Helmut Machemer caught between love and hate.

This is a story which must have been repeated many times in Nazi Germany, German men married to Jewish women and the anxiety and fear they must have gone through, However there is also a uniqueness to the Machemer’s family situation. And in a bizarre way this is also directly connected to me.

Helmut Machemer was a German ophthalmologist who served as “Truppenarzt” with the rank of “Unterarzt”, corresponding to the rank of sergeant with the wehrmacht in the USSR.

He worked with Professor Aurel von Szily in Münster during the 1930s and, with him, pioneered an electrical treatment for retinal detachment, to form a chorioretinal scar , that’s where my connection comes in. The retina in both my eye had become detached, one eye could not be saved.

Machemer dated Erna Schwalbe, who studied medicine at the university of Kiel.

In 1932 Erna found out her mother was Jewish. The couple were aware that this could become an issue due to the rise of the Nazi Party. Erna’s father wrote her a letter which confirmed her mother’s ancestry, which he had tried to keep hidden. Erna immediately offered to separate from Machemer, but he refused to do so on the grounds that he loved her. They married in October 1932. Erna’s mother divorced her father and moved to the Netherlands the following year, after the Nazis came to power.

The couple had 3 children. When the war broke out in 1939,Machemer decided to volunteer. He knew that due to his age he would not be drafted. He was born on May 7,1903 so he was 36 at the start of the war. Now one might think it odd that he volunteered. He could have stayed at home with his wife and children, but because of the Nuremberg laws he knew that his half Jewish wife and quarter Jewish children would not be safe.

He therefore volunteered in an attempt to make use of a little-known exception in the Nazi racial laws: that the “non-Aryan” family of an Aryan could be classified as being of “German blood”, if the man made a significant contribution to the Nazi state. Machemer became convinced that if he was awarded the Iron Cross, first class for bravery on the battlefield then he could secure the reclassification of his family.

Machemer served during the 1940 invasion of France and the 1941 invasion of Russia, in which he served as an Unterarzt (medical officer aspirant) of the reconnaissance unit of the 16th Panzer Division.

For his part in the latter operation he was awarded the second class Iron Cross. At one point he worked in a captured Soviet hospital, operating on captured Russian soldiers.

Whilst in action Machemer was shot in the neck, but after checking it was not serious, returned to duty treating soldiers who had been shot through the lungs.

He noted this in a letter home to his wife and Erna’s reply was that he “shouldn’t consciously put yourself in danger again, it seems to me like a challenge to fate”. Helmut also wrote to Erna of his concern that he might be withdrawn from the front line and placed in a field hospital where he would be unlikely to be recommended for a bravery award.

In a letter dated December 12,1941 he wrote:

“My place is at the front here, and the front line, which suits me perfectly. Therefore do not think that I am reckless and put myself in unnecessary danger”

To his 3 sons he writes:

“Daddy is not yet allowed to leave here, because not all Russians have been shot dead or captured yet. But it won’t be long now.”

He was also a enthusiastic photographer and took many pictures on the battlefield and even filmed it. Some of his film footage can be see in the BBC documentary “Lost Home Movies of Nazi Germany” especially in the 2nd part.

He describes the horrors of the battlefield.

“An unforgettable picture presents itself here. The whole height is thickly covered with dead Russians. I count around 200 corpses, and there could be more than that. The Russian came here in numerous waves throughout the night, but each new wave was mowed down like the previous one. (…) Such a harvest of death, said an experienced tank commander, he had never seen in France or Russia during the entire war. This is the picture of the Russian war with its unheard of cruelty.”

On May 14,1942 he receives his coveted Iron Cross. He hopes that this will reclassify his wife and kids as of ‘German Blood’. He tells his wife:

“Since I also receive the wounded badge in addition to the EK II and I as well as the assault badge, I now have all the medals and badges that can be bestowed to me.” He also records that he celebrated this decision with sparkling wine and, the next day had a hangover.

Four days after receiving the Iron Cross ,Machener was killed at mid-day , while on a trip to screen the battlefield for wounded soldiers. He was hit in head by shrapnel from a grenade during the Second Battle of Kharkov. He was travelling in a car at the time, his companion was heavily wounded, but survived.

Machemer, who was 39 when he died, in his final diary entry of 18 May he says that he had slept well and was awaiting orders. In March 1943 Erna and her children were granted “German-blood” status, in what is believed to be the only known case of such an exemption.

As a scientist, he wished to document his and his company’s way through wartime. His partly critical writings would have been unacceptable for promotion by the Nazi party and may have placed him at risk of arrest and he would not have been able to accomplish his mission. His collection included more than 160 letters, 2,000 photographs and five hours of film footage.Some of the records included depictions of dead German soldiers, dead civilians, burnt houses and dead horses. The majority of Machemer’s reports and private letters were sent via “Feldpost” through the postal service.

Machener did not go to war for hate, but for love. Undoubtedly he will have killed too, but as the saying goes ‘All is fair in love and war’ He was a husband and a father whose only aim was to safe his family.

sources

https://www.spiegel.de/geschichte/helmut-machemer-aus-liebe-freiwillig-an-die-weltkriegsfront-a-1195017.html

https://www.medizin.uni-muenster.de/fakultaet/news/das-eiserne-kreuz-als-letzter-ausweg-arte-doku-ueber-den-wwu-augenarzt-helmut-machemer.html

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000crdh

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Munich Oktoberfest bombing 1980

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I don’t want to make this a political blog but I can’t avoid some politics without telling the factual story. Last weekend’s elections in Germany did see a rise of popularity of far right politics(and no matter what the leaders of AFD say, that is what they are).

Despite the fact the German economy is sound and unemployment is low, the AFD was able to tap into the fears of the German citizens, the fear for Islam. And yes there are valid grounds to fear Jihadi extremists. The truth of the matter  though no terror groups act out of  religion but out of political reasons and then use any excuse to validate this political act, be it religion,animal rights or otherwise.

Today marks the 37th anniversary of the biggest terror attack in Germany and this attack was not committed by Arabs or Muslims but by a German student, named ,Gundolf Köhler. Although he may have had accomplices.Gundolf_Köhler

It is beyond dispute that Gundolf Köhler, a university student from the Swabian town of Donaueschingen, made the bomb, took it to Munich and deposited it at the scene of the crime. But even today, 37 years later, his motives remain unclear.

Köhler was also killed in the attack, because the bomb went off too soon. Few people believe that he committed suicide, however. He was said to be technically adept and knowledgeable about explosives. But the student also had ties to Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann, a banned neo-Nazi terrorist organization, and had taken part in their exercises a number of times.

At 10:19 p.m. on 26 September 1980, a bomb exploded at the main entrance to Oktoberfest, killing 13 people instantly (including Köhler) and injuring 225 people. Amongst the individuals killed were one Briton, one Swiss, and three German children, aged 6, 8, and 10; the remaining victims were West German adults.

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The bomb had been planted in a litter bin at about waist level, allowing it to wreak significant havoc upon detonation. Approximately 50 of the 225 “non fatal” casualties experienced serious, life-threatening injuries with the potential to impact the afflicted individuals for the rest of their lives. The area affected by the bombing was the size of a soccer field, which measures at 100 yards long (the same size as a football field) and 60 yards wide. Such demonstrates the devastating impact of this bomb and underscores why it was able to impact a large number of people. Furthermore, analysis of the bomb provides insight into why it was able to be particularly devastating. Reconstruction from the site of the bombing indicates that it was created from a British mortar projectile manufactured in 1954. This particular projectile was modified to ensure an intense degree of fragmentation, which would assist in causing as many fatalities (and severe injuries) as quickly as possible.

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The key eyewitness remains a dubious figure. Frank Lauterjung was able to provide more details about the attack than anyone else. He survived the explosion, even though he was only a few meters away, because he had had a “bad feeling” and thrown himself to the ground before the bomb detonated. Investigators questioned Lauterjung at least five times in 1980. He died of heart failure two years later, when he was only 38. But when he was questioned, the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Munich ignored his most explosive statement.

Lauterjung told investigators that he had noticed Köhler engaged in a heated conversation with two men in green parkas near the site of the bombing, about half an hour before the attack.

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An unnamed nurse told ARD that shortly after the Munich bombing she recalled treating a young man whose lower arm was missing.

“The arm had been injured by an explosion and had to be amputated,” the nurse told ARD. “But he wouldn’t say how he got hurt – he was proud of it. I went into his room and he was smiling all over.

She said he was never visited by his parents but only by “groups of men”, and added: “He disappeared after a week without even having his stitches removed.”

Ulrich Chaussy, the journalist behind the ARD documentary, has suspected irregularities in the Oktoberfest attack investigation for decades. He has long-believed that the severed hand, which was destroyed by federal prosecutors in 1987, did not belong to Köhler.The formal investigation into the bomb attack was stopped in 1982. Mr Chaussy’s investigations prompted the case to be reopened in December 2014.

 

Secret message in a bullet

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One of the biggest mistakes Hitler made during WWII was actually partnering up with Benito Mussolini and his army.

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The Italian army was extremely effective before the war and well into 1941. The Italian army invaded Ethiopia and Albania and crushed the defending armies. However this was against countries with outdated tech, small armies and horrible leadership. So the Italian army, with more modern technology and better leadership (than the defenders at least) proved the Italian army to be a formidable opponent. Of course this was against nations that were significantly weaker than the Italian Army.

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Against militaries with equal strength, the Italian army was possibly the worst in combat. Compared to the other belligerents, the Italian army had outdated technology, most being designed or purchased around the early 1930’s, horrible leadership and insufficient support or intelligence.

In 1944, an Allied soldier somewhere in the south of Tuscany scribbled a coded message onto a scrap of paper, rolled it up, and stuffed it inside a bullet for safe keeping. It was August, and the tide of WWII was rapidly changing. The Allies were pushing into Europe and soon, the war would be over in Europe.

Recently, a team of Italian metal-detector fans were roaming around in southern Tuscany, picking up bits and pieces here and there. Then, someone found something odd.

It was a bullet that had been inverted into its own casing. It struck them as strange, since soldiers needed all the bullets they could get. When they pried the bullet out of its casing, they found something that no one had seen in decades.

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Hiding messages in bullets was actually not an uncommon practice. A bullet was opened, the powder dumped out, and a message placed inside. Bullets were small, making them easy to carry and to hide, and they could also be easily thrown away if a soldier was captured. Bullets made especially good message carriers because they could literally be left lying around anywhere; bullets are a pretty common site on a battlefield.

It’s dated 8/13/44. The order of the month and day, as well as historical evidence, mean the soldier who wrote this was probably American.

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So what does the coded message say?

“THEY THROW GRENADES. WE PULL PINS AND THROW BACK.”

And underneath:

“NOTIFY REINFORCEMENTS STAND DOWN–NOT NEEDED”

This means that during one engagement, the American soldiers, one of whom wrote this note were catching grenades thrown by the Axis soldiers, but their pins were still intact. What was the reason?

It seems that the grenades in question were an Italian variety that had two pins instead of the typical one. Both needed to be pulled in order for the grenade to detonate. But the grenades coming in on the American soldiers had only one pin pulled, which means that the soldiers throwing them were not Italian, as they would have been trained in how to use them, but German.

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Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, so the only troops still fighting there would have been German–and they would not have known that the Italian grenades had two pins. Imagine their surprise when the same grenades came flying back, and this time, they did explode. The Americans did their research, and it helped–to the point where reinforcements were definitely not needed.

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