The white Buses- A positive Holocaust story

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A while ago I read a comment of someone saying that she could no longer read stories about the Holocaust, not because she didn’t want to but because she couldn’t because the stories were so sad, they were heartbreaking. I can fully appreciate that, because it is heartbreaking and unless you are a complete psychopath and soulless the stories will have a deep,profound effect. However it is important these stories need to be told

Coming from the angle of someone who does a lot of research on the Holocaust,every story is hard but sometimes in a different way. Positive stories are very hard to find but there are some, as this blog will illustrate. But positive in the context of the Holocaust.

The “White Buses”  was an operation undertaken by the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government in the spring of 1945 to rescue concentration camp inmates in areas under Nazi control and transport them to Sweden, a neutral country. Although the operation was initially targeted at saving citizens of Scandinavian countries, it rapidly expanded to include citizens of other countries.

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After a series of negotioations, the Danish Jews were released from Theresienstadt in the spring of 1945 and brought to Sweden by the so-called White Buses. A dangerous journey that took the caravan of White Busses through war-torn Europe.

All in all , an operational staff of about 300 persons removed 15,345 prisoners from mortal peril in concentration camps; of these 7,795 were Scandinavian and 7,550 were non-Scandinavian (Polish, French, etc.).In particular, 423 Danish Jews were saved from the Theresienstadt concentration camp inside German-occupied territory of Czechoslovakia, contributing significantly to the fact that casualties among Danish Jews during the Holocaust were among the lowest of the occupied European countries.

 

The term “white buses” originates from the buses having been painted white with red crosses, to avoid confusion with military vehicles.

In December 1944, the Danish Foreign Ministry received permission to bring sick police officers home from the concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany.

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This marked the beginning of a humanitarian operation best known as the Bernadotte Operation or The White Buses. In February 1945, the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte negotiated with Heinrich Himmler for the release of Scandinavian prisoners from the concentration camps, while the Danish Aid Corps arranged for cars and buses to transport the prisoners. The Swedish and Danish initiative was coordinated, and in March 1945, the operation began. The process of bringing the Scandinavian prisoners back home was carried out until the end of April.

The Baltic German Felix Kersten was Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler’s personal masseur.

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He lived in Stockholm and acted as an intermediary between the Swedish foreign department and Himmler. Walter Schellenberg, a trusted subordinate of Himmler, had long held the view that Germany would lose the war and encouraged Himmler to explore the possibility of a separate peace treaty with the Western powers; in this Sweden could be a useful intermediary.

With Kersten’s assistance the Swedish foreign department was able to free 50 Norwegian students, 50 Danish policemen and 3 Swedes in December 1944. An absolute condition for the release of the prisoners was that it should be hidden from the press; if Hitler got to know about it further repatriations would be impossible.

On 13 April 1945, the Danish Jewish prisoners in Theresienstadt received the message that they were going home.

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This applied to everyone who had been deported from Denmark, regardless of whether they were Danish citizens. The Danish prisoners were first gathered in the Jäger Barracks, where they had to wait for the buses to arrive in Theresienstadt. A former prisoner described the waiting time:

“Then, all the Danes were gathered in the Jäger Barracks, where we should spend the last days. There was a high fence around the barracks to keep the other prisoners out, while we Danes could go freely in and out. People gathered together outside, partly to ask for the bits of food remaining after we left, and partly to give us the addresses of their families, so we could write and tell them that they were in Theresienstadt.”

After waiting for a day and a half, the prisoners were finally allowed to board the buses that were to drive them to Sweden – Denmark was still occupied. 423 people were released from the camp that day. Not all of them were originally deported from Denmark: A few children were born in the camp; a Danish boy had been deported from Berlin; and a few Czech women had married Danish men in the camp and were therefore allowed to accompany them. 041_diis_3432_10_danske_joeder_befriet_fra_theresienstadt_c_yad_vashem

The expedition had German liaison officers; the most prominent of them being Himmler’s communications officer, SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Rennau, while Franz Göring was a liaison officer with the Gestapo. The expedition had around 40 German communication, SS and Gestapo officers. The Germans demanded that every second vehicle should have a German officer on board. The “White Buses” expedition was totally dependent on cooperation with the Germans as the country under Nazi rule was a police state. Only with liaison personnel from the Gestapo and SS could the expedition move without restrictions.

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Neuengamme concentration camp was overcrowded, and to have space for the Scandinavian prisoners, the SS insisted that prisoners of other nationalities be moved to other camps. The SS commander had no transport of his own and required that the white buses accept the transports, so the newly arrived Scandinavians could solely occupy the Schonungsblock, a barrack building for prisoners not fit to work. Around 2,000 French, Belgian, Dutch, Russian and Polish Jews were transported to other camps. Most of the transports of prisoners for the SS took place between 27 and 29 March, from Neuengamme to subcamps in Hannover and Salzgitter and to Bergen-Belsen. During the evacuations some 50 to 100 prisoners died, and many more died in the worse conditions in the new camps to which they were transported, having been moved to avoid the advancing Allied armies.

The Swedish sub-lieutenant Åke Svenson wrote:

“We could now see how the Germans treated their prisoners in general, French, Belgians, Dutch, Poles, and Russians. It was terrible. This time the Germans had to allow us into the camp as most of the passengers could not walk the minor distance from the barracks to the road. From these barracks a group of creatures were forced, that hardly anymore seemed to be human beings.”

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On the way to Sweden the buses drove through bombed-out Germany, and sometimes they came very close to the actual bombing attacks. On 17 April, the buses reached the Danish border, where the former prisoners were received with food, cakes and flags.

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The buses continued to Odense, where the passengers rested for the night. The next morning, the buses drove to Copenhagen, and the group was sailed to Sweden. In Sweden, they were housed in two quarantine camps: Tylösand and Strangnæs. After Denmark’s liberation on 5 May 1945, the former prisoners could finally return to Denmark. Some could immediately move into their homes, which had been cared for by friends, acquaintances or the Social Service in the Municipality of Copenhagen. For others, the homecoming was difficult, since they had lost both their apartments and their belongings while they were in Theresienstadt. They were also emotionally scarred, and many suffered from physical injuries from their stay in Theresienstadt.

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Sources

Folkedrab.dk

Wikipedia

 

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Operation Carthage

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Operation Carthage, on 21 March 1945, was a British World War II air raid on Copenhagen, Denmark, which incurred significant collateral damage. The target of the raid was the Shellhus, used as Gestapo headquarters in the city centre. It was used for the storage of dossiers and the torture of Danish citizens during interrogations.

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The Danish Resistance had long asked the British to conduct a raid against this site. As a result, the building was destroyed, 18 prisoners were freed, and anti-resistance Nazi activities were disrupted. But, part of the raid was mistakenly directed against a nearby boarding school; it resulted in a total of 125 civilian deaths (including 86 schoolchildren and 18 adults at the school). A similar raid against the Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus, on 31 October 1944, had been successful.

The raid was to be carried out by de Havilland Mosquito fast-bomber aircraft, and thus it was that on the morning of 21 March, these aircraft took of in three waves of six along with two Mosquitoes that were to film the raid.

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The force left RAF Fersfield in the morning and it reached Copenhagen after 11:00. The raid was carried out at rooftop level. In the course of the initial attack, a Mosquito hit a lamp post, damaging its wing, and the plane crashed into the Jeanne d’Arc School, about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) from the target. Several bombers in the second and third wave attacked the burning school, mistaking it for their target.

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In all, eighty-six children and thirteen adults, mostly nuns, were killed. Separately, over fifty Gestapo members were killed in the attack on the headquarters, along with dozens of Danish workers and several prisoners of the Gestapo. Memorials now stand to the children killed as well as the Danish resistance members.Mindesten_for_den_Franske_Skole_(2_af_2)

All fourteen prisoners in the Southern wing of the Shell House survived as this part of the building was not bombed.Shellhuset_210345

The three remaining prisoners were under interrogation on the 5th floor, one of whom died. 18 out of 26 prisoners survived the bomb raid. A total of 133 Danes died during and after the raid. Telegrams from Copenhagen modstandsbevægelse (Resistance Movement) thanked the RAF for the successful raid, and with the destruction of the Gestapo archives the threat against its members was neutralised..

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The Churchill Club

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These days teenagers and young adults are often referred to as “the snowflake” generation a term that refers to young people, typically university or college students, who seek to avoid emotionally charged topics, or dissenting ideas and opinions. This may involve support of safe spaces and trigger warnings in the university setting.

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Although I agree with this to an extend, I think the problem is not with this generation but with the generation that raised them.

However during WWII young people didn’t have the time to get upset by something ‘offensive’ that was said to them. For many they had to put all their energy to survive.

Some were even brave enough to defy the most evil regime on earth, with a real risk of losing their lives.

The Churchill Club (Danish: Churchill-klubben) was a group of eight teenage schoolboys from Aalborg Cathedral School in the north of Jutland who performed acts of sabotage against the Germans during the occupation of Denmark in the Second World War.

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The Churchill Club was probably the earliest resistance group to be formed in Denmark. Under the leadership of 17-year-old Knud Pedersen.

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They started their activities at the end of 1941 when they began to target the German occupation forces in Aalborg as a result of the German treatment of occupied Denmark. They succeeded in carrying out 25 acts of sabotage before they were arrested by the police in May 1942.Some of those acts of sabotage included stealing weapons and destroying vehicles, blueprints, and plane parts. The boys were charged with 1,860 million kroner for the destroyed Nazi property; their sentences ranged from two to three years in prison. Even after imprisonment, they managed to escape at night to continue their sabotage activities.

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A few days before Christmas 1941 the group was formed using the name of the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

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One of their first acts was painting the words  “War Profiteer” in blue paint on the offices and homes of known Nazi sympathizers.

The Churchill Club insignia was an imitation of the Nazi Swastika.  It was blue and had arrows shooting out of each line.  The symbol stood for “Flames of rebellion to kill Nazis!”

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They made explosives out of stolen Nazi weapons.   They decided to blow up the Aalborg railroad yard which was the Nazi base in Aalborg, on the 2nd of May 1942 .  The rail car they blew up contained air plane wings.  The Danish firemen were slow to help the Germans put out the fire because they were afraid of more explosions.

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On the 8th of May 1942 members of the Churchill club had been  followed and were subsequently  arrested for stealing German soldier’s weapons.Although they didn’t know how to use the weapons.

 

On the 17th of July the boys were put on trial and were sentenced depending on their age.Knud Pedersen was sentenced to 3 years in Nyborg state prison.

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I am surprised about the relative lenient sentences they received. More often then not these acts of resistance resulted in death sentences.

Knud Pedersen became an accomplished artist after the war.

 

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On this day in WW2-18 September: 6 events

There were several events which happened on the 18 of September during WW2 happened On this day.Between 1939 and 1945 there were 6 extraordinary events which happened on this particular date of 18 September

I am not sure if it is a coincidence or planned that way. Or maybe I just happened to spot it, either way it is a bit eerie and most of these 6 events were awful crimes against humanity.

1939

The Nazi propaganda broadcaster known as Lord Haw-Haw begins transmitting.

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https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/05/28/william-joyce-aka-lord-haw-haw/

1940

The British liner SS City of Benares is sunk by German submarine U-48; those killed include 83 children.

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City of Benares was part of convoy OB-213, and was being used as an evacuee ship in the overseas evacuation scheme organised by CORB. She was carrying 90 child evacuee passengers who were being evacuated from wartime Britain to Canada. The ship left Liverpool on 13 September 1940, bound for the Canadian ports of Quebec and Montreal, under the command of her Master, Landles Nicoll. She was the flagship of the convoy commodore Rear Admiral E.J.G. Mackinnon DSO RN and the first ship in the centre column.

Late in the evening of 17 September, the City of Benares was sighted by U-48, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Bleichrodt, who fired two torpedoes at her at 23.45 hours. Both torpedoes missed, and at 00.01 hours on 18 September, the U-boat fired another torpedo at her. The torpedo struck her in the stern, causing her to sink within 30 minutes, 253 miles west-southwest of Rockall.

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Fifteen minutes after the torpedo hit, the vessel had been abandoned, though there were difficulties with lowering the lifeboats on the weather side of the ship. HMS Hurricane arrived on the scene 24 hours later, and picked up 105 survivors and landed them at Greenock.

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During the attack on the SS City of Benares, the SS Marina was also torpedoed. Hurricane mistakenly counted one of the lifeboats from the SS Marina for one of the lifeboats from SS City of Benares. As a result, Lifeboat 12 was left alone at sea. Its passengers had three weeks supply of food, but enough water for only one week. In the lifeboat were approximately 30 Indian crewmen, a Polish merchant, several sailors, Mary Cornish, Father Rory O’Sullivan (a Roman Catholic priest who had volunteered to be an escort for the evacuee children), and six evacuee boys from the CORB program. They spent eight days afloat in the Atlantic Ocean before being sighted from the air and rescued by HMS Anthony. In the end, of the 90 children, 83 died of exposure on lifeboats or were missing presumed lost at sea.

1943

On this day, September 18, 1943, Jewish prisoners from Minsk were massacred at Sobibór. This massacre, combined with rumors that the camp would be shut down, led Polish-Jewish prisoners to organize an underground committee aimed at escape from the camp.

The exact number who were killed is not known.

1943

Adolf Hitler orders the deportation of Danish Jews.

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(Danish fishermen (foreground) ferry Jews across a narrow sound to safety in neutral Sweden during the German occupation of Denmark. Sweden, 1943.)

When Germany occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940, the Jewish population was approximately 7,500, accounting for 0.2% of the country’s total population. About 6,000 of these Jews were Danish citizens. The rest were German and eastern European refugees. Most Jews lived in the country’s capital and largest city, Copenhagen.

Until 1943, the German occupation regime took a relatively benign approach to Denmark. The Germans were eager to cultivate good relations with a population they perceived as “fellow Aryans.” Although Germany dominated Danish foreign policy, the Germans permitted the Danish government complete autonomy in running domestic affairs, including maintaining control over the legal system and police forces.

Considering the relatively small Jewish population and the support most Danes gave to their fellow Jewish citizens, Germany initially decided not to make a major issue of the “Jewish question” in Denmark. In fact, the representative of the German Foreign Office at the Wannsee Conference recommended that the Scandinavian countries be excluded from the “Final Solution” on the assumption that the “Jewish question” could be resolved there once overall victory had been achieved.

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While the implementation of the Final Solution in Norway negated this recommendation, the general policy of non-interference in Denmark was decisive for the absence of such measures there.

Unlike in other western European countries, the Danish government did not require Jews to register their property and assets, to identify themselves, or to give up apartments, homes, and businesses.

The tone of the German occupation changed in early 1943. Allied victories convinced many Danes that Germany could be defeated. While there had been minimal resistance to the Germans during the first years of the occupation, labor strikes and acts of sabotage now strained relations with Germany. The Danish government resigned on August 28, 1943, rather than yield to new German demands that German military courts try future saboteurs. The following night, the German military commander,General Hermann von Hannecken, declared martial law.

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German authorities arrested Danish civilians, Jews and non-Jews alike, and Danish military personnel. Under the state of emergency German authorities took direct control over the Danish military and police forces.

On September 8, 1943, SS General Werner Best, the German civilian administrator in Denmark, sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler to propose that the Germans make use of the martial law provisions to deport the Danish Jews. On the 18th of September Adolf Hitler ordered the deportation of Danish Jews.

1944

The British submarine HMS Tradewind torpedoes Jun’yō Maru, 5,600 killed.

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The 5,065-ton tramp steamer Junyo Maru sailed from Batavia (Tandjoeng Priok) on 16 September 1944 with about 4,200 romusha slave labourers and 2,300 POWs aboard. These Dutch POWs included 1,600 from the 10th Battalion camp and 700 from the Kampong Makassar camp. This 23rd transport of POWs from Java was called Java Party 23. Java Party 23 included about 6,500 men bound for Padang on the west coast of Sumatra to work on the Sumatra railway (Mid-Sumatra).

Unbeknown to the Commanding Officer of Tradewind, Lt.Cdr. Lynch Maydon, lynch_maydon_largethe Japanese ship was carrying 4,200 Javanese slave labourers and 2,300 Allied prisoners of war from Batavia to Padang.

On 18 September 1944 the ship was 15 miles off the west coast of Sumatra near Benkoelen when HMS Tradewind hit her with two torpedoes, one in the bow and one in the stern.

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About 4,000 romushas and 1,626 POWs died when the ship sank in 20 minutes. About 200romushas and 674 POWs were rescued by Japanese ships and taken to the Prison in Padang, where eight prisoners died.

1945

General Douglas MacArthur moves his command headquarters to Tokyo

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