Tag Archives: Adolf Hitler

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-Kristallnacht

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, send 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: Hitler becomes Fuhrer with Von Hindenbergs death

Chancellor Hitler and President Von Hindenberg at Garrison Church, Potsdam
March 1933
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S38324 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

With the death of German president, Paul van Hindenberg on August 2, 1934, Adolf Hitler would become the undisputed leader of Nazi Germany. Hitler had been appointed Chancellor by Hindenberg in January 1933.  Hitler and the Nazi Party channeled discontent with the post-war Weimar government. In the July 1932 elections the Nazi Party got 232 seats with the Communists coming in second. Hindenberg declined to appoint Hitler chancellor instead preferring General Kurt von Schleicher who tried negotiating with dissident factions within the Nazi Party. The next elections in November saw the Communists gain more seats while the Nazis lost seats.

Ironically the Communists gaining seats just made the case for ardent Nazis, prominent German businessman, and the conservative National People’s Party to ally and convince Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Hindenburg did not like Hitler and Hitler had disdain for the old general. Once in place, Hitler asked Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag. This allowed the Nazis and the National People’s Party to become the majority. It allowed for the passage of the Enabling Act, which allowed the Nazis to rule by decree for the next four years. Hitler and the Nazi Party swiftly enacted measures to take full control of Germany by severely curtailing individual liberties, freedom of the press and of course, and dismissing Jews from all public offices. Elections from that point on became mere rubber stamps for the Nazi Party and there was nothing to stop Hitler.

There was only one obstacle for Hitler. Hindenberg could dismiss him from office and would command the support of the German Army. So, Hitler always treated Hindenberg with great deference and respect until he passed away. With the death of Hindenberg, Hitler became Fuhrer (leader) and the German military all took an oath of allegiance to the new commander-in-chief. And the last remnants of the old democratic government were dismantled and absorbed into the new Nazi state.

Remembering the Past: 1,000 Year Reich Ends With Hitler’s Suicide on 30 April 1945

U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes announcing Hitler's death, 2 May 1945 Public Domain
U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes announcing Hitler’s death, 2 May 1945
Public Domain

Since early 1945, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his closest staff had been living in a bunker 55 feet below the chancellery in Berlin. The 18-room bunker was self sufficient with its own electricity and water. Even then it was not comfortable but with Soviet troops threatening to siege Berlin, it was prudent to take cover. Between allied bombings and Soviet infantry moving in, things looked bad. It was clear to many in the German military and those close to Hitler such as Göring and Himmler, that the war was over.

This was not how it was supposed to end for Hitler. He started out in small and obscure group called Deutsche Arbeiterpartie (German Workers Party) that was formed in the aftermath of World War I in Munich. He joined in September 1919 and in 1920 delivered an impassioned speech that the party adopt Twenty-Five Points that would strengthen its purpose and attract new members. It succeeded and the name was changed to National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) or its more common and now infamous acronym Nazi.  Fusing nationalism and socialism along with a strong virulent dose of anti-semitism, the party attracted a following. Hitler was a particularly charismatic speaker who knew how to draw in his audience. Members of the old establishment (nobility, wealthy industrialists, and the military) were not won over right away. The Communists* were completely opposed to Hitler as were the worker’s unions.

In 1923 Hitler and the Nazis attempted to seize power in the Beer-Hall Putsch in Munich. It would fail but the headlines it generated would make both Hitler and the Nazi Party well known to all Germans. And it taught a young Hitler an important lesson about taking power. He learned that taking power by direct action would not work and changed the focus to winning elections. And most importantly gaining support of wealthy industrialists and members of the old aristocracy. By 1930 the Nazi Party was now a major party and gaining followers. The September 1930 elections saw them gain 107 out of 577 seats in the Reichstag. In the presidential election of 1932, Hitler received 13.7 million votes for president. Hindenburg still won but the Nazi Party was gaining momentum. In July they gained 230 out of 680 seats in the Reichstag but the November elections saw them lose seats (34). Since the center and right parties still had the majority, only a coalition government could be formed. The Communists, by contrast, had gained seats in that election.

Hitler, after negotiations with other right and center parties and gaining key support from industrialists and military, would become Chancellor on 30 Jan 1933. The die was now cast with the Nazi Party now in command. Hitler and the party would quickly reorganize government so that every facet was under their control from newspapers to labor unions. Jews would be dismissed from all government positions, all non-state schools closed (that included religious schools and ones that trained for the priesthood), the formation of the Gestapo and much more would take place. In a rigged election in November, an astonishing 93 percent of the vote was cast for the Nazi Party. After the death of President von Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler would declare himself Fuehrer in accordance with the Fuehrer Prinzip outlined in Mein Kampf. Democracy, what little of it was left in Germany at this time, was kaput. He was now the ruler of Germany and everything flowed from top to bottom. For the next decade Germany would be built up ready to take what it wanted from the West. Hitler learned the leaders of Great Britain and France were so afraid of another general war they would do just about anything to avoid it. Which is why he was so successful in getting key concessions without any fighting at all. Eventually after his annexation of Austria and his threats on Poland spurred Britain and France to draw the line. But it was too late. And the French failed to act when the German army was in the east invading Poland. The rest, as they say, is history.

Germany would conquer its share of Poland (the other half was under Soviet control). Then would pivot west and take all of Western Europe above Spain to Sweden. At one point Germany ruled completely from the Atlantic to the borders of Russia. It sought to take control of North Africa. With Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler in Germany, most of Europe would be under authoritarian rule. Only Switzerland as a neutral state remained free as did Sweden. Germany would invade the Soviet Union in 1941 and declare war on the U.S. after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. At the early stage it was believed they would defeat Stalin and focus all of their energies to prevent the allies any success. And many believed Hitler would win it and negotiate a grand peace in the end. However the invasion that took place on 6 June 1944 would make many Germans realize that things had changed for the worse. And by May 1945,most of Europe had been liberated from German rule. Italy had been liberated by the allies and Mussolini dead. The Soviet Union suffered terribly under the German occupation and now were getting their revenge. Stalin had hoped Hitler would bring about the ruin of the west. It did not work out that way but the Soviet Union would dominate Poland, the Balkan States, and Central Europe for a very long time afterwards.

Hitler would commit suicide with his new wife (and former mistress) Eva Braun. They poisoned themselves and their dogs. Hitler would shoot himself to make sure he would not be captured alive. Their bodies would be cremated and on 8 May 1945 Germany would unconditionally surrender. So ended the life of one Adolf Hitler, former painter, soldier, and eventually the leader of one of the most ruthless states ever created. The six million victims of the fanatical desire to eliminate Jews stand testament to the evil that man can create. His book, Mein Kampf, sadly though is gaining new popularity primarily in the bookstores in Turkey and the Middle East. And inspiring new evils.

*Although opposed to Hitler and Nazi Party, the German Communist Party was ordered by Stalin to stand down in opposing Hitler. Stalin believed Hitler’s war with the West would so damage them they would be ripe for invasion. This led him into believing that a pact with Germany dividing up Poland would give Hitler the free hand he needed to war with the West. He totally misunderstood Hitler and was caught unprepared when Germany invaded in 1941.

Sources:
Allen, William Sheridan. The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945. Brattleboro, VT:Echo Point Books. 2014
Engleman, Bernt. In Hitler’s Germany. New York: Schocken Books. 1986.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1960.
Snyder, Lewis L. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Marley & Company. 1976.

Nazi Titanic Propaganda Film Turns 70

Joseph Goebbels
Photo:Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1968-101-20A / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA

The Times of Israel has an interesting story on Joseph Goebbel’s famously overbudget and scandal plagued Titanic movie. Conceived as a means to convey German heroism while depicting how bad British society and capitalists were, it ended up being banned and shown only in occupied countries. The film had a budget of 4 million reichmarks (around 180 million today). They also diverted resources (men and material) for set construction and for set extras. Stories of partying, the director Herbert Selpin in constant turmoil with producers and actors, and Selpin uttering anti-Nazi comments reached Berlin. Selpin was arrested, interrogated, and was found dead in his cell (suicide but most believe he was murdered ). When Goebbel’s saw the final cut, he was not happy. When production started, Germany was master of Europe. But by late 1942 and 1943, the tide of war had changed. It now was in a two front war, being bombed by the allies, and had suffered some defeats. He banned its showing in Germany but allowed it shown in occupied countries, where it was well received. Then the war ended and the movie faded.

But not the end of the story as Wikipedia notes:
Titanic was re-discovered in 1949, but was quickly banned in most western countries. Shortly after the war, the film, dubbed in Russian, was screened across the Eastern Bloc as a “trophy film.” After the 1950s, Titanic went back into obscurity, sometimes showing on German television. In 1992, a censored, low quality VHS copy, was released in Germany. This version deleted the strongest propaganda scenes, which immensely watered down its controversial content. Finally, in 2005, Titanic was completely restored and, for the first time, the uncensored version was released in a special edition DVD by Kino Video.

Four scenes from the movie were incorporated in the 1958 A Night To Remember. Wikipedia says it was of two day scenes of Titanic on calm water, and two clips of an engine room walkway flooding. The restored version is available on Amazon although clips and trailers (and perhaps the full movie as well) are to be found on YouTube.

Sources:
1. Goebbels’ ‘Titanic’ Cinematic Disaster Turns 70 (1 Oct 2013, Times of Israel)
2. Wikipedia:Titanic (1943)
3. Internet Movie Database