The Leica Freedom Train

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When the Nazis came to power in Germany there were plenty of business men and women who saw opportunities.

Some of them saw opportunities in exploiting the environment created by the NSDAP, especially in relation to the ‘Jewish Question’ they would actively help the Nazis for their own betterment.

On the other hand there were those who saw opportunities to do good and help those most affected by the Nazi regime. Ernst Leitz II and his family  were among those who used their influence and contacts to do good.

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Ernst Leitz’s optics company, founded in Wetzlar in 1869, had a tradition of enlightened behavior toward its workers. Pensions, sick leave, health insurance — all were instituted early on at Leitz, which depended for its work force upon generations of skilled employees, many of whom were Jewish.

Ernst Leitz GmbH, is now three companies: Leica Camera AG, Leica Geosystems AG, and Leica Microsystems GmbH. known for the Leica cameras.

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When Ernst Leitz sr. died in 1920, his son, Ernst Leitz II, took over, leading the company through the war years, as well as the introduction of the Leica 35mm camera in 1925. When Adolf Hitler became the German Chancellor in 1933, the younger Leitz almost immediately started receiving frantic calls and letters from Jewish associates, asking for the nearly impossible– help getting them and their families out of Germany. Since the Leitz family was not Jewish, they were not subject to Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws, which– among other things– greatly restricted where Jews could and could not live, as well as limiting and scrutinizing their professional and civic activities.

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In order to help, Leitz quietly embarked on what history would later dub the Leica Freedom Train. The plan seemed simple enough, but could yield dire consequences for all concerned if ever discovered. The plan helped Jews leave the country covertly, under the pretense of Leitz employees being transferred to work overseas.

Employees, retailers, family members, and sometimes even friends of family members were “assigned” to Leitz sales offices, primarily in the United States, but also in France, England, and even Hong Kong. Efforts intensified after Kristallnacht— Crystal Night– in November of 1938, during which Jews were beaten and killed while their buildings, shops, and synagogues were vandalized and burned all across Germany.

Employees arriving in New York were met at the pier and taken to the Leitz Manhattan offices and showroom on 5th Avenue, where they received help finding jobs, homes, and anything else they needed to embark on their new lives.

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The refugees were given a living allowance if finding work proved to be difficult. Each was also given a Leica camera– not because they needed new cameras, but because they were easily exchangeable for cash if necessary. Many among this wave of employees became product designers, repair technicians, sales people, marketers, and even writers in the photography industry.

The Leica Freedom Train was operating at its height in 1938, and into early 1939, dropping off groups of refugees around the world every few weeks. It was not until the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 that the country’s borders were officially closed and Leitz’s rescue operation came to an unfortunate end.

Leitz’s daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, elsie-3_480was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland. She eventually was freed but endured rough treatment in the course of questioning. She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living conditions of 700 to 800 Ukrainian slave laborers, all of them women, who had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940s

The company did produce rangefinders and other optics for the German military. Other Nazi officials especially propaganda experts believed strongly in the Leica cameras as a propaganda tool. That;s why it is believed that some local Nazi officials turned a blind eye to the exploits of the Leitz family.

This entire affair may have never come to light, had it not been for the dedicated research of a California-born rabbi living in England. Written by Frank Dabba Smith and published in 2002 by the American Photographic Historical Society, “The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train” details the family’s efforts to quietly intervene in one of history’s greatest injustices. When Ernst Leitz II was posthumously honored by the Anti-Defamation League with the Courage to Care Award in 2007.The rabbi of the Harrow and Wembley Progressive Synagogue in northwest London and a Leica enthusiast, has reconstructed their stories through photographs, documents and letters of thanks from survivors and their families

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“Under considerable risk and in defiance of Nazi policy, Ernst Leitz took valiant steps to transport his Jewish employees and others out of harm’s way,” said Abraham Foxman, director of ADL. “If only there had been more Oskar Schindlers, more Ernst Leitzs, then less Jews would have perished.”

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Many thanks to Norman Stone for drawing my attention to the Leica Freedom train story.

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Maurice Bavaud and the Swiss government’s lack of courage.

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There have been many attempts to assassinate Hitler, bizarrely enough they all failed.The attempt by Maurice Bavaud is one of the lesser known ones, Partially because it was overshadowed by the events unfolding due to the ‘Kristallnacht-Night of Broken glass’

Student Maurice Bavaud, 25, who was from the western Swiss town of Neuchatel, was executed in Berlin’s notorious Ploetzensee prison after failing in his attempt to shoot Hitler at a Nazi parade in Munich on Nov. 9, 1938.

Bavaud was a Catholic theology student, attending the Saint Ilan Seminary, Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, and a member of an anti-communist student group in France called Compagnie du Mystère. The group’s leader, Marcel Gerbohay, had a lot of influence over Bavaud. Gerbohay claimed that he was a member of the Romanov Dynasty, and convinced Bavaud that when communism was destroyed, the Romanovs would once again rule Russia, in the person of Gerbohay.

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Bavaud believed what Gerbohay had told him, became obsessed with the idea that killing Hitler would help the plans to materialise, and finally decided to carry out the assassination himself.

On October 9, 1938, Bavaud travelled from Brittany to Baden-Baden, then on to Basel, where he bought a Schmeisser 6.35 mm (.25 ACP) semi-automatic pistol.

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In Berlin, a policeman, Karl Deckert, overheard Bavaud saying that he would like to meet Hitler personally. Deckert advised Bavaud that a private audience could be arranged if Bavaud could obtain a letter of introduction from a suitable foreign VIP. Deckert advised him to travel to Munich for the anniversary of the 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch”, which Hitler attended every year. Bavaud followed those instructions by buying a ticket for a seat on the reviewing stand by posing as a Swiss reporter, intending to shoot Hitler as the latter passed during the parade. Bavaud abandoned this attempt when, on November 9th, Hitler turned out to be marching in the company of other Nazi leaders whom Bavaud did not want to injure.

Bavaud next purchased expensive stationery and forged a letter of introduction in the name of the French nationalist leader Pierre Taittinger, which claimed that Bavaud had a second letter for Hitler’s eyes only. He travelled to Berchtesgaden in the belief that Hitler had returned there, only to find that Hitler was still in Munich. When Bavaud returned to Munich, he discovered that Hitler was just leaving for Berchtesgaden.

Obersalzberg, Berghof von Adolf Hitler

Having exhausted his money, Bavaud stowed away on a train to Paris, where he was discovered by a conductor who turned him over to the police. He was interrogated by the Gestapo and admitted his plans to assassinate Hitler.

Bavaud was tried by the Volksgerichtshof on December 18, 1939, naming as his motives that he considered Hitler a danger to humanity in general, to Swiss independence, and to Catholicism in Germany. Swiss diplomacy made no effort to save Bavaud; Hans Fröhlicher, the Swiss ambassador to Germany even publicly condemned Bavaud’s assassination attempt. An offer from the Germans to exchange Bavaud for a German spy was turned down, and Bavaud was sentenced to death. He was executed by guillotine in the Berlin-Plötzensee prison on the morning of May 14, 1941.

On November 2 2007 the then Swiss President Pascal Couchepin admitted  that the Swiss government at the time could have done more to defend Maurice Bavaud.

“With hindsight, the then Swiss authorities did too little to intervene on behalf of the condemned person… he deserves our recognition,” Couchepin said.

“Bavaud anticipated the disaster Hitler would wreak upon the world. Switzerland failed him.”

The government announcement came in response to a motion by parliamentarian Paul Rechsteiner.800px-Paul_Rechsteiner_(2007)

“Even though it was only the end of 1938, he understood what Hitler would mean and took his statements seriously – even if politicians around the world didn’t,” Rechsteiner said.

As for the Swiss authorities’ reaction, Rechsteiner blames a “lack of courage”.

“The case resembles that of Paul Grüninger, who saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives but who wasn’t rehabilitated until 1995,” he said.

Grüninger was a police commander in St Gallen who was prosecuted for forging documents that allowed Jewish refugees into Switzerland.
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“Swiss history has to be looked at in a new way and we must pay tribute to those people who had the courage to do something.”

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How did they not see it?

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The one thing that still baffles me is how did the governments around the globe not see what Hitler’s plans were?

I know that Japan and Italy and to a lesser extend Finland,Romania and a few smaller countries were also axis nations but the fact is if Hitler’s Germany would not have become the power they were, neither of the other countries would have dared starting a global war, maybe a few local conflicts but not a full blown world war.

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Leaving aside the annexation of Austria, the Sudetenland and the Rhineland, or even the Kristall Nacht(night of the broken glass) because these were blatant acts of aggression. If any one just would have bothered reading “Mein Kampf” they would have known what Hitler’s plans were.

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Combine that with the clear military build up from the late 20’s and especially since 1933 the signs were there, but yet no action was taken. Was because of ignorance,naivety or just jeer stupidity, I don’t know.Of course the media wasn’t as advanced then as it is now but nevertheless there was coverage. It is not like Hitler was doing this secretly, he did it in plain sight and in fact boasted about it.

Würzburg on “Boycott Day”, 1 April 1933. A parade of SS men.

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The Nazi booth at a radio exhibition which started in Berlin on August 19, 1932. The booth was designed as propaganda of the Nazi gramophone plate industry which produced only records of the national socialist movement.

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Annual midnight swearing-in of SS troops at Feldherrnhalle, Munich, 1938.

Annual midnight swearing-in of SS troops at Feldherrnhalle, Munich, 1938.

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Men of Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ at the Lichterfelde barracks in Berlin, Germany, November 22, 1938.

Hitler's personal bodyguard undergo a drill inspection in Berlin, November 1938

Hitler’s Autobahn

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Inspecting the troops

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Heinkel He 100 was a German pre-World War II fighter aircraft design from Heinkel. Although it proved to be one of the fastest fighter aircraft in the world at the time of its development, it was not ordered into production.

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Approximately 19 prototypes examples were built. None are known to have survived the war. The Luftwaffe rejected the He 100 to concentrate single-seat fighter development on the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

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Reflection of an American Student who studied in Berlin in 1938.

“So, here I am on the outskirts of Frankfurt, sitting on a train and bound for Würzburg, where I know not what awaits me.”

Robert Harlan, studying a semester abroad at the University of Marburg, witnessed Kristallnacht. Traveling by train to help the parents of a Jewish friend whose house had been ransacked, Harlan reflects that “America, the land of freedom, still has much meaning I’m thinking.”

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They saw what was happening and did nothing.

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As Edmund Burke once said”The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, I would like to add “for good women to do nothing”

This is is how the Nazi regime and all its evil could flourish. People saw what was happening, it was often blatantly obvious but yet they did nothing,or very little.

This is not meant as an accusation to the German (and Austrian)people, because they were intoxicated by the power displayed by Hitler, additionally they were going through economic hardships and Hitler kept his ‘promises’of prosperity and employment and they didn’t realize or didn’t want to see the price to paid for it.

Below are just some examples that really should have opened the eyes of some people.

This photograph was taken in Austria days after the Nazi annexation, March 1938. A lady sitting on a bench, marked “Jews only”

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A boy sits on a bench in a public park. The words painted on the bench say, “For Aryans only.

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It wasn’t only the Germans and Austrians who knew what was happening the whole world saw what was going on and did nothing.

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Jewish prisoners paraded by the SS and local police through the streets of Baden-Baden,November 10 1938.

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SS guards at the Dachau concentration camp, 1933.

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Nazi SA paramilitaries outside Israel’s Department Store in Berlin. The signs read: “Germans defend yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews.

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Four Nazi troops sing in front of the Berlin branch of the Woolworth Co. store during the movement to boycott Jewish presence in Germany, March 1, 1933.

Nazis singing to encourage a boycott of the allegedly Jewish-founded Woolworths, 1933

This is the Reichserntedankfest(Thanksgiving for the Harvest) of 1934 in Buckeberg. That year, 700,000 people participated. Even those who did not support Nazis were totally blown away and emotionally shaken. They had never experienced anything even remotely like this, there was no rock concerts back then. It created spiritual feeling of sublime and unity among people who were participating. When they were marching back to their tents in the night, they could still see the huge spotlights piercing the sky in the Buckeberg. They were totally pumped up and fell that things are really going to change better.

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The synagogue of Baden-Baden in flames, November 10, 1938

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Two Germans accused of having violated the law against sexual relations between Jews and Gentiles.

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A Jewish youth is forced under Nazi supervision to write “Jew” on the wall of a house, following the annexation of Austria, Vienna, 1938.

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In Austria Jews are made to scrub pro-Austrian slogans from streets – March 1938

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A woman’s hair is shaved in public as she is accused of having violated the Nuremberg Laws

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I know people will say that there are similarities in apartheid and the segregation of African Americans, but the Nazi’s final solution’s aim was to annihilate and not to segregate.

Herman van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer- The other 2 fathers in Anne Frank’s annex

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We all know the story of Anne Frank but we don’t really know that much of the others who hid in the secret annex.

On Father’s day lets have a look at the other 2 Fathers who stayed with Anne Frank and her family.

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Hermann van Pels, (31 March 1898 – October 1944), known as Hermann (Hans in the first manuscript) van Daan in Anne’s diary, died in Auschwitz, being the first of the eight to die. He was the only member of the group to be gassed. However, according to eyewitness testimony, this did not happen on the day he arrived there. Sal de Liema, an inmate at Auschwitz who knew both Otto Frank and Hermann van Pels, said that after two or three days in the camp, van Pels mentally “gave up”, which was generally the beginning of the end for any concentration camp inmate. He later injured his thumb on a work detail and requested to be sent to the sick barracks. Soon after that, during a sweep of the sick barracks for selection, he was sent to the gas chambers. This occurred about three weeks after his arrival at Auschwitz, most likely in very early October of 1944, and his selection was witnessed by both his son Peter and by Otto Frank.

Hermann van Pels begins working with Otto Frank in 1938. Miep Gies remembers him as “tall, large man” and “quite an agreeable sort, [who] had no trouble fitting into the routine” in the company.

Hermann van Pels

Hermann acquired his knowledge of the butcher’s trade by working in the business of his father, Aron van Pels (who was originally Dutch). After his marriage to Lina Vorsänger, Aron settled down in Gehrde, Germany. He worked there for his German father-in-law, a wholesaler in butchers’ equipment. Aron and Lina had six children: Max, Henny, Ida, Hermann, Klara and Meta. Hermann was born on March 31, 1898. He became the representative of his father’s business in Osnabrück, Germany.

On December 5, 1925 he married the German Auguste (Gusti) Röttgen. She then became Dutch, since according to German law women automatically assumed the nationality of their husbands.

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Gusti was born on September 29, 1900 in Buer, near Osnabrück, and her father was a merchant. Hermann and Gusti lived in Osnabrück, near the Dutch border, where Peter was born on November 8, 1926.

Peter van Pels

Fritz Pfeffer (30 April 1889 – 20 December 1944) was a German dentist and Jewish refugee who hid with Anne Frank during the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands, and who perished in the Neuengamme concentration camp in Northern Germany.

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Pfeffer was given the pseudonym Albert Dussel in Anne’s diary, and remains known as such in many editions and adaptations of the publication.

His cause of death was listed in the camp records as “enterocolitis”, a catch-all term that covered, among other things, dysentery and cholera.

Fritz Pfeffer was born in Gießen, Germany, one of the five children of Ignatz Pfeffer and Jeannette Hirsch-Pfeffer, who lived above their clothing and textiles shop at 6 Marktplatz in Giessen. After completing his education, Fritz trained as a dentist and jaw surgeon, obtained a license to practice in 1911 and opened a surgery the following year in Berlin.

He served in the German Army during the First World War.

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In 1926 married Vera Bythiner (31 March 1904 – 30 September 1942), who was born in Posen in Imperial Germany (now Poznań, Poland). The marriage produced a son, Werner Peter Pfeffer (3 April 1927 – 14 February 1995), then the couple divorced in 1932. Fritz was granted custody of the boy and raised him alone until November 1938,

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when the rising tide of Nazi activity in Germany persuaded him to send him into the care of his brother Ernst in England. Werner emigrated to California in 1945 after his uncle’s death and changed his name to Peter Pepper, later establishing a successful office supplies company under that name.

The tide of antisemitism in Germany, which increased from the election of Adolf Hitler in 1933, forced most of Fritz’s relatives to flee the country. His mother had died in 1925; his father remarried and remained in Germany, only to be arrested; he died in Theresienstadt in October 1942. His elder brother Julius Pfeffer had died in 1928, Emil Pfeffer emigrated to South Africa in 1937, Ernst Pfeffer moved to England and died in 1944, and Hans left for New Jersey. Their sister Minna remained with their father in Germany and died in Nazi custody. Vera escaped to the Netherlands but was arrested in 1942 and died in Auschwitz.

In 1936 Fritz met a young woman, Charlotte Kaletta (1910–1985), born in Ilmenau, Thuringia in central Germany, who shared his history of a broken marriage. She was estranged from her first husband, Ludwig Lowenstein, and their son Gustaf. The couple moved in together but were prohibited from marrying under the 1935 Nazi Nuremberg Laws which forbade marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

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Kristallnacht cemented their decision to leave Berlin and they fled to Amsterdam in December 1938.

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They were there for two years before the German invasion, and subsequent anti-Jewish laws which did not permit the co-habitation of Jews and non-Jews forced them to officially separate and register under different addresses. After establishing a dental practice in Amsterdam’s Rivierenbuurt he became acquainted with the Van Pels and Frank families. Miep Gies met Pfeffer at one of the Franks’ house parties and became a patient in his dental practice.

n the autumn of 1942, he decided to go into hiding and asked Miep Gies about some suitable addresses. She consulted Otto Frank, who, with his and the van Pels family, was being hidden by her in secret rooms in the Franks’ office building. Frank agreed to accommodate Pfeffer, and he was taken into their hiding place on 16 November, where his medical degree came in handy as they could not contact a doctor while in hiding.

Margot Frank moved into a room with her parents, to allow Pfeffer to share a small room with Anne, beginning what would become a torturous relationship for both.

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It has been suggested by at least one biographer that Anne’s extreme discomfort at sharing her room with a middle-aged man while she was going through puberty may have been at the root of her problems with Pfeffer, but the pressures of being in hiding and the generational differences of their forty-year age gap undoubtedly exacerbated the differences in their natures. Pfeffer felt his age gave him seniority over Anne and wrote off her writing activities as unimportant compared to his own studies. His observance of orthodox Judaism clashed with her liberal views. Her energy and capriciousness grated on his nerves, while his pedantry and rigidity frustrated her. Anne’s irritations and growing dislike of Pfeffer led to complaints and derisory descriptions of him in her diary, against which his son Werner and wife Charlotte defended him once the book was published.The relationship of Anne and Fritz was the toughest of all.

Fritz Pfeffer met zoon Werner, Berlijn, 1937/1938.

Pfeffer left a farewell note to Charlotte and they stayed in touch through Miep, who met her on a weekly basis to exchange their letters and take provisions from her.

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His letters never disclosed the location of his hiding place and Miep never revealed it, but on 4 August 1944 Pfeffer and the seven other occupants of the hiding place were arrested for deportation to Nazi concentration camps.

With the rest of the group and two of their protectors, Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler, Pfeffer was taken to the Nazi headquarters in Amsterdam-South, then to a prison for three days before being transported to Westerbork on 8 August. Pfeffer was taken to the Punishment Barracks with the others, where he undertook hard labour, until he was selected for deportation to Auschwitz on 3 September. He was separated from the others on arrival on 6 September and sent to the men’s barracks, where he was reunited with Otto Frank. On 29 October he was transferred with 59 other medics to Sachsenhausen and from there to Neuengamme on an unknown date. There, he died at age 55 in the sick barracks, of enterocolitis on 20 December 1944, according to the camp’s records.800px-Neuengamme_(Dove_Elv_Schild)

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Kristallnacht-The Night of Broken Glass

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On November 9 to November 10, 1938, in an incident known as “Kristallnacht”, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, also called the “Night of Broken Glass,” some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps.

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On the night of November 9, 1938, violence against Jews broke out across the Reich. It appeared to be unplanned, set off by Germans’ anger over the assassination of a German official in Paris at the hands of a Jewish teenager. In fact, German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and other Nazis carefully organized the pogroms. In two days, over 250 synagogues were burned, over 7,000 Jewish businesses were trashed and looted, dozens of Jewish people were killed, and Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes were looted while police and fire brigades stood by. The pogroms became known as Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” for the shattered glass from the store windows that littered the streets.

The morning after the pogroms 30,000 German Jewish men were arrested for the “crime” of being Jewish and sent to concentration camps, where hundreds of them perished.

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Some Jewish women were also arrested and sent to local jails. Businesses owned by Jews were not allowed to reopen unless they were managed by non-Jews. Curfews were placed on Jews, limiting the hours of the day they could leave their homes.

The violence was instigated primarily by Nazi Party officials and members of the SA (Sturmabteilungen: literally Assault Detachments, but commonly known as Storm Troopers) and Hitler Youth.

In its aftermath, German officials announced that Kristallnacht had erupted as a spontaneous outburst of public sentiment in response to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath.

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Vom Rath was a German embassy official stationed in Paris. Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, had shot the diplomat on November 7, 1938. A few days earlier, German authorities had expelled thousands of Jews of Polish citizenship living in Germany from the Reich; Grynszpan had received news that his parents, residents in Germany since 1911, were among them.

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Vom Rath died on November 9, 1938, two days after the shooting. The day happened to coincide with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, an important date in the National Socialist calendar. The Nazi Party leadership, assembled in Munich for the commemoration, chose to use the occasion as a pretext to launch a night of antisemitic excesses. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, a chief instigator of the Kristallnacht pogroms, suggested to the convened Nazi ‘Old Guard’ that ‘World Jewry’ had conspired to commit the assassination. He announced that “the Führer has decided that … demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the Party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.”

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Goebbels’ words appear to have been taken as a command for unleashing the violence. After his speech, the assembled regional Party leaders issued instructions to their local offices. Violence began to erupt in various parts of the Reich throughout the late evening and early morning hours of November 9–10. At 1:20 a.m. on November 10, Reinhard Heydrich, in his capacity as head of the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) sent an urgent telegram to headquarters and stations of the State Police and to SA leaders in their various districts, which contained directives regarding the riots. SA and Hitler Youth units throughout Germany and its annexed territories engaged in the destruction of Jewish-owned homes and businesses. Members of many units wore civilian clothes to support the fiction that the disturbances were expressions of ‘outraged public reaction.’

Despite the outward appearance of spontaneous violence, and the local cast which the pogrom took on in various regions throughout the Reich, the central orders Heydrich relayed gave specific instructions: the “spontaneous” rioters were to take no measures endangering non-Jewish German life or property; they were not to subject foreigners (even Jewish foreigners) to violence; and they were to remove all synagogue archives prior to vandalizing synagogues and other properties of the Jewish communities, and to transfer that archival material to the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD). The orders also indicated that police officials should arrest as many Jews as local jails could hold, preferably young, healthy men.

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On the 12th of November 1938 The Nazi state imposes a fine of one billion Reichsmarks($400,000,000) on the Jewish community in Germany. Jews are ordered to clean up and make repairs after the pogrom. They are barred from collecting insurance for the damages. Instead, the state confiscates payments owed by insurers to Jewish property holders. In the aftermath of the pogrom, Jews are systematically excluded from all areas of public life in Germany.

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Kristallnacht changed the nature of persecution from economic, political, and social to physical with beatings, incarceration, and murder; the event is often referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust. In the words of historian Max Rein in 1988, “Kristallnacht came…and everything was changed.”

While November 1938 predated overt articulation of “the Final Solution”, it foreshadowed the genocide to come. Around the time of Kristallnacht, the SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps called for a “destruction by swords and flames.”

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At a conference on the day after the pogrom, Hermann Göring said: “The Jewish problem will reach its solution if, in any time soon, we will be drawn into war beyond our border—then it is obvious that we will have to manage a final account with the Jews.”

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Herschel Grynszpan assassination of Ernst vom Rath

Today 78 years ago a 17 year old Polish-Jewish refugee.Herschel Grynszpan,assassinated a Nazi diplomat,Ernst vom Rath, in Paris. This triggered Novemberpogrome 1938 also known as Kristallnacht(the Night of broken glass).

On the morning of 7 November 1938, Polish-German Jew Herschel Grynszpan, 17, went to the German embassy in Paris and asked to speak with an embassy official. He shot the 29-year-old vom Rath five times, mortally wounding him with bullets to the spleen, stomach and pancreas.

Adolf Hitler himself sent his two best doctors, personal physician Karl Brandt and surgeon Georg Magnus, to Paris to try to save vom Rath’s life.

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Hitler promoted vom Rath, who had been a junior officer at the embassy, to the rank of Legal Consul, First Class (Gesandtschaftsrat I. Klasse) hours before vom Rath’s death on 9 November at 17:30 .Kristallnacht was launched within hours.

Why Grynszpan, who had fled from Germany to France in 1936, chose vom Rath is not known with certainty, although he was upset over news that his family was being deported from Germany back to Poland. As far as it can be established, Grynszpan and Rath did not know each other. Most accounts of the shooting state that Grynszpan did not ask for vom Rath by name but only asked to speak to a member of the diplomatic staff. The records were falsified in 1942, and the Germans spread propaganda that Grynszpan’s intention was to kill the ambassador, Count Johannes von Welczeck.

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Grynszpan, who was immediately arrested and confessed, insisted his motives were to avenge the Jewish people against the actions already taken by the Germans. He had a postcard on him written to his parents that read, “With God’s help. My dear parents, I could not do otherwise, may God forgive me, the heart bleeds when I hear of your tragedy and that of the 12,000 Jews. I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do. Forgive me.”

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Vom Rath was given a state funeral on 17 November in Düsseldorf, with Hitler and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop among those in attendance.

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Germany used the incident to publicize that the Jews had “fired the first shot” in a war on Germany; in his funeral oration, Ribbentrop declared, “We understand the challenge, and we accept it.”

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American journalist Dorothy Thompson reported widely on the case, and raised funds for Grynszpan’s defence in his French trial, which never took place. Much to the fury of Grynszpan who wanted to use the defense that he killed Rath because he was a Jew, Grynszpan’s French lawyer Vincent de Moro-Giafferi wanted to use as the defense the allegation that Rath was a homosexual who had seduced Grynszpan, and that Grynszpan had killed Rath as a part of a lover’s quarrel.

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The allegations that Rath was gay started with Moro-Giafferi. Grynszpan initially escaped from prison when France fell in 1940, but he was captured by the Nazis and taken back to Germany. He was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to face a trial there, one that Joseph Goebbels planned to turn into Nazi propaganda about an international Jewish conspiracy and to claim it as evidence that Jews had started World War II.

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However, allegations emerged that vom Rath was a homosexual, and Goebbels learned that Grynszpan was intending to use this claim in his defence at the trial by implying that vom Rath had seduced him. Grynszpan planned to claim that vom Rath was his pimp and he had been sent to be with various diplomats (although Grynszpan later stated this to be false in an encrypted letter sent from Sachsenhausen).

The homosexuality accusations threatened to humiliate the Nazis. Goebbels wrote that “Grynszpan has invented the insolent argument that he had a homosexual relationship with… vom Rath. That is, of course, a shameless lie; however it is thought out very cleverly and would, if brought out in the course of a public trial, certainly become the main argument of enemy propaganda.”

According to historian Hans-Jürgen Döscher, Germany’s foremost authority on Kristallnacht, vom Rath was homosexual and had met Grynszpan in Le Boeuf sur le Toit, a popular haunt for gay men in 1938.The French writer André Gide, himself a homosexual, testified in his personal diaries that vom Rath was well known in the Parisian homosexual community. There were rumours that occasionally he was called “Madame Ambassador” and “Notre Dame de Paris.” His brother, Gustav, was convicted of homosexual offences and there were allegations that vom Rath was treated for rectal gonorrhoea at the Berlin Institute of Radiology.

The trial was planned for 1942 but never took place, primarily because the Nazis (who also sent homosexuals to the death camps) feared it would turn into a gay scandal.

Grynszpan’s ultimate fate is unknown but he probably died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

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The last documentation indicating he was alive, or thought to be alive, was a Foreign Ministry memorandum on 7 December 1942. In 1960, at the request of his parents in Israel, the lower district court in Hannover officially declared Grynszpan deceased, listing his date of death as 8 May 1945.

Truus Wijsmuller Meijer: Auntie Truus-Unsung Hero.

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WWII saw so much evil but also so much bravery. People with disregard of their own lives would defy the Nazi authorities to save lives of others, often complete strangers whom they’d never met before prior to saving them. These people are not always recognized enough for what they have done.Geertruida (Truus) Wijsmuller-Meijer aka Auntie Truus(Tante Truus) was one of these people.

Geertruida (Truus) Wijsmuller-Meijer (Alkmaar, 21 April 1896 – Amsterdam, 30 August 1978) was a Dutch war hero, resistance fighter, and probably afterRaoul Wallenberg and Aristides de Sousa Mendes the greatest savior of Jews. She was recognized as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem. In all likelihood, she, together with others involved with Kindertransport, saved more than 10,000 Jewish children

In December 1938, a 42-year-old Dutchwoman met with Nazi lieutenant Adolf Eichmann to negotiate the transport of Jewish children out of Vienna. Her name was Truus Wijsmuller Meijer, but to thousands of children she would be known as “Tante Truus” – Auntie Truus.

Truus Meijer was born into a wealthy banking family and was working in the bank when she met her husband, Joop Wijsmuller. She and Joop loved children and were saddened when they couldn’t have their own. Truus left the bank and started doing social work in Amsterdam. This brought her in touch with the Committee for Special Jewish Interests, who alerted her to the desperate situation of German and Austrian Jews.

By 1938, following the attacks of Kristallnacht in Austria and Germany, the Jewish population feared for their lives.

Many tried to get asylum abroad, but few countries were willing to take large numbers of refugees. An exception was Britain, which allowed for the temporary entry of unaccompanied children. So began a rescue effort called the Kindertransport, in which Truus was a pivotal figure.

She was a friend of resistance fighter Mies Boissevain-van Lennep, whom she knew from the Association for Women’s Interests and Equal Citizenship (VVGS).

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From the thirties onwards “Auntie Truus” (as they soon called her) arranged, with Mies Boissevain and others, children’s transports for the Committee for Special Jewish Interests. These transports saved 10,000 Jewish children from Germany and Austria, on a route via the Netherlands to the UK.

In Germany she worked with Recha Freier, the wife of a Berlin rabbi. She was not intimidated easily, made a fuss if necessary, bribed railroad men with gifts and German officers with charm. She negotiated with the man who would later organize the transports of Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Adolf Eichmann, who was working in Vienna at the time. Eichmann joked with her: no negotiation, she could take 600 Viennese Jewish children immediately

-In case you are wondering, you did read it right. She did meet Eichmann as in Adolf Eichmann , one of the most evil men of the Nazi regime.-

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He thought she would never be able to accomplish this undertaking. He didn’t know Auntie Truus! She gathered the children, organized the paperwork and the trains, and had a welcoming committee meet them with apples and chocolate when they reached the Netherlands. 500 children sailed immediately for England, with the remaining 100 leaving on later boats.

The later transports were smaller and more orderly. Truus travelled to Germany several times a week and helped to arrange 49 transports. She used charm, stubbornness, and occasional bribery to get the children through.

Transport from central Europe became more restricted with the outbreak of war in September 1939. Many Jewish children remained in the Netherlands, which was still neutral. The orphanage in Amsterdam had become a refugee camp, and Auntie Truus was a popular figure there. She and Joop visited regularly, entertained the children at home, and brought them to the zoo on Sundays.

 

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Truus was in Paris, but she crossed troop lines to return to Amsterdam. There she collected Jewish children from the orphanage and foster homes, and arranged for coaches to get them on the last boat for England. The children hoped that Auntie Truus would come with them, but she didn’t want to leave Joop and so she waved them goodbye from the dock.

In all, 10,000 children entered Britain on the Kindertransport. Some would eventually be reunited with their parents, but sadly many were the only survivors from their families.

During the occupation of the Netherlands, Truus continued to smuggle Jewish people into Spain and Switzerland. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, but released through lack of evidence. She sent thousands of food packages to Westerbork transit camp, where Jews and other prisoners were held before being sent to other concentration camps.

In 1944, she found out that a group of young children were to be sent from Westerbork to Auschwitz, where they would be killed immediately. Truus persuaded the guards that these were not Jewish children, but the Aryan offspring of German soldiers and Dutch women! The children were sent to a different camp, Theresienstadt, and almost all of them survived the war.

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As the war progressed, she devoted herself to obtaining and distributing food. She sent thousands of packages to camps like Westerbork and Theresienstadt, and delivered duck eggs to elderly houses in Amsterdam every week. During the Dutch famine of 1944 (the Hongerwinter or “Hunger winter”) she took care of malnourished children in the Randstad.(Amsterdam,Rotterdam,The Hague and Utrecht) She took many across the IJsselmeer to more rural areas like Groningen, Friesland, Overijssel and Drenthe to recuperate.

After the war, Truus Wijsmuller Meijer was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Her obituary in 1978 read: “Mother of 1001 children, who made rescuing Jewish children her life’s work.” An asteroid was named “Tantetruus” (Auntie Truus) in her honour.

A sculpture of her, made by Herman Diederik Janzen , was unveiled in 1965 in Beatrixoord in Oosterpark in Amsterdam. When Beatrixoord was redeveloped “Auntie Truus” took the statue home. After her death in 1978 it was reinstated on the Bachplein in Amsterdam.

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This courageous woman embodied the best spirit of aunthood, loving and risking her life for children who were not her own. She deserves to be more widely known.