Tag Archives: Eastern Front

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (5)

Last time, we were looking at “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer:

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The book relates how German prisoners of war were listened to by German speaking operators, usually Jews, who wrote down the horrific tales they told. Here are some Wehrmacht prisoners, crossing one of the Great Lakes on their way to a Prisoner of War camp:

And here is one of those listeners, back in England:

Towards the end of their book, “Soldaten”, Neitzel and Welzer provide a brief summary of what they have discovered:

“A lot of what appears horrible, lawless, and barbaric is part of the normal frame of reference in wartime. Stories about German cruelty don’t attract any more attention in World War II than they do in reports by US soldiers in Vietnam. Instances of cruelty rarely seem spectacular to the majority of soldiers. Such violence is instrumental in nature. It’s hardly any surprise that it occurs in war.”

To be honest, I’m not too sure that I agree with all of that. My perception is these horrific events were much more the norm with the German forces in World War Two than they were with either the British or the Americans in World War II or in other wars.

Having said that, the Germans did not carry out My Lai and the Germans were not present in the Korean War. My Dad’s friends in the RAF, not Germans, were the ones who sank two U-boats after VE-Day and, as a little boy, I remember a friend of mine telling me how his Dad, a soldier in India, Burma and Siam witnessed appalling incidents of violence, cruelty and murder in native villages, and he wasn’t in the Japanese army. He was in the British army.

During World War Two, though, the majority of the incidents of extraordinary cruelty and barbarity took place on the Eastern Front, committed by Germans on Russian victims. One of the tapes mentioned in Post No 1 was of a man whose surname was Graf. He was an ordinary Wehrmacht soldier:

“The Russian POWs had nothing to eat for three or four days, then the guard would hit one over the head and he was dead. The others set on him and cut him up and ate him as he was.”

Here are some Russian prisoners:

All of the various motivations for violence come together when the Final Solution is considered:

As far as the Final Solution is concerned, this type of violence is seen as one possibility in the list of possible social actions between communities. In this case, it was violence by more or less every German against every Jew they could find:

In Allport’s Scale, it is Stage Five of five, namely “the extermination or removal of the out-group”. Other examples include Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia.

In the Second World War, say the authors, individuals tended to repeat their previous behaviour, especially if they had escaped punishment for it. One of the most frequent actions on the Eastern Front was the massacre of defenceless people as a reprisal for the death of a German soldier:

If people commit acts of violence and nobody is ever punished, we have “inhumanity with impunity”, which describes perfectly German behaviour in captured Poland and the Soviet Union. Killing young children was not a problem:

“Autotelic violence” is violence for its own sake, because the perpetrator finds it exciting and entertaining, whether it is the first killing or the thousandth:

Individual soldiers usually did what the group did. The group was their entire world and their standards of behaviour were considered the ones to follow.

If some of the group wanted to kill Jews and then throw them into a ditch, it soon became acceptable behaviour. So did the mechanised slaughter of the death camps :

One other, final, factor helping to trigger off the violence by the Germans in the Second World War was their desire for revenge after defeat in 1918. In German thinking, their defeat came about not because the Allied armies were victorious, but because the German army was betrayed by the people back home in Germany, such as the Communists, the Socialists and the Jews. (And most of the Communists and the Socialists were Jews anyway.)

The solution was easy. Kill them all. The Communists, the Socialists, the Jews, the Gays, the Gipsies, Black People, everybody who didn’t agree with you. That’s a long road to go down. And it’s marked with a corpse every few yards:

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (2)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on CD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+ images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history. They also reflect quite accurately how that massive struggle was unfolding.

We left the German invaders discovering just how cold the Soviet Union could get. The Germans still thought that they could win, though. Their racial theories said the Russians were “untermenschen” and the photographs they took and sent home seemed to prove it:

This man is living in the Western USSR but what race is he? :

And what about this one? He is far from the Aryan ideal. And by the rules used by the Germans, he may be killed for that offence against racial purity:

When they invaded Poland, the German troops were told that the Poles lived in filth, that they had a distinctive stink and that, with practice, you could smell the presence of any Poles nearby. Poles were Slavs and so were Russians. It wasn’t a huge leap to apply the same attributes to Russians. And the photographs you took would prove it. They were subhuman. Just look at them. Barefoot and unkempt. Where would you find the like in Germany?:

Many of them even lived underground:

And their children?  Like little animals. Dirty. Badly dressed and often bare footed:

And many of them are complete ragamuffins, with little evidence of knowing who their parents are:

And then the stupid, smelly Russkies stumbled their way to making what may well have been the finest tank of all time, the T-34 :

And before too long, the tables began to be turned. More and more prisoners were being captured by the useless, cretinous Soviets:

Events accelerated after that, from very bad to catastrophic. Soon it was Germans who were fleeing as refugees. Hitler had said that he would drive Bolshevism out of Europe, to the far side of the Urals. He was wrong. His incompetence had brought the Red Commie Tide westwards, and the Russians by 1945 were some 800 miles further into central Europe than they had been six years before. Run, run, run!:

And before long, they were giving German Grandads in Berlin newly invented superweapons and telling them to do their bit to chase those 2,300,000 Russkies out of the city. Don’t look so bewildered, Gramps! They’re easy to use, but unfortunately, they fire only one shot:

 

 

 

 

 

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Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (1)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+  images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share the best of these photographs with you because a good number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history. They also reflect quite accurately how that massive struggle was unfolding.

September 1st 1939. The Germans attacked Poland in some strength and soon, prisoners were being taken in large numbers:

On June 22nd 1941, came Operation Barbarossa. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union where lebensraum was almost limitless. Victories came easily. Cities were blown to bits:

Towns were destroyed:

And villages burned:

Russian prisoners were captured in their hundreds of thousands:

The Germans didn’t always feed the Russians. In years to come this would result in cannibalism in many of the camps. A German sentry would shoot a Russian prisoner, and the others, all starving, would then eat him:

For the advancing army, there were always meteorological problems, In the height of summer, it was dust:

But then it started to rain as autumn set in. Not too much to begin with. But then it got worse. The Russians call this time “распутица” (pronounced “rass-poot-eat-sa”) which means “the season of bad roads”.  The origin of the word is that “рас” (“rass”) means “in different directions” and “пут” (“poot”) means the road. And that’s exactly what happens as the road disappears into a sea of mud. It begins very gradually with this:

And it ends with this:

Traditionally, the weather starts to get colder and much more wintry on November 7th, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. But the Germans did not know this, and they just woke up one day and there was a light dusting of snow, and the mud was all frozen. They preferred that. At least you could walk on frozen mud:

But then it snowed a little more, and a little more. At first it was very picturesque:

But then you find your tank is stuck in the frozen mud and the snowdrifts and it’s unusable. You expect to be given a winter uniform and winter equipment but it never comes. You start to feel cold. And it’s no fun playing stupid games in the snow any more:

 

 

 

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A nasty German in Woodville, Part Two, the True Facts

The Luftwaffe’s Gruppe III./KG.4, full name 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 arrived at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands in the middle of January 1941. They would be there until July 31st when they left for the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front:

During the first part of their stay, in one of the hardest winters for years, they spent a lot of time training and then taking part in planned air raids on the cities and ports of Great Britain. They were flying twin engined Heinkel He-111H version bombers, “hard to start greenhouses”, which scared the bejesus out of the locals who lived near the airfield. They were all loaded to the maximum limits with explosives and fuel, and on quite a few occasions, seemed to struggle to climb over the locals’ houses in this birthplace of Mata Hari:

On Tuesday, June 24th 1941 the pilot of one of the Heinkel He-111Hs, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz, took off at 23.00 hours, tasked with laying mines in the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool. With him was a crew of three men, Stabsfeldwebel H Glkowski, Obergefreiter Friedrich Ertzinger, the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, and Feldwebel W Köller.

At 02.30 hrs, somewhere between the Wash and Liverpool, the Heinkel was intercepted on radar and then attacked by a Bristol Beaufighter of 25 Squadron, based at RAF Wittering, squadron codes ZK:

The Beaufighter was flown by Pilot Officer DW Thompson, with Pilot Officer LD Britain acting as the airborne interception radar operator (A1). Pilot Officer Britain picked up the Heinkel almost half way between Sheffield and Nottingham just under approximately 20,000 feet up, and stalked the twin engined bomber for a quarter of an hour. Slowly, slowly, the Beaufighter crew crept up on their prey and then opened fire with their four 20 mm Hispano cannons. Here they are, under the nose of the aircraft. There were also six .303in machine guns, two in the port wing and four in the starboard wing. This made it the most heavily armed British fighter of the war, with a total of ten guns:

The RAF night fighter scored many hits on the hapless Heinkel. The cannon shells and machine gun bullets hit home with the same impact in energy terms as a broadside from a Royal Navy destroyer. The Heinkel’s starboard engine dissolved into flames and stopped working. A few minutes later, the bomber’s undercarriage fell out of its engine nacelles, increasing the plane’s drag enormously:

Immediately the bomber began to lose height rapidly, and as they plunged down to 1,000 feet, the pilot, Oberleutnant Schwartz, gave the order to the crew to bale out. Sadly, by the time he baled out himself, the aircraft was too low and his parachute failed to deploy. Schwartz was killed but his three colleagues, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller all escaped safely.

The Heinkel crashed close to the buildings of Edwards Farm in Lullington, a sleepy little village in South Derbyshire, some six miles south west of Woodville. This satellite view shows just how countrified Lullington still is even nowadays, eighty years after the event :

As soon as the Heinkel hit the ground, its bombs immediately exploded, scattering pieces of the plane over an area of some fifteen acres. The Home Guard would later find the tail mounted MG 17 machine gun. The aircraft had also been fitted with two external PVC 1006 bomb racks to increase its weapon carrying capacity.

The three surviving members of the crew, Ertzinger, Glkowski and Köller, landed in fields belonging to Edwards Farm. They were immediately captured and taken prisoner by two Home Guard men, Jack and Geoff Edwards, the brothers who owned the farm where the wreckage of the plane fell :

Ultimately the German aviators were taken to the Police Station at Woodville Tollgate to be locked up until the army could come and pick them up later that day. Here’s the Police Station again:

And what happened to the rest of the men involved ?

On July 31st 1941 the entire 111 Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 4 was sent to the Eastern Front. It was a lovely place to walk the dog :

Poor Oberleutnant Schwartz received a full military funeral at Fradley Church near the cathedral city of Lichfield on June 27th 1941. He was buried in the lovely English churchyard around the church. Here’s the church:

And here’s his grave :

In recent years, at the Battle of Britain service in September, an officer of the Luftwaffe based at 16 M.U. Stafford has laid a wreath on the grave of the pilot, Oberleutnant Joachim Schwartz. Everybody was very happy to see this, and evinced the hope that it would continue for many years to come.

A number of years after the end of the war, in 1979, Friedrich Ertzinger, the Heinkel’s Wireless Operator / Air Gunner, visited Edwards Farm where he was given a wonderful reception by the two Edwards brothers. These visits continued for a number of years, and all three men enjoyed themselves enormously.

Pilot Officer LD Britain survived the war. You may remember that he was the airborne interception radar operator in the successful Beaufighter.

Pilot Officer David William Thompson, a mere 22 years old and the pilot of that successful Beaufighter, did not survive the conflict. Indeed, when he shot down that Heinkel over Lullington, he had only fourteen more days to live. On July 8th 1941, piloting a Bristol Beaufighter If, serial number, T4629, for an unknown reason, he plunged into the ground near Wittering. His airborne interception radar operator, Flight Sergeant Richard George Crossman, was also killed instantly.

David William Thompson was the son of the Reverend Hamlet George Thompson and of Dora Muriel Thompson (née Watney), of Little Munden Rectory in Hertfordshire. David was buried in Wittering (All Saints) Churchyard.

Richard George Crossman was the son of Richard Berkley Crossman and Clara Priscilla Crossman and the husband of Mary Crossman, who all hailed from Watford. Richard is buried in Watford Cemetery:

His grave bears the inscription “Cherished memories, loved by all who knew him”.

 

 

 

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Builders and plumbers transform the house

Last week we had the builders and plumbers around to our house to put in a new central heating system. At first it felt exactly as if the whole building had been hit by a tsunami. Not quite as dramatic or as destructive though as this one…

The problem was that every one of the six men was armed with his very own Mjölnir, his very own Hammer of Thor, with which he was capable of sending thunder echoing round the house whenever he felt like it.
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In actual fact, it was more that the jobs they had to do in the first couple of hours were by far the noisiest of the entire four days. Believe me, a dining room is no is no place for a pneumatic drill.

In 2013 we had the same company come round and put a multi-fuel stove in our living room. We were sick and tired of the money guzzling gas fire, to which the only other solution was to switch on the central heating for the entire house.  Here is our first stove which was put in last September.

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Over the course of the winter therefore, we lit our new multi-fuel stove in the late afternoon, and after feeding it sparingly with coal for the evening, we then discovered that it would then keep the room pleasantly warm for the whole night and for much of the next day. In addition, it also kept the bedroom above equally lovely and warm. Only very infrequently were we using the central heating.
We soon realised that having a second stove fitted in the dining room at the back of the house might have the same effect and save a great deal more money. So, as well as having our central heating revamped, we were having a second stove put in.

In the dining room, we had a ten or fifteen year old gas fire. It always seemed to remind me of somebody, perhaps a character out of Wallace and Gromit.

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First of all they removed the gas fire. Here is just a small selection of the rubble that the builders created. Notice though, that it is neatly put into special plastic buckets, so that nothing whatsoever remained at the end of the day.

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Here is the old gas fire, and the old radiators, gone for ever…

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The majority of the old radiators had to go. They had been there since probably the mid-1960s. Here, plans are being laid to put the new boiler in the bathroom where an old cabinet had been.

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In the loft, the old boiler had come to the end of the road. The fat lady really had sung for the last time.

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Unfortunately, here and there, the wallpaper will need repair, but there are very few things that a Pritt stick will not be able to remedy. In actual fact, in some places, a number of different layers of wallpaper were revealed.

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The top pale green one, I think, was our responsibility but the green leafy pattern looks to me to be either 1940s or 1950s, and the relatively bright coloured wallpaper to its left dates from the more optimistic days of the 1980s.
Here you can see not only Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, but also the pneumatic drill which caused all the scariest noise for the first half hour or so.

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The chimney had to be inspected. Would an eighty year-old chimney be up to the job, or would it require extensive and expensive repairs? Well, what do you think?

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This hole, drilled in the bathroom wall for the new slimline boiler, gave a view over the garden which could be enjoyed for only twelve or so hours in nearly eighty years.

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The princess of boilers is now in place.

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Meanwhile the new fireplace will need some imitation bricks. The builder works so fast his trowel is just a blur. Behind him is the Safety Superintendent.

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At last everything is ready. The stove is connected up. And then, the all important test firing.

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All those lovely warm happy flames. I do so love flames and lovely warm fire. Flames and fire. Fire and flames.

In the loft, originally christened “Ice Station Zebra”, there are now two radiators, one of which unfortunately takes up four shelves of what would have been my CD collection. I will have to look very carefully at where I can put my Captain Beefheart, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, Klaus Nomi, Jefferson Airplane and my Procul Harum.

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With two radiators now though, there will be no repetition of that unfortunate business with the polar bear.
In the bathroom, there is yet another radiator. It will now be impossible for me to put my Stahlhelm on and re-enact “Showering Facilities on the Eastern Front”.

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Best of all though, is the fact that I took advantage of all this building work to have a new, much more powerful shower installed. No more problems now with having to wash like this…

Every single morning now, I’m in the new shower just like this.

 

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