Archive for January, 2016

Don’t Panic! Real Dad’s Army was ‘ruthless guerrilla force’ say historians

January 29th, 2016

The BBC television series and other depictions have done a disservice to the real Home Guard, which was composed of deadly serious volunteers who believed invasion was imminent.

Many of the guard were in fact fit young men in reserve occupations which meant they could not join the regular forces, Dr Peter Johnston, collections content manager at the museum said.

He said: “I think the popular culture depiction has done them a little bit of a disservice. In a lot of cases, it was more a lads’ army, than a Dad’s Army.”

Documents and artefacts outlining the reality of the Home Guard will go on display when the museum reopens in November after a two year refurbishment.

Records show half of some units were aged in their mid-20s or younger. Of the older men, a significant proportion had combat experience from the First World War.

Dr Johnston said: “These were very serious people and these were very serious times. It’s easy to look back and laugh now at people making their own weapons, but it was a desperate time in 1940.”

The Home Guard, which was originally called initially the Local Defence Volunteers, was formed on 14 May 1940. By the end of July there were more than a million volunteers.

With regular forces taking priority for equipment, the Home Guard volunteers were at first poorly armed with their own weapons or obsolete firearms. The original idea was that the guard would act as a secondary defensive force behind the Army, guarding roads, canals and airfields.

But they were soon converted to a more aggressive role to deal with a potential German invasion, Dr Johnston said.

The German invasion plan ‘Operation Sea Lion’ called for a landing force of 67,000 German soldiers along with an airborne division to parachute in land beyond the British beach defences.

The German forces planned to push north and encircle London. The German plan estimated that if they advanced as far as Northampton, the UK would surrender.

If the Home Guard were to stand and fight well-trained and well-equipped German troops who had pioneered and mastered Blitzkrieg warfare, they would suffer enormous casualties for little gain it was decided.

So the guard was reimagined as a guerrilla force that would limit the German advance.

Dr Johnston said: “They would be a secret army, sabotaging and attacking the enemy from the rear, slowing them down to buy time for the regular Army to regroup further inland and re-establish defensive positions.”

The Home Guard drilled twice a week, took part in regular camps, and was trained by the regular Army. Within a short space of time it was probably the equivalent of today’s Army Reserve, he said.

Life in the Home Guard was also dangerous with 1,206 members being killed in the war.

Though the invasion never came, the Home Guard remained active in British defence and manned anti-aircraft guns. The Home Guard was stood down in December 1944.

Dr Johnston said: “Had the invasion come in the summer of 1940, the Home Guard would undoubtedly have fought with great commitment but probably been able to accomplish little. But the longer the delay in the planned German invasion went on, the stronger the Home Guard, and British forces overall, became, and better able to resist any prospective assault. They were a vital part of Britain’s defences throughout the war.”


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Incredible World War Two colour footage shows wounded marines being evacuated from the beaches of Iwo Jima

January 23rd, 2016

The vast, silent collection was shot with hand-held cameras, giving the images an eerie and life-like feel, providing a fascinating insight into army life during some of the bloodiest periods in American military history.

American marines overcame more than 20,000 Japanese Imperial Army troops in heavily fortified positions on the island of Iwo Jima in five weeks of bloody fighting in February 1945.

Only a handful of defenders survived the American capture of the island, which was a major US objective in the Pacific war given its proximity to the Japanese mainland.

But American forces suffered heavy losses at the hands of the desperate Japanese soldiers.

A tank drives onto the beach (University of South Carolina)

The video shows in fascinating detail military vehicles transporting badly injured Marines on stretchers to waiting vessels on a beach.

Jeeps carrying dozens of troops and amphibious vehicles are also shown driving through the dark sand of the volcanic island.

The never-before-seen images also show Marines at the 1968 siege of Khe Sanh in Vietnam, at Guadalcanal – the scene of another bloody Second World War battle – and in 1950 at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.


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Why I forgive the Nazis who murdered my family

January 20th, 2016

The courtroom embrace was beamed across the world and has prompted a new documentary being broadcast on Channel 4 on Saturday night. Today Eva chuckles at the memory. She did not expect to be hugged, but insists not one part of her body recoiled at Groening’s touch.

“I was a little bit stunned,” she says. “But it was a lot nicer than meeting him in Auschwitz. He would have grabbed me then for another purpose.”

She has written to Groening in prison where the 94-year-old is serving a four-year sentence to seek another meeting.

“I genuinely believed he liked me. I saw in his eyes a lot of caring, love and sadness that he was part of it.”

Her decision to forgive has been criticised by many survivors of the Holocaust and even prompted a petition signed by 49 among them. Her husband, Michael, 90, with whom she has two grown-up children and is himself a former inmate of Buchenwald concentration camp, insists he will never follow suit.

Yet speaking from her home in Terre Haute, Indiana, Eva Kor remains resolute.

“Why survive at all if you want to be is sad, angry and hurting?” she says. “That is so foreign to who I am. I don’t understand why the world is so much more willing to accept lashing out in anger rather than embracing friendship and humanity.”

Eva Kor grew up in the village of Portc, nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and so small it doesn’t even warrant mention on a map. Her family owned hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness and farmland. “But what good did it do us?” she asks.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left’?”

She and Miriam were six when war broke out. Hungary, initially an ally of Hitler before he invaded the country in March 1944, quickly embraced the rampant anti-Semitism of the Nazis. Eva’s father, Alexander, was told he must register every fortnight with the police and new teachers were installed at the village school.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left?’” she says. “The children were taught to hate and rewarded for it. My little playmates from the village became my tormentors.”

In early 1944, Eva, her parents, Miriam and their other sisters Edith, 14, and Aliz, 10, were forced from their home and sent with whatever food, clothes and blankets they could carry to a nearby Jewish ghetto. After two months they were told they were moving again to a “labour camp” and this time would not need any possessions.

Instead they were loaded on cattle trains bound for Auschwitz, part of the Hungarian transport of more than 437,000 Jews shipped to their deaths in just eight weeks.

“The heat was unbearable and we didn’t get any food or water for four days. Whenever the train stopped we would ask the guard for water and he would say, ‘four gold watches’. Then he would take a bucket of water throw it through the window. I had my cup ready but only ever got a few drops.”

Any relief at finally disembarking was tempered by the looming brick towers of Auschwitz. The family was soon separated amid the chaos of the “selection platform” where most were hauled off unwittingly to the gas chambers before even being registered. Within minutes Eva had lost her father and two sisters (and was never to see them again). Then a guard scanning the crowds for twins for Mengele’s experiments approached her mother, Jaffa, who was holding tight to Eva and Miriam.

“We were pulled apart crying. It was brutal and unbelievable for humanity. It still is the most difficult memory.”

Early on during her captivity, Eva stumbled across bodies of children piled up in a latrine at the end of their barracks. She did not tell Miriam, but vowed then they would both survive Mengele’s gruesome experiments.

“I remember Mengele looked very proper, dressed in a shiny Nazi uniform,” she says. “He was strict, cool, calm and collected.”

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents”

Eva was injected three times a week with at least five needles each time. She still does not know to this day what the contents were, but when the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, Eva and Miriam were still alive.

She says it has taken her years to learn forgiveness, rebuilding a life first in Romania, then Israel then the US. But it is her murdered parents, not the Nazis, who have proved the hardest memory to reconcile.

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents,” she says. “They didn’t save me from a place like Auschwitz and a destiny of being an orphan. That is what I felt.”

Eva first decided to absolve her former captors after re-visiting Auschwitz during the Eighties and later meeting Dr Hans Munch, another SS physician who worked at the camp but was acquitted of war crimes. In 1995 (two years after Miriam had died from cancer) during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp she stood alongside Munch and announced she granted “amnesty to all Nazis”.

However Eva says only one other survivor (and Mengele twin) has since joined her – a man named Peter Greenfeld. To associate forgiveness with the Nazis is anathema to most.

Susan Pollock, an 85-year-old grandmother of six from Golders Green who in January was appointed MBE for educating young people about the Holocaust, also gave evidence at the Groening trial, but says his appeals for clemency left her cold.

“He was sentenced and found guilty and that is the important thing,” she says. “He lived a long life while more than 50 members of my family – little babies and children – were destroyed. I really can’t understand how she (Eva) could come out and say she forgives.”

Pollock was also shipped to Auschwitz on the Hungarian transport. Both her parents were killed while her brother, Laszlo, was forced to work in the Sonderkommando, moving bodies from the gas chambers to the ovens. He was the only other member of her family to survive, although remained terribly scarred from the experience.

Susan Pollock has weathered similar traumas but insists now she doesn’t carry any hatred in her heart. “I live with it by sharing and speaking,” she says.

What is most important for her is that the world always remembers. Unlike Eva Kor, she may never be able to forgive the Nazis; but insists none of us must ever forget.

The Girl who forgave the Nazis is broadcast on January 23 at 8pm on Channel 4


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Whether it’s Cologne sex assaults or Mein Kampf, Germany still doesn’t trust its people

January 12th, 2016

The book is a virtually unreadable ragbag of personal reminiscence, anti-Semitic diatribes, self-pitying sentimentality, and a chilling forecast of Hitler’s future plans for Germany after the Nazis came to power, including conquering France, battling Russian Bolshevism, enslaving the Slavs, and veiled hints of the Holocaust itself.

The publisher this time around is the heavyweight historical Institut fur Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History) based in Munich, capital of Bavaria, the south German city and state that was the cradle of the Nazi movement in the 1920s, and where Hitler spent his happiest hours.

The Bavarian state government, which inherited the publishing part of the former Fuhrer’s estate, and is extremely sensitive about its most infamous one-time resident, had resolutely refused to republish while the seventy years copyright lasted. However it was unable to prevent publication of the toxic work after the copyright expired. Discretion about Nazism, in official Bavaria’s eyes, was definitely the better part of valour.

Although some members of Germany’s Jewish community – now 100,000 strong – expressed unease that the book’s release would fuel a new wave of neo-Nazism, and despite the fact that the first edition sold out within hours on Germany’s Amazon website, independent historians have backed the republication, and it seems unlikely that the heavily annotated and deliberately dull-looking tome will ever again attain bestseller status.

Historian Roger Moorhouse, author of His Struggle, an account of the writing of the original book, says the controversy is “much more about Germany’s continued obsession with Hitler, and the curious assumption that his horrid, outdated ideas are still ‘infectious’, than…about the book itself.”

There is, surely, also a coincidental link between official German efforts to stifle or filter Hitler’s rancid tex and the same establishment’s current ham-fisted attempt to cover up the true extent and the identity of the perpetrators of the mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne and elsewhere in Germany on New Year’s Eve

It as if Germany’s rulers do not trust their own people with the ability to handle uncomfortable truths. Whether those truths are the poisonous doctrines that once entranced the nation and led to the Holocaust and the devastation of Europe in the Second World War, or the more immediately dismaying reality that parts of German cities are no longer safe for German women to walk in because of their own government’s policies, the instinct to suppress the truth remains the same. It is a profoundly unhealthy trait.


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