Sonderaktion Krakau-the raid on Polish scholars.

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On November 6, 1939, Obersturmbannführer SS Bruno Müller ordered the the faculty of the University of Krakow to assemble for a special lecture to present the Nazis’ vision for Poland.

Upon arrival the faculty found themselves among the first casualties of the systematic deconstruction of the country. Codenamed the Sonderaktion Krakau, the professors were all taken into custody and deported to the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Dachau.

A little over two months after the German Invasion of Poland, the Gestapo chief in Kraków SS-Obersturmbannführer Bruno Müller,bruno_muller_ss-obersturmbannfuhrer

commanded Jagiellonian University rector Professor Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński to require all professors to attend his lecture about German plans for Polish education.

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The rector agreed and sent an invitation throughout the university for a meeting scheduled at the administrative centre building in the Collegium Novum . On November 6, 1939 at the lecture room no. 56 (or 66, sources vary) at noon, all academics and their guests gathered; among them, 105 professors and 33 lecturers from Jagiellonian University (UJ), 34 professors and doctors from University of Technology (AGH) some of whom attended a meeting in a different room, 4 from University of Economics (AE) and 4 from Lublin and Wilno.

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The academics filled the hall but no lecture on education was conducted. Instead, they were told by Müller that the university did not have permission to start a new academic year , and that Poles are hostile toward German science, and act in bad faith. They were arrested on the spot by armed police, frisked and escorted out. Some senior professors were kicked, slapped in the face and hit with rifle butts. Additional 13–15 university employees and students who were onsite were also arrested, as well as the President of Kraków, Dr Stanisław Klimecki who was apprehended at home that afternoon.

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All of them, 184 persons in total, were transported first to prison at Montelupich street, then to barracks at Mazowiecka, and – three days later – to a detention center in Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), where they spent 18 days split between two prison facilities: the detention centre (Untersuchungsgefängnis, at the Świebodzka 1 Street), and the Strafgefängnis penal complex at Kleczkowska 35. The Gestapo were unprepared for such a large transfer of prisoners, and awaited permission to send them to Buchenwald concentration camp which was filled to capacity. As a result, on November 27, 1939 at night, they were loaded onto a train to Sachsenhausen concentration camp located on the other side of Berlin, and in March 1940, sent further to Dachau concentration camp near Munich after a new batch of younger academics taken prisoner arrived.

Following loud international protest by prominent Italians including Benito Mussolini and the Vatican,101 professors who were older than 40 were released from Sachsenhausen on February 8, 1940. Additional academics were released later. Many elderly professors did not survive the roll-calls held twice a day in snow and rain, and the grim living conditions in the camp where dysentery was common and warm clothes were rare. Twelve died in the camp within three months, and another five within days of release. Among the notable professors who died in the camp were Ignacy Chrzanowski (UJ; Jan 19, 1940), Stanisław Estreicher (UJ; Dec 29, 1939), Kazimierz Kostanecki ( Jan 11, 1940), Antoni Meyer (AGH; Dec 24, 1939), and Michał Siedlecki (Jan 11, 1940, after roll-call). In March 1940 the able prisoners from Kraków who remained alive were sent to Dachau concentration camp and most of them, but not all, released in January 1941 on intervention.

Many of those who went through Sonderaktion Krakau and the internment, in 1942 formed an underground university in defiance of the German punitive edicts. Among the 800 students of their underground college was Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II, taught by prof. Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński among others.

John-Paul Ii In Zaire In August, 1985.

Today there is a plaque commemorating the events of Sonderaktion Krakau in front of Collegium Novum in Kraków. Every November 6, black flags are hung outside all Jagiellonian University buildings, and the Rector of the University lays wreaths to honor those who suffered.

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Operation Bernhard

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This story had all the makings of a great spy movie and no wonder that in 2007 ,film director Stefan Ruzowitzky made the movie “The Counterfeiters” which won the Oscar for best movie in a foreign Language.

Operation Bernhard was the name of a secret German plan devised during World War II to destabilise the British economy by flooding the country with forged Bank of England £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes, which was named after the SS officer who ran it.

Only a fortnight after the start of World War II, at a meeting that has remained a secret for more than half a century, officials of German finance and Nazi espionage approved an audacious plot to bring down the world’s financial system. Hundreds of millions of forged British pounds were to become a weapon of war. Operation Bernhard not only became the greatest counterfeit scheme in history but the most wide-ranging and bizarre, with its own gallery of rogues.

It  was the code-name of a secret Nazi plan devised  by the RSHA (Reich Main Security Office)  and the SS to destabilize the British economy via economic warfare by flooding the global economy and the British Empire with forged Bank of England £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes.

It was the largest counterfeiting operation in the history of economic warfare, and the first that employed the full technical/scientific and management expertise of a sovereign state to produce and deploy bogus currency with the aim of destabilizing an enemy belligerent’s economic standing with its allies, as well as its acceptance by neutral powers.

Britain was especially vulnerable because its war effort was founded upon – and sustained by – its global and Imperial economy. That economy was built upon directly-ruled colonial possessions, self-governing Commonwealth Dominions and the Empire’s currency zone, the Sterling Preference Area. These worked in commerce with neutral powers to acquire the manpower and material necessary to fight a global war. Each of these trading partners accepted the British currency for the exchange of goods and services and maintained their own reserves of it for transactions with, and within the Empire. Confidence in the integrity of this (then global) currency, both in and outside of the Sterling Preference Area, was essential to sustaining the vitality of the Empire, and through it, the war effort.

Major Bernhard Krueger, a meticulously correct SS engineer, ran a production line of Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. The millions of forged notes they printed were laundered through a Nazi confidence man with the help of Jewish agents who concealed their origins. Toward the end, one of Europe ‘s most accomplished professional forgers, the only career criminal in the operation, was brought in to counterfeit dollar bills.

In London, the arrogant grandees at the Bank of England could not believe their pound notes could be forged with such expertise and in such quantity. In one of the crowning ironies of many, after the war Golda Meir protected a millionaire Jewish money-launderer from British authorities in what was then known as Palestine.

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The plan was to destabilize the British economy during the war by dropping the notes from aircrafts, on the assumption that most Britons would collect the money and spend it, thus triggering inflation. This scheme was not put into effect: it was postulated that the Luftwaffe did not have enough aircraft to deliver the forgeries, and by that time the operation was in the hands of SS foreign intelligence. From late 1943, approximately one million notes per month were printed. Many were transferred from SS headquarters to a former hotel near Meran in South Tyrol, Northern Italy, from where they were laundered and used to pay for strategic imports and German secret agents operating in Allied countries. It has been rumoured that counterfeit currency was used to finance the rescue of Benito Mussolini in 1943.

The plot was hatched in Berlin on September 18, 1939, behind the imposing stone facade of what had once been Kaiser Wilhelm’s Finance Ministry. Walther Funk, a pudgy former financial journalist whose principal task was keeping German industry in Hitler’s camp, was the only one to register the least objection because he feared the counterfeit notes would upset his task of milking Hitler’s conquered territories. Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, was not present but feared the “grotesque plan” might be turned against Germany ‘s own fragile finances by the Allies. In fact, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt toyed with the idea of counterfeiting enemy currency but their advisers rejected it.

Nevertheless, the second-rate minds of Nazi espionage believed they could weaken the pound as the trading standard and store of value underpinning the British Empire. Bullies and incompetents were at first put in charge of the operation. After several false starts, Krueger, a textile engineer, figured out how to match the paper, printing, and design of the impressive British notes. He found his forgers in Jewish death camps on the orders of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler.

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Krüger set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from among inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from others, especially Auschwitz. Beginning in 1942, the work of engraving the complex printing plates, developing the appropriate rag-based paper with the correct watermarks, and breaking the code to generate valid serial numbers was extremely difficult, but by the time Sachsenhausen was evacuated in April 1945, the printing press there had produced 8,965,080 banknotes with a total value of £134,610,810. The notes are considered among the most perfect counterfeits ever produced, being extremely difficult although not impossible to distinguish from the real thing Some were plucked from Auschwitz by Krueger himself, who courteously addressed them with the formal German Sie.

The SS planned to keep the operation secret by killing them when the job was done. The prisoners worked with the knowledge that they were marked for death when they had finished their jobs. ” From the start, they wondered whether they should stretch out their work and risk execution for sabotage, or perform efficiently and thus hasten their own deaths. No one ever knew for sure where Krueger stood, but by keeping the operation going, he kept himself from being sent to the Russian front. What all these men said and thought as they lived under this sword of Damocles makes chilling, personal drama.

The pound counterfeiting operation ended in 1944. Not wanting to go to the Eastern Front, and mindful of the fate of the concentration camp prisoners in his employ if his factory were closed, Krüger succeeded in establishing a new operation to forge American dollar notes. Instructing his workers to work as slowly as possible, he managed to stall the operation until the war ended, permitting the prisoners to be liberated after they were transferred to camps in Austria in May 1945.

One of the forgers, Adolf Burger survived the war and stated that “Major Krüger was in no way like Oskar Schindler. He was a murderer just like everyone else, six weeks before the war ended he had six people shot just because they were sick. He couldn’t send them to hospital in case they said something about the operation, so he killed them.”

After the war, Major Krüger was detained by the British for two years, then turned over to the French for a year.

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He said they asked him to forge documents but that he refused. He was released in 1948 without any charges being pressed, and returned to Germany. In the 1950s, he went before a denazification court, where inmates under his charge at Sachsenhausen provided statements that resulted in his acquittal. He eventually worked for the company that had produced the special paper for the Operation Bernhard forgeries. He died in 1989.

Following the evacuation of Sachsenhausen, the counterfeiting team was transferred to Redl-Zipf in Austria, a subsidiary camp of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. At the beginning of May 1945, the team was ordered to transfer again, this time to the Ebensee subsidiary camp where they were to be killed together. Their SS guards, however, had only one truck for their prisoners, so the transfer required three round trips. The truck broke down during the third trip, and the last batch of prisoners had to be marched to Ebensee where they arrived on May 4. The guards of the first two batches of prisoners fled when the prisoners at the Ebensee camp revolted and refused to be moved into tunnels where they would have probably been blown up. The counterfeiters then dispersed among the prisoners at Ebensee. The delayed arrival of the third batch therefore saved the lives of all. As a result of the order that all the counterfeiters be exterminated together, none were actually killed.

The Ebensee camp was liberated by US forces on May 6, 1945. One of the prisoners, the Jewish Slovak printer-turned-counterfeiter Adolf Burger, later contributed to the awareness of Operation Bernhard with several versions of his memoirs published in the languages of Central Europe and in Persian.

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It is believed that most of the notes produced ended up at the bottom of Lake Toplitz near Ebensee from where they were recovered by divers in 1959, but examples continued to turn up in circulation in Britain for many years, which caused the Bank of England to withdraw all notes larger than £5 from circulation, and not reintroduce the denominations until the early 1960s (£10), 1970 (£20), and 1980 (£50).

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It is also rumoured there is quite a substantial amount of Nazi gold in the depth of Lake Toplitz. A few years ago an Austrian farmer and one of his family members played a prank on a local town councilor. He claimed that he had found a box full of gold bars which he and his friend had found whilst diving in the lake. He had actually just painted a few bricks gold and had forged a Nazi stamp.

The area still sees a lot of tourists and divers who hope that one day they will find the real’mythical gold’ which was dumped in the lake.