Fist Of History

Posts Tagged ‘Nazi’

MS St. Louis and Syrian Refugees

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

SS_St_Louis_Meme_Yeah!So this is doing the rounds on Facebook these days and within the online community, for me this is a perfect example of why context is so critical to properly understanding history.  Let’s start with the immediate, the facts as listed on the meme are correct, the MS St. Louis did indeed sail to Florida as part of its trip, it was technically turned away from Florida, and up to half those on board might have died in the Holocaust.  However between these facts are some key tidbits that need to be considered.

First the ship was originally traveling to Cuba, with its load of Jewish refugees, who were planning to enter Cuba under legally acquired tourist visas.  These visas had been provided by Cuban diplomatic officials in Germany, however the Cuban government changed its mind and rejected the visas during the ships trip over the ocean.  There are several reasons for the Cuban change of heart, mainly though it was most likely due to concerns about the impact waves of European Jewish immigrants would have on Cuba’s economy.  Most of the immigrants had no intentions of staying in Cuba but saw it as a step on a longer path to gaining entry to the United States.

SS_ST_LOUIS_CartoonUpon departing Cuba the MS St. Louis departed Cuba and sailed nearly to Florida, reportedly within sight of the lights of Miami.  The MS St. Louis was escorted by two United States Coast Guard vessels, and their purpose there is ambiguous.  Some historians contend they were there to prevent the ship attempting to land or beaching so that the Jewish refugees could then climb onto U.S. soil.  The U.S. Coast Guard contends that the ships were there to ensure safety for those on board.  The truth probably contains both.  The MS St. Louis then attempted to land in Canada, but was turned back.

Returning to Europe its captain, Gustav Schroder, along with others was able to negotiate non-German points of departure for his passengers into four European nations, Great Britain, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.

GSchroederAntwerpThis is where the first point of context becomes important – these events took place between May to June 1939.  World War II had not yet broken out, with Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939.  In fact the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 wouldn’t be signed until August 1939, so France and Great Britain in June 1939 anticipated that in the event of a war the Soviet Union could be swayed to their side, which would make a German triggered war unlikely.  (A view backed up by Hitler’s reluctance to invade Poland until the Soviet Union was brought to their side.)

So in June 1939 the events of the MS St. Louis looked like a win for the Jewish refugees aboard.  They hadn’t had to go back to Germany, they all had safe homes, and the crisis had been averted.  It wasn’t until 1940 that three of the four nations taking them in were conquered by Germany and not until 1942 that most of the refugees on the MS St. Louis died.

CalvinCoolidgeimmigration3Furthermore the restrictions against Jewish immigration into the United States were based on a 1924 Immigration Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by Calvin Coolidge with the racial theory goal of keeping the United States a mono-racial nation.  (Specifically on the idea that Nordic Europeans were key.)  The law was based around quotas of immigration assigned based on the U.S. population in 1890.  It was a solidly racist law but it also set up the barriers that impacted the refugees in 1939.

Key issue though, Germans were actually on the preferred list of immigrants.  In 1939 the problem was that the United States has a list with a multi-year waiting period for immigration visas from Germany, the list had both German Jews and non-German desperate to enter the United States.  Allowing in the refugees on the MS St. Louis would have bumped others further up in the list back.  The U.S. administration under Roosevelt was also opposed to allowing Jewish refugees into the country and put up unofficial barriers, for racist/ethnic reasons.

fdr_cigaretteEven United States President Franklin Roosevelt was unwilling to waive the rules and allow the passengers of the MS St. Louis to land, he was considering his pending run for a third term in 1940 as President and the strong domestic concerns about immigration.  The U.S. was still in the Great Depression in 1939 and although the economy was recovering the citizens of the U.S. were not ready to welcome masses of immigrants who they feared would compete for scare jobs.

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-1987-0928-501,_England,_Jüdische_Flüchtlingskinder_cropWhich was an issue, as appeared in the Evian Conference of 1938 at which no real resolution appeared to the growing potential Jewish refugee crisis due to Nazi policies in Germany.  The Dominican Republic at that conference had agreed to take on 100,000 Jewish refugees but the MS St. Louis for unknown reasons made no attempt to avail itself of that offer in 1939.  More critically, Hitler when speaking on the conference stated:

“I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.”

In other words had the United States taken in the refugees it would have invited a potential flood of Jewish refugees from Germany, shipped over by the Nazi government, on the assumption that if the U.S. would bow to taking in one shipment, they would take in more.

Now the Syrian Refugee Crisis is its own unique situation – it is due to a multi-part war, persecution, and desperation.  Using an analogy to the Jewish refugee crisis of 1939 makes for a fine emotional “sound bite” but it doesn’t really link, and more critically, the meme at the top does not really teach a valid lesson on a very complex issue.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the MS St. Louis, the Evian Conference, and US Immigration Act of 1924, a BBC article on the voyage of the MS St. Louis, entries in the United States Holocaust Museum on the MS St. Louis and the US Policy towards Jewish Refugees


Reichskolonialbund – Nazi Colonies in Africa

Monday, February 9th, 2015


With the conclusion of World War I in 1919 Germany, upon signing the Versailles Treaty, forfeited all of its overseas colonies in Africa and Asia to the victorious Triple Entente (Allies) powers as spoils of war.  This loss of pride and symbolic power for Germany was one more complaint that the German nationalist right-wing aimed to correct once Germany regained its former position in world affairs.  Overall for Germany it was felt by many on the right that this loss of colonies denied Germany its rightful position in the world as a “Great Power.”   From 1923 onwards militant right-wing groups, nationalist groups, and pro-monarchist groups in Germany all agitated for the re-establishment of a German colonial empire in Africa.  These came together into several pro-German colonial organizations that were smashed together by the Nazi party in 1933 to create a new organization, the Reichskolonialbund, a.k.a. the Reich Colonial League.


Operating from 1933 through 1943 this organization was aimed primarily at the goal of reforming Germany’s African colonies and was tasked with producing large amounts of propaganda in both the German press, and international medial outlets, about the value of the former German colonial empire, the need for additional living space for Germany, and the unfairness that Germany was contained by hostile powers with no additional room to grow.  That last component was the key reason why the Nazi party supported the Reich Colonial League and used it as a propaganda tool, one of the major foreign policy goals of Hitler during this period was to build up the military strength of Germany for the conquest of additional land to its east, the “living space” Hitler sought to grab from Poland and the Soviet Union through a broad, but ideally swift, series of wars.

Cameroon Chief Wears German Armor

Despite producing images like this and generally pushing for expanded German African colonies, in reality there is no evidence Hitler or the top Nazi leadership had any real designs, or goals, to gain land in Africa for Germany.  Some historians think that Hitler kept this organization afloat to provide a bargaining point with the British, potentially beneficial if Hitler dramatically renounced German colonial ambitions in exchange for British concessions.  Another possibility is this organization existed as a minor appeasement to German industrialists, who had originally looked to Africa in the late 19th century as a source for new markets and cheap raw materials.


Germany did have one armed conflict in Africa though, North Africa specifically, with the intervention of German troops between 1941 to 1943 to attempt to assist the Italian military in its collapsing anti-British campaigns in Egypt.  One of the core goals of the German intervention in Africa was the conquest of Egypt, closing the Suez Canal to the British, and then had that been successful plans became more open-ended.  Hitler envisioned a grand sweep of the Germany’s African military forces, along with the Italians, potentially sweeping into the Middle East through Palestine, Iraq, and Iran to end up pushing against the southern Soviet Union and linking up with forces in Stalingrad.

However had events played out differently it is possible Germany could have sent its forces southwards from Egypt, deeper into Africa with the propaganda purpose of re-establishing the lost German empire.  The events of 1943 however proved the end of the Reich Colonial League, between the German defeat at Stalingrad and the loss of the German army in Africa such ambitions were seen as frivolous in a time of war emergency.

Source:  Wikipedia entry on the Reichskolonialbund


The German Ural Bomber – how an airplane crash potentially changed history

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Walter Wever

Appointed Chief of Staff of the newly recreated Luftwaffe in 1935, German Gernal Walther Wever was a major believer in the role of strategic bombing in the future of warfare, and it was his initiative that Germany undertake a project of research towards the creation of an arm of the Luftwaffe capable of long-range, heavy, strategic bombardment.  A key aspect of this drive is the words strategic, unlike light and medium bombers which are usually confined to tactical bombing roles, oriented towards support of advancing infantry and armor units by localized attacks on enemy battlefield command and control, supply depots, and key road junctures heavy bombers oriented towards strategic bombing aim for major locations of production, transport, and communication deep in the enemy’s rear areas.  In World War II the British and Americans utilized such aircraft in their raids both on Germany and (for the United States) raids upon Japan.  Wever in 1935 wanted Germany to have the same possible strategic strike capacity however in his vision these weapons would be used in a war against the Soviet Union, to strike deep into the territory of the Soviet Union and destroy factories Stalin had relocated in eastern Russia.


Two such prototype bombers were ordered under Wever’s direction in response to a Luftwaffe competition to develop such a flying weapon, the Dornier Do 19 and the Junkers Ju 89, prototypes of both that flew respectively in 1936 and 1937.  Both aircraft had teething problems, as all new developmental planes will, including power issues, flight characteristics, and design issues with hammering out the defensive weapons on both planes.  However both prototypes showed considerable promise, with German experts slightly favoring the Junkers Ju 89 as a better aircraft, and both might with time have been able to successfully fly and matched the United States and British heavy bombers in capabilities.  It is even possible that these aircraft might have been ready for use in limited capacity by 1940 had Wever been able to maintain pressure on the Nazi government, and the Luftwaffe, that these aircraft were a strategic necessity.  Wever however died on 3 June 1936, before both prototypes were ready, in an airplane crash on his way to Berlin.  His replacement, General Albert Kesselring (and possibly Goring himself, overall leader of the Luftwaffe), scrapped the heavy bomber project in favor of developing medium and short range bombers due to an anticipated focus by Hitler on short-range local wars.  As well the German bomb sight technologies in 1936 and 1937 were not up to the demands of high-altitude accurate bombing, although by 1940 that problem had been solved.


The Germans did develop one long-range strategic heavy bomber, the Heinkel He 177, however it was plagued with design problems and challenges that Wever might have been able to stem off.  The plane, as you will note in the picture above, had two propellers, to get the necessary power to successfully meet the performance requirements for the bomber it had to use four engines, two behind each propeller with the engines linked together.  This was due to a shortage of powerful enough engines and a effort to design a very efficient aerodynamic design for the plane.  However the plane was very heavy, due to its having to have major structural upgrades, so it could serve as a dive bomber.  Dive bombers are usually small or, at most, medium aircraft with the goal that the pilot flies high over the target, plunges the plane over into a high-speed dive, and drops their bomb at a lower altitude to use the plane to guide it as precisely as possible on the target.  The forces involved in the dive makes this sort of attack ideal for smaller aircraft, the Heinkel He 177 had to have major re-enforcing on its structures to take the strain of dive bombing.  Plagued by these requirements, which Wever probably would have opposed had he been alive, along with the regular teething problems of a new aircraft, the Heinkel He 177 never really worked well and only few from 1942 to 1944, when its impact on the wars progress was minimal.


Now from a speculative perspective, in my opinion the reason this could have had a major impact on the course of the war was the Battle of Britain from 10 July to 31 October 1940, an air war, centered around a bombing campaign, conducted by Germany upon Great Britain to break its fighter support so the Luftwaffe could then destroy the British fleet if attempted to halt an invasion.  Germany faced many challenges but one of the key issues was its bombers lacked the ability to carry sufficient bomb loads to do massive damage per plane, those planes were vulnerable to British fighters due to their need to operate at lower altitudes than a heavy bomber, and the fact that their range was shorter so they had less time over Britain.  (German fighter aircraft also had range limitations which might have curtailed the usefulness of a heavy German strategic bomber.)

The intriguing aspect of the German heavy bomber was had it existed in 1940, in sufficient quantities to actually conduct a strategic war, it might have been able to directly bomb the British fleet repeatedly at its safe harbor in Scotland, Scapa Flow.  The Germans did bomb Scapa Flow in 1940 using Junkers 88, a medium range bomber, but the planes could only carry a minimal bomb load to make the flight.  Both prototype German heavy bombers, and the production Heinkel He 177, had roughly double the range of the Junkers 88 and the capacity to carry a far larger bomb load at those ranges.  It is possible a proper strategic heavy German bomber force could have targeted, and badly damaged, the British fleet at Scapa Flow making the invasion of Britain by Germany in 1940 or 1941 more possible.

However the counter to that is the lack of range for German fighters, a problem the United States and Great Britain faced when bombing Germany from 1942 until 1944.  Fighter coverage had to leave the heavy bombers behind requiring them to fly long distances relying on their own machine gun defenses, a tactic that caused heavy losses to the bomber fleets.  This prompted the development of a long-range United States fighter to provide cover to the United States bombers for the entire duration of the flight.  (The British switched to night time bombing and abandoned strategic precision to cut bomber losses.)  German heavy bombers in 1940 might have been sliced apart by British fighters before significantly impacting the fleet.  At the very least a reliable heavy bomber program for German in the 1930s might have given them another tool to use in their air war against Great Britain, another tool that might have shifted the course of the war.

But due to the death of General Wever in 1936, Germany abandoned the plan and history took the course we know.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Ural Bomber, Walther Wever, Dornier Do 19, Junkers Ju 89, Heinkel He 177, Battle of Britain, Scapa Flow,  chapter in The Great Bombers on the Ural Bomber


The Frenchmen who were the last defenders of Hitler’s bunker

Monday, August 18th, 2014


World War II was a complex conflict – although portrayed by the modern media as a war of the Allies (Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union) against the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) the war also featured a core ideological struggle that stretched easily back to the 1930s, the struggle between Fascism and Communism, and both of those extremes against the idea of representational Democracy as a model of government.  One of the countries most fiercely divided on this issue, that remained a semi-functional democracy up to 1940, was France.  When France was defeated in 1940 by a German invasion a significant minority of the French population actively welcomed the invasion, and France’s defeat, as heralding an end to earlier (and perceived) weaker French governments dominated by leftist forces and their replacement by more conservative, dictatorial, and controlling forms of government.  These extreme right-wing figures in French politics, and their supporters, provided the fodder for French recruits to fight in 1941 in the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Russland-Mitte, Soldaten der französischen Legion, Fahne

As you will notice in the first picture above, the two soldiers are wearing German uniforms but there is a tricolor decoration on the foremost soldiers sleeve, that is because he is serving in the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, one of several “nationality” SS divisions created by Germany as the war against the Soviet Union turned against Germany.  (The divisions alternative name was the “Charlemagne Division.”)  Initially the Fascist-friendly French volunteers fought in a special volunteer unit, the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism (LVF for short) fought from 1941 till 1944 on the Eastern Front, taking part in the attack on Moscow and later in anti-partisan actions in the rear of the conquered Soviet territories.  (This was due to the LVF getting a hellish drubbing in front of Moscow by Soviet forces and not having sufficient manpower, even with additional recruiting, to return to full front-line service.)  The unit in 1944 was merged with other French right wing military fragments fleeing the Allied invasion of France into the Charlemagne Division which fought in numerous holding actions in Eastern Germany.


Badly mauled in late 1944 again in a battle with the Soviet Union the remnants of the Charlemagne Division was assigned to the 1945 Defense of Berlin, where they fought with distinction against the Soviet Union’s forces and were the last unit still fighting to defend Hitler’s bunker in the heart of the city.  The few remaining soldiers of this division finally surrendered on 2 May 1945 and were later taken before the Free French military for trial.  A few were imprisoned and some were shot.


The name of the division, and its badge (seen above) were nods to earlier Medieval history when both France and Germany were territories that made up part of Charlemagne’s Frankish empire, the eagle on the left represents Germany while the fleurs-de-lys on the right represent France.

More broadly this unit was part of a larger trend by 1944 undertaken by Nazi Germany, and specifically Himmler in the SS, of trying to shift the nature of the war from a German war to a pan-European war against Bolshevism.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, Jewish Virtual Library entry on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division, and passage from Surrender Invites Death on the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division

Nazi’s Anti-Smoking Campaign

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014


From its initial rise to power in 1933 through its collapse in 1945 the German Nazi government supported an aggressive anti-smoking campaign through a process of legislation and restriction, combined with state-support for scientific research into the impact of smoking on individual health.  The research was probably the most interesting aspect of the campaign, in 1939 and again in 1943 Nazi sponsored scientists discovered causal links between smoking and lung cancer, as well as linking smoking to a higher risk of cardiac disease.  Furthermore Nazi scientists were the first to discover the idea that second-hand smoke could have negative health impacts upon other individuals.  This research, due to the stigma upon German science during this period for its illicit and immoral research upon human subjects and high levels of human-focused cruelty, was ignored and simply forgotten until American and British scientists discovered the same connection again in the 1950s.


Hitler himself was a strong anti-smoking supporter and provided personal funding to the Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research at the University of Jena, he had been a heavy smoker himself in the 1920s but abandoned the habit out of personal distaste.  Hitler encouraged his close associates not to smoke and rewarded those who gave up smoking, he also instituted laws to impose a stigma upon tobacco, including prohibitions against German police and postal workers smoking in uniform, prohibitions smoking on public transportation, prohibitions on smoking in cafes and restaurants, and later laws against smoking in bomb shelters.  The Nazi government also imposed heavy taxes upon smoking, causing an increase up to 95% above the retail cost due to taxation.  Tobacco taxes in turn became a major source of government revenue, during the war providing about eight percent of the total income to the government.  Finally Hitler took personal steps as the commander-in-chief of the German military to combat tobacco use by soldiers, including cutting the average soldiers tobacco ration and blocking tobacco consumption in members of the Hitler Youth on military duty in the later stages of the war.  (They were given candy instead.)


Of course, being Nazi’s, nothing can ever be entirely free of ideological weirdness and the inherent urge to tinker with humanity to “improve it” based on a complex created system of racial purity and morality.  The Nazi government imposed sharp laws prohibiting access by women under twenty-five and over fifty-five from being able to buy cigarettes in popular public venues like cafes, prohibited access to cigarettes for youths under eighteen, and launching strong propaganda efforts to convince women to give up smoking.  This was based on the theory that smoking would make German women less attractive and less physically fit for breeding, a goal that was counter to the Nazi government’s reproductive policies designed to encourage German/”Aryan” women to breed often and with gusto.  Although German scientists also argued that nicotine could get to infants through their mothers milk if the mother smoked, an argument apparently later backed by science, the rest was focused on German racial philosophy.


Also because they are Nazis they had to turn Germans smoking into yet another example of how Jews were trying to undermine German morality and culture.  I would like to say I’m personally shocked the Nazi government would do so but I’d be lying.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Nazi anti-smoking campaign, Atlantic Monthly article on the Nazi anti-smoking campaign

Hitler’s Fashion Designs

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014


One of the more fascinating aspects of Nazi Germany was the attention Hitler paid towards appearances, specifically design and consistency of look as well as ensuring that Nazi uniforms were genuinely stylish in design.  In particular, for both Hitler and Himmler, it was particularly critical that the uniforms for the SS presented a powerful collection of symbols and psychological intimidation.  Hence the well tailored look, the all black color, and the custom designed symbols for that organization, many of which were created in an effort to generate a new “legacy” for the Nazi party and the SS within the German cultural memory.  (It is particularly critical to note that the Nazi party saw itself as a revolutionary institution that was attempting to revitalize Germany and German culture, so although Nazi military uniforms linked to earlier Prussian and German military designs it was also key to the Nazi party’s image that it create a new cultural space for itself in Germany.)


The artist most responsible for the SS “look” was Karl Diebitsch, who working with a graphic designed named Walter Heck designed the SS runic logo, the symbol for which the organization became best known.  Diebitsch was an interesting figure, he trained as an artist prior to World War I and served in the war in the German Navy where he was decorated.  In 1920 he joined the Nazi party and also served in the Freikorps, he finished his art education in the mid-1920s and rejoined the Nazi party when they came into power after 1933.  He was able to rise in the ranks and was a central design figure for much of the war to the SS, creating letterhead, the top decorations for swords, and other SS paraphernalia.  He was also a designer of many Nazi postage stamps as well and designed a tapestry that Himmler kept in his personal quarters.  Diebitsch survived the war and died in 1985.


Regarding SS and other Nazi uniforms we have the case of Hugo Boss, a clothing manufacturer who was able to win production contracts for several uniforms for the Nazi state, including the SS, Hitler Youth, the SA, and other Nazi groups.  Prior to that Boss had held other government uniform contracts, including making items for the German postal service.  His clothing company was known for producing functional, utilitarian clothing at reasonable prices.  During World War II Boss also employed forced labor under terrible conditions, not the worst employer to do so, but he enjoyed the benefits of underpaid forced labor as did many other German manufacturers in the period.  Although blamed for “designing” the uniforms Boss was merely one producer of many, although his rising revenue from the Nazi state and the “crony capitalism” nature of the Nazi government implies Boss probably did a fair amount of politicking and fundraising for the Nazi party.  (The record does show he voluntarily joined several Nazi industrial and social groups and was himself a Nazi party member from 1931 onwards.)  After the war Boss was initially found to be a supporter of the Nazi party, was heavily fined and had his right to vote stripped by the occupying Americans, however on appeal he was later downgraded to only “follower” and had his voting rights restored.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on Hugo Boss (owner), Hugo Boss clothing line, Karl Diebitsch, and a Daily Mail article on Hugo Boss and the Nazi party

Operation Himmler and the Gleiwtiz Incident

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014


In 1939 Adolf Hitler was planning the impending invasion of Poland and working out key final diplomatic details, including an agreement with the Soviet Union to prevent their intervention on behalf of Poland.  (The result of this agreement was the Soviet Union invading the eastern half of Poland for its own gain, a topic for another entry.)  Hitler, although in public speeches often speaking strongly of Germany as an aggrieved power being set-upon by the world, in private was fairly cautious and wanted to take steps to ensure that some efforts were undertaken to at least ensure that world opinion might swing somewhat in favor of Germany’s pending invasion of Poland.  To achieve this end Hitler assigned to Heinrich Himmler the task of planning a series of “false flag” operations designed to create the illusion that Germany was invading Poland in the face of Polish “provocations” prior to the start of the war.


Himmler came up with a series of operations to stage these attacks, including attacks on a critical German rail junction, a customs house, a forest outpost, and the radio station located at Gleiwitz.  The last incident is perhaps the most famous, in which a small band of German commandos, dressed in Polish uniforms, attacked the radio station while firing off random shots, taking control of the station, and broadcasting a brief anti-German message in Polish.  (The specific text of that message is lost to history unfortunately.)  The German commandos where then “driven off” by arriving local military forces and left behind a “dead Polish soldier” – specifically a German who was thought to look Polish, who was dressed in a Polish uniform, killed by lethal injection and then his corpse shot a few times for authenticity.  This incident took place on 31 August 1939, the next day Hitler ordered the massive invasion of Poland, claiming that Poland’s violations of Germany’s national territory could no longer be tolerated.

The general reaction by the rest of the world was…cynical to say the least.  Both France and Great Britain rejected Germany’s claims entirely and pointed out that Germany’s invasion seemed awfully well organized for a spontaneous assault in response to Polish provocation.  The Soviet Union made no really committal noises on the subject and although American news correspondents were invited to inspect the situation no neutral countries seemed particularly supportive of Germany’s version of events.


An interesting facet of this incident is the key source of testimony about it – it rests upon the verbal testimony given by one former SD (Germain Intelligence) officer, Alfred Naujocks.  He testified that he had led the attack on the Gleiwitz radio station, left the body behind, and on details about the broader Himmler plan to stage this event as a false flag for Germany.  The challenge is that other documentation for this particular incident being a planned German operation is thin beyond Naujocks testimony.  Although this does not discredit his statements it is another example of the challenge of documentation to back conspiracy or espionage operations even in a documentation obsessed cultural like the Nazi state.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Gleiwtiz incident, Operation Himmler, and Alfred NaujocksPoland 1939:  Blitzkrieg Unleashed by Bob Carruthers.

The Rise of Tyranny – Bureaucratic Party Times!

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014


One of the more depressing aspects of Nazi history is how the Nazi’s finally seized absolute control of Germany, it is depressing both because of what came after but also because of the dull, listless, bureaucratic methods used to consolidate power, crush civil liberties, and eventually dominate an entire nation.  Hitler’s gaining of “mastery over Germany” is less an epic tale of insidious evil skulking into power, or a violent leader crushing those who oppose them, and reads more as a CEO undertaking a series of organizational restructures, policy updates, and operational modifications until high levels of control are focused mainly in the hands of that executive and his trusted inner cadre.  Hitler’s rise to absolute control over Germany rested upon two specific initial bits of legal manipulation, the Reichstag Fire Decree 0f 1933 and the Enabling Act of 1933.


With the burning of the Reichstag in 1933, Germany’s parliament building, Hitler pressed the German President at the time, Hindenburg, to declare a state of emergency to control what Hitler claimed might be the start of a Communist insurrection which threatened the safety of the German state.  Hindenburg obliged and the following declaration was issued:

Order of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State

On the basis of Article 48 paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the German Reich, the following is ordered in defense against Communist state-endangering acts of violence:

Articles 114, 115, 117, 188, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice.  It is therefore permissible to restrict the rights of personal freedom [habeas corpus], freedom of (opinion) expression, including the freedom of the press, the freedom to organize and assemble, the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications.  Warrants for House searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

Paul v. Hindenburg

That’s the first part right there, a proclamation issued on 28 February 1933, all perfectly legal and all within the actual powers of Reich President Hindenburg.  With it the Nazi’s went into overdrive, arresting Communists and Social Democrats as quickly as they could, including elected members of the German parliament.  Communist party headquarters buildings were raided and those within arrested, Communist newspapers were shut down, and the Communist party in Germany as a political force was suppressed.  This all took place just before a general election that had previously been scheduled for 5 March 1933.  The Nazi’s did well, with their major competing political party shattered and unable to run candidates for office, but Hitler needed additional support in the Reichstag to pass his other piece of key law.  He got that support from the German National People’s Party, who assisted in the passage of the Enabling Act of 1933.

Rede Adolf Hitlers zum Ermächtigungsgesetz

Using the Kroll Opera House as its new meeting hall the Reichstag, newly assembled after the 5 March 1933 elections, heard a speech by Chancellor Adolph Hitler who demanded that the following act be passed:

Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich

The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:

Article 1

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, the laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich.  This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the Constitution.

Article 2

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat.  The rights of the President remain undisturbed.

Article 3

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette.  They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date.  Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government.

Article 4

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states, which relate to matters of Reich legislation shall for the duration of the validity of these laws not require the consent of the Reichstag.  The Reich government shall adopt the necessary legislation to implement these agreements.

The Social Democrats planned to try to block the law by not attending the meeting, and putting the Reichstag below the two-thirds quorum needed to pass law, but the Nazi’s, led by Reichstag President Herman Goring, changed the rules of procedure for the Reichstag meeting to declare any member who was “absent without excuse” would be counted as present.  The Social Democrats then did attend, and voted against it, but the law passed.

With that, ended German democracy.  The Reichstag still met regularly throughout the Nazi government’s rule of Germany but, oddly, Hitler declined to present any legislation to them, preferring to allow the Reich (Nazi) government to directly pass legislation.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Reichstag Fire Decree of 1933 and the Enabling Act of 1933

The Real Brownshirts

Monday, May 12th, 2014


One of the fun things to bump into online is the widespread use of Nazi (or Totalitarian) imagery to attempt to make a visceral point about an emotional or upsetting current topic – one commonly invoked image when discussing police brutality, police powers, or police activities in communities is the image of the Brown Shirts, otherwise known as the Sturmabteilung or SA.  The SA formed in 1920 as a physical enforcement, or meeting security force, for various Nazi party meetings, public speeches, and other public events.  Their main focus was to use truncheons on anyone who attempted to disrupt the meeting, heckle Hitler or other Nazi speakers, or otherwise disrupt the meeting.  They were an informal security arm for the Nazi party that only got a more formal structure in the late 1920s.  The SA were actually a necessity for the Nazi party during this period as part of the broader “street politics” required of 1920s and early 1930s German politics, mainly running street battles between Nazi groups and Communist groups in which both sides tried to disrupt each others meetings through violence.


This is not to attempt to paint the SA in any light other than that of violent, extra-legal strongmen for a political party steeped in a culture of violence and terror, the SA was a manifestation of this outlook and an attempt to recruit a steady base of supporters for the Nazi party would would be paid a small amount of money, get to stomp around in a brown uniform, and brawl with people who they were aimed at.  The SA was also used by the Nazi leadership as a “general focus” source of terror, being sent to beat up individuals randomly in areas in which it was felt a bit of terror would either intimidate the vote or motivate those who liked to see violence in favor of right wing ideology.  In 1938 the SA was used by the Nazi party to create a series of spontaneous “demonstrations” throughout Germany to smash Jewish synagogues and businesses and arrest Jewish males for holding in either improvised temporary prisoners/torture chambers or the newly forming concentration camps.  Yet the SA also reflects the early legal and financial problems the Nazi party faced in its early years up through the mid-1920s, its members wore brown shirts because the German government at the end of World War I was selling large numbers of brown outfits at deep discount – formally intended as military uniforms for German Colonial troops now the uniforms were simply cheap military surplus the Nazis were able to snap up.  As well at one point the SA was officially described as a “Gymnastic and Sports Division” to avoid being shut down by the Weimar Republic.  Even at a few points the SA would parade in snappy white shirts, black ties, and dress slacks (also black) to avoid restrictions on parading in “military type uniforms.”


The key thing to remember about the SA, besides their being violent brutes, is that they also never really held any sort of legal authority within the German state, either pre-Nazi takeover or post-Nazi takeover.  The Brownshirts/SA were never police officers, never held police power, and never enforced any German laws in an official capacity, they were street gangs in matching uniforms backed by a political party.  Honestly within the United States there really doesn’t exist an equivalent organization and yet the term “Brownshirts” is tossed around to slander any group with a vocal or activist political outlook or to insult law enforcement on several levels of enforcement/organization.  It is similar to misusing the term “Gestapo” which specifically touches on a secret investigative detective force or the term “SS” which refers to a weird parallel military/police organization that existed in Germany (plus also handled Hitler’s personal security.)  None of these are really accurate to the link people often seem to be drawing, which instead is to a perceived “ultra-violent out-of-control” law enforcement entity.  Did such organizations exist and do they exist now?  Certainly, but the Brownshirts were not that organization.


The SA, by the way, fell from power when the Nazi’s got into office in 1933.  The SA was lead by Ernest Rohm, pictured above, and continued to agitate for expanded power within the German state, including Rohm’s vision of absorbing the German military into the SA and making the SA the new defense force for Germany.  For a wide array of reasons this was an unacceptable outcome for Hitler so, in a deal with the German military, in exchange for their loyalty Hitler arranged for a “special operation” to deal with the SA, namely killing their leadership and breaking their influence in Germany.  Known as the “Night of the Long Knives” the breaking of the SA was rolled into a general action against several “enemies” of the new regime.  Oh and Rohm?  Executed after being arrested in his cell.

Source:  Wikipedia on the Sturmabteilung

Battle of France 1940 – why did France lose?

Monday, April 21st, 2014


From last Wednesday’s entry readers might have been left with the question, if France had been aware of the dangers posed by a German attack against the Ardennes forest and Sedan, why were the German’s so successful at smashing through at that point?  More critically, why once the German army had broken through did the French defense collapse so quickly – going from a robust and respected force of combined French, British, Dutch, and Belgian arms to an utterly routed force in just six weeks?  Unfortunately there are many factors to consider – a fractious and politically divided nation that had been facing its own simmering internal stability issues for years, a complicated relationship between the military and French industry that lead to wasted production and inefficient competition, outmoded industrial production models that could not complete with German material effectiveness, a declining birthrate that forced the French military to use more older and less physically able males in their forces, and paralysis in the French government – each of these factors could be an entry in and of itself.  However the most critical elements to the actual collapse of the French defense in 1940 can be zoomed in upon – historians vary in their view but it seems to boil down to these core elements:  the wrong sort of tanks that were also used incorrectly, supported by far too few aircraft, and redeployed far too late in the initial critical moments of the battle to do any good.

The tank issue is probably the best example, pictured above is one of the finest heaviest French tanks in the war, the Char B1, a heavy tank with massive armor plating, a heavy main gun, and an impressive secondary gun, the Char B1 is on record for being a highly effective machine that smashed German tanks efficiently in individual battles.  (One story, possibly false, speaks of one of these tanks smashing thirteen German tanks in a quick battle and escaping unharmed after taking 140 hits upon the vehicle.)  The problem with this beast of a tank was it was great in individual tank battles, but lacked speed and mobility, issues not considered vital by the French military leadership.  This tank was designed to smash open a strong point in the enemy line and allow infantry to follow-up on the breakthrough, or lighter tanks working with the infantry, the French military embraced the idea of combined arms but missed entirely the potential of high-speed and high mobility combined arms, infantry units moving on trucks or other mechanized vehicles following massed formations of tanks that could smash through a prepared line and then race to the rear, breaking up supply, communication, and transport routes quickly.  The Germans embraced this idea and it was this idea that allowed their major battle formations used in the Sedan to not only break through French defenses quickly but follow-up with sweeping movements that broke into open countryside and wrecked havoc on French defensive planning.


The French and British air forces were overall outnumbered in aircraft by the German air force but it was also a matter of quality, the most modern aircraft the French had, the Dewoitine D.520 (pictured above) was capable of tangling with the German aircraft as a near equal, but in the Battle of France the French deployed all of them, thirty-six in total, in one unit.  Most of the French and British aircraft were defeated in the air and, furthermore, French industry had not been focused enough to build up sufficient spare parts to allow the planes when damaged to stay in the air.  Due to this the German air force was able to gain air superiority which caused a major crimp on French defensive mobility, French units moving during daylight hours had to hide from German aerial attack.  (A problem the Germans dealt with in 1944 during their Western Winter Offensive, otherwise known as the Battle of the Bulge.)  The restricted mobility imposed by a loss of aerial control upon the French military, combined with the need to avoid concentrating units that would attract German aerial bombardment, resulted in French units being moved in a haphazard manner and gave the German military the capacity to use its air power as a highly mobile support force to their ground attacks.


In the end though the largest problem that affected the French military, and that was recognized at the time, was a major breakdown in command and control of the French military.  Marc Bloch, an officer at the time, after the defeat wrote a firsthand account of the destruction of the French military as it attempted to stem the tide of the German invasion.  He recounted how the French military was gripped by a paralysis of will, unable to move troops and supplies to areas of critical need, establishing their rear areas far too close to the front lines and seeing them overrun again and again, and a feeling of the inevitability of defeat that paralyzed the military command of France.  Even efforts by some military commanders, such as Charles De Gaulle, only delayed what many felt was inevitable.  The war with France came to an end on 22 June 1940 with an armistice, which went beyond an admission of military defeat and entered the realm of a complete collapse of the French government’s will to struggle at all.  It marked the end of the French Third Republic and the rise of Vichy France, an unusual amalgam of a nation.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on Battle of France, Char B1, and Dewoitine D.520, A Strange Victory by Ernest May, Strange Defeat by Marc Bloch.