There is kindness to be found in the darkest of places.

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I have done hundreds of blogs on WWII and the Holocaust and it often is difficult to see and read about the horrors inflicted on innocent lives.And at times I feel like giving up because these stories do leave emotional scars, but then sometimes I stumble across stories which lift my soul and give me the drive to go on.

The story of  Francine Christophe is one of such stories.

Born on 18th of August 1933, Francine Christophe was deported with her mother to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944.

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Christophe and her mother were brought to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp when she was a young girl, and her mother took with her two small pieces of chocolate, telling Christophe she would save them for a day when they really felt hopeless. She thought the chocolate would help to give them the strength to carry on.

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But the day came unexpectedly, when another prisoner named Helene went into labor. Christophe’s mother asked her, if she would mind sharing her piece of chocolate with Helene. “Giving birth here will be hard,” Christophe says her mother told her. “She may die. If I give her the chocolate, it may help her.”

She agreed and Helene, with the help of a little piece of chocolate, was able to give birth.The baby didn’t cry, it never cried.Six months later, they would be freed from the camp,at that point the baby cried for the first time.

 

But the true reward for Christophe came just a few years ago, when at the urging of her daughter, she gave a lecture on how survivors would have coped differently if they had had the help of counsellors in their recovery.

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A woman came to the podium saying she was a psychiatrist living in Marseille, France. She said she had something to give to Christophe on stage.

The woman came up and placed a piece of chocolate in Christophe’s hand and said, “I am the baby.”

The baby didn’t cry but I did researching this story, but they were happy tears.

The interview with Francine Christophe was part of a documentary called “Human”

 

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Unusual WWII Facts-Part 11

The 1940 Summer Olympics had officially been scheduled be held from 21 September to 6 October 1940, in Tokyo, Japan, but were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II.

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Staying in the Olympic theme.The 1940 Winter Olympic games were also planned to be in hosted in Japan ,in Sapporo. But the Japanese organisers withdrew in 1938 because of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The IOC tne  decided to give the Winter Olympics to St. Moritz, Switzerland. There were some problems between the Swiss organisers and the IOC so the Games were cancelled again. The IOC then gave the 1940 Winter Olympics to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Garmisch-Partenkirchen had hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics. The Games were to be held from February 2 – 11 1940.

The games were cancelled because of World War II.

Stalag Luft III

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Stalag Luft III was a Nazi POW camp, mostly for allied airmen who’d been shot down and taken captive. However, these airmen were very crafty and over 600 had helped to organize an escape committee, which secretly began to dig tunnels and make plans. On March 24th, 1944, the plan was executed, but from the start, everything went wrong. Only 77 men managed to get into the escape tunnels, and were soon discovered. Of the 77, only 3 managed to get to safety. 50 escapees were executed by the orders of Hitler. This escape attempt was made into a 1963 film, “The Great Escape”.

Bat Man

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Bat-Man Paratroopers – 1942

On the United States home front, particularly on the Pacific coast where the threat of a Japanese invasion seemed imminent, even a military expert’s creative juices could take a curious turn. Such was the case for the California State Guard and Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who dreamed up the idea of “bat-man”paratroopers.

The major’s concept of paratroopers using jump suits modified with bat-like “diving wings” was inspired by the trick parachuting stunts of American entertainers. Nicholson had observed that in free fall, sky divers using these wings were able to better control their speed and descent as well as their maneuverability before opening the their parachutes.

Nicholson envisioned winged paratroopers evading enemy fire by swooping through the air like their namesakes. In 1942, the California State Guard found the notion so intriguing, they asked famed jumper Mickey Morgan—whose career often included testing wingsuits—to head a bat-man paratrooper unit of their own.

President Roosevelt used Al Capone’s Limousine

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On the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Secret Service realized they did not have a have a bulletproof car to transport President Roosevelt safely to Congress to deliver his Infamy Speech. A quick thinking Secret Service agent realized that the U.S. Treasury had seized the bulletproof limo of Al Capone in 1931.

The car was still in working condition and safely transported the president to Congress. President Roosevelt reportedly quipped, “I hope Mr. Capone won’t mind.

Queen Wilhelmina.

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Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands becomes the first reigning queen to address a joint session of the United States Congress, on the 6th of August 1942.

 

The SS ran a brothel named “The Kitty Salon,” that was frequented by foreign diplomats. They gathered intelligence by wiretapping it and training the prostitutes on how to get information from clients.

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Even after the Allies arrived, many concentration camp prisoners were beyond help. In Bergen-Belsen, for example, 13,000 prisoners died after liberation. Nearly 2,500 of the 33,000 survivors of Dachau died within six weeks of liberation.

Approximately 600,000 Jews served in the United States armed forces during WWII. More than 35,000 were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. Approximately 8,000 died in combat. However, only two Jewish soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor in WWII.

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Ben L. Salomon

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The 3rd Jewish soldier who got awarded a Medal of Honor was Ben L.Salomon, but it was only awarded to him in 2002.

Medal of Honor citation

CAPTAIN BEN L. SALOMON
UNITED STATES ARMY

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Captain Ben L. Salomon was serving at Saipan, in the Marianas Islands on July 7, 1944, as the Surgeon for the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. The Regiment’s 1st and 2d Battalions were attacked by an overwhelming force estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese soldiers. It was one of the largest attacks attempted in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Although both units fought furiously, the enemy soon penetrated the Battalions’ combined perimeter and inflicted overwhelming casualties. In the first minutes of the attack, approximately 30 wounded soldiers walked, crawled, or were carried into Captain Salomon’s aid station, and the small tent soon filled with wounded men. As the perimeter began to be overrun, it became increasingly difficult for Captain Salomon to work on the wounded. He then saw a Japanese soldier bayoneting one of the wounded soldiers lying near the tent. Firing from a squatting position, Captain Salomon quickly killed the enemy soldier. Then, as he turned his attention back to the wounded, two more Japanese soldiers appeared in the front entrance of the tent. As these enemy soldiers were killed, four more crawled under the tent walls. Rushing them, Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, and bayoneted a third. Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Captain Salomon ordered the wounded to make their way as best they could back to the regimental aid station, while he attempted to hold off the enemy until they were clear. Captain Salomon then grabbed a rifle from one of the wounded and rushed out of the tent. After four men were killed while manning a machine gun, Captain Salomon took control of it. When his body was later found, 98 dead enemy soldiers were piled in front of his position. Captain Salomon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

By the way, he was a dentist.

Irma Grese- Evil knows no gender.

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Men don’t have the monopoly on doing evil acts, throughout history there have been many women who acted in barbaric ways. Often their acts would be more evil then that of their male counterparts as was the case with  Irma Grese, the proof that evil is not bound to gender but personality.

Irma Ida Ilse Grese (7 October 1923 – 13 December 1945) was a female SS guard at the Nazi concentration camps of Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, and served as warden of the women’s section of Bergen-Belsen.

Grese was convicted for crimes against humanity committed at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and sentenced to death at the Belsen trial. Executed at 22 years of age, Grese was the youngest woman to die judicially under British law in the 20th century. She was nicknamed by the camps’ inmates “the Hyena of Auschwitz”

During World War II Irma Grese was the most notorious of the female Nazi war criminals. She was born on October 7, 1923, to a agricultural family and left school in 1938 at the age of 15. She worked on a farm for six months, then in a shop and later for two years in a hospital. Then she was sent to work at the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.

She became a camp guard at the age of 19, and in March 1943 she was transferred to Auschwitz. She rose to the rank of Senior SS-Supervisor in the autumn of 1943, in charge of around 30,000 women prisoners, mainly Polish and Hungarian Jews. This was the second highest rank that SS female concentration camp personnel could attain.

After the war survivors provided extensive details of murders, tortures, cruelties and sexual excesses engaged in by Irma Grese during her years at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. They testified to her acts of pure sadism, beatings and arbitrary shooting of prisoners, savaging of prisoners by her trained and half starved dogs, to her selecting prisoners for the gas chambers.

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Irma Grese was born to Berta Grese and Alfred Grese, a dairy worker. Irma was the third of five children (three girls and two boys). In 1936, her mother committed suicide by drinking hydrochloric acid after discovering that Alfred had had an affair with a local pub owner’s daughter.

Irma Grese left school in 1938 at age fourteen, probably due to a combination of a poor scholastic aptitude, bullying by classmates, and a fanatical preoccupation with the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel), a Nazi female youth organization, of which her father disapproved.

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Among other casual jobs, she worked as an assistant nurse in the sanatorium of the SS for two years and unsuccessfully tried to find an apprenticeship as a nurse.

Irma Grese worked as a dairy helper and was single when she volunteered for service in a concentration camp. From mid-1942 she was an Aufseherin (female guard) at Ravensbrück and in March 1943 transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the second half of 1944, Grese was promoted to Rapportführerin, the second-highest rank open to female KZ-wardens. In this function, she participated in prisoner selections for the gas chambers.

In early 1945, Grese accompanied a prisoner transport from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück. In March 1945, she went to Bergen-Belsen along with a large number of prisoners from Ravensbrück.Grese was captured by the British on 15 April 1945, together with other SS personnel who did not flee.

Grese inspired virulent hatred in prisoner Olga Lengyel, who wrote in her memoir Five Chimneys that selections in the women’s camp were made by SS Aufseherin Elisabeth Hasse and Irma Grese. The latter was visibly pleased by the terror her presence inspired in the women at roll call. Grese had a penchant for selecting not only the sick and the weak but any woman who had retained vestiges of her former beauty. Lengyel said that Grese had several lovers among the SS in the camp, including Josef Mengele. After Grese forced the inmate surgeon at the infirmary into performing her illegal abortion, she disclosed that she planned a career in the movies after the war. Lengyel felt that Grese’s meticulous grooming, custom fitted clothes, and overuse of perfume were part of a deliberate act of sadism among the ragged women prisoners.

It became apparent that she wasn’t just torturing and maiming prisoners because it was her job, an excuse many Nazis have tried to use to explain their actions. She did it because she got off on it, literally. Take this survivor’s story, recounted by Sonja Maria Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saide in their book Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, as an example:

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“[Grese] went around in camp, her bejeweled whip poised, picked out the most beautiful young women and slashed their breasts open with the braided wire end of her whip. Subsequently those breasts got infected by the lice and dirt which invaded every nook and corner of the camp. They had to be cut open, if the patient was to be saved. Irma Griese (sic) invariably arrived to watch the operation, kicking the victim if her screams interfered with her pleasure and giving herself completely to the orgiastic spasms which shook her entire body and made saliva run down from the corner of her mouth”

While at Auschwitz, when she wasn’t  just torturing people for fun, Grese was reportedly responsible for 30 murders every day. Then, in 1945, she was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she earned the nickname the “beautiful beast of Belsen” because of her tight-fitting Nazi uniform, blue eyes and blonde hair. She was pretty much everything Hitler stood for.

On April 15, 1945, British Forces finally liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp and took Grese into custody.

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Grese and ten others, eight men and two other women, Johanna Bormann (mistakenly spelled Juana by the British) and Elisabeth Volkenrath, were convicted for crimes committed at Auschwitz and Belsen and sentenced to death. As the verdicts were read, Grese was the only prisoner to remain defiant.Her subsequent appeal was rejected.

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On Thursday, 13 December 1945, in Hamelin Jail, Grese was led to the gallows. The women were executed singly by long-drop hanging and then the men in pairs.Regimental Sergeant-Major O’Neill assisted the noted British executioner, Albert Pierrepoint.

 

 

 

Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp

I don’t really like to post horrific images but on this day the  anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen it is important that we are reminded how cruel humanity can be.

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As a child I had heard some  war stories from my parents and my aunts and uncles and was always intrigued by those stories. They were tales on how some of my family avoided being shot by the Germans ,after stealing food, by jumping into big barrels and hiding in there until it was safe to come out again. Or the time that one of my grandfathers was nearly shot by the allies after liberation by telling him he was Deutsch rather then Dutch(his English wasn’t great) luckily one of the soldiers figured he meant to say he was Dutch. These stories tough gave me a more romantic and nostalgic sense for the era.

It wasn’t until one day , I think I was 13 at the time,I saw a documentary of Bergen Belsen’s most well known victim,Anne Frank, I realized the true horrors of WW2 and the Holocaust.

This article will be about Bergen Belsen but I will also briefly touch on Auschwitz because in several ways the camps were connected.

Bergen-Belsen was first established in 1940 as a prisoner of war camp. From 1943, Jewish civilians with foreign passports were held as ‘leverage’ in possible exchanges for Germans interned in Allied countries or for money. It later became a concentration camp and was used as a collection centre for survivors of the death marches. The camp became exceptionally overcrowded and, as a result of the Germans’ neglect, conditions were allowed to deteriorate further in the last months of the war, causing many more deaths.

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The 63rd Anti-tank Regiment and the 11th Armoured Division of the British army liberate about 60,000 prisoners at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

As it drove into Germany, the 11th Armoured Division occupied the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15, 1945, pursuant to an April 12 agreement with the retreating Germans to surrender the camp peacefully. When the 11th Armoured Division entered the camp, its soldiers were totally unprepared for what they found. Inside were more than 60,000 emaciated and ill prisoners in desperate need if medical attention. More than 13,000 corpses in various stages of decomposition lay littered around the camp.

The discovery of the Bergen-Belsen camp and the horrendous conditions there made on powerful impact on public opinion in Great Britain and elsewhere. One member of a British Army Film and Photographic unit recalled the masses of unburied corpses:

“The bodies were a ghastly sight. Some were green. They looked like skeletons covered with skin—the flesh had all gone. There were bodies of small children among the grown ups. In other parts of the camp there were hundreds of bodies lying around, in many cases piled five or six high”.

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When British and Canadian troops finally entered they found over 13,000 unburied bodies and (including the satellite camps) around 60,000 inmates, most acutely sick and starving. The prisoners had been without food or water for days before the Allied arrival, partially due to allied bombing. Immediately before and after liberation, prisoners were dying at around 500 per day, mostly from typhus. The scenes that greeted British troops were described by the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby, who accompanied them:

…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, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

Initially lacking sufficient manpower, the British allowed the Hungarians to remain in charge and only commandant Kramer was arrested. Subsequently SS and Hungarian guards shot and killed some of the starving prisoners who were trying to get their hands on food supplies from the store houses.The British started to provide emergency medical care, clothing and food. Immediately following the liberation, revenge killings took place in the satellite camp the SS had created in the area of the army barracks that later became Hohne-Camp. Around 15,000 prisoners from Mittelbau-Dora had been relocated there in early April. These prisoners were in much better physical condition than most of the others. Some of these men turned on those who had been their overseers at Mittelbau. About 170 of these “Kapos” were killed on April 15, 1945.:62On April 20, four German fighter planes attacked the camp, damaging the water supply and killing three British medical orderlies.

Over the next days the surviving prisoners were deloused and moved to a nearby German Panzer army camp, which became the Bergen-Belsen DP (displaced persons) camp.

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Over a period of four weeks, almost 29,000 of the survivors were moved there. Before the handover, the SS had managed to destroy the camp’s administrative files, thereby eradicating most written evidence.

The British forced the former SS camp personnel to help bury the thousands of dead bodies in mass graves.

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Some civil servants from Celle and Landkreis Celle were brought to Belsen and confronted with the crimes committed on their doorstep.

 

Military photographers and cameramen of “No. 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit” documented the conditions in the camp and the measures of the British Army to ameliorate them. Many of the pictures they took and the films they made from April 15 to June 9, 1945 were published or shown abroad. Today, the originals are in the Imperial War Museum. These documents had a lasting impact on the international perception and memory of Nazi concentration camps to this day.According to Habbo Knoch, head of the institution that runs the memorial today: “Bergen-Belsen became a synonym world-wide for German crimes committed during the time of Nazi rule.

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was then burned to the ground by flamethrowing”Bren gun” carriers and Churchill Crocodile tanks because of the typhus epidemic and louse infestation. As the concentration camp ceased to exist at this point, the name Belsen after this time refers to events at the Bergen-Belsen DP camp.

In spite of massive efforts to help the survivors with food and medical treatment, led by Brigadier Glyn Hughes, Deputy Director of Medical Services of 2nd Army, about another 9,000 died in April, and by the end of June 1945 another 4,000 had died. (After liberation 13,994 people died.)

Two specialist teams were dispatched from Britain to deal with the feeding problem. The first, led by Dr A. P. Meiklejohn, included 96 medical student volunteers from London teaching hospitals who were later credited with significantly reducing the death rate amongst prisoners.A research team led by Dr Janet Vaughan was dispatched by the Medical Research Council to test the effectiveness of various feeding regimes.

The British troops and medical staff tried these diets to feed the prisoners, in this order:

  • Bully beef(Corned Beef) from Army rations. Most of the prisoners’ digestive systems were in too weak a state from long-term starvation to handle such food.Corned-beef-1
  • Skimmed milk. The result was a bit better, but still far from acceptable.
  • Bengal Famine Mixture. This is a rice-and-sugar-based mixture which had achieved good results after the Bengal famine of 1943, but it proved less suitable to Europeans than to Bengalis because of the differences in the food to which they were accustomed. Adding the common ingredient paprika to the mixture made it more palatable to these people and recovery started.

Some were too weak to even consume the Bengal Famine Mixture. Intravenous feeding was attempted but abandoned – SS Doctors had previously used injections to murder prisoners so some became hysterical at the sight of the intraveneous feeding equipment.

On the 25th of August 1942 approximately 20 Jewish citizens from my hometown Geleen,were deported from City Hall by the Germans.

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Shortly afterwards 12 more were picked up and deported. Only 1 survived. In total 37 Geleen Jews were killed during the holocaust. Most of them were killed in Auschwitz , a few in Sobibor. Others died during the transport.

Sophia Baum Salmagne was the only one who died in Bergen Belsen. The reason why I mention her is because the only things I know about her that she was born on the 12th of June 1867 in Eilendorf Germany and that she died on the 16th of November 1943 in Bergen Belsen. Noting else, no picture, not even when she moved to Geleen. Just a name on a list of victims. This was the fate of millions of victims ,names on a list, as if they hardly ever existed. It is all our duty to be the voice of these whose prove of existence were nearly erased.