On 13 July 1943, the largest tank battle in history came to an when the Russian Army repulsing the German offensive. Both Germany and Russia had concentrated their forces near the city of Kursk in western Russia. The Soviet Union held a 150-mile-wide pocket into German lines. The German attack began on 5 Jul with 38 divisions of which half were tanks moving from south and the north. The Soviets had better tanks and air support by this time, unlike previous battles. The fighting was bitter and intense but the Soviet antitank artillery managed to damage or destroy nearly 40 percent of the German armor. Some of the tanks destroyed were the newer class Mark VI Tiger tanks. After six days of warfare, German General Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge called off the offensive. The Germans retreated to their original positions by 23 Jul making it a decisive victory for the Russians, though a very costly one.
On 14 June 1940, the open city of Paris was taken by the German army. There was no opposition. Le Havre in the north fell as to German control. The Maginot Line in the east was broken by the German 1st Army under General Erwin von Witzleben near Saarbrucken. The French government had relocated to Bordeaux and appealed to the United States to enter the war. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had asked the French to hold on and not surrender.
In the United States, the fall of France was seen as a catastrophe but there was hesitation on what to do. The French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Roosevelt for aid in either a declaration of war or, if not possible, any help they could provide. Roosevelt was sympathetic but advisors such as Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, argued any open support for the French would be seen as a declaration of war by the Germans. Public opinion was still in support of the U.S. staying out of the European war, and the Congress would not wholly support it either.
Parisians had been fleeing the approaching German troops. It has been estimated that over 2 million Parisians fled ahead of the German arrival in Paris. Parisians awoke that morning with messages blaring over loudspeakers that a curfew would begin at 8 pm that night. The Germans took quick control raising the German swastika on the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The Gestapo quickly began to start rounding up those already on lists for arrest, interrogation, and execution or deportation to Germany. While the United States did not offer any formal support for France, it implemented a freeze on Italian and German assets in the country (meaning they had no access to funds in U.S. banks or to any property they owned).
By this time, the formal relationship between had already deteriorated. As a response to Kristallnacht in 1938, the U.S. ambassador had been withdrawn. Only a Charge d’Affairs*represented the U.S. from that point on. Germany withdrew its ambassador in response. This would remain unchanged until Germany formally declared war on 11 December 1941.
*A charge d’affairs is a diplomat who handles the ordinary duties of an ambassador when they are not present (whether temporary or permanent). Often this will occur when an ambassador has ended his tour and they are awaiting a new one to be posted. A person acting in this capacity has the same immunities that the ambassador does. In formal ceremonies, a charge d’affairs is treated with a lesser precedence than an ambassador.
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.
Snyder, Lewis: Encyclopedia of The Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York, 1976
By April 1945, victories by Allied and Russian forces had reduced the once formidable German state to a shadow of its former self. Due to increased Allied air attacks on Berlin, Hitler had relocated his headquarters from the Reich Chancellery to the Fuhrerbunker, an underground complex that would serve as the command center for the remnants of the Third Reich earlier in the year. 19th April saw the Soviet Army mobilize its troops to encircle Berlin. Hitler had gone above on 20 April 1945, his 56th birthday, to award the Iron Cross to boys from the Hitler Youth.
It was on 22 April 1945 that Hitler, in an afternoon meeting, learned that Soviets were entering the northern suburbs of Berlin meeting no resistance. It enraged Hitler, who denounced the Army, and made him realize the war was lost. Hitler decided to stay in Berlin rather than flee south.
In the early years of the 20th century, the colonial powers of Britain and France became increasingly concerned with Germany’s military growth. France had suffered defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and was concerned about its growing military power. Britain was concerned as well about Germany’s growing navy bringing both countries together in an agreement. Africa was the main point of contention with British, French, Belgium and Germany all having colonial territories. Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain also had territory in Africa.
On 8 April 1904, both countries declared that they recognized certain territorial claims of the other in Africa. The British agreed that France had control over Morocco and France agreed to recognize Egypt as under British control. The declaration became known as the Entente Cordial and the beginnings of an alliance between the two powers. Although there was an agreement to diplomatically support the other, there was no requirement they provide military assistance if they were attacked.
Why This is Important
While not a formal alliance, it put the world on notice and in particular Germany that Britain and France recognized each other’s colonial territories. Germany saw the agreement exactly for what it was and would take steps to challenge it. Germany supported the Sultan of Morocco in 1905 against France. Britain however sided with France and resulted in an international conference that confirmed France’s control over Morocco. Germany decided to send troops to Morocco in 1911 precipitating another crisis. This forced both Britain and France into an informal military alliance to counter Germany. Rather than break up the two parties, Germany’s actions only brought them closer together. And it would result in more formal military agreement that would include Russia as well. By 1912, Europe was divided into two main blocks: Britain, France and Russia and Germany, Austria-Hungary.
The aftermath of World War I left Germany in a national crisis. Its new government, the Weimar Republic, had to deal with the staggering terms of the Versailles Treaty imposed on it by the victorious allies. The economy was in shambles, hyperinflation made buying even the ordinary items expensive, and discontent was in the air. This is where many different groups vied to convince Germans it had the solution to the country’s woes. One of these was a new party called the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) led by Adolf Hitler. It would become known as the acronym Nazi Party.
On the evening of 8 November 1922, Hitler and the Nazi Party attempted to seize power in the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Storming a meeting of 3,000 people where the state commissioner was speaking, Hitler proclaimed the revolution was underway to the surprised attendees and speakers. The next day Hitler with Hermann Goring, General Ludendorff and about 3,000 supporters marched to the center of Munich. At first, they pushed aside the small number of police sent to stop them. However, the police firmed up and ordered the march to stop. And then the shooting began which ended with Nazi’s lying dead on the street and many (like Hitler) forced to flee. Most of the chief perpetrators like Hitler would be arrested and brought to trial.
The attempted coup was a failure, but it brought a lot of attention on Hitler and the party. The trial was covered by German and international newspapers. It gave Hitler and his party a chance to express their views on many things as to why the tried the coup. It was a case where the defendant was winning in the court of public relations even while losing it by being convicted of a crime. Hitler was sentenced to five years but only served nine months in Landsberg am Lech before being released. During that time, he wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf, the bible of the National Socialist movement. Designed to appeal to dissatisfied elements in Germany, its influence spread beyond Germany’s borders and its virulent anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, and anti-Catholic (to name a few) still finds approval today in some places where hatred of Jews and democracy exists.
Snyder, Louis Dr, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York 1976.
On 12 Mar1938 German troops marched in Austria and formally annexed the German-speaking nation.
The movement to unify Germany and Austria (Anschluss) began after the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved in 1919 (by the Treaty of Saint German-en-Laye). There was sentiment to a union with Germany but it was barred by the Treaty of Versailles. Anschluss became an issue during the 1920’s and in 1931 the German and Austrian governments proposed a customs union. Austria had been weakened by the collapse of the Loan Bank (Kreditanstalt) and anarchy in politics. France opposed it as did Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania. The International Court of Justice in The Hague decided it was illegal.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Anschluss was revived. Hitler considered it a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was murdered in the Chancellery in Vienna by Austrian Nazis trying to stage a coup’état. It failed but Hitler backed the Austrian Nazi Party (illegal in Austria) even though he by treaty in 1936 guaranteed independence for Austria. In 1938, the Austrian Nazis were plotting another attempt to seize Austria and unite with Germany. Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg was invited by Hitler to meet with him in February, 1938. Hitler demanded concessions that involved appointing Nazi sympathizers into positions of power.Schuschnigg, knowing he had no support from Britain or France, gave in. Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Minister of Public Security, who had control of the police, was the key appointment that Hitler sought. Seyss-Inquart was an Anschluss supporter.
Schuschnigg called for a national vote on 9 March on Austrian independence. Meanwhile German troops began massing at the border. Hitler demanded that Schuschnigg resign in favor Seyss-Inquart. Under intense pressure, he resigned and the vote was cancelled. Seyss-Inquart was ordered by Hermann Goering to request German troops be sent in restore order. With that, German troops entered the country on 12 March 1938. Enthusiastic crowds greeted Hitler and the troops. A new Nazi government was created and the Anschluss was proclaimed. Jews in Vienna and other parts of Austria were subject to new harsh measures and many were imprisoned. Known opponents of the unification were also arrested. Many Jews tried to emigrate or flee Austria as well.
The reaction of Britain and other powers was mostly moderate to the annexation. And this emboldened Hitler to use more aggressive tactics to expand as neither Britain or France were going to stop him. Austria would remain a German federal state until after World War II when Austria was made independent again.
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 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.
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.
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.