The World War 2 hero who saved my sight.

Charles

Just before Christmas 2011 I lost the sight in my right eye. The retina had become detached but after 2 operations the sight could not be saved, in fact my eye shrunk, dramatically  and I have now a glass shell with  an eye painted on it in front of the remainder of my eye.

In November 2014 the retina in my left eye also became detached, so I was facing going blind. I had to undergo an emergence operation in a Hospital in Cork which is 100 km away from my home in Limerick.

In Cork the consultant surgeon advised me he would be putting a scleral buckle in place to re-attach my retina and to save my eye and sight.The operation was a success this time and my eye was saved.

buckle

The man who pioneered this technology was Dr Charles L. Schepens. Hewas born in Mouscron, Belgium, in 1912  He initially studied mathematics before graduating from medical school in 1935 at State University of Ghent in Belgium.In 1937 he served as assistant to Dr. L. Hambresin in Brussels.

In 1940, he was appointed as a Captain in the Medical Corps of the Belgian Air Force, where he served until the country was invaded by the Nazis in May 1940. He escaped to France and worked with the French and Belgian resistance,  In 1942, under the nom de guerre “Jacques Pérot,” he spearheaded a secret information and evacuation pipeline in the Pyrenees, under the cover of a country lumber mill near the village of Mendive. He was arrested several times by the Gestapo.

He was firts arrested by the Gestapo in October 1940 while he still was in Belgium  on false accusations  of using a bus to transport Allied pilots out of Belgium. Although he was released 10 days later, this experience turned the previously apolitical doctor into an activist, and he allowed his office to be used as a post office for underground agents, arranging for the transfer of maps and such information as troop movement.

In 1942, a spy in Gestapo headquarters alerted him that he was about to be arrested, and he escaped to Paris.

In an of the mill  effort to find  an escape route to Spain, he and a group of fellow resistance members came across  an abandoned sawmill near the town of Mandive in the Pyrenees on the Spanish border.

One of the key features was a 12-mile-long cable-car system extending up the mountain and ending near the border.

Dr. Schepens, bought the mill in July 1942 with backing from a wealthy French patriot and had it in full operation by the end of the year. The site became a functioning lumber enterprise, taking orders, delivering wood and meeting a payroll. Not to cause any suspicion Dr. Schepens(aka Jacques Perot)  developed relationships with the occupying Germans, leading his Basque neighbors to think that he was a Nazi collaborator.

Men,mainly men he helped to escape, who did manual labor around the mill could secretly ride the cable-car system to the top of the mountain and slip into Spain, often with the assistance of a shepherd named Jean Sarochar.

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More than 100 Allied pilots, prisoners of war, Belgian government officials and others made their way out of France over the cable railway. The system also was used to move documents, currency, propaganda and other materials into and out of France.

Everything went according to plan until 1943: That year, a captured resistance agent exposed him. The Gestapo came for him a second time. He escaped before they could arrest him.He had told the Gestapo “it is now 10 o’clock. I have 150 workers idle, because they have not been given their orders this morning. Give me 10 minutes with them. I’ll give the orders and come back.”. He then just walked out.

He spent 16 days in the forest before reaching Spain and, eventually, England, where he resumed his medical career.

In the mean time the Nazis held Dr. Schepens wife and children as bait to lure him out of hiding. However eventually his wife and children  made their own daring escape, hiking through the mountains to reach Spain, and were reunited with Dr. Schepens nine months later in England.

After the war, Schepens resumed his medical career at Moorfields.[3] In 1947, he immigrated to the United States and became a fellow at the Harvard Medical School.

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He became famous in the ophthalmic community for his work in creating the first binocular, stereoscopic indirect ophthalmoscope (1946) and in treating retinal detachment with an encircling scleral buckle (1953).

If the Gestapo had arrested him the second time, he more then likely would have been executed. Amazing to think of what could have happened to my eye in that case.

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Sources

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/news/charles-schepens-featured-in-eyeworld

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/charlesschepens

Washington Post

https://www.eyeworld.org/article-ophthalmologist-who-created-vitreoretinal-subspecialty-lived-double-life-as-wwii-resistance-fighter-and

https://www.aao.org/biographies-detail/charles-schepens-md

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compromise of Nobles-April 5,1566.

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In 1566 the Netherlands were still under Spanish rule and was part of the greater Habsburg empire. The ruler of the Netherlands was Philip II of Spain. He had appointed his half-sister Margaret of Parma as his Regent.

Philip was very much opposed to the Protestant teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Anabaptists, which had gained many adherents in the Netherlands by the early 1560s. To suppress Protestantism he had promulgated extraordinary ordinances, called placards, that outlawed them and made them capital offenses.

On April 5,1566 a covenant of members of the lesser nobility in the Habsburg Netherlands , known as the ‘Compromise of Nobles’, came together to submit a petition to the Regent Margaret of Parma  with the aim of obtaining a moderation of the placards against heresy in the Netherlands. This petition would prove to have a crucial role in the events leading up to the Dutch Revolt and the Eighty Years’ War.

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The leaders of the nobles were Louis of Nassau, and Hendrick van Brederode. On 5 April , permission was obtained for the confederates to present a petition of grievances, called the Request, to the regent, Margaret, Duchess of Parma. About 200 nobles marched to the palace accompanied by Louis of Nassau and Brederode. The regent was at first alarmed at the appearance of so large a body, but one of her councillors, Berlaymont, allegedly remarked “N’ayez pas peur Madame, ce ne sont que des gueux” (Fear not madam, they are only beggars).

Afterwards Brederode stated that if need be they were all ready to become beggars for their country’s cause. Henceforth the name became a badge of honor and was used in several configurations during the war.

In the petition the nobles, who presented themselves as loyal subjects of the king, asked him to suspend the Inquisition and the enforcement of the placards against heresy. They also urged the convening of the States-General so that “better legislation” could be devised to address the matter.

The Regent replied to the petitioners that she would forward it to the king and that she would support its requests. Brederode handed over a supplementary petition on 8 April, in which the petitioners promised to keep the peace while the petition was being sent to Spain.

The King Philip II took a long time to reply, but he rejected the petition.

Below is the English translation of the petition;

“To all who shall see these presents, know that we who have put our signatures below
have been told and have learned with adequate assurances that a host of foreigners-men without
any concern for the welfare and prosperity of these Low Countries, with no care for the glory and
honor of God or for the public interest but desiring only to satisfy their own ambitions and
avarice even at the expense of the King and all his subjects, although they falsely pleaded their
great zeal to maintain the Catholic faith and the union of the people-have nevertheless managed
to win over His Majesty by their well-turned remonstrances and false teachings, so that he has
been persuaded, in violation of his oaths and of the hope which he always nourished in us, not
only to refrain from moderating the edicts already issued concerning religion but even to
reinforce them and to introduce the Inquisition among us in all its strength. Not only is this
Inquisition iniquitous and contrary to all laws of God and man, in its barbarity exceeding the
worst practices of tyrants; it cannot but result in great dishonor to God’s name and in the utter
ruin and desolation of all these Low Countries. This would be all the more true because, under cover of a few persons lying hypocrisy, it would destroy all public law and order and all equity,
completely weaken the sanction and respect for the ancient laws, customs, and ordinances which
have been observed from time immemorial, and deprive the States of the country of any freedom to express their opinions; it would abolish all ancient privileges, liberties, and immunities and thereby not only make the burghers and common people of this country wretched and everlasting
slaves of the Inquisitors, who are themselves men of no quality, but would also compel the magistrates, officials, and the entire nobility to submit to the mercy of their inquiries and searches, and in the end it would expose every loyal subject of the King to continued and open peril of his life and property. Not only would the honor of God and the Holy Catholic faith  (which they claim to be defending) be gravely involved therein, but also the majesty [sovereignty] of the King, our head, would be lessened and he would face great danger of losing
his entire state, for ordinary business would come to a halt, the trades would be abandoned, the
garrisons of the frontier towns neglected, and the people incited to continual sedition. In a word,
nothing could result from it but horrible derangement and disorder everywhere. Having carefully weighed all these things and having fully considered and taken into account our callings and the duty to which we are all bound as faithful vassals of His Majesty and especially as men of gentle
birth, being all in. this regard His Majesty’s helpers by our prompt and willing service in
maintaining his authority and greatness and in providing for the welfare and safety of the country, we have come to the judgment, which we still hold, that we cannot fulfill our duty except by eliminating these wrongs while at the same time providing for the safety of our
property and persons so that we may not become the prey of those who wish to become rich at the expense of our blood and our goods under the pretext of religion. For this reason we have
decided to form a holy and lawful confederation and alliance by which we promise to bind ourselves mutually under solemn oath to use all our efforts to prevent the reception or introduction of this Inquisition in any way, open or concealed, under any pretext or in any disguise whatever, whether it be called inquisition, visitation, edicts, or otherwise, but to extirpate and eradicate it completely as the mother and the cause of all disorders and injustices.
We have before our eyes the example of the people of the kingdom of Naples, who have rejected it to the great relief and repose of their entire country. Nonetheless we protest in good conscience before God and all men that we seek nothing which may in any way turn to God’s dishonor or the
diminution of the grandeur and the majesty of the King or his states; on the contrary, our purpose
is only to maintain the King in his state and to preserve in it all good order and law, resisting to
the best of our ability every kind of sedition, popular tumult, monopoly, factiousness, or
partisanship. We have promised and sworn and do now promise and swear to uphold this
confederation and alliance as sacred and inviolable for all time, without any break, as long as we
live. We take God the sovereign lord as witness of our consciences that neither in deed nor in
word, neither directly nor indirectly will we knowingly and willingly contravene this
confederation m any fashion whatever. And, in order to ratify this alliance and confederation and
to make it stable and firm for all time, we have promised and do promise each other full
assistance with our bodies and our goods, as brothers and faithful companions, joining hands so
that none among us and our confederates may be investigated, harassed, molested or persecuted
in any way, either in our lives or our property, for any cause emanation from this. Inquisition or
based in any way upon the edicts favoring it, or indeed because of this present confederation.
And, in the event that anyone, m any way whatever, visit any molestation or persecution upon any of our brothers and allies, we have promised and sworn and do promise and swear to help him with our lives and our property, and in fact to do everything we can, sparing nothing and
avoiding all evasions and subterfuges, just as if we were involved in person; with a specific and
quite express understanding that we will in no way be exempted or absolved from this, our
confederation, because the said molesters or persecutors may try to cover their persecutions by
some other pretense or pretext (for instance, if they claim that they are only punishing rebellion
or some such pretext), until it has been demonstrated in fact to us that these reasons are true. We
maintain this position especially because we hold that in such cases it cannot be claimed that the crime of rebellion has been committed when its source proceeds from a holy zeal and praiseworthy desire to maintain the glory of God, the majesty of the King, the public tranquility
and the safety of our lives and goods. Nonetheless we agree and mutually promise that in such an
event each of us will follow the common opinion of all his brothers and allies, or of those who
will be given such duties, in order that this sacred union may be maintained among us and. that
what will be done will be more certain and stable because it is done with common agreement. In witness whereof and in assurance of this confederation and alliance, we have invoked and do invoke the most sacred name of God, the Sovereign Lord, who created the sky and the earth, as our judge who sees into our consciences and thoughts and knows that this is our decision and resolution. We most humbly pray that by His power from on high He will keep us firm and steady and give us such prudence and discretion of spirit that, always possessing good and
mature counsel, we may achieve our purpose with a good and happy success, bringing glory to
His name, to the service of His Majesty, the King, and to the welfare and safety of the public. Amen”

edelen

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Battle of Gibraltar 25 April 1607

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For a small nation the Dutch have been involved in a great number of battles and wars, often against nation multiple the size of the Netherlands.

Although the Dutch didn’t win all the battles there were quite a few where they were the victors

On the 25th of April 1607, the Dutch defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Gibraltar. Under the command of Jacob van Heemskerk.Jacob van

A fleet of 26 ships attacked a Spanish fleet of 21 vessels under the command of Don Juan Álvarez de Ávila.The actual event took place during the 80 Years War which began in 1568 as a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces against the sovereign power of the Habsburg Netherlands and therefore against Philip II of Spain. The battle is considered the first and perhaps the greatest of Dutch naval victories against Spain in their fight for independence. The Dutch Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck died during the battle and gained instant immortality in his homeland.

The Dutch defeated the Spaniards by doubling up on the galleons, several of which caught fire and one exploded. At the close of the battle, the Dutch dispatched boats, killing hundreds of Spanish sailors who were in the water.1Battle of Gibraltar

The Dutch lost 100 men including admiral Van Heemskerk. Sixty Dutch were wounded. Depending on the sources, most or all of the Spanish ships were lost and between 3500 and 4000 Spaniards killed or captured. Álvarez de Ávila was amongst the dead.

1880 Pieter van Looy 1607 Bat of gib 2 (2)

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On this day

Rijksmuseum

The bombing of a florist shop that inadvertently caused the death of 583

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On this day  42 years ago, at Tenerife-North Airport (formerly Los Rodeos), two Boeing 747’s – one KLM, the other  Pan Am – crashed on a foggy runway. 583 people were killed in what remains the biggest air disaster in history.

Neither of the planed were supposed to be there, they had both been diverted after a terrorist incident at Gran Canaria Airport,

The Canary Islands Independence Movement (CIIM), also known as the Movement for the Independence and Self-determination of the Canaries Archipelago is a defunct independent movement organization that had a radio station in Algiers and resorted to violence in attempts to force the Spanish government to create an independent state in the Canary Islands.

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CIIM terrorists bombed a florist shop in Las Palmas Airport on 27 March 1977, seriously injuring 8 people. Members then threatened to explode a second bomb in the airport, forcing police to shut down air traffic while they searched for the bomb.A small bomb was  detonated in the Canary Islands Airport, Spain only injuring one person.

However because of this all flights flying in to the Las Palmas Airport.

KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 had both been redirected to Tenerife.Both of the 747′ s a were charters. Pan Am had come from Los Angeles, after a stopover in New York,  And the KLM boeing from its home base in Amsterdam.

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The two aircrafts were then both on the third runway when the incident occurred. The two flights both taxied onto the runway, with the KLM plane told to hold their position with the Pan Am flight told to follow.

The incident then occurred after the KLM flight took off without proper clearance from the airport.

It wasn’t the only problem, as the Pan Am flight also missed the turning off the runway after mistaking the exit C4 for exit C3 in the foggy conditionsThe KLM flight started to take off despite the runway not being clear and was unable to see the Pan Am flight until the last minute.

A recording from the Pan Am flight heard the captain exclaimed: “G******, that son-of-a-b**** is coming!” with the first officer then yelling: “Get off! Get off! Get off!”.

Despite the Pan Am plane attempting to turn off the runway while the KLM flight pulled up, the two planes then collided on the ground.

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One of the 61 survivors of the Pan Am flight, John Coombs of Haleiwa, Hawaii, said that sitting in the nose of the plane probably saved his life: “We all settled back, and the next thing an explosion took place and the whole port side, left side of the plane, was just torn wide open.”

Both airplanes were destroyed in the collision. All 248 passengers and crew aboard the KLM plane died, as did 335 passengers and crew aboard the Pan Am plane,[36] primarily due to the fire and explosions resulting from the fuel spilled and ignited in the impact. The other 61 passengers and crew aboard the Pan Am aircraft survived, including the captain, first officer and flight engineer. Most of the survivors on the Pan Am walked out onto the intact left wing, the side away from the collision, through holes in the fuselage structure.

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SS Navemar-The ship built for 15, but carried close to 1200

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SS Navemar was a cargo steamship that was built in England in 1921, was Norwegian-owned until 1927 and then Spanish-owned for the rest of her career. An Italian submarine sank her in the Strait of Gibraltar in 1942.

Navemar is notable for a voyage in 1941 in which she carried about 1,120 European Jewish refugees to the United States in overcrowded and insanitary conditions.

In 1941, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (known as “The Joint”) were desperate to rescue Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia escaping Nazi persecution.

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Many held US visas that were about to expire. The Joint’s agents directed them to Seville, where the Navemar had been privately chartered to make the transatlantic crossing. Tickets for the few passenger cabins sold at exorbitant prices. The captain vacated his cabin and charged $2,000 to all who could fit themselves into the small space.Bunks were fitted in the filthy cargo holds, which had previously carried coal.Although attempts were made to clean the ship, there was too little time to complete the task.

Navemar left Seville on 6 August 1941. She called at Lisbon in Portugal, where many of the visas were extended by the US Embassy. After calling at Havana in Cuba she reached New York on 12 September 1941. Many of the passengers had contracted typhus and six of them died in the seven-week crossing,and a seventh died upon arrival in New York.

After her refugee voyage Navemar returned to general trade. On 23 January 1942 the Marcello-class Italian submarine Barbarigo torpedoed and sank her in the Strait of Gibraltar.

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The Spanish Republicans in Nazi Concentration camps

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The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was the bloodiest conflict western Europe had experienced since the end of World War I in 1918.

It was the breeding ground for mass atrocities. About 200,000 people died as the result of systematic killings, mob violence, torture, or other brutalities.

The fighting displaced millions of Spaniards. Some 500,000 refugees fled in 1939 to France, where many of them would be interned in camps. 15,000 Spanish Republicans ended up in Nazi concentration camps after 1940.

The Spanish Civil War began on July 17, 1936, when generals Emilio Mola and Francisco Franco launched an uprising aimed at overthrowing the country’s democratically elected republic.The Nationalist rebels’ initial efforts to instigate military revolts throughout Spain only partially succeeded. In rural areas with a strong right-wing political presence, Franco’s confederates generally won out.

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They quickly seized political power and instituted martial law. In other areas, particularly cities with strong leftist political traditions, the revolts met with stiff opposition and were often quelled. Some Spanish officers remained loyal to the Republic and refused to join the uprising.

Faced with potential defeat, Franco called upon Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy for aid. Thanks to their military assistance, he was able to airlift troops from Spanish Morocco across to the mainland to continue his assault on Madrid. Throughout the three years of the conflict, Hitler and Mussolini provided the Spanish Nationalist Army with crucial military support.

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When the Civil War ended in 1939, with Franco’s victory, some 500,000 Spanish Republicans escaped to France, where many were placed in internment camps in the south, such as Gurs, St. Cyprien, and Les Milles.

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Following the German defeat of France in spring 1940, Nazi authorities conscripted Spanish Republicans for forced labor and deported more than 30,000 to Germany, where about half of them ended up in concentration camps.because of their anti-Fascist or Communist political affiliation. They were called the Red Spaniards (Rotspanier) because Red was the color of the Communists.

The Mauthausen concentration camp was the main place where Spanish political prisoners were incarcerated by the Nazis.

Mauthausen.

By 1941, three years after the main camp opened, 60% of the prisoners were Spanish Republicans.

Up until August 1940, the German and Austrian common-law criminals were the Kapos at Mauthausen; they were assigned to supervise the other prisoners and would typically beat them for the slightest infraction of the rules while the SS guards looked the other way. The Spanish Republicans began to arrive in the camp on August 6th and 9th, 1940; gradually they took over the key positions in the camp from the German Kapos.

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Up until August 1940, the German and Austrian common-law criminals were the Kapos at Mauthausen; they were assigned to supervise the other prisoners and would typically beat them for the slightest infraction of the rules while the SS guards looked the other way. The Spanish Republicans began to arrive in the camp on August 6th and 9th, 1940; gradually they took over the key positions in the camp from the German Kapos.

The anti-Fascist Spaniards were well organized; they were the only cohesive group in the camp, held together by their political beliefs. Later, when the Communist Czechs and French resistance fighters arrived, they joined forces with the Red Spaniards to dominate the camp. The German criminals had no solidarity and did not act as a group, so they did not remain in control

The majority of the Spanish prisoners at Mauthausen worked in the quarries, but some had administrative jobs. Among the later group were Antonio Garcia Alonso and Francesco Boix Campo,. Boix was sent to Mauthausen on January 27, 1941. Because of his facility with German, Boix initially worked as a translator in the camp,but later also became a photographer.

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Garcia arrived in Mauthausen on April 7, 1941. Because he was a trained photographer, Garcia was assigned to work in the camp’s photo lab, Erkennungsdienst.

 

The SS photographer Kornacz was the only one who took photographs, but he employed inmates to handle the developing, printing and filing of the photo archive. Kornacz was assigned to take mug shots of arriving prisoners and to photograph official visits to the camp as well as the bodies of prisoners who died.

Mauthausen47           (Francesco Boix is on the far left with a camera hanging on his chest)

He instructed his assistants to print five copies of each photograph: one for the camp archive and one each to be sent to Berlin, Oranienburg, Vienna and Linz.

 

Before Garcia’s arrival in the lab, a Polish prisoner named Grabowski, began developing a sixth print of key photographs, which he hid behind a wooden beam in the ceiling. After Garcia became responsible for developing film and enlarging photographs, he and Grabowski began compiling a secret photo archive.

In 1944 Grabowski committed suicide, and in February 1945 Garcia fell seriously ill and was taken to the camp infirmary where he remained for over a month. Upon his return, he discovered that the secret archive was missing. He questioned Boix, who was the only other person having any knowledge of the archive. Boix admitted that he had taken the photographs, but he said that they were now in the hands of the camp’s Spanish Communist underground. Garcia, though sympathetic to Communism, was accused by some of Trotskyism and was not part of the underground’s inner circle. Garcia was furious, but there was little he could do. He continued to work with Boix saving key photographs, even after Camp Commandant Franz Ziereis ordered the destruction of all negatives during the last week of the war.

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The Spanish Communist underground temporarily hid Garcia’s photos in several locales within the administrative complex of the camp while looking for a safer hiding place outside of the camp. They decided to give the photos to the boys of the Poschacher Kommando. This labor brigade, made up of young Spanish teenagers, worked in quarries outside the camp itself. During the last months of the war, the brigade had almost no direct supervision by the SS. Over time, the boys had become friendly with Anna Pointner, an Austrian socialist who lived near their work site. She frequently tossed extra food to the boys and eventually confided her political views to them. Feeling they could trust her, the boys asked whether she would be willing to hide some small parcels for them.

Two boys, named Jacinto Cortes and Jesus Grau, whose job it was to bring food to the Kommando in hampers, gradually transferred the entire archive hidden in these lunch hampers. Anna Pointner then hid the photos in a crevice in her garden wall.

After the war, Boix photographed the liberation with a confiscated German camera. He retrieved the camp photographs, which he later published. Boix testified at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg regarding photographic evidence from Mauthausen.

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Some 7,000 of the Spanish Republicans became prisoners in Mauthausen; more than half of them died in the camp.

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A graphic novel adaptation telling the story of Francisco Boix titled “Le Photographe de Mauthausen” was published by Belgian publisher Le Lombard, written by Salva Rubio and pencilled by Pedro J. Colombo, in 2016.

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Otto Skorzeny:Hitler’s scarfaced Henchman-Irish Farmer and Mossad Hitman

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Not an easy man to miss, Skorzeny stood 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighed 250lbs. And he was known as “Scarface” for a reason. He had a long, distinctive scar on his left cheek.

 

Skorzeny achieved ‘fame’ during the war for rescuing deposed Italian leader Benito Mussolini from an Italian hilltop fortress.

Born in Vienna in 1908, Skorzeny joined the Austrian Nazi party in the early 1930s. At the outbreak of the war he was involved in fighting on the Eastern Front, taking part in the German invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

By April 1943 he had been made head of German special forces, in charge of a unit of elite SS commandos.

In July 1943, he was personally selected by Hitler from among six German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and German Army (Heer) special agents to lead the operation to rescue Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who had been overthrown and imprisoned by the Italian government.

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Almost two months of cat-and-mouse followed as the Italians moved Mussolini from place to place to frustrate any rescuers. There was a failed attempt to rescue Mussolini on 27 July 1943. The Ju 52 that the crew was aboard was shot down in the area of Pratica di Mare. Otto Skorzeny and all but one of his crew bailed out safely. Mussolini was first held in a villa on La Maddalena, near Sardinia. Skorzeny was able to smuggle an Italian-speaking commando onto the island, and a few days later he confirmed Mussolini was in the villa. Skorzeny then flew over in a Heinkel He 111 to take aerial photos of the location. The bomber was shot down by Allied fighters and crash-landed at sea, but Skorzeny and the crew were rescued by an Italian destroyer. Mussolini was moved soon after. Information on Mussolini’s new location and its topographical features were finally secured by Herbert Kappler. Kappler reported Mussolini was held in the Campo Imperatore Hotel at the top of the Gran Sasso mountain, and only accessible by cable car from the valley below. Skorzeny flew again over Gran Sasso and took pictures of the location with a handheld camera. An attack plan was formulated by General Kurt Student, Harald Mors (a paratrooper battalion commander), and Skorzeny.

On 12 September, Gran Sasso raid (a.k.a. Operation Oak and Unternehmen Eiche), was carried out perfectly according to plan. Mussolini was rescued without firing a single shot. Flying out in a Storch airplane, Skorzeny escorted Mussolini to Rome and later to Berlin.

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The exploit earned Skorzeny fame, promotion to Sturmbannführer and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Mussolini created a new Fascist regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana).

Skorzeny’s unbelievable story is made all the more shocking because the former Nazi SS storm trooper remained unapologetic and showed no remorse for his actions following the war. He was tried for war crimes in 1947 but was acquitted.

He was a pioneer of what is now known as special operations warfare and in the early 1950s he served as an adviser to the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, training his army in guerrilla tactics. During this period he also trained Palestinian refugees in these tactics and was the mastermind behind the early terrorist raids into the newly re-established state of Israel. Among his trainees was Yasser Arafat, who later became the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and for much of the 1960s and 1970s was the world’s most prominent terrorist.

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His exploits were followed by the media  and, on the back of this friendly publicity, Skorzeny traveled to Madrid, Spain, where he ran an import-export business. This was believed to be a front for shuttling escaped Nazi war criminals to Argentina.

For many years Skorzeny lived in Argentina and served as a bodyguard to Eva Peron, wife of the Argentine dictator Juan Peron. It is rumored that he had a romantic affair with her.

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In July 1957 he traveled to Dublin where he was met with a gala reception by members of Parliament and celebrities. Following his warm welcome he purchased Martinstown House, the 160-acre farm estate in The Curragh, County Kildare.

Kim Bielenberg, a Dublin-based journalist whose own grandfather, Fritz von der Schulenburg, was captured and tortured by Skorzeny due to his involvement in plot to kill Hitler, reflected on his Dublin welcome. He told the BBC, “He was feted by the Dublin social glitterati, including a young politician, Charles Haughey, who was later to become Ireland’s most controversial prime minister.

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“According to the Evening Press account, ‘the ballroom was packed with representatives of various societies, professional men and, of course, several TDs [parliamentary representatives]’.”

Bielenberg believes this warm reception prompted the Nazi war criminal to buy the Kildare estate.

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He continued, “He could be seen driving across the Curragh in a white Mercedes and would visit the local post office for groceries.

“Reggie Darling, a local historian, told me he remembered coming across Skorzeny on the Curragh.

He recalled him as a big man who stood out because of the scar across his face (which was the result of a dueling contest as a student), but that he wasn’t particularly friendly and he didn’t really mix with local people.

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Skorzeny was allowed temporary visas to stay in Ireland under the proviso that he was not travel to Britain.However, in post-World War II Europe the specter of Nazism and the fear they would once again rise to power caused concern.Although Skorzeny could not be refused entry without due cause, he was refused a residency visa by the Irish government and had to limit his stays to six weeks at a time, during which he was monitored by G2,the military intelligence branch of the Defence Forces.

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Former Irish Minister for Health Noel Browne raised concerns over Skorzeny’s “anti-Semitic activities” in the Dail (Parliament) in 1959.He rarely visited after 1963 and sold Martinstown House in 1971.Skorzeny also owned property in Spain on Majorca.

Skorzeny was recruited by the Mossad conducting operations for the agency from 1962, where he worked with Avraham Ahituv and Rafi Eitan (as has been confirmed by Eitan).

 

On Israel’s request, Skorzeny flew to Egypt and compiled a detailed list of German scientists and their addresses. Skorzeny also found for Mossad the names of many front companies in Europe that were procuring and shipping components for Egypt’s military projects. Skorzeny agreed to work with Israel on the condition that Simon Wiesenthal erase his name from the list of wanted Nazi war criminals and act to have an arrest warrant against him cancelled. Though Wiesenthal rejected this request, Skorzeny decided in the end to cooperate with the Mossad anyway. According to Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Skorzeny was recruited after Mossad visited his home in Spain, where he expected he would be assassinated. After instruction in Israel, his work for the Mossad included assassinating a German rocket scientist Heinz Krug who was working with Egypt, and mailing a letter bomb which killed five Egyptians at the Egyptian military rocket site Factory 333. Skorzeny never explained his precise reasons for helping Israel. It is speculated that Skorzeny’s motives for working for the Mossad may have been his desire for adventure and intrigue, as well as to ensure he would never be assassinated by them.

In the 1960s Skorzeny set up the Paladin Group, which he envisioned as “an international directorship of strategic assault personnel [that would] straddle the watershed between paramilitary operations carried out by troops in uniform and the political warfare which is conducted by civilian agents”. Based near Alicante, Spain, the Paladin Group specialized in arming and training guerrillas, and its clients included the South African Bureau of State Security. It also carried out work for the Greek military junta of 1967–1974 and some of its operatives were recruited by the Spanish Interior Ministry to wage a clandestine war against the terrorist group ETA.

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In 1970, a cancerous tumour was discovered on Skorzeny’s spine. Two tumours were later removed while he was staying at a hospital in Hamburg, but the surgery left him paralyzed from the waist down. Vowing to walk again, Skorzeny spent long hours with a physical therapist; and, within six months, he was back on his feet. Skorzeny died of lung cancer on 5 July 1975 in Madrid. He was 67.

He was given a Roman Catholic funeral Mass in Madrid on 7 August 1975; his body was cremated afterwards, and his ashes were later brought to Vienna to be interred in the Skorzeny family plot at Döblinger Friedhof. His funeral was attended by dozens of German military veterans and wives, who did not hesitate to give the  Nazi salute,coffin was draped in the Nazi flag.

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