Bath School massacre

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The Bath School massacre, was a series of violent attacks perpetrated by Andrew Kehoe on May 18, 1927 in Bath Township, Michigan which killed 38 elementary schoolchildren and 6 adults and injured at least 58 other people. Kehoe killed his wife and firebombed his farm, then detonated an explosion in the Bath Consolidated School before committing suicide by detonating a final device in his truck.It is the deadliest mass murder to take place at a school in United States history.

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Andrew Kehoe was the 55-year-old school board treasurer and was angered by increased taxes and his defeat in the Spring 1926 election for township clerk. He was thought to have planned his “murderous revenge” after that public defeat.Kehoe left behind a stenciled sign on his farm fence that read “Criminals are made, not born.”

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He had a reputation for difficulty on the school board and in personal dealings. In addition, he was notified that his mortgage was going to be foreclosed upon in June 1926. For much of the next year, a neighbor noticed that he had stopped working on his farm and thought that he might be planning suicide. During that period, Kehoe purchased explosives and discreetly planted them on his property and under the school.

Prior to May 18, Kehoe had loaded the back seat of his truck with all sorts of metal debris capable of producing shrapnel during an explosion. He also bought a new set of tires for his truck so it wouldn’t break down when transporting the explosives. He didn’t want it to look suspicious that his truck was full of dangerous products. He made many trips to Lansing for more explosives, as well as the school, town, and his house.

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Many of his neighbors noticed how busy he was driving around, but never thought to make any comment about it. Multiple times, a neighbor to the school saw a man carrying objects into the building at night, but never thought to mention it to anyone.

Nellie Kehoe had been discharged on May 16 from Lansing’s St. Lawrence Hospital.[16] Between her release and the bombings two days later, Kehoe killed his wife. He put her body in a wheelbarrow located in the rear of the farm’s chicken coop, where it was found in a heavily charred state after the farm explosions and fire. Piled around the cart were silverware and a metal cash box. Ashes of several bank notes could be seen through a slit in the cash box. Kehoe had placed and wired homemade pyrotol firebombs in the house and all the buildings of the farm. The burned remains of his two horses were found tied in their enclosures with their legs wired together, to prevent their rescue during the fire.

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Classes began at 8:30 a.m. that morning. At about 8:45 a.m., in the basement of the north wing of the school, an alarm clock set by Kehoe detonated the dynamite and pyrotol he had hidden there.

Rescuers heading to the scene of the Kehoe farm fire heard the explosion at the school building, turned back and headed toward the school. Parents within the rural community also began rushing to the school. The school building had turned into a war zone] with thirty-eight people, mostly children, being killed in the initial explosion.

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First-grade teacher Bernice Sterling told an Associated Press reporter that the explosion was like an earthquake:

“It seemed as though the floor went up several feet,” she said. “After the first shock I thought for a moment I was blind. When it came the air seemed to be full of children and flying desks and books. Children were tossed high in the air; some were catapulted out of the building.

About a half hour after the explosion, Kehoe drove up to the school and saw Superintendent Huyck. Kehoe summoned the superintendent over to his truck. Charles Hawson testified at the Inquest that he saw the two men struggle over some type of long gun and that the car then exploded.killing Superintendent Huyck, Kehoe, Nelson McFarren (a retired farmer)] and Cleo Clayton, an eight-year-old second grader. Clayton, a survivor of the first blast, had wandered out of the school building debris and was killed by the fragmentation from the exploding vehicle.

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The explosion also mortally wounded postmaster Glenn O. Smith (who lost a leg and died later that day of his wounds) and injured several others.

 

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The last German massacre of WWII

Although the Germans had already surrendered and celebration to celebrate VE day had begun in many parts of the world,

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some German troops decided to go for one more killing spree.

The Massacre in Trhová Kamenice happened on 8 May 1945 in what is now the Czech Republic.

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German troops, escaping from Chrudim back to Germany, passed through the village of Trhová Kamenice where they decided to punish supposed partisans.

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Near the village they first killed five villagers, including Bedřich Mareš.

On the village borders, the troops found young Marie Pilařová returning from a visit to her relatives. They shot her instantly. They then entered the village, and in the church they captured the parish priest Oldřich Kučera and brutally tortured him to death.

The troops had previously captured four hostages in the near village of Rohozná – Jaroslav Kvapil, Jan Michek (a 17-year-old boy), Janko Trudič and Antonín Novák. The hostages were executed near house number 6.

Under the nearby hill called Třešňovka, the troops shot three more people – Antonín Alinč, Adolf Zábský and Emanuel Kacafír, who were trying to escape. They are buried in the Trhová Kamenice cemetery.

There is now a monument in the village to remember the event. Those responsible were never brought to trial.

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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.

Karl Schümers- the butcher of Greece

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Karl Schümers (17 October 1905 – 18 August 1944) was a high-ranking commander in the Waffen-SS and Ordnungspolizei (police) of Nazi Germany during World War II. He commanded the SS Polizei Division in July – August 1944. He was directly or indirectly involved in many of the major atrocities committed in Greece during 1944. Killed by a landmine on 18 August 1944, he was posthumously awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

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  • On 5 April 1944, Karl Schümers commanded the 7th unit of the 4th SS Polizei Panzergrenadier Division to the execution of 277 unarmed women, children and elders in the village of Kleisoura in Greece as a retaliation of the killing of 3 German soldiers.In the official investigations by his command hierarchy for the massacre he testified that his soldiers had to kill them all because guerrilla forces were hiding in the village, and was acquitted, while it was proven after the war that his testimony was false.
  • On 24 April the his 7th unit committed the Pyrgoi massacre where 368 children were slaughtered.Mnimio-pesonton
  • Men from the same 7th unit, under the command of Hans Zampel and Fritz Lautenbach committed the Distomo massacre, on 10 June, where 218 civilians were brutally murdered for retaliation, one of the cruelest atrocities of WW II; no one was ever tried for this war crime.Distomo_massacre_1944
  • On 17 June 1944 Karl Schümers commanded the execution of 28 civilians and total destruction of Ipati, and the next day, the burning down of Sperchiada and the killing of 35 civilians.
  • After he was assigned the command of the 4th Panzer Grenadier Division, on 22 July 1944,the 8th unit of his forces took part in the operation Kreuzotter (5-31 August 1944) in a failed attempt to eradicate ELAS bases from the mountains of central Greece, Roumeli, Greece , that resulted, among others, in the killing of approximately 170 civilians and the partial or complete destruction of dozens of villages and cities.Αντάρτες_του_ΕΑΜ-ΕΛΑΣ

He was killed on 18 August 1944 when his car stepped into a landmine planted by Greek resistance, in Arta, Greece.

Kurt Meyer-Excusing the unforgiveable

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The case of Kurt Meyer is somewhat disturbing for it may well have been the 1st case of “Political Correctness” and it also puts question marks on how sorry the Germans really were after WWII.

Kurt Meyer (23 December 1910 – 23 December 1961) was a high-ranking member in the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany who commanded SS Division Hitlerjugend during World War II. He participated in the Battle of France, Operation Barbarossa, and the Battle of Normandy, among others, and was a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords.

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Meyer was convicted of war crimes for his role in the Ardenne Abbey massacre, the killing of Canadian prisoners of war in Normandy.

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In the early days of the Normandy campaign 20 Canadian soldiers, members of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and  27th Armoured Regiment (part of the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment), were captured and executed by Waffen SS forces in a monastery, near Caen, France. The incident was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention, which was signed by Germany before the war.

The executioner was the infamous SS Standartenfuhrer, Kurt Meyer. Meyer was in charge of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and under its wing, the fanatical 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. The Hitlerjugend Division was comprised of ex-members of the Hitler Youth, who were sent to Caen to participate in combat against the invading Allies.

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The captured Canadians were all young men, barely out of school, with no combat experience. They were outmanoeuvred and captured in June 1944. The headquarters of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment was located in the Ardenne Abbey, so the soldiers were taken there.Their bodies were discovered on July 8, 1944 after the Abbey had finally been liberated by the Canadian Army. First, they found the body of Lieutenant Thomas Windsor

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Meyer was held as a prisoner of war until December 1945, when in the town of Aurich in Germany he was put on trial for war crimes, charged with the murder of unarmed Allied prisoners of war in Normandy.

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He was sentenced to death, he appealed the sentence but the appeal was denied by General Christopher Vokes.

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However, due to a technicality discovered by a prosecutor the death sentence was commuted to one of life imprisonment.Meyer was transported to Canada to begin his sentence.Meyer served five years in Dorchester Penitentiary, in New Brunswick, Canada where he worked in the library and learned English.

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Meyer petitioned for clemency in late 1950 – somewhat surprisingly including an offer to serve in a Canadian or United Nations military force if released; the government was willing to let him return to a German prison but not to release him outright. He was transferred to a British military prison in Werl, West Germany in 1951.

He was released from prison on 7 September 1954 after the German government reduced his sentence to fourteen years and for good behavior, was determined to be eligible for release. Upon his return to Germany in 1951, Meyer told a reporter that nationalism was past and that “a United Europe is now the only answer”

Upon his release from prison, Meyer became active in HIAG, the Waffen-SS lobby group, formed in 1951 by former high-ranking Waffen-SS men, including Paul Hausser, Felix Steiner and Herbert Gille.

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Meyer became the organization’s spokesperson in 1959. He was considered one of the leading Waffen-SS apologists. At a HIAG rally in 1957, he announced that while he stood behind his old commanders, Hitler had made many mistakes and it was now time to look to the future, not to the past. Speaking before some 8000 SS men at the HIAG convention in Karlsberg, Bavaria, in 1957, he proclaimed that “SS troops committed no crimes, except the massacre at Oradour, and that was the action of a single man”. He insisted that the Waffen-SS was “as much a regular army outfit as any other in the Wehrmacht.”

His memoirs, Grenadiere (1957), were published as part of this campaign and were a glorification of the SS’s part in the war as well as of his role in it. The book detailed his exploits at the front and served as an element of the Waffen-SS rehabilitation efforts. Meyer condemned the “inhuman suffering” that the Waffen-SS personnel had been subjected to “for crimes which they neither committed, nor were able to prevent”. Historian Charles W. Sydnor referred to Grenadiere as “perhaps the boldest and most truculent of the apologist works”.  The book was part of HIAG’s propaganda campaign to promote the perceptions of the Waffen-SS in popular culture as apolitical, recklessly brave fighters who were not involved in the war crimes of the Nazi regime.

These notions have since been refuted by historians.

In his later years he was afflicted with poor health, needing a stick to walk, and suffering from heart and kidney disease.After a series of mild strokes, he died of a heart attack in Hagen, Westphalia, on  his 51st Birthday 23 December 1961. Fifteen thousand people attended his funeral in Hagen, a cushion-bearer carrying his medals in the cortege.

 

 

 

The Wereth Massacre

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On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched their last great offensive against the Western Allies through the Ardennes Forest of eastern Belgium. It would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. Three German Armies attacked a long a 50-mile front. American troops manning the line were thrown into confusion. Even the high command was stunned. Stabilizing the line was first priority and many of the units available were African American. One of them was the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion.

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From the battle emerged a multitude of heroes and villains. The brutality rivaled that of the Eastern Front; no quarter was given. Incidents like the Malmedy Massacre became well-known. On the afternoon of December 17, 1944, over 80 GIs who had been taken prisoner were gunned down by men of the 1st SS Panzer Division.

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Some escaped to spread the story, which led to a steely resolve on the part of American troops. But later that night another massacre occurred that received little attention during or after the war.

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Eleven men from the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion were taken prisoner after taking refuge in a Belgian village. They surrendered peacefully to a squad from the 1stSS, and marched out of the village. Upon arriving in a large field along the main road, the men were beaten and finally executed.

The remains of the 11 troops were found by Allied soldiers six weeks later, in mid-February, after the Allies re-captured the area. The Germans had battered the soldiers’ faces, cut their fingers off, broken their legs, used bayonetts to stab them in the eye, and shot at least one soldier while he was bandaging a comrade’s wounds.

The troops killed were:

  • Staff Sergeant Thomas J. Forte, service #34036992. Buried Henri-Chapelle plot C, row 11, grave 55. Awards: Purple Heart
  • T/4 William Edward Pritchett of Alabama
  • T/4 James A. Stewart of West Virginia, Service number 35744547. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot C, row 11, grave 2. Awards: Purple Heart
  • Cpl Mager Bradley of Mississippi
  • PFC George Davis of Alabama, service #34553436. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot D, row 10, grave 61. Awards: Purple Heart
  • PFC James L. Leatherwood of Pontotoc, Mississippi
  • PFC George W. Moten of Texas, service #38304695. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot E, row 10, grave 29. Awards: Purple Heart
  • PFC Due W. Turner of Arkansas, service #38383369. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot F, row 5, grave 9. Awards: Purple Heart
  • Pvt Curtis Adams of South Carolina, service #34511454. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot C, row 11, grave 41. Awards: Purple Heart
  • Pvt Robert Green
  • Pvt Nathanial Moss of Texas, service #38040062. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot F, row 10, grave 8. Awards: Purple Heart

Curtis Adams was a medic. Thomas J. Forte was a mess sergeant.

The Bangka Island massacre

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One of the worst sorts of evil one can commit is to do harm or kill those who look after the infirm and injured. People who clearly care and have a kind spirit.

Alas this happened during WWII and still happens nowadays and not only in war torn countries.

The Bangka Island massacre was one of those atrocities committed by the Japanese forces in 1942.

On 12 February 1942, with the fall of Singapore to the Japanese imminent, sixty-five Australian Army nurses, including Sister Vivian Bullwinkel, were evacuated from the besieged city on the small coastal steamer Vyner Brooke.

In addition to the Australian nurses, the ship was crammed with over two hundred civilian evacuees and English military personnel. As the Vyner Brooke was passing between Sumatra and Borneo, Japanese aircraft bombed and strafed the overloaded ship and it sank quickly. The ship carried many injured service personnel and 65 nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service from the 2/13th Australian General Hospital, as well as civilian men, women and children. The survivors in lifeboats were strafed by Japanese aircraft but some reached Bangka Island off the coast of Sumatra. Twelve Australian nurses were either killed in the attack on the ship or drowned in the sea. The remaining fifty-three nurses reached Bangka Island in lifeboats, on rafts, or by drifting with the tide.

Wearing their Red Cross armbands, and having protected status as non-combatants by convention of civilised nations, the nurses expected to be treated in a civilised manner by the Japanese when they reached shore. About 100 survivors reunited near Radjik Beach at Bangka Island, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), including 22 of the original 65 nurses. Once it was discovered that the island was held by the Japanese, an officer of the Vyner Brooke went to surrender the group to the authorities in Muntok. While he was away nurse Irene Melville Drummond suggested that the civilian women and children should leave for Muntok, which they did.

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The nurses stayed to care for the wounded. They set up a shelter with a large Red Cross sign on it.

At mid-morning the ship’s officer returned with about 20 Japanese soldiers. They ordered all the wounded men capable of walking to travel around a headland. The nurses heard a quick succession of shots before the Japanese soldiers came back, sat down in front of the women and cleaned their bayonets and rifles. A Japanese officer ordered the remaining 22 nurses and one civilian woman to walk into the surf.A machine gun was set up on the beach and when the women were waist deep, they were machine-gunned. All but Sister Lt Vivian Bullwinkel were killed.

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Wounded soldiers left on stretchers were then bayoneted and killed.

Shot in the diaphragm, Bullwinkel lay motionless in the water until the sound of troops had disappeared. She crawled into the bush and lay unconscious for several days. When she awoke, she encountered Private Patrick Kingsley, a British soldier that had been one of the wounded from the ship, and had been bayoneted by the Japanese soldiers but survived. She dressed his wounds and her own, and then 12 days later they surrendered to the Japanese. Kingsley died before reaching a POW camp, but Bullwinkel spent 3 years in one. She survived the war and gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo in 1947.

Vivian retired from the army in 1947 and became Director of Nursing at the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. Also in 1947 she gave evidence of the massacre at a war crimes trial in Tokyo.She devoted herself to the nursing profession and to honouring those killed on Banka Island, raising funds for a nurses’ memorial and serving on numerous committees, including a period as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and later president of the Australian College of Nursing.

Bullwinkel married Colonel Francis West Statham in September 1977, changing her name to Vivian Statham. She returned to Bangka Island in 1992 to unveil a shrine to the nurses who had not survived the war.

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She died of a heart attack on 3 July 2000, aged 84, in Perth, Western Australia

The Hermann Graebe testimony.

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Herman Friedrich Graebe or Gräbe, (June 19, 1900 – April 17, 1986) was a German manager and engineer in charge of a German building firm in Ukraine, who witnessed mass executions of the Jews of Dubno on October 5, 1942 by Nazis. Following the war he wrote a famous and horrifying testimony.

“My foreman and I went directly to the pits. Nobody bothered us. Now I heard rifle shots in quick succession from behind one of the earth mounds. The people who had got off the trucks – men, women and children of all ages – had to undress upon the order of an SS man who carried a riding or dog whip.

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They had to put down their clothes in fixed places, sorted according to shoes, top clothing and undergarments. I saw heaps of shoes of about 800 to 1000 pairs, great piles of under-linen and clothing.

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Without screaming or weeping these people undressed, stood around in family groups, kissed each other, said farewells, and waited for a sign from another SS man, who stood near the pit, also with a whip in his hand. During the fifteen minutes I stood near, I heard no complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about eight persons, a man and a woman both of about fifty, with their children of about twenty to twenty-four, and two grown-up daughters about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. An old woman with snow white hair was holding a one year old child in her arms and singing to it and tickling it. The child was cooing with delight. The parents were looking on with tears in their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy about ten years old and speaking to him softly; the boy was fighting his tears. The father pointed to the sky, stroked his head and seemed to explain something to him. At that moment the SS man at the pit started shouting something to his comrade. The latter counted off about twenty persons and instructed them to go behind the earth mound. Among them was the family I have just mentioned. I well remember a girl, slim with black hair, who, as she passed me, pointed to herself and said, “twenty-three years old.” I walked around the mound and found myself confronted by a tremendous grave.

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People were closely wedged together and lying on top of each other so that only their heads were visible. Nearly all had blood running over their shoulders from their heads. Some of the people shot were still moving. Some were lifting their arms and turning their heads to show that they were still alive. The pit was nearly two-thirds full. I estimated that it already contained about a thousand people. I looked for the man who did the shooting. He was an SS man, who sat at the edge of the narrow end of the pit, his feet dangling into the pit. He had a tommy-gun on his knees and was smoking a cigarette. The people, completely naked, went down some steps which were cut in the clay wall of the pit and clambered over the heads of the people lying there to the place to which the SS man directed them. They lay down in front of the dead or wounded people; some caressed those who were still alive and spoke to them in a low voice. Then I heard a series of shots. I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or the heads lying already motionless on top of the bodies that lay beneath them. Blood was running from their necks. The next batch was approaching already. They went down into the pit, lined themselves up against the previous victims and were shot.”

Graebe later provided vital testimony in the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, invoking bitter persecution from many of his countrymen. To escape the hostility, Graebe moved his family to San Francisco in 1948, where he lived until his death in 1986. Hermann Graebe was honoured as a ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashem.

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The Wola Massacre

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The Wola massacre  was the systematic killing of between 40,000 and 50,000 people in the Wola district of Poland’s capital city Warsaw by German troops and collaborationist forces during the early phase of the Warsaw Uprising.

From 5 to 12 August 1944, tens of thousands of Polish civilians along with captured Home Army resistance fighters were brutally and systematically murdered by the Germans in organised mass executions throughout Wola. The Germans anticipated that these atrocities would crush the insurgents’ will to fight and put the uprising to a swift end.However, the ruthless pacification of Wola only stiffened Polish resistance, and it took another two months of heavy fighting for the Germans to regain control of the city.

The Warsaw Uprising broke out on 1 August 1944 and during the first few days the Polish resistance managed to liberate most of Warsaw on the left bank of the river Vistula (an uprising also broke out in the small suburb of Praga on the right bank but was quickly suppressed by the Germans). Two days after the start of the fighting, SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski was placed in command of all German forces in Warsaw.

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Following direct orders from SS-Reichfuhrer Heinrich Himmler to suppress the uprising without mercy, his strategy was to include the use of terror tactics against the inhabitants of Warsaw. No distinction would be made between insurgents and civilians.

Himmler’s orders explicitly stated that Warsaw was to be completely destroyed and that the civilian population was to be exterminated.

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Professor Timothy Snyder, of Yale University, wrote that “the massacres in Wola had nothing in common with combat” as “the ratio of civilian to military dead was more than a thousand to one, even if military casualties on both sides are counted”

On 5 August, three German battle groups started their advance towards the city centre from the western outskirts of the Wola district, along Wolska Street and Górczewska Street. The German forces consisted of units from the Wehrmacht and the SS Police Battalions, as well as the mostly Russian SS-Sturmbrigade RONA and the SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger, an infamous Waffen SS penal unit led by Oskar Dirlewanger.

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https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/07/09/oskar-dirlewanger-the-monster-of-warsaw/#jp-carousel-12844

Shortly after their advance towards the centre of Warsaw began, the two lead battle groups Kampfgruppe “Rohr” led by Generalmajor Günter Rohrand Kampfgruppe “Reinefarth” led by Heinz Reinefarthwere halted by heavy fire from Polish resistance fighters. Unable to proceed forward, some of the German troops began to go from house to house carrying out their orders to shoot all inhabitants. Many civilians were shot on the spot but some were killed after torture and sexual assault.Estimates vary, but Reinefarth himself has estimated that up to 10,000 civilians were killed in the Wola district on 5 August alone, the first day of the operation. Most of the victims were the elderly, women and children.

The majority of these atrocities were committed by troops under the command of SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger and SS-Brigadeführer Bronislav Kaminski.

Russland, Brigadekommandeur Borislaw Kaminski

Research historian Martin Gilbert, from the University of Oxford, wrote:

“More than fifteen thousand Polish civilians had been murdered by German troops in Warsaw. At 5:30 that evening [August 5], General Erich von dem Bach gave the order for the execution of women and children to stop. But the killing continued of all Polish men who were captured, without anyone bothering to find out whether they were insurgents or not. Nor did either the Cossacks or the criminals in the Kaminsky and Dirlewanger brigades pay any attention to von dem Bach Zelewski’s order: by rape, murder, torture and fire, they made their way through the suburbs of Wola and Ochota, killing in three days of slaughter a further thirty thousand civilians, including hundreds of patients in each of the hospitals in their path

On 5 August, the Zośka battalion of the Home Army had managed to liberate the Gęsiówka concentration camp and to take control of the strategically important surrounding area of the former Warsaw Ghetto with the aid of two captured Panther tanks belonging to a unit commanded by Wacław Micuta.

Over the next few days of fighting this area became one of the main communication links between Wola and Warsaw’s Old Town district, allowing insurgents and civilians alike to gradually withdraw from Wola ahead of the overwhelmingly superior German forces that had been deployed against them.

On 7 August, the German ground forces were strengthened further. To enhance their effectiveness, the Germans began to use civilians as human shields when approaching positions held by the Polish resistance.These tactics combined with their superior numbers and firepower helped them to fight their way to Bankowy Square in the northern part of Warsaw’s city centre and cut the Wola district in half.

German units also burned down two local hospitals with some of the patients still inside. Hundreds of other patients and personnel were killed by indiscriminate gunfire and grenade attacks, or selected and led away for executions.The greatest number of killings took place at the railway embankment on Górczewska Street and two large factories on Wolska Street – the Ursus Factory at Wolska 55 and the Franaszka Factory at Wolska 41/45 – as well as the Pfeiffer Factory at 57/59 Okopowa Street. At each of these four locations, thousands of people were systematically executed in mass shootings, having been previously rounded up in other places and taken there in groups.

Between 8 and 23 August the SS formed groups of men from the Wola district into the so-called Verbrennungskommando (“burning detachment”), who were forced to hide evidence of the massacre by burning the victims’ bodies and homes.[12] Most of the men put to work in such groups were also later executed.

On 12 August, the order was given to stop the indiscriminate killing of Polish civilians in Wola. Erich von dem Bach issued a new directive stating that captured civilians were to be evacuated from the city and deported to concentration camps or to Arbeitslager labour camps.

No one belonging to the German forces who took part in the atrocities committed during the Warsaw Uprising was ever prosecuted for them after the end of the Second World War. The main perpetrators of the Wola massacre and similar massacres in the nearby Ochota district were Heinz Reinefarth and Oskar Dirlewanger. Dirlewanger, who presided over and personally participated in many of the worst acts of violence, was arrested on 1 June 1945 by French occupation troops while hiding under a false name near the town of Altshausen in Upper Swabia. He died on 7 June 1945 in a French prison camp at Altshausen, probably as a result of ill-treatment by his Polish guards.In 1945, Reinefarth was taken into custody by the British and American authorities but was never prosecuted for his actions in Warsaw, despite Polish requests for his extradition. After a West German court released him citing a lack of evidence, Reinefarth enjoyed a successful post-war career as a lawyer, becoming the mayor of Westerland, and a member of the Landtag parliament of Schleswig-Holstein. The West German government also gave the former SS-Obergruppenführer a general’s pension before he died in 1979.

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In May 2008, a list of several former SS Dirlewanger members who were still alive was compiled and published by the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

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The Monument to Victims of the Wola Massacre, displaying a list of execution sites across Wola and estimates of the number of victims at each site.
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The tragedy of the SS Cap Arcona.

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Not all Concentration camp victims were killed by the Nazi’s the case of the SS Cap Arcona is one of the worst and most tragic cases of’collateral damage’ of WWII by the Allies. Today is the 71st anniversary of the tragic event.

The Cap Arcona was a large German luxury ocean liner formerly of the Hamburg-South America line that was sunk with the loss of many lives when laden with prisoners from concentration camps.The 27,500 gross ton Cap Arcona was launched in 1927, it was considered one of the most beautiful of the time. It carried upper-class travelers and steerage-class emigrants, mostly to South America. In 1940, it was taken over by the Kriegsmarine, the German navy, and used in the Baltic Sea.

An interesting side note regarding the Cap Acrona is that the ship was used in 1943 to produce the German film “Titanic”. The film was essentially a feature length propaganda epic and was the most expensive film produced in Germany up to that time. The film was released in Paris in the winter of 1943 and but was banned shortly after due to it’s depiction of mass death at a time when Germany was being bombed on a regular basis. It wasn’t shown again until 1949 after which it fell into obscurity. In 2005 a complete version of the film was made available once more.

In the last few weeks of the war in Europe, the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, vice-president of the Red Cross, was organising the removal of Danish and Norwegian prisoners from German concentration camps to neutral Sweden — a scheme known as the White Buses. In practice the scheme also included other nationalities.

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During March and April 1945, concentration camp prisoners from Scandinavian countries had been transported from all over the Reich to the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, in the White Bus programme co-ordinated through the Swedish Red Cross – with prisoners of other nationalities displaced to make room for them.

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Eventually Himmler agreed that these Scandinavians, and selected others regarded as less harmful to Germany, could be transported through Denmark to freedom in Sweden. Then between the 16 and 28 April 1945, Neuengamme was systematically emptied of all its remaining prisoners, together other groups of concentration camp inmates and Soviet POWs; with the intention that they would be relocated to a secret new camp, either on the Baltic island of Fehmarn; or atMysen in Norway where preparations were put in hand to house them under the control of concentration camp guards evacuated from Sachsenhausen.In the interim.

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They were to be concealed from the advancing British and Canadian forces; and for this purpose the SS assembled a prison flotilla of decommissioned ships in the Bay of Lübeck, consisting of the liners Cap Arcona and Deutschland, the freighter Thielbek, and the motor launch Athen.

Since the steering motors were out of use in Thielbek and the turbines were out of use in Cap Arcona, Athen was used to transfer prisoners from Lübeck to the larger ships and between ships; who were locked below decks and in the holds, and denied food and medical attention. On 30 April 1945 the two Swedish ships, Magdalena and Lillie Matthiessen, previously employed as support vessels for the White Bus evacuations, made a final rescue trip to Lübeck and back. Amongst the prisoners rescued were some transferred from the prison flotilla. On the evening of 2 May 1945 more prisoners, mainly women and children from the Stutthof and Mittelbau-Dora camps were loaded onto barges and brought out to the anchored vessels; although, as the Cap Arcona refused to accept any more prisoners, over eight hundred were returned to the beach at Neustadt in the morning of 3 May, where around five hundred were killed in their barges by machine-gunning, or beaten to death on the beach, their SS guards then seeking to make their escape unencumbered.

The order to transfer the prisoners to the prison ships came from Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann in Hamburg.

Karl Kaufmann

 

By early May however, any relocation plans had been scotched by the rapid British military advance to the Baltic; so the SS leadership, which had moved to Flensburg on 28 April,discussed scuttling the ships with the prisoners still aboard.Later, at a war crimes tribunal, Kaufmann claimed the prisoners were intended to be sent to Sweden; although as none of the ships carried Red Cross hospital markings and nor were they seaworthy, this was scarcely credible.Georg-Henning Graf von Bassewitz-Behr, Hamburg’s last Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF), testified at the same trial that the prisoners were in fact to be killed “in compliance with Himmler’s orders”.Kurt Rickert, who had worked for Bassewitz-Behr, testified at the Hamburg War Crimes Trial that he believed the ships were to be sunk by U-boats or Luftwaffe aircraft Eva Neurath, who was present in Neustadt, and whose husband survived the disaster, said she was told by a police officer that the ships held convicts and were going to be blown up.

On 2 May 1945, the British Second Army discovered the empty camp at Neuengamme, and reached the towns of Lübeck and Wismar. No. 6 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade commanded by Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts, and 11th Armoured Division, commanded by Major-General George P. B. Roberts, entered Lübeck without resistance.

Lübeck contained a permanent Red Cross office in its function as a Red Cross port, and Mr. De Blonay of the International Committee of the Red Cross informed Major-General Roberts that 7,000–8,000 prisoners were aboard ships in the Bay of Lübeck. In the afternoon of 3 May 1945, the British 5th reconnaissance regiment advanced northwards to Neustadt, witnessing the ships burning in the bay and rescuing some severely emaciated prisoners on the beach at Neustadt, but otherwise finding mostly the bodies of women and children massacred that morning.

On 3 May 1945, three days after Hitler’s suicide and only one day before theunconditional surrender of the German troops in northwestern Germany at Lüneburg Heath to Field Marshal Montgomery, Cap Arcona, Thielbek, and the passenger linerDeutschland were attacked as part of general strikes on shipping in the Baltic Sea by RAF Typhoons of 83 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force. Through Ultra Intelligence, the Western Allies had become aware that most of the SS leadership and former concentration camp commandants had gathered with Heinrich Himmler in Flensburg, hoping to contrive an escape to Norway. The western allies had intercepted orders from the rump Dönitz government, also at Flensburg, that the SS leadership were to be facilitated in escaping Allied capture—or otherwise issued with false naval uniforms to conceal their identitiesas Dönitz sought, while surrendering, to maintain the fiction that his administration had been free from involvement in the camps, or in Hitler’s policies of genocide.

The aircraft were from No. 184 Squadron, No. 193 Squadron, No. 263 Squadron, No. 197 Squadron RAF, and No. 198 Squadron. Besides four 20 mm cannon, these Hawker Typhoon Mark 1B fighter-bombers carried either eight HE High Explosive “60 lb” RP-3 unguided rockets or two 500 lb (230 kg) bombs.

None of the prison flotilla were Red Cross marked (although the Deutschland had previously been intended as a hospital ship, and retained one white painted funnel with a red cross), and all prisoners were concealed below deck, so the pilots in the attacking force were unaware that they were laden with concentration camp survivors. Swedish and Swiss Red Cross officials had informed British intelligence on 2 May 1945 of the presence of prisoners on ships at anchor in Lübeck Bay, but the information had failed to be passed on.The RAF commanders ordering the strike believed that a flotilla of ships was being prepared in Lübeck Bay, to accommodate leading SS personnel fleeing to German-controlled Norway in accordance with Dönitz’s orders. “The ships are gathering in the area of Lübeck and Kiel. At SHAEF it is believed that important Nazis who have escaped from Berlin to Flensburg are onboard, and are fleeing to Norway or neutral countries”.

Equipped with lifejackets from locked storage compartments, most of the SS guards managed to jump overboard from Cap Arcona. German trawlers sent to rescue Cap Arconas crew members and guards managed to save 16 sailors, 400 SS men, and 20 SS women. Only 350 of the 5,000 former concentration camp inmates aboard Cap Arcona survived. From 2,800 prisoners on board the Thielbek only 50 were saved; whereas all 2,000 prisoners on the Deutschland were safely taken off onto the Athen, before the Deutschland capsized.

RAF Pilot Allan Wyse of No. 193 Squadron recalled, “We used our cannon fire at the chaps in the water… we shot them up with 20 mm cannons in the water. Horrible thing, but we were told to do it and we did it. That’s war.”

Severely damaged and set on fire, Cap Arcona eventually capsized. Photos of the burning ships, listed as Deutschland,Thielbek, and Cap Arcona, and of the emaciated survivors swimming in the very cold Baltic Sea, around 7 °C (44.6 °F), were taken on a reconnaissance mission over the Bay of Lübeck by F-6 Mustang (the photo-reconnaissance version of the P-51) of the USAAF’s 161st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron around 5:00 pm, shortly after the attack.

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As a light rain began to fall on the afternoon of May 3, 1945, British soldiers of 6 Commando, 1st Special Services Brigade, searched the beaches of Neustadt, Germany, on the Baltic Sea for survivors. The bodies of men, women, and even small children lay by the hundreds on the sands. Offshore, under a gray, smoke filled sky, the soldiers could see the the still-smoldering hulk of the former luxury liner, the Cap Arcona, and scores of other damaged ships. A highly effective RAF bombing and rocket raid had destroyed the fleet and killed over 7,000 concentration camp inmates who had been imprisoned on the ships.

One soldier found a girl of about seven clutching the hand of a woman beside her. He presumed she was the girl’s mother. Both bodies were clad in black-and-white-striped wool garments of concentration camp prisoners. The heads and shoulders of floating corpses were visible just offshore, as victims of all ages drifted in

On 4 May 1945, a British reconnaissance plane took photos of the two wrecks, Thielbek and Cap Arcona,the Bay of Neustadt being shallow. The capsized hulk of Cap Arcona later drifted ashore, and the beached wreck was finally broken up in 1949. For weeks after the attack, bodies of victims washed ashore, where they were collected and buried in mass graves at Neustadt in Holstein, Scharbeutz and Timmendorfer Strand.Parts of skeletons washed ashore over the next 30 years, with the last find in 1971.

It’s a story no one would tell. The British government ordered the records to be sealed for 100 years. The sinking of one of the most glamorouse ocean liners of the early twentieth century just had it’s 62nd anniversary, appears in no history books. The governments of Germany and Great Britain continue to to refuse either to discuss it or release pertinent records. So another war atrocity remains mostly a secret, like several other sinkings during the time period. 7000 dead is an awfully lot to not even be able to mention it, but that is the way wars are run.