I read an article recently, that I can’t get out of my head. “A Study Finds 66% Of US Millennials Can’t Identify What Auschwitz Is” talks about the movement to remove certain elements from world history. The picture of Auschwitz is as foreign to kids these days as the idea of “The Final Solution” was prior to Hitler’s reign of terror in Germany and parts of Europe which led to the Holocaust. The thing that shocks me most is that when they were asked, after a tour of Auschwitz, which is located in Poland, why they didn’t tear these horrible buildings down, they responded, “Oh no!! We leave them up so that we will never forget what happened here, and never allow it to happen again.” Wise words, and words that more people would do well to remember today.
During the past year, we have seen unrest, protests, riots, and the “cancel culture” that has become almost the norm of our time. The schools don’t teach parts of history anymore, in an act of Historical Negationism or denialism. This is not about revising history based on new information that would correct history. Usually, the purpose of historical negation is to achieve a national, political aim, by transferring war-guilt, demonizing an enemy, providing an illusion of victory, or preserving a friendship. Sometimes the purpose of a revised history is to sell more books or to attract attention with a newspaper headline. The historian James M. McPherson said that negationists would want revisionist history understood as, “a consciously-falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present” All of that sounds an awful lot like what we have going on today.
Couple Historical Negationism with “taking offence” or “political correctness” and you have a recipe for disaster. In many of the riots of recent days, the rioters have torn down our historical statues. To me, it doesn’t matter if they think the statue portrays someone they find offensive, or not. That person is a pert of history, good, bad, or ugly. A hero of the South, might not be a hero of the North, but to those in the South he or she might have been. Was a war hero from Germany any less a war hero to his countrymen, simply because he was forced to fight on the side of the Nazis? I don’t think so. In fact many of the German soldiers had no idea of what was happening in their own country. I’m not standing up for the rightness, nor against the wrongness of the people portrayed in the statues, but rather against the destruction of property. The buildings destroyed in the riots, the statues destroyed by the mobs, the looting that took place, all deemed “okay” because these places had insurance…does not make these vicious acts acceptable, or their perpetrators blameless. It’s time that we teach our children about patriotism, respect, fairness, and decency. If we don’t, we are going to find ourselves in the middle of a country that is destroyed by violence and hate. Wake up America!!
When Hitler began his systematic genocide of the Jewish people during World War II, many of the previously free people found themselves suddenly jailed. They had no weapons with which to fight for their freedom, but they knew that they were going to have to make a decision to either fight for their lives, or lose their lives. Some were too old or too young to fight, and some were women, and many men didn’t think these women could handle the fight at hand, but at some point they would have to fight or die. Hitler was relentless, and the Jewish people were fighting for their lives.
When Hitler set his plan in motion, he made it impossible for them to do business. Overnight, all Jewish businesses were blackballed. That was how it started anyway. The Jewish people were no longer allowed to do business with non-Jews. That action meant that the income that these successful Jewish people had, was instantly taken from them…symbolically. Later, It would be taken in every way. Their shops were looted, their property confiscated, and their homes given to others. As the Jewish people were banished to the ghettos, they had just moments to pack a small bag with the things they could carry, or more importantly the things they couldn’t do without…clothing, any food items, and keepsakes. It wasn’t much. There wasn’t room for much.
The ghettos were complete pits of filth, disease, and humanity. People were piled into cramped quarters, forced to share living quarters with people they didn’t know. Of course, the tight quarters was not the worst thing about the ghettos. The people had no rights. If a Nazi soldier raped, beat, or shot a Jewish person, there was no punishment, because they were no longer considered human, and therefore had no rights. Although it was considered an abomination to sleep with a Jewish person, rape was actually considered just another form of punishment. The Nazis didn’t care. A death meant one less Jew to have to house.
The Warsaw ghetto in Poland occupied an area of less than two square miles but soon held almost 500,000 Jews in the deplorable conditions common to ghettos. Disease and starvation killed thousands every month, and when death did not come fast enough, the Jews were transferred to the next level of their torture. Beginning in July 1942, 6,000 Jews per day were transferred to the Treblinka concentration camp. They went by way of cattle cars, packed so tightly that it was standing room only. In fact, if a prisoner died along the way, their body remained standing…held up by the people so tightly packed in around them.
As word got back to the ghettos that the death rate of those being transferred to the camps, either on the trains, or in the gas chambers when they reached their final destination, the Jewish people knew that something was going to have to be done. They would have to fight for their lives. Of course, the resistance was already working. There were those who saw the writing on the wall from the start. When word came down that the Warsaw ghetto was going to be closed and the Jews deported to the camps, it was time.
On January 18, 1943, as Nazi forces were attempting to clear out the Warsaw ghetto they were met by gunfire from Jewish resistance fighters. Although the Nazis assured the remaining Jews that their relatives and friends were being sent to work camps, they no longer believed the Nazi lies. An underground resistance group had been established in the ghetto, called the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB). Limited arms had been acquired at great cost, and it didn’t matter, because this was a fight to the death. As the Nazis entered, the ZOB unit ambushed them, killing a number of German soldiers. The fighting lasted for several days.
On January 18, 1943, when the Nazis entered the ghetto to transport a group of Jewish prisoners, a ZOB unit ambushed them. Fighting lasted for several days, and a number of Germans soldiers were killed before they withdrew. On April 19th, Heinrich Himmler announced that the ghetto was to be emptied of its residents in honor of Hitler’s birthday the next day. I guess Himmler thought murdering all those people would make a great birthday gift for Hitler. That day, more than 1,000 SS soldiers entered the confines of the ghetto, armed with tanks and heavy artillery. Of the 60,000 Jews remaining in the ghetto hid in secret bunkers, more than 1,000 of the ZOB resistance members took up arms and fought back with gunfire and homemade bombs. Again the soldiers withdrew, despite only suffering moderate casualties. Then on April 24th, the Germans and launched an all-out attack against the Warsaw Jews.
The German soldiers stormed through the ghetto, blowing up buildings everywhere. They slaughtered thousands of innocent people. The ZOB took to the sewers to continue the fight. It was cover, but how awful. Then, on May 8th their command bunker fell to the Germans and their resistant leaders committed suicide. I’m sure they thought they had failed their people. By May 16th, the ghetto was firmly under Nazi control, and the last Warsaw Jews were deported to Treblinka. Some 300 German soldiers were killed, and thousands of Warsaw Jews were massacred during the Warsaw Uprising, but that wasn’t the end of the death. Virtually all those who survived the Uprising to reach Treblinka were dead by the end of the war.
Most people, men anyway, think that it is only women who are fashion conscious to a fault. While many women are very fashion conscious, so are many men, and the fashions that some of the men wore can be just as dangerous. When fashion consists of the wearing of articles of clothing or accessories that have the ability to cause death or injury, we are in danger of sacrificing too much in the name of fashion.
Some fashions do no harm, but looking back on them, we can see just how silly they looked. Nevertheless, powdered wigs were in fashion for men in several different centuries. Long hair was considered a show of status, for both men and women over the years. In ancient Greece, long male hair was a symbol of wealth and power, while a shaven head was appropriate for a slave. The problem occurred when the person, usually the men, but women too, had thinning hair. If their social status depended on that hair, they would need a way to fix the problem when it did not exist. The powdered wig helped with that, and some men wore their wigs in very elaborate styles. In the 1760s, aristocratic British men donned large wigs with a small hat or feather at the top. The young men who took up this fashion trend reportedly brought it back from their “Grand Tour” across Continental Europe in which they intended to “deepen cultural knowledge.” The style is, in fact, named after the Italian pasta dish…macaroni, signifying sophistication and worldliness. It is here that we get the song many of us have wondered about called, “Yankee Doodle,” the lyrics of which pointed out that the feather on top was supposedly called macaroni.
The shoes of the men have taken some strange turns as well. Known as the Poulaine, this super long shoe reigned supreme with men across Europe in the late 14th century. The shoes, called Crakow were named after Krákow, Poland because they were introduced to England by the Polish nobles. Once the shoes were seen at court, they became all the rage…even though the shoes were six to twenty four inches long. I’m sure you are thinking to yourself, “Who would be crazy enough to wear these?” Well, I’ll tell you that current styles (or maybe just a year or so in the past) saw women, and men too, wearing shoes that had an extra long pointed toe, so it isn’t just an oddity of 14th century Britain. The shoes were a quick indicator of social status…the longer the shoe, the higher the wearer’s station. Some of these shoes were so long that chains were sometimes strung from the toe of the Crakow to the knee to allow the wearer to walk. Other times the toes were stuffed with material for the same reason, making the toes stiff. The strange shoes were considered ridiculous, vain, and dangerous by many conservatives and church leaders, who called them “devil’s fingers.”
In the 19th century, men began wearing detachable collars, that were heavily starched until they were quite stiff. While the collars didn’t look all that odd, they could be deadly. Because they were so heavily starched, taken to the extreme of the collar being nearly unbendable, and because they were attached with a singular or pair of studs, the collar could slowly asphyxiate a man, if he fell asleep or passed out while drinking. It had a similar effect to a cord being wrapped tightly around the poor man’s neck. Another dangerous aspect of the collar was its pointed corners. A Saint Louis man, wearing one of these collars, tripped in the street and the pointed corners of the collar jabbed into this throat, “making two ugly gashes.” If the gash happened to be in the vicinity of the Jugular vein, death could come quite quickly. These collars were so lethal, in fact, that they were known as “the father killer.” I can only imagine how many women and children pleaded with their husbands or fathers not to wear the collar, which maybe should have been called the choker.
I can understand the need of people to have a certain fashion sense, as I am also one who likes to look up to date and to have a good fashion sense too, but people really need to also consider their own safety when it comes to style. It pays to listen to others who might know something about this certain idea of fashion, that could not only benefit you, but possibly save your life.
Marie Sklodowska was born in an era when women seldom got a very long education, if they got one at all. Born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw (modern-day Poland). Sklodowska was the youngest of five children, following siblings Zosia, Józef, Bronya and Hela. Their parents were both teachers. Her father, Wladyslaw, was a math and physics instructor. When she was only 10, Sklodowska lost her mother, Bronislawa, to tuberculosis. Sklodowska, being a woman, probably should have grown up to be a wide and mother, dependent on her husband for everything…not that that is a horrible thing, because it isn’t, but it was not all she wanted. She had a good mind for Physics and Chemistry…both subjects were almost unheard of for women in those days.
As a child, Sklodowska took after her father. She was bright and curious, and she excelled at school. Still, despite being a top student in her secondary school, she could not attend the men’s-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,” a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. Both Marie and her sister, Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Sklodowska would not give up her dream. She worked out a deal with her sister, “She would work to support Bronya while she was in school, and Bronya would return the favor after she completed her studies.”
Sklodowska worked as a tutor and a governess for the next five years. She didn’t want to get behind, so she used her spare time to study…reading about physics, chemistry and math. Then in 1891, Sklodowska finally made her way to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. She threw herself into her studies, but this dedication had a personal cost: with little money, Sklodowska survived on buttered bread and tea. Sometimes, her health suffered because of her poor diet. Nevertheless, Sklodowska completed her master’s degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year.
You might be wondering exactly who Marie Sklodowska was, and why she was important. It might help to know that on July 26, 1895, Marie got married to French physicist, Pierre Curie. They were introduced by a colleague of Marie’s after she graduated from Sorbonne University. Marie had received a commission to perform a study on different types of steel and their magnetic properties and needed a lab for her work. As most people already know, she did her work at a great cost to her own health, but what most people probably don’t know, is that the radiation levels Curie was exposed to were so powerful that her notebooks must now be kept in lead-lined boxes, and it’s not just Curie’s manuscripts that are too dangerous to touch, either. If you visit the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at the Bibliotheque Nationale in France, many of her personal possessions…from her furniture to her cookbooks…require protective clothing to be safely handled. You’ll also have to sign a liability waiver, just in case.
In those days, things like radiation and it’s dangers were not known. Marie Curie was basically walking around with bottles of polonium and radium, both highly radioactive compounds, in her pockets all the time. She even kept capsules full of the dangerous chemicals on her shelf. “One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products,” Marie, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist wrote in her autobiography. “It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights.” In case you didn’t know, Marie Curie discovered radioactivity. Also, along with her husband, Pierre, they discovered the radioactive elements, Polonium and Radium, while working with the mineral, Pitchblende…a form of the mineral Uraninite occurring in brown or black masses and containing radium. She also championed the development of X-rays, following her husband’s death in a street accident in Paris on 19 April 1906.
The fact that the notebook and related paraphernalia are still radioactive a century later is not as well known. The most common isotope of radium, the deadly chemical Curie carried in her pockets, has a half-life of 1,601 years. That said, people will not be able to go digging through the Curie’s library any time in this century, either. It is also known now, but wasn’t then, that the chemicals would end Curie’s life at a fairly early age. Curie died on July 4, 1934, of aplastic anemia, believed to be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation. She was 58 years old.
Every time I learn anything about Adolf Hitler, I am stunned that so much evil could exist in one man. World War II technically started when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. Hitler told his men that “it did not matter who was right or wrong, that in fighting a war, coming out triumphant is the only thing that counted.” He urged his men to have no sympathy for their opponent. On September 1, 1939, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland, by ordering the attack of defenseless civilians. In this way, they put the citizens in a state of shock. The sky was dark and there were dead bodies everywhere. Once Germany invaded Poland, it opened a door to allow the Soviets to also invade Poland. Of course, this was not exactly what either country wanted.
Before the end of the month, on September 29, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union agree to divide control of occupied Poland roughly along the Bug River, with the Germans taking everything west, and the Soviets taking everything east. The people of Poland were given away like slaves. In addition, as a follow-up to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact, a non-aggression treaty was created between the two huge military powers of Germany and the USSR. The German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop met with his Soviet counterpart, VM Molotov, to sign the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty. Of course, the “friendship” did not extend to the Polish people.
As in normal in any contract, there was “fine print” in this agreement too. The fine print of the original non-aggression pact had promised the Soviets a slice of eastern Poland. It was to be a small part, simply a matter of agreeing where to draw the lines. Joseph Stalin, Soviet premier and dictator, personally drew the line that partitioned Poland. He originally wanted it drawn at the River Vistula, just west of Warsaw. In the end, he agreed to pull it back east of the capital and Lublin, giving Germany control of most of Poland’s most heavily populated and industrialized regions. In exchange, Stalin wanted Lvov, and its rich oil wells, and Lithuania, which sits atop East Prussia. Germany was fine with that, because now they had 22 million Poles, “slaves of the Greater German Empire,” at its disposal…and Russia had a western buffer zone.
On this same day, the Soviet Union also signed a Treaty of Mutual Assistance with the Baltic nation of Estonia, giving Stalin the right to occupy Estonian naval and air bases. What was thought to be a buffer zone, seems more like a land grab to me. A similar treaty would later be signed with Latvia. These nations really didn’t seem to realize what they were getting into. Eventually, Soviet tanks rolled across these borders, in the name of “mutual assistance,” placing the Baltic States under the rule of the USSR for decades to come. These so called treaties were once again merely the realization of more fine print from the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, giving Stalin more border states as buffer zones, and protecting Russian territory where the Bolshevik ideology had not been enthusiastically embraced from intrusion by its western neighbor, namely its non-aggression partner Germany. The highly vulnerable Baltic nations had no say in any of these arrangements. They were merely annexed…by force in a huge Soviet land grab.
Some would consider the actions of Irena Sendler a crime, while others would consider them heroic. I suppose it was a crime, at the time it happened…a crime of opportunity, because her actions were illegal, but how could she had done anything different? Irena Sendler was born in Otwock, Poland, on February 15, 1910, to Stanislaw Henryk Krzyzanowski, a physician, and his wife, Janina Karolina Grzybowska Krzyzanowski. Irena grew up there in Otwock, a town about 15 miles southeast of Warsaw, where there was a Jewish community. Her father was a kind man who treated the very poor, including Jews, free of charge. Stanislaw died in February 1917 after he contracted typhus from his patients. After his death, the Jewish community offered financial help for the widow and her daughter, though Janina Krzyzanowski declined their assistance. I’m sure she knew they really didn’t have the money to help, but offered because of her husband.
In 1931, Irena married Mieczyslaw Sendler, and the couple moved to Warsaw before the outbreak of World War II. The couple divorced in 1947. Irena then married Stefan Zgrzembski. They had three children, Janina, Andrzej (who died in infancy), and Adam (who died of heart failure in 1999). Then, they divorced in 1957. She remarried Mieczyslaw Sendler in 1961, but they divorced again in 1971. In college, Irena had studied to became a social worker, and she remembered the lessons of her father…to show kindness to others. It was a life lesson that would prove useful in Irena’s future.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Irena had access to the Warsaw Ghetto through her job. The ghetto was where hundreds of thousands of Jews were imprisoned. The situation there appalled her. Irena became a member of the Council to Aid Jews, and worked as a social worker, overseeing the city’s canteens, which provided assistance to people in need. After the Nazi invasion, Irena and her colleagues also used the canteens to provide medicine, clothing and other necessities to the city’s persecuted Jewish population. Her actions enabled her to help rescue 2,500 Jewish children from the ghetto. The group had several ways of smuggling the children out of the ghetto. Some were carried out in caskets or potato sacks, while others left in ambulances or snuck out through underground tunnels. Still others entered the Jewish side of a Catholic church that straddled the ghetto boundary and left on the other side with new identities. Irena then helped place the children at convents or with non-Jewish families. The operation was run with clockwork-like precision. As the situation grew worse for the ghetto’s inhabitants, Irena went beyond rescuing orphans and began asking parents to let her try to get their children to safety. Although she couldn’t guarantee the children’s survival, she could tell parents that their children would at least have a chance. The parents knew that it would be their children’s only chance. Irena kept detailed records and lists of the children she helped buried in a jar. She planned to reunite the rescued children and their parents after the war. Unfortunately, most of the parents did not survive.
On October 20, 1943, the Nazis arrested Irena and sent her to Pawiak Prison. She was tortured in an attempt to get her to reveal the names of her associates. She refused and was sentenced to death. However, Council to Aid Jews members bribed the prison guards, and Irena was released in February 1944. Irena continued her work until the war ended, by which time she and her colleagues had rescued approximately 2,500 children. It has been estimated that Irena personally saved about 400 children. In 1965, Irena was honored for her courageous actions during the Holocaust. She was given Israel’s Yad Vashem to honor her as “Righteous Among the Nations.” Irena died in Warsaw, Poland on May 12, 2008, at the age of 98.
The horrors of the Nazis were many, but the worst were what they did to the Jewish people. The gas chambers and the labor camps, experimentation and beatings, were horrible, and this only names a few of the things they did. Hitler was intent on killing as many Jews as he could, and he didn’t care how it got done, as long as it got done. One of the worst, in fact the second worst event of World War II, exceeded only by the 1941 Odessa massacre. The Aktion Erntefest, which translates to Operation Harvest Festival was the murder of 42,000 Jews at the same time. How anyone could call something like that a “festival” is beyond me.
The action was set in motion by the SS and Order Police, and the Ukrainian Sonderdienst formations in the General Government territory of occupied Poland. The murder of the Jewish laborers in concentration camp Lublin/Majdanek and the forced-labor camps Trawniki and Poniatowa was an unfathomable atrocity. The murders were performed in retaliation for the uprisings at the Treblinka and Sobibor killing centers and the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Vilna ghettos that had led to increased concerns about Jewish resistance. To prevent further resistance, SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the killing of surviving Jews in the Lublin District of German-occupied Poland. Most of the remaining Jews were employed in forced-labor projects and were concentrated in the Trawniki…at least 4,000 people, Poniatowa…at least 11,000 people, and Majdanek…about 18,000 people. They were killed at Majdanek, near Lublin on November 3rd and 4th, 1943. The SS shot them in large prepared ditches outside the camp fence near the crematorium. Jews from other labor camps in the Lublin area were also taken to Majdanek and shot. Loud music was played through speakers at both Majdanek and Trawniki to drown out the noise of the mass shootings. The killing at Majdanek was the largest single-day, single-location massacre during the Holocaust.
On the orders of Christian Wirth and Jakob Sporrenberg, the approximately 42,000 to 43,000 Jews were gunned down, and dumped in the ditches. It was not only retaliation for actions of rebellion, but probably also a way to deter any further resistance among the other Jews. The fact that the Jews were viewed an non-humans, made it easier to kill them, I suppose, but the killing were beyond horrible to most decent people, but to the Nazis it was almost considered sport or at the very least fun. To anyone who values human life, it was totally horrific.
The process of trying to end a war and bring peace between nations is a tricky one, and one that can end up being highly volatile, or even explode into further fighting!! The world was in the midst of World War I, and an armistice had been signed between Russia and Germany. The Soviet government had requested peace negotiations on Nov. 8, 1917. They began on December 22, 1917, nearly three weeks after a ceasefire was declared on the Eastern Front. Representatives of the two countries began peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, near the Polish border in what is now the city of Brest, in Belarus. They were divided into several sessions. During this time, the Soviet delegation tried to prolong the proceedings, so they could take full advantage of the opportunity to issue propaganda statements. Meanwhile, the Germans grew increasingly impatient with the delays.
The leader of the Russian delegation was Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik People’s Commissar for Foreign Relations. Max Hoffmann, the commander of German forces on the Eastern Front, served as one of the chief negotiators on the German side. The main difference of opinion in Brest-Litovsk was over the surrender of Russian land to the Germans. The Russians demanded a peace agreement without annexations or indemnities and the Germans were unwilling to concede on this point. In February 1918, Trotsky announced he was withdrawing the Russians from the peace talks, and the war was on again. This would turn out to be one of the biggest, if no the biggest mistake of his career.
With the renewal of fighting, the Central Powers quickly took the upper hand. In a way, it was Russia against the world, and Russia was not likely to win that one. The Central Powers quickly seized control of most of Ukraine and Belarus. The Bolshevik hope that the workers of Germany and Austria, offended by their governments’ obvious territorial ambition, would rise up in rebellion in the name of the international working class people, soon vanished. Russia was fighting a losing battle, and they would have to surrender in the end.
The end came on March 3, 1918, when Russia accepted peace terms that were even more harsh than those originally suggested by Germany. Russia would lose Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Livonia, and Courland to Germany. To further devastate Russia’s hopes, Finland and the Ukraine saw Russia’s weakness as an opportunity to declare their independence. In all, Brest-Litovsk deprived Lenin’s new state of one million square miles of territory and one-third of its population, about 55 million people. Sometimes, it’s better to settle, rather than risk a loss far more devastating.
A declaration of war usually means that the people in both areas within the dispute had better prepare for eminent attack, because the declaration of war is like firing the warning shot before the actual open-fire begins. Of course, it may not be an immediate attack, but the attack always comes…or does it. On September 3, 1939, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Nazi Germany, after the Germans invaded Poland. Over the next eight months, at the start of World War II, there were no major military land operations on the Western Front. Strange, considering that the United Kingdom and France had declared war on Nazi Germany. You would think that they would attack or something, but nothing happened. During those eight months, Poland was overrun. It took about five weeks for the German Invasion of Poland beginning September 1, 1939 and the Soviet invasion beginning on 17 September 1939. Still, the Western Allies did nothing. I guess I don’t understand that. War had been declared by each side, but no Western power would launch a significant land offensive…even though the terms of the Anglo-Polish and Franco-Polish military alliances obligated the United Kingdom and France to assist Poland. They simply stood by and let it happen.
The quiet of the so-named Phoney War was marked by a few Allied actions. During the Saar Offensive in September, France attacked Germany with the intention of assisting Poland, but the attack fizzled out within days and the French withdrew. In November, the Soviets attacked Finland in the Winter War. This resulted in much debate in France and Britain about helping Finland, but this campaign was delayed until the Winter War ended in March. The Allied discussions about a Scandinavian campaign caused concern in Germany and resulted in the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April. Then the Allied troops that were previously assembled for Finland were redirected to Norway instead. Fighting there continued until June when the Allies evacuated, ceding Norway to Germany in response to the German invasion of France, which had taken place on May 10, 1940.
The Germans launched attacks at sea during the autumn and winter of 1939, against British aircraft carriers and destroyers, sinking several including the carrier HMS Courageous with the loss of 519 lives. Action in the air began on October 16, 1939 when the Luftwaffe launched air raids on British warships. There were various minor bombing raids and reconnaissance flights on both sides, but nothing that could possibly be viewed as a clear offensive….and during that whole time, people were dying and being subjected to various atrocities, because no one would help. Yes, war was declared, but it was a phony war, and apparently a phony declaration.
So much is still unknown about the things that Adolf Hitler did, including an apparent “Ghost Train” that was filled with gold and other treasures. According to legend, as the Soviet forces approached in the final days of World War II, an armored train left the city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) in April 1945 and headed west toward Waldenburg (now Walbrzych). Somewhere along the 40 mile trip, the train and its cargo of gold and other treasures…many of them stolen by the Nazis from Jewish families…vanished into the Owl Mountains, never to be seen again, except in local legend. Stories of the Nazi “Ghost Train” date back some 70 years, although historians haven’t been able to conclusively prove the train ever existed. During the war, Hitler ordered the creation of a network of underground tunnels in the Owl Mountains, which at the time were under German control, as part of a project known as “Riese,” meaning “Giant.” The original rumor of a Nazi train hidden in the mountains came from a Polish miner, who claimed that just after the war, German miners told him they had seen the train being pushed into one of the tunnels.
In 2015, two anonymous men contacted officials in Walbrzych, a district in southwestern Poland, claiming to know the train’s location and demanding 10 percent of the value of its contents in exchange for leading authorities there. According to Marika Tokarska, an official in the southwestern Polish district of Walbrzych, a law firm representing two men…a Pole and a German, who prefer to remain anonymous…sent her office two letters, offering a description of the train and its contents and claiming to know its location. The documents received from the law firm claim the train is some 490 feet long and loaded with guns, precious metals and other valuables, including up to 300 tons of gold. In exchange for revealing the train’s location, the men are demanding 10 percent of the value of its contents. Although there is much skepticism expressed by historians as to the validity of the men’s claims, authorities in Walbrzych say they will pay the reward if the information turns out to be legitimate. I guess I would too. The men are asking 10% of the total, which could be a huge amount, but not nearly as much as the remaining 90%, so paying them would make sense. As Tokarska told the Associated Press: “We believe that a train has been found. We are taking this information seriously.” Though the men’s knowledge of the train’s contents and their retaining of a lawyer lend legitimacy to their claims, there is still plenty room for skepticism: The first letter from the men’s law firm included several references to local topography suggesting the men might not be as familiar with the area as they claim, and previous searches for the train in recent years have yielded nothing.
Andreas Richter, a German, and Piotr Koper, a Pole, moved in with heavy equipment and dug deep at a site near rail tracks in Walbrzych, following comments by residents who said they had knowledge of the train’s existence. Richter and Koper said that their own tests using earth-penetrating radar confirmed a train was at the site. Nevertheless, after an initial dig, the crew turned up no sign of the “Ghost Train.” Still, they have not given up just yet. There are plans in place to dig again in the very near future. The two men are determined to prove that they have found the real “Ghost Train,” and to claim the 10% share they were promised, it they find it.