Ich bin ein Berliner

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The speech is considered one of Kennedy’s best, both a notable moment of the Cold War and a high point of the New Frontier. It was a great morale boost for West Berliners, who lived in an enclave deep inside East Germany and feared a possible East German occupation. Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg for an audience of 450,000, Kennedy said: Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!“… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”.

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Kennedy used the phrase twice in his speech, including at the end, pronouncing the sentence with his Boston accent and reading from his note “ish bin ein Bearleener”, which he had written out using English spelling habits to indicate an approximation of the German pronunciation. Another phrase in the speech was also spoken in German, “Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen” (“Let them come to Berlin”), addressed at those who claimed “we can work with the Communists”.

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While the immediate response from the West German population was positive, the Soviet authorities were less pleased with the combative Lass sie nach Berlin kommen. Only two weeks before, Kennedy had spoken in a more conciliatory tone, speaking of “improving relations with the Soviet Union”: in response to Kennedy’s Berlin speech, Nikita Khrushchev, days later, remarked that “one would think that the speeches were made by two different Presidents”.

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Kennedy held the speech on 26 June 1963, less then 3 months later he was killed.

 

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The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie

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Checkpoint Charlie  was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947–1991).

East German leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuvered to get the Soviet Union’s permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop Eastern Bloc emigration and defection westward through the Soviet border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from communist East Berlin into West Berlin.

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Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

In October 1961, border disputes led to a standoff and for 16 hours the world was at the brink of war while Soviet and American tanks faced each other just 300 feet (100 meters) apart. On August 1961 Washington and its British and French allies had failed to prevent the Soviets building the Berlin Wall. On October 27, after several days of escalating U.S. rebuffs to East German attempts to get American officials to show identification documents before entering East Berlin (thus indirectly acknowledging East German sovereignty, rather than Soviet occupation authority) ten U.S. M-48 tanks took up position at Checkpoint Charlie.

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (3)

By now, American officials were deeply alarmed by the potential consequences. General Clay of the American troops was reminded by Washington that Berlin was not so “vital” an interest to be worth risking a conflict with Moscow. President Kennedy approved the opening of a back channel with the Kremlin in order to defuse what had blown up. As a result, the Soviets pulled back one of their T55s from the eastern side of the border at Friedrichstrasse and minutes later an American M48 also left the scene. Soon the rest of the Soviet tanks withdrew, followed shortly by reciprocal withdrawal of the U.S. tanks.

Khrushchev had been equally uninterested in risking a battle over Berlin. In return for Kennedy’s assurance that the west had no designs on East Berlin, the Soviet leader tacitly recognized that allied officials and military personnel would have unimpeded access to the East German capital.

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (4)

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (5)

The Berlin crisis arose from what one may term “objective factors” – the fact that West Berlin was an anomalous Western enclave well to the east of the Iron Curtain, precipitating a clash of concrete interests of the Soviet Union and the West. The confrontations of armed tanks facing off at Checkpoint Charlie is, however, an excellent illustration of how “subjective factors” such as differing perceptions and beliefs of the two sides also contributed to tension – and could even have precipitated war.

The standoff ended peacefully on October 28 following a U.S.-Soviet understanding to withdraw tanks. Discussions between U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and KGB spy Georgi Bolshakov played a vital role in realizing this tacit agreement.

Although the wall was opened in November 1989 and the checkpoint booth removed on June 22, 1990,the checkpoint remained an official crossing for foreigners and diplomats until German reunification during October 1990 when the guard house was removed; it is now on display in the open-air museum of the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf.

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The desperate act of Ernst Kurt Lisso,Deputy Mayor of Leipzig.

Deputy Mayor Ernst Kurt Lisso and his family after committing suicide by cyanide to avoid capture by US troops, 1945 (1)

As the Red Army and the Western Allies pressed closer and closer to Berlin suicides grew. Thousands of Germans committed suicide in the spring of 1945, rather than face occupation and the expected abuse by their victors. 3,881 people were recorded as committing suicide during April in the Battle of Berlin, although the figure is probably an underestimate. Although the motives was widely explained as the “fear of the Russian invasion”, the suicides also happened in the areas liberated by the British and American troops.

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On the 18th April 1945 a number of officials of Leizig committed suicide in the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus). The Deputy Mayor of Leipzig Ernst Lisso decided to end his life but also that of his wife and daughter as the Americans press towards the city hall. In the death tableaux his wife Renate Lisso sits across from her husband and most shockingly his daughter Regina sits on the bench. She has an armband on and presumably was part of the German Red Cross aiding German soldiers before her premature death. In another room, the mayor and his wife and daughter similarly killed themselves before the Allied forces could do their worst. In both cases they used cyanide capsules.

Deputy Mayor Ernst Kurt Lisso and his family after committing suicide by cyanide to avoid capture by US troops, 1945 (2)

Unlike in Japan–where many people also killed themselves at the end of the war–suicide is not embedded in German culture as a potential response to shame or dishonor. Yet thousands of people felt that life was no longer worth living if it wasn’t under the Nazi order. Perhaps the expected hardships and privations of defeat, coupled with family and personal losses during the war, drove many people over the edge.

Life Magazine reported that: “In the last days of the war the overwhelming realization of utter defeat was too much for many Germans. Stripped of the bayonets and bombast which had given them power, they could not face a reckoning with either their conquerors or their consciences. These found the quickest and surest escape in what Germans call selbstmord, self-murder.”

Deputy Mayor Ernst Kurt Lisso and his family after committing suicide by cyanide to avoid capture by US troops, 1945 (3)

There were several reasons why some Germans decided to end their lives in the last months of the war. First, by 1945 Nazi Propaganda had created fear among some sections of the population about the impending military invasion of their country by the Soviets or Western Allies. Information films from the Reichs Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda repeatedly chided audiences about why Germany must not surrender telling the people they faced the threat of torture, rape and death in defeat. Secondly, many Nazis – who had been indoctrinated in unquestioning loyalty to the party – also felt obliged to follow the example of Adolf Hitler when it was reported that the Führer had taken his own life. Finally others killed themselves because they did know what would happen to them following defeat.

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Ida Siekmann & Günter Litfin-The first two victims of the Berlin Wall.

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There were numerous deaths at the Berlin Wall, which stood as a barrier between West Berlin and East Germany from 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989. Before the rise of the Berlin Wall in 1961, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin, from where they could then travel to West Germany and other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989, the Wall prevented almost all such emigration.

Ida Siekmann (23 August 1902 – 22 August 1961) was the first person to die at the Berlin Wall, only 9 days after the beginning of its construction.

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Ida Siekmann was born in Gorken near Marienwerder (West Prussia) (now Górki, Kwidzyn County, Poland). She had moved to Berlin where she worked as a nurse, and lived at Bernauer Straße 48 in the center of Berlin.

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As of August 1961, she was already a widow; it is not known when she was actually widowed.

After World War II, Berlin was divided in four Allied sectors. While the street and the sidewalk of the Bernauer Straße lay in the French sector of West Berlin,

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the frontage of the buildings on the southern side lay in the Soviet sector of East Berlin. Until 13 August 1961, the day the Berlin Wall was built, Siekmann crossed the sector’s border just by leaving her house.Her sister’s apartment was also in the French sector of West Berlin.

Immediately after the border between East and West Berlin was closed on 13 August 1961, numerous families and individuals from 50 Bernauer Straße addresses fled to the West. On 18 August 1961, Walter Ulbricht ordered the East German border troops to brick up the entrances and windows on the ground floor of the houses on the southern side of the street.

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Members of the Combat Groups of the Working Class and police controlled every person who tried to enter the houses and the residents were subject to rigid controls, even in the hallways.

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Many residents of such tenements still fled to West Berlin: residents of the upper floors were often rescued by jumping-sheets of the West Berlin fire department. On 21 August, the entrance and windows of Bernauer Straße 48 were barred. In the early morning of 22 August, Siekmann, living on the fourth floor (by North American standards, third floor/dritter Stock/Obergeschoss by German standards), threw eiderdowns and some possessions down onto the street and jumped out of the window of her apartment before the firefighters were able to open the jumping-sheet.She fell on the pavement and was severely injured. Siekmann died shortly after on her way to the Lazarus Hospital, thus becoming the first casualty at the Berlin Wall.

Günter Litfin (19 January 1937 – 24 August 1961) was the second victim at the Berlin Wall, and the first to succumb to gunshots.

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A tailor from the borough of Weißensee, like his father, he was a member of the illegal local branch of the West German Christian Democrats. Litfin was already working in the West, near the Zoological Garden, and had already found a flat in the western part of the city. Even on 12 August, one day before the first barbed wire fences were built, he had driven to Charlottenburg with his brother, to furnish his new flat. His intention to escape East Germany was abruptly halted the next morning, as road blocks had already been built. Therefore, around 4pm on 24 August, he undertook the escape attempt that would prove fatal to him.

Starting from Humboldthafen, a small harbour in the River Spree, his plan was to swim through a small canal branching off from the river westwards. However, upon crossing the railway bridge that constituted the border, he was discovered by officers of the transportation police, and was ordered to swim back. He lifted his hands from the water and was then fired upon and mortally wounded.

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In memory of Günter Litfin as well as all other victims of the Wall, a memorial was installed in 1992. Additionally, a street in his home district of Weißensee was named after him. One of the crosses at the White Crosses memorial site next to the Reichstag building is devoted to him.

The siege and massacre of Magdeburg

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On this day in 1631 the city of Magdeburg in Germany is seized by forces of the Holy Roman Empire and most of its inhabitants massacred, in one of the bloodiest incidents of the Thirty Years’ War.

In November 1630, King Gustavus sent his colonel Dietrich von Falkenberg to direct Magdeburg’s military affairs and promised his personal protection.

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Backed by the Lutheran clergy, Falkenberg had the suburbs fortified and additional troops recruited. When the Magdeburg citizens refused to pay a demanded tribute to the emperor, in a matter of months, Imperial forces under the command of Count Johann Tserclaes of Tilly laid siege to the city.The city was besieged from 20 March 1631 and Tilly put his subordinate Imperial Field Marshal Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim in command while he campaigned elsewhere.

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In fierce fighting, the Imperial troops conquered several sconces of the city’s fortification and Tilly demanded capitulation. At the time, about 24,000 Imperial soldiers gathered around the walls.

After two months of laying siege, and after the Swedish victory in the Battle of Frankfurt an der Oder on 13 April 1631, Pappenheim finally convinced Tilly, who had brought reinforcements, to storm the city on 20 May with 40,000 men under the personal command of Pappenheim.

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The Magdeburg citizens had hoped in vain for a Swedish relief attack. On the last day of the siege, the councilors were convinced that it was time to sue for peace, but word of their decision did not reach the Count of Tilly in time.

In the early morning of May 20, the conquest began with heavy artillery fire. Soonafter, Pappenheim and Tilly started marching against Magdeburg. The city’s fortifications were breached and Imperial forces were able to overpower armed opposition and open the Kröcken Gate which allowed the entire army to enter the city, plundering its rich stores of goods. The city was dealt another blow when Swedish colonel Dietrich von Falkenberg was shot dead by Catholic imperials.When the city was almost lost, the garrison mined various places and set others on fire.

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After the city fell, the Imperial soldiers supposedly went out of control and started to massacre the inhabitants and set fire to the city. The invading soldiers had not received payment for their service and took the chance to loot everything in sight; they demanded valuables from every household that they encountered. Otto von Guericke, an inhabitant of Magdeburg, claimed that when civilians ran out of things to give the soldiers, “the misery really began. For then the soldiers began to beat, frighten, and threaten to shoot, skewer, hang, etc., the people.”

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It took only one day for all of this destruction and death to transpire. Of the 30,000 citizens, only 5,000 survived, most of them had fled into Magdeburg Cathedral. Tilly finally ordered an end to the looting on May 24, and a Catholic mass was celebrated at the Cathedral on the next day. For another fourteen days, charred bodies were carried to the Elbe River to be dumped to prevent disease. In a letter, Pappenheim wrote of the Siege:

“I believe that over twenty thousand souls were lost. It is certain that no more terrible work and divine punishment has been seen since the Destruction of Jerusalem. All of our soldiers became rich. God with us.”

After Magdeburg’s capitulation to the Imperial forces, there was much bickering between the residents who had favored resistance against the emperor and those who had been against such an action. Even King Gustavus Adolphus joined in the finger pointing, claiming that the citizens of Magdeburg had not been willing to pay the necessary funds for their defense.Pope Urban VIII expressed his satisfaction that “the nest of heretics” was destroyed.

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On the other hand, the Imperial treatment of defeated Magdeburg helped persuade many Protestant rulers in the Holy Roman Empire to stand against the Roman Catholic emperor

May 1944 Gestapo raid in Hamburg’s Chinatown- The forgotten victims

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This is a little known story which took place on the 13th of May 1944. The victims were Chinese citizens, not tortured and killed by Japanese but by the Gestapo in Hamburg,Germany.

It requires a lot of imagination to recollect the past history that the Schmuckstraße as the center of a lively Chinese district of St. Pauli. Today only two houses of that time are still standing with an emptied site next to it, nothing remained or reminds the once lively Chinese district that connected close between Talstraße and Grosse Freiheit, one of the popular street in the red light district of St. Pauli, Hamburg.

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In the early 20’s, a small Chinese colony had formed in Hamburg as a result of the employment of Chinese in the German merchant shipping. Soon Chinese infrastructure were arisen in some of the European’s harbor cities. The Chinese have settled down there and opened up restaurants, Marine equipment stores, laundries. At that time, it had as many as about 2000 Chinese living in Hamburg.  They were hard-working, well-educated, went to dance and sports clubs, some were married to German women and had children with them.


The harmony living with one another were ended abruptly when the Nazis came. 165 Chinese were detained on 13 May 1944, in the so called “Chinese action” under the pretext of collaboration with the enemy. In the Langer Morgan labor camp in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, 17 of them died. All that remains today of the camp is a plaque.

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More then a 100 people died in the camp due to inhuman conditions.

One of the Chinese victims was Woo Lie Kien  He died in the Allgemeinen Krankenhaus Barmbek(General Hospital Barmbek) as result of torture by the gestapo on the 23rd of November 1944.

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Many of the Chinese left Germany for America or have gone back to their homeland China eventually as the 2nd World War ended. A few stayed back in Hamburg , leaving a fogotten chapter of Hamburg History behind

Marianne Bachmeier- The Vengeance of a Mother.

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On 5 May 1980, Anna Bachmeier,aged: 7 years and 5 months, did not go to school to spite her mother. When trying to visit a friend her own age, Anna was abducted by Klaus Grabowski, a 35-year-old butcher. He is said to have held Anna for several hours at home and then strangled her with a pair of tights. According to the Prosecutor he had tied the girl tight, packed her into a box, which he then buried on the canal bank in a shallow grave.

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Klaus Grabowski was a convicted sex offender and had previously been sentenced for the sexual abuse of two girls. During his detention, he was castrated in 1976 and, two years later, underwent hormone treatment. Once arrested, Grabowski stated that he did not intend to sexually abuse Anna. He said the girl had wanted to tell her mother that he had touched her inappropriately, with the aim of extorting money from him.

On 6 March 1981, the third day of the trial, Marianne Bachmeier smuggled a Beretta M1934 into the courtroom of Lübeck District Court and shot the alleged killer of her daughter Anna, Klaus Grabowski, in the back. She aimed the gun at Grabowski’s back and pulled the trigger eight times.

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Seven of the shots hit, and the 35-year-old defendant was killed instantly.

This is probably the most well-known case of vigilante justice in Germany. It sparked extensive media coverage, television crews from all over the world travelled to Lübeck to report on this case.

A large part of the population showed understanding for her actions. She sold her life story for about 250,000 Deutschmarks in an exclusive to the news magazine Stern.

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On 2 November 1982, Marianne Bachmeier was initially charged in court with murder. Later the prosecution dropped the murder charge. After 28 days of negotiations, the Board agreed on the verdict. Four months after the opening of proceedings she was convicted on 2 March 1983 by the Circuit Court Chamber of the District Court Lübeck for manslaughter and sentenced for unlawful possession of a firearm to six years in prison, but was later released after serving three years.

Marianne Bachmeier married in 1985 and moved in 1988 to Lagos, Nigeria with her husband, a teacher. There they lived in a German camp where her husband taught at a German school. They divorced in 1990 and she moved to Sicily. She was diagnosed with cancer there, whereupon she returned to Germany.

In 1994, 13 years after her act, she gave an interview on Germany radio: “I think there is a very big difference if I kill a little girl, because I’m afraid that I then have to go to prison for my life. And then also the ‘how’, so that I stand behind the girl and, strangle her which is taken literally from his statement: ‘I heard something come out of her nose, I was fixated, then I could not stand the sight of her body any longer ‘. ”

On 21 September 1995, she appeared on the talk show Fliege on the Das Erste TV channel. She admitted that she had shot the alleged killer of her daughter after careful consideration, to enforce the law on him, and to prevent him from further spreading lies about Anna.

On 17 September 1996, she died at the age of 46 years from pancreatic cancer in a hospital in Lübeck. It had actually been her desire to die in her adopted home of Palermo. Before her death, she asked the NDR reporter Lukas Maria Böhmer, to accompany her with movie camera in the last stages of her life.

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She is buried in the same grave as her daughter Anna in a graveyard in Lübeck.

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The Gardelegen massacre

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On May 7th, 1945, Life Magazine published a series of photographs which showed the atrocities discovered by American troops as they fought their way across Germany during the last days of World War II. Included was the photo above, which shows the charred bodies of concentration camp prisoners who were burned to death inside a barn near the Medieval walled town of Gardelegen in eastern Germany on the night of April 13, 1945.

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The Gardelegen massacre was a massacre perpetrated by German SS and Luftwaffe troops during World War II. On April 13, 1945, on the Isenschnibbe estate near the northern German town of Gardelegen, the troops forced 1,016 slave laborers, many of them Poles, who were part of a transport evacuated from the Mittelbau-Dora labor camp into a large barn which was then set on fire. Most of the prisoners were burned alive; some were shot trying to escape. The crime was discovered two days later by F Company, 2nd Battalion, 405th Regiment, U.S. 102nd Infantry Division, when the U.S. Army occupied the area.

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On Friday, April 13th, approximately 1050 to 1100 of the concentration camp prisoners were herded inside a grain barn, piled knee-high with straw, which had been previously doused with gasoline. The barn was then deliberately set on fire by German SS and Luftwaffe soldiers and boys from the Hitler Jugend, according to the survivors. Prisoners who tried to escape from the fire were machine-gunned to death by the Germans guarding the barn, including teen-aged boys in the Hitler Jugend. A total of 1016 prisoners were burned to death or shot as they tried to escape from the unlocked barn. Around 100 of the prisoners survived, including several Russian Prisoners of War who greeted the American soldiers and led them to the scene of one of the most ignominious war crimes of World War II.

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The man who is considered to be the main instigator of the Gardelegen massacre is 34-year-old Gerhard Thiele, who was the Nazi party district leader of Gardelegen. On April 6, 1945, Thiele called a meeting of his staff and other officials at which he issued an order, which had been given to him a few days before by Gauleiter Rudolf Jordan, that any prisoners who were caught looting or who tried to escape should be shot on the spot.

On April 14, the 102nd entered Gardelegen and, the following day, discovered the atrocity. They found the corpses of 1,016 prisoners in the still-smoldering barn and nearby trenches, where the SS had had the charred remains dumped. They also interviewed several of the prisoners who had managed to escape the fire and the shootings. U.S. Army Signal Corps photographers soon arrived to document the Nazi crime and by April 19, 1945, the story of the Gardelegen massacre began appearing in the Western press. On that day, both the New York Times and The Washington Post ran stories on the massacre, quoting one American soldier who stated:

I never was so sure before of exactly what I was fighting for. Before this you would have said those stories were propaganda, but now you know they weren’t. There are the bodies and all those guys are dead.

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On April 21, 1945, the local commander of the 102nd ordered between 200 and 300 men from the town of Gardelegen to give the murdered prisoners a proper burial.

Over the next few days, the German civilians exhumed 586 bodies from the trenches and recovered 430 bodies from the barn, placing each in an individual grave. On April 25, the 102nd carried out a ceremony to honor the dead and erected a memorial tablet to the victims, which stated that the townspeople of Gardelegen are charged with the responsibility that the “graves are forever kept as green as the memory of these unfortunates will be kept in the hearts of freedom-loving men everywhere.” Also on April 25, Colonel George Lynch addressed German civilians at Gardelegen with the following statement:

“The German people have been told that stories of German atrocities were Allied propaganda. Here, you can see for yourself. Some will say that the Nazis were responsible for this crime. Others will point to the Gestapo. The responsibility rests with neither — it is the responsibility of the German people….Your so-called Master Race has demonstrated that it is master only of crime, cruelty and sadism. You have lost the respect of the civilized world.”

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Gerhard Thiele managed to elude justice in January 1946. He escaped , but it was found out he had lived in Düsseldorf at least until 1991 under a false identity.He died in 1994.

However, at least one of the SS men involved in the Gardelegen massacre was put on trial in 1947, according to Gring. She states on page 34 that SS-Untersturmführer Erhart Brauny was sentenced to life in prison. According to Gring, Brauny had been assigned to the Rottleberode sub-camp in 1944 and he was the transport leader for the prisoners evacuated from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp who subsequently wound up in Gardelegen and were herded into the barn which was set on fire.

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He was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in 1950 of natural causes in prison.

The 9th of April 1945 Executions

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The 9th of April 1945 was picked by the Nazi’s to get rid of some those they had considered to be traitors. In fact some of these men were actually heroes, since they all had been part in one way or another(or at least were convicted of that)of trying to kill Adolf Hitler during Operation Valkyrie or the 20 July plot.

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The executions by way of hanging all took place in Flossenbürg concentration camp.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer  4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German pastor, theologian, spy, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has become a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews.He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years.

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Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

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Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1 January 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a German admiral and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, he later turned against the Nazis as he felt Germany would lose another major war. During the Second World War he was among the military officers involved in the clandestine opposition to the Nazi regime. He was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp for high treason.

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Canaris was arrested on 23 July 1944 on the basis of the interrogation of his successor at Military Intelligence, Georg Hansen.Schellenberg respected Canaris and was convinced of his loyalty to the Nazi regime, even though he had been arrested.Hansen admitted his role in the 20 July plot but accused Canaris of being its “spiritual instigator”. No direct evidence of his involvement in the plot was discovered, but his close association with many of the plotters and certain documents written by him that were considered subversive led to the gradual assumption of his guilt. Two of the men under suspicion as conspirators who were known in Canaris’ circle shot themselves which incited activity from the Gestapo to prove he was, at the very least, privy to the plan against Hitler

Ludwig Gehre (5 October 1895 – 9 April 1945) was an officer and resistance fighter involved in the preparation of an assassination attempt against Hitler.

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At the beginning of the Second World War Gehre was active as a Captain in the Abwehr (Military Intelligence) under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. By 1939 a group in the Abwehr had formed to remove the Nazi regime and end the War. This circle included Admiral Canaris, General Ludwig Beck, Hans von Dohnanyi, Hans Oster, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Gehre.

By March 1943 Gehre was privy to the Military Opposition’s preparations under Henning von Tresckow to assassinate Hitler. In January 1944 Helmuth James Graf von Moltke was arrested, and in March 1944 Gehre was also taken by the Gestapo. Gehre, however, was soon able to flee and disappeared.

After the failed 20 July 1944 assassination attempt to kill Hitler, the search for Gehre intensified. Gehre, together with his wife, kept himself hidden for several more weeks. Further shelter was procured by the brothers Hans and Otto John. When Gehre realized that he was about to be discovered by the Gestapo on 1944 November 2, he shot his wife and then directed the gun toward himself. Although he was badly hurt, he survived.

Hans Paul Oster (9 August 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany who was also a leading figure of the German resistance from 1938 to 1943. As deputy head of the counter-espionage bureau in the Abwehr (German military intelligence), Oster was in a strong position to conduct resistance operations under the guise of intelligence work; he was dismissed for helping Jews to avoid arrest.

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He was a key planner of the Oster Conspiracy of September 1938. Oster was arrested in 1943 on suspicion of helping Abwehr officers caught helping Jews escape Germany. After the failed 1944 July Plot on Hitler’s life, the Gestapo seized the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, in which Oster’s long term anti-Nazi activities were revealed. In April 1945, he was hanged with Canaris and Dietrich Bonhoeffer at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Karl Sack (born June 9, 1896 in Bosenheim (now Bad Kreuznach), executed April 9, 1945 in Flossenbürg concentration camp) was a German jurist and member of the resistance movement during World War II.

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Karl Sack studied law in Heidelberg where he joined a Burschenschaft (Burschenschaft Vineta) and after a time in legal practice became a judge in Hesse. He married Wilhelmine Weber and had two sons. In 1934, Sack joined the newly established Reichskriegsgericht (Reich Military Court) where he quickly rose to a senior position. He was able to delay proceedings against Army Commander-in-Chief Werner von Fritsch who had been falsely accused of homosexuality by the Gestapo in an attempt to discredit him for his opposition to Hitler’s attempts to subjugate the German armed forces. In the fall of 1942, Karl Sack became Judge Advocate General of the Army.

During World War II, Sack maintained contacts within the resistance circles in the military, including Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Major General Hans Oster and Hans von Dohnanyi, as well as with others within the Abwehr (German military intelligence). He was part of the attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944 and after that failed attempt he was arrested on August 9, 1944. In the very last days of the war, he was brought before an SS drumhead court-martial presided over by Otto Thorbeck. He was sentenced to death and hanged 2 days later. Sack had been slated for the role of Justice Minister within a planned post-coup civilian government.

In 1984, Sack’s role as a member of the resistance was remembered with a bronze plaque placed in the former Reichskriegsgericht in Berlin-Charlottenburg. There was some opposition to this honour as Sack favoured a far-reaching interpretation of what constituted desertion, which must have led to more than a few death sentences.

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Theodor Strünck (7 April 1895, Pries – 9 April 1945, Flossenbürg concentration camp) was a German lawyer and resistance worker, involved in the July 20 plot.

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Theodor Strünck studied legal science, graduating at the University of Rostock in 1924, and became a lawyer (later a director) at an insurance company. Initially sympathising with National Socialism, he then turned to opposing the regime on their seizure of power and the subsequent decline in the rule of law. In 1937 he became a Hauptmann in Germany’s reserve forces, working in the Wehrmacht section of the Amt Ausland/Abwehr under Hans Oster. He came into contact with Carl Goerdeler and organised meetings of German Resistance members in his own home.

For his participation in the 20 July 1944 plot, Theodor Strünck was arrested on 1 August, dishonourably discharged from the army on 24 August as part of the “Ehrenhof” (so that the Reichskriegsgericht or Reich Courts Martial would no longer have control of his sentencing), and on 10 October condemned to death by the People’s Court under its president Roland Freisler. He was then imprisoned in Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he was executed together by hanging on 9 April 1945.

The Germans were busy on the 9th of April because additionally to the 6 men mentioned above they also executed Georg Elser by hanging in the Dachau concentration camp.

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Johann Georg Elser (4 January 1903 – 9 April 1945) was a German worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on 8 November 1939 at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich.A time bomb that Elser constructed and placed near the speaking platform failed to kill Hitler, who left earlier than expected, but killed eight people and injured over sixty-two others. Elser was held as a prisoner for over five years until executed at the Dachau concentration camp.

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/10/19/what-if-the-assassination-attempts-on-hitler/

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/02/27/forgotten-history-german-resistance/

Elise and Otto Hampel-Defiant heroes

Like in so many other conflicts often the inhabitants of the aggressor nation are also victims as was the case in Germany. Many defied the Nazi regime and paid the ultimate price for it.

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Otto and Elise Hampel were a working-class couple who created a simple method of protest while living in Berlin during the early years of World War II. They composed postcards denouncing Hitler’s government and left them in public places around the city. They were eventually caught, tried, and beheaded in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison in April 1943.

(One of the Hampels’ postcards; in the middle is a postage stamp bearing Hitler’s face, scrawled with the words “worker murderer“)  Hampel_postcard

On this day in 1943, a working-class German couple were executed for treason and sedition in Berlin, Germany: Otto and Elise Hampel’s reign of postcard-writing terror had finally come to its conclusion.

Elise Lemme married Otto Hampel in 1935.

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She was a domestic servant and a member of the National Socialist Frauenschaft (Women’s League). Otto had served in WWI and was a factory worker. After the death of Elise’s brother, a soldier killed during the German assault on France, she and her husband decided to oppose the Nazi regime in their own way. They had handwritten  about 200 postcards and leaflets anonymously which called upon people not to buy Nazi papers, to refuse to serve in the war and to overthrow Hitler.

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Their campaign lasted for two years before they were eventually betrayed and arrested.

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What actually happened was that almost all the cards were delivered to the authorities immediately. Nobody wanted to be caught in possession of such dangerous words.

Because of the sheer number of postcards and the long duration of their distribution, the Gestapo at first thought they were dealing with a much larger group of traitors. Doubtless they were frustrated that this riffraff, who couldn’t even write properly (the postcards were full of grammatical errors and misspellings), were able to evade them for so long.

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But the Hampels’ resistance activities eventually caught up with them.

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They were unrepentant after their arrests in October 1942, and had little to say for themselves, beyond Otto’s statement that he was “happy” about protesting against Hitler. Roland Freisler‘s People’s Court duly condemned them to die for “preparation for high treason” and “demoralizing the troops.” They were executed by guillotine in the Plötzensee Prison.

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For some reason, unlike their equally courageous, naive and doomed counterparts in the White Rose, the Hampels’ story didn’t really catch on with historians.They were saved from oblivion by the dangerously unstable, drug-addicted author Rudolf Ditzen, aka Hans Fallada, who came upon their Gestapo file after the war.

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His 1947 novel,”Every man Dies Alone, written in just 24 days, is closely based on Elise and Otto’s story. This book was Fallada’s swan song; he died weeks before its publication.

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