THE FIRST SHOT OF WWII was fired from the German battleship Schleswig Holstein which was on an official visit to Poland and berthed in Danzig harbour. At 4.30 am on September 1, 1939, the ship moved slowly down the Port Canal and took up position opposite the WESTERPLATTE (An area containing Polish troop barracks and workshops) and at 4.47 am, the order to 'Fire' was given. World War II had begun. Seven days later the Westerplatte Garrison surrendered.
THE TRIGGER: THE INCIDENT which triggered the Second World War was the simulated attack by the Germans on their own radio station near Gleiwitz on the Polish border. To make it appear that the attacking force consisted of Poles, prisoners from a nearby concentration (protective custody) camp were dressed in Polish uniforms then shot and their bodies placed in strategic positions around the radio station. A Polish-speaking German then did a broadcast from the station to make it appear that Poland had attacked first. This was the excuse Hitler needed to invade Poland on September 1st 1939.
THE SWASTIKA SYMBOL. A very old symbol from pre-historic times and referred to in Germany as the Hakenkreuz. Traditionally a sign of good fortune and well being it is derived from the Sanskrit 'su' meaning 'well' and 'asti' meaning 'being'. It is well known in Hindu and Buddist cultures. Hitler displayed the symbol on a red background 'to win over the worker' and it had an hypnotic effect on all those who supported the Nazi movement.
WHY THE THIRD REICH? This was the official name for the Nazi period of government from January,1933, to May, 1945. The First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire period of the German Nation begun in A.D. 962 when Otto the Great was crowned in Rome. The Second Reich (or Empire) was founded by Otto von Bismarck in 1871. When the Hohenzollern dynasty collapsed in 1918 with the abdication of Emperor William II, the Second Reich came to an end. This was followed by the Weimar Republic which lasted from 1918 to 1933. In turn it was followed by Hitler's Third Reich which he regarded as an empire that would last a thousand years. Hitler adopted the term 'Third Reich' in the early 1920s after the German writer Arthur Moeller von der Bruck used it as a title for one of his books. (Hitler's Third Reich lasted 12 years, 4 months and 8 days).
HORST WESSEL SONG. An early convert to the Nazi party was 19 year old Bielefeld born Horst Wessel who gave up his law studies to join the SA (Storm Troopers). Working as a taxi driver and builders labourer he soon became a leading orator at SA rallies. In 1929, he married Erna Jaenicke, an 18 year old prostitute. On the evening of January 14, 1930, a group of thugs, led by Jaenicke's former boyfriend and pimp, Albrecht HÃ¶hler, called at their lodgings at 62 Grosse Frankfurter Strasse, Berlin and in a fit of jealous anger HÃ¶hler drew a pistol from his pocket and shot Wessel in the mouth. He died five weeks later on February 23. Before his murder he had composed a poem 'Die Fahne Hoch' (Fly the Flag High) which later was changed to 'The Horst Wessel Song' and introduced into Nazi Party ritual. It soon became Nazi Germany's second anthem and played after 'Deutschland Uber Alles' (Germany Before All). Horst Wessel was buried in the Nikolaifriedhof cemetery in Berlin but after the war, in common with all other Nazi graves, the headstone was removed.
GERMANS IN BRITAIN: At the outbreak of war, around 70,000 Germans and Austrians were living in Great Britain. Most were refugees from the Nazis and considered 'safe'. Others, about 11,000, were restricted in their movements around the country and ordered to report to their local police daily and to obey an 8pm to 8am curfew. Some 230 from the eastern counties of England and Scotland were interned in special camps set up throughout the country.
AUSTRIAN JEWS. Before the war there were around 206,000 Jews living in Austria. Only 5,500 survived the Nazi occupation. Many who had converted to Judaism through marriage were forced by the Nazis to renounce their faith and be reclassified as non-Jews. Over 24,000, who had renounced Judaism but had Jewish ancestry, were again classified as Jews.
JEWS IN GERMANY FROM 1933 ONWARDS. The music of German Jewish composer, Felix Mendelssohn, was banned in Germany. Soon after, all Jews were dismissed from symphony orchestras and from the Opera. Books published by Jewish authors were burned in April, 1934, and one of the leading newspapers, the 'Vossische Zeitung' was forced out of business because it was owned by the 'House of Ullstein' a Jewish firm. The same thing happened to the German Jewish newspaper, the 'Judische Rundschau'.
THE FIRST RAF RAID OF THE WAR ended in near disaster. The day after war was declared, RAF Wellington and Blenheim bombers attacked the German naval ports of Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel. Ten bombers returned to base after failing to find the target. Seven were shot down by German anti-aircraft batteries. Three of the planes prepared to attack British warships in the North Sea until they discovered their mistake then went home. Eight bombers found the target and attacked the battleships Scheer and Hipper, and the cruiser Emden one of the Blenheim bombers crashing on the ships' deck. In this raid occurred the first British casualties of the war. Seventeen Royal Air Force men were killed. (The Emden was the only Axis ship to attack the continent of India. It reached the shores of Madras on the Bay of Bengal and fired its guns at Fort St. George).
RAF BLUNDER. Due to the fact that British fighter planes were not fitted with IFF equipment (Identification Friend or Foe) at this time of the war and the ground radar operator believing he was coordinating an attack on enemy machines, RAF Spitfires from No.74 Squadron shot down two Hurricanes of 56 Squadron by mistake on September 6, 1939. At about the same time, ground anti-aircraft fire brought down a Blenheim of 64 Squadron. One pilot was killed. There were no German aircraft in the area at the time. This was the first time that Spitfires had fired their guns in anger. The Spitfire pilots were subsequently exonerated from any blame at a court martial and from then on the highest priority was given to the production of Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment.
ON DECEMBER 27, 1939, two German Army officers were killed by Poles during a scuffle in a Warsaw bar. The bar owner was immediately hanged and 120 Polish men and boys were selected at random and shot.
LEBENSBORN SOCIETY was one of the most bizarre experiments of the SS. Sponsored by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, his idea was to breed a race of super pure blooded Nordics. Tall, fair haired and blue eyed men and women, who were near perfect physical specimens, were chosen. Nursing homes were set up (mostly properties confiscated from Jews and maintained with the money from their bank accounts) to accommodate the mothers until their babies were born. They could then keep their SS babies or put the child up for adoption in a one hundred per cent Nazi non-Catholic family. The first home opened was at STEINHORING near Munich, on December 12, 1935. Later, others were established at WERNIGERODE, at ACHERN (Baden) at KLOSTERHEIDE (Berlin) at BAD POLZIN (Pomerania) at WEINERWALD (Vienna) at VEGIMONT (Belgium) and in February, 1944, the home at LAMORLAYE, near Paris, was opened and reserved for the children of German officers and French mothers. The number of children born in these homes is not known, as records were destroyed at the end of the war. However, one set of registers was found intact and showed that more than 2,000 births were registered at STEINHORING.
OSTRACIZED. In Norway there were around 10,000 children born of parents who were members of Vidkum Quisling's pro-Nazi party, and of love affairs between Norwegian girls and German soldiers. After the war, these children were rejected as so-called 'German kids', maltreated and despised, treated with contempt, in fact refugees in their own country. Considered social misfits, few have received a proper education. To relieve Norway of this embarrassing problem, Sweden adopted a few hundred of these children and around 250 were sent to homes in Germany. Since the war, many have tried to get their Norwegian citizenship back but in each case their application has been refused. Up until 1963, any German male who wanted to visit Norway had first to prove that he had not been in the country between 1940 and 1945. In 1986, The League of Norwegian War Children Lebensborn was established. Through its efforts, many of these children have found their unknown fathers. Now, these war children only wish 'integration and acceptance with following freedom from anguish'. Today, the League maintains contact with around two hundred former NS children. About ten Lebensborn homes were in use in Norway during the German occupation and today these former homes are among the best tourist hotels.
In 1940, work began in Britain on biological weapons. One idea put forward was for cattle-cake to be impregnated with Anthrax and dropped by RAF planes to infect Germany's livestock. (Tests with a powdered form of Anthrax were carried out on flocks of sheep with devastating results.) This idea was adopted and about five million such cakes were made but were never used operationally.
BOMB SHELTERS IN NAZI GERMANY. After the German Luftwaffe was defeated in the Battle of Britain and the cancellation of 'Operation Seelowe' - the planed invasion of Britain - in late 1940, Germany set about protecting its own citizens from attack by enemy bombers. In October 1940, Hitler ordered the construction of bomb shelters and flak towers in all the major cities. The cost was enormous. Around 120 thousand million Reichsmarks and 200 million cubic metres of reinforced concrete was the estimate given prior to the work proceeding. Thirty major cities were included in the programme which employed some 80,000 workers and aimed at 3,000 shelters being built. In addition to this, thousands of smaller shelters were built into tunnels, caves and mines. In late 1941, construction was somewhat delayed by the building of the Atlantic Wall and construction of U-boat pens in France. After the war many of these shelters and bunkers were blown up by the Allied authorities but were used first as emergency accommodation for displaced persons.
PROPOSAL TO MAKE FRANCE AND BRITAIN ONE. In a last desperate attempt to save France from capitulating and to keep her army fighting, Churchill and General De Gaule proposed that Britain and France become one united nation. In a telephone call from London on June 16, 1940, to the French Premier, Paul Reynaud, the message stated: "The two Governments of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make the declaration of indissoluble union and unyielding resolution in their common defence of justice and freedom against subjection to a system which reduces mankind to a life of robots and slaves. The two Governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France. All the armed forces of Great Britain and France will be placed under the direction of a single War Cabinet". The proposal caused an uproar in the French Cabinet of which Churchill wrote "Rarely has so generous a proposal encountered such a hostile reception". Without Cabinet support, Reynaud resigned and a new government was formed under Marshal PÃ©tain at 11.30pm on June 16. PÃ©tain immediately negotiated an armistice with Germany. (World War I hero of Verdun, PÃ©tain was later tried and sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment. He died in 1951).
CZECH BRIBERY. At the time of the Munich crises, Czechoslovakia was paying senior British politicians and journalists, the sum of 2,000 Pounds Sterling per year in return for a promise to topple Neville Chamberlain and his Government.
FRENCH TRAITORS AND TURNCOATS.ON SEPTEMBER 24/25, 1940 the Vichy controlled French Air Force attacked British military installations at Gibraltar, dropping 600 tons of bombs on the fortress. This was in reprisal for the British naval attack on French warships at Mers-el-Kabir on July 3, 1940 and for the attempted occupation of Dakar on September 23rd. In 1940, a total of 1,400 Gibraltarian women and children were evacuated to England.
TURNCOATS. After the debacle at Mers-el-Kabir and Dakar, the Vichy Foreign Minister, Pierre Laval, declared that the French WW1 air ace, Colonel Rene Fonck, had organized some 200 French pilots prepared to join Germany in the fight against Britain.
TRAITORS? Some 8,000 Frenchmen donned the Wehrmacht uniform and formed the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen SS. They fought so well on the Eastern Front that many were awarded the Iron Cross for their bravery. After the war, when the survivors of the Charlemagne Division returned to their homeland, they were treated in a most brutal and inhumane fashion when the French Resistance extracted their revenge on all collaborators.
CHURCHILL WAS NEAR BROKE IN 1938! In March of 1938, Churchill was broke, his share account with his stockbrokers was Â£18,000 in the red. He asked The Times to advertise his home 'Chartwell' for sale, inviting offers of Â£20,000. A few days before the ad was to appear, Sir Henry Skrakosch, a South African gold mining millionaire, agreed to pay off his debts and Chartwell was withdrawn from the market. Skrakosch was a Jew, born in Czechoslovakia.
BROTHEL IN BERLIN.SALON KITTY. Although brothels were officially outlawed in Hitler's Third Reich, Berlin's top brothel the 'Pension Schmidt' was allowed to flourish. Situated on the third floor of No 11, Giesebrecht Strasse, in Charlottenburg, right next door to the apartment of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the Reich Security Service, it employed sixteen hand picked girls from all over Europe, specially trained in the art of seduction and intelligence gathering and inducted into the SD. All were forbidden on pain of death to reveal what their duties were. After renovations, the new Pension Schmidt was open for business in April, 1940. Visitors to this high class brothel were mostly foreign diplomats, high ranking military officers and Nazi party big-wigs. Cameras and microphones were carefully concealed in walls and bedheads and every whisper was recorded through a monitoring system set up in the basement of No 10, Meinecke Strasse just a short distance away. In January, 1941, the whole monitoring system was transferred to the Gestapo headquarters in the Prinz Albrechtstrasse. When the Pension Schmidt was damaged during an air-raid on 17 July, 1942, it was moved down to the first floor of the building and renamed 'Salon Kitty' after its owner, Kitty Schmidt. (In 1988, the former Salon Kitty was in use as a guitar studio! Kitty Schmidt, born in 1882, died in Berlin in 1954).
HITLER'S INCOME FROM MEIN KAMPF. The original title of Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' was ''4 & 1/2 Year Struggle, against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice''. The first part was written while he was incarcerated in Landsberg prison after the 1923 Beerhall Putsch. His publisher, Max Amann, later changed the title to Mein Kampf (My Struggle). By 1939, the book had sold over 5 million copies, making Hitler a millionaire. Up to 1945, the book had a total printing of just over 10,000,000 copies. His official salary was 60,000 Marks per annum. In 1934, Hitler declared his income for 1933 as 1,232,355 Marks. Most of this was from royalties from his book. He also received a fraction of a cent for every postage stamp sold bearing his image.
WAR CRAZY HITLER. QUOTE BY HITLER. In 1939, Hitler said "Whoever succeeds me must be sure to have an opening for a new war. In future peace treaties, we must therefore always leave open a few questions that will provide a pretext. That's Statesmanship!"
GERMANS IN CUSTODY. In 1939, there were 302,535 Germans in protective custody in Germany for their political views. By the end of the war, over 800,000 Germans had spent time in prison or in a concentration camp.
DEATH SENTENCES. Between 1933 and 1944, a total of 13,405 death sentences were passed in Germany. Of these, 11,881 were carried out. In the first few months of 1945 another 800 were executed, over half of them German nationals. By the end of the war there were 46 offences that were punishable by death.
HITLER'S FATHER, ALIOS SCHICKELGRUBER (1837-1903) was born in Strones, Austria. He was the illegitimate son of a Johann Georg Hiedler and his peasant girl friend, Anna Marie Schickelgruber. In May 1842, they became man and wife but Alois continued to use his mother's name. He was brought up by his father's brother Johann Hiedler who, in 1876, took steps to legitimize Alois who then started to use the name Hitler. A witness at Alois's legitimization was a relative by the name of Johann HÃ¼ttler and it is possible that Alois used the name after the parish priest confused the two names Hiedler and HÃ¼ttler and wrote Hitler in the registry. By this time Alios was thirty-nine years old. After his mother died his father married for the third time on January 7, 1885, to his second cousin, Klara Poelzl (1860-1908) twenty-three years younger than he. Alios and Klara Hitler became the parents of Adolf Hitler. Klara bore her husband five children, three of whom died young: Gustav (1885-1887), Ida (1886-1888), Adolf (1889-1945), Edmund (1894-1900) and Paula (1896-1960).
OCCUPIED POLAND. After the fall of Poland, Himmler issued a top secret document to all eastern Gauleiters. In it he proposed that "racially valuable people from Poland be removed and Germanized". The masses were to become a "leaderless nation of common labour". They were not to be taught anything more than simple arithmetic and how to write their own name. They could earn enough for simple living needs but the lowest German peasant must still be ten percent better off than any Pole. They could keep their Catholic priests so they would for ever remain "dull and stupid". All intellectuals were to be exterminated. It was Hitler's intention to obliterate all traces of Polish history and culture. Even towns and villages were renamed in German.
GYPSIES. Another group singled out for deportation were the Gypsies. Defined as non-Aryan, as were the Jews, both groups were forbidden to marry Germans. Those already married to Germans were exempted from deportation but were sterilized as were their children when they reached the age of twelve. Before the war, 1,500 Gypsies were rounded up in Germany and sent to Dachau, another 440 Gypsy women were sent to Ravensbruck. In 1940, around 30,000 Gypsies were deported to Poland and in Austria, around 4,300 were transported to the death camp at Chelmno and gassed. In 1942, a special camp for Gypsies was constructed in Auschwitz called Section B11e. During World War II about 231,800 Gypsies were put to death.
LUFTWAFFE BOMBS ITS OWN COUNTRY. On the 10th of May, 1940, three Luftwaffe planes, HE 111s, bombed the German town of Freiburg by mistake, killing 57 people. The crews thought they were over a French town. The fragments of the bombs found later, confirmed the bombs as German, but German propaganda claimed the raid to be a terror attack by the French Air Force, justifying subsequent bombing of French towns.
JEWISH REFUGEES FOR CUBA? On May 13, 1939 the 16,732 ton German luxury liner St. Louis set sail from Hamburg with 937 Jewish refugees on board. They believed they had bought visas to enter Cuba. Arriving in Havana they were told that their visas were worthless, in fact, a confidence trick of some Cuban politicians out to make money. Not allowed to disembark, quite a few passengers committed suicide rather than return to Germany. The ship then set sail for Miami in the hope that the US would accept them. This was not to be, the opposition too great as the country already had two million unemployed. Negotiations then took place between Britain, France, Holland and Belgium. England agreed to take 287, France 224, Holland 181 and Belgium 214. On June 17, the St. Louis docked in Antwerp and disembarkation began. It marked not the end of their journey but the beginning of an even more tragic episode in their lives. Those accepted by Britain survived the war but those who settled in France, Holland and Belgium, were overtaken by the Holocaust when Germany invaded these countries. By the summer of 1941 only 167,245 Jews remained in Germany. (The St. Louis survived the war and in 1946 was converted to a floating hospital ship at Hamburg).
JEWISH REFUGEES FOR JAPAN. After the German takeover of Poland, close to 15,000 Polish Jews trudged the wet and muddy roads of Poland in an attempt to escape the Nazi holocaust and reach the relative safety of Vilna in the Baltic state of Lithuania. When Russia formally annexed Lithuania in June, these desperate refugees were once again trapped. Russia didn't want its Jews, Britain was unwilling to let them into Palestine, in fact the rest of the world turned its back on these unfortunate people. In Lithuania the Soviets tried to create a communist utopia and anyone wanting to leave was considered mad or a traitor to the cause. Those who applied for permission to leave ended up in the slave labour camps of Siberia. Finally, when exit permits were issued the Intourist Office demanded 200 American dollars from each for their trip across Russia to Japan. The first group of 72 Jews were then on their way to the Russian port of Vladivostok. From there it would be a short hop, skip and jump to Japan where it was hoped a visa for the USA would be issued. After crossing the Sea of Japan their ship docked at Tsuruga in Japan, the only country willing to welcome them. As more refugees began to arrive they found accommodation in Kobe and in Japanese controlled Shanghai where a one square mile area was set aside for them. This in effect was the creation of the first Jewish Ghetto in Asia. Before the harsh winter of 1943/44 ended around 300 Jews had died from Typhus and other diseases. Worse was to come. A Japanese radio station within the camp was targeted by by US bombers. The raid killed 250 people including 31 Jews.
KIDNAP PLANS Believing that the Duke of Windsor was pro-German, Hitler sent his SS Intelligence Chief, Walter Schellenberg, to Spain where the Duke was on holiday. His mission, to lure the Duke back to Germany with a promise of 50 million Swiss francs. If this failed, he was to be kidnapped. Schellenberg, thinking that the whole operation was too difficult, hesitated. In the meantime, Britain got wind of the plot and had the Duke removed to a more secure haven in the Bahamas, where he spent the rest of the war.