There are certain situations when I think citizenship is a must have element, and some that I think “natural-born” citizenship is absolutely essential. On September 15, 1935, German Jews were stripped of their citizenship, reducing them to mere “subjects” of the state. This heinous crime was carried out by the “president and chancellor of Germany,” Adolf Hitler. I use the quotation marks, because Hitler should never have been allowed to be in that office. Adolf Hitler became a citizen of Germany on February 25, 1932. Hitler, who was born in Austria, had immigrated to Germany in 1913, and renounced his Austrian citizenship in 1925. Hitler was a stateless nomad from 1925 to 1931, when he decided on the political ambition of becoming president and chancellor. That was when he decided to become a citizen, in fact that was the only reason he became a citizen. Hitler had a plan to take over and completely transform Germany, and his “transformation” was to be the worst thing for Germany. I think that is why a president needs to be a “natural-born” citizen. A president needs to have a connection to his country…a connection he is born into. Then and only then does he have the ability to care about the country…not that all presidents do, but they have that ability, because they belong. I’m sure some would disagree with me, but it will not change my mind.
His citizenship actually came about when a fellow member of the Nazi Party appointed Hitler to a low-level government job that came with automatic citizenship. Once he was a citizen, Hitler’s new status allowed him to achieve his political goals. As a citizen, he could run for office. Hitler made sure that he was well liked, and by the middle of 1934, he was in complete control of Germany as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor). He didn’t wait long to begin, and soon redefined citizenship to serve his beliefs. He was a hate-filled man, and he used race and pan-German heritage to give citizenship to, and take it from, large groups of people. Citizenship now depended on how Hitler felt about the people. Many would say that he was a white supremacist, but the reality was that there were many races of people he didn’t like, and many of them were white, so it wasn’t about color. As World War II began, Hitler’s views on German supremacy were fueling a military campaign that destroyed borders and entire populations all across Europe. People who were born in Germany and had been citizens all their lives were being systematically stripped of their citizenship, their rights, and their lives, just because they were Jews, blacks, gypsies, and some other races. Hitler’s goal was to rid the world of anyone who was not “pure-blooded” German stock. Never mind the fact that he was not!!
Practically from the minute he took office, Hitler began issuing what we would call “Executive Orders” that barely disrupted the lives of those “pure-blooded” German stock, other than to basically elevate them to the level of “masters” over anyone who did not qualify as “pure-blooded” German stock. His dream of a “pure-blooded” society soon became a nightmare for many. Many of the German “pure-blooded” German citizen didn’t agree with what he was doing, and some didn’t really understand what he was doing, exactly, but some of them saw it as an opportunity to take from the “unqualified” citizens, anything they wanted. They became brutal in their treatment of the “unqualified” citizens, especially the Jews.
Hitler began his persecution of the Jews within the first year of office. German Jews were excluded from many high-profile vocations, such as public office, journalism, radio, theater, film, and teaching, and even farming. The professions of law and medicine were also withdrawn slowly as opportunities. “Jews Not Welcome” signs were posted on shop and hotel windows, beer gardens, and other public areas. Known as the Nuremberg Laws, these discriminatory acts became a deep-seated part of the German culture, which in turn, making them even more far-reaching. Jews were forbidden to marry “Aryans” or engage in extramarital relations with them. Jews could not employ female Aryan servants if they were less than 35 years of age. Hunger soon became a part of Jewish life, because it became difficult even to buy food, as groceries, bakeries, and dairies would not admit Jewish customers. Even pharmacies refused to sell them medicines or drugs. Their lives soon began to simply spiral towards despair and eventual death.
At first, the outside world didn’t understand what they were seeing. Unemployment had dropped exponentially under Hitler’s early commandeering of the economy. Things actually looked better to the world. A very few, some foreign visitors, even some political opponents within Germany itself, saw these racist laws and practices for what they were, but most were beguiled into thinking it was merely a phase. They assumed that the “birth pains” of Hitler’s developing plans would eventually smooth out and the bad parts would fade away, as he began to focus more on the economy and less on race, but they were wrong, because Hitler was a very determined, and very focused dictator…and he was insane, as the world and the German people would soon find out. It is my opinion that even a seemingly good citizen, who is not “natural-born” is not a good candidate for president, because their ideas and plans for a nation they have no real stake in, will be very unlikely to produce good for the nation in the end.
Probably one of the deadliest weapons the Nazis ever created, was the German U-Boat. With their code system, it was hard to track a U-boat, and so they snuck up on ships and sunk them. The U-boat wasn’t a ship. It was a submarine, so the ships didn’t know it was there until they saw the torpedo coming at them…if they saw it coming. Often, they didn’t see it coming, it just hit, and it was over. On September 12, 1942, a U-boat sunk the British troop ship, the RMS Laconia, killing more than 1,400 men. The commander of the German sub, Captain Werner Hartenstein, then realized that Italians POWs were among the passengers.
Like many other cruise ships, the Laconia, a former Cunard White Star ship was put to use to transport troops, including prisoners of war during World War II. RMS Laconia was in the South Atlantic bound for England when it encountered U-156. The sub attacked, sinking the troop ship and imperiling the lives of more than 2,200 passengers. But as Hartenstein, the sub commander, was to learn from survivors he began taking onboard, among those passengers were 1,500 Italian POWs. Of course, it wouldn’t look good for Hartenstein to be responsible for endangering the lives of so many of his fellow Axis members, so he quickly put out a call to an Italian submarine and two other German U-boats in the area to help rescue the survivors.
Upon hearing of the incident, one French and two British warships rushed to the scene to aid in the rescue. The German subs immediately informed the Allied ships that they had surfaced for humanitarian reasons. The Allies wisely assumed it was a trap. With that, an American B-24 bomber, the Liberator, flying from its South Atlantic base on Ascension Island, saw the German sub and bombed it…despite the fact that Hartenstein had draped a Red Cross flag prominently on the hull of the surfaced sub. The U-156, damaged by the air attack, immediately submerged. Admiral Karl Donitz, supreme commander of the German U-boat forces, had been monitoring the rescue efforts. He ordered that “all attempts to rescue the crews of sunken ships…cease forthwith.” Consequently, more than 1,400 of the RMS Laconia’s passengers, which included Polish guards and British crewmen, drowned. This marked the end of taking POWs from torpedoed ships. There were often men who survived these attacks, but they were given no chance of survival after the attack. I suppose war is war, and death is expected. On March 8, 1943, U-156 was sunk by PBY “Catalina” aircraft from Patrol Squadron Fifty-Three (VP-53), in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Barbados. There were five survivors from U-156.
As we all know, Adolph Hitler was a liar and a murderer. He really never made a move that wasn’t calculated and devious. On September 1, 1939, German forces under the control of Adolf Hitler bombarded Poland on land and from the air. The invasion was more than just a taking of territory. Hitler knew that he might need that area later, and so he did. Hitler had been murdering people that didn’t fit into his mold of “life that had value” and that included Jews, the mentally or physically handicapped, and later gypsies and other ethnicities. Basically, he wanted to eliminate anyone that wasn’t Aryan. Aryan is a word relating to a hypothetical ethnic type illustrated by or descended from early speakers of Indo-European languages. To Hitler it meant white, with blond hair and blue eyes. Oddly, while Hitler had blue eyes, his hair was brown. Somehow that “problem” with his definition of Aryan didn’t concern Hitler. I guess he was happy to be a “special Aryan.” In reality, there are different kinds of Aryans. They can be found with blond, red, brown, white, or black hair, so that wasn’t really an issue either. Hitler considered himself Aryan because he was a native German-speaker, and he knew the definition of “Aryan” as it was used in those days. I don’t think it was ever about Aryan, per se, but rather about getting rid of any group that he decided that he didn’t like.
Hitler’s main purpose for the invasion of Poland was to regain lost territory and ultimately rule their eastern neighbor. Mostly, however, Hitler wanted the world to know exactly how he planned to wage war. This would become the “blitzkrieg” strategy. The Blitzkrieg was a term used to describe “a method of offensive warfare designed to strike a swift, focused blow at an enemy using mobile, maneuverable forces, including armored tanks and air support. Such an attack ideally leads to a quick victory, limiting the loss of soldiers and artillery. After the German forces had plowed their way through, devastating a swath of territory, infantry moved in, picking off any remaining resistance.”
Hitler was methodical. He established a base of operations within the target country. Then, he immediately began setting up “security” forces to take out anyone who disagreed with his Nazi ideology, whether racial, religious, or political. He set up concentration camps for slave laborers and the extermination of uncooperative civilians. It didn’t take long for the target nation, in this case Poland to become a conquered nation under German rule. Just one day after the German invasion of Poland, Hitler was busy setting up SS “Death’s Head” regiments to terrorize the people. He was preparing for his planned terror.
The Polish army tried to fight back, but they made several severe strategic miscalculations in those early days. Even with an army of 1 million soldiers, the lack of the necessary equipment was a severe detriment to the Polish forces as they attempted to take the Germans head-on, when maybe they should have fallen back to defensive positions. I think the natural way to face an enemy, is head-on. We try to “show no fear” when attacked, but in the end, this thinking, while admirable was probably behind the times, at least in battle, and the brave Polish soldiers were no match for the overwhelming and modern-mechanized German forces. To make matters worse, any hope the Polish soldiers might have had of a Soviet counter-response was lost with the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Nonaggression Pact…”a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that partitioned Eastern Europe between them. The pact was signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and was officially known as the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Unofficially, it has also been referred to as the Hitler–Stalin Pact, Nazi–Soviet Pact or Nazi–Soviet Alliance.” Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Great Britain responded with bombing raids over Germany three days later.
As World War II, was winding down, the Nazis, is typical form were holding high-profile French prisoners of war at Itter Castle in Austria. The Nazis were notorious for their terribly abusive treatment of prisoners. When it became obvious that all was lost, in May 1945, the prison’s guards fled and left Itter Castle waiting for a unit of Waffen-SS police, who were sent in to wipe out the French prisoners and carry out reprisals against the local population for any hints of surrender. It was the Nazi way. When the proof of your war crimes is obvious, remove all evidence, including people, so that no one can tell the gruesome story.
There were, however, some good people in the German Army. One was an officer named Josef “Sepp” Gangl, who opposed the Nazis. Gangl had a small group of men who were loyal to him. Together they intervened to protect the prisoners and locals. Heavily outnumbered, Gangl sent word to the American forces in the area seeking aid. Gangl called for help, and he was answered by Captain John C “Jack” Lee Jr, who arrived with a band of volunteers and a single Sherman tank. It was such a strange group of enemies, who found themselves working together for something that was more important than the war they were in…human lives. Working together were French prisoners, American troops, and Wehrmacht soldiers in an effort to bravely defended the castle against the SS. The French prisoners included former prime ministers, generals, tennis star Jean Borotra, and even Charles de Gaulle’s sister. This, Operation Cowboy, was one of two known times during the war in which Americans and Germans fought side by side. That is such a shocking turn of events, in fact many called it the strangest battle of World War II. Nevertheless, while the tank was blown up, it that made no difference, and in the end, the SS weren’t able to breach the castle. By late afternoon, an American relief force arrived at Itter Castle and captured the SS unit. In the battle, there was only one casualty on the defending side. Sadly, Gangl was slain by a sniper while trying to spot the position of the anti-tank gun from an observation post. He had given his life so that others might live. It was a brave and heroic act.
While escape seemed impossible, there were a number of successful escapes from the horrific Nazi death camp known as Auschwitz. Unfortunately, there were also many failed attempts. These escapes and attempted escapes happened, because where people are held in captivity, they will rebel and try to find a way out, and when death is inevitable, escape become less risky. Hitler wanted all the Jews dead, and while he might have tried to hide his true intentions from the world, he certainly didn’t hide it from the Jews themselves.
Most prisoner escapes took place from worksites outside the camp. The attitude of local civilians was of immense importance in the success of these efforts. Some of the escapees tried to get the word out that the camps were not just work camps, but were also death camps, and that the people should fight with everything they had to avoid going. Of course, all too often, any reports were suppressed as much as possible by the Germans, and for the most part, the reports did little to no good.
On escape that particularly touched me was the escape of two Slovakian Jews, Rudolf Vrba (born Walter Rosenberg) and Alfred Wetzler, escaped in April 1944. They knew the consequences of the were caught, and the men in their barracks knew the consequences of helping them, or even being in the same barracks with them. Nevertheless, all of them felt that the risk was worth it to try to get the truth to the outside world.
Trust was vital, in an escape. Vrba and Wetzler came from the same town, so they knew each other well, and could trust each other. The men had been working on this escape idea for a while, coming up with plans and then rejecting them, because they couldn’t work. Finally, Wetzler came to Vrba with a plan that just might work. They would hide in a pile of wooden planks and after the three-day search for the escapees was finished, they would escape and head South. The plan was good, but there were still a number of obstacles to maneuver. The first group to attempt the escape were later caught in a village south of the camp, but the wooden plank plan had worked, and the captured prisoners did not reveal their strategy.
So, Vrba and Wetzler waited two weeks, and put their plan in motion. The had a friend help them by pulling the planks over then, and covering the area with something to hid e the scent of the men from the dogs. The men expected the alarm to sound at the 5:30pm roll call, but no alarm sounded. The men began to think that someone had told of their location, and that the guards would be coming any minute, but the alarm went of shortly after 6:00pm and the sound of boots and dogs was everywhere. It was all they could do not to scream in terror. Nevertheless, they held their peace and stayed put.
The men laid motionless for three days with no food or water. They were stiff and cold, but finally, they heard the guards call off the search, so that night they decided to come out of the wood pile and make their escape. However, the planks wouldn’t budge. They pushed and pushed…almost to the point of panic. They determined that they would not die there, they gave it one last effort, and the planks gave way. They came out into the night, made their way to the nearest fence and crawled under the barbed wire. I’m quite sure they never wanted to see a fence again.
The ran for the woods, traveling at night, and hiding by day. They were seen by a few people, but thankfully everyone who saw them was sympathetic to their cause and helped them on their way. Finally, they crossed the border, and they were free at last. They went to Zylina, where they met secretly with officials from the Slovakia Jewish Council and gave them a secret report on Auschwitz. An in-depth report was drawn up in Slovak and German. The plan was to get the report to the world before another train load of Jews could come to Auschwitz, and the men had done their part. They had done all they could. Unfortunately, the report did not get to those who needed to hear it, and the killing would go on until January 27, 1945, when Auschwitz was finally liberated.
During World War II and even earlier really, Adolf Hitler was in the middle of his plan to take over the world. He was ruthless, and when he invaded a country, he didn’t care how many people died, as long as he got his way. The Battle of France took place between May 10, 1940 and June 25, 1940. The surrender of France to the Nazis in 1940 was a complex situation. The German invasion left metropolitan France at the mercy of Nazi armies. Really, once Paris fell on June 14, 1940, the German conquest of France was complete. Part of the problem was that Marshal Henri Petain replaced Paul Reynaud as prime minister and proved to be a weak leader who announced his intention to sign an armistice with the Nazis.
While not very well known at the time, French General Charles de Gaulle, made a broadcast on June 18, 1940, to France from England, where he would help with the resistance. The Appeal of June 18 was the first speech made by Charles de Gaulle after his arrival in London in 1940 following the Battle of France. The speech was broadcast to Vichy France by the radio services of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). This speech is considered to have marked the beginning of the French Resistance in World War II. It is regarded as one of the most important speeches in French history. General de Gaulle said in his speech, “The leaders who, for many years, were at the head of French armies, have formed a government. This government, alleging our armies to be undone, agreed with the enemy to stop fighting. Of course, we were subdued by the mechanical, ground and air forces of the enemy. Infinitely more than their number, it was the tanks, the airplanes, the tactics of the Germans which made us retreat. It was the tanks, the airplanes, the tactics of the Germans that surprised our leaders to the point to bring them there where they are today.
But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!
Believe me, I speak to you with full knowledge of the facts and tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us to a day of victory. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of United States.
This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war is not finished by the battle of France. This war is a world wide war. All the faults, all the delays, all the suffering, do not prevent there to be, in the world, all the necessary means to one day crush our enemies. Vanquished today by mechanical force, we will be able to overcome in the future by a superior mechanical force.
The destiny of the world is here. I, General de Gaulle, currently in London, invite the officers and the French soldiers who are located in British territory or who would come there, with their weapons or without their weapons, I invite the engineers and the special workers of armament industries who are located in British territory or who would come there, to put themselves in contact with me.
Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.”
His work with the French Resistance made Charles de Gaulle almost a household word in France. It gave the people hope for freedom. The French Resistance fought to the death to beat the Nazis. This makes me think of current times, and all the freedoms that we have lost. These lessons from the French Resistance are valuable to this day. Never give up. You only lose a battle when you quit fighting. We must never quit fighting.
Like the week in 1941, that changed the lives of Jewish people everywhere and set in motion the most horrific mass bullying and murders in history, our own government has also been trying to force mandates and executive orders on us too. You might say that the mandates of today are not nearly as bad as the Holocaust years, and I would say that you are right, they aren’t as bad…yet!! That horrific week for the Jewish people started on September 1, 1941, when the German Government ordered that all Jews in Germany over six-years-old must wear the Judenstern…a Star of David that was colored yellow and inscribed Jude (Jew) in mock-Hebrew lettering. The action was designed to humiliate, bully, and later set up mass killings of an entire race of people, and it was ordered by one of the most evil people that ever walked the face of the earth…Adolf Hitler. The supposed mark of shame would, in postwar years, become a symbol of the horrific persecution and the Holocaust.
Throughout history, the Jewish people have been persecuted and forced to distinguish themselves in similar ways. Prior to September 1st, the Nazis had already demanded that Jews in the East, including Poland, wear the Star of David. The only difference was that in Poland the stars were colored blue instead of yellow. The rest of the bullying, humiliation, and hatred were the same. Still, as with any brutal treatment of a group of people, not everyone agreed with this horrific practice and ordinance. In fact, the Yellow Star Law was very unpopular with the average German citizens, and many of them would tip their hat as a show of respect to the Jewish people as they passed them in the street. Of course, the Nazis couldn’t allow that to continue, and the German authorities quickly forbade the practice of hat tipping, because it was a defiance of their law. The Occupied Zone of France, stalled the law until June of 1942, and Vichy never put it in place even though they were very proactive in persecuting Jews in the Free Zone.
The Yellow Star Law basically made it legal for millions of Jews to be bullied, beaten, and murdered…by any means, and all without any form of punishment for it. That sounds much like the present day (although now over with) Mask Mandates of today. In what was just the beginning of the horror, The Yellow Star Law gave the German Army the right to kill a Jew in broad daylight, with witnesses, and no punishment. The Jewish people couldn’t own property, have a business, or even own a home and its contents. They were moved into ghettos and their property was stolen from them. In modern days, we often look at this kind of practice as not possible, but if we don’t watch our government closely, we may find ourselves in very much the “same boat” as the Jewish people of the Holocaust years. Be aware…be very aware.
After years of being oppressed, starved, beaten, murdered, and used for experimentation, the Jewish people decided that it was their right to avenge their dead. The Nuremburg Trials were supposed to do all that, but so many of the Nazis had fled the country to escape the sentences they deserved, and once out of the country, it was almost impossible to get them back to face those sentences. In the late 1940s, under Juan Domingo Peron’s leadership (October 17, 1945 to July 1, 1974), the government secretly allowed entry of a number of war criminals fleeing Europe after Nazi Germany’s collapse, as part of the infamous ratlines. The number of Nazi fugitives that fled to Argentina surpassed 300, and included notorious war criminals such as Erich Priebke, Martin Bormann, Joseph Mengele, Eduard Roschmann, Josef Schwammberger, Walter Kutschmann, Otto Skorzeny and Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann, among others. In May 1960, Eichmann was kidnapped in Argentina by the Israeli Mossad and brought to trial in Israel. He was executed in 1962. At the time, Argentina condemned the Israeli government for abducting Eichmann, leading to a diplomatic spat between the nations.
There was a financial incentive for Argentina to accept these war criminals, and they needed to provide a safe haven for them. Wealthy Germans and Argentine businessmen of German descent were willing to pay the way for escaping Nazis. The initial plan of the fleeing Nazis was to regroup, lay low for a while, and then come back with a vengeance. The Holocaust years had been very profitable for the Nazis. Nazi leaders had plundered untold millions from the Jews they murdered and some of that money accompanied them to Argentina…meaning the Argentine economy was helped by the war criminals…another incentive to help them hide out.
Some of the smarter Nazi officers and collaborators saw the writing on the wall as early as 1943 and began hiding gold, money, valuables, paintings, and more. They often moved their plunder to Switzerland. Ante Pavelic and his cabal of close advisors had several chests full of gold, jewelry, and art they had stolen from their Jewish and Serbian victims. These riches eased their passage to Argentina considerably. Disappearing, even in 1945 was not an easy matter, but if one had money, it was far more possible. The war criminals even paid off British officers to let them through Allied lines…a treasonous act for which those British officers should have also been prosecuted and hung. Sometimes the corruption in government and military entities, even those who are supposed to be on the side of good, is absolutely astounding.
After the World War II, and the release of the surviving Jews, the Nuremburg Trials convicted these evil monsters, but many of them were gone before their sentence could be carried out. Enter the Nokmim, a group of Jewish men, also referred to as The Avengers or the Jewish Avengers. These men were a Jewish partisan militia, formed by Abba Kovner and his lieutenants Vitka Kempner and Rozka Korczak from the surviving remnants of the United Partisan Organization (Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye), which operated in Lithuania under Soviet command. Elements of the Nokmim collaborated with veterans of the Jewish brigade in British Palestine to form a new organization called Nakam, a group of assassins that targeted Nazi war criminals with the aim of avenging the Holocaust. The name comes from the phrase (Dam Yehudi Nakam – “Jewish Blood Will Be Avenged”) (the acronym DIN means “judgement”).
The Nakam (“vengeance”) Group was the most extremist group. They numbered around 60 Jews who were former Partisans, as well as other Jews who survived the Holocaust. This group was not about to let these men get away with all the atrocities they put their Jewish captives through, and then just walk away without punishment…not if they could help it. The group arrived in Germany after the war in order to conduct more complicated and fatal vengeance operations. Their ultimate purpose was to carry out an operation that would cause a broad international response…a warning, if you will, to anyone who might consider trying to harm Jews again, as the Nazis had. They needed to show the world that they would never be treated in such a way again. They would fight back…every time. Notables among the Hanakam group were Abba Kovner, Yitzhak Avidav, and Bezalel Michaeli. The group attempted a couple of mass poisonings, the first of the water supplies of Munich, Berlin, Weimar, Nuremberg and Hamburg, which failed when the poison had to be thrown overboard on a ship when Kovner was discovered to be carrying forges documents. The other attempt was with 3,000 loaves of bread painted with diluted arsenic, headed for 15,000 German POWs from the Langwasser internment camp near Nuremberg. The camp was under US authority. On April 23, 1946, it was reported that 2,283 German prisoners of war had fallen ill from poisoning, with 207 hospitalized and seriously ill. According to Harmatz, 300 to 400 Germans died. He said this “was nothing compared with what we really wanted to do.” A 2016 report by the Associated Press countered that the operation ultimately caused no known deaths, despite documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Archives and Records Administration stating the arsenic found in the bakery was enough to kill approximately 60,000 persons. Apparently, the arsenic was spread too thin to be lethal.
It’s hard to say just how much information is correct and how much is incorrect. I suppose it depends on who is reporting, and how accurately they want to report what they have. Propaganda in any war runs rampant, so we will likely never know. Records can and do go missing, especially when someone wants to disprove their enemies. Whether so many people died by poisoning or not, the Nokmim and the spin-off Nakam brought vengeance on many of the Nazis who would have escaped justice without them.
Using prisoners-of-war as free labor in the concentration camps was not an unheard of practice during World War II. Many of the prisoners in Auschwitz were forced to do administrative and labor duties, such as sorting new arrivals’ possessions, constructing and expanding the camps, and taking photos of the other captives. In the photo lab at Auschwitz alone, nearly 39,000 prison photographs were taken. The problem with those photos was that when the Nazis began to realize that they were going to lose the war, they knew that all those photos were proof positive of their guilt in the matter of the Holocaust. That meant that the photos had to be destroyed.
During the evacuation of Auschwitz in 1945, photo lab workers Wilhelm Brasse and Bronislaw Jureczek were ordered to burn all photographic evidence. The men knew that to do so would mean that the Nazis would get away with the heinous murders they had committed. So, they came up with a way to save the pictures. They placed wet photo paper at the bottom of the furnace before placing the real pictures inside. With the furnace so packed and the wet paper creating so much smoke, the blaze went out quickly. Then, once they were unsupervised, the men were able to take the unharmed pictures from the furnace to smuggle them out. The precious pictures of victims of the Holocaust were then cataloged, and have been kept in the Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
On July 11, 1944, evidence of mass murder of Jews at the extermination camp was provided to Winston Churchill by four escapees from Auschwitz. For two years, the Nazis had managed to keep the gas chambers in Auschwitz, southern Poland, a secret. Churchill wrote to his Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, “There is no doubt this is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world…all concerned in this crime who may fall into our hands, including people who only obeyed orders by carrying out the butcheries, should be put to death.”
Auschwitz was the principal Nazi extermination camp in World War II. The complex covered at least 15 square miles. As World War II was coming to a close, and the Nazis were fleeing their own demise, the camp was evacuated, there were about 67,000 inmates who were still alive there. About 56,000 of these are led away. The rest were too sick to move, so they were left behind to die. As many as 250,000 people will die on the roads before the end of the war. Originally, the site for Auschwitz was chosen because the main railway lines from Germany and Poland passed through the area. By taking the prisoners to Poland, the Nazis hoped to keep their existence a secret. When the prisoners were sent to Auschwitz, they actually had to pay their own way…to be stuffed into a cattle car, so tightly that they couldn’t even fall down if they passed out or died. Prisoners deported to Auschwitz went there to die. The Nazis had no plans for them to survive. Auschwitz contained five crematoria, made and patented by German engineering company Töpf and Sons. It was estimated that they could dispose of 4,756 corpses a day. The crimes against humanity that had been committed here were atrocious, and panic had set in among the SS guards, who feared for their lives at the hands of the ruthless Red Army when it arrived.
For the prisoners, the end was also in sight, either by death, or by liberation for the few survivors of one of humanity’s most vile atrocities. The snow across the grounds of Auschwitz was deep, and temperatures are well below freezing. The Soviet Red Army was only a few miles away. Many SS officers and their families had already left, with cases full of valuables stolen from murdered inmates. Those on the death marches from Auschwitz survived by eating the snow on the shoulders of the people in front of them, because if they bent down to pick up the slush they risked being shot. As the prisoners marched slowly west through Poland, SS Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Höss was heading in the opposite direction. Höss had been given the task of building Auschwitz by Himmler and had been the camp’s brutal commandant, living in luxury with his wife and five children just 100 yards from the camp grounds. After consideration, he headed back to Auschwitz, past what he described as “stumbling columns of corpses,” to make sure all evidence linking him to the genocide had been destroyed. But Höss was forced to turn his car around as the Russians advanced toward him. In 1946, he was captured and a year later hanged at Auschwitz.
Inmates, Brasse and Jureczek employed at Auschwitz’s Identification Service saved the thousands of negatives of prisoners’ ID photographs, at great personal risk to themselves, and because they did, at least some of the guilty ones could be held accountable. The photos were intended to be a way to identify prisoners if they escaped, but their rapid starvation made these images useless. Nevertheless, Brasse and Jureczek were keen on preserving evidence of the atrocities at Auschwitz, and in the end, their efforts paid off.
What would you do if your life had been ripped apart by a group of people who really knew nothing about you or your people, but hated you and them anyway. That was the position in which Joseph Harmatz found himself. Born in Rokiškis, Lithuania into a prosperous family, Harmatz and his family were transferred to the Vilnius Ghetto on January 23, 1925, after the occupation of Lithuania by Nazi Germany. It was the worst time in his life. His youngest brother and all of his grandparents were killed and his older brother died during a military action. His despondent father committed suicide. Harmatz was left alone with his mother at the age of 16. He couldn’t stand the way things were, so he left the ghetto through the sewers and joined a band of guerrillas fighting the Nazis. Harmatz managed to survive the Holocaust, and after the war, he became part of Nakam (Hebrew for Revenge) also known as the Avengers. The Nakam was a group of 50 former underground fighters led by Abba Kovner. Their goal was to avenge the deaths of the six million Jewish victims of Nazi extermination efforts in the Holocaust. The true goal according to Harmatz was to facilitate the death of as many Germans as possible, with the group planning “to kill six million Germans, one for every Jew slaughtered by the Germans,” acknowledging that the effort “was revenge, quite simply. Were we not entitled to our revenge, too?”
Their main target was Stalag XIII-D, a prisoner-of-war camp built on what had been the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg. Interned in the camp were 12,000 members of the SS (Schutzstaffel or Protection Squads). These prisoners were involved in running concentration camps and other aspects of the Final Solution…Nazi Germany’s horrific policy of deliberate and systematic genocide across German-occupied Europe. In April 1946, a member of the Nakam got a job as a baker, and he had a plan. He baked arsenic into 3,000 loaves of bread that were to be fed to the prisoners. Nearly 2,000 prisoners became ill and were thought to be seriously ill. American authorities thought that the arsenic had got onto the crust of the bread by accident, having been used as an insecticide in the wheat fields. During the investigation, United States Army investigators found enough arsenic to have killed 60,000 people and Nakam claimed they had killed several hundred victims, but declassified documents obtained by Associated Press in 2016 stated there were no casualties.
According to Harmatz’s son, his father had no regret for his attempts to kill the German prisoners. He said he was only “sorry that it didn’t work.” Harmatz wrote a book in 1998, called “From the Wings” in which he stated that the poisoning plot had the approval of Chaim Weizmann, though David Ben-Gurion and Zalman Shazar were both against the plan. An earlier attempt to poison the water in a number of German cities failed after Kovner was arrested by British forces on a ship on which the poison had been hidden, and had been thrown overboard to prevent its capture. The group was so filled with hatred that they wanted all Germans killed, even if they had nothing to do with the Holocaust. Looking back, after much soul searching, Harmatz was thankful that the plot to poison the water supplies in German cities had failed, saying that it “would have harmed efforts to create an incipient State of Israel and would have led to charges of moral equivalence between actions of Germans and Jews. Another effort to kill Nazi war criminals on trial at Nuremberg failed when the group was unable to find any US Army guards willing to participate.”
Harmatz emigrated to Israel in 1950, and worked to aid Jews resettling from countries around the world. He headed World ORT, a Jewish non-profit organization that promotes education and training in communities around the world, from 1960 to 1994. A long-time resident of Tel Aviv, Harmatz died at at his home on September 22, 2016. He was 91 years old, and was survived by two sons.