The Belfast Blitz was four attacks of high-casualty German air raids on strategic targets in the city of Belfast in Northern island . in April and May 1941 during World War II. The first was on the night of 7–8 April 1941, a small attack which probably took place only to test Belfast’s defences. The next took place on Easter Tuesday , 15 April 1941. Two hundred bombers of the Luftwaffe attacked military and manufacturing targets in the city of Belfast. Some 900 people died as a result of the bombing and 1,500 were injured. High explosive bombs predominated in this raid. Apart from those on London, this was the greatest loss of life in any night raid during the Blitz.
The Belfast Blitz-narrated
The third raid on Belfast took place over the evening and morning of 4–5 May 1941; 150 were killed. Incendiary bombs predominated in this raid. The fourth and final Belfast raid took place on the following night, 5–6 May.
As the UK was preparing for the conflict, the factories and shipyards of Belfast were gearing up. Belfast made a considerable contribution towards the Allied war effort, producing many naval ships, aircraft and munitions; therefore, the city was deemed a suitable bombing target by the Luftwaffe. Meanwhile, unlike Northern Ireland, southern Ireland was no longer part of the UK. Under the leadership of Éamon de Valera, it had declared its neutrality during the Second World War. Although it arrested German spies that its police and military intelligence services caught, the state never broke off diplomatic relations with Axis nations: the German Legation in Dublin remained open throughout the war.
The Government of Northern Ireland lacked the will, energy and capacity to cope with a major crisis when it came. James Craig, Lord Craigavon, was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland since its inception in 1921 until his death in 1940. Richard Dawson Bates, was the Home Affairs Minister. Sir Basil Brooke, the Minister of Agriculture, was the only active minister. He successfully busied himself with the task of making Northern Ireland a major supplier of food to Britain in her time of need
John Clarke MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, after the first bombing, initiated the “Hiram Plan” to evacuate the city and to return Belfast to ‘normality’ as quickly as possible. It was MacDermott who sent a telegram to de Valera seeking assistance. There was unease with the complacent attitude of the government, which led to resignations:
John Edmond Warnock, the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, resigned from the government on 25 May 1940. He said, “I have heard speeches about Ulster pulling her weight but they have never carried conviction.” and “the government has been slack, dilatory and apathetic.”
Craigavon died on 24 November 1940. He was succeeded by John Miller Andrews, then 70 years old, who was no more capable of dealing with the situation than his predecessor. On 28 April 1943, six members of the Government threatened to resign, forcing him from office. He was replaced by Sir Basil Brooke on 1 May.
During the war years, Belfast shipyards built or converted over 3,000 navy vessels, repaired more than 22,000 others and launched over half a million tons of merchant shipping – over 140 merchantmen.
Aero linen for covering aircraft, such as the Hawker Hurricane, and military glider frames was manufactured by a number of Belfast flax spinning mills, such as The York Street Flax Spinning Co.; Brookfield Spinning Co.; Wm. Ewart’s Rosebank Weaving Co.; and the Linen Thread Co.
Other Belfast factories manufactured gun mountings, ordnance pieces, aircraft parts and ammunition.
Sir James Craig, former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.
There was little preparation for the conflict with Germany. However at the time Lord Craigavon, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland since its inception in 1921, said: “Ulster is ready when we get the word and always will be.” He was asked, in the N.I. parliament: “if the government realized ‘that these fast bombers can come to Northern Ireland in two and three quarter hours’ “. His reply was: “We here today are in a state of war and we are prepared with the rest of the United Kingdom and Empire to face all the responsibilities that imposes on the Ulster people. There is no slacking in our loyalty.”
Dawson Bates, the Home Affairs Minister, simply refused to reply to army correspondence and when the Ministry of Home Affairs was informed by imperial defence experts that Belfast was a certain Luftwaffe target, nothing was done.
Belfast, the city with the highest population density had the lowest proportion of air-raid shelters. Prior to the “Belfast Blitz” there were only 200 public shelters, although 4,000 households had built their own shelters. No searchlights were set up, as they had only arrived on 10 April. There were no night-fighters. On the night of the raid, no Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft took to the air. There were only 22 anti-aircraft guns, six light, and sixteen heavy. On the night, only seven were operated for a short time. There was no smokescreen ability. There were some barrage balloons. These air-raid shelters were Anderson shelters. They were sheets of corrugated galvanised iron covered in earth. Since most casualties were caused by falling masonry rather than by blast, they provided effective shelter for those who had them.
Few children had been successfully evacuated. The “Hiram Plan” initiated by Dawson Bates, the Home Affairs Minister, had failed to materialise. Fewer than 4,000 women and children were evacuated. There were still 80,000 more in Belfast. Even the children of soldiers had not been evacuated, with calamitous results when the married quarters of Victoria Barracks received a direct hit.
There had been a number of small bombings, probably by planes that missed their targets over the River Clyde in Glasgow or the cities of the northwest of England. On 24 March 1941, John MacDermott, Minister for Security, wrote to Prime Minister John Andrews, expressing his concerns that Belfast was so poorly protected: “Up to now we have escaped attack. So had Clydeside until recently. Clydeside got its blitz during the period of the last moon. There [is] ground for thinking that the … enemy could not easily reach Belfast in force except during a period of moonlight. The period of the next moon from say the 7th to the 16th of April may well bring our turn.” MacDermott would be proved right.
The first deliberate raid took place on the night of 7 April. (Some authors count this as the second raid of four). It targeted the docks. Neighbouring residential areas were also hit. Six Heinkel He 111 bombers, from Kampfgruppe 26, flying at 7,000 feet (2,100 m), dropped incendiaries, high explosive and parachute-mines. By British mainland blitz standards, casualties were light. Thirteen lost their lives, including a soldier killed when an anti-aircraft gun, at the Balmoral show-grounds, misfired. The most significant loss was a 4.5-acre (1.8 ha) factory floor for manufacturing the fuselages of Short Stirling bombers. The Royal Air Force announced that Squadron Leader J.W.C. Simpson shot down one of the Heinkels over Downpatrick. The Luftwaffe crews returned to their base in Northern France and reported that Belfast’s defences were, “inferior in quality, scanty and insufficient”.
Easter Tuesday Blitz
William Joyce (known as “Lord Haw-Haw“) announced in radio broadcasts from Hamburg that there will be “Easter eggs for Belfast”.
That evening up to 200 bombers left their bases in northern France and the Netherlands and headed for Belfast. There were Heinkel He 111s, Junkers Ju 88s and Dorniers. At 10:40 pm the air raid sirens sounded. Accounts differ as to when flares were dropped to light up the city. The first attack was against the city’s waterworks, which had been attacked in the previous raid. High explosives were dropped. Initially it was thought that the Germans had mistaken this reservoir for the harbour and shipyards, where many ships, including HMS Ark Royal were being repaired. However that attack was not an error. Three vessels nearing completion at Harland and Wolff’s were hit as was its power station. Wave after wave of bombers dropped their incendiaries, high explosives and land-mines. When incendiaries were dropped, the city burned as water pressure was too low for effective firefighting.
Public buildings destroyed or badly damaged included Belfast City Hall’s Banqueting Hall, the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children and Ballymacarrett library, (the last two being located on Templemore Avenue). Strand Public Elementary school, the LMS railway station, the adjacent Midland Hotel on York Road, and Salisbury Avenue tram depot were all hit. Churches destroyed or wrecked included Macrory Memorial Presbyterian in Duncairn Gardens; Duncairn Methodist, Castleton Presbyterian on York Road; St Silas’s on the Oldpark Road; St James’s on the Antrim Road; Newington Presbyterian on Limestone Road; Crumlin Road Presbyterian; Holy Trinity on Clifton Street and Clifton Street Presbyterian; York Street Presbyterian and York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian; Newtownards Road Methodist and Rosemary Street Presbyterian (the last of which was not rebuilt).
Streets heavily bombed in the city centre included High Street, Ann Street, Callender Street, Chichester Street, Castle Street, Tomb Street, Bridge Street (effectively obliterated), Rosemary Street, Waring Street, North Street, Victoria Street, Donegall Street, York Street, Gloucester Street, and East Bridge Street. In the east of the city, Westbourne and Newcastle Streets on the Newtownards Road, Thorndyke Street off the Albertbridge Road and Ravenscroft Avenue were destroyed or damaged. In the west and north of the city, streets heavily bombed included Percy Street, York Park, York Crescent, Eglinton Street, Carlisle Street, Ballyclare, Ballycastle and Ballynure Streets off the Oldpark Road; Southport Street, Walton Street, Antrim Road, Annadale Street, Cliftonville Road, Hillman Street, Atlantic Avenue, Hallidays Road, Hughenden Avenue, Sunningdale Park, Shandarragh Park, and Whitewell Road. Burke Street which ran between Annadale and Dawson streets in the New Lodge area, was completely wiped off the map with all its 20 houses flattened and all of the occupants killed.
The Hawker Hurricane accounted for the most kills during the Battle of Britain
There was no opposition. In the mistaken belief that they might damage RAF fighters, the seven anti-aircraft batteries ceased firing. But the RAF had not responded. The bombs continued to fall until 5am.
Fifty-five thousand houses were damaged leaving 100,000 temporarily homeless. Outside of London, with some 900 dead, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz. A stray bomber attacked Derry, killing 15. Another attacked Bangor, killing five. By 4 am the entire city seemed to be in flames. At 4.15am John MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, managed to contact Basil Brooke (then Agriculture Minister), seeking permission to seek help from the Irish government. Brooke noted in his diary “I gave him authority as it is obviously a question of expediency”. Since 1.45am all telephones had been cut. Fortunately, the railway telegraphy link between Belfast and Dublin was still operational. The telegram was sent at 4.35am, asking the Irish Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera for assistance.
Over 900 lives were lost, 1,500 people were injured, 400 of them seriously. Fifty-thousand houses, more than half the houses in the city, were damaged. Eleven churches, two hospitals and two schools were destroyed. These figures are based on newspaper reports of the time, personal recollections and other primary sources, such as:-
Jimmy Doherty, an air raid warden (who later served in London during the V1 and V2 blitz), who wrote a book on the Belfast blitz;
Emma Duffin, a nurse at the Queen’s University Hospital, (who previously served during the Great War), who kept a diary;
and Major Seán O’Sullivan, who produced a detailed report for the Dublin government. There are other diarists and narratives. Brian Barton of Queen’s University, Belfast, has written most on this topic. There is an eye-witness account from John Potter online.
There were few bomb shelters. An air raid shelter on Hallidays Road received a direct hit, killing all those in it. Many people who were dug out of the rubble alive had taken shelter underneath their stairs and were fortunate that their homes had not received a direct hit or caught fire. In the New Lodge area people had taken refuge in a mill. Tragically 35 were crushed to death when the mill wall collapsed. In another building, the York Street Mill, one of its massive sidewalls collapsed on to Sussex and Vere Streets, killing all those who remained in their homes.
Major O’Sullivan reported that “In the heavily ‘blitzed’ areas people ran panic-stricken into the streets and made for the open country. As many were caught in the open by blast and secondary missiles, the enormous number of casualties can be readily accounted for. It is perhaps true that many saved their lives running but I am afraid a much greater number lost them or became casualties.”
That night almost 300 people, many from the Protestant Shankill area, took refuge in the Clonard Monastery in the Catholic Falls Road. The crypt under the sanctuary and the cellar under the working sacristy had been fitted out and opened to the public as an air-raid shelter. Prayers were said and hymns sung by the mainly Protestant women and children during the bombing.
The mortuary services had emergency plans to deal with only 200 bodies. 150 corpses remained in the Falls Road baths for three days before they were buried in a mass grave, with 123 still unidentified. Two hundred and fifty-five corpses were laid out in St George’s Market. Many bodies and body parts could not be identified. Mass graves for the unclaimed bodies were dug in the Milltown and City Cemeteries.
Nurse Emma Duffin
Nurse Emma Duffin, who had served in the Great War, contrasted death in that conflict with what she saw:
(Great War casualties) had died in hospital beds, their eyes had been reverently closed, their hands crossed to their breasts. Death had to a certain extent been … made decent. It was solemn, tragic, dignified, but here it was grotesque, repulsive, horrible. No attendant nurse had soothed the last moments of these victims; no gentle reverent hand had closed their eyes or crossed their hands. With tangled hair, staring eyes, clutching hands, contorted limbs, their grey-green faces covered with dust, they lay, bundled into the coffins, half-shrouded in rugs or blankets, or an occasional sheet, still wearing their dirty, torn twisted garments. Death should be dignified, peaceful; Hitler had made even death grotesque. I felt outraged, I should have felt sympathy, grief, but instead feelings of revulsion and disgust assailed me.
Major Seán O’Sullivan
Major Seán O’Sullivan reported on the intensity of the bombing in some areas, such as the Antrim Road, where bombs “fell within fifteen to twenty yards of one another.” The most heavily-bombed area was that which lay between York Street and the Antrim Road, north of the city centre. O’Sullivan felt that the whole civil defence sector was utterly overwhelmed. Heavy jacks were unavailable. He described some distressing consequences, such as how “in one case the leg and arm of a child had to be amputated before it could be extricated.”
In his opinion, the greatest want was the lack of hospital facilities. He went to the Mater Hospital at 2 pm, nine hours after the raid ended, to find the street with a traffic jam of ambulances waiting to admit their casualties. He spoke with Professor Flynn, (Theodore Thomson Flynn, an Australian based at the Mater Hospital and father of actor Errol Flynn), head of the casualty service for the city, who told him of “casualties due to shock, blast and secondary missiles, such as glass, stones, pieces of piping, etc.” O’Sullivan reported: “There were many terrible mutilations among both living and dead – heads crushed, ghastly abdominal and face wounds, penetration by beams, mangled and crushed limbs etc.”. His report concluded with: “a second Belfast would be too horrible to contemplate”.
Two hundred and twenty thousand people fled from the city. Many “arrived in Fermanagh having nothing with them only night shirts”. Ten thousand “officially” crossed the border. Over 500 received care from the Irish Red Cross in Dublin. The town of Dromara saw its population increase from 500 to 2,500. In Newtownards, Bangor, Larne, Carrickfergus, Lisburn and Antrim many thousands of Belfast citizens took refuge either with friends or strangers.
Major O’Sullivan reported on a:
continuous trek to railway stations. The refugees looked dazed and horror stricken and many had neglected to bring more than a few belongings… Any and every means of exit from the city was availed of and the final destination appeared to be a matter of indifference.
Train after train and bus after bus were filled with those next in line. At nightfall the Northern Counties Station was packed from platform gates to entrance gates and still refugees were coming along in a steady stream from the surrounding streets … Open military lorries were finally put into service and even expectant mothers and mothers with young children were put into these in the rather heavy drizzle that lasted throughout the evening. On the 17th I heard that hundreds who either could not get away or could not leave for other reasons simply went out into the fields and remained in the open all night with whatever they could take in the way of covering.
Moya Woodside noted in her diary: “Evacuation is taking on panic proportions. Roads out of town are still one stream of cars, with mattresses and bedding tied on top. Everything on wheels is being pressed into service. People are leaving from all parts of town and not only from the bombed areas. Where they are going, what they will find to eat when they get there, nobody knows.”
Dawson Bates informed the Cabinet of rack-renting of barns, and over thirty people per house in some areas.
Humanity knows no borders, no politics, no differences of religious belief. Yesterday for once the people of Ireland were united under the shadow of a national blow. Has it taken bursting bombs to remind the people of this little country that they have common tradition, a common genius and a common home? Yesterday the hand of good-fellowship was reached across the Border. Men from the South worked with men from the North in the universal cause of the relief of suffering.
By 6am, within two hours of the request for assistance, 71 firemen with 13 fire tenders from Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, and Dún Laoghaire were on their way to cross the Irish border to assist their Belfast colleagues. In each station volunteers were asked for, as it was beyond their normal duties. In every instance, all stepped forward. They remained for three days, until they were sent back by the Northern Ireland government. By then 250 firemen from Clydeside had arrived. TaoiseachÉamon de Valera formally protested to Berlin. He followed up with his “they are our people” speech, made in Castlebar, County Mayo, on Sunday 20 April 1941 (Quoted in the Dundalk Democrat dated Saturday 26 April 1941):
In the past, and probably in the present, too, a number of them did not see eye to eye with us politically, but they are our people – we are one and the same people – and their sorrows in the present instance are also our sorrows; and I want to say to them that any help we can give to them in the present time we will give to them whole-heartedly, believing that were the circumstances reversed they would also give us their help whole-heartedly …
Initial German radio broadcasts celebrated the raid. A Luftwaffe pilot gave this description “We were in exceptional good humour knowing that we were going for a new target, one of England’s last hiding places. Wherever Churchill is hiding his war material we will go … Belfast is as worthy a target as Coventry, Birmingham, Bristol or Glasgow.” William Joyce “Lord Haw-Haw” announced that “The Führer will give you time to bury your dead before the next attack … Tuesday was only a sample.” However Belfast was not mentioned again by the Nazis. After the war, instructions from Joseph Goebbels were discovered ordering it not to be mentioned. It would appear that Adolf Hitler, in view of de Valera’s negative reaction, was concerned that de Valera and Irish American politicians might encourage the United States to enter the war.
Eduard Hempel, the German Minister to Ireland, visited the Irish Ministry for External Affairs to offer sympathy and attempt an explanation. J.P. Walshe, assistant secretary, recorded that Hempel was “clearly distressed by the news of the severe raid on Belfast and especially of the number of civilian casualties.” He stated that “he would once more tell his government how he felt about the matter and he would ask them to confine the operations to military objectives as far as it was humanly possible. He believed that this was being done already but it was inevitable that a certain number of civilian lives should be lost in the course of heavy bombing from the air”.
The government was blamed by some for inadequate precautions. Tommy Henderson, an Independent Unionist MP in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, summed up the feeling when he invited the Minister of Home Affairs to Hannahstown and the Falls Road, saying “The Catholics and the Protestants are going up there mixed and they are talking to one another. They are sleeping in the same sheugh (ditch), below the same tree or in the same barn. They all say the same thing, that the government is no good.”
A map showing the location of Belfast Lough
At night Dublin was the only city without a blackout between New York and Moscow, and between Lisbon and Sweden; German bombers often flew overhead to check their bearings using its lights, angering the British. One widespread criticism was that the Germans located Belfast by heading for Dublin and following the railway lines north. In The Blitz: Belfast in the War Years, Brian Barton wrote: “Government Ministers felt with justification, that the Germans were able to use the unblacked out lights in the south to guide them to their targets in the North.” Barton insisted that Belfast was “too far north” to use radio guidance.
Other writers, such as Tony Gray in The Lost Years state that the Germans did follow their radio guidance beams. Several accounts point out that Belfast, standing at the end of the long inlet of Belfast Lough, would be easily located. Another claim was that the Catholic population in general and the IRA in particular guided the bombers. Barton wrote: “the Catholic population was much more strongly opposed to conscription, was inclined to sympathise with Germany”, “…there were suspicions that the Germans were assisted in identifying targets, held by the Unionist population.” This view was probably influenced by the decision of the IRA Army Council to support Germany. However they were not in a position to communicate with the Germans, and information recovered from Germany after the war showed that the planning of the blitz was based entirely on German aerial reconnaissance.
Firemen return south
After three days, sometime after 6pm, the fire crews from south of the border began taking up their hoses and ladders to head for home. By then most of the major fires were under control and the firemen from Clydeside and other British cities were arriving. Some had received food, others were famished. All were exhausted. Two of the crews received refreshments in Banbridge; others were entertained in the Ancient Order of Hibernians hall in Newry. In 1995 on the fiftieth anniversary of the ending of the Second World War an invitation was received by the Dublin Fire Brigade for any survivors of that time to attend a function at Hillsborough Castle and meet Prince Charles. Only four were known still to be alive; one, Tom Coleman, attended to receive recognition for his colleagues’ solidarity at such a critical time.
Second major raid
Soldiers clearing rubble after the May air raid
There was a second massive air raid on Belfast on Sunday 4–5 May 1941, three weeks after that of Easter Tuesday. Around 1am, Luftwaffe bombers flew over the city, concentrating their attack on the Harbour Estate and Queen’s Island. Nearby residential areas in east Belfast were also hit when “203 metric tonnes of high explosive bombs, 80 land mines attached to parachutes, and 800 firebomb canisters containing 96,000 incendiary bombs” were dropped. Over 150 people lost their lives in what became known as the ‘Fire Blitz’.
Casualties were lower than at Easter, partly because the sirens had sounded at 11.45 pm while the Luftwaffe attacked more cautiously from a greater height. St George’s Church in High Street was damaged by fire. Again the Irish emergency services crossed the border, this time without waiting for an invitation. On 31 May 1941, German bombers attacked neutral Dublin in error.
The leading battalions (of the 36th (Ulster) Division) had been ordered out from the wood just before 7.30am and laid down near the German trenches … At zero hour the British barrage lifted. Bugles blew the “Advance”. Up sprang the Ulstermen and, without forming up in the waves adopted by other divisions, they rushed the German front line ….. By a combination of sensible tactics and Ulster dash, the prize that eluded so many, the capture of a long section of the German front line, had been accomplished.
During the Battle of the Somme the Ulster Division was the only division of X Corps to have achieved its objectives on the opening day of the battle. This came at a heavy price, with the division suffering in two days of fighting 5,500 officers and enlisted men killed, wounded or missing. War correspondent Philip Gibbs said of the Division, “Their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world.
Of nine Victoria Crosses given to British forces in the battle, four were awarded to 36th Division soldiers.
An arch in the Shankill Road area of Belfast commemorating the 36th Ulster Division.
Thiepval – Somme
“I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world.”
Captain Wilfred Spender after the Battle of the Somme
The Somme From Defeat to Victory
Thiepval, as a battle memorial, commemorates the 1916 Anglo-French offensive on the Somme. It pays tribute and respect for those who died where it stands (90% of commemorations 1 July – 13 November 1916) and is the biggest British war memorial to the missing of The Western Front, both in physical size and the numbers it commemorates (more than 73,000). It was built in the late 1920s to early 1930s.
The 36th Ulster Division’s sector of the Somme lay astride the marshy valley of the river Ancre and the higher ground south of the river. Their task was to cross the ridge and take the German second line near Grandcourt. In their path lay not only the German front line, but just beyond it, the intermediate line within which was the Schwaben Redoubt.
To their left flank was the 29th Division, which included the Newfoundlanders. For them in less than half an hour it was all over; 801 men went into action and on the unwounded name call next day, only 68 answered.
To their right flank was the 32nd Division, including the Grimsby Chums. Prior to the attack at 07:28 a large mine was exploded beneath the German line; the Chums would then attack at 07:30. Unknown to them, the mine was short of the German position. During the 2-minute gap between explosion and whistle, the Germans set up their machine guns, probably in the new bunker which would give them a second defense. The attack did not last long; their task was to take the fortress village of Thiepval.
The First Day of the Somme was the anniversary (Julian Calendar) of the Battle of the Boyne, a fact remarked on by the leaders of the Division. Stories that some men went over the top wearing orange sashes are, however,sometimes thought to be myths.
“There was many who went over the top at the Somme who were Ulstermen, at least one, Sergeant Samuel Kelly of 9th Inniskillings wearing his Ulster Sash, while others wore orange ribbons”
When some of his men wavered, one Company commander from the West Belfasts, Maj. George Gaffikin, took off his Orange Sash, held it high for his men to see and roared the traditional war-cry of the battle of the Boyne; ” Come on, boys! No surrender!” 
On 1 July, following the preliminary bombardment, the Ulstermen quickly took the German front line. But intelligence was so poor that, with the rest of the division attacking under creep bombardment (artillery fired in front or over men; they advance as it moves), the Ulstermen would have come under attack from their own bombardment at the German first line.
But they still advanced, moving to the crest so rapidly that the Germans had no time to come up from their dugouts (generally 30–40 feet below ground). In the Schwaben Redoubt, which was also taken, so successful was the advance that by 10:00 some had reached the German second line. But again they came under their own barrage, not due to finish until 10:10. However, this successful penetration had to be given up before nightfall, as it was unmatched by those at its flanks. The Ulstermen were exposed in a narrow salient, open to attack on three sides. They were running out of ammunition and supplies, and a full German counter-attack at 22:00 forced them to withdraw, giving up virtually all they gained.
The Ulstermen had gained an advantage on the day of battle by not sticking to the rigid orders issued. Both the German and British generals considered the men of the New Army/Kitcheners Men as insufficiently trained in the skills of warfare. Consequently, the battle tactics they were ordered to follow by commanders was more strict and regimented than those of regular army. But the Ulstermen advanced during the bombardment by pushing forward small trenches the depth of a man, then cutting the barbed wire which was 30 inches in depth and height in places (before bombardment). So when the bombardment stopped at 07:28/07:30 the Ulstermen attacked quickly. These Ulstermen were also here by choice. Kitchener asked Sir Edward Carson for some of the already armed men of the Ulster Division. He hoped for a Brigade (4x battalions), he got in Volunteers, a Division (3x Brigade). Thiepval was not to fall until late September; the Schwaben Redoubt fell in mid-October. The battle ended in mid-November. The Allies advanced 8 km and the British suffered 420,000 casualties, the French 195,000, and the Germans 650,000. The only success was relieving the French at Verdun. On the first day of battle, the British suffered 57,740 casualties, of which 19,240 were dead (the largest single loss). 60% of the officers involved were killed.
The Ulster Memorial Tower
36th Ulster Division March Past Centenary Parade 09/05/15 ( Full Main Parade)
The Ulster Memorial Tower was unveiled by Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson in Thiepval, France, on 19 November 1921, in dedication to the contributions of the 36th Ulster Division during World War I. The tower marks the site of the Schwaben redoubt, against which the Ulster Division advanced on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Lord Carson had intended to perform the unveiling himself, but due to illness, his place was taken by Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. The money was raised by public subscription in Northern Ireland in memory of the officers and men of the 36th (Ulster) Division, and all Ulsterman who died in the great war.
The tower itself is a replica of Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, County Down. It was at Helen’s Tower that the men of the then newly formed Ulster Division drilled and trained on the outbreak of World War I. For many of the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division, the distinctive sight of Helen’s Tower rising above the surrounding countryside was one of their last abiding memories of home before their departure for England and, subsequently, the Western Front.
Rifleman Robert Quigg, 12th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles. Awarded for actions during the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. Also awarded the Medal of Order of St. George (Fourth Class), the highest honour of the Russian Empire.
Lieutenant Geoffrey Cather 9th Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers. Died 25 years old, 2 July 1916, Battle of the Somme.
Captain Wilfred Spender of the Ulster Division’s HQ staff after the Battle of the Somme was quoted in the press as saying, “I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st. July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world. My pen cannot describe adequately the hundreds of heroic acts that I witnessed… The Ulster Volunteer Force, from which the division was made, has won a name which equals any in history. Their devotion deserves the gratitude of the British Empire.” The final sentences of Captain Wilfred Spender’s account furthered his viewpoint:
The Ulster Division has lost more than half the men who attacked and, in doing so, has sacrificed itself for the Empire which has treated them none too well. Their devotion, which no doubt has helped the advance elsewhere, deserved the gratitude of the British Empire. It is due to the memory of these brave fellows that their beloved Province shall be fairly treated.
After the war had ended, King George V paid tribute to the 36th Division saying, “I recall the deeds of the 36th (Ulster) Division, which have more than fulfilled the high opinion formed by me on inspecting that force on the eve of its departure for the front. Throughout the long years of struggle, which now so gloriously ended, the men of Ulster have proved how nobly they fight and die …”.
“The record of the Thirty-Sixth Division will ever be the pride of Ulster. At Theipval in the battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916; at Wytschaete on June 17th,1917, in the storming of the Messines Ridge; on the Canal du Nord, in the attack on the Hindenburg Line of November 20th same year; on March 21, 1918, near Fontaine-les-Clercs, defending their positions long after they were isolated and surrounded by the enemy; and later in the month at Andechy in the days of ‘backs to the wall’, they acquired a repution for conduct and devotion deathless in military history of the United Kingdom, and repeatedly signalised in the despatches of the Commander-in-Chief.”
Colonel John Buchan (History of War)
North of Theipval the Ulster Division broke through the enemy trenches, passed the crest of the ridge, and reached the point called the Crucifix, in rear of the first German position. For a little while they held the strong Schwaben Rebout (where), enfiled on three sides, they went on through successive German lines, and only a remnant came back to tell the tale. Nothing finer was done in the war. The splendid troops drawn from those Volunteers who had banded themselves together for another cause, now shed their blood like water for the liberty of the world.”
Whether town dweller or country lad, volunteer or regular, officer or other rank, Catholic or Protestant, the Sons of Ulster knew a comradship and a trust in adversity that should be a lesson to us all.
The Holocaust (from the Greekὁλόκαυστοςholókaustos: hólos, “whole” and kaustós, “burnt”), also known as the Shoah (Hebrew: השואה, HaShoah, “the catastrophe”), was a genocide in which approximately six million Jews were killed by Adolf Hitler‘s Nazi regime and its collaborators. Some historians use a definition of the Holocaust that includes the additional five million non-Jewish victims of Nazi mass murders, bringing the total to approximately eleven million. Killings took place throughout Nazi Germany and German-occupied territories.
From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in a genocide, one of the largest in history, and part of a broader aggregate of acts of oppression and killings of various ethnic and political groups in Europe by the Nazi regime. Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide, turning the Third Reich into “a genocidal state”. Other victims of Nazi crimes included Romanis, ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet POWs, communists, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. In total, approximately 11 million people were killed, including approximately one million Jewish children. Of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust, approximately two-thirds were killed. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories were used to concentrate victims for slave labor, mass murder, and other human rights abuses. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.
Footprints in the Snow – Holocaust Documentary
The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages, culminating in what was termed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (die Endlösung der Judenfrage), the agenda to exterminate Jews in Europe. Initially the German government passed laws to exclude Jews from civil society, most prominently the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. A network of concentration camps was established starting in 1933 and ghettos were established following the outbreak of World War II in 1939. In 1941, as Germany conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized paramilitary units called Einsatzgruppen were used to murder around two million Jews and “partisans”, often in mass shootings. By the end of 1942, victims were being regularly transported by freight trains to specially built extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, most were systematically killed in gas chambers. The campaign of murder continued until the end of World War II in Europe in April–May 1945.
Writing in Latin, Richard of Devizes, a 12th-century monk, was the first recorded chronicler to use the term “holocaustum” in Britain. Sir Thomas Browne employed the word “holocaust” in his philosophical Discourse Urn Burial in 1658 and for centuries, the word was used generally in English to denote great massacres. Since the 1960s, the term has come to be used by scholars and popular writers to refer specifically to the Nazi genocide of Jews. The television mini-series Holocaust is credited with introducing the term into common parlance after 1978.
The biblical word shoah (שואה; also transliterated sho’ah and shoa), meaning “calamity” became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust as early as the 1940s, especially in Europe and Israel.Shoah is preferred by some Jews for several reasons including the theologically offensive nature of the word “holocaust” which they take to refer to the Greek pagan custom.
The Nazis used a euphemistic phrase, the “‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question” and the formula “Final Solution” has been widely used as a term for the genocide of the Jews.
Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics that led to the genocides, turning the Third Reich into what one Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, has called “a genocidal state”.
Every arm of the country’s sophisticated bureaucracy was involved in the killing process. Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied birth records showing who was Jewish; the Post Office delivered the deportation and denaturalization orders; the Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish property; German firms fired Jewish workers and disenfranchised Jewish stockholders.
The universities refused to admit Jews, denied degrees to those already studying, and fired Jewish academics; government transport offices arranged the trains for deportation to the camps; German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria; detailed lists of victims were drawn up using the Dehomag (IBM Germany) company’s punch card machines, producing meticulous records of the killings. As prisoners entered the death camps, they were made to surrender all personal property which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany to be reused or recycled. Berenbaum writes that the Final Solution of the Jewish question was “in the eyes of the perpetrators … Germany’s greatest achievement.”Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.
Saul Friedländer writes that: “Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews.” He writes that some Christian churches declared that converted Jews should be regarded as part of the flock, but even then only up to a point. Friedländer argues that this makes the Holocaust distinctive because antisemitic policies were able to unfold without the interference of countervailing forces of the kind normally found in advanced societies such as industry, small businesses, churches, trade unions, and other vested interests and lobby groups.
In many other genocides, pragmatic considerations such as control of territory and resources were central to the genocide policy. Israeli historian and scholar Yehuda Bauer argues that:
The basic motivation [of the Holocaust] was purely ideological, rooted in an illusionary world of Nazi imagination, where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel Aryan quest. No genocide to date had been based so completely on myths, on hallucinations, on abstract, nonpragmatic ideology—which was then executed by very rational, pragmatic means.
German historian Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that one distinctive feature of the Holocaust was that:
Never before had a state with the authority of its responsible leader decided and announced that a specific human group, including its aged, its women and its children and infants, would be killed as quickly as possible, and then carried through this resolution using every possible means of state power.
The killings were systematically conducted in virtually all areas of German-occupied territory in what are now 35 separate European countries. It was at its most severe in Central and Eastern Europe, which had more than seven million Jews in 1939. About five million Jews were killed there, including three million in occupied Poland and over one million in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands also died in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The Wannsee Protocol makes it clear that the Nazis intended to carry their “final solution of the Jewish question” to Britain and all neutral states in Europe, such as Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain.
Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated without exception. This has never happened before, anywhere. Also, the Nazi’s envisioned the extermination of the Jews – where possible – worldwide, not only in Germany proper. Unless their grandparents had converted before 18 January 1871.
Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps (1945) Nuremberg Trials Documentary_WWII Footages_Full Length
The use of extermination camps (also called “death camps”) equipped with gas chambers for the purpose of systematic mass extermination of peoples was a unique feature of the Holocaust and unprecedented in history. Never before had there existed places with the express purpose of killing people en masse. These were established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibór, and Treblinka. The death camps were built to systematically kill millions, primarily by gassing, but also by execution and extreme work under starvation conditions. The idea of mass extermination with the use of stationary facilities built exclusively for that purpose was a result of earlier Nazi experimentation with chemically manufactured poison gas during the secretive Action T4 euthanasia programme against mental patients.
A distinctive feature of Nazi genocide was the extensive use of human subjects in “medical” experiments. According to Raul Hilberg, “German physicians were highly Nazified, compared to other professionals, in terms of party membership.” Some carried out experiments at Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, and Natzweiler concentration camps.
The most notorious of these physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. His experiments included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children’s eyes, and various amputations and other surgeries. The full extent of his work will never be known because the truckload of records he sent to Dr. Otmar von Verschuer at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute was destroyed by von Verschuer. Subjects who survived Mengele’s experiments were almost always killed and dissected shortly afterwards.
He worked extensively with Romani children. He would bring them sweets and toys and personally take them to the gas chamber. They would call him “Onkel (Uncle) Mengele”. Vera Alexander was a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz who looked after 50 sets of Romani twins:
I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. Then their parents—I remember the mother’s name was Stella—managed to get some morphine and they killed the children in order to end their suffering.
“The whole problem of the Jews exists only in nation states, for here their energy and higher intelligence, their accumulated capital of spirit and will, gathered from generation to generation through a long schooling in suffering, must become so preponderant as to arouse mass envy and hatred. In almost all contemporary nations, therefore – in direct proportion to the degree to which they act up nationalistically – the literal obscenity of leading the Jews to slaughter as scapegoats for every conceivable public and internal misfortune is spreading.”
Yehuda Bauer and Lucy Dawidowicz maintained that from the Middle Ages onward, German society and culture were suffused with antisemitism, and that there was a direct ideological link from medieval pogroms to the Nazi death camps.
The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence in Germany and Austria-Hungary of the Völkisch movement developed by such thinkers as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Paul de Lagarde. The movement presented a pseudo-scientific, biologically based racism that viewed Jews as a race locked in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination.Völkisch antisemitism drew upon stereotypes from Christian antisemitism but differed in that Jews were considered to be a race rather than a religion.
In a speech before the Reichstag in 1895, völkisch leader Hermann Ahlwardt called Jews “predators” and “cholera bacilli” who should be “exterminated” for the good of the German people. In his best-selling 1912 book Wenn ich der Kaiser wär (If I were the Kaiser), Heinrich Class, leader of the völkisch group Alldeutscher Verband, urged that all German Jews be stripped of their German citizenship and be reduced to Fremdenrecht (alien status). Class also urged that Jews should be excluded from all aspects of German life, forbidden to own land, hold public office, or participate in journalism, banking, and the liberal professions. Class defined a Jew as anyone who was a member of the Jewish religion on the day the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871 or anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent.
During the German Empire, völkisch notions and pseudo-scientific racism had become common and accepted throughout Germany, with the educated professional classes of the country, in particular, adopting an ideology of human inequality. Though the völkisch parties were defeated in the 1912 Reichstag elections, being all but wiped out, antisemitism was incorporated into the platforms of the mainstream political parties. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party; NSDAP) was founded in 1920 as an offshoot of the völkisch movement and adopted their antisemitism. In a 1986 essay, German historian Hans Mommsen wrote about the situation in post–First World War Germany that:
If one emphasizes the indisputably important connection in isolation, one should not then force a connection with Hitler’s weltanschauung [worldview], which was in no ways original itself, in order to derive from it the existence of Auschwitz … Thoughts about the extermination of the Jews had long been current, and not only for Hitler and his satraps. Many of these found their way to the NSDAP from the Deutschvölkisch Schutz-und Trutzbund [German Racial Union for Protection and Defiance], which itself had been called into life by the Pan-German Union.
Tremendous scientific and technological changes in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries together with the growth of the welfare state created widespread hopes that utopia was at hand and that soon all social problems could be solved. At the same time a racist, social Darwinist, and eugenicist world-view which declared some people to be more biologically valuable than others was common. Historian Detlev Peukert states that the Shoah did not result solely from antisemitism, but was a product of the “cumulative radicalization” in which “numerous smaller currents” fed into the “broad current” that led to genocide. After the First World War, the pre-war mood of optimism gave way to disillusionment as German bureaucrats found social problems to be more insoluble than previously thought, which in turn led them to place increasing emphasis on saving the biologically “fit” while the biologically “unfit” were to be written off.
In Germany, Sturmabteilung stormtroopers urge a national boycott of all Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933. These SA stormtroopers are outside Israel’s Department Store in Berlin to deter customers. The signs read: “Germans! Defend yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews.” (“Deutsche! Wehrt Euch! Kauft nicht bei Juden!“) The store was later ransacked during Kristallnacht in 1938, then handed over to a non-Jewish family.
The political situation in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I also contributed to virulent antisemitism. Many Germans did not accept that their country had been defeated in battle, giving rise to the Stab-in-the-back myth. The myth insinuated that it was disloyal politicians, chiefly Jews and Communists, who orchestrated Germany’s surrender. Inflaming the anti-Jewish sentiment espoused by the myth was the apparent overrepresentation of ethnic Jews in the leadership of Communist revolutionary governments in Europe, among them Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, and in Germany itself Ernst Toller as head of a short lived revolutionary government in Bavaria, contributing to the canard of Jewish Bolshevism.
The economic strains of the Great Depression led many in the German medical establishment to advocate the idea of euthanisation of the “incurable” mentally and physically disabled as a cost-saving measure to free up money to care for the curable. By the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, a tendency already existed in the German social policy to save the racially “valuable” while seeking to rid society of the racially “undesirable”.
Although Hitler never wrote that he would exterminate the Jews, he was open about his hatred of them. Although the origin and first expression of Hitler’s anti-Semitism remain a matter of debate. Hitler states in Mein Kampf that he first became an anti-Semite in Vienna. In Mein Kampf, he announced his intention of removing them from Germany’s political, intellectual, and cultural life. From the early 1920s Hitler linked the Jews with bacteria and that they should be dealt with in exactly the same way; in August 1920 he said that resolving “racial tuberculosis” would be solved by the removal of the “causal agent, the Jew”. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote: “The nationalization of our masses will succeed only when, aside from all the positive struggle for the soul of our people, their international poisoners are exterminated.” Hitler with the idea of poisoning the poisoners suggested: “If at the beginning of the War and during the War twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain”. Hitler had by now viewed Marxism as a Jewish doctrine and proclaimed he was fighting against “Jewish Marxism“.
During his time writing Mein Kampf, Hitler reflected on the Jewish Question and concluded that he had been too soft and that in the future only the most severe measures were to be taken if there was any chance of solving it. Hitler believed that the Jewish Question was not only a problem for the German people but for all peoples as “Juda is the world plague”. Ian Kershaw writes that some passages in Mein Kampf are undeniably of an inherently genocidal nature.
In 1922, he allegedly told Major Joseph Hell, at the time a journalist:
Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have the power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows—at the Marienplatz in Munich, for example—as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately, and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang there as long as the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they have been untied, the next batch will be strung up, and so on down the line, until the last Jew in Munich has been exterminated. Other cities will follow suit, precisely in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews.
As early as 1933, Julius Streicher was calling for the extermination of the Jews in the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer. During the war, Streicher regularly authorized articles demanding the annihilation and extermination of the Jewish race.
Mommsen suggested that there were three types of antisemitism in Germany: There was 1) the cultural antisemitism found among German conservatives, especially in the military officer corps as well as in the top members of the civil administration; 2) there was the “volkisch” antisemitism or racism which advocated using violence against the Jews; and 3) the religious anti-Judaism, particularly within the Catholic Church. The cultural antisemitism kept the ruling establishment from distancing itself or opposing the violent, racial antisemitism of the Nazis, and religious antisemitism meant that the religious establishment did not present opposition to racial persecution of the Jews.
With the establishment of the Third Reich, Nazi leaders proclaimed the existence of a Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”). Nazi policies divided the population into two categories, the Volksgenossen (“national comrades”), who belonged to the Volksgemeinschaft, and the Gemeinschaftsfremde (“community aliens”), who did not. Nazi policies about repression divided people into three types of enemies, the “racial” enemies such as the Jews and the Gypsies who were viewed as enemies because of their “blood”; political opponents such as Marxists, liberals, Christians and the “reactionaries” who were viewed as wayward “National Comrades”; and moral opponents such as homosexuals, the “work-shy” and habitual criminals, also seen as wayward “National Comrades”. The last two groups were to be sent to concentration camps for “re-education”, with the aim of eventual absorption into the Volksgemeinschaft, though some of the moral opponents were to be sterilized, as they were regarded as “genetically inferior”.
“Racial” enemies such as the Jews could, by definition, never belong to the Volksgemeinschaft; they were to be totally removed from society. German historian Detlev Peukert wrote that the National Socialists’ “goal was an utopian Volksgemeinschaft, totally under police surveillance, in which any attempt at nonconformist behaviour, or even any hint or intention of such behaviour, would be visited with terror”. Peukert quotes policy documents on the “Treatment of Community Aliens” from 1944, which (though never implemented) showed the full intentions of Nazi social policy: “persons who … show themselves [to be] unable to comply by their own efforts with the minimum requirements of the national community” were to be placed under police supervision, and if this did not reform them, they were to be taken to a concentration camp.
Leading up to the March 1933 Reichstag elections, the Nazis intensified their campaign of violence against the opposition. With the co-operation of local authorities, they set up concentration camps for extrajudicial imprisonment of their opponents. One of the first, at Dachau, opened on 9 March 1933. Initially the camp primarily contained Communists and Social Democrats. Other early prisons—for example, in basements and storehouses run by the Sturmabteilung (SA) and less commonly by the Schutzstaffel (SS)—were consolidated by mid-1934 into purpose-built camps outside the cities, run exclusively by the SS. The initial purpose of the camps was to serve as a deterrent by terrorizing those Germans who did not conform to the Volksgemeinschaft. Those sent to the camps included the “educable”, whose wills could be broken into becoming “National Comrades”, and the “biologically depraved”, who were to be sterilized, were to be held permanently, and over time were increasingly subject to extermination through labor, i.e., being worked to death.
Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted. The Israeli historian Saul Friedländer writes that, for the Nazis, Germany drew its strength “from the purity of its blood and from its rootedness in the sacred German earth.” On 1April 1933, there occurred a boycott of Jewish businesses, which was the first national antisemitic campaign, initially planned for a week, but called off after one day owing to lack of popular support. In 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed which excluded all Jews and other “non-Aryans” from the civil service. All persons in the civil service had to obtain an Ariernachweis (Aryan certificate) in order to prove their Aryan ancestry. The first antisemitic law passed in the Third Reich; the Physicians’ Law; and the Farm Law, forbidding Jews from owning farms or taking part in agriculture.
Jewish lawyers were disbarred, and in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of their offices and courtrooms and beaten. At the insistence of President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler added an exemption allowing Jewish civil servants who were veterans of the First World War or whose fathers or sons had served, to remain in office, but he revoked this exemption in 1937, after Hindenburg’s death. Jews were excluded from schools and universities (the Law to Prevent Overcrowding in Schools), from belonging to the Journalists’ Association, and from being owners or editors of newspapers. The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of 27 April 1933 wrote:
A self-respecting nation cannot, on a scale accepted up to now, leave its higher activities in the hands of people of racially foreign origin . . . Allowing the presence of too high a percentage of people of foreign origin in relation to their percentage in the general population could be interpreted as an acceptance of the superiority of other races, something decidedly to be rejected.
In 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which: prohibited “Aryans” from having sexual relations or marriages with Jews, although this was later extended to include “Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring” (the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor), stripped German Jews of their citizenship and deprived them of all civil rights. At the same time the Nazis used propaganda to promulgate the concept of Rassenschande (race defilement) to justify the need for a restrictive law. Hitler described the “Blood Law” in particular as “the attempt at a legal regulation of a problem, which in the event of further failure would then have through law to be transferred to the final solution of the National Socialist Party”. Hitler said that if the “Jewish problem” cannot be solved by these laws, it “must then be handed over by law to the National-Socialist Party for a final solution”. The “final solution“, or “Endlösung“, became the standard Nazi euphemism for the extermination of the Jews. In January 1939, he said in a public speech: “If international-finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed once more in plunging the nations into yet another world war, the consequences will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation (vernichtung) of the Jewish race in Europe”. Footage from this speech was used to conclude the 1940 Nazi propaganda movie The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude), whose purpose was to provide a rationale and blueprint for eliminating the Jews from Europe.
Jewish intellectuals were among the first to leave. The philosopher Walter Benjamin left for Paris on 18March 1933. Novelist Lion Feuchtwanger went to Switzerland. The conductor Bruno Walter fled after being told that the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic would be burned down if he conducted a concert there: the Frankfurter Zeitung explained on 6April that Walter and fellow conductor Otto Klemperer had been forced to flee because the government was unable to protect them against the mood of the German public, which had been provoked by “Jewish artistic liquidators”.Albert Einstein was visiting the US on 30January 1933. He returned to Ostende in Belgium, never to set foot in Germany again, and calling events there a “psychic illness of the masses”; he was expelled from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and his citizenship was rescinded. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Sigmund Freud and his family fled from Vienna to England. Saul Friedländer writes that when Max Liebermann, honorary president of the Prussian Academy of Arts, resigned his position, not one of his colleagues expressed a word of sympathy, and he was still ostracized at his death two years later. When the police arrived in 1943 with a stretcher to deport his 85-year-old bedridden widow, she committed suicide with an overdose of barbiturates rather than be taken.
On 7 November 1938, Jewish minor Herschel Grünspan assassinated Nazi German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris. This incident was used by the Nazis as a pretext to go beyond legal repression to large-scale physical violence against Jewish Germans. What the Nazis claimed to be spontaneous “public outrage” was in fact a wave of pogroms instigated by the Nazi Party, and carried out by SA members and affiliates throughout Nazi Germany, at the time consisting of Germany proper, Austria, and Sudetenland. These pogroms became known as Reichskristallnacht (“the Night of Broken Glass”, literally “Crystal Night“), or November pogroms. Jews were attacked and Jewish property was vandalized, over 7,000 Jewish shops and more than 1,200 synagogues (roughly two-thirds of the synagogues in areas under German control) were damaged or destroyed.
The death toll is assumed to be much higher than the official number of 91 dead. 30,000 were sent to concentration camps, including Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Oranienburg, where they were kept for several weeks, and released when they could either prove that they were about to emigrate in the near future, or transferred their property to the Nazis. German Jewry was collectively made responsible for restitution of the material damage of the pogroms, amounting to several hundred thousand Reichsmarks, and furthermore had to pay an “atonement tax” of more than a billion Reichsmarks. After these pogroms, Jewish emigration from Germany accelerated, while public Jewish life in Germany ceased to exist.
Resettlement and deportation
Before the war, the Nazis considered mass deportation of German (and subsequently the European) Jewry from Europe. Hitler’s agreement to the 1938–9 Schacht Plan, and the continued flight of thousands of Jews from Hitler’s clutches for an extended period when the Schacht Plan came to nothing, indicate that the preference for a concerted genocide of the type that came later did not yet exist.
Nazi bureaucrats also developed plans to deport Europe’s Jews to Siberia. Palestine was the only location to which any Nazi relocation plan succeeded in producing significant results, via an agreement begun in 1933 between the Zionist Federation of Germany (die Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland) and the Nazi government, the Haavara Agreement. This agreement resulted in the transfer of about 60,000 German Jews and $100million from Germany to Palestine, up until the outbreak of World War II.
Plans to reclaim former German colonies such as Tanganyika and South West Africa for Jewish resettlement were halted by Hitler, who argued that no place where “so much blood of heroic Germans had been spilled” should be made available as a residence for the “worst enemies of the Germans”. Diplomatic efforts were undertaken to convince the other colonial powers, primarily the United Kingdom and France, to accept expelled Jews in their colonies. Areas considered for possible resettlement included British Palestine, Italian Abyssinia, British Rhodesia, French Madagascar, and Australia.
Of these areas, Madagascar was the most seriously discussed. Heydrich called the Madagascar Plan a “territorial final solution”; it was a remote location, and the island’s unfavorable conditions would hasten deaths. Approved by Hitler in 1938, the resettlement planning was carried out by Adolf Eichmann’s office, only being abandoned once the mass killing of Jews had begun in 1941. In retrospect, although futile, this plan did constitute an important psychological step on the path to the Holocaust. The end of the Madagascar Plan was announced on 10February 1942. The German Foreign Office was given the official explanation that due to the war with the Soviet Union, Jews were to be “sent to the east”.
Nazi resettlement schemes entailed taking the necessary measures to prepare the way eastwards. Ethnic Germans required more Lebensraum (living space) according to Nazi doctrine so population displacement (which included murder) and colonial settlement were intrinsically linked. Once the Nazis embarked on their push eastwards through Poland and later into Russia with Operation Barbarossa, there was a radicalization in the speed and brutality of their methods. Winning land from the Russian and Slavic peoples in the east was more than just territorial aggrandizement for Hitler; it was part of the final reckoning with Jewish Bolshevism.
In September 1939, Himmler appointed Reinhard Heydrich chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA). This organization was made up of seven departments, including the Security Service (SD), and the Gestapo. They were to oversee the work of the SS in occupied Poland, and carry out the policy towards the Jews described in Heydrich’s report. The first organized murders of Jews by German forces occurred during Operation Tannenberg and through Selbstschutz units. Heydrich (later the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia) recommended concentrating all the Polish Jews in ghettos in major cities, where they would be put to work for the German war industry. The ghettos would be in cities located on railway junctions to furnish, in Heydrich’s words, “a better possibility of control and later deportation.” During his interrogation in 1961, Adolf Eichmann recalled that this “later deportation” actually meant “physical extermination.”
I ask nothing of the Jews except that they should disappear.
The Jews were later herded into ghettos, mostly in the General Government area of central Poland, where they were put to work under the Reich Labor Office headed by Fritz Sauckel. Here many thousands died from maltreatment, disease, starvation, and exhaustion, but there was still no program of systematic killing. There is little doubt, however, that the Nazis saw forced labor as a form of extermination. The expression Vernichtung durch Arbeit (“destruction through work”) was frequently used.
Although it was clear by late 1941 that the SS hierarchy was determined to embark on a policy of killing all the Jews under German control, there was still opposition to this policy within the Nazi regime, although the motive was economic, not humanitarian. Hermann Göring, who had overall control of the German war industry, and the German army’s Economics Department, argued that the enormous Jewish labor force assembled in the General Government area (more than a million able-bodied workers), was an asset too valuable to waste, particularly with Germany failing to secure rapid victory over the Soviet Union.
In other occupied countries
Jewish mass grave near Zolochiv, west Ukraine (Nazi occupied USSR). Photo was found by Soviets at former Gestapo headquarters in Zolochiv.
When Germany occupied Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in 1940, and Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, antisemitic measures were also introduced into these countries, although the pace and severity varied greatly from country to country according to local political circumstances. Jews were removed from economic and cultural life and were subject to various restrictive laws, but physical deportation did not occur in most places before 1942. The Vichy regime in occupied France actively collaborated in persecuting French Jews. Germany’s allies Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Finland were pressured to introduce antisemitic measures, but for the most part they did not comply until compelled to do so. During the course of the war some 900 Jews and 300 Roma passed through the Banjica concentration camp in Belgrade, intended primarily for Serbian communists, royalists and others who resisted occupation. The German puppet regime in Croatia, on the other hand, began actively persecuting Jews on its own initiative, so the Legal Decree on the Nationalization of the Property of Jews and Jewish Companies was declared on 10 October 1941 in the Independent State of Croatia.
Though the vast majority of the Jews affected and killed during Holocaust were of Ashkenazi descent, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews suffered greatly as well.
In the 1930s, the Fascist Italian regime passed anti-Semitic laws barring Jews from government jobs and government schools, and required them to stamp “Jewish race” into their passports. But this was not enough to deter Jews from Libya, as 25% of Tripoli‘s population was Jewish, and it had over 44 synagogues. In 1942, the Nazis occupied Benghazi‘s Jewish Quarter and deported more than 2,000 Jews to Nazi labor camps. By the end of WWII, about one-fifth of those who were sent away had perished. Several forced labor camps for Jews were established in Libya, the largest of which, the Giado camp, held almost 2,600 inmates, of whom 562 died of weakness, hunger, and disease. Smaller labor camps were established in Gharyan, Jeren, and Tigrinna.
Tunisia, the only North African country to come under direct Nazi occupation, had 100,000 Jews when the Nazis arrived in November 1942. During their six months of occupation, the Nazis imposed anti-Semitic policies in Tunisia, including forcing Jews to wear the Yellow Star, fines, and property confiscation. Some 5,000 Tunisian Jews were subjected to forced labor, and some were deported to European death camps. More than 2,500 Tunisian Jews died in slave labor camps during the German occupation.
General Government and Lublin reservation (Nisko plan)
In July 1940, due to the difficulties of supporting the increased population in the General Government, Hitler had the deportations temporarily halted.
In October 1940, GauleitersJosef Bürckel and Robert Heinrich Wagner oversaw Operation Bürckel, the expulsion of the Jews into unoccupied France from their Gaues and the parts of Alsace-Lorraine that had been annexed that summer to the Reich. Only those Jews in mixed marriages were not expelled. The 6,500 Jews affected by Operation Bürckel were given at most two hours warning on the night of 22–23 October 1940, before being rounded up. The nine trains carrying the deported Jews crossed over into France “without any warning to the French authorities”, who were not happy with receiving them. The deportees had not been allowed to take any of their possessions with them, these being confiscated by the German authorities. The German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop treated the ensuing complaints by the Vichy government over the expulsions in a “most dilatory fashion”. As a result, the Jews expelled in Operation Bürckel were interned in harsh conditions by the Vichy authorities at the camps in Gurs, Rivesaltes and Les Milles while awaiting a chance to return them to Germany.
During 1940 and 1941, the murder of large numbers of Jews in German-occupied Poland continued, and the deportation of Jews to the General Government was undertaken. The deportation of Jews from Germany, particularly Berlin, was not officially completed until 1943. (Many Berlin Jews were able to survive in hiding.) By December 1939, 3.5million Jews were crowded into the General Government area.
Concentration and labor camps (1933–1945)
Horrifying pictures from the German death camps of the Nazi holocaust
12 April 1945: Lager Nordhausen, where 20,000 inmates are believed to have died.
The Third Reich first used concentration camps as places of incarceration. And though death rates were high—with a mortality rate of 50%—they were not designed to be killing centers. After 1939, the camps increasingly became places where Jews and POWs were either killed or made to work as slave laborers, undernourished and tortured. By 1942, six large camps were built in Poland solely for mass killing. It is estimated that the Germans established 15,000 camps and subcamps in the occupied countries, mostly in eastern Europe. New camps were founded in areas with large Jewish, Polish intelligentsia, communist, or Roma and Sinti populations, including inside Germany. Prisoner transportation was often carried out under horrifying conditions in rail freight cars; many died before reaching their destination.
Some camps tattooed prisoners with an identification number on arrival. Those fit for work were dispatched for 12 to 14-hour shifts. Roll calls before and after could sometimes last for hours; prisoners regularly died of exposure.
After invading Poland, the Nazis established ghettos in the incorporated territories and General Government to confine Jews. The ghettos were formed and closed off from the outside world at different times and for different reasons. Ghettos were intended to be temporary until the Jews were deported. But deportation never occurred. Instead, the ghettos’ inhabitants were sent to extermination camps.
Germany required each ghetto to be run by a Judenrat (Jewish council). The first order establishing a council is contained in a 29 September 1939 letter from Heydrich to the heads of the Einsatzgruppen. Councils were responsible for a ghetto’s day-to-day operations, including distributing food, water, heat, medical care, and shelter. The Germans also required councils to confiscate property, organize forced labor, and, finally, facilitate deportations to extermination camps. The councils’ basic strategy was one of trying to minimise losses, largely by cooperating with Nazi authorities (or their surrogates), accepting the increasingly terrible treatment, bribery, petitioning for better conditions, and clemency. Overall, to try and mitigate still worse cruelty and death, “the councils offered words, money, labor, and finally lives.”
The ultimate test of each Judenrat was the demand to compile lists of names of deportees to be murdered. Though the predominant pattern was compliance with even this final task, some council leaders insisted that not a single individual should be handed over who had not committed a capital crime. Leaders who refused to compile a list, such as Joseph Parnas in Lviv, were shot. On 14 October 1942, the entire council of Byaroza committed suicide rather than cooperate with the deportations.Adam Czerniaków in Warsaw killed himself on 23 July 1942 when he could take no more as the final liquidation of the ghetto got under way. Others, like Chaim Rumkowski, who became the “dedicated autocrat” of Łódź, argued that their responsibility was to save the Jews who could be saved, and that therefore others had to be sacrificed.
The councils’ importance in facilitating Germany’s persecution and murder of ghetto inhabitants was not lost on the Nazis: one official was emphatic that “the authority of the Jewish council be upheld and strengthened under all circumstances”, another that “Jews who disobey instructions of the Jewish council are to be treated as saboteurs.” When cooperation crumbled, as happened in the Warsaw ghetto after the Jewish Combat Organisation displaced the council’s authority, the Germans lost control.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest, with 380,000 people; the Łódź Ghetto was second, holding 160,000. They were, in effect, immensely crowded prisons serving as instruments of “slow, passive murder.” Though the Warsaw Ghetto contained 30% of Warsaw’s population, it occupied only 2.4% of the city’s area, averaging 9.2 people per room.
Between 1940 and 1942, starvation and disease, especially typhoid, killed hundreds of thousands. Over 43,000 Warsaw ghetto residents, or one in ten of the total population, died in 1941; in Theresienstadt, more than half the residents died in 1942.
The Germans came, the police, and they started banging houses: “Raus, raus, raus, Juden raus.” … [O]ne baby started to cry … The other baby started crying. So the mother urinated in her hand and gave the baby a drink to keep quiet … [When the police had gone], I told the mothers to come out. And one baby was dead … from fear, the mother [had] choked her own baby.
Himmler ordered the start of the deportations on 19 July 1942, and three days later, on 22 July, the deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto began; over the next 52 days, until 12 September 300,000 people from Warsaw alone were transported in freight trains to the Treblinka extermination camp. Many other ghettos were completely depopulated.
The first ghetto uprising occurred in September 1942 in the small town of Łachwa in southeast Poland. Although there were armed resistance attempts in the larger ghettos in 1943, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Białystok Ghetto Uprising, in every case they failed against the overwhelming Nazi military force, and the remaining Jews were either killed or deported to the death camps.
Emaciated prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp in Ebensee
A number of deadly pogroms occurred during the Second World War. The Nazis encouraged some and others were spontaneous. Notable are the Iaşi pogrom in Romania on 30 June 1941, in which as many as 14,000 Jews were killed by Romanian residents and police. In the infamous series of Lviv pogroms committed in occupied Poland by nationalists from the Ukrainian People’s Militia in Lwów (now, Ukraine), some 6,000 Polish Jews were murdered in the streets between June 30 and July 29, 1941, on top of 3,000 arrests and mass shootings by Einsatzgruppe C. Other pogroms perpetrated by the Ukrainian militia in Polish provincial capitals included Łuck and Tarnopol. During the Jedwabne pogrom of July 1941, in the presence of the Nazi Ordnungspolizei 300 Jews were burned to death in a locked barn by local Poles, which was preceded by German execution of 40 Jewish men at the same location.[a]
Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 opened a new phase in the Holocaust. Even before the invasion of the Soviet Union, German troops had been indoctrinated with anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic ideology via movies, radio, lectures, books and leaflets. Following the invasion, Wehrmacht officers told their soldiers to target people who were described as “Jewish Bolshevik subhumans”, the “Mongol hordes”, the “Asiatic flood” and the “red beast”. Nazi propaganda portrayed the war against the Soviet Union as both an ideological war between German National Socialism and Jewish Bolshevism and a racial war between the Germans and the Bolsheviks, Jews, Gypsies and Slavic Untermenschen (“sub-humans”). Hitler on 30 March 1941 described the war with the Soviet Union as a “war of annihilation”. The pace of extermination intensified after the Nazis occupied Lithuania, where close to 80% of the country’s 220,000 Jews were exterminated before year’s end. The Soviet territories occupied by early 1942, including all of Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Moldova and most Russian territory west of the line Leningrad-Moscow-Rostov, contained about three million Jews at the start of the war.
Local populations in some occupied Soviet territories actively participated in the killings of Jews and others. But it was ultimately the Germans who organized and channelled these local efforts. Due to shortage of manpower, an order of February 1943 forbid anyone to characterize the peoples of Eastern Europe as “beasts,” “subhumans” or other derogatory descriptions in order to gain their support in “the struggle against Bolshevism.” Many of the collaborators enlisted in the Waffen-SS participated in the killings of Jews. In Lithuania, Latvia, and western Ukraine locals were deeply involved in the murder of Jews from the very beginning of the German occupation. The Latvian Arajs Kommando are an example of an auxiliary unit involved in these killings. And Latvian and Lithuanian units left their own countries to murder Jews in Belarus. To the south, Ukrainians killed approximately 24,000 Jews. Some Ukrainians went to Poland where they served as concentration and death-camp guards.Ustaše militia in Croatian areas also carried out acts of persecution and murder.
Einsatzgruppe A; members execute Jews on the outskirts of Kovno, 1941-1942.
Many of the mass killings were carried out in public, a change from previous practice. German witnesses to these killings emphasized the locals’ participation.
The large-scale killings of Jews in the occupied Soviet territories was assigned to SS formations called Einsatzgruppen (“task groups”), which were under Heydrich’s overall command. These had been used to a limited extent in Poland in 1939, but were organized in the Soviet territories on a much larger scale. Einsatzgruppe A was assigned to the Baltic area, Einsatzgruppe B to Belarus, Einsatzgruppe C to north and central Ukraine, and Einsatzgruppe D to Moldova, south Ukraine, Crimea, and, during 1942, the north Caucasus. The Einsatzgruppen’s commanders were ordinary citizens: the great majority were professionals, most were intellectuals, and they brought to bear all their skills and training in becoming efficient killers.
According to Otto Ohlendorf at his trial, “the Einsatzgruppen had the mission to protect the rear of the troops by killing the Jews, Gypsies, Communist functionaries, active Communists, and all persons who would endanger the security.” In practice, their victims were nearly all defenseless Jewish civilians (not a single Einsatzgruppe member was killed in action during these operations). By December 1941, the four Einsatzgruppen had killed, respectively, 125,000, 45,000, 75,000, and 55,000 people—a total of 300,000 people—mainly by shooting or with hand grenades at mass-killing sites outside the major towns.
I saw them do the killing. At 5:00 pm they gave the command, “Fill in the pits.” Screams and groans were coming from the pits. Suddenly I saw my neighbor Ruderman rise from under the soil … His eyes were bloody and he was screaming: “Finish me off!” … A murdered woman lay at my feet. A boy of five years crawled out from under her body and began to scream desperately. “Mommy!” That was all I saw, since I fell unconscious.
Men forced to dig their own graves by Einsatzgruppe troops, Šiauliai, July 1941.
The most notorious massacre of Jews in the Soviet Union was at a ravine called Babi Yar outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 29–30September 1941. The decision to kill all the Jews in Kiev was made by the military governor Major-General Friedrich Eberhardt, the Police Commander for Army Group South SS-ObergruppenführerFriedrich Jeckeln, and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. A mixture of SS, SD, and Security Police, assisted by Ukrainian police, carried out the killings. Although they did not participate in the killings, men of the 6th Army played a key role in rounding up the Jews of Kiev and transporting them to be shot at Babi Yar.
On 29 September Kiev’s Jews gathered by the cemetery as ordered, expecting to be loaded onto trains. The crowd was large enough that most of the men, women, and children could not have known what was happening until it was too late; by the time they heard the machine gun fire, there was no chance to escape. All were driven down a corridor of soldiers, in groups of ten, and shot. A truck driver described the scene:
one after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, and outer garments and also underwear … Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide and a good 15 meters deep … When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot … The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him.
In August 1941 Himmler travelled to Minsk, where he personally witnessed 100 Jews being shot in a ditch outside the town. Karl Wolff described the event in his diary: “Himmler’s face was green. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his cheek where a piece of brain had squirted up onto it. Then he vomited. After recovering his composure, Himmler lectured the SS men on the need to follow the “highest moral law of the Party” in carrying out their tasks.
Germany usually justified the Einsatzgruppen’s massacres on the grounds of anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan or anti-bandit operations, but the German historian Andreas Hillgruber wrote that this was merely an excuse for the German Army’s considerable involvement in the Holocaust in Russia. He wrote in 1989 that the terms “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” were indeed correct labels for what happened. Hillgruber maintained that the slaughter of about 2.2 million defenseless men, women, and children based on a racist ideology cannot possibly be justified for any reason, and that those German generals who claimed that the Einsatzgruppen were a necessary anti-partisan response were lying.
Army co-operation with the SS in anti-Bolshevik, anti-partisan and anti-Jewish operations was close and intensive. In mid-1941, the SS Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Hermann Fegelein, killed 699 Red Army soldiers, 1,100 partisans, and 14,178 Jews during the course of “anti-partisan” operations in the Pripyat Marshes. Before the operation, Fegelein had been ordered to shoot all adult Jews and herd the women and children into the marshes. After the operation, General Max von Schenckendorff, who commanded the rear areas of Army Group Center, ordered that all Wehrmachtsecurity divisions should emulate Fegelein’s example when on anti-partisan duty, and organized a joint SS-Wehrmacht seminar on how best to kill Jews. The seminar ended with the 7th Company of Police Battalion 322 shooting 32 Jews before the assembled officers at a village called Knjashizy as an example of how to “screen” the population for partisans.
As the war diary of the Battalion 322 read:
The action, first scheduled as a training exercise, was carried out under real-life conditions (ernstfallmässig) in the village itself. Strangers, especially partisans could not be found. The screening of the population, however resulted in 13 Jews, 27 Jewish women and 11 Jewish children, of which 13 Jews and 19 Jewish women were shot in co-operation with the Security Service
Based on what they had learned during the Mogilev seminar, one Wehrmacht officer told his men: “Where the partisan is, there is the Jew and where the Jew is, there is the partisan”.
Head of the OKW, Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, in an order on 12 September 1941, declared:
The struggle against Bolshevism demands ruthless and energetic, rigorous action above all against the Jews, the main carriers of Bolshevism.
In Order No. 24 24 November 1941, the commander of the 707th division declared:
Jews and Gypsies:…As already has been ordered, the Jews have to vanish from the flat country and the Gypsies have to be annihilated too. The carrying out of larger Jewish actions is not the task of the divisional units. They are carried out by civilian or police authorities, if necessary ordered by the commandant of White Ruthenia, if he has special units at his disposal, or for security reasons and in the case of collective punishments. When smaller or larger groups of Jews are met in the flat country, they can be liquidated by divisional units or be massed in the ghettos near bigger villages designated for that purpose, where they can be handed over to the civilian authority or the SD.
Jürgen Förster, a leading expert on the Wehrmacht’s war crimes, argued that the Wehrmacht played a key role in the Holocaust. He said it is wrong to describe the Shoah as solely the work of the SS with the Wehrmacht as a passive and disapproving bystander.
Starting in December 1939, the Nazis introduced new methods of mass murder by using gas. First, experimental gas vans equipped with gas cylinders and a sealed trunk compartment, were used to kill mental-care clients of sanatoria in Pomerania, East Prussia, and occupied Poland, as part of an operation termed Action T4. In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, larger vans holding up to 100 people were used from November 1941, using the engine’s exhaust rather than a cylinder. These vans were introduced to the Chełmno extermination camp in December 1941, and another 15 of them were used by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet Union. These gas vans were developed and run under supervision of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) and were used to kill about 500,000 people, primarily Jews but also Romani and others. The vans were carefully monitored and after a month of observation a report stated that “ninety seven thousand have been processed using three vans, without any defects showing up in the machines”.
A need for new mass murder techniques was also expressed by Hans Frank, governor of the General Government, who noted that this many people could not be simply shot. “We shall have to take steps, however, designed in some way to eliminate them.” It was this problem which led the SS to experiment with large-scale killings using poison gas. Christian Wirth seems to have been the inventor of the gas chamber.
Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution (1942–1945)
The Nazis methodically tracked the progress of the Holocaust in thousands of reports and documents. Pictured is the Höfle Telegram sent to Adolf Eichmann in January 1943, that reported that 1,274,166 Jews had been killed in the four Aktion Reinhard camps during 1942.
Reinhard Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference on 20January 1942 in Berlin’s Wannsee suburb. It brought together 15 Nazi leaders, including a number of state secretaries, senior officials, party leaders, SS officers, and other leaders of government departments responsible for policies linked to Jewish issues. The conference’s initial purpose was to discuss plans for a comprehensive solution to the “Jewish question in Europe.” Heydrich intended to “outline the mass murders in the various occupied territories . . . as part of a solution to the European Jewish question ordered by Hitler . . . to ensure that they, and especially the ministerial bureaucracy, would share both knowledge and responsibility for this policy.”
List of Jewish populations by country used at the Wannsee Conference in 1942.
A copy of the minutes drawn up by Eichmann has survived, but on Heydrich’s instructions, they were written in “euphemistic language” so the exact words used at the meeting are not known. But Heydrich announced that the emigration policy was superseded by a policy of evacuating Jews to the east. This was seen to be only a temporary solution leading up to a final solution that would involve some 11million Jews living not only in territories then controlled by Germany, but in major countries in the rest of the world including the UK and the US. There was little doubt what the solution was: “Heydrich also made it clear what was understood by the phrase ‘Final Solution’: the Jews were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labour and mass murder.”
The officials were told there were 2.3million Jews in the General Government, 850,000 in Hungary, 1.1million in the other occupied countries, and up to fivemillion in the USSR, although twomillion of these were in areas still under Soviet control – a total of about 6.5million. These would all be transported by train to extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) in Poland, where almost all of them would be gassed at once. In some camps, such as Auschwitz, those fit for work would be kept alive for a while, but eventually all would be killed. Göring’s representative, Dr. Erich Neumann, gained a limited exemption for some classes of industrial workers.
In his 1983 book, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw examined the Alltagsgeschichte (history of everyday life) in Bavaria during the Nazi period. Describing the attitudes of most Bavarians, Kershaw argued that the most common viewpoint was indifference towards what was happening to the Jews. Kershaw argued that most Bavarians were vaguely aware of the Shoah, but were vastly more concerned about the war than about the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Kershaw made the analogy that “the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”.
Kershaw’s assessment that most Bavarians, and by implication most Germans, were indifferent to the Shoah faced criticism from the Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka, an expert on public opinion in Nazi Germany, and the Canadian historian Michael Kater. Kater maintained that Kershaw downplayed the extent of popular antisemitism, and that though admitting that most of the “spontaneous” antisemitic actions of Nazi Germany were staged, argued that because these actions involved substantial numbers of Germans, it is wrong to see the extreme antisemitism of the Nazis as coming solely from above. Kulka argued that most Germans were more antisemitic than Kershaw portrayed them in Popular Opinion and Political Dissent, and that rather than “indifference”, “passive complicity” would be a better term to describe the reaction of the German people.
In a study focusing only on the views about Jews or Germans opposed to the Nazi regime, the German historian Christof Dipper in his 1983 essay “Der Deutsche Widerstand und die Juden” (translated into English as “The German Resistance and the Jews” in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 16, 1984) argued that the majority of the anti-Nazi national-conservatives were antisemitic. Dipper wrote that for the majority of the national-conservatives “the bureaucratic, pseudo-legal deprivation of the Jews practiced until 1938 was still considered acceptable”. Though Dipper noted no one in the German resistance supported the Holocaust, he also commented that the national-conservatives did not intend to restore civil rights to the Jews after the planned overthrow of Hitler. Dipper went on to argue that, based on such views held by opponents of the regime, “a large part of the German people … believed that a “Jewish Question” existed and had to be solved …”.
A study conducted in 2012 established that in Berlin alone there were 3,000 camps of various functions, another 1,300 were in Hamburg and its co-researcher concluded that it is unlikely that the German population could avoid knowing about the persecution considering such prevalence.Robert Gellately has argued that the German civilian population were, by and large, aware of what was happening. According to Gellately, the government openly announced the conspiracy through the media and civilians were aware of its every aspect except for the use of gas chambers. In contrast, some historical evidence indicates that the vast majority of Holocaust victims, prior to their deportation to concentration camps, were either unaware of the fate that awaited them or were in denial; they honestly believed that they were to be resettled.
In his 1965 essay “Command and Compliance”, which originated in his work as an expert witness for the prosecution at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, the German historian Hans Buchheim wrote there was no coercion to murder Jews and others, and all who committed such actions did so out of free will. Buchheim wrote that chances to avoid executing criminal orders “were both more numerous and more real than those concerned are generally prepared to admit”, and that he found no evidence that SS men who refused to carry out criminal orders were sent to concentration camps or executed. Moreover, SS rules prohibited acts of gratuitous sadism, as Himmler wished for his men to remain “decent”, and that acts of sadism were taken on the individual initiative of those who were either especially cruel or who wished to prove themselves ardent National Socialists. Finally, he argued that those of a non-criminal bent who committed crimes did so because they wished to conform to the values of the group they had joined and were afraid of being branded “weak” by their colleagues if they refused.
In his 1992 monograph Ordinary Men, the Holocaust historian Christopher Browning examined the deeds of German Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the Ordnungspolizei (Order Police), used to commit massacres and round-ups of Jews as well as mass deportations to the Nazi death camps. The members of the battalion were middle-aged men of working-class background from Hamburg, who were too old for regular military duty. They were given no special training for genocide and at first, the commander gave his men the choice of opting out of direct participation in murder of 1,500 Jews from Józefów if they found it too unpleasant. The majority chose not to exercise that option; fewer than 12 men, out of a battalion of 500 did so on that occasion. Influenced by postwar Milgram experiment on obedience, Browning argued that the men of the battalion killed out of peer pressure, not blood-lust.
The Russian historian Sergei Kudryashov similarly to Browning studied the guards trained at the Trawniki SS camp division (“Trawniki men“), who provided the bulk of personnel for the Operation Reinhard death camps, and performed massacres for Battalion 101. Most of them were former Red Army soldiers who volunteered to join the SS in order to get out of the POW camps.Christopher R. Browning wrote that Hiwis “were screened on the basis of their anti-Communist (and hence almost invariably anti-Semitic) sentiments.” The majority of the “volunteers” were from Ukraine, but also from Latvia and Lithuania (Hilfswillige, or Hiwis). Kudryashov claimed that prior to their capture many had been Communists. The vast majority faithfully carried out the SS’s expectations of how to mistreat Jews. Almost all Trawniki men working as guards in the Operation Reinhard camps personally killed an unknown number of Jews. Following Christopher Browning, Kudryashov argued that the Trawniki men were examples of ordinary people becoming willing killers.
During 1942, in addition to Auschwitz, five other camps were designated as extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) for the carrying out of the Reinhard plan. Two of these, Chełmno and Majdanek, were already functioning as, respectively, a labor camp and a POW camp: these now had extermination facilities added to them. Three new camps were built for the sole purpose of killing large numbers of Jews as quickly as possible, at Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka, but Auschwitz was the most radically transformed in terms of systematic killing. A seventh camp, at Maly Trostinets in Belarus, was also used for this purpose. Jasenovac was an extermination camp where mostly ethnic Serbs were killed.
Extermination camps are frequently confused with concentration camps such as Dachau and Belsen, which were mostly located in Germany and intended as places of incarceration and forced labor for a variety of enemies of the Nazi regime (such as Communists and homosexuals). They should also be distinguished from slave labor camps, which were set up in all German-occupied countries to exploit the labor of prisoners of various kinds, including prisoners of war. In all Nazi camps there were very high death rates as a result of starvation, disease and exhaustion, but only the extermination camps were designed specifically for mass killing.
There was a place called the ramp where the trains with the Jews were coming in. They were coming in day and night, and sometimes one per day and sometimes five per day . . . Constantly, people from the heart of Europe were disappearing, and they were arriving to the same place with the same ignorance of the fate of the previous transport. And the people in this mass . . . I knew that within a couple of hours . . . ninety percent would be gassed.
There were another few “concentration” camps, such as the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in pre-war Austria, which were designed as Extermination through labor camps. These were specifically for the process where very extreme hard labor was deliberately intended to murder. This is in contrast to those concentration camps, where the murder was “incidental” to the extremely harsh conditions.
At the extermination camps with gas chambers all the prisoners arrived by train. Sometimes entire trainloads were sent straight to the gas chambers, but usually the camp doctor on duty subjected individuals to selections, where a small percentage were deemed fit to work in the slave labor camps; the majority were taken directly from the platforms to a reception area where all their clothes and other possessions were seized by the Nazis to help fund the war. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. Usually they were told these were showers or delousing chambers, and there were signs outside saying “baths” and “sauna.” They were sometimes given a small piece of soap and a towel so as to avoid panic, and were told to remember where they had put their belongings for the same reason. When they asked for water because they were thirsty after the long journey in the cattle trains, they were told to hurry up, because coffee was waiting for them in the camp, and it was getting cold.
Picture of Auschwitz–Birkenau taken by an American surveillance plane, 13 September 1944.
According to Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, bunker 1 held 800 people, and bunker 2 held 1,200. Once the chamber was full, the doors were screwed shut and solid pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through vents in the side walls, releasing toxic HCN, or hydrogen cyanide. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to Höß, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: “Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives.” When they were removed, if the chamber had been very congested, as they often were, the victims were found half-squatting, their skin colored pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleeding from the ears.
The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed (which would take up to four hours), gold fillings in their teeth were extracted with pliers by dentist prisoners, and women’s hair was cut. The floor of the gas chamber was cleaned, and the walls whitewashed. The work was done by the Sonderkommando, which were work units of Jewish prisoners. In crematoria 1 and 2, the Sonderkommando lived in an attic above the crematoria; in crematoria 3 and 4, they lived inside the gas chambers. When the Sonderkommando had finished with the bodies, the SS conducted spot checks to make sure all the gold had been removed from the victims’ mouths. If a check revealed that gold had been missed, the Sonderkommando prisoner responsible was thrown into the furnace alive as punishment.
At first, the bodies were buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but between September and November 1942, on the orders of Himmler, they were dug up and burned. In early 1943, new gas chambers and crematoria were built to accommodate the numbers.
Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2,000 people at one time, whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: we had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the Camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated, since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.
In his study, Peter Longerich observes: “On the Jewish side there was practically no resistance.” Hilberg accounts for this compliant attitude by evoking the history of Jewish persecution: as had been the case so many times before down through the centuries, simply appealing to their oppressors, and complying with orders, would hopefully avoid inflaming the situation and so mitigate the damage done to the Jews until the onslaught abated. “There were many casualties in these times of stress, but always the Jewish community emerged once again like a rock from a receding tidal wave. The Jews had never disappeared from the earth.” They were “caught in the straitjacket of their history”, and the realisation that this time was different came too late.
The reaction pattern of the Jews is characterized by [an] almost complete lack of resistance. In marked contrast to German propaganda, the documentary evidence of Jewish resistance, overt or submerged, is very slight. On a European-wide scale the Jews had no resistance organization, no blueprint for armed action, no plan even for psychological warfare. They were completely unprepared.
… Measured in German casualties, Jewish armed opposition shrinks into insignificance.
… A large component of the entire [destruction] process depended on Jewish participation, from the simple acts of individuals to the organized activity in councils.
… Jewish resistance organizations attempting to reverse the mass inertia spoke the words: “Do not be led like sheep to slaughter.”
… Franz Stangl, who had commanded two death camps, was asked in a West German prison about his reaction to the Jewish victims. He said that only recently he had read a book about lemmings. It reminded him of Treblinka.
Discussing the case of Warsaw, Timothy Snyder notes in a similar vein that it was only during the three months after the massive deportations of July–September 1942 that general agreement on the need for armed resistance was reached, and lays the passivity emanating from the conservative center of Jewish politics at the door of the overall success the Jewish community had enjoyed by engaging in a quid pro quo with the pre-war Polish government. By the time of the biggest act of armed resistance, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of spring 1943, only a small minority of Polish Jews were still alive.
Yehuda Bauer and other historians argue that resistance consisted not only of physical opposition, but of any activity that gave the Jews dignity and humanity in humiliating and inhumane conditions.
In every ghetto, in every deportation train, in every labor camp, even in the death camps, the will to resist was strong, and took many forms. Fighting with the few weapons that would be found, individual acts of defiance and protest, the courage of obtaining food and water under the threat of death, the superiority of refusing to allow the Germans their final wish to gloat over panic and despair.
Even passivity was a form of resistance. To die with dignity was a form of resistance. To resist the demoralizing, brutalizing force of evil, to refuse to be reduced to the level of animals, to live through the torment, to outlive the tormentors, these too were acts of resistance. Merely to give a witness of these events in testimony was, in the end, a contribution to victory. Simply to survive was a victory of the human spirit.
Captured members of the Jewish resistance, Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.
Hilberg argued against overstating the extent of Jewish resistance, or using all-encompassing definitions of it like that deployed by Gilbert. “When relatively isolated or episodic acts of resistance are represented as typical, a basic characteristic of the German measures is obscured”, namely that the merciless slaughter of peaceable innocent people is turned into some kind of battle. “The inflation of resistance has another consequence which has been of concern to those Jews who have regarded themselves as the actual resisters. If heroism is an attribute that should be assigned to every member of the European Jewish community, it will diminish the accomplishment of the few who took action.” Finally, the blending of the passive majority with the active few was “not merely a form of dilution, which blurred the multitudinous problems of organizing a defense in a cautious, reluctant Jewish community; it was also a way of shutting off a great many questions about that community, its reasoning and survival strategy.” Without posing these questions, Jewish history could not be written.
The most well known example of Jewish armed resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of January 1943, when thousands of poorly armed Jewish fighters held the SS at bay for four weeks before being crushed by overwhelmingly superior forces. According to Jewish accounts, several hundred Germans were killed, while the Germans claimed to have lost 17 dead and 93 wounded. 13,000 Jews were killed, 57,885 were deported and gassed according to German figures. This uprising was followed by the revolt in the Treblinka extermination camp in May 1943, when about 200 inmates escaped from the camp. They overpowered and killed a number of German guards and set the camp buildings ablaze, but 900 inmates were also killed, and out of the 600 who successfully escaped, only 40 survived the war. Two weeks later, there was an uprising in the Białystok Ghetto. The uprising was launched on the night of 16 August 1943 and was the second-largest ghetto uprising organized in Nazi-occupied Poland after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April–May 1943. The revolt began upon the German announcement of mass deportations from the Ghetto. A group of 300 to 500 Jewish insurgents armed with 25 rifles, 100 pistols and home-made Molotov cocktails attacked the overwhelmingly larger German force.
In September, there was a short-lived uprising in the Vilna Ghetto. The armed Jewish resistance group Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (United Partisan Organization), which was one of the first resistance organizations established in the Nazi ghettos during World War II, was formed to defend the ghetto population and sabotage German industrial and military activities. When the Nazis came to liquidate the ghetto in September 1943, members of the FPO fled to the forest and fought with the partisans. In October, 600 Jewish prisoners, including Jewish Soviet prisoners of war, attempted an escape at the Sobibór death camp. The prisoners killed 11 German SS officers and a number of camp guards. However, the killings were discovered, and the inmates were forced to run for their lives under heavy fire. Three hundred of the prisoners were killed during the escape. Most of the survivors either died in the minefields surrounding the camp or were recaptured and executed. About 60 survived and joined the Soviet partisans. On 7 October 1944, 250 Jewish Sonderkommandos (laborers) at Auschwitz attacked their guards and blew up Crematorium IV with explosives that female prisoners had smuggled-in from a nearby factory. Three German guards were killed during the uprising, one of whom was stuffed into an oven. The Sonderkommandos attempted a mass breakout, but all 250 were killed soon afterwards.
Jewish Soviet POW captured by the German Army, August 1941. About 500,000 Jews served in the Soviet Army during World War II.
In occupied Poland and Soviet territories, thousands of Jews fled into the swamps or forests and joined the partisans, although the partisan movements did not always welcome them. In Lithuania and Belarus, an area with a heavy concentration of Jews, and also an area which suited partisan operations, Jewish partisan groups saved thousands of Jewish civilians from extermination. No such opportunities existed for the Jewish populations of cities such as Budapest. However, in Amsterdam, and other parts of the Netherlands, many Jews were active in the Dutch Resistance. Timothy Snyder wrote that “Other combatants in the Warsaw Uprising were veterans of the ghetto uprising of 1943. Most of these Jews joined the Home Army; others found the People’s Army, or even the antisemitic National Armed Forces. Some Jews (or Poles of Jewish origin) were already enlisted in the Home Army and the People’s Army. Almost certainly, more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1943.” Joining the partisans was an option only for the young and the fit who were willing to leave their families. Many Jewish families preferred to die together rather than be separated.
French Jews were also highly active in the French Resistance, which conducted a guerilla campaign against the Nazis and Vichy French authorities, assisted the Allies in their sweep across France, and supported Allied including Free French forces in the liberation of many occupied French cities. Although Jews made up only one percent of the French population, they made up fifteen to twenty percent of the French Resistance. The Jewish youth movement EEIF, which had originally shown support for the Vichy regime, was banned in 1943, and many of its older members formed armed resistance units. Zionist Jews also formed the Armee Juive (Jewish Army), which participated in armed resistance under a Zionist flag, and smuggled Jews out of the country. Both organizations merged in 1944, and participated in the liberation of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Grenoble, and Nice.
Many people think the Jews went to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter, and that’s not true—it’s absolutely not true. I worked closely with many Jewish people in the Resistance, and I can tell you, they took much greater risks than I did.
SS troops stand near the bodies of Jews who committed suicide rather than be captured, Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.
For the great majority of Jews, resistance could take only the passive forms of delay, evasion, negotiation, bargaining and where possible, bribery of German officials. The Nazis encouraged this by forcing the Jewish communities to police themselves, through bodies such as the Reich Association of Jews (Reichsvereinigung der Juden) in Germany and the Jewish Councils (Judenräte) in the urban ghettos in occupied Poland. They held out the promise of concessions in exchange for each surrender, enmeshing the Jewish leadership so deeply in well-intentioned compromise that a decision to stand and fight was never possible. Holocaust survivor Alexander Kimel wrote: “The youth in the Ghettos dreamed about fighting. I believe that although there were many factors that inhibited our responses, the most important factors were isolation and historical conditioning to accepting martyrdom.”
The historical conditioning of the Jewish communities of Europe to accept persecution and avert disaster through compromise and negotiation was the most important factor in the failure to resist until the very end. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising took place only when the Jewish population had been reduced from 500,000 to 100,000, and it was obvious that no further compromise was possible. Paul Johnson writes:
The Jews had been persecuted for a millennium and a half and had learned from long experience that resistance cost lives rather than saved them. Their history, their theology, their folklore, their social structure, even their vocabulary trained them to negotiate, to pay, to plead, to protest, not to fight.
The Jewish communities were also systematically deceived about German intentions, and were cut off from most sources of news from the outside world. The Germans told the Jews that they were being deported to work camps – euphemistically calling it “resettlement in the East” – and maintained this illusion through elaborate deceptions all the way to the gas chamber doors (which were marked with labels stating that the chambers were for the removal of lice) to avoid uprisings. As photographs testify, Jews disembarked at the railway stations at Auschwitz and other extermination camps carrying sacks and suitcases, clearly having no idea of the fate that awaited them. Rumours of the reality of the extermination camps filtered back only slowly to the ghettos, and were usually not believed, just as they were not believed when couriers such as Jan Karski, the Polish resistance fighter, conveyed them to the western Allies.
Abba Kovner, a founder of the United Partisan Organization in Vilna, who coined the phrase: “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter!” The FPO was one of the first armed underground organizations in the Jewish ghettos under Nazi occupation.
Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in Prague in June 1942 by soldiers from Czechoslovakia’s army-in-exile on a clandestine mission codenamed Operation Anthropoid. He was succeeded as head of the RSHA by Ernst Kaltenbrunner. With Heydrich’s death, Kaltenbrunner inherited the responsibility of the Gestapo, Sicherheitsdienst, the concentration camps, and the administrative apparatus designed to carry out the Final Solution. During 1943 and 1944, the extermination camps worked at a furious rate to kill the hundreds of thousands of people shipped to them by rail from almost every country within the German sphere of influence. By the spring of 1944, up to 8,000 people were being gassed every day at Auschwitz.
Despite the high productivity of the war industries based in the Jewish ghettos in the General Government, they were liquidated during 1943, and their populations shipped to the camps for extermination. The largest of these operations, the deportation of 100,000 people from the Warsaw Ghetto in early 1943, provoked the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which was suppressed with great brutality. Approximately 42,000 Jews were shot during the Operation Harvest Festival on 3–4November 1943. At the same time, rail shipments arrived regularly from western and southern Europe. Few Jews were shipped from the occupied Soviet territories to the camps: the killing of Jews in this zone was left in the hands of the SS, aided by locally recruited auxiliaries. In any case, by the end of 1943 the Germans had been driven from most Soviet territory.
Budapest, Hungary – Hungarian and German soldiers drive arrested Jews into the municipal theatre. October 1944.
Budapest, Hungary – Captured Jewish women in Wesselényi Street, 20–22October 1944.
Shipments of Jews to the camps had priority on the German railways, and continued even in the face of the increasingly dire military situation after the Battle of Stalingrad at the end of 1942 and the escalating Allied air attacks on German industry and transport. Conducting a global war did not deter the Nazis from directing resources to their killing operations. Confounding as it must have been for military leaders, strategy suffered as additional manpower and material allocations needed to transport Jews took priority and train schedules were adjusted accordingly.
Army leaders and economic managers complained about this diversion of resources and at the killing of irreplaceable skilled Jewish workers; however, Nazi leaders rated ideological imperatives above economic considerations. In fact, many of the industries supporting the war effort using SS slave labor from the east and Jews were more productive when the SS was far removed from their operations; otherwise their brutality and inconsideration for human needs proved counterproductive.
By 1944, it was evident to most Germans not blinded by Nazi fanaticism that Germany was losing the war. Many senior officials began to fear the retribution that might await Germany and them personally for the crimes being committed in their name. But the power of Himmler and the SS within the German Reich was too great to resist, and Himmler could always evoke Hitler’s authority for his demands.
In October 1943, Himmler gave a speech to senior Nazi Party officials gathered in Posen (now Poznań in western Poland). Here he came closer than ever before to stating explicitly that he was intent on exterminating the Jews of Europe:
I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It’s one of those things that is easily said: ‘The Jewish people are being exterminated’, says every party member, ‘this is very obvious, it’s in our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, we’re doing it, hah, a small matter.’ And then they turn up, the upstanding 80 million Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say the others are all swines, but this particular one is a splendid Jew. But none has observed it, endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when there are 500 or when there are 1,000. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person — with exceptions due to human weaknesses — has made us tough, and is a glorious chapter that has not and will not be spoken of. Because we know how difficult it would be for us if we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and rabble-rousers in every city, what with the bombings, with the burden and with the hardships of the war. If the Jews were still part of the German nation, we would most likely arrive now at the state we were at in 1916/17.
The hard decision had to be made that this people should be caused to disappear from earth…Perhaps, at a much later time, we can consider whether we should say something more about this to the German people. I myself believe that it is better for us – us together – to have borne this for our people, that we have taken the responsibility for it on ourselves (the responsibility for an act, not just for an idea), and that we should now take this secret with us to the grave.
Jewish women and children from Carpatho-Ruthenia after their arrival at the Auschwitz death camp. May/June 1944.
The audience for this speech included Admiral Karl Dönitz and Armaments Minister Albert Speer. Dönitz successfully claimed at the Nuremberg trials that he had had no knowledge of the Final Solution. Speer declared at the trial and in a subsequent interview that “If I didn’t see it, then it was because I didn’t want to see it.” The text of this speech was not known at the time of their post-war trials.
The scale of extermination slackened somewhat at the beginning of 1944 once the ghettos in occupied Poland were emptied, but on 19March 1944, Hitler ordered the military occupation of Hungary, and Eichmann was dispatched to Budapest to supervise the deportation of Hungary’s 800,000 Jews. Hitler had personally complained to the Hungarian regent Admiral Miklós Horthy on the previous day, 18March 1944, that:
Hungary did nothing in the matter of the Jewish problem, and was not prepared to settle accounts with the large Jewish population in Hungary.
More than half of them were shipped to Auschwitz after the occupation. The commandant, Rudolf Höss, said at his trial that he killed 400,000 Hungarian Jews in three months.
“Blood for Goods”
The operation to kill Hungarian Jews met strong opposition within the Nazi hierarchy, and there were some suggestions that Hitler should offer the Allies a deal where they would be spared in exchange for a favorable peace settlement. There were unofficial negotiations in Istanbul between Himmler’s agents, British agents, and representatives of Jewish organizations; at one point an attempt by Eichmann to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks—the so-called “blood for goods” proposal—but there was no real possibility of such a deal being struck on this scale. During Eichman’s trial in Jerusalem, he denied having knowledge of this attempt to blackmail the Allies in this manner but the evidence showed otherwise.
Escapes, publication of existence (April–June 1944)
Bratislava, June–July 1944. Rudolf Vrba (right) escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944, bringing the first credible news to the world of the mass murder that was taking place there. Arnost Rosin (left), escaped on 27 May 1944.
Escapes from the camps were few, but not unknown. In 1940, the Auschwitz commandant reported that “the local population is fanatically Polish and … prepared to take any action against the hated SS camp personnel. Every prisoner who managed to escape can count on help the moment he reaches the wall of a first Polish farmstead.” According to Ruth Linn, however, escapees, particularly Jewish ones, could not rely on help from the local population or the Polish underground.
In February 1942, an escaped inmate from the Chełmno extermination camp, Jacob Grojanowski, reached the Warsaw Ghetto, where he gave detailed information about the Chełmno camp to the Oneg Shabbat group. His report, which became known as the Grojanowski Report, was smuggled out of the ghetto through the channels of the Polish underground to the Delegatura, and reached London by June 1942. It is unclear what was done with the report at that point. In the meantime, by 1 February, the United States Office of War Information had decided not to release information about the extermination of the Jews because it was felt that it would mislead the public into thinking the war was simply a Jewish problem.
By at least 9 October 1942, British radio had broadcast news of gassing of Jews to the Netherlands. In December 1942, the western Allies released the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations, that described how “Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe” was being carried out and which declared that they “condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.”
In 1942, Jan Karski reported to the Polish, British and US governments on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews. He met with Polish politicians in exile including the prime minister, as well as members of political parties such as the Socialist Party, National Party, Labor Party, People’s Party, Jewish Bund and Poalei Zion. He also spoke to Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, and included a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 in London he met the then-well-known journalist Arthur Koestler. He then traveled to the United States and reported to president Franklin D. Roosevelt. His report was a major factor in informing the West.
In July 1943, Karski again personally reported to Roosevelt, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust. During their meeting Roosevelt asked about the condition of horses in Poland, but did not ask one question about the Jews. He also met with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Felix Frankfurter, Cordell Hull, William Joseph Donovan, and Stephen Wise. Karski also presented his report to the media, bishops of various denominations (including Cardinal Samuel Stritch) and members of the Hollywood film industry and artists, but without success. Many of those he spoke to did not believe him, or supposed that his testimony was much exaggerated or was propaganda from the Polish government in exile.
News about gassing Jews was also published in illegal newspapers of the Dutch resistance, like in the issue of Het Parool of 27September 1943. However, the news was so unbelievable that many assumed it was merely war propaganda. The publications were halted because they were counter-productive for the Dutch resistance. Nevertheless, many Jews were warned that they would be murdered, but as escape was impossible for most of them, they preferred to believe that the warnings were false.
Auschwitz concentration camp photos of Pilecki (1941).
In September 1940, Captain Witold Pilecki, a member of the Polish underground and a soldier of the Polish Home Army, worked out a plan to enter Auschwitz and volunteered to be sent there, the only person known to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz. He organized an underground network Związek Organizacji Wojskowej (translation: “Union of Military Organizations”) that was ready to initiate an uprising but it was decided that the probability of success was too low for the uprising to succeed. UMO’s numerous and detailed reports became a principal source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz with information that became the basis of a two-part report in August 1943 that was sent to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in London. The report included details about the gas chambers, about “selection”, and about the sterilization experiments. It stated that there were three crematoria in Birkenau able to burn 10,000 people daily, and that 30,000 people had been gassed in one day. The author wrote: “History knows no parallel of such destruction of human life.” When Pilecki returned to Poland after the war the communist authorities arrested and accused him of spying for the Polish government in exile. He was sentenced to death in a show trial and was executed on 25May 1948.
Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, Jewish inmates, escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944, eventually reaching Slovakia. The 32-page document they dictated to Jewish officials about the mass murder at Auschwitz became known as the Vrba-Wetzler report. Vrba had an eidetic memory and had worked on the Judenrampe, where Jews disembarked from the trains to be “selected” either for the gas chamber or slave labor. The level of detail with which he described the transports allowed Slovakian officials to compare his account with their own deportation records, and the corroboration convinced the Allies to take the report seriously.
Two other Auschwitz inmates, Arnost Rosin and Czesław Mordowicz escaped on 27 May 1944, arriving in Slovakia on 6 June, the day of the Normandy landing (D-Day). Hearing about Normandy, they believed the war was over and got drunk to celebrate, using dollars they’d smuggled out of the camp. They were arrested for violating currency laws, and spent eight days in prison, before the Judenrat paid their fines. The additional information they offered the Judenrat was added to Vrba and Wetzler’s report and became known as the Auschwitz Protocols. They reported that, between 15 and 27 May 1944, 100,000 Hungarian Jews had arrived at Birkenau, and had been killed at an unprecedented rate, with human fat being used to accelerate the burning.
The BBC and The New York Times published material from the Vrba-Wetzler report on 15June, 20June, 3July and 6 July 1944. The subsequent pressure from world leaders persuaded Miklós Horthy to bring the mass deportations of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz to a halt on 9July, saving up to 200,000 Jews from the extermination camps.
On 14 November 2001, in the 150th anniversary issue, The New York Times ran an article by former editor Max Frankel reporting that before and during World War II, the Times had maintained a strict policy in their news reporting and editorials to minimize reports on the Holocaust. The Times accepted the detailed analysis and findings of journalism professor Laurel Leff, who had published an article the year before in the Harvard International Journal of the Press and Politics, that The New York Times had deliberately suppressed news of the Third Reich’s persecution and murder of Jews. Leff concluded that New York Times reporting and editorial policies made it virtually impossible for American Jews to impress Congress, church or government leaders with the importance of helping Europe’s Jews.
By mid-1944, the Final Solution had largely run its course. Those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated, in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France to more than 90 percent in Poland. On 5 May, Himmler claimed in a speech that “The Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany.” During 1944, in any case, the task became steadily more difficult. German armies were evicted from the Soviet Union, the Balkans and Italy, and German forces—as well as forces aligned with them—were either defeated or were switching sides to the Allies. In June, the western Allies landed in France. Allied air attacks and the operations of partisans made rail transport increasingly difficult, and the objections of the military to the diversion of rail transport for carrying Jews to Poland more urgent and harder to ignore.
At this time, as the Soviet armed forces approached, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, any surviving inmates being shipped west to camps closer to Germany, first to Auschwitz and later to Gross Rosen in Silesia. Auschwitz itself was closed as the Soviets advanced through Poland. The last 13 prisoners, all women, were killed in Auschwitz II on 25 November 1944; records show they were “unmittelbar getötet” (“killed outright”), leaving open whether they were gassed or otherwise disposed of.
Despite the desperate military situation, great efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened in the camps. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated, and Polish farmers were induced to plant crops on the sites to give the impression that they had never existed. Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced “death marches” until the last weeks of the war.
Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, prisoners were forced to march for tens of miles in the snow to train stations; then transported for days at a time without food or shelter in freight trains with open carriages; and forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.
The largest and best-known of the death marches took place in January 1945, when the Soviet army advanced on Poland. Nine days before the Soviets arrived at Auschwitz, the SS marched 60,000 prisoners out of the camp toward Wodzisław (German: Loslau), 56 km (35 mi) away, where they were put on freight trains to other camps. Around 15,000 died on the way. Elie Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, were among the marchers:
An icy wind blew in violent gusts. But we marched without faltering. . . .
Pitch darkness. Every now and then, an explosion in the night. They had orders to fire on any who could not keep up. Their fingers on the triggers, they did not deprive themselves of this pleasure. If one of us had stopped for a second, a sharp shot finished off another filthy son of a bitch. …
Near me, men were collapsing in the dirty snow. Shots.
The first major camp to be directly encountered by Allied troops, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on 23 July 1944. Chełmno was liberated by the Soviets on 20 January 1945. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on 27 January 1945; Buchenwald by the Americans on 11 April;Bergen-Belsen by the British on 15 April; Dachau by the Americans on 29 April;Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on 8 May. Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Colonel William W. Quinn of the US 7th Army said of Dachau: “There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind.”
Starving prisoners in Mauthausen camp liberated on 5 May 1945.
In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,600 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.
The BBC’s Richard Dimbleby described the scenes that greeted him and the British Army at Belsen:
Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which . . . The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them . . . Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live . . . A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms . . . He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.
The number of victims depends on which definition of “the Holocaust” is used. Donald Niewyk and Francis Nicosia write in The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust that the term is commonly defined as the mass murder of more than five million European Jews. They further state that ‘Not everyone finds this a fully satisfactory definition.’ According to British historian Martin Gilbert, the total number of victims is just under six million—around 78 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe at the time. Timothy D. Snyder wrote that “The term Holocaust is sometimes used in two other ways: to mean all German killing policies during the war, or to mean all oppression of Jews by the Nazi regime.”
Broader definitions include the two to three million Soviet POWs who died as a result of mistreatment due to Nazi racial policies, two million non-Jewish ethnic Poles who died due to the conditions of Nazi occupation, 90,000-220,000 Romani, 270,000 mentally and physically disabled killed in Germany’s eugenics program, 80,000–200,000 Freemasons, 20,000–25,000 Slovenes, 5,000–15,000 homosexuals, 2,500–5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 7,000 Spanish Republicans, bringing the death toll to around 11 million. The broadest definition would include six million Soviet civilians who died as a result of war-related famine and disease, raising the death toll to 17 million. A research project conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimated that 15 to 20 million people died or were imprisoned.R.J. Rummel estimates the total democide death toll of Nazi Germany to be 21 million.
The following figures from Lucy Dawidowicz show the annihilation of the Jewish population of Europe by (pre-war) country:
The following updated figures are from Wolfgang Benz in the Holocaust Encyclopedia show the Jewish death toll for post-war European countries.
Death toll of Jews
Since 1945, the most commonly cited figure for the total number of Jews killed has been six million. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, writes that there is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed, but has been able to find documentation of more than three million names of Jewish victims killed, which it displays at its visitors center. The figure most commonly used is the six million attributed to Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official.
Early calculations range from about 4.2 to 4.5 million in The Final Solution (1953) by Gerald Reitlinger (arguing against higher Russian estimates), and 5.1 million from Raul Hilberg, to 5.95 million from Jacob Lestschinsky. Yisrael Gutman and Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust estimate 5.59–5.86 million. A study led by Wolfgang Benz of the Technical University of Berlin suggests 5.29 to 6.20 million. Yad Vashem writes that the main sources for these statistics are comparisons of prewar and postwar censuses and population estimates, and Nazi documentation on deportations and murders. Its Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names currently holds close to three million names of Holocaust victims, all accessible online. Yad Vashem continues its project of collecting names of Jewish victims from historical documents and individual memories.
Hilberg’s estimate of 5.1 million, in the third edition of The Destruction of the European Jews, includes over 800,000 who died from “ghettoization and general privation”; 1,400,000 killed in open-air shootings; and up to 2,900,000 who perished in camps. Hilberg estimates the death toll of Jews in Poland as up to 3,000,000. Hilberg’s numbers are generally considered to be a conservative estimate, as they typically include only those deaths for which records are available, avoiding statistical adjustment.
Martin Gilbert arrived at a “minimum estimate” of over 5.75 million Jewish victims.Lucy S. Dawidowicz used pre-war census figures to estimate that 5.934 million Jews died (see table below).
There were about eight to ten million Jews in the territories controlled directly or indirectly by Germany (the uncertainty arises from the lack of knowledge about how many Jews there were in the Soviet Union). The six million killed in the Holocaust thus represent 60 to 75 percent of these Jews. Of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews, about 90 percent were killed. At the beginning of World War II, the Jewish population of the Baltic States was around 350,000: 250,000 in Lithuania, 95,000 in Latvia, and 4,500 in Estonia. By the end of 1941, close to 230,000 Jews in Latvia and Lithuania had been murdered during the previous six months.  Of 4,000 Jews in Estonia before the German invasion, some 3,000 fled to the Soviet Union. The remaining 1,000 were all murdered by the SS killing squads.Of the 750,000 Jews in Germany and Austria in 1933, only about a quarter survived. Although many German Jews emigrated before 1939, the majority of these fled to Czechoslovakia, France or the Netherlands, from where they were later deported to their deaths.
In Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, and Yugoslavia, over 70 percent were killed. 50 to 70 percent were killed in Romania, Belgium and Hungary. It is likely that a similar proportion were killed in Belarus and Ukraine, but these figures are less certain. Countries with notably lower proportions of deaths include Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Italy, and Norway. Albania was the only country occupied by Germany that had a significantly larger Jewish population in 1945 than in 1939. About two hundred native Jews and over a thousand refugees were provided with false documents, hidden when necessary, and generally treated as honored guests in a country whose population was approximately 60 percent Muslim. Additionally, Japan, as an Axis member, had its own unique response to German policies regarding Jews; see Shanghai Ghetto.
This gives a total of over 3.8 million; of these, 80–90% were estimated to be Jews. These seven camps thus accounted for half the total number of Jews killed in the entire Nazi Holocaust. Virtually the entire Jewish population of Poland died in these camps.
In addition to those who died in the above extermination camps, at least half a million Jews died in other camps, including the major concentration camps in Germany. These were not extermination camps, but had large numbers of Jewish prisoners at various times, particularly in the last year of the war as the Nazis withdrew from Poland. About a million people died in these camps, and although the proportion of Jews is not known with certainty, it was estimated to be at least 50 percent. Another 800,000 to one million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied Soviet territories (an approximate figure, since the Einsatzgruppen killings were frequently undocumented). Many more died through execution or of disease and malnutrition in the ghettos of Poland before they could be deported.
Jewish Holocaust death toll as a percentage of the total pre-war Jewish population.
In the 1990s, the opening of government archives in Eastern Europe resulted in the adjustment of the death tolls published in the pioneering work by Hilberg, Dawidowicz and Gilbert (e.g. compare Gilbert’s estimation of two million deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau with the updated figure of one million in the Extermination Camp data box). As pointed out above, Wolfgang Benz has been carrying out work on the more recent data. He concluded in 1999:
The goal of annihilating all of the Jews of Europe, as it was proclaimed at the conference in the villa Am Grossen Wannsee in January 1942, was not reached. Yet the six million murder victims make the holocaust a unique crime in the history of mankind. The number of victims — and with certainty the following represent the minimum number in each case — cannot express that adequately. Numbers are just too abstract. However they must be stated in order to make clear the dimension of the genocide: 165,000 Jews from Germany, 65,000 from Austria, 32,000 from France and Belgium, more than 100,000 from the Netherlands, 60,000 from Greece, the same number from Yugoslavia, more than 140,000 from Czechoslovakia, half a million from Hungary, 2.2 million from the Soviet Union, and 2.7 million from Poland. To these numbers must be added all those killed in the pogroms and massacres in Romania and Transitrien (over 200,000) and the deported and murdered Jews from Albania and Norway, Denmark and Italy, from Luxembourg and Bulgaria.
— Benz, Wolfgang The Holocaust: A German Historian Examines the Genocide
Considering the massive numbers of killed Jews all across Europe, Benz erroneously must have thought that the same would be the case for Denmark and Albania. However, in Albania no Jew was deported, and in Denmark about 1 percent of the Jewish population was deported.
Effect on the Yiddish and Ladino languages
Entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1945.
Because the significant majority of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were speakers of Yiddish, the Holocaust had a profound and permanent effect on the fate of the Yiddish language and culture (see Yiddish Renaissance). On the eve of World War II, there were 11 to 13 million Yiddish speakers in the world. The Holocaust led to a dramatic, sudden decline in the use of Yiddish, because the extensive Jewish communities, both secular and religious, that used it in their day-to-day life were largely destroyed. Around five million (85%) of the victims of the Holocaust were speakers of Yiddish.
Of the remaining non-Yiddish speaking population, the Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) speaking Jewish communities of Greece and the Balkans were also destroyed, which contributed to the near-extinction of this language.
Europe, with pre-World War II borders and showing the extension of the future Generalplan Ost master plan.
Hitler declared in Mein Kampf that the German people needed Lebensraum (“living space”) in Eastern Europe at the expense of the racially inferior Slavs. The Nazis considered the Slavs as Untermenschen (subhumans).
Heinrich Himmler in his secret memorandum “Reflections on the Treatment of Peoples of Alien Races in the East” dated 25 May 1940 expressed his own thoughts and the future plans for the populations in the East. Himmler stated that it was in the German interests to discover as many ethnic groups in the East and splinter them as much as possible, find and select racially valuable children to be sent to Germany to assimilate them and restrict non-Germans in the General Government and conquered territories to four-grade elementary school which would only teach them how to write their own name, count up to 500 and to obey Germans. Himmler believed the Germanization process in Eastern Europe would be complete when “in the East dwell only men with truly German, Germanic blood”.
Himmler’s Generalplan Ost (General Plan East), which was enthusiastically agreed to by Hitler in the summer of 1942, involved exterminating, expelling, or enslaving most or all Slavs from their native lands so as to make living space for German settlers, something that would be carried out over a period of 20–30 years.
Author and historian Doris L. Bergen has written: “Like so much Nazi writing, General Plan East was full of euphemisms. … Nevertheless its intentions were obvious. It also made clear that German policies toward different population groups were closely connected. Settlement of Germans and ethnic Germans in the east; expulsion, enslavement, and decimation of Slavs; and murder of Jews were all parts of the same plan.”
Historian Rudolph Rummel estimates the number of Slav civilians and POWs murdered by the Nazis at 10,547,000.
Generalplan Ost . . . forecast the diminution of the targeted east European peoples’ populations by the following measures: Poles – 85 percent; Belarusians – 75 percent; Ukrainians – 65 percent; Czechs – 50 percent. These enormous reductions would result from “extermination through labor” or decimation through malnutrition, disease, and controls on reproduction. . . . The Russian people, once subjugated in war, would join the four Slavic-speaking nations whose fate Generalplan Ost foreshadowed.
It is a question of existence, thus it will be a racial struggle of pitiless severity, in the course of which 20 to 30 million Slavs and Jews will perish through military actions and crises of food supply.
German planners had in November 1939 called for “the complete destruction” of all Poles. “All Poles”, Heinrich Himmler swore, “will disappear from the world”. The Polish state under German occupation was to be cleared of ethnic Poles and settled by German colonists. Of the Poles, by 1952 only about three–four million of them were to be left in the former Poland, and only to serve as slaves for German settlers. They were to be forbidden to marry, the existing ban on any medical help to Poles in Germany would be extended, and eventually Poles would cease to exist. On 22 August 1939, just over a week before the onset of war, Hitler declared that “the object of the war is … physically to destroy the enemy. That is why I have prepared, for the moment only in the East, my ‘Death’s Head’ formations with orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need.” Nazi planners decided against a genocide of ethnic Poles on the same scale as against ethnic Jews; it could not proceed in the short term since “such a solution to the Polish question would represent a burden to the German people into the distant future, and everywhere rob us of all understanding, not least in that neighbouring peoples would have to reckon at some appropriate time, with a similar fate”.
The actions taken against ethnic Poles were not on the scale of the genocide of the Jews. Most Polish Jews (perhaps 90% of their pre-war population) perished during the Holocaust, while most Christian Poles survived the brutal German occupation. Between 1.8 and 2.1 million non-Jewish Polish citizens perished in German hands during the course of the war, about four-fifths of whom were ethnic Poles with the remaining fifth being ethnic minorities of Ukrainians and Belarusians, the vast majority of them civilians. At least 200,000 of these victims died in concentration camps with about 146,000 being killed in Auschwitz. Many others died as a result of general massacres such as in the Warsaw Uprising where between 120,000 and 200,000 civilians were killed.
The policy of the Germans in Poland included diminishing food rations, conscious lowering of the state of hygiene and depriving the population of medical services. The general mortality rate rose from 13 to 18 per thousand. Overall, about 5.6 million of the victims of World War II were Polish citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and over the course of the war Poland lost 16 percent of its pre-war population; approximately 3.1 million of the 3.3 million Polish Jews and approximately two million of the 31.7 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died at German hands during the war. According to recent (2009) estimates by the IPN, over 2.5 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died as a result of the German occupation. Over 90 percent of the death toll came through non-military losses, as most of the civilians were targeted by various deliberate actions by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
A few days before the invasion of Poland, on 22 August 1939, Adolf Hitler said to his generals:
Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter—with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. … Our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? … Poland will be depopulated and settled with Germans. … As for the rest, gentlemen, the fate of Russia will be exactly the same as I am now going through with in the case of Poland.
Other West Slavs
Other West Slavic populations were persecuted to some extent. By one estimate, 345,000 Czechoslovak citizens were executed or otherwise killed, and hundreds of thousands more of all of these groups were sent to concentration camps and used as forced labor. The villages of Lidice and Ležáky were completely destroyed by the Nazis; all men over 16 years of age from the village were murdered and the rest of the population was sent to Nazi concentration camps where many women and nearly all of the children were killed.
The German ethnic Sorbian population was also persecuted.
Croatian Ustaše sawing off the head of Branko Jungić, an ethnic Serb from Bosnia.
In the Balkans, up to 581,000 Yugoslav civilians were killed during World War II in Yugoslavia. German forces, under express orders from Hitler, fought with a special vengeance against the Serbs, who were considered Untermenschen (sub-humans). The Ustaše collaborators conducted a systematic extermination of large numbers of people for political, religious or racial reasons. The most numerous victims were Serbs.
Bosniaks, Croats and others were also victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp. According to the US Holocaust Museum:
The Ustaša authorities established numerous concentration camps in Croatia between 1941 and 1945. These camps were used to isolate and murder Serbs, Jews, Roma, Muslims [Bosniaks], and other non-Catholic minorities, as well as Croatian political and religious opponents of the regime.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and Jewish Virtual Library report between 56,000 and 97,000 persons were killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp. Yad Vashem reports an overall number of over 500,000 murders of Serbs “in horribly sadistic ways” at the hands of the Ustaše.
According to the most recent study, Bošnjaci u Jasenovačkom logoru (“Bosniaks in the Jasenovac concentration camp”) by the author Nihad Halilbegović, at least 103,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) perished during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Croatian Ustaše. According to the study, “unknown is the full number of Bosniaks who were murdered under Serb or Croat alias or national name” and “a large numbers of Bosniaks were killed and listed under Roma populations”, therefore in advance sentenced to death and extermination. Excluding Slovenes under Italian rule, between 20,000 and 25,000 Slovenes were killed by Nazis or fascists (counting only civilian victims).
Albanian collaborationists cooperated with the Nazis and what followed was an extensive persecution of non-Albanians (mostly Serbs) by Albanian fascists. Most of the war crimes were perpetrated by the Albanian SS Skenderbeg Division and the Balli Kombëtar. 3,000 to 10,000 Kosovo Serbs were murdered by the Albanians during the war, and another 30,000 to 100,000 were expelled.
Mass murder of Soviet civilians near Minsk, Belarus, 1943.
Soviet civilian populations in the occupied areas were also heavily persecuted (in addition to the barbarity of the Eastern Front frontline warfare manifesting itself in episodes such as the siege of Leningrad in which more than one million civilians died). Thousands of peasant villages across Soviet Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were annihilated by German troops. Bohdan Wytwycky has estimated that as many as one-quarter of all Soviet civilian deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies were racially motivated.
The Russian Academy of Sciences in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR at German hands, including Jews, totaled 13.7 million dead, 20% of the 68 million persons in the occupied USSR. This included 7.4 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals.
In Belarus, Nazi Germany imposed a regime in the country that was responsible for burning down some 9,000 villages, deporting some 380,000 people for slave labour, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. More than 600 villages, like Khatyn, were burned along with their entire population and at least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were destroyed by the Nazis and some or all of their inhabitants killed. Tim Snyder states: “Of the nine million people who were on the territory of Soviet Belarus in 1941, some 1.6 million were killed by the Germans in actions away from battlefields, including about 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 Jews, and 320,000 people counted as partisans (the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians.”
The German racists assigned the Slavs to the lowest rank of human life, from which the Jews were altogether excluded. The Germans thus looked upon Slavs as people not fit to be educated, not able to govern themselves, worthy only as slaves whose existence would be justified because they served their German masters. Hitler’s racial policy with regard to the Slavs, to the extent that it was formulated, was “depopulation.” The Slavs were to be prevented from procreating, except to provide the necessary continuing supply of slave laborers.
According to Michael Berenbaum, between two and three million Soviet prisoners-of-war—or around 57 percent of all Soviet POWs—died of starvation, mistreatment, or executions between June 1941 and May 1945, and most of those during their first year of captivity. According to other estimates by Daniel Goldhagen, an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs died in eight months in 1941–42, with a total of 3.5 million by mid-1944. The USHMM has estimated that 3.3 million of the 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in German custody—compared to 8,300 of 231,000 British and American prisoners. The death rates decreased as the POWs were needed to work as slaves to help the German war effort; by 1943, half a million of them had been deployed as slave labor.
Because the Romani are traditionally a private people with a culture based on oral history, less is known about their experience of the genocide than about that of any other group.Yehuda Bauer writes that the lack of information can be attributed to the Romani’s distrust and suspicion, and to their humiliation, because some of the basic taboos of Romani culture regarding hygiene and sexual contact were violated at Auschwitz. Bauer writes that “most [Romani] could not relate their stories involving these tortures; as a result, most kept silent and thus increased the effects of the massive trauma they had undergone.”
Map of persecution of the Roma.
The treatment of the Romani was not consistent in the different areas that Nazi Germany conquered. In some areas (e.g. Luxembourg and the Baltic countries), the Nazis killed virtually the entire Romani population. In other areas (e.g. Denmark, Greece), there is no record of Romanis being subjected to mass killings.
Donald Niewyk and Frances Nicosia write that the death toll was at least 130,000 of the nearly one million Romani in Nazi-controlled Europe. Michael Berenbaum writes that serious scholarly estimates lie between 90,000 and 220,000. A study by Sybil Milton, senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, calculated a death toll of at least 220,000 and possibly closer to 500,000, but this study explicitly excluded the Independent State of Croatia where the genocide of Romanies was intense. Martin Gilbert estimates a total of more than 220,000 of the 700,000 Romani in Europe.Ian Hancock, Director of the Program of Romani Studies and the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin, has argued in favour of a much higher figure of between 500,000 and 1,500,000, claiming the Romani toll proportionally equaled or exceeded that of Jewish victims.
Before being sent to the camps, the victims were herded into ghettos, including several hundred into the Warsaw Ghetto. Further east, teams of Einsatzgruppen tracked down Romani encampments and murdered the inhabitants on the spot, leaving no records of the victims. They were also targeted by the puppet regimes that cooperated with the Nazis, e.g. the Ustaše regime in Croatia, where a large number of Romani were killed in the Jasenovac concentration camp. The genocide analyst Helen Fein has stated that the Ustashe killed virtually every Romani in Croatia.
In May 1942, the Romani were placed under similar labor and social laws to the Jews. On 16 December 1942, Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the SS and regarded as the “architect” of the Nazi genocide, issued a decree that “Gypsy Mischlinge (mixed breeds), Romani, and members of the clans of Balkan origins who are not of German blood” should be sent to Auschwitz, unless they had served in the Wehrmacht. On 29 January 1943, another decree ordered the deportation of all German Romani to Auschwitz.
This was adjusted on 15 November 1943, when Himmler ordered that, in the occupied Soviet areas, “sedentary Gypsies and part-Gypsies (Mischlinge) are to be treated as citizens of the country. Nomadic Gypsies and part-Gypsies are to be placed on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.” Bauer argues that this adjustment reflected Nazi ideology that the Romani, originally an Aryan population, had been “spoiled” by non-Romani blood.
The number of black people in Germany when the Nazis came to power is variously estimated at 5,000–25,000. It is not clear whether these figures included Asians. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., “The fate of black people from 1933 to 1945 in Nazi Germany and in German-occupied territories ranged from isolation to persecution, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality, and murder. However, there was no systematic program for their elimination as there was for Jews and other groups.” Meanwhile, Afrikaaners, Berbers, Iranians and Pre-Partition Indians were classified as Aryans, so they were not persecuted (see main article). Racial restrictions were relaxed to the extent that Turkic peoples, Arabs and South Asians were recruited by the German military due to the shortage of manpower.
Our starting-point is not the individual, and we do not subscribe to the view that one should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty or clothe the naked—those are not our objectives. Our objectives are entirely different. They can be put most crisply in the sentence: we must have a healthy people in order to prevail in the world.
Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are entrusted with the responsibility of extending the authority of physicians, designated by name, so that patients who, on the basis of human judgment [menschlichem Ermessen], are considered incurable, can be granted mercy death [Gnadentod] after a definitive diagnosis.
Between 1939 and 1941, 80,000 to 100,000 mentally ill adults in institutions were killed; 5,000 children in institutions; and 1,000 Jews in institutions. Outside the mental health institutions, the figures are estimated as 20,000 (according to Dr. Georg Renno, the deputy director of Schloss Hartheim, one of the euthanasia centers) or 400,000 (according to Frank Zeireis, the commandant of Mauthausen concentration camp). Another 300,000 were forcibly sterilized. Overall it has been estimated that over 270,000 individuals with mental disorders of all kinds were put to death, although their mass murder has received relatively little historical attention. Along with the physically disabled, people suffering from dwarfism were persecuted as well. Many were put on display in cages and experimented on by the Nazis. Despite not being formally ordered to take part, psychiatrists and many psychiatric institutions took part in the planning and carrying out of controversial practices at every stage, and constituted the connection to the later annihilation of Jews and other deemed undesirable in the Holocaust. After strong protests by the German Catholic and Protestant churches on 24 August 1941 Hitler ordered the cancellation of the T4 program.
The program was named after Tiergartenstraße 4, the address of a villa in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, the headquarters of the General Foundation for Welfare and Institutional Care, led by Philipp Bouhler, head of Hitler’s private chancellery (Kanzlei des Führer der NSDAP) and Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician.
Brandt was tried in December 1946 at Nuremberg, along with 22 others, in a case known as United States of America vs. Karl Brandt et al., also known as the Doctors’ Trial. He was found guilty and was sentenced to death. He was hanged at Landsberg Prison on 2 June 1948.
The Homomonument in Amsterdam, a memorial to the homosexual victims of Nazi Germany.
Between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals of German nationality are estimated to have been sent to concentration camps. James D. Steakley writes that what mattered in Germany was criminal intent or character, rather than criminal acts, and the “gesundes Volksempfinden” (“healthy sensibility of the people”) became the leading normative legal principle. In 1936, Himmler created the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. Homosexuality was declared contrary to “wholesome popular sentiment,” and homosexuals were consequently regarded as “defilers of German blood.” The Gestapo raided gay bars, tracked individuals using the address books of those they arrested, used the subscription lists of gay magazines to find others, and encouraged people to report suspected homosexual behavior and to scrutinize the behavior of their neighbors.
Tens of thousands were convicted between 1933 and 1944 and sent to camps for “rehabilitation”, where they were identified by yellow armbands and later pink triangles worn on the left side of the jacket and the right trouser leg, which singled them out for sexual abuse. Hundreds were castrated by court order. They were humiliated, tortured, used in hormone experiments conducted by SS doctors, and killed. Steakley writes that the full extent of gay suffering was slow to emerge after the war. Many victims kept their stories to themselves because homosexuality remained criminalized in postwar Germany.
The political left
German opponent of Nazism executed at Dachau.
German communists, socialists and trade unionists were among the earliest domestic opponents of Nazism and were also among the first to be sent to concentration camps. Hitler claimed that communism was a Jewish ideology which the Nazis termed “Judeo-Bolshevism“. Fear of communist agitation was used as justification for the Enabling Act of 1933, the law which gave Hitler his original dictatorial powers. Hermann Göring later testified at the Nuremberg Trials that the Nazis’ willingness to repress German communists prompted president Paul von Hindenburg and the German elite to cooperate with the Nazis.MI6 assisted the Gestapo via “the exchange of information about Communism”, and as late as October 1937, the head of the British agency’s Berlin station, Frank Foley, described his relationship with Heinrich Müller‘s so-called communism expert as “cordial”.
Hitler and the Nazis also hated German leftists because of their resistance to the party’s racism. Many leaders of German leftist groups were Jews, and Jews were especially prominent among the leaders of the Spartacist uprising in 1919. Hitler already referred to Marxism and “Bolshevism” as a means of “the international Jew” to undermine “racial purity” and survival of the Nordics or Aryans, as well as to stir up socioeconomic class tension and labor unions against the government or state-owned businesses. Within concentration camps such as Buchenwald, German communists were privileged in comparison to Jews because of their “racial purity”.
Whenever the Nazis occupied a new territory, members of communist, socialist, or anarchist groups were normally to be the first persons detained or executed. Evidence of this is found in Hitler’s infamous Commissar Order, in which he ordered the summary execution of all political commissars captured among Soviet soldiers, as well as the execution of all Communist Party members in German-held territory.Einsatzgruppen carried out these executions in the east. Nacht und Nebel (“Night and Fog”) was a directive of Hitler on 7 December 1941 signed and implemented by Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Wilhelm Keitel, resulting in kidnapping and the disappearance of many political activists throughout Nazi Germany’s occupied territories.
A memorial for Loge Liberté chérie, founded in November 1943 in Hut 6 of Emslandlager VII (KZ Esterwegen), one of two Masonic Lodges founded in a Nazi concentration camp.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that Freemasonry had “succumbed” to the Jews: “The general pacifistic paralysis of the national instinct of self-preservation begun by Freemasonry is then transmitted to the masses of society by the Jewish press.” Within the Reich, however, the “threat” posed by Freemasons was not considered serious from the mid-1930s onwards. Heydrich even established a Freemasonry museum—at which Eichmann spent some time early in his SD career—for what he regarded as a “disappeared cult”. Similarly, Hitler was happy to issue a proclamation on 27 April 1938 whose third point lifted restrictions on Party membership for former Freemasons, “provided the applicants had not served with the Lodge as high degree members.” The Führer still maintained Freemasonry within his conspiratorial outlook, but its adherents were not persecuted in a systematic fashion like groups such as the Jews. Those Freemasons who were sent to concentration camps as political prisoners were forced to wear an inverted red triangle.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum believes that, “because many of the Freemasons who were arrested were also Jews and/or members of the political opposition, it is not known how many individuals were placed in Nazi concentration camps and/or were targeted only because they were Freemasons.” However, the Grand Lodge of Scotland estimates the number of Freemasons executed between 80,000 and 200,000.
Refusing to pledge allegiance to the Nazi party or to serve in the military, roughly 12,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced to wear a purple triangle and were placed in camps where they were given the option of renouncing their faith and submitting to the state’s authority. Between 2,500 and 5,000 were killed. Historian Detlef Garbe, director of Hamburg’s Neuengamme Memorial, writes that “no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness.”
Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for International Liaison of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, describes the acrimonious debate that exists between “specifists” and “universalists”. The former fear debasement of the Holocaust by invidious comparisons, while the latter places the Holocaust alongside non-Jewish experiences of mass extermination as part and parcel of the global context of genocide. Dr. Samuels considers the debate, ipso facto, to dishonour the memory of the respective victims of each genocide. In his words, “Each case is specific as a threshold phenomenon, while each also adds its unique memory as signposts along an incremental continuum of horror.”Peter Novick argued, “A moment’s reflection makes clear that the notion of uniqueness is quite vacuous [… and], in practice, deeply offensive. What else can all of this possibly mean except ‘your catastrophe, unlike ours, is ordinary’.”
Adam Jones, professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (Canada), believes that claims of uniqueness for the Holocaust have become less common since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In 1997, the publication of The Black Book of Communism led to further debate on the comparison between Soviet and Nazi crimes; the book argued that Nazi crimes were not very different from the Soviet ones, and that Nazi methods were to a significant extent adopted from Soviet methods; in the course of the debate, the term “Red Holocaust” appeared in discourse. Some scholars strongly dissent from this view. In his controversial book,The Holocaust Industry, Norman Finkelstein argues that the uniqueness theory does not figure within scholarship of the Nazi Holocaust.[further explanation needed] He writes that the reason these claims persist is because claims of Holocaust uniqueness also confer “unique entitlement” to Jews, and serve as “Israel’s prize alibi.”[further explanation needed]Steven Katz of Boston University has argued that the Holocaust is the only genocide that has occurred in history, and he defines “Holocaust” to include only “the travail of European Jewry” and not other victims of the Nazis.[further explanation needed]
Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials. The main target of the prosecution was Hermann Göring (at the left edge on the first row of benches), considered to be the most important surviving official in the Third Reich after Hitler’s death.
The Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Germany. The first, and best known of these trials, described as “the greatest trial in history” by Norman Birkett, one of the British judges who presided over it, was the trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). Held between 20 November 1945 and 1 October 1946, the Tribunal tried 23 of the most important political and military leaders of the Third Reich (except for Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels, all of whom had committed suicide several months before).
The International Military Tribunal was opened on November 19, 1945, in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Reich Cabinet, the Schutzstaffel (SS), Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the “General Staff and High Command”, comprising several categories of senior military officers. These organizations were to be declared “criminal” if found guilty.
There is debate as to whether the Holocaust was a key factor that led to the creation of the state of Israel as a homeland for the Jews. One writer argues that the “…establishment of the State of Israel would have been possible without the Holocaust due to the [actions of the] Zionist movement.” Nevertheless, the “….Holocaust played an important role in the founding and long term visibility of the State of Israel in three respects: The Holocaust motivated large numbers of immigrants to move to the new country, providing the necessary population; secondly, the Holocaust enabled Israel to pressure Germany into supplying the economic base necessary to build infrastructure and support those immigrants; and finally, the Holocaust swayed world opinion so that the United Nations approved the State of Israel in 1948.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the Jewish Agency led by Chaim Weizmann submitted to the Allies a memorandum demanding reparations to Jews by Germany but it received no answer. In March 1951, a new request was made by Israel’s foreign minister Moshe Sharett which claimed global recompense to Israel of $1.5 billion based on the financial cost absorbed by Israel for the rehabilitation of 500,000 Jewish survivors. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer accepted these terms and declared he was ready to negotiate other reparations. A Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany was opened in New York City by Nahum Goldmann in order to help with individual claims. After negotiations, the claim was reduced to a sum of $845 million in direct and indirect compensation to be paid over a period of 14 years.
Railcar manufactured by Maschinenfabrik Esslingen in the old train station of Jerusalem, shortly after delivery as part of the reparations agreement with Germany.
On 1952 Ben Gurion argued that the reparation demand was based on recovering as much Jewish property as possible “so that the murderers do not become the heirs as well”. His other argument was that the reparations were needed to finance the absorption and rehabilitation of the Holocaust survivors in Israel.
In 1988, West Germany allocated another $125 million for reparations. In 1999, many German industries such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens or BMW faced lawsuits for their role in the forced labour during World War II. In order to dismiss these lawsuits, Germany agreed to raise $5 billion of which Jewish forced laborers still alive could apply to receive a lump sum payment of between $2,500 and $7,500. In 2012, Germany agreed to pay a new reparation of €772 million as a result of negotiations with Israel.
In 2014, the SNCF, the French state-owned railway company, was compelled to allocate $60 million to American Jewish Holocaust survivors for its role in the transport of deportees to Germany, a sum equivalent to about $100,000 for each survivor. This is despite the fact that SNCF was forced by German authorities to cooperate in providing transport for French Jews to the border and did not make any profit from this transport, according to Serge Klarsfeld, president of the organization Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France.
These reparations were sometimes criticized in Israel where they were seen as “blood money”. The American professor Norman Finkelstein wrote The Holocaust Industry to denounce how the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for political and financial gain, as well as to further the interests of Israel. Some of the reparations money was subject to a fraud between 1993 and 2009, in which $57 million was diverted to people who were not eligible.
While everyone thinks that the Japanese attack on the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, was unprovoked, that isn’t true. More than seven decades after the surprise attack, a lot of people still think that the Japanese were aggressive imperialists who wanted to dominate the Asia-Pacific region. Today, Americans believe that their forefathers were minding their own business when the crazy Japanese attacked them, out of the blue. Very few people know that the US provoked the Japanese to resort to this unannounced, sneak attack.
Imperial Japan’s Aggressive Overtures
Tensions between the US and Japan had been rising throughout 1941. Imperial Japan, had in 1937, initiated an unjustified war with China, a favored US ally. This war had been raging on for over 4 years before the Pearl Harbour strike. Further, Japan’s totalitarian government had occupied Indochina and was hell-bent on imposing its will in East Asia. The US resented these developments in Asia.
Imperial Japan’s Booming Economy
From 1900, Japan’s economy experienced unprecedented growth. The nation industrialized rapidly. Since Japan had limited natural resources, its burgeoning industries relied heavily on imports. Raw materials such as petroleum, coal, copper, tin, steel scrap, iron ore, bauxite, and rubber were the chief imports. Many of these were from the US or European colonies in Asia. Without access to these imports, Japan’s industrial economy would have collapsed. However, the Japanese engaged in international trade and had built a reasonably developed industrial economy by 1941.
Japan’s Military-Industrial Complex
Simultaneously, the Japanese promoted a military-industrial complex. Consequently, the nation’s army and navy became increasingly powerful. Imperial Japan’s armed forces permitted the rising nation to exert its military might into several places in the Asia-Pacific region. Northern China and Korea were prime among these regions. This exertion of military power was similar to the US using its industrial prowess to equip armed forces that demonstrated the nation’s power into Latin America and Caribbean Islands, and even as far as the Philippines.
The US President’s Personal Preferences and Foreign Policy
The US government was controlled by its President Franklin D. Roosevelt since 1933. He won an unprecedented four 4-year terms and was the President until his death in 1945. He disliked the Japanese but loved the Chinese because his forefathers had prospered in the China trade. Roosevelt also favoured the British, an ally of China in WWII. He didn’t like Germany’s Hitler. Since 1937, Roosevelt paid great attention to foreign policy, partly to fulfil his political ambitions.
The Economic Warfare of the US Provoked Imperial Japan’s Sneak Attack
In the late 1930s, as Hitler’s Germany began to rearm, the Roosevelt administration worked closely with Britain and France to oppose German expansion. The US assistance to these nations included the destroyer deal as well as the deceptive Lend-Lease program. The US military attempted to create an incident that would justify its entry into the WWII arena by working closely with the British Navy. But Hitler didn’t fall for this ploy.
Roosevelt and His Subordinates Put Japan in an Untenable Position
In June 1940, the US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson supported the Open Door Policy for China. Stimson recommended economic sanctions to check Japan’s advance in Asia. The US President, Treasury Secretary, and Interior Secretary also favoured this economic warfare. Roosevelt was hopeful that these sanctions would instigate the Japanese into committing a rash mistake by starting a war against the US. He also hoped that this would bring Germany in because Japan had a treaty with Germany.
US Administration Throttles Imperial Japan’s War Machine
Accordingly, the US administration curtly dismissed Japanese diplomatic overtures to normalize relations. Conversely, the US imposed a set of increasingly harsh economic sanctions on Japan right from 1939 when the 1911 Commercial Treaty with Japan was terminated. On July 2, 1940, the Export Control Act came into force. This Act authorized the US President to regulate the export of important defence materials. Under this power, on July 31, 1940, US exports of heavy melting iron, steel scrap, and aviation motor fuels to Japan were restricted.
Key Economic Sanctions that Crippled Imperial Japan
October 16, 1940: Roosevelt slapped an embargo on exports of steel and scrap iron to all destinations. Only Britain and some nations located in the Western Hemisphere were excluded in this stifling measure.
July 26, 1941: The President froze all Japanese assets in the US. Roosevelt effectively ended commercial relations between Japan and the US.
August 3, 1941: Roosevelt imposed an embargo of all the grades of oil that were still in commercial flow to Japan. Holland and Britain also followed suit. The European nations also imposed an embargo on exports to Imperial Japan from their Southeast Asian colonies.
Months before attacking Pearl Harbour, the Japanese offered to withdraw troops from Indochina under two conditions. First, the Japanese would work out peace with China without US interference. Second, US would lift the economic sanctions. The US did not want to abandon China. So, the Roosevelt administration continued to insist that Japan withdraw troops from Indochina and also reconsider the agreement it had with Germany and Italy.
Although this happened long ago, you can still take Pearl Harbour tours & see the sunken ships. There are 1,177 people still under the water. In addition, the USS Arizona Battleship is STILL leaking drops of oil. It is said the droplets of oil coming out of the USS Arizona are the tears of the dead. When the oil droplets stop, the dead will stop crying. See this at Pearl Harbour.
Luxury Pearl Harbour Tours. Free Pickup from Waikiki!
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Our Pearl Harbour Tours represent one of the most significant sites in United States History! Pay homage to the 1,177 fallen heroes of December 7, 1941 as you experience the museums, displays, exhibits, and movie short. You’ll have the choice of touring the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri Battleship, USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. With our expert tour guides the Pearl Harbour Tours are designed to fit your schedule.
The views and opinions expressed in this page and documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in WWII .They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.
Triple Aces were pilots who were credited with shooting down 15 or more enemy aircraft. The Battle of Britain produced many aces (men who shot down 5 or more enemy aircraft) but triple aces were very rare. The figures below for triple ace kills are from July 1st 1940 to October 31st 1940 and include where necessary, where a pilot was in more than one squadron
The views and opinions expressed in this page and documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in The Battle of Britain They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.
Scotland was far away from the more accessible targets in the south of England, but was in range for the Luftwaffe’s long range bombers and reconnaissance aircraft shadowing the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet in Northern Scotland and the North Sea. On 16 October a section of 603 was scrambled and shot down a Junkers Ju-88 bomber into the North Sea east of Dalkeith, the first German aircraft to be shot down over British territory since 1918. Carbury probably destroyed an Heinkel He 111 on 7 December, and claimed a third share in the destruction of another He 111 during January 1940. Carbury was promoted to Flying Officer on 27 April 1940.
Carbury claimed his first victory on 29 August, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. He claimed another on the 30th, and three more on the 31st, together with two He 111’s – taking his total to 8 and 1/3, and making him a fighter ace. Hillary was shot down on 3 September in combat with Bf 109’s of Jagdgeschwader 26 off Margate at 10:04hrs – rescued by the Margate lifeboat, he was severely burned and spent the next three years in hospital. In September Carbury claimed three more Bf 109’s, and after sustaining wounds to his feet during actions in September, his efforts were recognised by the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The award was gazetted on 24 September 1940:
Air Ministry, 24th September, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the undermentioned appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy : —
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Flying Officer Brian John George CARBURY (40288).
During operations on the North East coast Flying Officer Carbury led his section in an attack on two enemy aircraft. Both were destroyed. From 28th August, 1940, to 2nd September, 1940, he has, with his squadron, been almost continuously engaged against large enemy raids over Kent, and has destroyed eight enemy aircraft. Five of these were shot down during three successive engagements in one day.
Carbury continued his toll of victories in October, as the German’s intensified their high-level fighter-bomber attacks on London. His first two victories for the month were a Bf109 over the Thames Estuary on the 2nd, and another in southeast London on 7 October. Based at RAF Manston on the 10th, Carbury noticed three Bf 109’s returning to northern France—leading three Spitfires into attack, he shot the first in to the English Channel, and a second on to the beach at Dunkirk. On 14 October, he damaged a Junkers Ju 88.
The official end of the Battle of Britain came at the end of October, when Carbury was awarded a Bar to the DFC—one of fewer than five pilots given the double award for victories claimed during the period of the Battle of Britain. With destruction of 15 enemy aircraft destroyed (and 2 victories shared destroyed), 2 probables and 5 damaged, Carbury was among the five top-scoring pilots in RAF Fighter Command and the top scorer against Bf 109s  during the Battle of Britain along with Eric Lock. The award of the bar to his DFC was gazetted on 25 October 1940:
Air Ministry, 25th October, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—
Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross
Flying Officer Brian John George CARBURY, D.F.C. (40288).
Flying Officer Carbury has displayed outstanding gallantry and skill in engagements against the enemy. Previous to 8th September, 1940, this officer shot down eight enemy aircraft, and shared in the destruction of two others. Since that date he has destroyed two Messerschmitt 109-5 and two Heinkel 113’s, and, in company with other pilots of his squadron, also assisted in the destruction of yet another two enemy aircraft. His cool courage in the face of the enemy has been a splendid example to other pilots of his squadron.
December 1940 onwards
No. 603 Squadron and Carbury returned to Scotland on scheduled rotation in December 1940. On Christmas Day Carbury was scrambled to intercept a Junker Ju 88 reported off St Abb’s Head, inflicting damage before the German aircraft turned for home.
Early in 1941 Carbury was posted to be an instructor at the Central Flying School and then 58 OTU at Grangemouth, and did not fly operationally in combat again. Unfortunately later that year he was charged with fraud after being accused of passing between 9 and 17 false cheques, an offence that at the time could attract a prison sentence. At his RAF court martial, he was found guilty and on 21 October 1941 the London Gazette announced: “Flg. Off. B. J. G. CARBURY, DFC (40288), to be dismissed the Service by sentence of General Court-Martial. 1 Oct 1941.” 
I thought of the men I had known, of the men who were living and the men who were dead; and I came to this conclusion. It was to the Carburys and the Berrys [Alan Berry] of this war that Britain must look, to the tough practical men who had come up the hard way, who were not fighting this war for any philosophical principles or economic ideals; who, unlike the average Oxford undergraduate, were not flying for aesthetic reasons, but because of an instinctive knowledge that this was the job for which they were most suited. These were the men who had blasted and would continue to blast the Luftwaffe out of the sky while their more intellectual comrades would, alas, in the main be killed. They might answer, if asked why they fought, ‘To smash Hitler!’ But instinctively, inarticulately, they too were fighting for the things that Peter had died to preserve.
After leaving the RAF, he lived in England until his death in July 1962. In 1949, he along with three others, in a trial at Princes RisboroughMagistrates’ Court, was found guilty of two offences relating to the illegal export of Bristol Beaufighters to Palestine. Each man was fined a total of £100. The defence solicitor described the four as “stooges” of a fifth man who had remained in Palestine.
In 1961, Carbury was diagnosed with terminal acute leukaemia and died soon after in High Wycombe Hospital (then the War Memorial Hospital). He was later cremated at Breakspear crematorium near Ruislip. A memorial to his memory was erected in his home town of Wellington, New Zealand.
Born in Otaslavice in 1913, Josef František joined the Czechoslovak Air Force in 1934. After basic training he joined the Czechoslovak Air Force Air Regiment 2. In 1935 he was a Corporal in Air Regiment 1 and returned to Air Regiment 2 as a Sergeant in 1937. In June 1938 he became a fighter pilot serving in the 40th squadron in Prague flying the Avia B-534 and Bk-534 fighter. After Czechoslovakia fell under German occupation (15 March 1939) like many other Czechoslovak airmen he escaped to Poland. Most Czechoslovak airmen then left Poland for France before the start of the Second World War, though František decided to stay and serve with the Polish Air Force.
During the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, František initially evacuated training aircraft from the air base at Dęblin. From 7 September he flew reconnaissance missions in an unarmed training plane, a RWD-8. On 19–20 September he attacked enemy columns near Kamionka Strumiłowa, throwing hand grenades on the troops below. On 20 September he was shot down near Złoczów, but was saved by a Polish crew that landed nearby. On 22 September František’s unit was ordered to withdraw with their remaining aircraft to Romania. František managed to abscond from an internment camp in Romania and reached France via North Africa in October 1939.
In France František elected to remain with the Poles instead of joining the exiled Czechoslovak air force (a probable reason for this decision was a conflict with a Czech officer, who tried to arrest him for insubordination.)
He was flying only old fashioned planes with fixed undercarriage and there are no official French records to confirm he flew combat missions during the Battle of France. After the fall of France František fled to Britain and after training on 2 August was assigned to No. 303 Polish Squadron based at RAF Northolt, flying Hawker Hurricane fighters. The squadron entered action in the last phase of the Battle of Britain. The first confirmed victory of Sgt. František was a German Bf 109E fighter on 2 September 1940.
A very ill-disciplined pilot, he was seen by his commanding officers as a danger to his colleagues when flying in formation. His British CO Squadron LeaderR. Kellett, offered to arrange for František’s transfer to a Czech squadron, but František preferred to stay and fight alongside his Polish colleagues. As all pilots were valuable, a compromise was created whereby František was allotted a “spare” aircraft so he could fly as a “guest” of the Squadron as and when he wanted to. Thus, František fought his own private war – accompanying the squadron into the air, but peeling off to fly a lone patrol over Kent, patrolling in the area through which he knew the German aircraft being intercepted would fly on their way back to base, possibly damaged and low on fuel and ammo. During the following month he shot down 17 German aircraft and 1 probable, of which 9 were Bf 109s, becoming one of the top scoring Allied fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain. His last victory was on 30 September 1940 and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.
On 8 October 1940, František’s Hurricane crashed in Ewell, Surrey during a landing approach after a patrol. Reasons for the crash are not known, but according to some theories, he may have been making aerobatic figures to impress his girlfriend, or it might have been a result of battle fatigue and physical exhaustion.
Born in 1914, Gray was accepted into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1939 after two previous attempts failed on medical grounds. He flew with No. 54 Squadron during the Battles of France and Battle of Britain, and had shot down 14 aircraft and had a half share in another by September 1940. He later added another 13 kills while leading fighter squadrons and wings in the North African and Italian Campaigns, and finished the war with a confirmed 27½ kills. After the war he held a number of staff and command positions in the RAF before his eventual retirement in 1961. He returned to New Zealand to work for Unilever. He died in 1995 at the age of 80.
Colin Falkland Gray and his twin brother Ken were born in Christchurch, New Zealand on 9 November 1914, the sons of an electrical engineer and his wife. He attended schools in the lower North Island and in Christchurch. He gained employment as a stock clerk in 1933, working at Dalgety and Company. In 1937, Gray, along with Ken, attempted to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1937. While Ken was accepted, Colin failed for medical reasons.
A second attempt also resulted in failure on medical grounds and after this, to improve his fitness, Gray took up sheep mustering. He was successful on a third application to join the RAF and was granted a short-term commission at the beginning of 1939. His flight training was conducted at the de Havilland flying school at Hatfield in Hertfordshire, England. He was posted to No 11 Flying Training School from which he graduated as a probationary pilot officer in October 1939.
Second World War
Gray was posted to No. 54 Squadron, at the time equipped with Supermarine Spitfires and based at Hornchurch, in November. He was confirmed in his rank of pilot officer on 17 January 1940. During the Phoney War he participated in patrols over the English Channel up until May 1940. The death of his brother Ken, in a flying accident on 1 May 1940, affected his morale.
After initial combat on 24 May (claiming two ‘probable’ victories), Gray had a share in his first confirmed enemy aircraft, a Messerschmitt Bf 109, on 25 May 1940, while escorting a formation of Fairey Swordfish to dive-bomb Gravelines. His Spitfire was badly damaged in the engagement, and damage to the port aileron forced the aircraft into a dive that was controlled only with great difficulty. His aircraft had also lost its airspeed indicator and control of guns, flaps or brakes. Despite this damage, Gray managed to force land safely at Hornchurch.
On 13 July 1940, Gray shot down his second Bf 109 near Calais after a long chase at sea level. The pilot, Leutnant Hans-Joachim Lange of III./JG 51, was killed. 54 Squadron was heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain, tasked with the defence of the approaches to London. On 24 July, he shot down Staffelkapitän Lothar Ehrlich of 8./JG 52. Gray observed Ehrlich to bail out into the Channel and swim for what Gray believed to be a dingy. He radioed the man’s position, but the pilot did not survive the water conditions. Alternately, it is possible his victim was Leutnant Schauff from III./JG 26. On 16 August, he claimed two Bf 109s destroyed. No. 54’s opponents were JG 54. I./JG 54 lost one Bf 109—the unnamed pilot being killed in a crash at Saint-Inglevert airfield after returning from the battle. 3./JG 54 and 9./JG 54 suffered the loss of one Bf 109 each and their pilots (one killed and one missing) over English territory. Their names are unknown. On 24 August, his flight was attacked by elements of I./JG 54 near RAF Manston. During the battle, he shot down Oberleutnant Heinrich Held. On 31 August, he downed Oberleutnant Karl Westerhof from 6./JG 3. Another source identifies 9./JG 26 pilot Oberleunant Willy Fronhöfer as his victim. By early September, Gray had claimed 14½ kills, and his squadron was sent north to rest and re-equip. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on 15 August 1940.
Gray was promoted to acting wing commander on 1 June 1943 and took over No. 322 Wing, which at the time was based on Malta. Conducting patrols over the Italian coast and supporting the Allied invasion of Sicily, he shot down a further five aircraft. His final kills came on 25 July 1943, when he shot down two Junkers Ju 52 transports. He was promoted to war substantive squadron leader on 1 September 1943. Later that month, he returned to England for a rest from active duty.
A second Bar to Gray’s DFC was awarded in November. He returned to operational duty in England, with 9 Group. In August 1944, he was appointed Wing Commander of the Lympne Wing, which carried out operations over France and the occupied Netherlands. He did not increase his tally of kills and finished the war with 27 aerial kills, two shared destroyed, six probable kills, with a further four shared probables, the top New Zealand fighter ace of the Second World War.
Gray returned to New Zealand on secondment to the Royal New Zealand Air Force from July 1945 to March 1946. He was retroactively promoted to the permanent rank of flight lieutenant from 23 January 1943, and received a retroactive promotion to temporary squadron leader from 1 July 1945. He was promoted to the substantive rank of squadron leader on 1 September 1945. Back in England after the end of his secondment, he was promoted to wing commander on 1 July 1947. He served in the Air Ministry until 1949. He then served in Washington, D.C. on the Joint Services Mission United States as an air liaison officer. In 1954, after a period of time training in the Gloster Meteor, he commanded RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire for two years, during which he was promoted to group captain on 1 January 1955. He was posted to HQ Far East Air Force in Singapore for three years before a return to the Air Ministry in 1959 and his subsequent retirement in March 1961.
Gray returned to New Zealand to work for Unilever in Petone as its personnel director until 1979, at which time he retired. He settled in Waikanae and in his later years, he wrote Spitfire Patrol, an autobiography detailing his time in the RAF and which was published in 1990.
Gray died in Kenepuru Hospital, Porirua, on 1 August 1995, survived by his wife, Betty, whom he had married in October 1945, and his four children and a stepdaughter.
Lacey left King James Grammar School, Knaresborough in 1933 continuing his education at Leeds Technical College. After four years as an apprentice pharmacist, he joined the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) in January 1937 as a trainee pilot at Perth, Scotland. In 1938, he then took an instructor’s course, becoming an instructor at the Yorkshire Flying School, accumulating 1,000 hours of flight time before the war. Called up at the outbreak of war, he joined No. 501 Squadron RAF.
Second World War
Battle of France
On 10 May 1940, the Squadron moved to Bétheniville in France where Lacey experienced his first combat. On the afternoon of 13 May over Sedan, he destroyed a Heinkel He 111 of KG 53 and an escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109 on one sortie, followed by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 later in the afternoon. He claimed two more He 111s on 27 May, before the squadron was withdrawn to England on 19 June, having claimed nearly 60 victories. On 9 June, he crash landed and was almost drowned in a swamp. During his operational duties in France, he was awarded the French Croix de guerre.
Battle of Britain
Flying throughout the Battle of Britain with No. 501 based at Gravesend or Croydon, Lacey became one of the highest scoring pilots of the battle. His first kill of the battle was on 20 July 1940, when he shot down a Bf 109E of Jagdgeschwader 27. He then claimed a destroyed Ju 87 and a “probable” Ju 87 on 12 August along with a damaged Bf 110 and damaged Do 17 on 15 August, a probable Bf 109 on 16 August. He destroyed a Ju 88, damaged a Dornier Do 17 on 24 August and shot down a Bf 109 of Jagdgeschwader 3 on 29 August. He bailed out unharmed after being hit by return fire from a Heinkel He 111 on 13 August.
On 30 August 1940, during combat over the Thames Estuary, Lacey shot down a He 111 and damaged a Bf 110 before his Hurricane was badly hit from enemy fire. His engine stopped and he decided to glide the stricken aircraft back to the airfield at Gravesend instead of bailing out into the Estuary.
A highly successful August was completed when he destroyed a Bf 109 on 31 August.
On 2 September 1940, Lacey shot down two Bf 109s and damaged a Do 17. He then shot down another two Bf 109s on 5 September. During a heavy raid on 13 September, he engaged a formation of Kampfgeschwader 55 He 111s over London where he shot down one of the bombers that had just bombed Buckingham Palace. He then bailed out of his aircraft, sustaining slight injuries, as he could not find his airfield in the worsening visibility.
Returning to the action shortly thereafter, he shot down a He 111, three Bf 109s and damaged another on 15 September 1940, one of the heaviest days of fighting during the whole battle, which later became known as “Battle of Britain Day”. During the battle he attacked a formation of 12 Bf 109s, shooting down two before the other had noticed before escaping into cloud
Two days later on 17 September, he was shot down over Ashford, Kent during a dogfight with Bf 109s and bailed out without injury. On 27 September, he destroyed a Bf 109 and damaged a Junkers Ju 88 on 30 September. During October he claimed a probable Bf 109 on 7 October, shot down a Bf 109 on 12 October, another on 26 October and on 30 October, he destroyed a Bf 109 before damaging another.
During the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, Lacey had been shot down or forced to land due to combat no less than nine times.
On 26 November 1940, with 23 claims (18 made during the Battle of Britain) Lacey received a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Medal  for his continued outstanding courage and bravery during the Battle of Britain. The citation in the London Gazette stated:
“Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Medal. 740042 Sergeant James Harry LACEY, D.F.M., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 501 Squadron. Sergeant Lacey has shown consistent efficiency and great courage. He has led his section on many occasions and his splendid qualities as a fighter pilot have enabled him to destroy at least 19 enemy aircraft”.
Lacey works on a model aeroplane in No 501 Squadron’s dispersal hut at Colerne on 30 May 1941
His final award for outstanding service during 1940 was a Mention in Dispatches announced on 1 January 1941. Lacey was commissioned a pilot officer (on probation) on 25 January 1941 (seniority from 15 January) and promoted to acting flight lieutenant in June. On 10 July 1941, as “A” flight commander, he shot down a Bf 109 and damaged another a few days later on 14 July. On 17 July, he claimed a Heinkel He 59 seaplane shot down and on 24 July, two Bf 109s (by causing them to collide). He was posted away from combat operations during August 1941, serving as a flight instructor with 57 Operational Training Unit. He was promoted to war substantive flying officer on 22 September.
During March 1942, Lacey joined No. 602 Squadron, based at Kenley flying the Spitfire Mk V and by 24 March had claimed a Fw 190 as damaged. He damaged another Fw 190 on 25 April 1942 before a posting to 81 Group as a tactics officer. Promoted to war substantive flight lieutenant on 27 August, in November he was posted as Chief Instructor at the No. 1 Special Attack Instructors School, Milfield.
In March 1943, Lacey was posted to No. 20 Squadron, Kaylan in India before joining 1572 Gunnery Flight in July of the same year to convert from Blenheims to Hurricanes and then to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. He stayed in India, being posted to command 155 Squadron flying the Spitfire VIII in November 1944 and then as CO No. 17 Squadron later that month. While based in India, Lacey claimed his last aircraft on 19 February 1945, shooting down a Japanese Army Air Force Nakajima Ki 43 “Oscar” with only nine 20mm cannon rounds.
“Ginger” Lacey was one of the few RAF pilots on operational duties on both the opening and closing day of the war. His final tally was 28 confirmed, four probables and nine damaged.
After the war was over, Lacey went to Japan with No. 17 Squadron, becoming the first Spitfire pilot to fly over Japan on 30 April 1946. He returned to the UK in May 1946. He received a permanent commission in the rank of flight lieutenant on 8 December 1948 (seniority from 1 September 1945), and retired from the RAF on 5 March 1967 as a flight lieutenant; he retained the rank of squadron leader.
After retirement, Lacey ran an air freight business and instructed at a flight school near Bridlington, UK.
“Ginger” Lacey died on 30 May 1989 at the age of 72. In September 2001, a plaque was unveiled at Priory Church, Bridlington, Yorkshire in memory of the fighter pilot and ace.
There was/is also a plaque at the location of the house Lacey grew up in, on the old site of Nidd Vale Motors, Sandbeck Lane, Wetherby, sadly the house where he was raised was knocked down a few years ago.
Born near Shrewsbury in 1919 Lock had his first experience of flying as a teenager. In the late 1930s with war a possibility and the likely event of him being called to arms, Lock decided that he would prefer to fight as an airman. He joined the RAF in 1939. He completed his training in 1940 and was posted to No. 41 Squadron RAF in time for the Battle of Britain. Lock became the RAF’s most successful Allied pilot during the battle, shooting down 21 German aircraft and sharing in the destruction of one.
After the Battle of Britain Lock served on the Channel Front, flying offensive sweeps over France. Lock went on to bring his overall total to 26 aerial victories, one shared destroyed and eight probable in 25 weeks of operational sorties over a one-year period—during which time he was hospitalised for six months. Included in his victory total were 20 German fighter aircraft, 18 of them Messerschmitt Bf 109s. In mid-1941 Lock was promoted to the rank of flight lieutenant.
Lock earned the nickname “Sawn Off Lockie”, because of his extremely short stature. Within less than six months of becoming one of the most famous RAF pilots in the country, he crash–landed in the English Channel after his Supermarine Spitfire was damaged by ground–fire. Lock was posted missing in action. He was never seen again.
Early life and career
Eric Stanley Lock, younger son of Charles Edward Lock, was born in 1919 to a farming and quarrying family, whose home was then in the rural Shropshire village of Bayston Hill at Bomere Farm, and who later farmed nearby at Allfield, Condover. He was privately educated, at a boarding school called Clivedon at Church Stretton, at Shrewsbury Boys’ High School and at Prestfelde School, London Road, Shrewsbury. At the latter, he was a proficient swimmer and ice skater. On his 14th birthday his father treated him to a five-shilling, 15-minute flight with Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Circus. Unlike most teenagers, Lock was unimpressed by flying and had soon lost interest. At 16 he left school and joined his father’s business. He later changed his mind and attempted to enlist in the RAF as early as the age of 17, but his father refused to sign the papers.
Although as a child he had lost the former strength of his left arm after a horse riding accident, in 1939 he made the decision that if there was going to be a war, he wanted to be a fighter pilot, and so immediately joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Within three months Lock had been called up and began flight training.
Lock completed his training in late May 1940. Officially qualified as a fighter pilot, he was posted to No. 41 Squadron at RAF Catterick as acting pilot officer. Lock spent several weeks with his Squadron before taking two weeks leave pass in July 1940 to marry his girlfriend Peggy Meyers, a former “Miss Shrewsbury”. Lock returned to his unit and soon began combat patrols over the North of England, defending British airspace against Luftflotte 5 (Air Fleet 5) based in Norway. Lock was bored by the patrols as it involved chasing lone enemy raiders without success.
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain began in July 1940 with the Luftwaffe making attacks on British shipping in the English Channel and Britain’s East Coast. In August RAF Fighter Command‘s bases came under attack as the Germans attempted to establish air superiority over southern England. The battles grew larger in scale, but 41 Squadron, based in the north, were well clear of the main combat zone and saw little action for the first four weeks of the German air offensive.
Lock’s frustration ended on 15 August 1940. On this date the Luftwaffe attempted to stretch Fighter Command by launching a wave of aircraft against targets in northern England where German intelligence believed there to be little opposition. It was in this battle Lock gained his first victory. Climbing at 20,000 feet (6,100 m) north of Catterick Lock spotted a massed formation of Messerschmitt Bf 110s and Junkers Ju 88s. The Squadron was ordered into line-astern formation and made an attack. In the first attack Lock followed his Section Leader. In the second he had an opportunity to fire at a Bf 110 heavy fighter. After two short bursts the starboard engine caught fire. Following the enemy fighter down to 10,000 feet (3,000 m), Lock fired into the fuselage and set the port engine on fire. The machine-gunner ceased firing and Lock left it at 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Lock was going to claim only a probable, but another No. 41 pilot saw it crash into Seaham Harbour and confirmed his victory. Lock soon attacked the Ju 88s, downing one of their number.
In light of Fighter Command’s need units in the south of the country, No. 41 Squadron was redeployed to RAF Hornchurch in Essex on 3 September 1940. On 5 September, Lock flew as Red 2, positioned behind and protecting the Squadron’s Leader. He shot down two Heinkel He 111s over the Thames Estuary. One of his victims crashed into a river, the other caught fire and its undercarriage fell down. Lock followed it down. He quickly realised his mistake—reducing height to pursue a damaged enemy put a pilot at risk from enemy fighters—but it was too late. A Messerschmitt Bf 109 attacked him and he sustained damage to his Spitfire and a wound to his leg. Lock immediately zoom-climbed. The Bf 109 attempted to follow but the pilot stalled and fell away. Lock reversed direction and dived. Waiting for the German fighter to come out of its dive he fired several short bursts and it exploded. Looking around he saw the second He 111 land in the English Channel, about ten miles from the first. Lock circled above the He 111 and noticing a boat he alerted the boat to its presence by flying over it and led the vessel to the crash site. As he left the scene he saw the crew surrendering to the occupants of the boat. On the way home he saw his first victim in the river, with a dingy nearby. A further Bf 109 was claimed destroyed on that date.
The following day, despite pain from his leg and against medical advice, Lock claimed his seventh victory, a Ju 88 off Dover at 09:00. On 9 September he claimed two Bf 109s destroyed over Kent and he followed the success with two victories—over a Ju 88 and Bf 110—on 11 September 1940. The victory brought his tally to nine enemy aircraft destroyed, eight of them in less than seven days. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The award was gazetted on 1 October 1940 with a citation reading:
Air Ministry, 1st October, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the undermentioned appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Pilot Officer Eric Stanley LOCK .(81642), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
This officer has destroyed nine enemy aircraft, eight of these within a period of one week. He has displayed great vigour and determination in pressing home his attacks.
Lock continued to shoot enemy aircraft down regularly. On 14 September he recorded two victories over Bf 109s and the following day shared in the destruction of a Dornier Do 17 before destroying a Bf 109 on 15 September 1940—the Battle of Britain Day—over Clacton-on-Sea. Two rest days followed. On 18 September he claimed a Bf 109 probably destroyed on his first patrol then another destroyed plus one probably destroyed in the afternoon over Gravesend.
On 20 September he filed a curious report that saw him attack three “Heinkel He 113s“, shooting down one and forcing the others to flee back to France. During that sortie he sighted a Henschel Hs 126 which he pursued across the English Channel before finally downing it over the German gun batteries at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Upon landing he was told by his commanding officer that he had been awarded a Bar to his DFC for 15 victories in 16 days. Published on 22 October 1940, the citation read:
Air Ministry, 22nd October, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—
Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Pilot Officer Eric Stanley LOCK, D.F.C. (81642), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
In September, 1940, whilst engaged on a patrol over the Dover area, Pilot Officer Lock engaged three Heinkel 113‘s one of which he shot down into the sea. Immediately afterwards he engaged a Henschel Hs 126 and destroyed it. He has displayed great courage in the face of heavy odds, and his skill and coolness in combat have enabled him to destroy fifteen enemy aircraft within a period of nineteen days.
No. 41 Squadron’s pilots were placed on four weeks’ rotation rest following the intense period of operational sorties, returning to RAF Hornchurch in early October 1940. Lock immediately commenced where he had left off. On 5 October he was credited with another Bf 109 with two probables over Kent; on 9 October another Bf 109 was claimed 10 miles from Dover and a probable followed seconds later. Off Dungeness he dispatched yet another Bf 109 on 11 October then on 20 October 1940 shot down a Bf 109 directly above RAF Biggin Hill. This victory brought his total to 20, making Lock a ‘Quadruple Ace’. On 25 October Lock destroyed a Bf 109 to bring his tally to 21 aerial victories. The Battle of Britain ended on 31 October 1940 and Lock, with 21 enemy aircraft destroyed, was the most successful Allied ace of the campaign.
On 8 November 1940 his Spitfire was badly damaged during a skirmish with several Bf 109s over Beachy Head in East Sussex. The Spitfire was so badly damaged that Lock crash-landed in a ploughed field, but was able to walk away. On 17 November 1940 No. 41 Squadron attacked a formation of 70 Bf 109s that were top cover for a bomber raid on London. After shooting down one Bf 109 and setting another on fire, Lock’s Spitfire was hit by a volley of cannon shells, which severely injured Lock’s right arm and both legs. The rounds also knocked the throttle permanently open by severing the control lever. The open throttle enabled the Spitfire to accelerate swiftly to 400 mph (640 km/h), leaving the Bf 109s in his wake without Lock having to attempt to operate it with his injured right arm. At 20,000 feet (6,100 m), he began to descend. With little control and no means of slowing the fighter down, he could not execute a safe landing. Too badly injured to parachute to safety, Lock was in a perilous situation. After losing height to 2,000 feet (610 m), Lock switched the engine off and found a suitable crash site near RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, into which he glided the stricken fighter for a “wheels down” landing.
Lying in the aircraft for some two hours, he was found by two patrolling British Army soldiers and carried two miles (3 km) on an improvised stretcher made of their Enfield rifles and Army issue winter coats—made after instruction from Lock. By this point, Lock had lost so much blood that he was unconscious, and so unable to feel the additional pain of being dropped three times, once into a dyke of water. After being transferred to the Princess Mary’s Hospital at RAF Halton, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 17 December 1940, the citation read:
Air Ministry, 17th December, 1940.ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following appointment and awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy:—
Appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.
Pilot Officer Eric Stanley Lock, D.F.C. (81642). Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 41 Squadron.
This officer has shown exceptional keenness and courage in his attacks against the enemy. In November, 1940, whilst engaged with his squadron in attacking a superior number of enemy forces, he destroyed two Messerschmitt 109’s, thus bringing his total to at least twenty-two. His magnificent fighting spirit and personal example have been in the highest traditions of the service.
Lock underwent fifteen separate operations over the following three months to remove shrapnel and other metal fragments from his wounds. For the following three months he remained at Halton recuperating from his injuries, leaving on only one occasion to travel on crutches and in full uniform to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI presented him with his DSO, DFC and Bar. He was also Mentioned in Despatches in March 1941.
Last battles and death
Lock spent several months in hospital. He stayed at the Royal Masonic Hospital with Richard Hillary, another Battle of Britain ace. They were operated on by Archibald McIndoe, a famous surgeon. While there, Hillary wrote his memoirs The Last Enemy, before his death in a flying accident on 8 January 1943. He remembered Lock having Sulfapyridine treatment and being “vociferous”. The nurses wore anti-infection masks and gloves, and Eric, “with an aimiable grin” would curse them for it “from dawn till dusk”.
In June 1941 he received notification that he had been promoted to flying officer and was requested to report back for immediate flying duty with 41 Squadron. Four weeks later he was promoted again to flight lieutenant and posted to No. 611 Squadron in command of B Flight. In July 1941 he gained three victories against Bf 109s flying offensive sweeps over France—on 6 July at 15:00, on 8 July at 06:30 and 11:00 on 14 July near Le Touquet.
The road sign for Eric Lock Road in Bayston Hill, Shropshire
On 3 August 1941, Lock was returning from a fighter “Rhubarb” when he spotted a column of German troops and vehicles on a road near the Pas-de-Calais. Signalling the attack to his wingman, Lock was seen to peel off from the formation and prepare for the ground strafing attack—the last time he was seen.
He was believed to have been shot down by ground–fire, a line supported by a Ministry of Defence report that concluded his plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, without establishing exactly what happened and the location of his crash.
In 2000 research by historian Dilip Sarkar cross-referenced Lock’s disappearance with Luftwaffe combat records for the day. Lock’s was the only British plane lost that day and the only claim from a Luftwaffe pilot of shooting down such a plane had been made by Oberleutnant Johann Schmid, who reported he had shot down a Spitfire into the sea near Calais.
Neither his body or his Spitfire Mk V, W3257, have ever been found, despite a thorough search of the area in the years following the war by both the RAF and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Lock was the first of three successful RAF aces who were shot down during this period: Douglas Bader was shot down in error and taken prisoner on 9 August 1941; Robert Stanford Tuck‘s Spitfire was hit by enemy ground-based flak near Boulogne-sur-Mer on 28 January 1942 and he was forced to crash land and taken prisoner. In July 1942, Paddy Finucane would be lost in similar circumstances to Lock.
Lock’s name is carved in Panel 29 on the Runnymede Memorial along with the 20,400 other British and Commonwealth airmen who were posted missing in action during the war. A new road was named after him in Bayston Hill, Shropshire where his family’s former home lies, as well as the members’ bar at the Shropshire Aero Club based at a former wartime airfield, RAF Sleap.
List of victories
Lock was credited with 26 air victories and eight probable victories. The total included 17 Bf 109s, one ‘Heinkel He 113‘ (probably a Bf 109), one Henschel Hs 126, two Bf 110s, two He 111s, two Ju 88s and a Do 17 destroyed.
Becomes fighter ace. Claimed one He 111 and one Bf 109 in the space of a minute over the Isle of Sheppey at 15:00. Other claim times not recorded. Opponents at 15:00 hours are unknown. In the morning battle, at approximately 10:00, No. 41 Squadron engaged Bf 109s from Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54) over the Thames Estuary. Two Bf 109s were shot down. A Bf 109E-4, Werknummer 5353 crashed and pilot Unteroffizier Behse was killed in action. Bf 109E-4 Werknummer 5291 also crashed. Hauptmann (Captain) Ultsch was killed. Both were from II./JG 54 (Second Gruppe or Group).
Victim identified as Ju 88A-1, code F1 + DP, Werknummer 8070 belonging to I./Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30 — or Bomber Wing 30) crashed in France. Aircraft 60 percent destroyed. Crew unhurt.
9 September 1940
2 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
Claimed over Maidstone, south of London at 18:00. Identity not known.Seven Bf 109s are known to have been shot down on 9 September that cannot be matched to any specific RAF unit or pilot. Lock’s possible opponents were from, Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3 — or Fighter Wing 3), Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27 — or Fighter Wing 27), Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 53 — or Fighter Wing 53) or Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54 — or Fighter Wing 54). German casualties in the air battles were; Oberfeldwebel Muller of 4. Staffel (Squadron) JG 3 flying Werknummer 6138 posted missing. Feldwebel Bauer, 7 Staffel JG 3 flying Werknummer 5351, posted missing. Unteroffizier Massmann, Werknummer 6316, missing in action. Stab, I./JG 27’s Oberleutnant Bode, flying Werknummer 6316 posted missing. Oberleutnant Daig, II./JG 27, missing. Feldwebel Höhnisch, Werknummer 1508 missing. Feldwebel Biber, I Staffel JG 54, Werknummer 6103, missing.
11 September 1940
1 x Junkers Ju 88
1 x Messerschmitt Bf 110
Awarded DFC. Claimed both victories at 17:30 over Kent. Opponents unknown. Ju 88 claim unknown. Three Bf 110s known to have been shot down but not credited to a specific pilot. I./Zerstörergeschwader 2 (ZG 2 or Destroyer Wing 2) lost two machines. Werknummer 3376, code A2+MH, Gefreiter Kling and Sossner missing. Another Bf 110 crash-landed at St. Aubin. Werknummer 3623 50 percent destroyed, crew unhurt. Another II./Zerstörergeschwader 76 (ZG 76 or Destroyer Wing 76) crash-landed in the sea off Étaples. Werknummer 3285, Code M8+KC lost. Crew rescued Seenotdienst (Air Sea Rescue) service.
Claimed both kills at 14:30 over Shoeburyness. Identity of Bf 109 unknown. The Do 17 victory was assisted by Pilot Officer Neil but credited to Lock as one shared destroyed. One crew member was killed and one posted missing. The machine, Werknummer— (factory number) —3401 from III./Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2—Bomber Wing 2), crashed into the sea off Clacton at 15:30. German air-sea-rescue service, the Seenotdienst, rescued the remainder.
18 September 1940
1 x Bf 109
Claimed a Bf 109 probably destroyed over Kent at 10:10 and another destroyed at 13:15 over Gravesend. Lock’s opponents in the afternoon air battle were 9 Staffel JG 27. The unit suffered two known losses in combat with 41 Squadron Spitfires. During the air battle Werknummer 2674 crashed at approximately 13:15. Gefreiter Glöckner was posted missing. Werknummer 6327 crashed in the same area. The pilot,Feldwebel Schulz, was killed.
20 September 1940
1 x ‘He 113′(sic), 1 x Hs 126
Awarded Bar to DFC. Claimed one He 113 and one Hs 126 northwest of Boulogne, France[disambiguation needed] at 11:15. Lock most likely misidentified the ‘He 113’ as a Bf 109. A Bf 109E-1, Werknummer 5175, force-landed after combat near Boulogne. The machine, belonging to 7 Staffel JG 53, was slightly damaged and the pilot unhurt. The identity of the Hs 126 is unknown.
5 October 1940
1 x Bf 109
Claimed two Bf 109s at 14:30 over the English Channel and another Bf 109 probably destroyed south of Dungeness at 16:00. One of the 14:30 claims can be identified as Feldwebel von Bittenfeld. After being shot down by Lock, Bittenfeld crashed near Canterbury at 14:27. Bittenfeld was posted missing in action.
9 October 1940
1 x Bf 109
Claimed two probable victories and one destroyed off Dover at 16:00. Victim identified as Feldwebel Fritz Schweser. Schweser’s Werknummer 5327, White 6 of 7 Staffel JG 54, crashed near Rochester. Schweser posted missing in action. Schweser crash–landed on Meridan Hunt Farm and was captured.
11 October 1940
1 x Bf 109
Victim identified as Bf 109E-1 Werknummer 6267 belonging to 5 Staffel JG 27 crashed near Deal. The pilot was wounded and taken prisoner.
20 October 1940
1 x Bf 109
Victim identified as Feldwebel Ludwig Bielmaier of 5 StaffelJagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52 — or Fighter Wing 52). His Bf 109E-7 Werknummer 5930 Black 4 crashed near RAF Biggin Hill at 13:50. Bielmaier posted missing.
17 November 1940
2 x Bf 109
Awarded DSO. Lock wounded in action in P7544. Lock’s opponents were from 5 Staffel JG 54. No. 41 Squadron claimed five Bf 109s, but only two losses are recorded.
6 July 1941
1 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
8 July 1941
1 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
14 July 1941
1 x Messerschmitt Bf 109
McGrath, J (Pilot Officer) – 15 kills
McKellar, A (Flight Lieutenant) – 17 kills, 1 shared
McKellar grew up and joined the family business in his native Scotland, but in 1936, aged 24, he joined the RAF and began pilot training. He completed his training in 1938 and was assigned to No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron RAF, an Auxiliary Unit. In 1939 he converted to the Supermarine Spitfire fighter. He experienced his first combat with No. 602 Squadron, credited with two victories soon after the outbreak of war in 1939 against German bombers attacking Royal Navy ships and installations over northern Britain during the “Phoney War” period. McKellar’s first victory earned him the distinction of being the first pilot to shoot down a German aircraft over the British Isles during the war.
A year later, he gained fame in 1940 during the Battle of Britain as a part of, and later Squadron Leader of, No. 605 Squadron RAF, equipped with the Hawker Hurricane fighter. The Auxiliary Unit was moved to southern England and participated in the large air battles. McKellar’s combat career proved to be very brief, lasting just over a year. He claimed all but two of his victories within the last two and a half months of his life; 15 August–1 November 1940. On 7 October 1940 he shot down five Messerschmitt Bf 109s, thus becoming an ace in a day; one of only 24 Allied aces to achieve the feat. At the time of his last mission he had claimed 21 aerial victories and another two shared destroyed against enemy aircraft. Included in this total of 21 air victories are 11 Bf 109s. McKellar, along with Brian Carbury, were the only British pilots to achieve the feat of “Ace in a Day” during the Battle of Britain.
On 1 November 1940—one day after the official end of the Battle of Britain—he was killed in action. He took off and engaged a formation of German fighters, one of which he possibly shot down for his 22nd—albeit uncredited—and final victory. McKellar was then shot down himself.
Archibald Ashmore (“Archie”) McKellar was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland on the 10 April 1912, the son of John and Margaret McKellar, of Bearsden, Dunbartonshire and was then educated at Shawlands Academy in the Southside of Glasgow. Upon leaving school he joined a local stockbroker‘s firm. This did not suit McKellar, who preferred an open–air life style. Keen to leave, but unsure of what direction to take in life, he joined his father’s general contractor and construction business as a plasterer. He spent five years as an apprentice plasterer. During this time he was given no special privileges despite being the boss’ son.
McKellar was also a keen fitness enthusiast and, despite his short stature, built up a great physical strength. Though he enjoyed wine and smoked the occasional pipe or cigar he kept in peak physical shape until his death. Even at the height of the Battle of Britain he was always clean shaven and immaculately dressed. McKellar’s spare time was used reading about sport and First World War fighter pilots. His interest in the flying personalities of the past spurred him to take up flying. He joined at his own expense the Scottish Flying Club, which had been founded in 1927; it leased and managed Renfrew Airport from 1933 until it was requisitioned during the Second World War. McKellar quickly acquired a pilot’s licence. By the time he began his military career, McKellar was a very experienced pilot, and he soon began earning relatively quick promotions.
Based at RAF Abbotsinch near Paisley, the squadron operated the Hawker Hind light bomber. The members of squadron—both pilots and ground staff—were reservists and completed their service on a part-time basis, in the evenings, weekends and an annual two–week summer camp. With the approach of war, the squadron converted to a fighter role and re-equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. It mobilised on the outbreak of war at RAF Grangemouth on 6 October 1939 and then to RAF Drem a month later, charged with defending Edinburgh and the shipping area around the Firth of Forth.
Upon completing training McKellar was deemed to have exceptional eyesight which earned him a reputation as a good marksman in air-to-air combat. Yet, paradoxically, when shooting with his rifle he was a well below average shot – a trait he shared with some other successful pilots. MacKellar was a keen sportsman. He believed physical fitness was a critical attribute in aerial combat; fitness, he believed, would ensure that the mind and body were always at their peak of alertness, and enable a pilot to react swiftly within a fluid battle situation.
McKellar was also considered a capable leader in combat. Aggressive and instinctive, his fighting spirit was an inspiration to his squadron but according to one biographer, he was highly strung, vociferous and blunt with members of his unit. Nevertheless, his directness and socially confident nature singled him out for command. His dedication to his job as a fighter pilot and leader led him to refuse any leave from his Squadron while the Battle of Britain lasted. Invariably McKellar led from the front of his unit. He spent a large proportion of his time with his squadron practising combat tactics. While intensely loyal to anyone he considered a friend, McKellar’s attitude to others outside the squadron was either of utmost friendliness or utter dislike. He is said to have tended to see everything and everyone in black and white.
Second World War
On 16 October 1939, the Luftwaffe made its first attack on target in Great Britain. I./Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30—Bomber Wing 30) targeted Royal Navy ships in the Firth of Forth. The target was HMS Hood. However, she was in dry dock and the cruiser HMS Southampton and destroyer HMS Mohawk were attacked. Though none of the bombs that struck exploded Mohawk’s commander was killed. Spitfires from No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron joined 602 Squadron, The Queen’s “City of Glasgow” Squadron, in intercepting the raid. During one attack, the cockpit canopy of HauptmannHelmut Pohl‘s Junkers Ju 88 released itself. Pohl was an experienced test pilot and Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) of KG 30. He had helped develop the Ju 88 and had taken part in the Polish Campaign. Pohl tried to fly northwards to take an observation position, but the aircraft was hit by the fire of Spitfires piloted by George Pinkerton and McKellar. The Ju 88 crashed into the sea, Pohl being the only survivor of his crew. The victory was credited to McKellar. Thus, McKellar is officially credited with the downing the first enemy aircraft to fall in British waters during the war.
Following the 16 October success, Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air MarshalHugh Dowding sent word to 602 Squadron; “Well done, first blood to the auxiliaries.” This area around Firth of Forth became nicknamed “suicide alley” by Luftwaffe pilots.
On 28 October 1939 McKellar intercepted a Heinkel He 111H-2 of Stab./Kampfgeschwader 26 (KG 26—Bomber Wing 26), code 1H+JA piloted by Unteroffizier Lehmkuhl. Acting on the advice of his navigator Leutnant Niehoff, dropped down towards cloud layers. The cover, however, quickly dispersed. Their gunners were killed, Lehmkul was hit in the back by machine gun fire and was wounded while Niehoff suffered a fractured spine during the crash–landing. Debate continues to this day as to which squadron or pilot was the victor. Post–war sources credit the victory to McKellar. It was also the War’s first German aircraft shot down onto British soil.
In early 1940, No. 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron moved to RAF Drem, as they converted to Hurricanes. McKellar was transferred to No. 605 and promoted to Flight Lieutenant, assuming the responsibilities of a flight leader on 21 June 1940. McKellar imposed strict discipline, both in standard of dress on the ground and in tactical discipline in the air. Despite his strict methods McKellar was held in high regard. His popularity arose from his desire to help mould his unit into a well-disciplined fighting team.
On 15 August 1940 No. 605 intercepted a German raid against Tyneside mounted by He 111s based in Norway with Luftflotte 5 (Air Fleet 5). McKellar was credited with three He 111s destroyed during the encounter. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and was gazetted on 13 September 1940 and made reference to the “outstanding leadership and courage” displayed by Mckellar.
Hawker Hurricane I R4118 of No 605 Squadron, flown by Bob Foster, McKellar’s Squadron comrade who also flew on McKellar’s last mission.
On 7 September 1940, No. 605 moved on rotation to Croydon Aerodrome under the command of Squadron LeaderWalter Churchill. McKellar scored a further four victories in a single mission on 9 September. McKellar attacked with the sun at his back with his Squadron, save for one Section which was left to provide top cover against Bf 109s. The attack was made head-on to break up the German bomber formation which consisted of a large mass of He 111s. He destroyed three He 111s with a single, 12–second burst. The first He 111 exploded. It damaged a second which rolled over and dived down into the ground. McKellar then moved his fire to a third. Its port wing snapped off. He then destroyed a Bf 109 in the afternoon giving him a fourth success.
McKellar took over from Squadron Leader Churchill on the 11 September. He achieved a further three victories 15 September. The raids were made in large formation leading the fighting that day to be christened the Battle of Britain Day. McKellar led 605 into combat twice on that date claiming two Bf 109s and a Do 17. That night, at an hour past midnight, 16 September, he claimed another He 111 shot down. A Medal bar to the DFC followed which cited his “excellent fighting spirit … particularly brilliant tactician, and his led his Squadron with skill and resource”.
On 3 October McKellar became one of the select few pilots of Fighter Command to sit for one of Cuthbert Orde‘s charcoal portraits. On 7 October his score rose by five victories, all Bf 109s—becoming an Ace in a day. McKellar explained three of the five victories in the combat that day in his combat report;
I attacked the Number One and saw a bomb being dropped from this machine. I fired and pieces fell off his wing and dense white smoke and vapour came from him and he went into a violent outside spin. In my mirror I could see another ‘109 coming to attack me and therefore turned sharply right and found myself behind another ‘109. I opened fire and saw my De Wilde (explosive ammunition) hitting his machine. It burst into flames and went down inverted east of Biggin Hill. As I again had a ‘109 on my tail I spiralled down to 15,000 feet and by this time there appeared to be ‘109s straggling all over the sky. I followed one, pulled my boost control and made up on him. I gave him a burst from dead astern and at once his radiator appeared to be hit as dense white vapour came back at me and my windscreen fogged up. This speedily cleared and I gave him another burst and this machine burst into flames and fell into a wood with a quarry near it, west of Maidstone.
Thirteen days later, on 20 October 1940, McKellar brought down another Bf 109. Its pilot, Feldwebel Adolf Iburg from 9 StaffelJagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54), was slightly wounded in action. Iburg managed to force–land near New Romney and was captured. The victory was credited to him in a post-war account, but there is no official accreditation of the Iburg victory to McKellar by the RAF, though he was credited with another Bf 109 victory on that date.
By 1 November 1940 McKellar had claimed 21 victories. Taking a section of No. 605 that included Flight Lieutenant Bob Foster, up to meet a flight of Bf 109 Jabos (Bf 109s equipped with bombs). The section climbed to high altitude to meet the enemy aircraft. In the ensuing battle it is believed McKellar was shot down by II./Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27—Fighter Wing 27) Hauptmann (Captain) Wolfgang Lippert. McKellar’s Hurricane MkI (V6879) crashed at the side of Woodlands Manor near Adisham, Kent at 18:20hrs.
Not long ago I visited a fighter squadron which was taking part during the dark days in the battle of this island. That squadron lost its leader in an air fight—and they felt the loss. He had been wounded in combat and had been withdrawn from service. I found in his place, taking to the air with daring resolve, proving himself a leader amongst leaders, a young Scot. His name was Archie McKellar. He had come from the City of Glasgow Squadron to lift up this squadron in its dark hour and to carry it on to fresh victories and achievement by his spirit. It was quite apparent to me that he had the whole squadron with him. He was regarded with the greatest admiration and affection by his officers. I will never forget the impression he made upon me when I saw him.
Historian Alfred Price credited McKellar with 17 air victories, three shared destroyed, five probably destroyed and three damaged. Historians Christopher Shores and Clive Williams credit him with 21 air victories, three probably destroyed and three damaged as does E.C.R Baker. In his last combat they credit him with a possible 22nd victory, since a Bf 109 crashed in the area of his last combat and no RAF pilot made a claim. John Foreman credits him with at least 17 victories and acknowledges the unclaimed Bf 109 that crashed on 1 November 1940 near to McKellar might have been his last victory. Chaz Bowyer, another prolific historian and writer on RAF personnel credits McKellar with at least 20 victories.
During the period he flew Hurricane P3308, McKellar scored 13 victories and shared one more destroyed, four probable and one damaged, between 15 August and 7 October 1940. Thus earned the distinction of being the Hurricane with the highest number of kills during the Battle of Britain. It was later handed over to a Czech unit, No. 312 Squadron RAF on 4 January 1941 and written off in an accident on 30 April 1941.
First enemy aircraft shot down in British waters. Gruppenkommandeur I./KG 30 Hauptmann Helmut Pohl’s Junkers Ju 88 destroyed. Pohl survived and was captured by the Royal Navy; the rest of his crew were killed in action.
First enemy aircraft to fall on British soil since 1918; Stab./KG 26 code 1H+JA destroyed. Pilot Unteroffizier Lehmkuhl and Leutnant Niehoff were wounded and two other crew members killed. The fate of the fifth is unknown.
15 August 1940
3 x He 111s
Unknown. Claimed at 13:15. Opponents from KG 26. Of the eight He 111s lost by KG 26, two have not been attributed to any particular squadron, two are credited to ground fire and four to No. 79 Squadron RAF and No. 235 Squadron RAF. The two outstanding victims were from 8 and 9 Staffel. In the first aircraft, He 111H-4, Leutnant Burk and his crew were missing and presumed dead. The second, He 111H-4, was lost with its unnamed crew. The two He 111s believed to have been shot down by ground fire were both from 8 Staffel. Oberleutnant von Lübke and Oberleutnant Besser were lost with all of their unnamed crew members.
9 September 1940
3 x He 111s
1 x Bf 109
Claimed over the Brooklands area at 17:45.The identity of the He 111s are unknown. Seven Bf 109s are known to have been shot down on 9 September that cannot be matched to any specific RAF unit or pilot. McKellar engaged enemy aircraft over Canterbury and Croydon region at around 17:45. After patrolling at 15,000 feet, 605 engaged. The account of the air battle is confusing.
McKellar’s possible opponents were from Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3, Fighter Wing 3), Jagdgeschwader 27, Jagdgeschwader 54 or Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54). German casualties in the air battles were: Oberfeldwebel Müller of 4. Staffel (Squadron) JG 3 flying Werknummer 6138 posted missing. Feldwebel Bauer, 7 Staffel JG 3 flying Werknummer 5351 posted missing. Unteroffizier Massmann, Werknummer 6316, missing in action. Stab, I./JG 27’s Oberleutnant Bode, flying Werknummer 6316 posted missing. Oberleutnant Daig, II./JG 27, missing. Feldwebel Höhnisch, Werknummer 1508 missing. Feldwebel Biber, I Staffel JG 54, Werknummer 6103, missing.
605 Squadron engaged Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—Fighter Wing 51). Pilot Officer Currant dispatched Werknummer 3266, from 7 Staffel and flown by Leutnant Bildau was posted missing. Another Bf 109 from 9 Staffel, Werknummer 2803 was also shot down. Feldwebel Klotz was wounded and taken prisoner. Also involved in the action were Bf 109s from Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3—Fighter Wing 3), Jagdgeschwader 53 (JG 53—Fighter Wing 53) and Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—Fighter Wing 77). Lehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—Learning Wing 2) provided top cover.
JG 26 suffered no losses. JG 3 lost three Bf 109s in aerial combat. I./JG 3 lost Werknummer 1563, pilot unhurt. 1 Staffel lost Werknummer 0945 and Feldwebel Volmer missing. 2 Staffel lost Werknummer 1606, pilot Staffelkapitän (Squadron Leader) Oberleutnant Helmuth Reumschüssel missing.
JG 53 lost eight Bf 109s, with seven completely destroyed. Seven were not directly credited to RAF units. In air combat, I./JG 53 lostUnteroffizier Schersand, killed in Weknummer 6160. 1 Staffel Bf 109, Werknummer 5111 crash-landed in France, 15% destroyed and the pilot unhurt. 3 Staffel lost Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitän Julius Jase, killed in Werkummer 1590. The same unit lost Unteroffizier Feldmann. Two more Bf 109s — Werknummer 1174 and 5251 from III./JG 53 – were destroyed, but their pilots were unhurt. One was rescued from the Channel.
JG 77 lost a 1 Staffel Bf 109, pilot unhurt, Werknummer 4847 force-landed after combat over Dungeness. Another, Werknummer 4802 from 3 Stafel, was lost with its pilot Unteroffizier Meixner.
He claimed one of the Do 17s before being recalled by No. 11 Group RAFcommanding officerKeith Park to create a reserve for further operations. McKellar would be credited with one Do 17 destroyed whose identity is uncertain. Among the Do 17 losses, that have not been credited to a specific squadron, were: Do 17 Werknummer 3405 (code U5+FT) and 3230 (code U5+JT) from 9 Staffel KG 2. In the first crew, Oberleutnant Staib, Unteroffizier Hoppe were killed, Gefreiter Zierer and Hoffman posted missing. In the second crew, Unteroffizier Krummheuer, Feldwebel Glaser, Unteroffizier Lenz were killed and Unteroffizier Sehrt missing.
Two more Do 17s were lost around the same time. 8 Staffel KG 2’s Werknummer 4245 U5+GS, piloted by Oberleutnant Hugo Holleck-Weitmann, was lost. Holleck-Weitmann was killed, Unteroffizier Schweighart wounded, and Unteroffizier Lindemeier was missing. The remaining crewmen’s fates are unknown. The second, Werknummer 3440, U5+PS, was lost. Oberleutnant Werner Kittmann, Unteroffizier’s Stampfer and Langer posted missing. The remaining crewmen’s fates are unknown.
16 September 1940
1 x He111
Awarded DFC*DSO Victory claimed at night, 01:00. Location of victory not recorded.
7 October 1940
5 x Bf 109s
Claimed four in one battle at 13:30—one near the village of Brasted, Westerham; one east of Biggin Hill; Maidstone; and the final opponent near Ashford, Kent. The last and fifth claim of the day was made at 16:30 over Mayfield and Five Ashes.The Germans lost 12 Bf 109s on this date. Most can be credited to other RAF Squadrons. Two of McKellar’s victories can be identified. Werknummer (factory number) 3665, of 5 Staffel (Squadron) Jagdgeschwader 27 was shot down between Maidstone and Westerham. Unteroffizier Lederer posted missing, presumed killed. The second was Werknummer 3881—Unteroffizier Paul Lege killed in action. Another loss was Werknummer 5391, of 4 StaffelLehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—Learning Wing 2). Pilot Unteroffizier Ley missing, presumed killed in action by 605 Hurricanes. Also lost that day was a 2 StaffelJagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51—Fighter Wing 51) Bf 109, Werknummer 5805, which crash–landed near Calais after combat and was 65% destroyed. A second Bf 109 from the same unit, Werknummer 4103, was also destroyed. The pilot Oberleutnant Viktor Mölders—brother of the famous ace Werner Mölders—was posted as missing in action by the Luftwaffe. No times are given for these losses.
20 October 1940
1 x Bf 109
His first victory that day can be identified as belonging to 3 StaffelLehrgeschwader 2 (LG 2—Learning Wing). Unteroffizier Franz Mairl was killed in action in Bf 109 Werknummer 2059 Yellow 8 over Ashford, Kent at 10:00. A second enemy also fell that afternoon. Feldwebel Adolf Iburg from 9 StaffelJagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54) crash–landed and was captured. The victory McKellar claimed was credited as damaged only.
26 October 1940
1 x Bf 109
27 October 1940
1 x Bf 109
Claimed a Bf 109 at 09:30 over Croydon, Dungeness. The Germans lost 13 Bf 109s to all causes on this date. Seven machines were lost that day to unidentified squadrons over Kent: I./Jagdgeschwader 3 (JG 3—Fighter Wing 3) lost Bf 109E-7 Werknummer 4124. The pilot, Leutnant Wilhelm Busch, was posted missing in action. 8 Staffel JG 27’s Bf 109 Werknummer 1329 damaged, force-landed in France after combat 20% destroyed. The same unit’s squadron leader Oberleutnant Anton Pointer went missing. 9 StaffelWerknummer 4818 force-landed near Calais 40% destroyed. Pilot Albert Busenkeil was wounded. 2 StaffelJagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—Fighter Wing 52) Werknummer 1268 Black 5 was lost over Kent. Karl Bott was posted missing in action. 3 Staffel JG 52 lost Werknummer 2798 Yellow 2. OberleutnantUlrich Steinhilper was captured (and later made numerous escape attempts from Canada). In the same unit, Yellow 4, Werknummer 3525, was shot down. Lothar Schieverhöfer missing in action.
1 November 1940
1 x Bf 109
Logged as a claim over Faversham at 08:15. An Bf 109 did crash near McKellar, and no other RAF pilot claimed it as destroyed. It could have been brought down by McKellar, but remains uncredited.
Urbanowicz, W (Flying Officer) – 15 kills
Witold Urbanowicz (30 March 1908 – 17 August 1996) was a Polishfighter ace of the Second World War. According to the official record, Witold Urbanowicz was the second highest-scoring Polish fighter ace, with 17 confirmed wartime kills and 1 probable, not counting his pre-war victory. He was awarded with several decorations, among others the Virtuti Militari and British Distinguished Flying Cross. He also published several books of memoirs.
Urbanowicz was born in Olszanka, Augustów County. In 1930 he entered the Szkola Podchorazych Lotnictwa cadet flying school in Dęblin, graduating in 1932 as a 2/Lt. Observer. He was then posted to the night bomber squadron of the 1st Air Regiment in Warsaw. Later he completed an advanced pilotage course to become a fighter pilot. In the 1930s he flew with the 113th and No. 111th “Kosciuszko” Squadron.
In August 1936, flying an PZL P.11a, he shot down a Sovietreconnaissance plane which had crossed into Polish airspace. He was officially reprimanded and unofficially congratulated by his superior officer and as “punishment” in October 1936 was transferred to an air force training school in Deblin where he was nicknamed “Cobra“.
Second World War
During the Invasion of Poland in 1939, Urbanowicz was in an improvised Ulez Group, composed of flying instructors, flying obsolete PZL P.7a fighters and covering the Dęblin and Ułęż airfields. Despite a few encounters with enemy airplanes the Polish fighters (which could barely match the speed of German bombers) were not able to shoot down any enemy planes. On 8 September the school was evacuated from Ulez and Dęblin.
He was ordered with the cadets to Romania, where they were told to await re-equipment: British and French aircraft were rumoured to have been sent, but no aircraft arrived. Urbanowicz returned to Poland to continue to fight, but after the Soviet invasion on Poland, he was captured by a Soviet irregular unit. The same day he managed to escape with two cadets and crossed the Romanian border and eventually found his way to France where, after the fall of Poland, a new Polish army was being formed.
While in France he and a group of other Polish pilots were invited to join the Royal Air Force in Great Britain. After initial training with 1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum, he was sent to 6 OTU for re-training on fighters in July 1940. In August he was assigned to No. 145 Squadron RAF, and became operational on 4 August 1940. On 8 August he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 Major Joachim Schlichting of V./LG 1 while flying with No. 601 Squadron (although he was never officially attached to the unit) and on 12 August a Junkers Ju 88 of KG 51.
On 18 September 1940 Urbanowicz was awarded the Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari by the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Forces, General Sikorski. On 24 October, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
On 27 September he was officially credited with shooting down four aircraft: two Ju 88s of KG 77, a Bf 109 and a Bf 110 of 15.LG 1. On 30 September he claimed three Bf 109s (one from stab.JG 26, one of II./JG 53 and one of 4.JG 54) and one Dornier Do 17 of KG 3. Despite his success Urbanowicz was never popular at Polish headquarters and on 21 October he was forced to hand over command of the Squadron to Zdzisław Henneberg.
During the Battle of Britain, he claimed 15 confirmed kills and 1 probable, which made him one of the top Polish aces (second only to Stanisław Skalski) and in the top ten Allied aces of the battle.
According to his reports he also shot other airplanes over China, and destroyed some on the ground but those victories were not officially confirmed. According to Kenneth K. Koskodian, he downed 11 Japanese aircraft while being Claire Lee Chennault‘s guest. He was later awarded the US Air Medal and a Chinese Flying Cross.
By one tally, British RAF aircrew numbered 2,353 (80%) of the total of 2,927 flyers involved, with 407 Britons killed from a total of 510 losses. The remainder were not British, many coming from parts of the British Empire (particularly New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and South Africa), as well as exiles from many conquered European nations, particularly from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Other countries supplying smaller numbers included Belgium, France, Ireland, and the US.
The Battle of Britain was considered officially by the RAF to have been fought between 10 July and 31 October 1940.
RAF pilots claimed to have shot down about 2,600 German aircraft, but figures compiled later suggest that Luftwaffe losses were more likely nearer 2,300.
Of 2,332 Allied pilots who flew fighters in the Battle, 38.90 percent could claim some success in terms of enemy aircraft shot down.
The number of pilots claiming more than one victory amounted to no more than 15 per cent of the total RAF pilots involved.
To be proclaimed an “ace” a pilot had to have five confirmed victories. During the Battle of Britain just 188 RAF pilots achieved that distinction – eight per cent of the total involved. A further 237 of those RAF pilots claiming successes during the Battle became “aces” later in the war.
There is a preserved Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft known as “The Last of The Many”—which may be a play on words with “The Few”—that flies as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, along with a Supermarine Spitfire that flew in the Battle (one of five Spitfires in the Memorial Flight). As the Hurricane was the last production model of that type, it did not itself fly in the Battle.
The Few, a novel by Alex Kershaw, tells the stories of the men who flew in the Battle of Britain. As of 2003[update], a Hollywood film similarly named The Few was in preparation for release in 2008, based on the story of real-life US pilot Billy Fiske, who ignored his country’s neutrality rules and volunteered for the RAF. A Variety magazine outline of the film’s historical content was said in The Independent to have been described by Bill Bond, who conceived the Battle of Britain Monument in London, as “Totally wrong. The whole bloody lot.”
Young Mountbatten’s nickname among family and friends was “Dickie”, although “Richard” was not among his given names. This was because his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, had suggested the nickname of “Nicky”, but to avoid confusion with the many Nickys of the Russian Imperial Family (“Nicky” was particularly used to refer to Nicholas II, the last Tsar), “Nicky” was changed to “Dickie”.
In June 1917, when the Royal Family stopped using their German names and titles and adopted the more British-sounding “Windsor”: Prince Louis of Battenberg became Louis Mountbatten, and was created Marquess of Milford Haven. His second son acquired the courtesy titleLord Louis Mountbatten and was known as Lord Louis until he was created a peer in 1946.
After his war service, and having been promoted sub-lieutenant on 15 January 1919, Mountbatten attended Christ’s College, Cambridge for two terms where he studied engineering in a programme that was specially designed for ex-servicemen.
He was posted to the battlecruiser HMS Renown in March 1920 and accompanied Edward, Prince of Wales, on a royal tour of Australia in her. Promoted lieutenant on 15 April 1920, he transferred to the battlecruiser HMS Repulse in March 1921 and accompanied Edward on a Royal tour of India and Japan. Edward and Mountbatten formed a close friendship during the trip. He was posted to the battleship HMS Revenge in the Mediterranean Fleet in January 1923.
Pursuing his interests in technological development and gadgetry, Mountbatten joined the Portsmouth Signals School in August 1924 and then went on briefly to study electronics at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Mountbatten became a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), now the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), which annually awards the Mountbatten Medal for an outstanding contribution, or contributions over a period, to the promotion of electronics or information technology and their application.
He was posted to the battleship HMS Centurion in the Reserve Fleet in 1926 and became Assistant Fleet Wireless and Signals Officer of the Mediterranean Fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes in January 1927. Promoted lieutenant-commander on 15 April 1928, he returned to the Signals School in July 1929 as Senior Wireless Instructor. He was appointed Fleet Wireless Officer to the Mediterranean Fleet in August 1931, and having been promoted commander on 31 December 1932, was posted to the battleship HMS Resolution.
In 1934, Mountbatten was appointed to his first command – the destroyer HMS Daring. His ship was a new destroyer which he was to sail to Singapore and exchange for an older ship, HMS Wishart. He successfully brought Wishart back to port in Malta and then attended the funeral of King George V in January 1936. Mountbatten was appointed a Personal Naval Aide-de-Camp to King Edward VIII on 23 June 1936, and, having joined the Naval Air Division of the Admiralty in July 1936, he attended the coronation of King George VI in May 1937. He was promoted Captain on 30 June 1937 and was then given command of the destroyer HMS Kelly in June 1939.
In July 1939 Mountbatten was granted a patent (UK Number 508,956) for a system for maintaining a warship in a fixed position relative to another ship.
When war broke out in September 1939, Mountbatten became commander of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla aboard his ship Kelly, which became famous for its exploits. In late 1939 he brought the Duke of Windsor back from exile in France and in early May 1940, Mountbatten led a British convoy in through the fog to evacuate the Allied forces participating in the Namsos Campaign during the Norwegian Campaign.
On the night 9 May/10 May 1940, Kelly was torpedoed amidships by a German E-boatS 31 off the Dutch coast, and Mountbatten thereafter commanded the 5th Destroyer Flotilla from the destroyer HMS Javelin. He rejoined Kelly in December 1940, by which time the torpedo damage had been repaired.
Mountbatten was a favourite of Winston Churchill (although Churchill was furious at Mountbatten’s later role in the partition and independence of India and Pakistan, he later invited him to dinner and “forgave” him in September 1952). On 27 October 1941 Mountbatten replaced Roger Keyes as Chief of Combined Operations and promoted commodore.
Another project that Mountbatten proposed to Churchill was Project Habakkuk. It was to be a massive and impregnable 600-metre aircraft carrier made from reinforced ice (“Pykrete“): Habakkuk was never carried out due to its enormous cost.
In his role with Combined Operations, Mountbatten also planned commando raids across the English Channel. As acting vice-admiral in March 1942, he was in large part responsible for the planning and organisation of The Raid at St. Nazaire in mid-1942, an operation which put out of action one of the most heavily defended docks in Nazi-occupied France until well after war’s end, the ramifications of which contributed to allied supremacy in the Battle of the Atlantic.
He personally pushed through the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942, (which some among the Allied forces, notably Field Marshal Montgomery, later claimed was ill-conceived from the start). The raid on Dieppe was a disaster, with casualties (including those wounded or taken prisoner) numbering in the thousands, the great majority of them Canadians.
Historian Brian Loring Villa concluded that Mountbatten conducted the raid without authority, but that his intention to do so was known to several of his superiors, who took no action to stop him. As a result of the Dieppe raid, Mountbatten became a controversial figure in Canada, with the Royal Canadian Legion distancing itself from him during his visits there during his later career; his relations with Canadian veterans “remained frosty”.
Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, seen during his tour of the Arakan Front in February 1944.
Mountbatten claimed that the lessons learned from the Dieppe Raid were necessary for planning the Normandy invasion on D-Day nearly two years later. However, military historians such as former Royal Marine Julian Thompson have written that these lessons should not have needed a debacle such as Dieppe to be recognised.
Nevertheless, as a direct result of the failings of the Dieppe raid, the British made several innovations – most notably Hobart’s Funnies – specialized armoured vehicles which, in the course of the Normandy Landings, undoubtedly saved many lives on those three beachheads upon which Commonwealth soldiers were landing (Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach).
In August 1943, Churchill appointed Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command (SEAC) with promotion to acting full admiral. His less practical ideas were sidelined by an experienced planning staff led by Lt-Col. James Allason, though some, such as a proposal to launch an amphibious assault near Rangoon, got as far as Churchill before being quashed.
British interpreter Hugh Lunghi recounted an embarrassing episode which occurred during the Potsdam Conference, when Mountbatten, desiring to receive an invitation to visit the Soviet Union, repeatedly attempted to impress Stalin with his former connections to the Russian imperial family. The attempt fell predictably flat, with Stalin dryly inquiring whether “it was some time ago that he had been there.” Says Lunghi,
“The meeting was embarrassing because Stalin was so unimpressed. He offered no invitation. Mountbatten left with his tail between his legs.”
During his time as Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre, his command oversaw the recapture of Burma from the Japanese by General William Slim. A personal high point was the reception of the Japanese surrender in Singapore when British troops returned to the island to receive the formal surrender of Japanese forces in the region led by General Itagaki Seishiro on 12 September 1945, codenamed Operation Tiderace.
South East Asia Command was disbanded in May 1946 and Mountbatten returned home with the substantive rank of rear-admiral.
Last viceroy and first Governor-General
His experience in the region and in particular his perceived Labour sympathies at that time led to Clement Attlee appointing him Viceroy of India on 20 February 1947 charged with overseeing the transition of British India to independence no later than 1948. Mountbatten’s instructions emphasised a united India as a result of the transference of power but authorised him to adapt to a changing situation in order to get Britain out promptly with minimal reputational damage. Soon after he arrived, Mountbatten concluded that the situation was too volatile for even that short a wait.
Although his advisers favoured a gradual transfer of independence, Mountbatten decided the only way forward was a quick and orderly transfer of independence before 1947 was out. In his view, any longer would mean civil war. The Viceroy also hurried so he could return to his senior technical Navy courses.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten at Mussoorie with Congress leader Sardar Patel, his daughter Manibehn Patel and Nehru in the background.
“If it could be said that any single man held the future of India in the palm of his hand in 1947, that man was Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”
During his meeting with Jinnah on 5 April 1947, Mountbatten tried to persuade Jinnah of a united India, citing the difficult task of dividing the mixed states of Punjab and Bengal, but the Muslim leader was unyielding in his goal of establishing a separate Muslim state called Pakistan.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten with Mahatma Gandhi, 1947
Given the British government’s recommendations to grant independence quickly, Mountbatten concluded that a united India was an unachievable goal and resigned himself to a plan for partition, creating the independent nations of India and Pakistan.
Mountbatten set a date for the transfer of power from the British to the Indians, arguing that a fixed timeline would convince Indians of his and the British government’s sincerity in working towards a swift and efficient independence, excluding all possibilities of stalling the process.
Among the Indian leaders, Mahatma Gandhi emphatically insisted on maintaining a united India and for a while successfully rallied people to this goal. During his meeting with Mountbatten, Gandhi asked Mountbatten to invite Jinnah to form a new Central government, but Mountbatten never uttered a word of Gandhi’s ideas to Jinnah. And when Mountbatten’s timeline offered the prospect of attaining independence soon, sentiments took a different turn. Given Mountbatten’s determination, Nehru and Patel’s inability to deal with the Muslim League and lastly Jinnah’s obstinacy, all Indian party leaders (except Gandhi) acquiesced to Jinnah’s plan to divide India, which in turn eased Mountbatten’s task.
Mountbatten also developed a strong relationship with the Indian princes, who ruled those portions of India not directly under British rule. His intervention was decisive in persuading the vast majority of them to see advantages in opting to join the Indian Union. On one hand, the integration of the princely states can be viewed as one of the positive aspects of his legacy. But on the other, the refusal of Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Junagadh to join one of the dominions led to future tension between Pakistan and India
Mountbatten brought forward the date of the partition from August 1948 to 15 August 1947 . The uncertainty of the borders caused Muslims and Hindus to move into the direction where they felt they would get the majority. Hindus and Muslims were thoroughly terrified, and the Muslim movements from the East was balanced by the similar movement of Hindus from the West.
Lord Mountbatten with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister of sovereign India in Government House, Lady Mountbatten standing to their left.
When India and Pakistan attained independence at midnight on the night of 14–15 August 1947, Mountbatten remained in New Delhi for 10 months, serving as India’s first governor general until June 1948.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten with Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Notwithstanding the self-promotion of his own part in Indian independence — notably in the television series The Life and Times of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma, produced by his son-in-law Lord Brabourne, and Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins (of which he was the main quoted source) — his record is seen as very mixed; one common view is that he hastened the independence process unduly and recklessly, foreseeing vast disruption and loss of life and not wanting this to occur on the British watch, but thereby actually helping it to occur, especially in Punjab and Bengal.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the Canadian-American Harvard University economist, who advised governments of India during the 1950s, an intimate of Nehru who served as the American ambassador from 1961 to 1963, was a particularly harsh critic of Mountbatten in this regard.
Career after India and Pakistan
Mountbatten arrives on board HMS Glasgow at Malta to assume command of the Mediterranean Fleet, 16 May 1952
After India, Mountbatten served as commander of the 1st cruiser squadron in the Mediterranean Fleet and, having been granted the substantive rank of vice admiral on 22 June 1949, he became Second-in-Command of the Mediterranean Fleet in April 1950.
Mountbatten served his final posting at the Admiralty as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from April 1955 to July 1959, the position which his father had held some forty years prior. This was the first time in Royal Naval history that a father and son had both attained such high rank.
While serving as First Sea Lord, his primary concerns dealt with devising plans on how the Royal Navy would keep shipping lanes open if Britain fell victim to a nuclear attack. Today, this seems of minor importance but at the time few people comprehended the potentially limitless destruction nuclear weapons possess and the ongoing dangers posed by the fallout. Military commanders did not understand the physics involved in a nuclear explosion.
This became evident when Mountbatten had to be reassured that the fission reactions from the Bikini Atoll tests would not spread through the oceans and blow up the planet. As Mountbatten became more familiar with this new form of weaponry, he increasingly grew opposed to its use in combat yet at the same time he realised the potential nuclear energy had, especially with regards to submarines. Mountbatten expressed his feelings towards the use of nuclear weapons in combat in his article “A Military Commander Surveys The Nuclear Arms Race,” which was published shortly after his death in International Security in the winter of 1979–80.
After leaving the Admiralty, Lord Mountbatten took the position of Chief of the Defence Staff. He served in this post for six years during which he was able to consolidate the three service departments of the military branch into a single Ministry of Defence.
In 1969, Mountbatten tried unsuccessfully to persuade his cousin, the Spanish pretender Don Juan, to ease the eventual accession of his son, Juan Carlos, to the Spanish throne by signing a declaration of abdication while in exile.
The next year Mountbatten attended an official White House dinner during which he took the opportunity to have a 20-minute conversation with Richard Nixon and Secretary of State William P. Rogers, about which he later wrote,
“I was able to talk to the President a bit about both Tino and Juanito to try and put over their respective points of view about Greece and Spain, and how I felt the US could help them.”
In January 1971, Nixon hosted Juan Carlos and his wife Sofia (ex-King Constantine’s sister) during a visit to Washington and later that year the Washington Post published an article alleging that Nixon’s administration was seeking to get Franco to retire in favour of the young Bourbon prince.
From 1967 until 1978, Mountbatten was president of the United World Colleges Organisation, then represented by a single college: that of Atlantic College in South Wales. Mountbatten supported the United World Colleges and encouraged heads of state, politicians and personalities throughout the world to share his interest. Under Mountbatten’s presidency and personal involvement, the United World College of South East Asia was established in Singapore in 1971, followed by the United World College of the Pacific (now known as the Lester B Pearson United World College of the Pacific) in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1974.
In 1978, Mountbatten passed the presidency of the college to his great-nephew, the Prince of Wales.
Alleged plots against Harold Wilson
Peter Wright, in his book Spycatcher, claimed that in 1967 Mountbatten attended a private meeting with press baron and MI5 agent Cecil King, and the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman. King and Peter Wright were members of a group of 30 MI5 officers who wanted to stage a coup against the then crisis-stricken Labour Government of Harold Wilson, and King allegedly used the meeting to urge Mountbatten to become the leader of a government of national salvation. Solly Zuckerman pointed out that it was treason, and the idea came to nothing because of Mountbatten’s reluctance to act.
In 2006, the BBC documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson alleged that there had been another plot involving Mountbatten to oust Wilson during his second term in office (1974–76). The period was characterised by high inflation, increasing unemployment and widespread industrial unrest. The alleged plot revolved around right-wing former military figures who were supposedly building private armies to counter the perceived threat from trade unions and the Soviet Union.
They believed that the Labour Party, which is partly funded by affiliated trade unions, was unable and unwilling to counter these developments and that Wilson was either a Soviet agent or at the very least a Communist sympathiser – claims Wilson strongly denied. The documentary alleged that a coup was planned to overthrow Wilson and replace him with Mountbatten using the private armies and sympathisers in the military and MI5.
The first official history of MI5, The Defence of the Realm published in 2009, tacitly confirmed that there was a plot against Wilson and that MI5 did have a file on him. Yet it also made clear that the plot was in no way official and that any activity centred on a small group of discontented officers. This much had already been confirmed by former cabinet secretaryLord Hunt, who concluded in a secret inquiry conducted in 1996 that:
“there is absolutely no doubt at all that a few, a very few, malcontents in MI5…a lot of them like Peter Wright who were rightwing, malicious and had serious personal grudges – gave vent to these and spread damaging malicious stories about that Labour government.”
There followed a glamorous honeymoon tour of European courts and America which included a visit to Niagara Falls (because “all honeymooners went there”).
“Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people’s beds.”
He maintained an affair for several years with Frenchwoman Yola Letellier, and a sexual interest in men has also been alleged.
Edwina and Jawaharlal Nehru became intimate friends after Indian Independence. During the summers, she would frequent the prime minister’s house so she could lounge about on his veranda during the hot Delhi days. Personal correspondence between the two reveals a satisfying yet frustrating relationship. Edwina states in one of her letters:
“Nothing that we did or felt would ever be allowed to come between you and your work or me and mine – because that would spoil everything.”
Since Mountbatten had no sons, when he was created Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, of Romsey in the County of Southampton on 27 August 1946 and then Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Baron Romsey, in the County of Southampton on 28 October 1947, the Letters Patent were drafted such that in the event he left no sons or issue in the male line, the titles could pass to his daughters, in order of seniority of birth, and to their heirs respectively.
Like many members of the royal family, Mountbatten was an aficionado of polo. He received U.S. patent 1,993,334 in 1931 for a polo stick. Mountbatten introduced the sport to the Royal Navy in the 1920s, and wrote a book on the subject. He also served as Commodore of Emsworth Sailing Club in Hampshire from 1931.
Mountbatten was a strong influence in the upbringing of his grand-nephew, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and later as a mentor—”Honorary Grandfather” and “Honorary Grandson”, they fondly called each other according to the Jonathan Dimbleby biography of the Prince—though according to both the Ziegler biography of Mountbatten and the Dimbleby biography of the Prince, the results may have been mixed.
He from time to time strongly upbraided the Prince for showing tendencies towards the idle pleasure-seeking dilettantism of his predecessor as Prince of Wales, King Edward VIII, whom Mountbatten had known well in their youth. Yet he also encouraged the Prince to enjoy the bachelor life while he could and then to marry a young and inexperienced girl so as to ensure a stable married life.
Mountbatten’s qualification for offering advice to this particular heir to the throne was unique; it was he who had arranged the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Dartmouth Royal Naval College on 22 July 1939, taking care to include the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in the invitation, but assigning his nephew, Cadet Prince Philip of Greece, to keep them amused while their parents toured the facility. This was the first recorded meeting of Charles’s future parents.
But a few months later, Mountbatten’s efforts nearly came to naught when he received a letter from his sister Alice in Athens informing him that Philip was visiting her and had agreed to permanently repatriate to Greece. Within days, Philip received a command from his cousin and sovereign, King Geórgios II of the Hellenes, to resume his naval career in Britain which, though given without explanation, the young prince obeyed.
In 1974, Mountbatten began corresponding with Charles about a potential marriage to his granddaughter, Hon. Amanda Knatchbull. It was about this time he also recommended that the 25-year-old prince get on with “sowing some wild oats”. Charles dutifully wrote to Amanda’s mother (who was also his godmother), Lady Brabourne, about his interest. Her answer was supportive, but advised him that she thought her daughter still rather young to be courted.
In February 1975, Charles visited New Delhi to play polo and was shown around the Presidential Palace by Mountbatten.
Four years later Mountbatten secured an invitation for himself and Amanda to accompany Charles on his planned 1980 tour of India. Their fathers promptly objected. Prince Philip thought that the Indian public’s reception would more likely reflect response to the uncle than to the nephew. Lord Brabourne counselled that the intense scrutiny of the press would be more likely to drive Mountbatten’s godson and granddaughter apart than together.
Charles was re-scheduled to tour India alone, but Mountbatten did not live to the planned date of departure. When Charles finally did propose marriage to Amanda later in 1979, the circumstances were changed, and she refused him.
In 1969 Earl Mountbatten participated in a 12-part autobiographical television series Lord Mountbatten: A Man for the Century, also known as The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten, produced by Associated-Rediffusion and scripted by historian John Terraine. The episodes were:
1. The King’s Ships Were at Sea (1900–1917)
2. The Kings Depart (1917–1922)
3. Azure Main (1922–1936)
4. The Stormy Winds (1936–1941)
5. United We Conquer (1941–1943)
6. The Imperial Enemy
7. The March to Victory
8. The Meaning of Victory (1945–1947)
9. The Last Viceroy
10. Fresh Fields (1947–1955)
11. Full Circle (1955–1965)
12. A Man of This Century (1900–1968)
On 27 April 1977, shortly before his 77th birthday, Mountbatten became the first member of the Royal Family to appear on the TV guest show This Is Your Life.
Mountbatten usually holidayed at his summer home, Classiebawn Castle, in Mullaghmore, a small seaside village in County Sligo, Ireland. The village was only 12 miles (19 km) from the border with Northern Ireland and near an area known to be used as a cross-border refuge by IRA members. In 1978, the IRA had allegedly attempted to shoot Mountbatten as he was aboard his boat, but “choppy seas had prevented the sniper lining up his target”.
Despite security advice and warnings from the Garda Síochána, on 27 August 1979, Mountbatten went lobster-potting and tuna fishing in his 30-foot (9.1 m) wooden boat, the Shadow V, which had been moored in the harbour at Mullaghmore. IRA member Thomas McMahon had slipped onto the unguarded boat that night and attached a radio-controlled bomb weighing 50 pounds (23 kg). When Mountbatten was aboard, just a few hundred yards from the shore, the bomb was detonated. The boat was destroyed by the force of the blast, and Mountbatten’s legs were almost blown off. Mountbatten, then aged 79, was pulled alive from the water by nearby fishermen, but died from his injuries before being brought to the shore.
Also aboard the boat were his eldest daughter Patricia (Lady Brabourne), her husband John (Lord Brabourne), their twin sons Nicholas and Timothy Knatchbull, John’s mother