Sister Maria Restituta Kafka and Sister Élise Rivet-Defiant WWII Heroes

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Sr Maria Restituta Kafka:

Born on 1 May 1894 [at Hussowitz bei Bruenn in the Austria-Hungary Empire, today] Brno-Husovice, in modern day Czech Republic, of humble background, Helene Kafka grew up in the Austrian capital where she worked in the Lainz hospital with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. In 1914 she entered the convent and received the name Maria Restituta. From 1919 until 1942 she served in the hospital in Moedling, Vienna, where she became a surgical nurse and an anaesthetist, esteemed for her professional competence, beloved for her sensitivity and respected for her energetic character, so much that she soon earned the nickname ‘Sister Resoluta’.

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After Germany annexed Austria, the religious worked for justice and the dignity of every human being. Faced with the anti-religious suppression of the Nazis, she responded by reaffirming religious freedom and by refusing to remove the crucifixes in the hospital. She also countered Hitler’s swastika with the Cross of Christ. She also spread ‘A soldier’s song’ that spoke of democracy, peace, and a free Austria. Spied on by two ladies, she was denounced by a doctor close to the SS, who for some time sought an opportunity to distance her from the hospital

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A Viennese cannot keep her mouth shut, she said. When a new hospital wing was constructed, Kafka kept to traditional Catholic practice and hung a crucifix in every room.

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The Nazi authorities demanded that the crosses be taken down, threatening her dismissal, but she refused.The crucifixes were not removed, nor was Kafka, since the Franciscan community said that they could not replace her.

Kafka continued in her vocal criticism of the Nazi government and several years later was denounced by a doctor who strongly supported the regime. On Ash Wednesday 1942 (18 February of that year), while coming out of the operating theater, Kafka was arrested by the Gestapo and accused, not only of hanging the crucifixes, but also of having dictated a poem mocking Hitler.On 29 October 1942 she was sentenced to death by the guillotine by the Volksgerichtshof for “favouring the enemy and conspiracy to commit high treason”. The authorities offered to release her if she would leave the convent, but she refused.

When a request for clemency reached the desk of Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party Chancellery.

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He replied that her execution would provide “effective intimidation” for others who might want to resist the Nazis.Kafka spent the rest of her days in prison, where she was noted for caring for other prisoners. During this period, she wrote in a letter from the prison:

It does not matter how far we are separated from everything, no matter what is taken from us: the faith that we carry in our hearts is something no one can take from us. In this way we build an altar in our own hearts.

Kafa was sent to the guillotine on 30 March 1943.She was 48 years old.

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On 21 June 1998, on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Vienna, Kafka was beatified by him. She was the first female martyr of Vienna.

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Kafka, the only Religious Sister to be formally condemned to death under the Nazi regime, was commemorated in Rome on the evening of 4 March 2013, in the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola on Tiber Island, with a liturgy of the word at which Cardinal Christoph Schönborn presided.

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During the service, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity gave to basilica a small cross which Kakfa had worn on the belt of her religious habit. The relic was placed in the chapel there which remembers the martyrs of Nationalist Socialism

Élise Rivet (January 19, 1890, Draria, Algeria – March 30, 1945, Ravensbrück concentration camp, Germany) was a Roman Catholic and World War II heroine

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The daughter of a French naval officer, she joined the convent of the medical sisters of “Notre Dame de Compassion” in Lyon. In 1933 she became “Mère Marie Élisabeth de l’Eucharistie”, the convent’s Mother Superior. After the fall of the French Third Republic to Nazi Germany in World War II, she began hiding refugees from the Gestapo[citation needed] and eventually used her convent to store weapons and ammunition for the Mouvements Unis de Résistance (MUR).

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On March 24, 1944 she and her assistant were arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the prison at Fort Montluc in Lyon.

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From there she was taken to Romainville before being shipped to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin, Germany. There, stripped of her religious garments, she was forced into hard labor. With the end of the War in sight, the Germans began a massive amount of killings by gas chamber, including Mother Élise, on March 30, 1945, only weeks before the war ended. Rivet volunteered to go to the gas chamber  in place of a mother only weeks before Germany surrendered unconditionally.[She was 55 years old.

In 1961, the government of France honored her with her portrait on a postage stamp and a street bearing her name in Brignais (Lyon) was inaugurated on December 2, 1979.

 

In 1997, she was posthumously awarded the Médaille des Justes and in 1999 the “Salle Élise Rivet” was named for her at the Institut des Sciences de l’Homme in Lyon.

 

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Marlene Dietrich

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On her birthday it is time to look back at Marlene Dietrich’s WWII efforts.

Marie MagdaleneMarleneDietrich ( 27 December 1901 – 6 May 1992)was a German actress and singer who held both German and American citizenship. Throughout her unusually long career, which spanned from the 1910s to the 1980s, she maintained popularity by continually reinventing herself.

In the 1920s in Berlin, Dietrich acted on the stage and in silent films. Her performance as Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel (1930) brought her international fame and resulted in a contract with Paramount Pictures.

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Dietrich starred in Hollywood films such as Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932), and Desire (1936). She successfully traded on her glamorous persona and “exotic” looks, and became one of the highest-paid actresses of the era. Throughout World War II, she was a high-profile entertainer in the United States.

Dietrich was known to have strong political convictions and the mind to speak them. In interviews, Dietrich stated that she had been approached by representatives of the Nazi Party to return to Germany but had turned them down flat. In the late 1930s, Dietrich created a fund with Billy Wilder and several other Germans to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany.

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In 1937, her entire salary for Knight Without Armor (450,000) was put into escrow to help the refugees. In 1939, she became an American citizen and renounced her German citizenship. In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds.

She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.

During two extended tours for the USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the UK and France, then went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton.

 

When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometers of German lines, she replied, “aus Anstand“—”out of decency”.Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower. Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw (a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s) and a pretend “mindreading” act. Dietrich would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!” American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of Dietrich’s act.

In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including “Lili Marleen”, a favorite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.Major General William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, wrote to Dietrich, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for us.”

 

At the war’s end in Europe, Dietrich reunited with her sister Elisabeth and her sister’s husband and son. They had resided in the German city of Belsen throughout the war years, running a cinema frequented by Nazi officers and officials who oversaw the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Dietrich’s mother remained in Berlin during the war, her husband moved to a ranch in the San Fernando Valley of California. Dietrich vouched on behalf of her sister and her sister’s husband, sheltering them from possible prosecution as Nazi collaborators. Dietrich would later omit the existence of her sister and her sister’s son from all accounts of her life, completely disowning them and claiming to be an only child.

Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom in November 1947. She said this was her proudest accomplishment. She was also awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French government for her wartime work

The Churchill Club

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These days teenagers and young adults are often referred to as “the snowflake” generation a term that refers to young people, typically university or college students, who seek to avoid emotionally charged topics, or dissenting ideas and opinions. This may involve support of safe spaces and trigger warnings in the university setting.

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Although I agree with this to an extend, I think the problem is not with this generation but with the generation that raised them.

However during WWII young people didn’t have the time to get upset by something ‘offensive’ that was said to them. For many they had to put all their energy to survive.

Some were even brave enough to defy the most evil regime on earth, with a real risk of losing their lives.

The Churchill Club (Danish: Churchill-klubben) was a group of eight teenage schoolboys from Aalborg Cathedral School in the north of Jutland who performed acts of sabotage against the Germans during the occupation of Denmark in the Second World War.

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The Churchill Club was probably the earliest resistance group to be formed in Denmark. Under the leadership of 17-year-old Knud Pedersen.

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They started their activities at the end of 1941 when they began to target the German occupation forces in Aalborg as a result of the German treatment of occupied Denmark. They succeeded in carrying out 25 acts of sabotage before they were arrested by the police in May 1942.Some of those acts of sabotage included stealing weapons and destroying vehicles, blueprints, and plane parts. The boys were charged with 1,860 million kroner for the destroyed Nazi property; their sentences ranged from two to three years in prison. Even after imprisonment, they managed to escape at night to continue their sabotage activities.

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A few days before Christmas 1941 the group was formed using the name of the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

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One of their first acts was painting the words  “War Profiteer” in blue paint on the offices and homes of known Nazi sympathizers.

The Churchill Club insignia was an imitation of the Nazi Swastika.  It was blue and had arrows shooting out of each line.  The symbol stood for “Flames of rebellion to kill Nazis!”

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They made explosives out of stolen Nazi weapons.   They decided to blow up the Aalborg railroad yard which was the Nazi base in Aalborg, on the 2nd of May 1942 .  The rail car they blew up contained air plane wings.  The Danish firemen were slow to help the Germans put out the fire because they were afraid of more explosions.

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On the 8th of May 1942 members of the Churchill club had been  followed and were subsequently  arrested for stealing German soldier’s weapons.Although they didn’t know how to use the weapons.

 

On the 17th of July the boys were put on trial and were sentenced depending on their age.Knud Pedersen was sentenced to 3 years in Nyborg state prison.

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I am surprised about the relative lenient sentences they received. More often then not these acts of resistance resulted in death sentences.

Knud Pedersen became an accomplished artist after the war.

 

 

Guy Môquet’s farewell letter

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Today marks the 75th anniversary of the execution of Guy Môquet, a 17 year young French Communist militant.and resistance fighter.During the German occupation of France during World War II, he was taken hostage by the Nazis and executed by firing squad in retaliation for attacks on Germans by the French Resistance. Môquet went down in history as one of the symbols of the French Resistance.

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Guy Prosper Eustache Môquet was born on 26 April 1924 in the 18th arrondissement of Paris.He studied at the Lycée Carnot and joined the Communist Youth Movement. After the occupation of Paris by the Germans and the installation of the Vichy government, he was denounced on 13 October 1940 and arrested at the Gare de l’Est metro station by three police officers of the French Anti-Communist Special Brigade. He had with him a poem about three of his arrested comrades, handwritten by him.

“The traitors of our country
These agents of capitalism
We will drive them away
In order to establish socialism

To get you out of jail
To kill capitalism”

 

These are the last words he sent to his family.

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My darling Mummy, my adored brother, my much loved Daddy, I am going to die! What I ask of you, especially you Mummy, is to be brave. I am, and I want to be, as brave as all those who have gone before me. Of course, I would have preferred to live. But what I wish with all my heart is that my death serves a purpose. I didn’t have time to embrace Jean. I embraced my two brothers Roger and Rino (1). As for my real brother, I cannot embrace him, alas! I hope all my clothes will be sent back to you. They might be of use to Serge, I trust he will be proud to wear them one day. To you, my Daddy to whom I have given many worries, as well as to my Mummy, I say goodbye for the last time. Know that I did my best to follow the path that you laid out for me. A last adieu to all my friends, to my brother whom I love very much. May he study hard to become a man later on. Seventeen and a half years, my life has been short, I have no regrets, if only that of leaving you all. I am going to die with Tintin, Michels. Mummy, what I ask you, what I want you to promise me, is to be brave and to overcome your sorrow. I cannot put any more. I am leaving you all, Mummy, Serge, Daddy, I embrace you with all my child’s heart. Be brave! Your Guy who loves you.”

The reason why this story touches me is because I have a 17 year old son and I can even start to imagine the pain Guy’s father must have felt. it would have destroyed me. Often we forget about those who stay behind and the pain they felt. This was a remarkable young boy and I am not sure how many boys of that age would make the sacrifice he made.

 

The real escape from Sobibor

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Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the Sobibor uprising. The reason why I call this article “the real escape from Sobibor” is not to mistake it for the movie “Escape from Sobibor” although the book and the movie are based on the event, parts of it are fictionalized.

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However this is not to say it is not a good movie, because it is a good movie and although I haven’t read the book I understand it is a very compelling read.

Sobibór  was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the village of Sobibór, in occupied Poland, within the semi-colonial territory of General Government, during World War II.

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During the revolt of 14 October 1943, about 600 prisoners tried to escape; about half succeeded in crossing the fence, of whom around 50 evaded capture. Shortly after the revolt, the Germans closed the camp, bulldozed the earth, and planted it over with pine trees to conceal its location. Today, the site is occupied by the Sobibór Museum, which displays a pyramid of ashes and crushed bones of the victims, collected from the cremation pits.

On 14 October 1943, members of the camp’s underground resistance succeeded in covertly killing 11 German SS-Totenkopfverbände officers and a number of Sonderdienst Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards. Of the 600 inmates in the camp, roughly 300 escaped, although all but 50 – 70 were later re-captured and killed. After the escape, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the death camp closed. It was dismantled, bulldozed under the earth, and planted over with trees to cover it up.

By the summer of 1943, the transports to the Sobibór death camp were slowing down. The veteran Jewish prisoners sensed that the end was quickly approaching. In July, the prisoners organized an underground unit. It was led by Leon Feldhendler, the son of a rabbi from the nearby town of Zolkiewka.

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In September 1943, a deportation from Minsk of Soviet Jewish prisoners of war brought to the camp a trained officer, Lieutenant Aleksandr “Sasha” Aronovich Pechersky.

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The Jewish underground recruited Pechersky and placed him in command. His deputy was Leon Feldhendler.

They devised a daring plan. SS officers would be lured into storehouses on the pretext that they were to be given new coats and boots. Once inside , aided by the bold efforts of Thomas (Tuvia) Blatt,thomas_blatt

they would be attacked by the prisoners and killed with axes and knives. Nazi weapons were to be seized, and at roll call the camp would be set ablaze. All prisoners would have a chance to bolt for freedom. Once outside Sobibór’s gates, they would all be on their own.

 

 

At 4:00 p.m. on October 14, 1943, the first SS soldier was killed with an axe. Ten more SS men were killed, as were several Ukrainian guards. Telephone wires and electricity lines were cut. Within an hour, the camp was burning, guns were aimed at the guard towers, and the first group of prisoners fled across the German mine fields surrounding the facility.

By dusk more than half the prisoners—about 300 people—had escaped. Most were killed by their Nazi pursuers or died crossing the minefields. After the revolt, some joined partisan units; others found shelter among sympathetic Poles. It is estimated that just 50 of the escapees survived the war.

 

Within days of the uprising, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp closed, dismantled, and planted with trees.The gas chambers were demolished. Remnants of their foundations were covered with asphalt and made to look like a road.Four of the chambers were uncovered by archaeologists in 2014, using modern technology.

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Feldhendler was among those who survived the war, hiding in Lublin until the end of German occupation. The city was taken by the Soviet Red Army on 24 July 1944, and became the temporary headquarters of the Soviet-controlled communist Polish Committee of National Liberation established by Joseph Stalin. However, on 2 April 1945, Feldhendler was shot through the closed door of his flat as he got up to investigate a commotion in an outer room. Feldhendler and his wife managed to escape through another door and made their way to Lublin’s Św. Wincentego á Paulo hospital, where he underwent surgery but died four days later. According to most of the older publications, Feldhendler was killed by right-wing Polish nationalists,sometimes identified as the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne,an anti-Communist and anti-Semitic partisan unit (name unknown). However, more recent inquiries, citing the incomplete treatment of the event by earlier historians, and the scant documentary record, have called into question this version of events.

The only concrete document found by local Polish scholars is a record of Feldhendler’s hospital admission at Wincentego á Paulo describing the injury. Dr Kopciowski wrote that Feldhendler was likely shot in an armed robbery gone bad, because he was known locally as a budding gold trader. Feldhendler’s killing was one of at least 118 violent deaths of Jews in the Lublin district between the summer of 1944 and the fall of 1946 amid the crime-wave of the so-called Soviet liberation.

 

 

 

 

Johan Westerweel: Forgotten Hero

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Joop Westerweel (January 25, 1899, Zutphen – August 11, 1944, Vught) was a schoolteacher[2] and a Christian anarchist who became a Dutch World War II resistance leader, the head of the Westerweel Group.

Westerweel along with Joachim Simon and other Jewish and colleagues, helped save in the region of 200 to 300 Jewish lives by organizing an escape route, smuggling Jews through Belgium, France and on into neutral Switzerland and Spain. He was arrested on March 10, 1944, after leading a group of Jewish children to safety in Spain, whilst on his way back to the Netherlands at the Dutch/Belgian border. He was executed at Herzogenbusch concentration camp(Kamp Vught) in August 1944.

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Johan (Joop) Westerweel began his teaching career in the Dutch East Indies, but was expelled for refusing to be drafted into the army because of his pacifist convictions. His strict Christian background – his parents belonged to the Derbists, a non-consensual sect of Protestantism – instilled in him a sense of justice for all and a belief in the basic goodness of mankind. Upon his return to the Netherlands Westerweel began teaching in a school at the Werkplaats in Bilthoven, where the progressive and innovative educational methods of its founder, Kees Boeke, were applied. In Bilthoven, the Westerweels came into contact with Jewish refugee children who had arrived in Holland during the 1930s, mostly from Germany. In 1940, Joop and his wife Wilhelmina (Wil), moved to Rotterdam, where Joop was offered a position as principal of one of the Montessori schools.

By 1942, the couple had four children.

Nevertheless they dedicated their lives to helping others, and had been taking Jewish refugees into their home. Joop’s colleague and friend from the Werkplaats, Mirjam Waterman (later Pinkhof), introduced him to a group of young halutzim (Zionist pioneers) in Loosdrecht, near Amsterdam. Joop recognized a sense of idealism and strong principles in this group and felt a great affinity with them. When the Loosdrecht group received a tip-off from the Jewish Council on August 15, 1943 that they were about to be deported, Joop and his friends, who became known as the Westerweel group, were on hand to provide hiding places for each of the 50 members. 33 out of this group survived the war; the others were deported after betrayal.

Realizing that hiding was not sufficient to save the Jews, the Westerweel group began devising ways to help them escape from Dutch territory. In December 1943, Joop led a group of halutzim to France. At the foot of the Pyrenees, in a dramatic address to the young halutzim he was about to leave, Joop urged them to remember the suffering in the world at large. He implored them to accord freedom and dignity to all inhabitants of a future Jewish State. “No more war,” were his final words as they parted company.

Later that month, Wil was arrested during an attempt to free Lettie Rudelsheim (later Ben Heled), one of the most active halutz members, from the Scheveningen prison. Following his wife’s arrest, Joop placed his four children with friends of the family, quit his post at the Montessori school, and went underground. On March 11, 1944, Joop and his co-worker Bouke Koning were caught at the Belgian border with two Jewish women whom they were escorting. Joop was imprisoned in the Vught camp and tortured. He soon became a spiritual leader for many of the prisoners – his unfailing high spirits in the face of the brutality of camp life gave those around him hope and strength. His last communication with the outside world was a poem, entitled “Avond in de Cel” (Evening in the Cell), written in July 1944. The poem was full of optimism, speaking of the beauty of nature and a life of fulfillment and inner conviction. On August 11, 1944, Joop Westerweel was executed in the Vught concentration camp. His wife, who was in the same camp, had to witness her husband’s execution. She survived the camps and returned to her family after the war.

One of the Westerweel children, Marta, settled in Israel, where she met many of her father’s survivors.  “I was three-and-a-half years old when my father was arrested and five years old when he was executed. I never really knew him. In the Netherlands I was a fatherless child; here in Israel I became my father’s daughter”, she says. It was from the survivors that she heard stories about her father. “I know the survivors endured terrible tragedies”, she says, “but in a way I envy them, because they knew my father.

On June 16, 1964, Yad Vashem recognized Johan Gerard Westerweel and his wife, Wilhelmina Dora Westerweel-Bosdriesz, as Righteous Among the Nations.

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Abba Kovner-Poet and Hero

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Abba Kovner was a somewhat controversial figure and by today’s standards he could be considered a terrorist, but as the saying goes “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” But considering what he witnessed one can not blame him for some of his actions after the war.

Abba Kovner was born on March 14, 1918, in the Crimean Black Sea port city of Sevastopol. His parents were Rachel (Rosa) Taubman and Israel Kovner. At a young age he moved with his family to Vilnius, which at this time was part of Poland, where he grew up and was educated at the secondary Hebrew academy and the school of the arts. While pursuing his studies, he joined and became an active member in the socialist Zionist youth movement HaShomer HaTzair.

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In September 1939, World War II began. Only two weeks later, on September 19, the Red Army entered Vilna and soon incorporated it into the Soviet Union. Kovner became active during this time, 1940 to 1941, with the underground. But life changed drastically for Kovner once the Germans invaded.

On June 24, 1941, two days after Germany launched its surprise attack against the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), the Germans occupied Vilna. As the Germans were sweeping east toward Moscow, they instigated their ruthless oppression and murderous actions in the communities they occupied.

Vilna, with a Jewish population of approximately 55,000, was known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for its flourishing Jewish culture and history. The Nazis soon changed that.

As Kovner and 16 other members of the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa’ir hid in a convent of Dominican nuns a few miles outside of Vilna, the Nazis began to rid Vilna of its “Jewish problem.”

Less than a month after the Germans occupied Vilna, they committed on of their first atrocities. Einsatzkommando 9 rounded up 5,000 Jewish men of Vilna and took them to Ponary (a location approximately six miles from Vilna that had pre-dug large pits, which the Nazis used as a mass extermination area for Jews from the Vilna area).

The Nazis made the pretense that the men were to be sent to labor camps, when they were really sent to Ponary and shot.

At the start of 1942, Kovner released a manifesto in the Vilnius ghetto, twice repeating the phrase “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter!” that later became famous.The manifesto declared that Hitler had decided to kill all the Jews of Europe and that it was best to die fighting. It was the first time such a notion had been declared in Europe,nobody at that time knew for certain of more than local killing,and many received it with skepticism;however, for many this proclamation represented a turning point in an understanding of the situation and how to respond to it.

Kovner was responsible for writing a call to revolt. In front of the 150 attendees gathered together at 2 Straszuna Street in a public soup kitchen, Kovner read aloud:

Jewish youth!Do not trust those who are trying to deceive you. Out of the eighty thousand Jews in the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” only twenty thousand are left. . . . Ponar [Ponary] is not a concentration camp. They have all been shot there. Hitler plans to destroy all the Jews of Europe, and the Jews of Lithuania have been chosen as the first in line.

We will not be led like sheep to the slaughter!

True, we are weak and defenseless, but the only reply to the murderer is revolt!

Brothers! Better to fall as free fighters than to live by the mercy of the murderers.

Arise! Arise with your last breath!

At first there was silence. Then the group broke out in spirited song.

The idea of resistance was disseminated from Vilnius by youth movement couriers, mainly women, to the ghettos of occupied Poland, occupied Belarus and of Lithuania. Kovner, Yitzhak Wittenberg, and others formed the United Partisan Organization (“Fareynigte Partizaner Organizatsye”, or FPO), one of the first armed underground organizations in the Jewish ghettos under Nazi occupation.

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Unlike in other ghettos, the resistance movement in the Vilna Ghetto was not run by ghetto officials. Jacob Gens, appointed head of the ghetto by the Nazis but originally chief of police, ostensibly cooperated with German officials in stopping armed struggle.

The FPO represented the full spectrum of political persuasions and parties in Jewish life.

The goals of the FPO were to establish a means for the self-defence of the ghetto population, to sabotage German industrial and military activities and to join the partisan and Red Army’s fight against the Nazis.

 

In early 1943, the Germans caught a member of the Communist underground who revealed some contacts under torture and the Judenrat, in response to German threats, tried to turn Yitzhak Wittenberg, the head of the FPO, over to the Gestapo.

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Wittenberg was arrested by the Lithuanian police only to be freed by armed FPO members. He went into hiding in the ghetto, and the consensus of the ghetto’s population was that 20,000 people should not be jeopardized for the sake of one man.

Kovner became its leader in July 1943, after Wittenberg had turned himself in to prevent an attack on the ghetto.The FPO planned to fight the Germans when the end of the ghetto came, but circumstances and the opposition of the ghetto leaders made this impossible and they escaped to the forests.

From September 1943 until the arrival of the Soviet army in July 1944, Kovner, along with his lieutenants Vitka Kempner and Rozka Korczak, commanded a partisan group called the Avengers(“Nokmim”) in the forests near Vilna and engaged in sabotage and guerrilla attacks against the Germans and their local collaborators. The Avengers were one of four predominantly Jewish groups that operated under the command of the Soviet-led partisans.

After the occupation of Vilnius by the Soviet Red Army in July 1944, Kovner became one of the founders of the Berihah movement, helping Jews escape Eastern Europe after the war.

At the end of the war, Kovner was one of the founders of a secret organization Nakam (revenge), also known as Dam Yisrael Noter (“the blood of Israel avenges”, with the acronym DIN meaning “judgement”)whose purpose was to seek revenge for the Holocaust.Two plans were formulated. Plan A was to kill a large number of German citizens by poisoning the water supplies of Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, and Nuremberg, Nakam intended to kill 6 million Germans.Plan B was to kill SS prisoners held in Allied POW camps. In pursuit of Plan A, members of the group were infiltrated into water and sewage plants in several cities, while Kovner went to Palestine in search of a suitable poison. Kovner discussed Nakam with Yishuv leaders, though it is not clear how much he told them and he doesn’t seem to have received much support.According to Kovner’s own account, Chaim Weizmann approved the idea and put him in touch with the scientist Ernst Bergmann, who gave the job of preparing poison to Ephraim Katzir (later president of Israel) and his brother Aharon. Historians have expressed doubt over Weizmann’s involvement, since he was overseas at the time Kovner specified.The Katzir brothers confirmed that they gave poison to Kovner, but said that he only mentioned Plan B and they denied that Weizmann could be involved.As Kovner and an accomplice were returning to Europe on a British ship, they threw the poison overboard when Kovner was arrested. He was imprisoned for a few months in Cairo and Plan A was abandoned.

In April 1946, members of Nakam broke into a bakery used to supply bread for the Langwasser internment camp near Nuremberg, where many German POWs were being held.

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They coated many of the loaves with arsenic but were disturbed and fled before finishing their work. More than 2,200 of the German prisoners fell ill and 207 were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.

Kovner joined the Haganah(a Jewish paramilitary organization in the British Mandate of Palestine (1921–48), which became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).) in December 1947, and soon after Israel declared independence in May 1948 he became a captain in the Givati Brigade of the IDF.

During the Israeli War of Independence he became known for his “battle pages”, headed “Death to the invaders!”, that contained news from the Egyptian front and essays designed to keep up morale. However, the tone of the pages, which called for revenge for the Holocaust and referred to the Egyptian enemy as vipers and dogs, upset many Israeli political and military leaders.His first battle page started a controversy that still continues today when it accused the Nitzanim garrison of cowardice for surrendering to an overwhelming Egyptian force.

From 1946 to his death, Kovner was a resident of Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh.He was active in Mapam as well as in HaShomer HaTzair, but never took on a formal political role.He played a major part in the design and construction of several Holocaust museums, including the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv.

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He died in 1987 (aged 69) of cancer that had started in his vocal cords, perhaps due to his lifelong heavy smoking. Vitka Kempner, who married Kovner in 1946, survived him.

Kovner’s book of poetry Ad Lo-Or, (“Until No-Light”), 1947, describes in lyric-dramatic narrative the struggle of the Resistance partisans in the swamps and forests of Eastern Europe.

Kovner’s story is the basis for the song “Six Million Germans / Nakam”, by Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird.

Kovner testified about his experiences during the war at the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

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Heinz Drossel-Wehrmacht Soldier and WWII Hero

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Not everyone who served in the German army were evil,nor were all of them Nazi’s. Many were drafted into the army because they had no other choice, often it was even a matter of life and death.

This blog is about Heinz Drossel, one of the German soldiers who did not only risk his life on the battlefield but also by defying the Nazi regime.

Heinz Drossel (September 21, 1916 – April 28, 2008) was a German lieutenant in World War II who was named one of the Righteous Among the Nations, shared with his parents, for helping Jews escape persecution. He was the son of Paul and Elfriede Drossel, anti-Nazis and shared their political philosophy, refusing to join the Nazi Party. Drafted in November 1939, Drossel served in the Battle of France before serving on the Eastern Front for the rest of the war.

Drossel, the son of ardent anti-Nazis, completed his education in law just before the war but was barred from joining the legal profession because he refused to join the Nazi party or its affiliated organizations.

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Instead, he was drafted into the army. While remaining steadfast in his opposition to the Nazis, he took part in the invasion of France in 1940 and then was sent to the Eastern Front to fight against the Soviet Union. He was commissioned as an officer in 1942.

At great risk to his own life, Drossel acted on his convictions in the most extreme circumstances. In 1941, he released Russian prisoners to return to their own lines rather than execute them as he was directed. When his unit captured a Russian officer, Drossel quietly defied his commander’s order to take him back to headquarters where he knew the prisoner would be shot. Rather he turned the officer loose and directed him toward the Russian lines, telling him, “I am no killer. I am a human being.”

On leave in Berlin in 1942 while recovering from illness, Drossel came across a young woman who, seeing him approach in his uniform, seemed increasingly agitated as he neared and poised to leap from the railing of a bridge into the river below. He stopped her from jumping and, while trying to calm her fear, learned that she was Jewish and was terrified that she would be discovered and sent to a concentration camp. Drossel took Marianne Hirschfeld to his family’s apartment, which had been empty since they had left Berlin for the little town of Senzig in the nearby countryside to escape the danger of the night-time bombing raids by the Allies. Risking his own life, he kept her secret and gave her money so she could find a safe place to stay before he returned to his unit.They married after the war.

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In 1945, while on leave to visit his parents at Senzig, a Nazi supporter in the community denounced friends who were Jewish and had been living quietly with forged identification papers.Even at this late stage of the war the Nazi indoctrination was still very strong. Jack and Lucie Hass, their daughter Margot, and her friend, Ernst Fontheim, faced imminent arrest and asked the Drossels for help. Heinz quickly took Jack Hass and Fontheim to the safety of the family apartment in Berlin, and found Margot and her mother shelter in another apartment. The Gestapo arrived in Senzig the next day to find no trace of them.

On May 4, just four days before the war would end, he was ordered by the Waffen-SS to lead his troops in a suicidal attack on Soviet positions.

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Drossel refused in fact Drossel told his unit to open fire on the SS unit and when threatened with execution, he was saved with the capitulation of the Wehrmacht. He was briefly imprisoned by the Soviets and released before the end of the year.

Drossel was released from a Russian prison camp and went home. In the streets of a ruined Berlin he encountered Marianne Hirschfeld, who he had saved three years earlier. They were married in 1946. Heinz Drossel was able to take up his legal career. He became a judge, retiring in 1981.

Ernst Fontheim moved to Ann Arbor with his wife Margot where he became a senior research scientist in the department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan.

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In 2001 the German government awarded Heinz Drossel its highest civilian medal and he was honored as one of the Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashemwas honored as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, . He said, “After I got the honor of Yad Vashem, I have spoken before more than 5,000 German young people in schools and high schools. It’s necessary to give young people the courage to be human.

Heinz Drossel died in April, 2008 in Simonswald, Germany

The Sounds of WWII

In every war music is very important, the same applied to WWII. Music lifted the spirit and boosted the morale of the troops. Organisations like USO(United Service Organisation) and the British equivalent ENSA(Entertainments National Service Association) provided much needed entertainment for the troops.

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Starts like Vera Lynn,Bob Hope and Irving Berlin would often perform for soldiers all over the world.

Often these entertainers would do this at the risk of their own lives.Dancer Vivian Hole (stage name Vivienne Fayre) was killed in the Netherlands in 1945 when the scenery truck in which she was travelling ran over a land-mine.

But the sounds of WWII were more then just songs or jokes, they were also broadcasts by the resistance to convey messages .Below are some of the sounds of WWII.

Broadcasts would begin with “Before we begin, please listen to some personal messages.” It was clear to nearly everyone that they were coded messages, often amusing, and completely without context. Representative messages include “Jean has a long mustache” and “There is a fire at the insurance agency,” each one having some meaning to a certain resistance groups.

Excerpts from Radio Londres. These messages were inserted with the radio program in the form of personal greetings, they were often peculiar and obviously had hidden meanings intended to a specific audience. The last two messages (taken from the poem, Chanson d’automne) was to inform the underground movement that Operation Overlord (D-Day landings) was to commence in 24 hours.

 

1945: Churchill announcing the end of World War II in Europe

Vera Lynn

Irving Berlin

George Formby

The Andrew Sisters

Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna

BBC D-day announcement

Nicolette Bruining-WW2 Hero, Theologian and Broadcaster.

Nicolette Bruining was a truly remarkable woman and her legacy still lives on to this day, although in ways not necessarily how she had envisaged.

Nicolette Adriana Bruining (27 August 1886 – 12 April 1963) was a Dutch theologian and founding president of the Liberal Protestant Radio Broadcasting Corporation (Dutch: Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep) (VPRO).

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She was also a teacher and humanitarian, assisting Jews during the Second World War. Her aid was acknowledged by the state of Israel, which posthumously awarded her as Righteous Among the Nations in 1990.

The VPRO is still broadcasting and has a number of controversial shows. Some of the programs are very cutting edge and often just go too far and I presume they don’t really reflect what Nicolette Bruining had envisaged. It showed the first nudity on Dutch TV in 1967.

Nicolette Adriana Bruining was born on 27 August 1886 in Stompetoren, Netherlands to Aida Helena Elisabeth (née Huygens) and Albertus Bruining.She graduated from Barlaeus Gymnasium in Amsterdam and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps, pursuing her university studies in theology. She enrolled at the University of Amsterdam, where her father was a professor, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1912. That same year, she began teaching religion at various schools, including the teacher training school of the Haagsch Genootschap (The Hague Society) In 1916, she presented her dissertation on the Dutch dogmatic Lutheran theologian Franz Hermann Reinhold von Frank (De Theologie van F.H.R. von Frank).She joined the Association of Liberal Protestants and served as chair of The Hague’s chapter. She also began preaching in various municipalities for both the liberal branch of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Netherlands Protestant Association.

In 1923, she helped establish the Vrijzinnige Geloofsgemeenschap NPB(Liberal Community of Faith NBP)to broaden the scope of the church. In particular, she proposed that the new medium of radio be used to disseminate the liberal Christian view.In 1925, Bruining and E. D. Spelberg set up a committee to investigate the possibility of broadcasting programming in support of their cause; they discovered that the government body responsible for broadcast licensing would only grant airtime to legally established organizations. As a result, the Central Committee went on in 1926 to establish the Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep (Liberal Protestant Radio Broadcasting Corporation, VPRO); Bruining was president, and Spelberg secretary.Bruining publicized their approach both in their broadcasts and in the articles frequently published in the radio magazine Vrije Geluiden (Free Sounds), advocating non-sectarianism and inviting all intellectual movements to participate.

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During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, VPRO was banned from broadcasting.

Bruining had been teaching Hebrew to upper level classes at the municipal high school in The Hague, but in 1941,

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all Jewish students were expelled and she quit teaching in protest. She transferred the course to her own home so that all her former pupils could continue studying Hebrew after school hours. After a while, Elisabeth’s former classmates stopped attending Hebrew lessons. However, Nicolette insisted that Elisabeth should continue studying with her, on a private basis, and the two became close friends. In July 1942, when Elisabeth’s father refused to report for work in Germany, he was forced to find a hideout for himself and his family. He turned to Nicolette for assistance. For the following three years, Nicolette became the intermediary between Elisabeth, her eight-year-old sister, Anita, and the underground movement. Nicolette found a hiding place for Anita with Hermina Heinen-Rots in Aalten, Gelderland. However, finding a hideout for Elisabeth was more complicated because she was over 16 years old and therefore required forged papers. During this time, Elisabeth was forced to relocate several times and each time Nicolette, often with her friend Jacoba van Tongeren*, was instrumental in the move. On more than one occasion, Nicolette accompanied Elisabeth to her new hideout by train. This was especially dangerous because she was well known as the head of the Liberal Protestant Radio Organization and as a vociferous opponent to the occupation. Throughout this time, Nicolette provided Elisabeth with food coupons, the price of which was astronomical. Nicolette also delivered letters between Elisabeth, Anita, and their parents, before the latter were deported. One Sunday in April 1943, Nicolette took upon herself the task of telling Elisabeth that her parents had been betrayed and sent to Westerbork.

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Nicolette, who was not married and had no children, became very attached to Elisabeth and Anita during the war. They all remained in contact afterwards.

Like anyone else aiding or harboring Jews, Nicolette would have surely faced the Death penalty if she had been found out. The fact that she was a prominent figure in the Netherlands multiplied those risks manifold.

In 1945, VPRO was allowed to go back on the air. Bruining and Spelberg were fully reinstated in 1947. In 1951, when the Dutch Television Foundation was established, Bruining served on its board as a representative of VPRO. Throughout the 1950s, she hosted a program known as Today; owing to her preferences, the program was broadcast live.

She was very disciplined and committed to her work, this earned her the nickname of the Golda Meir of Liberal protestant movement.

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Between 1948 and 1957 she was the President of the International Union of Liberal Christian Women, which was part of the International Association of Religious Freedom

In 1945, VPRO was allowed to go back on the air. Bruining and Spelberg were fully reinstated in 1947. In 1951, when the Dutch Television Foundation was established, Bruining served on its board as a representative of VPRO. Throughout the 1950s, she hosted a program known as Today; owing to her preferences, the program was broadcast live. She retired in 1956 and was made honorary president of VPRO for life.Bruining died on 12 April 1963 in The Hague.

Posthumously, she was honored by the government of Israel on 7 March 1990 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations,an award granted to recognize non-Jews for assisting Jews in surviving the Holocaust,for her assistance to the Waisvisz family.

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