The Siege of Leningrad

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the siege of Leningrad.

The Siege of Leningrad was one of the deadliest and most destructive sieges in the history of the world – quite possibly the deadliest ever. It would last for 872 days, and there would be more than a million Soviet civilian casualties, plus another million Soviet military casualties and half a million German casualties.

The effect of the siege on the city was devastating . Food shortages were chronic, deaths from starvation, disease and cold were constant and cannibalism occurred throughout the years of the siege. The number of deaths in Leningrad was the single largest loss of life ever known in a modern city.

The Soviets managed to break the siege on 18 January 1943 by opening a narrow land corridor, but it would not be fully lifted until 27 January 1944 when they managed to fully repel the Germans on their drive west.

What is a lesser known fact is that it wasn’t only the Germans who laid siege on Leningrad.

The Finnish army invaded from the north, co-operating with the Germans until Finland had recaptured territory lost in the recent Winter War, but refused to make further approaches to the city. Also co-operating with the Germans after August 1942 was the Spanish Blue Division. It was transferred to the southeastern flank of the siege of Leningrad, just south of the Neva near Pushkin, Kolpino and its main intervention was in Krasny Bor in the Izhora River area.

The population of Leningrad suffered greatly. Despite all the suffering there were still some people who sacrificed their lives to safekeep things that were dear and important to them.

When the German and Finnish forces began their siege of Leningrad, choking food supply to the city’s two million residents, one group of people preferred to starve to death despite having plenty of ‘food.’ The Leningrad seedbank was diligently preserved through the 28-month Siege of Leningrad.

While the Soviets had ordered the evacuation of art from the Hermitage, they had not evacuated the 250,000 samples of seeds, roots, and fruits stored in what was then the world’s largest seedbank. A group of scientists, headed by Nikolai Vavilov, at the Vavilov Institute boxed up a cross section of seeds, moved them to the basement, and took shifts protecting them. Those guarding the seedbank refused to eat its contents, even though by the end of the siege in the spring of 1944, nine of them had died of starvation.

During the siege of Leningrad, a teenage girl Tanya Savicheva, kept a diary. She lost all her family but she herself was eventually evacuated out of the city in August 1942, along with about 150 other children, to a village called Shatki. But whilst most of the others recovered and lived, Tanya, already too ill, died of tuberculosis on 1 July 1944. Below is one her diary entries, it says everything you need to know how awful the siege was.

Zhenya died on December 28th at 12 noon, 1941. Grandma died on the 25th of January at 3 o’clock, 1942. Leka died March 17th, 1942, at 5 o’clock in the morning, 1942

Uncle Vasya died on April 13th at 2 o’clock in the morning, 1942. Uncle Lesha May 10th, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, 1942. Mama on May 13th at 7:30 in the morning, 1942

The Savichevs are dead. Everyone is dead. Only Tanya is left.

sources

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/stalin-vs-science-the-life-and-murder-nikolai-vavilov

https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/the-tragic-tale-of-nikolai-vavilov

https://www.onthisday.com/photos/siege-of-leningrad

Denmark at the UEFA Euro championships

Regardless if you are a fan of the man or not, anyone who watched that match last night must have had an awful shock.

Shortly before half time during the UEFA Euro 2020, group stage match between Denmark and Finland, the Danish midfielder and star player, Christian Eriksen collapsed. He was taken of the pitch and rushed to the Hospital after he received treatment on the pitch, He is awake and stable again, after a reportedly cardiac arrest. We all wish him a speedy recovery but it appears he may not play professional football again.

Not only was this an awful shock but it was also a surprise that the match resumed after some delay. Apparently Christian Eriksen said he wanted the match to be played. The match ended up in a 0-1 win to Finland.

This was not the first time that Denmark surprised sporting fans by playing matches during an UEFA Euro championship.

In 1992, most of the Danish team had been on a beach holiday because they failed to qualify for the tournament.

They had been in group 4 of the qualifying rounds together with Austria, the Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia won the group. Denmark ended up as the runner up and failed to qualify.

However just before the tournament started, Yugoslavia was disqualified as a result of the breakup of the country and the ensuing warfare there. As the runner up of group Denmark was called up to take Yugoslavia’s place.

To make the surprise even bigger ,Denmark reached a place in the semi finals after beating France and drawing with England. In the semis the met the Dutch team, who were the reigning champion and also the favourites to win it again, the match ended up in a draw and had to be decided by a penalty shoot out. To everyone’s surprise it was won by Denmark, securing them a spot in the final against Germany.

The finals were set to be played in the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg Sweden, on June 26.

After having beaten the other giants in European football, the Danes also managed to beat the Germans by two goals.

So Denmark went from not qualifying in the first place ,to be crowned UEFU Euro champions 1992, defying all the odds. Hopefully Christian Eriksen will also defy all the odds and make a full recovery.

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When Police Academy’s Commandant Lassard went to war.

lassard

Who hasn’t seen Police Academy or any of the sequels? I reckon mots people have. But one of the actors in the movie had such an interesting life that his story would warrant a movie and would probably become a box office success.

George Gaynes who played the clueless Commandant Lassard was born George Jongejans  May 3, 1917, in Helsinki, Finland  which  was then still, part of the Russian Empire , the son of Iya Grigorievna de Gay , a Russian artist, and Gerrit Jongejans, a Dutch businessman.

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia had abdicated the throne on March 15, two months prior to Gaynes’ birth, and the Empire was about go through some turbulent times, and was already at war.

Tsar

The Jongejans familyy left the country, and George was primarily raised in France, England, and Switzerland.

George attended college in the vicinity of Lausanne, Switzerland and graduated in 1937. He then attended a music school in Milan, Italy for about a year.

In 1940, George Gaynes was living in France,when France was occupied by Nazi Germany. George attempted to flee France, by crossing the Pyrenees mountains into neutral Spain. He was arrested by the Spanish authorities for illegally crossing the border, but was soon released.

In 1943, George joined the Royal Netherlands Navy. With the Netherlands under German occupation, the headquarters of the Navy had moved to London, in the UK. George had no previous military experience, but he was noticed for multilingual skills. He was  fluent in   Dutch, English, French, Italian and Russian. He was soon detached to the (British) Royal Navy to serve as a translator.

During his naval service in World War II, George took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, the Battle of Anzio in the Italian Campaign, and the Adriatic Campaign. The War ended in 1945 and George was honorably discharged in July, 1946. His highest military rank was that of a sergeant.

In 1946, George returned to France but an American theater director offered him a role in a Broadway musical and he moved to New York City later that year and became an American citizen in 1948.

In the early 1960s, George started appearing as a character actor in various television series. He was also offered a number of film roles. His career unexpectedly took off in the 1980s, with a major part in the television series Punky Brewster.

But his most famous role was that of Commandant Lassard in the Police Academy franchise.

police

He died at his home in North Bend, Washington, on February 15, 2016, at the age of 98.

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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Sources

IMDB

 

Jews in World War 2

bomb

As the title suggests, this blog is about Jews in WWII. However it is not about Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. This is about the Jews who fought on both sides, for the allied troops but also for the Axis powers.

This may sound crazy but some Jews even got awarded an Iron Cross.

Major Leo Skurnik was a Jewish soldier/medical officer in the Finnish army.

leo

In September 1941 he organized an evacuation of a German field hospital when it came under Soviet attack. In excess of  600 patients, including SS soldiers, were evacuated.For this action he was awarded the Iron Cross.

Skurnik was one of  three Finnish Jews who were bestowed the Iron Cross class 2 . All refused to accept the award.

More then 300 Finnish Jewish soldiers found themselves ‘allied’ to  the Nazis when Finland, who had a mutual enemy in the Soviet Union, joined the war in June 1941.

Despite Germany demanding that Finland introduce anti-Semitic laws like in the rest of Nazi-controlled Europe, the Finns refused, treating their Jewish soldiers with respect. They even allowed the Jewish soldiers to practice their religion.

There was even a field synagogue for these soldiers,  some German soldiers  sometimes even visited the synagogue and showed respect for the Jews who prayed there, despite the propaganda they had subjected to for years.

synagogue

It was not so much the case that these Finnish Jewish soldiers subscribed to the Nazi philosophy ,but more of a case of fighting an enemy which was feared more in Finland, the Soviet Union.

On the other hand there were Jews fighting for the allies. About 500,000 American Jews served in the various branches of the United States armed services. approximately 52,000 of these received U.S. military awards/ They fought in Europe and the Pacific.

usarmy

One of the American Jewish soldiers was private Leo Lichten. He was killed in action just outside the village of Prummern,in Germany near the Dutch border.

On November 20,1944.Leo’s company, Company A, received the  order, 1944, to attack pillboxes (small bunkers).The weather conditions were severe , and the ground was muddy, making the battle even more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Leo stormed one of the pillboxes, and was killed by machine gun fire. His body was laid to rest in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. Last year I visited his grave and paid my respects.

leolichten

The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group,also  known as the Jewish Brigade Group or Jewish Brigade, was a military division of the British Army during  World War II. It was formed in late 1944 and consisted of  recruits  of  Jews from the then Mandatory Palestine and was  commanded by Anglo-Jewish officers. It served in the latter stages of the Italian Campaign.

jewishbritish

In October 1944, led by Brigadier Ernest F. Benjamin, the brigade group was sent to Italy where it  joined British 8th Army in November 1944, which was engaged in the Italian Campaign under 15th Army Group.

The brigade group did partake in the Spring Offensive of 1945.  On March 19–20, 1945, it initiated two attacks. It moved to the Senio River sector, where it fought against the German 4th Parachute Division commanded by General lieutenant Heinrich Trettner. On April 9, the brigade crossed the river and established a bridgehead, widening it the following day. At the duration  of the  operations in Italy the Jewish Brigade suffered 30 casualties and 70 wounded.

troops

 

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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Sources

The Telegraph

Haaretz

Wikipedia

 

Finnish escort Aura II-The ship that sank itself

pescort-aura

 

Aura II (formerly known as SS Halland, Bore II, SS Seagull and SS Aura) was a Finnish escort vessel, and a former presidential yacht, operated by the Finnish Navy between 1939 and 1940. The ship participated in the Winter War.

The ship was originally constructed as the passenger vessel SS Halland. She was renamed into Bore II during a sejour with another shipping company. She was bought in 1930 by the Finnish businessman Hans von Rettig, who rebuilt the ship into a luxurious yacht, and renamed her SS Seagull.

hans_von_rettig

He donated the ship to the Finnish state in 1936, to be used as a presidential yacht. She was then given the name SS Aura. She was taken over by the Finnish Navy when the Winter War erupted in 1939, and since the name Aura already was taken by another vessel, she was given a new name, SS Aura II.

On 13 January 1940, Aura II was escorting a convoy across the Sea of Åland.

berghamn_aland

The small convoy consisted of the cargo vessels SS Anneberg, SS Hebe and the passenger vessel SS Bore I.

When they passed Märket Island, the escort vessel Tursas noticed torpedo tracks in the water. Soon thereafter a submarine surfaced 300 m on the port side. Tursas sounded the alarm and tried to ram the Soviet submarine. Aura II followed and dropped three depth charges, and soon an oil slick was seen on the water surface. It was the Soviet submarine ShCh-324, which had been trying to sink the largest of the transport vessels Anneberg.

shch-324

However, the torpedo went between Anneberg and Hebe. Seeing the oil slick, Aura II decided to finish off the submarine. Two more depth charges were fired, but a third depth charge exploded in its thrower. The 135 kg trotyl charge completely tearing the wooden ship apart. 26 men died and 15 were saved. The ship’s commander, Lieutenant Esra Terä, was mortally wounded, but managed to utter some last words: “Let us sing, boys”. The Soviet submarine managed to return to its home base.

Algoth Niska- Finnish smuggler, footballer and adventurer.

14-svyle-1994475464b3c9ab0b3

Finland’s role during WWII is slightly complicated.The military history of Finland during World War II encompasses three major conflicts. The first two––the defensive Winter War in 1939–1940, and the Continuation War alongside the Axis Powers in 1941–1944––were waged against the Soviet Union. The third one, the Lapland War in 1944–1945, followed the signing of an armistice agreement with the Allied Powers, which stipulated expulsion of German forces from Finnish territory.

finn_ski_troops

What is even more remarkable the Finnish army had 300 Jewish soldiers fighting in league with the Nazis when Finland, who had a mutual enemy in the Soviet Union, joined the war in June 1941.

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/02/17/forgotten-history-unlikely-allies/

Whilst looking at the involvement of Finland in WWII I stumbled upon the story of Algoth Niska.

Algoth Niska (5 December 1888 – 28 May 1954) was a  smuggler, footballer and adventurer.

He was born in Viipuri in 1888 and was the youngest child. When his father died in 1903, the family moved to Helsinki, where he got interested in football. He was a member of the Finland football team which played at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, losing 4-0 to England in the semi final.

football_at_the_1912_summer_olympics_-_finland_v-s-_uk

Niska joined his first ship in 1908. When the First World War broke out, he went to navigation school and graduated the following year – though he never got his papers. He was married twice and divorced both women. He had two children. The well-known Finnish musician Ilkka Lipsanen is his grandson.

800px-danny_in_pori_2008

In 1919, when Finnish prohibition came into force, he acquired a large supply of then-illegal liquor. High society in Helsinki soon found out whom they could ask for refreshments. When the supply begun to run out, he bought a boat and begun to smuggle liquor from Estonian and German ships who waited outside Finnish territorial waters. Later he also smuggled liquor from Sweden, where it was legal but tightly controlled.

niska

Over the years he used various tricks to dodge police boats – and sometimes the bullets of their machine guns – during his trips between Turku, Helsinki, Tallinn and Stockholm and in the Åland archipelago. He never shot back. In one case he unloaded his cargo right in the heart of Helsinki while people were distracted during the visit of Gustav V of Sweden.

gustaf_v_av_sverige

Niska was eventually wanted both in Sweden and Finland. He was sentenced for short periods in both countries. In prison he became a model prisoner and was often released early for good behavior.

In 1932 Niska was exiled from Sweden and he spent time in Riga, Tallinn and Danzig. He spoke  Finnish, Swedish, German and English.

Niska had been a smuggler during the Finnish prohibition, but had run into financial troubles after its end in 1932, so when Albert Amtmann, an Austrian-Jewish acquaintance, expressed his concerns over his people’s position in Europe, Niska quickly saw a business opportunity in smuggling Jews out of Germany.

germanmapversailles

The modus operandi was quickly established. Niska would forge Finnish passports and Amtmann would acquire the customers, who with their new passports would able to cross the border out of Germany. All in all Niska falsified passports for 48 Jews during 1938 and earned 2,5 million Finnish marks ($890,000 or £600,000 in today’s money) selling them. Only three of the Jews are known to have survived the Holocaust while twenty were certainly caught. The fates of the other twenty-five are not known. Involved in the operation with Niska and Amtmann were Major Rafael Johannes Kajander, Axel Belewicz and Belewicz’s girlfriend Kerttu Ollikainen whose job was to steal the forms on which the passports were forged

Niska fought in Laatokka during the Winter War. However there are no records of what his involvement was during the Continuation War.

In the mid-1940s Niska tried to finance the building of a new boat by giving interviews about his life – he needed the money and knew he could afford to ask.  In 1953 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and lost his speech and power of movement. He died on 28 May 1954.