A few days ago, my friends, Rikki and Tony Ramsey (who is stationed in Germany) and their three sons, Jameson, Jackson, and Jordan posted some pictures of a trip they took to Salzburg, Austria. On the way there, they went to a place in the mountains, and posted pictures of them in front of a large cross. It was the cross that caught my eye, but the story of the place that held my interest. In English the place is called the Eagle’s Nest, but in German it is the Kehlsteinhaus and it is a building and cross erected by the Third Reich atop the summit of the Kehlstein, a rocky outcrop that rises above Obersalzberg near the town of Berchtesgaden. This was not a church or a fancy mountain-top resort or restaurant…at least not then. It was used exclusively by members of the Nazi Party for government and social meetings, and was visited on 14 documented instances by Adolf Hitler, who disliked the location due to his fear of heights, the risk of bad weather, and the thin mountain air. Today, the building is owned by a charitable trust and is open seasonally to the public as a restaurant, beer garden, and tourist site. I’m sure Hitler would be furious about that.
The Kehlsteinhaus is located on a ridge atop the Kehlstein, a 6,017 feet subpeak of the Hoher Göll that rises above the town of Berchtesgaden. It construction was commissioned by Martin Bormann in the summer of 1937, and paid for by the Nazi Party. It took 13 months to complete, and whether is was the speed of its construction, or simply poor safety standards, twelve workers died during its construction. The road to Kehlsteinhaus is 13 feet wide and climbs 2,600 feet over 4 miles. To get to Kehlsteinhaus, the road goes through five tunnels and one hairpin turn. The road cost RM 30 million to build (about €150 million inflation-adjusted for 2007), which equals about 180,450,000 US dollars. Hitler’s birthday in April 1939 was considered a deadline for the project’s completion, so work continued throughout the winter of 1938, even at night with the worksite lit by searchlights. That explains the twelve deaths, I suppose.
Once you arrive, there is a large car park. From there, a 407 feet entry tunnel leads to an ornate elevator that ascends the final 407 feet to the building. Even the tunnel was elaborate. It was lined with marble and was originally heated, with warm air from an adjoining service tunnel. Most people walked into the elevator, but visiting high-officials were commonly driven through the tunnel to the elevator. Since the tunnel was to narrow to turn around, the driver then had to reverse the car for the entire length of the tunnel. The elevator was elaborate too, of course. The inside was surfaced with polished brass, Venetian mirrors, and green leather. The building’s main reception room is dominated by a fireplace of red Italian marble presented by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, which was damaged by Allied soldiers chipping off pieces to take home as souvenirs. Hitler had the best of everything in the building. Unusual for 1937, the building had a completely electric appliance kitchen, but it was never used to cook meals…instead meals were prepared in town and taken to the kitchen on the mountain top to be reheated. Another extravagancy was the heated floors, with heating required for at least two days before visitors arrived. A MAN submarine diesel engine and an electrical generator were installed in an underground chamber close to the main entrance, to provide back-up power. Much of the furniture was designed by Paul László.
Hitler first visited on September 16, 1938, and returned to inaugurate it on April 20, 1939, his 50th birthday…though supposedly, it was not intended as a birthday gift. There are two ways to approach and enter the building…the road and the Kehlsteinhaus elevator. Hitler did not trust the elevator, continually expressed his reservations of its safety, and disliked using it. His biggest fear was that the elevator’s winch mechanism on the roof would attract a lightning strike. Bormann took great pains to never mention the two serious lightning strikes that occurred during construction. For a man who was supposedly such a “brave leader,” Hitler sure was afraid of a lot of things. The Kehlsteinhaus lies several miles directly above the Berghof, Hitler’s summer home. In a rare diplomatic engagement, Hitler received departing French ambassador André François-Poncet on October 18, 1938, there. It was he who actually came up with the name “Eagle’s Nest” for the building while later describing the visit. Since then, the name has remained. A wedding reception for Eva Braun’s sister Gretl was held there following her marriage to Hermann Fegelein on June 3, 1944. While Hitler more often than not left the entertaining duties to others, he believed the house presented an excellent opportunity to entertain important and impressionable guests. Often referred to as the “D-Haus,” short for “Diplomatic Reception House,” the Kehlsteinhaus is often combined with the teahouse on Mooslahnerkopf Hill near the Berghof, which Hitler walked to daily after lunch. Later, after the war, the teahouse was demolished by the Bavarian government, due to its connection to Hitler.
The Allies tried to bomb the Kehlsteinhaus in the April 25, 1945 Bombing of Obersalzberg, but the little house did not make an easy target for the force of 359 Avro Lancasters and 16 de Havilland Mosquitoes, which were sent to bomb Kehlsteinhaus, but instead, severely damaged the Berghof area. Undamaged in the April 25 bombing raid, the Kehlsteinhaus was subsequently used by the Allies as a military command post until 1960, when it was handed back to the State of Bavaria. The road to the Kehlsteinhaus has been closed to private vehicles since 1952 because it is too dangerous, but the house can be reached on foot (in two hours) from Obersalzberg, or by bus from the Documentation Center there. The Documentation Centre currently directs visitors to the coach station where tickets are purchased. The buses have special modifications to take on a slight angle, as the steep road leading to the peak is too steep for regular vehicles. The Kehlsteinhaus itself does not mention much about its past, except in the photos displayed and described along the wall of the sun terrace that documents its pre-construction condition until now. The lower rooms of the structure are not part of the restaurant but can be visited with a guide. They offer views of the building’s past through plate-glass windows, including graffiti left by Allied troops that is still visible in the surrounding woodwork. The red Italian marble fireplace remains damaged by Allied souvenir hunters, though this was later halted by signage posted that the building was US government property, and damage to it was cause for disciplinary action. Hitler’s small study is now a storeroom for the cafeteria. Thanks to the Ramsey family for taking us along.
Henri Honoré Giraud was a French general and a leader of the Free French Forces during the Second World War until he was forced to retire in 1944. Giraud was born on January 18, 1879 the son of Louis and Jeanne (née Deguignand) Giraud. His father was a coal merchant. Born to an Alsatian family in Paris, Giraud graduated from the Saint-Cyr military academy and served in French North Africa. During World War I, Giraud was wounded and captured by the Germans, but managed to escape from his prisoner-of-war camp. It was the first time he escaped, but not the last. After World War I ended, Giraud returned to North Africa and fought in the Rif War. During that war, he was awarded the Légion d’honneur. The Légion d’honneur (or Legion of Honour) is the highest French order of merit, both military and civil. It was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, and it has been retained by all later French governments and régimes.
When World War II began, Giraud was a member of the Superior War Council. He strongly disagreed with Charles de Gaulle about the tactics of using armored troops that were planned. Giraud was made the commander of the 7th Army when it was sent to the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. He was able to delay German troops at Breda on May 13th. The badly depleted 7th Army was then merged with the 9th Army. While the troops were trying to block a German attack through the Ardennes, Giraud was at the front with a reconnaissance patrol when he was captured by German troops at Wassigny on May19th. A German court-martial tried Giraud for ordering the execution of two German saboteurs wearing civilian clothes, but he was acquitted and taken to Königstein Castle near Dresden, which was used as a high-security POW prison. He would be held there for two years.
Not one to just sit around, Giraud began carefully planning his escape. He learned German and memorized a map of the area. He painstakingly made a 150 feet rope out of twine, torn bedsheets, and copper wire, which friends had smuggled into the prison for him. Using a simple code embedded in his letters home, he informed his family of his plans to escape. I doubt if they were surprised, as it would not be the first time he escaped his captors. Finally on April 17, 1942, he was ready. Königstein Castle was built on a hilltop, with steep cliff on one side. After shaving off his moustache and covering his head with a Tyrolean hat to disguise himself, Giraud lowered himself down the cliff of the mountain fortress. He discretely travelled to Schandau where he met his Special Operations Executive (SOE) contact, who provided him with a change of clothes, cash, and identity papers. Thus began the series of tactics designed to get Giraud to the Swiss border by train. By now, the border guards had been informed of his escape and were on the alert for him. Giraud walked through the mountains until he was stopped by two Swiss soldiers, who took him to Basel. Eventually, he was able to slip into Vichy France, where he was finally able to make his identity known. He tried unsuccessfully to convince Marshal Pétain that Germany would lose, and that France must resist the German occupation. His views were rejected, but at least the Vichy government refused to return Giraud to the Germans. Returning him would have been a death sentence, because Hitler had ordered Giraud’s assassination upon being caught. Giraud went to North Africa via a British submarine, and joined the French Free Forces under General Charles de Gaulle. He eventually helped to rebuild the French army.
In January 1943, Giraud took part in the Casablanca Conference along with Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D Roosevelt. Later in the same year, Giraud and de Gaulle became co-presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation, but Giraud lost support and retired in frustration in April 1944. After the war, Giraud was elected to the Constituent Assembly of the French Fourth Republic. He remained a member of the War Council and was decorated for his escape. He published two books, “Mes Evasions” (My Escapes, 1946) and “Un seul but, la victoire”: Alger 1942–1944 (A Single Goal, Victory: Algiers 1942–1944, 1949) about his experiences. He died in Dijon on March 11, 1949.
For some reason, when I think of Prisoner of War (POW) camps, I think of a place far away in a war zone, and there were some there, but as they filled up, the prisoners had to be moved to other areas. In addition to that, we needed men to work in the United States because our men were overseas fighting. The prisoners could be put to work in the fields to help grow needed foods for the country, as well as the troops. That idea was a bit foreign to me, especially when I heard that there was just such a camp that was practically in my backyard…even if I wasn’t born at the time. It’s just odd when history collides with your own neighborhood.
During World War II, the Greeley, Colorado POW camp had prisoners from Germany and Austria. The camp was built in 1943, and the first prisoners came in 1944. The camp was a self-contained town in itself. It had a fire station, hospital, theater, library, and classrooms. It also had electricity, water, and sewers. The prisoners who were held in the POW camps in the United States were treated well. This country wasn’t into the torture methods that the Axis of Evil nations were.
Many of the prisoners worked in the fields and paid money, for their labor, to take home with them. They were also given the chance to have fun. They had soccer teams. They dyed their t-shirts different colors using homemade dyes from vegetables. They had classes in English, German, and Mathematics. Some men were in the camp orchestra and others sang in choir. In many ways, the lives these men lived in the POW camps was better than the lives they lived at home…or at least during the war.
The Greeley POW Camp 202, was almost like a coveted assignment. It was the place the prisoners wanted to be sent. When new prisoners came to the camp, they would try to find men from their hometowns…hoping others had been as blessed as they felt to be there. The story is told that, “The old prisoners would toss out gum or paper with their names and address. One day a father and son found each other from the tossed notes.” These reunions were such a blessing for the prisoners. The guards were well liked. In fact, when one of the guards got married, the prisoners cooked their wedding night dinner for them. These good guards found favor with the prisoners.
I like to think that POW camps in and run by the United States were and are more civilized than those camps owned and run by other countries, but I don’t suppose all of them were run as compassionately as the Greeley POW Camp. We hear nightmare stories of Guantanamo Bay, and I’m sure there are others that weren’t so great. Still, I suppose things depend on the prisoners to a great degree. It is harder to show kindness to a prisoner who orchestrates a terrorist attack against our nation, killing thousands of innocent people, that it is to be compassionate to a soldier who is simply following orders, but is otherwise a kind and gentle person.
When we think of the weapons of warfare, we think of guns, planes, tanks, and such, but there are weapons of warfare that while seemingly far less lethal, are still deadly…in other ways. Economic warfare is something I would never have considered, even though it makes perfect sense. The Germans in World War II thought of every possible weapon, or very close to it. If a nation has no money to bankroll a war, they are very likely going to lose. That was the position that Germany wanted to put Great Britain in during World War II. They decided on an age-old plan…if you’re a criminal that is. Counterfeiting money to tank the economy.
The year was 1942 and for the purpose of artificially causing inflation of the British pound, leading to the economic collapse of the competition, while simultaneously funding some of their own projects, the production of the British “White Notes” was about to start. It would not start in Britain, however. These “White Notes” would be made behind the gates of Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The Germans decided to begin counterfeiting British banknotes. These tactics were considered particularly wrong by the German soldiers themselves, basically sneaky and unprofessional. However, soon after World War II, it became common practice for different countries to counterfeit the currency of their opposition in times of war. Evil knows no bounds.
The first attempt at counterfeiting, known as Operation Andrew, failed because of disagreements between top brass inside of the Nazi Party. Friederich Walter Bernhard Krueger was placed in charge of Germany’s second attempt at counterfeiting British notes. The second operation’s codename was Bernhard because that is what Krueger was called. In preparation for the production, Bernhard assembled a team of about 140 men/prisoners. Some historians have suggested that it was as many as 300. These men were told they would receive better treatment and special perks like radio, newspapers, warm barracks, if they participated in the operation. The men had nothing to lose. All they had to do was counterfeit 400,000 British banknotes a month.
After a year of hard work, and the prisoners finally successfully counterfeited the British White Note. By 1945, conservative estimates figure 70,000,000 notes were printed by the inmates. It was a cache worth upwards of £100,000,000. In order to complete this herculean task, the team of counterfeiters studied vast quantities of authentic White Notes. They broke this massive task up into seven smaller tasks, each one seemingly more difficult than the last. “These tasks included: Discovering secret security marks, Engraving the vignette, Perfecting the paper, Creating identical ink, Solving the serial numbering system, Re-creating the signatures, dates and places of origin, and Printing the notes. The men found no fewer than 150 different security marks hidden on the White Notes. There were intentional minor defects and flaws that the Bank of England incorporated as anti-counterfeiting devices. To make things even harder, these security devices were different for each denomination. Nonetheless, in short order, the counterfeit team produced a plate for each denomination: £5, £10 £20 and £50.” The plan was coming together and soon they were ready to execute it.
The plan was to fly over and drop the counterfeit money from the planes. Once it was laundered and in the hands of the people, they could spend it and because there was no real backing for the money, the economy would tank. The operation went on for a time, but with the late February and early March 1945 advance of the Allied armies, all production of notes at Sachsenhausen ceased. The equipment and supplies were packed and transported, with the prisoners, to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria, arriving on 12 March. They had to hide the evidence. They didn’t give up on the process, however. Shortly afterwards Krüger arranged a transfer of the equipment to the Redl-Zipf series of tunnels so production could be restarted. The order to resume production was soon rescinded, however, and the prisoners were ordered to destroy the cases of money they had with them. The equipment and any money not burned was loaded onto trucks and sunk in the Toplitz and Grundlsee lakes.
As is common with ships, the William P. Frye was a four-masted steel barque named after a US Republican politician of the same name, from the state of Maine. The ship was built by Arthur Sewall and Co of Bath, Maine in 1901. For a time, the ship had a great run…until 1915, that is. The ship sailed from Seattle, Washington on November 4, 1914, with a cargo of 189,950 US bushels of wheat. The ship and its cargo were bound for Queenstown, Falmouth, or Plymouth in the United Kingdom. In 1915 the United Kingdom was at war with Imperial Germany, but the United States was not enter the war yet and was officially neutral. It was early in the war, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous to sail the high seas.
When the ship was near the coast of Brazil, the Imperial German Navy raider SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich overtook the William P. Frye on January 27, 1915. The Germans stopped and boarded the ship. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have an enemy navy detain a ship I was on. You just never know what they are going to do. The William P. Frye was owned by the United States, and so a neutral ship. The ship should have been treated as neutral. The problem the William P. Frye had is that the cargo was deemed a legitimate war target because the Germans believed it was bound for Britain’s armed forces. In reality, even detaining the ship was probably an act of war, but that never seemed to bother the Germans anyway.
Upon making his decision that the William P. Frye was a legitimate target, the captain of SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich, Max Thierichens, ordered that William P. Frye’s cargo of wheat be thrown overboard. The captain and crew began to comply, most likely begrudgingly, and when the orders were not followed fast enough, he took the ship’s crew and passengers prisoner. Then he ordered the ship scuttled on January 28, 1915. The William P. Frye was the first American vessel sunk during World War I, and the United States wasn’t even in the war yet. The owners of the ship, Arthur Sewall and Co, wanted damages for the sinking of the ship and presented a claim for $228,059.54, which would total $5,763,800 today. In all, the SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich scuttled eleven ships during their reign of terror. They stole coal and gold from their victims, which kept them going for a while, until they developed engine trouble.
In another act of war, Thierichens took the passengers and the crew captive. Women and children, were part of approximately 350 people taken prisoner from eleven different ships that SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich’s crew had searched and destroyed. I suppose the possible act of war was somewhat forgiven when all 350 were released on March 10, 1915, when the German raider had engine trouble, and docked Newport News, Virginia, but then again, what else could they do with them. Nevertheless, an outraged American government forced the Germans to apologize for the sinking, and of course, the SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich was detained in port.
Our enemies really depend on the war we are in. In World War II, Russia was on the side of the United States. While they might not have really been our ally, they weren’t really our enemy either, so I guess they were our “frienemy.” In reality, they were in just as much danger as any other member of the Allies. Germany had made a deal with them, but then invaded them anyway. World War II was a fear-filled time. It was a hard-fought war, against terrible enemies. There were times that it looked like Hitler would win, but in the end, he did not, and as far as history knows, he committed suicide, along with his wife, Eve Braun Hitler, who married him the day before.
The people of the Soviet Union heard on the radio on May 9, 1945, at 1:10am, that Nazi Germany had signed the act of unconditional surrender. That surrender ended the USSR’s fight on the Eastern Front of World War II, or the Great Patriotic War as the Soviets called it. That war had been devastating consequences…according to official data, the state lost more than 26 million people. It was a great day for Russia and for the world. Hitler was dead, and the world could move forward and begin to heal. It was truly a rare case of an indestructible victory over its worst enemy, and the people of the state began a traditional method of celebration…drinking vodka and toasting to their victory.
The party began that day, May 9, 1945, and continued without ceasing for about 22 hours. People were so excitedly celebrating that they really didn’t think about their condition. They went outside in their pajamas, embraced, and wept with happiness. They didn’t care if they were in their pajamas, they were elated, and they partied. In fact, even non-drinkers began to drink. The party came to a screeching halt 22 hours later when the wartime deficiency of vodka, led to a unique situation. The party was in full swing, and when Joseph Stalin stepped up to address the nation in honor of the victory, the population had drunk all the vodka reserves in the country. I don’t think people really cared at that point what they toasted with. They would gladly lift a glass of water to cheer the victory. Nevertheless, how often does an entire nation run out of liquor…unless the nation is in prohibition, that is?
When Hitler took power in Germany, the first goal was to take away the guns from the people. He then dismantled the police, and set up his own police force…loyal only to him. This was the beginning of Hitler’s planned takeover…first of Germany, and then the world. That was his goal, but thankfully, the world fought back, and evil did not prevail.
World War II had gone on for almost five years…long years. Hitler’s forces were reeling from the devastating effects of D-Day, and Paris was next in line for liberation, The Allied machine was marching in to Paris to remove the Nazi Regime. Hitler was furious, and decided that if his army was to be forced out, they would take the best of the memories and landmarks of Paris with them. He planned to leave the city in smoldering ruins. Hitler issued the first of several orders to the German commander of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy the city. What Hitler had not anticipated, was that von Choltitz would not blindly do his bidding. The last last commander of Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944, von Choltitz disobeyed Adolf Hitler’s orders to destroy the city, and instead surrendered it to Free French forces when they entered the city on August 25th. Choltitz later asserted that his defiance of Hitler’s direct order stemmed from its obvious military futility, his affection for the French capital’s history and culture, and his belief that Hitler had by then become insane, while other sources point to the fact that he had little control of the city thanks to the operations of the resistance, and could not have carried out such orders. Nevertheless, von Choltitz has since been referred to as “The Saviour of Paris.”
As I look at the current circumstances in the United States, I am reminded of the days of Hitler’s reign of terror. The riots in the streets, the calls for gun control and defunding the police, and the removal of the statues marking our past…good and bad, are all reminiscent of the days of early World War II. Just as in the days of Hitler’s National Socialist Party, Socialism would not be good for America either. While the Democratic Party voters should understand that their values are like Hitler’s and yet, often blame the Republican party for being like Hitler, they are wrong. If they would look at history, instead of trying to remove our memory of the past, they would see just how alike Socialism is to Nazism and Hitler’s ways. Truly, the people of the United States need to wake up…and quickly. The decision to try to change our country to Socialism, is a slippery slope to communism, and the removal of the freedoms we hold so dear. We need to approach our future with our eyes wide open about the past of other nations, as well as the greatness that the American system of Capitalism has provided our nation with in the past. We like our freedom to let our voice be heard…a right that is found only in Capitalism. Don’t let the rights and privileges we so enjoy, be stolen from us by a handful of radical Socialists and Communists. The time to stand against Socialism and Communism is now!! Wake up America!!
During the Holocaust, the majority of known Jews in any given country, had a very slim chance of surviving the war, but the Denmark Jews somehow managed to hold an impressive 95% survival rate record. Much of that was due to one man, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, who became an unlikely hero of the Jewish people…mainly because he was a German diplomat serving as an attaché for Nazi Germany in occupied Denmark at the time. In fact, that is what makes what he did so strange.
Duckwitz was born on September 29, 1904, in Bremen, Germany. He was part of an old patrician family in the Hanseatic City. After college, he began a career in the international coffee trade. From 1928 until 1932 Duckwitz lived in Copenhagen, Denmark. Upon moving back to Bremen, November 1932 he met Gregor Strasser, who was the leader of the leftist branch of the German nationalistic Nazi Party. While talking to Strasser, Duckwitz found that “elements of Scandinavian socialism [were] connected with nationalistic feelings” and this led to his decision to join the Nazi Party, and subsequently on July 1, 1933, to join the Nazi Party’s Office of Foreign Affairs in Berlin.
What had at first seemed to him to be a party who’s values agreed with his, he soon became increasingly disillusioned by Nazi politics. In a letter written June 4, 1935 to Alfred Rosenberg, the head of the office, he wrote, “My two-year employment in the Reichsleitung [i.e. executive branch] of the [Nazi Party] has made me realize that I am so fundamentally deceived in the nature and purpose of the National Socialist movement that I am no longer able to work within this movement as an honest person.” That move in itself strikes me now, as scary, considering how the known Nazi party functioned. He may not have realized hoe dangerous his words were, but I think they could have gotten him killed. Around the same time the Gestapo (secret police) made its first notes on Duckwitz after he sheltered three Jewish women in his Kurfürstendamm apartment during a local anti-Semitic Sturmabteilung event. He later wrote that during this time period he became “a fierce opponent of this [Nazi] system”.
After 1942, Duckwitz worked with the Nazi Reich representative Werner Best, who organized the Gestapo. On September 11, 1943 Best told Duckwitz about the intended round-up of all Danish Jews on October 1, 1943. A horrified Duckwitz travelled to Berlin in an attempt to stop the deportation through official channels. When that failed, he flew to Stockholm two weeks later, saying he was going to discuss the passage of German merchant ships. While there, he contacted Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson and asked whether Sweden would be willing to receive Danish Jewish refugees. A couple of days later, Hansson came back with the promise of a favorable reception. On September, 29, 1943, Duckwitz contacted Danish social democrat Hans Hedtoft and notified him of the intended deportation. Hedtoft warned the head of the Jewish community CB Henriques and the acting chief rabbi Marcus Melchior, who spread the warning. Sympathetic Danes in all walks of life organized an immediate mass escape of over 7,200 Jews and 700 of their non-Jewish relatives by sea to Sweden. Duckwitz’ immediate action and the willingness of the Danish and Swedish citizens saved the lives of 95% of Denmark’s Jewish population. They were the only European nation to save almost all their Jewish population from certain death at the hand’s of Hitler’s evil regime.
Somehow, Duckwitz was never caught committing his act of “treason” against the Third Reich, and he stayed in good standing with the Nazi regime. After the war, Duckwitz remained in the German foreign service. From 1955–1958 Duckwitz served as West German ambassador to Denmark and later as the ambassador to India. When Willy Brandt became Foreign Minister in 1966, he made Duckwitz Secretary of State in West Germany´s Foreign Office. After Brandt became Chancellor, he asked Duckwitz to negotiate an agreement with the Polish government. Brandt’s work culminated in the 1970 Treaty of Warsaw. Duckwitz worked as Secretary of State until his final retirement in 1970. On March 21, 1971 the Israeli government named him Righteous Among the Nations and included him in the Yad Vashem memorial. He died two years later, on February 16, 1973 at the age of 68.
People aren’t usually evil. Nor are the easily accepting of evil. Usually, in order to get people to accept evil, it has to be hidden in a way. It has to be slipped in when they aren’t looking…slowly, so that it is accepted as normal…or a new normal. When Hitler ordered the systematic murder of the mentally ill and handicapped people in 1939, the people of Germany were outraged. Never before had any leader made such a boldly, callous move. Like throwing a frog in a pot of boiling water, they jumped…fought back.
Hitler moved too fast, and the people rebelled. The program, known as Hitler’s Euthanasia Department that began in 1939, came under the heading of unhidden evil. Hitler misjudged his people. He thought they would follow blindly along. When they began complaining about the T.4 program, which began as the systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective,” Hitler had to act. He had been transporting children from all over Germany to a Special Psychiatric Youth Department and killing them. Later, certain criteria were established for non-Jewish children. They had to be “certified” mentally ill, schizophrenic, or incapable of working for one reason or another. Jewish children already in mental hospitals, whatever the reason or whatever the prognosis, were automatically to be subject to the program. The victims were either injected with lethal substances or were led to “showers” where the children sat as gas flooded the room through water pipes. The program was then expanded to adults. The program was heinous in every way.
Before long the outraged protests began mounting within Germany, especially by doctors and clergy. Some of them even dared to write to Hitler directly and describe the T.4 program as “barbaric.” Others circulated their opinions more discreetly. Heinrich Himmler, was the head of the SS then, and the man who would direct the systematic extermination of European Jewry. Himmler had only one regret…that the SS had not been put in charge of the T.4 program. He says of the protesting, “We know how to deal with it correctly, without causing useless uproar among the people.” Finally, in 1941, Bishop Count Clemens von Galen denounced the euthanasia program from his pulpit. Hitler was concerned that other nations would get involved with such publicity about his program. He ordered the program suspended on August 18, 1941…at least in Germany. But 50,000 people had already fallen victim to it.
Hitler was not to be deterred. He now knew that he had to keep his programs hidden, if he was going to be able to carry out his plans. So, he revived the program in occupied Poland. The people there already had no say in the matter, and he hoped that it would be far enough from Germany so that the German people would not know what was going on. It worked for a time, but in the end, the world would know about the evil he tried so hard to keep hidden, and in the end the number of murder victims was far more than a mere 50,000…it was more like 11 million people.
How could such a small island, sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, have such a large impact during World War II? Malta is only 95 square miles, the largest of the three islands that make up the Maltese archipelago, and it had a population of 433,082 in 2019, so imagine how small the population was during World War II. Nevertheless, the British Crown Colony of Malta was a strategic location and made a pivotal contribution to the air war in the Mediterranean during World War II. I don’t suppose they wanted to be in such a position, and considering the loss of civilian lives, 1,300 in all, they paid a dear price for the war effort.
With the opening of a new front in North Africa in June 1940, came an increase to Malta’s already considerable value. There were British air and sea forces based on the island, who were able to attack the Axis ships transporting vital supplies and reinforcements from Europe. Winston Churchill called the island an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” Of course, Malta was a lot bigger, but it was in the sea, and it did have an air base, so it was like a large aircraft carrier. Churchill’s analogy makes sense in that planes could be dispatched from there and return to there as needed during fighting. General Erwin Rommel, the field command of Axis forces in North Africa, recognized its importance quickly. In May 1941, he warned that “Without Malta the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa.”
Being a strategic centerpiece did not, guarantee Malta’s safety. In fact, the opposite was the case. Both sides needed Malta, but only the Allies had it, so the Axis nations decided to destroy it. Between 1940 and 1942, Malta faced relentless aerial attacks by the Luftwaffe and Italian Air Force. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force both fought to defend the island and keep it supplied. Malta was essential to the Allied war effort to disrupt Axis supply lines to Libya, and also for supplying British armies in Egypt. The German and Italian high commands also realized the danger of a British stronghold so close to Italy. Malta was a danger to the Axis nations, and they were bent on wiping it off the face of the earth. Malta had a target on it, and they began to feel like the shooting range.
Through the course of the war, Malta was bombed so many times that in the end, that in April 1942, the people of Malta were collectively awarded the George Cross by King George VI, which is the highest award for civilian courage and heroism. It is the only time that an entire nation received such an honor. The award was considered such an honor that the nations flag proudly displays the George Cross.