instead argues it can be made to serve the nation without taking it away from its owners. Nationalism, also derided by Communists, was elevated, and made an important element to bring people to support the goals of the new order.

Italy was suffering the after effects of World War I. Inflation was high, the morale of the people was low, and the parliamentary democracy that ran Italy seemed weak and ineffectual. Worse despite Italian support for Great Britain and France, they got little from the Treaty of Versailles which made Italians unhappy as well. Mussolini’s Fascist Party stepped in during this time to offer an alternative to the chaos. And it drew many wanting to remake Italy into a more powerful nation. Dressed in black shirts as their uniforms, they began a program of intimidation and terrorism against Communists, Socialists, and those that supported the current system.

In October 1922, Mussolini led a march on Rome which led to King Victor Emmanuel III appointing him as prime minister. He formed a three- member cabinet and presided over the parliamentary government. Using his Black Shirts and others, they quickly came down hard on political opponents and anyone who disobeyed the new orders edicts on how things were to be done. By 1925, the parliamentary government was formally ended with the proclamation of Mussolini as Il Duce (The Leader).

Adolf Hitler admired Mussolini’s rise to power and copied his tactics and beliefs in forming the National Socialism movement in Germany.

The rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual. And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State — a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values — interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people.”  Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932

Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

 In July 1943 the allies landed in Sicily beginning the Italian campaign. Rome itself was being bombed and Allied troops would likely land in the south and march north once they completed the Sicilian operation. The war had not gone well for the Italian military with more defeats than victories (and often the Germans having to assist them). The rationing of food, higher costs, and people generally upset with how things were being run by Mussolini led to widespread dissatisfaction. Believing the war was no longer in the interests of Italy, in late July Mussolini was rejected by his own Grand Council and arrested. Pietro Badoglio, the new Prime Minister, negotiated in secret with the allies to surrender and its terms. The Germans though were not going to allow the Allies access to Italian airbases or other support facilities. The armistice declared on 8 September by Badoglio resulted in the Germans taking Rome forcing the new government and the king to flee. Rome was occupied from September 1943-June 1944 when the Germans left making it an open city.

During the occupation of Rome, the German’s came down hard on its citizens especially those who had aided in the ouster of Mussolini and anyone who opposed them. It was not a happy time to live in Rome with German troops everywhere along with their vicious elements of the SS operating as well. The Italian partisans, who had been fighting Mussolini, now turned all their efforts on the Germans. They began acts of sabotage, coordinated attacks on Germans, and causing all kinds of mayhem. It led to a 23 March 1994 attack on a SS unit. A bomb was tossed at them killing 33 soldiers. The Germans were outraged, and reprisals were ordered. 335 Italian citizens were rounded up and taken to the Ardeatine caves. They were all shot dead as revenge for the deaths of the SS soldiers. 250 were Catholic, 70 were Jews, and the remaining unknown.

Fosse Ardeatine, Roma, Italia
24 November 2005
Image credit: antmoose (Flikr via Creative Commons)

After the killing was done, the cave was sealed. When the Allies liberated Rome on 4 June 1944, the massacre became widely known. It shocked Rome, all of Italy and the world when the details emerged. In the postwar trials that took place, many were held to account for their part in it. Generals von Mackensen and Mälzer were sentenced to death in 1945 by a British military tribunal. Field Marshal Kesselring was sentenced to death in 1947 though pardoned later. Former SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life in prision in 1948 by the Italians. There is also an interesting story of Kappler’s game of wits with Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who spearheaded the Vatican’s assistance to allied soldiers who fled to the Vatican for protection against the Germans. He visited Kappler in jail which led to his conversion to Catholicism. In 1997 his wife managed to smuggle the now old and frail Kappler (who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer) to West Germany. Italy wanted him back but West Germany saw no point to it: he was dying from cancer and in fact died a year later from it.

The Ardeatine Caves outside of Rome have become a national memorial.

Sources:

Mussolini founds the Fascist party (History.com)
Fascist Party (Britannica.com)
“The Doctrine of Fascism” (1932) by Benito Mussolini (pdf)

Germans slaughter Italian civilians (History.com)
Ardeatine Caves Massacre (U.S. Holocaust Memorial)
The Italian Resistance and the Ardeatine Caves Massacre (National WWII Museum)
Mausoleo Fosse Ardeatine

Remembering Munich Conference of 1938

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it! “(George Santayana-1905)

Nevile Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Count Ciano
29 Sep 1938 (German Federal Archives)

What is going on today regarding the Ukraine recalls one of the greater mistakes made prior to the outbreak of general war in 1939. Hitler had been in power since 1933 and re-fashioned the new German state on the ideas of National Socialism based on the Italian version of fascism. This new Germany began to rebuild itself fast repudiating the limitations of the Versailles Treaty imposed on them. Everything was changed to conform to the new order from education to what music they could listen to. Religious schools were shuttered forcing all children to attend public schools where the ideals of the new order would be taught. The Nazi’s (a shortening of a much longer name of the political party) had a special desire to exclude those who did not fit into their idea of what a person was. Jewish people were the top targets along with a long list of others (Polish, Gypsies, anyone of African descent, homosexuals, pacifists etc.) With full control of the print, radio, and film media, everyone got the party line no matter where they went. Opposition media was silenced and only by listening to forbidden foreign radio could you learn what was going on.

Despite how Germany broke its agreements, not one of the major powers (France, Great Britain, or the United States) officially said much nor really try to stop them (such as when they marched into the Rhineland on 7 Mar 1936)) Sure there were some politicians or opinion writers who expressed alarm and concern, but no one really cared at that point what Winston Churchill had to say since his own party ignored him. Nazi leaders were ecstatic when in August 1936 the world came to see the summer Olympics. They were pleased to show the world how much Germany had come back from its defeat after World War I. Sure people criticized holding the Olympics in a country that was violently antisemitic, but it went on anyway giving the Nazi’s a platform to show off the new Germany to the world. And many bought into it and even admired Hitler, with all his faults, for his accomplishments.

As Germany re-armed, it looked to expand its frontiers and bring into being a Greater Germany. Hitler was Austrian and both countries had close ties sharing a common language and culture. Many in Austria already supported such an idea long before the Nazi’s came into power. The Nazi’s had tried in 1934 in supporting a coup attempt, but it failed. By 1938 Germany was in a better position. Politicians and groups sympathetic to Hitler and unification in Austria were loudly calling for it. Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg hoped that a referendum on the issue set for 13 March 1938 would resolve. Hitler instead threatened to invade and through his agents asked him to resign. The referendum was canceled and on 12 Mar 1938, German troops entered Austria and were unopposed. The long-wanted Anschluss had finally occurred. Neither Great Britain nor France was willing to offer any assistance to stop it from happening. In fact, many uttered support for it.

That brings us to the events of the Munich Conference of September 1938. Around the same time that Austria was being swallowed up, Hitler began also saying that the German speaking people in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia wanted closer times with Germany. He began speaking publicly that this region should also be part of the Greater Germany as well. And he ominously spoke of forcibly acquiring if Czechoslovakia did not hand this area over to him. Austria had been taken without a fight and in London and Paris there was concern of a real war that might break out.  The position of both governments was to avoid total war; they did not want another World War I that devastated Europe. This policy of appeasement had many supporters in politics, academia, and the media. Those who argued against it were called warmongers, or worse. The problem was that both countries had signed treaties with Czechoslovakia that if they were attacked, their enemy became theirs.

They simply decided to abandon it by negotiating with Germany without any consultation with the Czechoslovakian government. They made a deal in which any area where fifty percent or more of German Sudetens that it would go to Germany. Hitler though sensed correctly that both the British (led by prime minister Neville Chamberlain) and the French (premier Édouard Daladier) were willing to give up more if it meant avoiding war. He knew the French had the best trained troops on the continent and the British an excellent navy. Yet neither were willing to put any of that up as a possible stop to his ambitions. They never offered that they would defend Czechoslovakia if he did not make a deal to avoid war. That was not ever on the table and Hitler knew he could get want he wanted just by making threats.

By threatening to move German troops into Czechoslovakia, he forced the British and French to call for a conference to settle the issue. And that begot the Munich Conference of 29 Sept 1938 in which the British, French, Italians, and Germans attended to find a peaceful solution to this crisis. Absent from this was anyone the Czechoslovakian government. The British and French agreed to hand over the area demanded by Hitler to Germany. The Czechoslovakians were told they had to accept or be invaded. It was a great victory for Hitler. Two great powers had groveled before him giving him land that had rich industrial resources that would feed the German war machine.

Neville Chamberlain was welcomed back to resounding applause in Britain. The agreement got applause from many in Parliament, academia, and the press. The public seemed to like it as well. After Chamberlain got off his plane and read the statement signed by Hitler, he famously said it was “peace in our time.” Other leaders in Europe breathed a sigh of relief thinking it would curtail German ambitions. It was one of the greatest misjudgments in history and that clip would famously show how Chamberlain was duped by a tyrant. That image would become so ingrained that appeasement completely fell out of the vocabulary only being used in history books or to accuse someone of going down that dangerous path again.

Czechoslovakia was abandoned by its allies. In October 1938, it was forced to hand over under the Vienna Award territory in its south to Hungary and a small concession to Poland. In March 1939, after Slovakia seceded to become a pro-German state, Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia accede to German occupation, which it did. Czechoslovakia then became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Churchill had warned the Munich Agreement was a bad omen and it proved accurate. Both the British and French handed Hitler his prize on a plate without him ever firing a shot. With his taking over Czechoslovakia, it showed how appeasement was a failed policy.

In both countries, and in other European capitals, it became obvious Germany was on the move to expand with its growing military power. Suddenly the prospect of real war became a reality. Chamberlain had to change policy and start agreements with other countries to deter Hitler. But the die was cast, and war would come officially in September 1939. This time the British and French offered their support to Poland if Germany invaded. Hitler was not worried as neither power moved any military in defense of Poland. His only worry was the French. If they moved against him while the bulk of his troops were in the east, it would be a big problem. He gambled-and he was right-that the French would not launch an attack as they did not  want war yet. Both countries did declare war on Germany as the result of invading Poland, but they did nothing to stop it.

The lesson from what happened in Munich still applies today.  You negotiate from strength and not from weakness. Once Hitler knew neither of the great powers would do anything to stop him, he pretty much could get everything he wanted since he knew they wanted to avoid war and willing to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. Had Chamberlain showed up saying they would blockade German ports, cut them off from the world-wide banking system if he did this, Hitler would have had to pause to consider his options. Perhaps he would have backed away. We will never know. If you are foolish enough to take off the table anything that will deter the aggressor, and only threaten to punish after the fact, it is not likely to work. Everyone knew Germany would invade Poland, but no one knew when and were dumbfounded by the pact between German and the Soviet Union that divided up that country. Stalin too was fooled by Hitler and shows even other tyrants can be foolish as well.

As we march into another European war, our leaders better remember the lessons of Munich. It led to a long brutal war that tore Europe apart leaving wounds to this day that have not completely healed. And six million Jews dead because those same leaders also foolishly thought it just careless words he wanted to rid the world of Jews.

Remembering History-Kristallnacht (9 Nov 1938)

Kristallnacht, 1938, Magdeburg
German Federal Archives

On November 9-10 1938, a violent wave of anti-Jewish pograms broke out in Germany, Austria and Sudetanland. Called Kristallnacht (means literally Night of Crystal but commonly called Night of Broken Glass) violent mobs destroyed synagogues, looted Jewish owned businesses, homes and schools, and arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps. Police and fire were ordered to stand down and only act to prevent damage to German buildings. Nearly all the Jewish synagogues were torched, except those close to historical sites or buildings.

Thanks to the presence of foreign reporters in Germany at the time, this event became known to the world changing perceptions about the Nazi regime.

Nazi officials depicted the event as a genuine response of the people to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan on 7 Nov 1938, Grynszpan, a 17-year old boy, was distraught over his family’s deportation from Germany to Poland. Vom Rath’s death two days later coincided with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazi Party leadership assembled in Munich used the occasion to push for demonstrations against the Jews arguing that “World Jewry” had conspired to commit the assassination. However, Hitler ordered that the demonstrations should not look they were prepared or organized by the Nazis’. They had to look spontaneous. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was the chief instigator following Hitler’s orders in his speech to the assembled party officials.

The regional Nazi party leaders issued instructions to their local offices about how to proceed. Reinhard Heydrich, as head of the Security Police, sent instructions to headquarters and stations of the State Police and SA leaders about the upcoming riots. The SA, Hitler Youth and others were ordered to wear civilian clothes so it would like genuine public reaction. Heydrich ordered the rioters to not endanger non-Jewish German life or property.  The rioters were also ordered to remove all synagogue archives prior to vandalizing and destroying them. Police were ordered to arrest as many young Jewish men their jails would hold.

Violence began to erupt in the late evening of 9 November and in the early morning hours of 10 November. The two largest Jewish communities, Berlin and Vienna, would see massive destruction. Mobs of SA and Hitler Youth shattered store windows. They attacked Jews in their homes and looted. They publicly humiliated Jews in the streets. Many Jews were killed as well though numbers vary but likely in the hundreds. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Those who were arrested by the SS and Gestapo ended up in Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen and other camps as well.  Many would die in the camps and many who were released had promised to leave Germany. Kristallnacht would spur Jews to emigrate from Germany.

Aftermath

German leaders blamed Jews for the riots and fined the Jewish community one billion Reich Marks. To pay the fine, Germany seized property and insurance money. This left Jewish owners personally responsible for repair costs. Kristallnacht accelerated more laws and decrees to deprive Jews of the property and their ability to make a living. The Aryanization of businesses required many Jewish owned businesses and property to be transferred to non-Jews. Usually they got paid a fraction of the true value of the business or property. By this time, Jews could not be government workers or in any aspect of the public sector. Now many professions in the private sector were unavailable as well (doctors, lawyers, accountants etc.). Jews were no longer allowed to have a driver’s license, expelled from any German school they were still attending, be admitted to German theaters (movies and stage) or concert halls.

Kristallnacht was covered by newspapers in the United State and elsewhere. It was front page news in the United States in large banner headlines and perhaps the largest story of Jewish persecution to be reported during the Nazi years. Despite attempts by German censors to prevent images from getting to newspapers in the United States, pictures got out and got printed in the 28 November 1938 issue of Life magazine. A telling heading published on the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner says it all:

Nazis Warn World Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies (23 Nov 1938)

President Roosevelt denounced the attack on Jews at a press conference on 15 November 1938 and recalled the US ambassador to Germany (the US was the only one to do this) and not replaced till 1945. A chargé d’affaires would handle diplomatic relations with Germany until war was declared in 1941. The US and other countries had restrictive immigration quotas in place at the time. However, 12,000 German Jews already in the United States were allowed to stay and not be sent back to Germany. Attempts to allow refuge for children under 14 were introduced in Congress but despite widespread support did not get voted into law.

Kristallnacht is rightly seen as the turning point in Nazi policy and world-wide opinion of the regime. The Nazi’s began concentrating their pogroms into the hands of the SS and more restrictive policies on the Jews. They radicalized and expanded the measures to remove Jews from the economic and social life of Germany. It would lead to policies of forced emigration and deportations to the East and the goal of Judenrein-a Germany free of Jews.

Sources:

This Day in History (History.com)
Kristallnacht (Brittanica.com)
Kristallnacht (Holocaust Encyclopedia-US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

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Remembering History: Germany and Italy Sign Pact of Steel (22 May 1939)

The signing of the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939 in Berlin
Photographer unknown
Public Domain/WIkimedia Commons

On 22 May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance that became known later as the Pact of Steel. This began the formal military and political alliance between the two countries. Initially Japan was to be part of the agreement but there was disagreement on the focus of the pact. Germany and Italy wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France, while Japan wanted the Soviet Union to be the focus. The agreement was signed without Japan but would later join in September 1940.

The agreement brought together two countries that opposed each other in World War I. It also required each country to come to the aid of the other if it were in armed conflict with another nation. Neither party could make peace without the agreement of the other. One of the assumptions of the agreement was that war would start in three years at the latest. Italy needed the time to get its war production into high gear. The agreement was for ten years but there was some concern within the Italian government the agreement would suppress Italian autonomy. The agreement was still signed despite these objections, which also came from Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Hitler, however, would soon declare his intentions of invading Poland. Mussolini was not happy he was not consulted on this, nor about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement. Italian forces did not commit fully to war until June 1940 when German forces had defeated British and French forces with lightning speed. Italy seized Nice as its prize. Other countries it tried to invade proved more difficult. Greek partisans brought the Italian force to a halt. Germany would intervene to help there and in Yugoslavia where Italian troops also pushed back by partisans. A disastrous attack on British Egypt from Italian Libya required German assistance as well. The economic consequences of the war were bad for most Italians generating widespread resentment that would lead one day to Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.

Sources:

History.com
School History
World War II Database