Tag Archives: Kriegsmarine

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (6)

Last time I was looking at the relatively long list of motivations for the extreme violence used by the German army in World War Two. This list was supplied by Messrs Neitzel and Welzer in their book “Soldaten”. If you remember, Sönke Neitzel had discovered in the British National Archives that, during World War II, British Intelligence had recorded German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts as they chatted, mainly at Trent Park near Cockfosters, but also at Latimer House near Amersham and at Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, which are both in Buckinghamshire:

All the reasons on the list of motivations for extreme violence came together from 1939 to 1945, as a maniac only five feet seven inches tall and who couldn’t grow a full moustache claimed that the Germans were the Master Race and had the right to wipe out completely from the face of the earth one of the oldest communities on the planet, the Jews. How you eliminated the Jewish men, women, children and babies was not important, so long as they all died, every single one of them:

The conversations taped at Trent Park, therefore, are frequently way beyond incredible. How could you be a member of the human race and say things and do things such as these people did ? How could anybody treat genocide as a sport? an entertainment?

First is SS Oberscharführer Fritz Swoboda:

“…there was a column of 500-600 men. They came in through the gate and went to the firing range. There, they were killed, six at a time, picked up and taken away and the next six would come. At first you said, great, better than doing normal duty, but after couple of days you would have preferred normal duty. It took a toll on your nerves. Then you just gritted your teeth and you just didn’t care. There were some of us who got weak in the knees when shooting women even though we had selected experienced front line soldiers. But orders were orders.”

Edwin, Graf von Rothkirch was recorded as saying:

“I was at Kutno. I wanted to take some photographs…that’s my only hobby…and I knew an SS-leader there quite well and I was talking to him when he said, “Would you like to photograph a shooting?”. I said, “No, the very idea is repugnant to me.” “Well, it makes no difference to us. They are always shot in the morning, but if you like, we still have some and we can shoot them in the afternoon sometime. You can’t imagine how these men have become completely brutalised.”

Kammeyr, a mechanic in the Kriegsmarine said:

“Nearly all the men there were interned in large camps. I met a fellow one evening and he said “Some of them are going to be shot tomorrow. Would you like to see it?” A lorry went there every day and he said “You can come too”.

The lorry arrived and stopped. In a sort of sandpit there was a trench about twenty metres long. I didn’t know what was happening until I saw the trench. They all had to get into it and were hurried into it with blows from rifle-butts and lined up face to face; the feldwebel had a tommy-gun. There were five of them, they shot them one after the other. Most of them fell like that with their eyeballs turned up. There was a woman among them. I saw that. It was in Libau.”

Luftwaffe Lieutenant–Colonel von Müller-Rienzburg said :

“The SS issued an invitation to go and shoot Jews. All the troops went along with rifles and shot them up. Each man could pick the one he wanted.”

First Sergeant von Bassus, rather incredulous,  asked :

“You mean to say that it was sent out like an invitation to a hunt?”

And von Müller-Rienzburg replied: “Yes.”

Lieutenant-Colonel August von der Heydte also reported in hearsay, second hand fashion, that executions resembled hunts.

Lieutenant–Colonel von der Heydte recounted how:

The SS-Führer Böselager was having dinner and after dinner he said: “Now we’ll go and have a look at..(place of execution).   They drove out in a car and shotguns were lying about, ordinary ones, and thirty Polish Jews were standing there. Each guest was given a gun; the Jews were driven past and every one was allowed to take a pot shot at a Jew. Subsequently they were given the coup de grâce.”And finally, Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Fried: “I was at Radom and an SS captain said : Would you like to come along for half an hour? Get a tommy gun and let’s go.. I had an hour to spare so I went, We went to a kind of barracks and slaughtered 1,500 Jews.  There were some twenty men with tommy guns. It only took a second and nobody thought anything of it.”:

Although the types of appalling behaviour that Neitzel and Welzer have detailed in their book “Soldaten” have happened with disgraceful frequency, it would be wrong to think that the problem is an insoluble one.

Firstly, before young people are even old enough to consider the armed forces they should be made abundantly aware in their schools that racism is completely unacceptable. Outside the schools, the concept of free speech must not become an excuse to allow race hatred. Otherwise, race hatred will end in the shocking events I have described above. Punishments for race hatred should involve custodial sentences, if only a few days. They should not include fines.

In the Armed Forces, old, experienced combat veterans should explain to new recruits what combat will be like, what emotions you can expect to feel and what is unacceptable behaviour. War crimes should not be tolerated and the guilty parties should always serve time in prison.

Hopefully, this would avoid a situation where civilians are just as frightened to see the arrival of the British, the Americans and the French as they would be with the arrival of any number of less disciplined and less well trained armed forces.

 

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Heil Hitler Episode 6

Do you remember August Landmesser?

ONE

Do you remember what happened to the mild mannered card carrying Nazi? Well, Romeo, or rather August, found his Juliette, or rather Irma:

irma-ECKLER

Irma was Jewish, but handsome Aryan August proposed to her without hesitation. She accepted without hesitation.

In the summer of that year of 1935, though, disaster befell them. They found out, that Irma, according to the “Nürnberger Gesetze, the Nüremberg Race Laws”, was formally and legally classified as a Jew. August was not a Jew and for this reason, he would not be allowed to marry her.
When his engagement to a Jew was formally discovered, August was immediately expelled from the Nazi Party:

NSDAP_Member_Card_1
Despite this rather unpromising beginning, August and Irma put in an application to marry in their home town of Hamburg. Their application was denied under the Nüremberg Race Laws, which had come into law only a very short time previously.
To cement the couple’s love, however, August and Irma’s first daughter, Ingrid, was born in October of 1935:

little girl

On June 13th 1936, August attended the launching of a new ship at Hamburg in the Blohm und Voss shipyards. He decided not to “Seig Heil!” or “Heil Hitler!” with all the rest, but to keep his arms firmly folded. It could not have been worse timed:

the one one

The ship was a training ship, the Horst Wessel, and was named after the Nazi Party’s greatest ever martyr. Men went into battle everywhere singing his happy song:

Furthermore, it was a naval vessel for the Kriegsmarine, the German Navy:

Kriegsmarine_

The Führer himself was the man smashing the champagne on the bow of the ship just before it slid off down the slipway into the water. Adolf, positioned directly opposite August Landmesser, may actually have seen his defiance. And even if he did not see August, such a high quality photograph could not have hidden August’s defiance in the middle of such a storm of “Seig Heil!” and “Heil Hitler!” salutes.
By 1937, though, August Landmesser had had enough. He attempted to flee northwards to Denmark with his family and leave Germany for ever. At the border, he was quickly arrested and eventually charged with “dishonoring his race,” or “racial infamy”, under the “Nürnberger Gesetze, the Nüremberg Race Laws”, mentioned above:

Landmesser family

Just one year later, in July of 1938, because of an apparent lack of evidence, August was cleared of all crimes, but a suspicious Third Reich ordered him to have no further contact with Irma. In addition, August was given a severe warning that punishment would surely follow if he ever dared repeat any of the offenses.
For August, of course, this was completely impossible. How could he just abandon the love of his life? How could he give up his wife? The mother of his darling little daughter, Ingrid?
August ignored completely the demands of the Nazis.

august-landmesser-uniform
Only a month later, in August of 1938, August was arrested again and put on trial. Not surprisingly, he was found guilty of all charges and received a sentence of hard labour for thirty months in a concentration camp.  August was destined never to see the love of his life ever again. He had seen his darling wife and child for the last time.
It was easy now for the Gestapo to arrest Irma as a new law had been quietly added to the Nazi Statute Book. It required the arrest of all Jewish wives in the case of a man “dishonouring the race,”

Irma was duly imprisoned by the Gestapo who was by now heavily pregnant with a second child. In prison, Irma gave birth to a second daughter, Irene. Irma was then transferred to an all-women’s concentration camp almost straight after the birth. In later months, she was sent to various other prisons and concentration camps,
In 1942, Irma was taken to a euthanasia centre at Bernburg.

bernvburg

During the course of the war, a total of 9,384 sick and handicapped German people were to be murdered there.  Around 5,000 prisoners from concentration camps were also murdered there. The doctors’ method of choice was carbon monoxide poisoning in a gas chamber.
In charge of this sickening establishment was Irmfried Eberl, who masqueraded as “Dr. Schneider” outside the walls. He was so promising as a genocidal monster that he became the first Kommandant at the Treblinka Extermination Camp, and made sure the place was in good working order with no problems. He must have been a little disappointed, though, that Treblinka missed the Million Total, with a mere 900,000 Jews killed there. “Dr. Schneider” was arrested in January 1948, but then hanged himself to avoid coming to trial. It must be said, though, he was a rather unimaginative man:

eberlllllllllllllllllll

When Eberl’s  colleague, Heinrich Bunke, was put on trial, he was initially given four years imprisonment for killing 11,000 people, but this was reduced on appeal to three years as his guilt could only be proved in 9,200 murders.  Both Eberl and Bunke were firm supporters of Joseph Goebbels and his clearly stated attitude towards the treatment of the mentally ill .As he wrote so memorably in his diary:

“Discussed with Bouhler the question of the silent liquidation of the mentally ill. 40,000 are gone, 60,000 must still go.”

In actual fact Dr Goebbels aimed at the round figure of 100,000 killed by 1945, but he only managed a rather poor 70,000. Most of them were Germans. Most of them were children.

One of these victims, sadly, was Irma Eckler. And by the time that she died, August too was dead. He had been due to be released from the concentration camp system in the spring of 1941, but alas, he did not live to see that day.

August and Irma had two daughters, Ingrid and Irene. Both of them survived the Second World War, and outlived the Third Reich, even if, their parents did not.

The younger of the two daughters, Irene, has, in actual fact, documented the story of her family. She published her book in both German and English language versions, and it is now in its second edition. It is called “A Family Torn Apart by “Rassenschande”, and the full author name is Irene Eckler. The ISBN number is ISBN 3-9804993-2-4.

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It is a moral tale worth reading in more detail. And it just goes to prove. Love DOES conquer all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Life on the Ocean Wave

After doing my researches on the German Dornier Do. 217E bomber which was shot down in St.Just in western Cornwall, I tried very hard to find the graves of the crew. It seemed likely to me that, whatever side they might have been on in the conflict, they had probably been interred a very, very long way from their homes and families. After failing to find their graves in the two cemeteries at St.Just, I visited the cemetery at Penzance.

The dead crew members of the Dornier bomber were not in that particular cemetery either, but I did find a great many other graves from the Second World War.

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And at the time, I was forcibly struck by two things. First of all, the majority of the dead were from ships, completely unlike, for example, the cemetery where my father is buried in South Derbyshire. Here more or less all the war casualties are from the Army or possibly, the RAF. Secondly, I became very aware of the discrepancy between what we do and say on Armistice Day, and what dreadful fates have befallen the people who are buried in these graves. We all wear our poppies, and dutifully pledge that “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” yet I am very sure that we don’t, despite all our best intentions.
The poor people in those graves in Penzance Cemetery no longer have any life whatsoever, thanks to their decision to join up and serve their country. They hit a brick wall in time, sometimes known precisely down to the very minute, and then no more. And they weren’t anonymous. They all had their own lives just like we do now, with families, girlfriends, wives, beer to drink and Christmases to celebrate.

William R.Baxter was an Able Seaman on the Merchant Navy ship, the S.S.Scottish Musician which was a motor tanker of just under seven thousand tons, registered in London. The ship was to survive the war, but William R.Baxter was not.

scottish_minstrel

On Friday April 18th 1941, the Scottish Musician was damaged by aircraft bombing at a position some three miles from St. Ann’s Head on a bearing of 205°. St. Ann’s Head is the extreme south western tip of Pembrokeshire in south west Wales.

annd head

William Baxter was the only casualty. He was just twenty one years of age. William was the son of Richard George Baxter and Ruth Baxter of Penzance and the husband of Beatrice Joy Baxter.
P1500250xxxxxThe Scottish Musician was consequently further damaged on January 5th 1942 when she hit a mine at position 52° 16’ N, 01° 59’ E, which is near the port of Harwich in Suffolk in East Anglia. This resulted in the death of the twenty year old cabin boy, Albert Henry Jones. Albert is buried in Canada in the “Notre Dame des Neiges” Cemetery in Montréal.
P1500256XXXXXXXRonald Norman Neale was an Ordinary Seaman. He served on board HMS Warwick which was an Admiralty ‘W’ class destroyer. Young Ronald was only twenty years of age when he was killed, on February 20th 1944. He was the unmarried son of James and Linaol Neale of Grove Park, London. On his grave, his grieving parents have had inscribed “Gone from us all, but always in our thoughts”, as Ronald no doubt was for the rest of their lives. On the day that I visited, there were flowers on his grave, conceivably from one of his aging siblings perhaps, or possibly his nephews or nieces.

dwm-1-u-boat-death-trap-HMS-Warwick (2)

HMS Warwick was itself only twenty seven years old, having been launched in 1917. As “D-25” she participated in both the First and Second World Wars, before she was torpedoed and sunk on the day that Ordinary Seaman Ronald Norman Neale was killed. From July to November 1943, she had been in the Bay of Biscay on anti-submarine duties, as part of the RAF Coastal Command offensive. In November she participated in Operation Alacrity,  helping to set up and supply Allied air bases in the Azores.
Having returned to Britain in January 1944,, HMS Warwick was tasked with leading an escort group operating in the South Western Approaches, guarding merchant ships against surprise attacks by German E-boats. The destroyer was patrolling off Trevose Head just north of Newquay on Cornwall’s northern coast when she was torpedoed by the U-413. At the time, HMS Warwick  was under the command of Commander Denys Rayner. The warship sank very quickly, in just a few minutes, with the loss of over half her crew.
The U-413 had been launched on January 15th 1942, and was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Gustav Poel, who, unlike the vast majority of German submariners, was to survive the war.

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As well as the Warwick, the U-413 was an extremely successful submarine which sank five merchant ships amounting to a total tonnage of 36,885 tons. By August 20th 1944, the U-413  was  commanded by the 26 year old Oberleutnant Dietrich Sachse.

sasche_dietrich

On this summer’s day, though, the U-413 was sunk in the English Channel to the south of Brighton, by depth charges from the British escort destroyer HMS Wensleydale and the destroyers HMS Forester and HMS Vidette. Forty five members of the Kriegsmarine were killed, including the fresh faced young Captain.  Only one member of the crew survived. His name is not recorded but it is thought unlikely to have been Ishmael. Oy vey!

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