Polish nightclub owner defends giant yellow swastika

February 27th, 2015

But Marek Pelian said the design was a yellow path to guide his guests.

“What swastika? This is just the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz,” he told the local press, explaining that one arm of the design leads to the nightclub’s door while another will lead to an outdoor stage that has yet to be built.

“This design has four arms, just like the galaxy, and this is an astronomical disco,” he added as further explanation. “Just because Hitler used it does not mean it’s a sign of totalitarianism.”

His explanation has failed to win everyone over.

• Paving stone swastika embarrasses German town

In a commentary piece for Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading Polish newspaper, Pawel Krysiak, a Czestochowa resident, said in Poland the swastika will always be “associated with genocide, not the Wizard Oz,” and reminded Mr Pelian of what happened to Czestochowa’s Jews during the war.

“In the autumn of 1942 the Nazis deported 40,000 people to the Treblinka death camp,” he wrote. “This is what happened to people under the sign of the swastika. Czestochowa still lives in the shadow of this crime and we do not want to forget it.”


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Mein Kampf to be republished in Germany in early 2016

February 26th, 2015

But that copyright expires in December, meaning a new, heavily annotated, version will be published by Germany’s Institute for Contemporary History in January.

“I understand some immediately feel uncomfortable when a book that played such a dramatic role is made available again to the public,” Magnus Brechtken, the institute’s deputy director, told the Washington Post. “On the other hand, I think that this is also a useful way of communicating historical education and enlightenment – a publication with the appropriate comments, exactly to prevent these traumatic events from ever happening again.”

Jewish groups argued the book was “outside of human logic”.

The new version will be 2,000 pages long – far longer than Hitler’s 700-page original – because it will include critical commentary of Hitler’s writing.

Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in 1924 while in a Bavarian prison, and combined elements of autobiography with his views on Aryan “racial purity”, his hatred of Jews and his opposition to communism.

Millions of copies were distributed before his death in 1945.

The book is unusually popular in India, where it is sold in book shops and by hawkers at train stations.

A signed copy of the book was sold at auction in Ludlow, Shropshire, in 2009 for £21,000.

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Publishing Mein Kampf is the best way to undermine Hitler’s poison

February 25th, 2015

A manga version of the book was published in Japan

3) Mein Kampf is an important historical document. It is arguably invaluable reading for students who wish to understand the way that a significant minority of Germans thought in the 1920s and 1930s, thus helping contemporary readers to understand the social conditions that made the Third Reich possible.

4) Perversely, making Mein Kampf available in this format could be a useful weapon against the Far Right. The Far Right often try to whitewash the Nazi era by claiming that a) the Holocaust never happened, b) what little persecution of the Jews that did take place did so without Hitler’s direct order and c) the Third Reich was the victim of Western aggression and never wanted a world war. Reading Mein Kampf rubbishes all these claims. Hitler clearly states that Jews are part of a grand conspiracy to destroy Germany through Marxism and racial impurity, and that they have to be purged form society. He uses language that eerily predicts the horrors of Auschwitz when stating that the First World War could have been won: “If at the beginning of the War… twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas.” Likewise, he proposes that Germans require lebensraum in Europe – a living space that would become the goal of eastward expansion in 1939. In short, while Hitler was certainly an opportunist and his state surprisingly decentralised in structure, he operated by a clear ideological vision that is laid out in Mein Kampf.

5) Subjected to proper critical analysis, Mein Kampf reads like an absurd, paranoid, semi-illiterate pamphlet – it debunks itself. George Orwell’s scathing review nailed it: “The initial, personal cause of [Hitler’s] grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to.”

The challenge of reading Mein Kampf in hindsight is to try to understand how something so obviously wrong and so clearly the product of a broken, third-rate mind could bring about the Götterdämmerung of Europe.

The answer is partly that it didn’t. The Hitler of Mein Kampf, the Hitler of the 1920s, was quickly discredited and, as Weimar’s economy improved, looked like an irrelevance. Only when the Depression hit, and the German establishment was looking for a weapon to smash the Left with, was Hitler reluctantly invited into power. And what democratic support he enjoyed he enjoyed in part because he pledged peace and played down some of the rhetoric one wades through in Mein Kampf.

If Mein Kampf is presented in proper, scholarly fashion then it can be made clear that it is not a black bible – an unholy writ of immense, dark magical powers – but an important historical artifact that helps us understand what went so terribly wrong in an apparently civilised society. History understood is history conquered.


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Germany charges 94-year-old former medic at Auschwitz with 3,600 counts of accessory to murder

February 23rd, 2015

Hilde Michnia who has lived undisturbed in the suburbs of Hamburg for nearly five decades who now uses a walking frame is under investigation for allegedly forcing women prisoners on a death march from the Grossen-Rosen concentration camp, during which 1,400 died.

The other man was a former SS guard who helped to choose which prisoners were strong enough for forced labour and which should be immediately gassed. He is being charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder.

The cases are part of an initiative, begun in 2013, that recommended 30 people to be prosecuted for their involvement in the Holocaust.

“There is no statue of limitations on murder,” said Andreas Brendel, the prosecutor behind the charges against the unnamed 93-year-old man..

“We still have the victims and the families of victims. For them, it is very important that a German criminal process takes place and the guilt of the offender is determined.”

But critics said the three defendants were only junior SS members, who played a minor role, and are only being prosecuted in lieu of more senior perpetrators who have now passed away.

Of the 6,500 former SS members who served at Auschwitz and survived the war, only 49 have ever been convicted by a German court.

A further 700 were tried and convicted in Polish courts, including the notorious camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, who was sentenced to death and hanged in 1947. But thousands have escaped justice.

Neither Mr Groening nor Ms Michnia have sought to hide their pasts, and indeed may have incriminated themselves with frank interviews to the media.

Although he always denied personal responsibility for what happened at Auschwitz, Mr Groening spent years confronting Holocaust deniers and speaking out about the horrors he witnessed there.

“I heard a baby crying,” he told Spiegel magazine in 2005. “The child was lying on the ramp, wrapped in rags. A mother had left it behind, perhaps because she knew women with infants were sent to the gas chambers immediately.

“I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. The crying bothered him. He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”

Ms Michnia appeared in a recent Irish documentary in which Tomi Reichental, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, attempted to interview her about her time there.

In the course of the documentary, Ms Michnia admitted taking part in the death march.

She may have thought she was safe from further prosecution because she served a year in prison at the end of the way after being found guilty of mistreating prisoners at a British military trial.

So few of those responsible for the genocide of Europe’s Jews have been held to account in postwar Germany that the German writer and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano described it as a “second guilt”.

But in 2011 a German court found John Demjanjuk, a Soviet prisoner-of-war who volunteered as an SS guard, guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews at the Sobibor extermination camp.

When Thomas Walther, a government official tasked with investigating Nazi crimes, sought to bring charges against Demjanjuk, his colleagues laughed.

But the case overturned years of legal precedent in the German courts that only the senior Nazi leadership could be held responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust. For the first time, anyone who had been a guard at a death camp could be held guilty.

After the judgement, there was a scramble by prosecutors to open new cases against surviving Nazis.

In 2013, investigations were announced against 30 former SS members who served at Auschwitz. Many have since died or been ruled too ill to stand trial.


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Heir to Japanese throne appeals for ‘correct’ Second World War history

February 23rd, 2015

Naruhito, the crown prince, used a press conference marking his 55th birthday on Monday to express opinions that would be considered mild elsewhere but are a rare example of Japan’s imperial family passing comment on the nation’s elected leaders.

“I myself did not experience the war, but it is important to look back on the past humbly and to correctly pass down tragic experiences and the history behind Japan to generations that have no direct knowledge of the war, at a time when memories of the war are about to fade”, the prince said.

Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, has expressed his intention to rewrite the constitution before he steps down, with sections concerning Japan’s right to use its military the most likely to be altered.

The prince also pointed out that the world is marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and expressed hopes that this year “will be an opportunity to take the preciousness of peace to heart and to renew our determination to pursue peace”.

“The imperial family very rarely wades into politics, but it is very hard to believe that this is not a planned and calculated comment that has been approved by the Imperial Household Agency,” Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University, told The Telegraph.

“Clearly the agency believes Mr Abe has gone too far and that it will be bad for the nation if he continues to take the line that Japan did nothing wrong in the early decades of the last century”, he said.

“The agency will be particularly keen to avoid any new questions being raised about the imperial family’s role in and responsibility for Japan’s colonial occupations and the war”, he added.


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David Cameron defends Second World War RAF ‘heroes’ of Dresden raid

February 19th, 2015

The comments sparked criticism from Tory MPs who called the remarks “bizarre” and “an insult” to the young men who risked their lives.

“On the issue of the work of Bomber Command in the Second World War, I think that Bomber Command played an absolutely vital role in our war effort,” Mr Cameron said in a question and answer session at the Port of Felixstowe.

“One of the things I was very proud to do as Prime Minister was to make sure the people who served in Bomber Command got proper recognition with a new clasp on their medals.

“And it was a great honour to hand out some of those medals to people who have waited for many, many years for the recognition I think they deserve.

“I’m very lucky to occasionally get to jog around St James Park in London and I always stop and look up at the Bomber Command memorial that has been so recently built and dedicated and stop and think about those very brave people who took enormous risks with incredible loss of life on our behalf to save Europe, to save Britain from fascism, from Hitler.

The Bomber Command monument in Green Park (ALAMY)

“To me the people who served in bomber command are heroes of our country and they played a very important role in the Second World War.”

Up to 25,000 civilians were killed in a vast firestorm with hurricane-strength winds during the raid of 13-15 February 1945. Critics have said the raid, the most controversial British action of the war, was needless, given the closeness of victory. Defenders of the raid point to the large number of German armament factories in the city.

The comments contrasted with the tone taken by Archbishop Welby at a service to remember the bombings earlier this month.

“Much debate surrounds this most controversial raid of the allied bombing campaign. Whatever the arguments, events here 70 years ago left a deep wound and diminished all our humanity. So as a follower of Jesus I stand here among you with a profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow,” he said.

Tory MP Philip Davies criticised the comments, saying: “These remarks do sound to me like an apology. For the Archbishop to make an apology for our defeat of Hitler is bizarre. I would have thought the last thing we should be doing is apologising. We should be praised for defeating Hitler. These words are an insult to the young men who gave their lives in the defeat of Germany.”


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Anyone for a day out at Hitler’s bunker?

February 19th, 2015

In the spirit of cultural exchange that has seen the British Museum lend one of its Elgin Marbles to the Hermitage Museum, perhaps the Top Secret theme park could persuade the Lubyanka archive in Moscow to lend it some of their choicest exhibits.

Authorities tried to destroy the bunker after the war (Alamy)

They include Hitler’s jawbone, removed for identification on 5 May 1945 by the SMERSH agents who discovered his charred body buried outside the bunker, and Hitler’s gold Nazi Party badge, which he presented to Magda Goebbels, although that is rather melted round the edges from when her body and that of her husband Joseph were doused in petrol and set on fire.

This gold badge was stolen to order a number of years ago from inside the Lubyanka, and we do not know whether it has been recovered or not. To snatch it from under the FSB’s nose was quite an achievement in itself, and goes to show how much artefacts linked to the Third Reich hierarchy are prized by rich collectors of dubious political views, both in Russia and Germany.

Hitler’s bunker pictured after the war (Alamy)

A rather more accessible item would be Eva Braun’s solid silver hand mirror, with the swastika and RK for Reichskanzlei, which an elderly German proudly showed to me after a lecture I gave in Berlin in 2004. He said he had bought it from Lev Bezymenski, a Soviet military intelligence officer. I had interviewed Bezymenski because he had been an interpreter at Paulus’s surrender in Stalingrad, and then been one of the first to enter Hitler’s Bunker on 2 May 1945.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was bizarre to find that former Red Army officers were selling Nazi items they had seized as souvenirs in 1945 in an attempt to augment their pathetically devalued pensions.

A US soldier inside the bunker in 1945 (Getty)

My strange encounter with Eva Braun’s hand mirror coincided exactly with the release of Downfall, one of the most acclaimed German-made films about Hitler’s last days. One can nitpick a number of historical details in it, but I suspect anyone wanting to understand what it was like in the Führerbunker in April 1945 would do better to see it again than make their way to Oberhausen.

The decision to create a “Hitler bunker experience” at all has been made possible only thanks to Germany’s burgeoning self-confidence.

After its admirable victory in the 2014 World Cup, the almost compulsory apologias for the Nazi era are now truly a thing of the past.

Adolf Hitler’s command centre conference room in the bunker partially burned out by SS troops and stripped of evidence by invading Russian soldiers ( William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Any notion of collective guilt is dead and buried, and thus – ironically – this mock concrete sarcophagus can finally be contemplated. The sceptical reaction to the announcement last month is in contrast to the embarrassed panic that occurred in Berlin soon after the collapse of Communism, when building work revealed that the real Führerbunker had survived partly intact.

Soviet and East German attempts to destroy it completely with high explosive had failed because of the four metres of solid concrete above. Berlin’s municipal authorities cordoned it off hurriedly and re-covered it in earth. It is now buried under a car park surrounded by blocks of apartments.

But since the turn of the century, a new mood has emerged in Germany. After all the post-war years of collective national guilt, a new feeling of Normalisierung – or normalisation – began to gather pace. Many felt that at last it had become right to portray Germans in 1945, especially the civilians fleeing from the Red Army, as victims. This was sparked in part by Günter Grass’s 2002 novel, Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk). The book, based on the fate of refugees from East and West Prussia in the early part of 1945, revolves around the sinking by a Soviet submarine of the liner Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic. More than 7,000 – some say 10,000 – drowned in the icy waters off the Pomeranian coast.

The same year, German historian Jörg Friedrich published his detailed and highly emotive account of the suffering of German civilians under British bombing in Der Brand (The Burning). Friedrich called Churchill a “butcher” and implied that he should be classified as a war criminal for such senseless suffering.

Abandoned furniture and debris seen inside the bunker (William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Friedrich took a narrow view of his subject, failing to recognise that the British strategic bombing offensive from 1942 was our “Second Front”, to help the Soviet Union in the only way we could. Our feeling of blood guilt towards the Red Army, which was taking all the casualties, influenced British policy more than had yet been fully realised.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Friedrich and most German commentators failed to appreciate how effective British bombing was in forcing the Luftwaffe to withdraw a large proportion of its fighter squadrons and anti-aircraft batteries from the Eastern Front to defend the Reich. This aided the Red Army enormously in 1943 and especially 1944, when they were able to make huge advances.

It was, of course, quite right, that the terrible suffering of German civilians in 1945 should have been acknowledged. They too, in their way, were also victims of Nazism, even if some – or many – of them had supported Hitler’s regime. It was also quite right that modern Germany should lay down the burden of self-reproach. But that did not of course mean that a veil should be drawn over the horrors of the past, or that the German right should be allowed to confuse cause and effect, as it had done so often in the past.

The 2004 film Downfall, which was set in Adolf Hitler’s Führerbunker

The announcement of this fake Führerbunker could hardly have been timed any worse, coinciding with the anti-Islamist Pegida demonstrations in Germany and then the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris, which was clearly intended to provoke a backlash to recruit more jihadists.

And although many Germans are unduly nervous, drawing comparisons with the Pegida marches and a possible return of the Brown Shirts, this is far from the case. History never repeats itself, and any superficial parallels with the 1930s are deeply misleading. For a start, democracy in Germany could hardly be more secure. Whether facing neo-Nazis or Jihadists, the bulk of the country is impressively united.

Of course, in an increasingly amorphous world of fragmented societies, there are many young males who, through insecurity, bitterness and a lack of opportunities, feel a strong need for a tribal, religious or nationalist identity.

The exterior of the bunker as seen in the 2004 film Downfall

Yet Germany faces another, rather longer term paradox. The Euro crisis as a whole can only be resolved through a drastic centralisation of political and economic power, and that in turn will greatly increase the anti-Brussels resentment across Europe and play into the hands of the extremist groups and parties. This is no doubt one of the reasons why Germany’s Federal government had been avoiding decisive action and preferred to wait upon events, but now, with the Greek crisis, probably cannot delay any longer.

As for the fake Führerbunker, common sense could yet save the day. If it goes ahead, this Nazi-lite attraction will not have any portraits of Hitler on its wall, just empty frames. And as swastikas are not permitted to be displayed under German Federal law, with any luck it will be as disappointing as those rip-off Winter Wonderlands that seem to spring up each December.

It is sheer sophistry to pretend that crude attempts to popularise history leads to a better understanding or a desire to learn more. Rather more often, they simply confirm existing caricatures and clichés.

Antony Beevor’s latest book, Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble (Viking, £25), will be published in May. To order your copy for just £20 plus P&P, call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk


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Beautiful landmarks destroyed by Second World War bombs – and resurrected

February 16th, 2015

Frauenkirche (Dresden, Germany)

This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Dresden (13-15 February 1945) – the concerted Allied air attack which effectively removed its target from the map of Europe. It remains one of the most controversial passages of the Second World War.

The assault left up to 25,000 dead (the figure is hard to quantify), and destroyed much of the Baroque centre of what was arguably Germany’s most beautiful city. Buildings lost to the flames included the glorious Frauenkirche – a huge-domed church, built in 1743, which withstood both nights (even acting as a bomb shelter) – but collapsed in the terrible heat caused by the sustained explosions, its dome falling at 10am on February 15.

It ‘stood’ as a ruin for five decades under the Communist authorities in the post-war German Democratic Republic – the image above shows the remnants of the church in January 1952. However, like all the buildings in this gallery, is also a resurrection tale…

By Chris Leadbeater

Picture: AFP/GETTY


World War Two

Dresden was a civilian town with no military significance. Why did we burn its people?

February 16th, 2015

Chief of the Air Staff Charles Portal had calculated that bombing civilians could kill 900,000 in 18 months, seriously injure a million more, destroy six million homes, and “de-house” 25 million, creating a humanitarian crisis that, he believed, would speed up the war.

This thinking was not trumpeted from the rooftops. But in November 1941 the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command said he had been intentionally bombing civilians for a year. “I mention this because, for a long time, the Government, for excellent reasons, has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call Military Targets. I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.”

The debate over this strategy of targeting civilians is still hotly contentious and emotional, in Britain and abroad. There is no doubting the bravery, sacrifice, and suffering of the young men who flew the extraordinarily dangerous missions: 55,573 out of Bomber Command’s 125,000 flyers never came home. The airmen even nicknamed their Commander-in-Chief “Butcher” Harris, highlighting his scant regard for their survival.

Supporters of Britain’s “area bombing” (targeting civilians instead of military or industrial sites) maintain that it was a vital part of the war. Churchill wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland”. In another letter he called it “terror bombing”. His aim was to demoralise the Germans to catalyse regime change. Research suggests that the soaring homelessness levels and family break ups did indeed depress civilian morale, but there is no evidence it helped anyone prise Hitler’s cold hand off the wheel.

Others maintain that it was ghastly, but Hitler started it so needed to be answered in a language he understood. Unfortunately, records show that the first intentional “area bombing” of civilians in the Second World War took place at Monchengladbach on 11 May 1940 at Churchill’s orders (the day after he dramatically became prime minister), and four months before the Luftwaffe began its Blitz of British cities.

Not everyone was convinced by city bombing. Numerous military and church leaders voiced strong opposition. Freemason Dyson, now one of Britain’s most eminent physicists, worked at Bomber Command from 1943-5. He said it eroded his moral beliefs until he had no moral position at all. He wanted to write about it, but then found the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut had said everything he wanted to say.

Like Gregg, Vonnegut had been a prisoner in Dresden that night. He claimed that only one person in the world derived any benefit from the slaughterhouse — him, because he wrote a famous book about it which pays him two or three dollars for every person killed.

Germany’s bombing of British cities was equally abhorrent. Germany dropped 35,000 tons on Britain over eight months in 1940-1 killing an estimated 39,000. (In total, the UK and US dropped around 1.9 million tons on Germany over 7 years.)

Bombing German cities clearly did have an impact on the war. The question, though, is how much. The post-war US Bombing Survey estimated that the effect of all allied city bombing probably depleted the German economy by no more than 2.7 per cent.

Allowing for differences of opinion on the efficacy or necessity of “area bombing” in the days when the war’s outcome remained uncertain (arguably until Stalingrad in February 1943), the key question on today’s anniversary remains whether the bombing of Dresden in February 1945 was militarily necessary — because by then the war was definitely over. Hitler was already in his bunker playing out his final absurd fantasies. The British and Americans were at the German border after winning D-Day the previous summer, while the Russians under Zhukov and Konev were well inside eastern Germany and racing pell-mell to Berlin.

Dresden was a civilian town without military significance. It had no material role of any sort to play in the closing months of the war. So, what strategic purpose did burning its men, women, old people, and children serve? Churchill himself later wrote that “the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing”.

Seventy years on, fewer people ask precisely which military objective justified the hell unleashed on Dresden. If there was no good strategic reason for it, then not even the passage of time can make it right, and the questions it poses remain as difficult as ever in a world in which civilians have continued to suffer unspeakably in the wars of their autocratic leaders.


World War Two

Pictures of the day: 13 February 2015

February 15th, 2015

Yeeee-haw! A flying frog looks like a rodeo rider as it effortlessly climbs onto a the back of a woodboring beetle. The photo was taken by wildlife specialist Hendy Mp in Sambas, IndonesiaPicture: Hendy MP/Solent News & Photo Agency


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