Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Night of the Long Knives

 The architects of the purge: Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and Hess. Only Himmler and Heydrich are missing.
The architects of the purge: Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and Hess. Only Himmler and Heydrich are missing.
On January 30th, 1933, Franz von Papen and General von Blomberg had mollified President Hindenburg into accepting Adolf Hitler as Chancellor, with Papen as his deputy but with only two Nazi colleagues.

The Reichswehr leaders were divided among themselves, but they and Papen and his other friends of the Herrenklub believed that they would tame the Nazi leaders while cashing in on their popular support: some of them hoped soon to restore the Monarchy.
Hitler, however, intended not to be used by, but to use, them, as he used the Reichstag Fire a month later, and every other opportunity, to gain power for himself. He desired power in order to go back six hundred years, as he had said in Mein Kampf, in order to resume the German colonization of Eastern Europe.
He was concerned to prepare for such action and therefore for war. This, and to extirpate the Jews, were his chief interests. He had no sympathy for socialism except when capitalists were Jewish, although he had made deft use of popular socialist sentiment when he addressed mass audiences. After a year as Chancellor, he had made great strides towards absolute power.
He had suppressed all open criticism and all other parties and organizations but the Nazi ones; the whole machinery of the police was under his command, initially through Göring's appointment as Prussian Minister of the Interior, and then through the accumulation of police control over the other Länder in the hands of Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the S.S.
There were, however, certain flaws in the situation as Hitler saw it. The trial at Leipzig of Marinus van der Lubbe and the Bulgarians for setting the Reichstag on fire had shown that the judicial system was not yet completely Nazified; Göring had roared at the court in vain, for the Bulgarians had been acquitted. Further, neither Protestant nor Catholic church was wholly submissive.
Moreover, after the absorption of bodies like the Stahlhelm, there were by now over four million Storm troopers whose leaders were clamouring for the realization of the long-heralded social revolution and the S.A. Staat. This Hitler was determined to prevent. For the Storm troopers the social revolution must include the absorption of the Reichswehr by them and the domination of the state by this permanent levée en masse.
This would involve delays and risks that Hitler on no account intended to face; he wished to enrol the expertise of the Reichswehr to remilitarize Germany and make ready for war as quickly as possible; when that was done, it would be time to end his own invisible but ultimate dependence on the Reichswehr, and to humiliate and degrade its leaders as he did in 1938.
From the post-war Wehrverbände which he controlled, Ernst Rohm had originally provided Hitler with the S.A. on whose intimidation of the public mind Hitler had based his power. Now, if Rohm had his way, he, the Chief of Staff of the S.A., would dominate the new army and, through the army, the state.
Rohm hoped to succeed Blomberg as Reichswehrminister; but Hitler feared, rightly enough, that, if Rohm's plans were realized, the S.A. would overshadow the National Socialist Party and the S.A. Chief of Staff would eclipse the Führer of the Party. Rohm did not understand how perilous it was to be someone upon whom Hitler had once depended and might depend again if he, Rohm, succeeded.
This coarse, vicious creature was less servile towards Hitler than the other Nazi bosses; indeed, he honestly tried to convert Hitler to his own view, and, failing, did not abandon his programme but openly looked for new allies.
He disliked Hitler's urge towards total tyranny, condemning for instance the destruction of the trade unions; for the same reason, he felt sympathy with Gregor Strasser – in disgrace with Hitler because he had not rejected Schleicher's advances – and kept in touch with him.

Several times Rohm entertained the Italian Ambassador that winter, and saw the French one towards the end of February: he did not hesitate to explain to François-Poncet that the S.A. constituted no infringement of the Treaty of Versailles.
During that month, however, Hitler and Blomberg could plainly be seen – although like so many other things, it was far from plain to people at the time – to have struck a bargain. On February 2nd, the Reichswehr excluded Jews as officers by the same formula as that already adopted for the Civil Service, and the swastika became part of its insignia. On February 28th came Hitler's reply.
At a meeting at the War Office, in the Bendlerstrasse in Berlin, of Reichswehr and S.A. leaders, he declared that the new people's army was to be based on the Reichswehr, which was in future to supervise all the activities of the S.A.; the Reichswehr was indeed to enjoy the monopoly of bearing arms in Germany. Blomberg and Hitler's most ardent admirer among the generals, Reichenau, may well have agreed so early as this to Hitler's succession to Hinden-burg.
There is no really authentic evidence; but after February 28th Rohm was reported by several hostile witnesses to have used words to the effect that Hitler was an ass, and that the S.A. would ignore his decision. One of the hostile witnesses was Viktor Lutze, a leader of the S.A. who hated Rohm; Hitler, however, told Lutze that things must now ripen. So late as June 5th, Hitler had a very long talk with Rohm who left him 'satisfied' – Hitler saw to this.
Hitler's evident distaste for the S.A. programme of what was called by its opponents permanent revolution encouraged some of the more scrupulous conservatives to prepare a protest against the methods of the S.A. which Hitler had all along condoned.
Hindenburg was in his eighty-seventh year by now and early in May he fell ill, leaving for Neudeck on June 4th, in the event for the last time. At any moment his death must be expected, and this would provide the occasion for a monarchist restoration; one of the Kaiser's grandsons was envisaged as future King.
Together with the monarchy, the suppression of terrorism, an independent judiciary, and certainly such freedom of opinion as had existed before 1914 might be guaranteed.
Many younger men, as well as the older generation, had condemned the liberalism of the Weimar period, but with no intention of abandoning the Rechtsstaaf, and much educated opinion on the 'National' side of things was genuinely appalled by the terrorism of the S.A. – the S.S., having until then been subsidiary to the S.A., had not attracted much attention.
Several representatives of these decently-minded conservatives – some of those who survived in 1934 were executed after the attempt on Hitler's life in July 1944 – worked in Papen's Vice-Chancellery, notably a young Protestant writer called Edgar Jung and a Catholic, Herbert von Bose. Jung certainly had brains and eloquence. He drafted a speech, which Papen then delivered before the University of Marburg on Sunday, June 17th.
The speech was interlarded with the necessary praise of Hitler; but it frankly deplored the ventillose Zustand (stifled condition) of the German press, which, it maintained, should exist to inform and criticize.
'The statesman or politician,' Papen continued, 'can reform the state but not life itself... The state can favour an interpretation of history but cannot enforce it, since history depends on accurate research which cannot be neglected... We are threatened with permanent revolution...Hence it seems to me that the German state should soon be crowned with a head of state who is above the political battle... The dictatorship of a single party... appears to me a transitional condition only justifiable so long as the stability of the new regime requires it and until new appointments are in operation.'
Papen went on to deplore Germany's withdrawal from among the other Christian states of Europe.
'We must not lock ourselves up intellectually (geistig) within our frontiers and retire to our own ghetto... Inferior or primitive intelligence does not justify a battle against intellectualism.
And if we grumble over exaggerated National Socialists, we are thinking of those who, themselves without roots, wish to deprive scholars of world renown of the means of existence because these scholars are not party members. Let us beware of expelling the intellectuals from the nation... And let no one object that intellectuals lack vitality... To confuse vitality with brutality is to bow down to force in dangerous fashion...'
It is impossible to feel sure that Papen understood the speech that Jung had drafted for him; but he read it out. Those present could scarcely believe their ears. The first edition of the next Frankfurter Zeitung carried the text; but after that Goebbels managed to suppress it completely in Germany.
The press of the Catholic paper Germania printed off the text and distributed some copies; and the speech was spread by rumour with the help in the south of a good precis that appeared in the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna on June 19th. When, on June 24th, Papen appeared in Hamburg for a race meeting, people of all lands crowded round him and cheered Heil Marburg.
Jung and Bose must have hoped that this situation would encourage moderate opinion in the Reichswehr – still the most powerful body in Germany – to decide in favour of the restoration of a monarchy. A few resolute and ruthless men, however, were preparing a different dénouement; and the speech at Marburg and the news from Neudeck showed them that they had no more time to lose.
Their best ally at this juncture was Papen himself. Jung and Bose had induced him to deliver the speech at Marburg; but they could not persuade him to live up to it. When he went to Hitler to protest against its suppression and to resign the position of Vice-Chancellor, Hitler was able to make him change his mind. The Führer was in fact recently back from his first meeting with Mussolini at Venice on June 14th and 15th, a meeting that Papen had helped to bring about.
Hitler, who was to report to the President on his visit to Italy at Neudeck on June 21st, first suggested that Papen should come with him. In reading Papen's memoirs, one is again amazed at the way in which he allowed Hitler to throw dust in his eyes. For the Führer took care to visit Hindenburg alone, and Papen allowed himself to be kept away.
On June 21st, Hitler no doubt decided that Hindenburg was finished – he had boasted once before that, being over forty years his junior, he could afford to wait – and could be isolated from the other 'reactionaries'; from now on Papen was always told that Hindenburg was too ill to see him, though he was well enough to be made to approve whatever Hitler did.
Now, since it had been decreed by Hitler with Rohm's approval that the S.A. should be sent on a month's leave from Sunday July 1st, the last measures to organize and justify the destruction of their leaders must be taken.
It seems clear that virtually all direct evidence concerning the days leading up to June 30th was systematically destroyed; this in itself tends to throw suspicion upon those who came out on top. Otherwise there are only indications that point, however, in the same direction.
In April 1934 the chief, under Göring, of the Prussian Secret State Police or Gestapo, Diels, had been replaced by Himmler; thus the control of the latter over the whole machinery of the police was complete: his right hand was Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the S.D. (Sicherheitsdienst or Nazi Party's security service), who succeeded Göring as chief of the Gestapo in Berlin.
All reports going to Hitler and the Reichswehr were henceforth checked by Himmler and Heydrich, and all Rohm's activities were now portrayed as sinister. More surprising was the behaviour of General von Reichenau, chief of the Wehrmachtsamt and the driving force behind the Minister of War.
Why was it necessary for Reichenau to have a series of meetings with the new head of the Secret Police and at least one with Lutze? Where did the rumours come from that the S.A. were planning a putsch? Many Storm troopers may have said rash things, not least among them Ernst Rohm himself.
Yet no evidence of any serious preparations has ever been found, although it would have suited Hitler and Himmler to be able to provide some. On June 27th or 28th, Sepp Dietrich, the head of Hitler's S.S. bodyguard, asked the Reichswehr to help provide weapons for a secret and important undertaking of Hitler's, and produced at the same time a list allegedly compiled by the S.A. of persons the Storm troopers intended to shoot; at the head of this list were the names of Generals Fritsch and Beck, to whom Sepp Dietrich was reporting.
Just after this, the S.A. chief in Silesia, Heines, was able to convince the Reichswehr commander of the area, General von Kleist, that he, Heines, knew of no putsch plans whatever, but had information that the Reichswehr was planning action against the S.A. Kleist therefore flew to Berlin on June 29th to report to Fritsch and Beck, implying, when he did so, what was almost certainly true, that a third party – the S.S., in fact – was setting Reichswehr and S.A. at each other's throats. Reich-enau was called in.
Three days before he had been saying it was high time; but on June 29th he remarked that what Kleist had said was all very well, but now it was too late. That night Hitler, already en route, went into action. Characteristically, after what seemed to others like a period of uncertainty but was in reality one of gestation, he suddenly undertook the massacre of all those who seemed to him obstructive or annoying.
In order to deflect attention Hitler had paid some visits in the Rhineland on June 28th. The plan for Arbeitsbeschaffung (the Unemployment Cure) had not yet got into its stride and, when Hitler saw Krupp at Essen on that day, the latter emphasized the need for economic dictatorship in order to avoid chaos – this was no doubt welcome encouragement.
On that same evening, Hitler had in fact telephoned to Rohm; and they had agreed that a conference of S.A. leaders, to which Hitler would come, would be held at Wiessee near Munich, where Rohm had been on holiday since June 7th.
Rohm seemed pleased with this arrangement, which would concentrate his lieutenants at a fairly remote spot at Hitler's mercy. After weeks of Goebbels' railing at 'carpers and critics' and the fresh flow of rumours since Papen's speech at Marburg, and then in the last day or so about Reichswehr preparations, a few S.A. leaders organized some marching and speeches in Munich on their own, or quite probably in reply to orders faked by Heydrich.
Hitler arrived at Munich by air at about 4 am on June 30th; and, as he drove through the city, his wrath was nourished by the sight of some lingering S.A. groups in the streets, which were cited as proving the intention of a Storm Troopers' rebellion.
Cutting a couple of S.A. officers who had come to meet him, Hitler, with his habitual touch of cheap melodrama, remarked to two Reichswehr officers that this was the blackest day in his life, and that only the loyalty of their chief, General von Blomberg, sustained him in this crisis. He immediately arrested and degraded two prominent S.A. leaders, Schneid-huber and Schmid – this was at the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior.
Hitler then rapidly proceeded to Wiessee himself, where Sepp Dietrich and his men had arrived with the help of Reichswehr transport and were joined by S.S. people from the staff of the concentration camp at Dachau nearby. At about 6.45 a.m., Rohm and those with him were hauled out of their beds and consigned to the Stadelheim prison on the outskirts of Munich: here several S.A. leaders, arrested as they arrived at Munich station for the Wiessee conference, joined them.
Late in the morning, Hitler pronounced a furious speech at the Brown House against the dangerous vices of Rohm and his associates; there had never been any secret about Rohm's homosexuality, but suddenly it had become a crime. There were those who, in the next few weeks, reflected that, in the triumphant S.S., homosexuals were by no means unknown. After his diatribe, Hitler flew to Berlin.
Here at 10 am Goebbels is known to have given the 'signal' to Göring to go ahead. A hollow reconciliation between Goebbels and Papen had been staged for the benefit of foreign journalists on June 21st; but, on June 26th, Edgar Jung, as they were shortly to discover, had been arrested by the Secret State Police.
On the morning of June 30th, Papen was forbidden to leave his house, while his office was raided. There Bose and three others on his staff were arrested; and Bose and Jung were shot the same day. Among other murders in Berlin were those of Gregor Strasser, of Klausener, a leading figure of Catholic Action and a high official in the Ministry of Transport, who was killed in his office, and of General Kurt von Bredow, a friend of Schleicher's.
On several days in the preceding fortnight, as a witness afterwards recounted, an open reddish-brown car had driven six men, probably aged between twenty-five and thirty, to the Pension Lippmann, a house close to that of Schleicher in Neubabelsberg, near Potsdam.
At just about 12.30 p.m. on June 30th, the car arrived again; and two of its occupants – they have never been identified – pushed their way past the cook, who unwillingly opened the door, into the room where Schleicher was sitting in an arm-chair, reading: they shot him dead. His wife had been sitting by the wireless in an adjoining room, but evidently tried to reach him, and was shot down too. The reddish-brown car drove away quickly.
The Schleichers' housemaid, Ottilie, must then have rung up some cousins of his in Potsdam, who sent for the police. Frau von Schleicher was still alive when the police arrived, and was taken to hospital, where she died. A legal official, Dr. Grützner, arrived by 1.50 p.m. and examined some witnesses, including the Schleichers' cook. Indiscreetly, Grützner telephoned to a superior at about 3 p.m. that General von Schleicher had been murdered for political reasons.
After this, Himmler blocked any further legal steps, complaining to Hitler that a lawyer had again interfered with the S.S. At 11.30 that night, a menacing Gestapo party headed by Freissler and Dohnanyi visited Grützner and swore him to secrecy.
Six of the S.A. leaders in the Stadelheim prison were shot there on the evening of June 30th. A number of other people were murdered in Munich on that and the following day, mostly by a group of members of the Austrian Legion, led by a man of the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service); they seem to have had precise instructions from the Gestapo in Berlin, that is to say from Heydrich.
Some of the victims were shot at Dachau, or on the way there; and some, for no obvious reason, were taken to Berlin and shot at the Cadet school in the suburb of Lichterfelde, where Göring's executioners were at work.
Gustav von Kahr, who in Hitler's view had betrayed him in November 1923, heard on the wireless of the shooting of the first six S.A. leaders and expressed satisfaction, as many did, that order was being restored. Almost immediately he was himself arrested and taken to Dachau where two notorious S.S. men reproached him with his 'treachery' of eleven years earlier and murdered him.
It was not until 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 1st, that Rohm, having refused to shoot himself, had the distinction of being shot in his cell by two of the chieftains of Dachau, Lippert and Eicke, Eicke remarking 'Prominente, die ihren Hals riskieren, müssen durch Prominente exekutiert werden' (Eminent chaps who risk their necks have to be executed by eminent chaps).
After some murders in Silesia, which had not been authorized by Hitler, the Führer declared the operation ended early on Monday, July 2nd, 1934. It has now been possible to track down the names of eighty-three people murdered during that weekend, a number curiously close to the seventy-four victims admitted by Hitler before the Reichstag on July 13th.
At the time, those who were not dazed noted with interest that Goebbels was still alive; he had, after all, been one of the loudest decriers of the Reichs-wehr reactionaries. Looking back, it is fairly easy to see that Goebbels had not been in danger. He had climbed to power over Gregor Strasser's back and was on bad terms with Rohm.
Further he had made himself indispensable to Hitler and, while not without spirit, was ready for every flattery of the Führer. Perhaps, too, he better than anyone understood the concentration of power that was taking place, and was glad to be identified with it.
On Tuesday, July 3rd, the North German edition of the Völkischer Beobachter published a statement, drawn up by Reichenau, according to which Rohm and Schleicher had conspired together and with a foreign state, and Schleicher had been killed because he had resisted arrest.
Of course, Hitler's undying hatred was directed against Schleicher, who had conceived the idea of cooperation between Reichswehr, trade unions and moderate Nazis led by Gregor Strasser, an idea that he, Schleicher, was incapable of carrying out. Since Hitler had succeeded him as Chancellor, Schleicher had been highly indiscreet, while his reputation for intrigue had, in any case, encouraged the Gestapo to keep an eye upon him.
But they had no evidence of any cooperation between Schleicher and Rohm; indeed, they were probably aware that Rohm condemned Schleicher's 'reactionary' activities. Although both men had seen the French Ambassador, there was nothing about their meetings with him that in any way qualified for the word 'conspiracy.' As for the murder of Schleicher, we have seen that it was deliberate.
Thus, by drafting the announcement in the Völkischer Beobachter, Reichenau had made himself and the Reichswehr responsible, not only for providing arms, barracks and transport as they had, for the murderers of June 30th, but also for faking the justification for their crimes. Reichenau had thought it worth while to do all this in order to have a military monopoly for the Reichswehr, as Hitler had undertaken on February 28th.
On that same Tuesday, July 3rd, some two hundred men who had carried out the murders were summoned to Himmler's presence in Berlin, thanked for their services, presented with daggers engraved with Himmler's name and sworn to secrecy (under penalty of death) even among themselves; those belonging to the S.D. were promoted. Himmler had every reason to celebrate the occasion.
'The Night of the Long Knives' had completed S. S. control of all police organs in Germany; the rivalry of the S.A. had been eliminated; for Lutze, who nominally succeeded Rohm, was ready to take a back seat and obey Himmler. The S.S. now established their own state within the state. Further, in spite of his promise to the Reichswehr, Hitler permitted the formation of a S.S. armed division obedient to Himmler, not to Blomberg: this was the beginning of the Waffen S. S.
Most significant of all, perhaps, was the decree published on this same day by Hitler and his Ministers, according to which 'the measures taken to suppress treasonable and seditious acts on June 30th and July 1st and 2nd, 1934, have become law for the defence of the State in an emergency.'
Hitherto, the Nazi attitude towards S.A. crimes had been to deny them, claiming that they had been invented by malicious Jews or foreigners. Now every crime that Hitler and his fellows chose to commit could be made ipso facto legal; and it became clear why Hitler had preferred to run no risks with inadequate evidence in an old-fashioned trial, when he could eliminate his enemies and the legal system at one and the same time.

On July 12th, 1934, Göring, accompanied by the chiefs of the S.S., received the legal officers of the German state and announced to them that the law was no longer to be something unchangeable; for thenceforward the law was nothing but the will of the Fuhrer. Finally, in his report on the affair to the Reichstag on July 13th, Hitler cried out that, when three traitors meet with a foreign statesman in Germany, 'I have them shot' – already the myth about Schleicher resisting arrest had ceased to count.
All the evidence suggests that the responsibility was Hitler's personally, although Himmler and Göring were his willing tools. Seldom in history can any man have struck so ruthlessly in all directions at the same time. The whole performance had a certain evil brilliance, when one considers that it was based on the presumption that he could dazzle the Reichswehr into condoning, instead of crushing, him. For it is clear that, had he encountered serious opposition, the forces he mobilized would have been inadequate.
When Hinden-burg died on August 2nd, the Fuhrer automatically became President of the Reich, as well as its Chancellor, and each member of the Reichswehr took that fateful personal oath to him. In addition to the murder of two generals, hitherto unthinkable in Germany, Hitler had already broken his word to the Army over their military monopoly.
The Storm troopers were the tools he had needed in order to edge himself into power. In 1934 he used the destruction of their power to fool and to harness the Reichswehr, while at the same time the S.S. took over all political control, providing the machinery of Hitler's total tyranny.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How The Stringbag, an Outdated Biplane, Took Out the Bismarck

The German battleship, Bismarck, was the biggest vessel ever built in the first half of the 20th century. A marvel of advanced engineering and technology, it was the most powerful ship in the world – yet a single shot by an antiquated biplane took it down.
At 792’8” in length, and with a beam of 118’1”, it displaced 49,500 tons of water. It was also deadly with eight 15” SK C/34 guns in four twin turrets, twelve 5.9” L/55 guns, sixteen 4.1” L/65 guns, sixteen 1.5” L/83 guns, and twelve 0.79” anti-aircraft guns, as well as four Arado Ar 196 reconnaissance floatplanes.

The Bismarck in 1940
The Bismarck in 1940

Its function was to destroy Allied convoys in the Atlantic, the lifeblood of Britain. On the 18th of May 1941, it set off under Admiral Günther Lütjens and Commander Ernst Lindemann, accompanied by the light cruiser, Prinz Eugen. Three days later, they were spotted near Bergen, Norway.
The British sent out the HMS Hood. Launched in 1918, it measured 860’7” in length and 104’2” at the beam. It had been upgraded in 1939, but not enough. More had to be done, but the war’s outbreak forced the Hood to patrol Iceland and the Faroe Islands to keep the Germans at bay.

HMS Hood
HMS Hood

When first commissioned, it was the biggest and fastest warship in the world, securing Britain’s grip over her colonies. The Hood, therefore, represented the height of British technology, naval power, and imperial might – making it a beloved icon.
With it went the HMS Prince of Wales (PoW), which was more up-to-date. Unfortunately, the technology was so cutting-edge that much of it was untested. It had ten 14” guns, but eight were housed in malfunctioning turrets. The Royal Navy knew this, but the Bismarck’s sighting had forced their hand.
The Hood and the Bismarck were almost evenly matched. Both had eight 15” guns that could shoot 1,700-pound shells over 15 miles. But the Hood could only fire two shells a minute compared to the Bismarck’s three. The latter was also more heavily armored, while the Hood was less so because it was designed for speed.
The British tried to reach the Denmark Strait before the Germans so they could “cross the T” before them. This strategy requires positioning the length of one’s ship to the front of an enemy ship, since ships have more guns at their sides than they do at the front. The one who crosses the T can then fire more salvos than the one who gets crossed.

The failed British plan to "cross the T" before the Bismarck
The failed British plan to “cross the T” before the Bismarck

But the Hood and the PoW got there too late before dawn on May 24, so it was the Germans who crossed the British T off the western coast of Iceland. The Hood was sunk at a little past 6 AM and the PoW had to retreat after suffering extensive damage.
Before it did, however, it managed three solid hits  puncturing theBismarck’s fuel tanks and flooding its front lower decks with seawater. So theBismarck headed toward Nazi-occupied France for repairs and since thePrinz Eugen could do nothing more, it headed off toward the Atlantic. Despite the damage, the Bismarck was still heavily armed and the captain felt  confident about reaching France by dawn on May 27th.
Twenty-one British destroyers, thirteen cruisers, six battleships, and two aircraft carriers gave chase… but the German ship had vanished.
On May 26 at 10:30 AM, the Bismarck was found a mere 700 miles off the French coast. In another 500 miles, the sea and air would be filled with German ships and planes – so a British fleet closed in from the north, while another came in from the south.
At 7 PM, fifteen Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers took off from the HMS Ark Royal and split into three groups to attack. Lieutenant-Commander John “Jock” Moffat flew one of them. As he broke through the cloud cover, he was awed at the sight of the German behemoth.
The Swordfish plummeted at 115 miles per hour. The Bismarck desperately filled the air with flak, so the pilots dived even lower, hugging the water and hoping the ship’s guns couldn’t aim that low. In a worst case scenario, they might just survive a sea crash.

A Swordfish returns to Ark Royal after making the torpedo attack against Bismarck
A Swordfish returns to Ark Royal after making the torpedo attack against the Bismarck

At 2,000 yards, Moffat prepared to launch his only torpedo, when he heard a voice, “Not yet, Jock! Not yet!”
Moffat jerked and looked around. It was his Observer, Flight-Lieutenant JD “Dusty” Miller. The man was standing on the right wing with his butt in the air, head somewhere below the plane’s belly.
Moffat understood. The sea was rough. If his torpedo hit the crest of a wave, it could veer off course. Miller wanted to make sure it fell into a trough so their only weapon had a chance. But the longer they took, the greater their chances of getting hit.
“Let her go, Jock!”
Moffat released his torpedo.
“We’ve got a runner!” Miller screamed.
The Bismarck turned left sharply – a mistake. The torpedo hit the left rear, tearing a hole through the hull and causing rivets to pop off the bulkhead. The ship’s twin rudders, angled for the turn, jammed. Power died, forcing the engineers to restart everything. Mechanics tried to fix the rudders, but too much water was rushing in.
With rudders stuck at 12° to port, the Bismarck turned around and headed back toward the British fleet. Within minutes, it was turning around in circles. Lütjens informed Berlin and vowed to die fighting.

Intercepting the Bismarck
Intercepting the Bismarck

The British showed no mercy. They surrounded the Bismarck, forcing it to fire in all directions. Unable to maneuver, it became a sitting duck and ran out of ammunition at 9:31 AM the next day. Despite the lack of return fire, the Royal Navy kept up their barrage till it sank at 10:39 AM.

They did try to rescue survivors, but a U-boat scare forced them to retreat with only 115 Germans (out of 2,092). The rest were left to their fate. Germany only found out about the sinking from a News Network at around noon. By the time they reached the scene, only five more men were alive to be retrieved. But not Lütjens. He kept his word, as did Lindemann.
Thanks to an outdated biplane, the Bismarck’s only combat mission lasted a mere 215 hours. From that moment on, naval warfare changed forever. The plane was now as important as the ship in naval warfare.

The Bismarck's bow takes on water
The Bismarck’s bow slices through the water


Story of Akhenaten

Akhenaten the Heretic 1352–1336 BC


The Amarna period is one of the most exciting in the history of Ancient Egypt. It is also the one which has given rise to the most work and controversy. Our aim here is not to be exhaustive on the subject but to offer the reader a vision which attempts to be objective as a function of the historical data which seem to be confirmed. Nevertheless, there remain several points subject to discussion or interpretation. Akhenaten (r. 1353-1336 BCE) was a pharaoh of Egypt of the 18th Dynasty. He is also known as `Akhenaton’ or `Ikhnaton’ and also `Khuenaten’, all of which are translated to mean `successful for’ or `of great use to’ the god Aten. Akhenaten chose this name for himself after his conversion to the cult of Aten. Prior to this conversion, he was known as Amenhotep IV (or Amenophis IV). He was the son of Amenhotep III and his wife Tiye, husband of Queen Nefertiti, and father of both Tutankhamun (by a lesser wife named Lady Kiya) and Tutankhamun’s wife Ankhsenamun (by Nefertiti). His reign as Amenhotep IV lasted five years during which he followed the policies of his father and the religious traditions of Egypt. However, in the fifth year, he underwent a dramatic religious transformation, changed his devotion from the cult of Amun to that of Aten, and, for the next twelve years, became famous (or infamous) as the `heretic king’ who abolished the traditional religious rites of Egypt and instituted the first known monotheistic state religion in the world and, according to some, monotheism itself. His reign is known as The Amarna Period because he moved the capital of Egypt from the traditional site at Thebes to the city he founded, Akhetaten, which came to be known as Amarna. The Amarna Period is the most controversial era in Egyptian history and has been studied, debated, and written about more than any other.

Amenhotep IV may have been co-regent with his father, Amenhotep III, and it has been noted that the sun-disk known as the `Aten’ is displayed on a number of inscriptions from this period. The Aten was not new to the rule of Akhenaten and, prior to his conversion, was simply another cult among the many in ancient Egypt. It should be noted that `cult’ did not have the same meaning in this regard as it does in the present day. There was absolutely nothing negative in the designation of a community of worshippers being known as a `cult’ in ancient Egypt. It carried the same meaning then as a member of the Christian community today being designated a Baptist, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The gods and practices of the various cults all represented the same end: eternal harmony and balance. Amenhotep III ruled over a land whose priesthood, centered on the god Amun, had been steadily growing in power for centuries. By the time Amenhotep IV came to power, the priests of Amun were on almost equal standing with the royal house in wealth and influence. The historian Lewis Spence writes, "With the exception of Ra and Osiris, the worship of Amun was more widespread than that of any other god in theNile Valley; but the circumstances behind the growth of his cult certainly point to its having been disseminated by political rather than religious propaganda" (137). By the time of Amenhotep IV, the Cult of Amun owned more land than the king. In the 5th year of his reign, Amenhotep IV outlawed the old religion and proclaimed himself the living incarnation of a single, all-powerful, deity known as Aten and, by the 9th year, he had closed all the temples and suppressed religious practices. The historian Barbara Watterson writes:
By the ninth year of his reign, Akhenaten had proscribed the old gods of Egypt, and ordered their temples to be closed, a very serious matter, for these institutions played an important part in the economic and social life of the country. Religious persecution was new to the Egyptians, who had always worshipped many deities and were ever ready to add new gods to the pantheon. Atenism, however, was a very exclusive religion confined to the royal family, with the king as the only mediator between man and god (111-112).
Amenhotep moved his seat of power from the traditional palace at Thebes to one he built at the city he founded, Akhetaten, changed his name to Akhenaten, and continued the religious reforms which resulted in his being despised as `the heretic king' by some later writers while admired as a champion of monotheism by others.
Some historians have praised Akhenaten's reforms as the first instance of monotheism and the benefits of monotheistic belief; but these reforms were not at all beneficial to the people of Egypt at the time. The historian Durant, for example, writes that Akhenaten's reforms were "the first out-standing expression of monotheism - seven hundred years before Isaiah [of the Bible] and an astounding advance upon the old tribal deities" (210). Those `old tribal deities' of Egypt, however, had encouraged peace, harmony, and the development of one of the greatest ancient cultures the world has ever known. The polytheism of the ancient Egyptians encouraged a world view where peace and balance were emphasized and religious tolerance was not considered an issue; there is not even a word directly corresponding to the concept of `religious tolerance' in the ancient Egyptian texts. A hallmark of any monotheistic belief system, however, is that it encourages the belief that, in order for it to be right, other systems must necessarily be wrong; and this insistence on being the sole administrator of ultimate truth leads to intolerance of other beliefs and their suppression; this is precisely what happened in Egypt. The names of the god Amun and the other gods were chiseled from monuments throughout Egypt, the temples were closed, and the old practices outlawed. The Egyptologist Zahi Hawass writes:
Dating to this point in Akhenaten’s reign was a campaign to excise the name of gods other than the Aten, especially Amun, from the monuments of Egypt. This was done with violence: hieroglyphs were brutally hacked from the walls of temples and tombs. This was probably carried out, at least in part, by illiterate iconoclasts, presumably following the orders of their king. [Akhenaten] carried out a religious revolution the like of which had never been seen before in Egypt. His reign represents a significant departure from religious, artistic, and political norms (42-43).
 Priests of Amun who had the time and resources hid statuary and texts from the palace guards sent to destroy them and then abandoned their temple complexes. Akhenaten ordained new priests, or simply forced priests of Amun into the service of his new monotheism, and proclaimed himself and his queen gods.
The pharaoh as a servant of the gods, and identified with a certain god (usually Osiris), was common practice in ancient Egypt but no one before Akhenaten had proclaimed himself an actual god incarnate. One of the many unfortunate results of Akhenaten's religious reforms was a neglect of foreign policy. From documents and letters of the time it is known that other nations, formerly allies, wrote numerous times asking Egypt for help in various affairs and that most of these requests were ignored by the deified king. Egypt was a wealthy and prosperous nation at the time and had been steadily growing in power since before the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE). Hatshepsut and her successors, such as Tuthmosis III, employed a balanced approach of diplomacy and military action in dealing with foreign nations; Akhenaten chose simply to largely ignore what happened beyond the borders of Egypt and, it seems, most things outside of his palace at Akhetaten. Watterson notes that Ribaddi (Rib-Hadda), king of Byblos, who was one of Egypt's most loyal allies, sent over fifty letters to Akhenaten asking for help in fighting off Abdiashirta (also known as Aziru) of Amor (Amurru) but these all went unanswered and Byblos was lost to Egypt (112). Tushratta, the king of Mitanni, who had also been a close ally of Egypt, complained that Amenhotep III had sent him statues of gold while Akhenaten only sent gold-plated statues.
The Amarna Letters, (correspondence found in the city of Amarna between the kings of Egypt and those of foreign nations) which provide evidence of Akhenaten’s negligence, also show him to have a keen sense of foreign policy when the situation interested him. He strongly rebuked Abdiashirta for his actions against Ribaddi and for his friendship with the Hittites who were then Egypt’s enemy. This no doubt had more to do with his desire to keep friendly the buffer states between Egypt and the Land of the Hatti (Canaan and Syria, for example, which were under Abdiashirta’s influence) than any sense of justice for the death of Ribaddi and the taking of Byblos. There is no doubt that his attention to this problem served the interests of the state but, as other similar issues were ignored, it seems that he only chose those situations which interested him personally. Akhenaten had Abdiashirta brought to Egypt and imprisoned for a year until Hittite advances in the north compelled his release but there seems a marked difference between his letters dealing with this situation and other king’s correspondence on similar matters.
While there are, then, examples of Akhenaten looking after state affairs, there are more which substantiate the claim of his disregard for anything other than his religious reforms and life in the palace. It should be noted, however, that this is a point hotly debated among scholars in the modern day, as is the whole of the so-called Amarna Period of Akhenaten’s rule. Regarding this, Hawass writes, “More has been written on this period in Egyptian history than any other and scholars have been known to come to blows, or at least to major episodes of impoliteness, over their conflicting opinions” (35). The preponderance of the evidence, both from the Amarna letters and from Tutankhamun’s later decree, as well as archaeological indications, strongly suggests that Akhenaten was a very poor ruler as far as his subjects and vassal states were concerned and his reign, in the words of Hawass, was “an inward-focused regime that had lost interest in its foreign policy” (45).
Any evidence that Akhenaten involved himself in matters outside of his city at Akhetaten always comes back to self-interest rather than state-interest. Hawass writes:
Akhenaten did not, however, abandon the rest of the country and retire exclusively to Akhetaten. When he laid out his city, he also commanded that a series of boundary stelae be carved in the cliffs surrounding the site. Among other things, these state that if he were to die outside of his home city, his body should be brought back and buried in the tomb that was being prepared for him in the eastern cliffs. There is evidence that, as Amenhotep IV, he carried out building projects in Nubia, and there were temples to the Aten in Memphis and Heliopolis, and possibly elsewhere as well 
Life in his palace at Akhetaten seems to have been his primary concern. The city was built on virgin land in the middle of Egypt facing towards the east and precisely positioned to direct the rays of the morning sun toward temples and doorways. The city was:
Laid out parallel to the river, its boundaries marked by stelae carved into the cliffs ringing the site. The king himself took responsibility for its cosmologically significant master plan. In the center of his city, the king built a formal reception palace where he could meet officials and foreign dignitaries. The palaces in which he and his family lived were to the north and a road led from the royal dwelling to the reception palace. Each day, Akhenaten and Nefertiti processed in their chariots from one end of the city to the other, mirroring the journey of the sun across the sky. In this, as in many other aspects of their lives that have come to us through art and texts, Akhenaten and Nefertiti were seen, or at least saw themselves, as deities in their own right. It was only through them that the Aten could be worshipped: they were both priests and gods (Hawass, 39)

The art Hawass references is another important deviation of the Amarna Period from earlier and later Egyptian eras. Unlike the images from other dynasties of Egyptian history, the art from the Amarna Period depicts the royal family with elongated necks and arms and spindly legs. Scholars have theorized that perhaps the king “suffered from a genetic disorder called Marfan’s syndrome” (Hawass, 36) which would account for these depictions of him and his family as so lean and seemingly oddly-proportioned. A much more likely reason for this style of art, however, is the king’s religious beliefs. The Aten was seen as the one true god who presided over all and infused all living things. It was envisioned as a sun disk whose rays ended in hands touching and caressing those on earth. Perhaps, then, the elongation of the figures in these images was meant to show human transformation when touched by the power of the Aten. The famous Stele of Akhenaten, depicting the royal family, shows the rays of the Aten touching them all and each of them, even Nefertiti, depicted with the same elongation as the king. To consider these images as realistic depictions of the royal family, afflicted with some disorder, seems to be a mistake in that there would be no reason for Nefertiti to share in the king’s supposed disorder. The depiction, then, could illustrate Akhenaten and Nefertiti as those who had been transformed to god-like status by their devotion to the Aten to such an extent that their faith is seen even in their children.
The other aspect of Amarna Period art which differentiates it from earlier and later periods is the intimacy of the images, best exemplified in the Stele of Akhenaten showing the family enjoying each other’s company in a private moment. Images of pharaohs before and after this period depict the ruler as a solitary figure engaged in hunting or battle or standing in the company of a god or his queen in dignity and honor. This can also be explained as stemming from Akhenaten’s religious beliefs in that the Aten, not the pharaoh, was the most important consideration (as in the Stele of Akhenaten, it is the Aten disk, not the family, which is the center of the composition) and, under the influence of the Aten’s love and grace, the pharaoh and his family thrives.
This image of the Aten as an all-powerful, all-loving, deity, supreme creator and sustainer of the universe, is thought to have had a potent influence on the later development of monotheistic religious faith. Whether Akhenaten was motivated by a political agenda to suppress the power of the Cult of Amun or if he experienced a true religious revelation, he was the first on record to envision a single, supreme deity who cared for the individual lives and fates of human beings. Sigmund Freud, in his 1939 work Moses and Monotheism, argues that Moses was an Egyptian who had been an adherent of the Cult of Aten and was driven from Egypt following Akhenaten’s death and the return to the old religious paradigm. Freud quotes from James Henry Breasted, the noted archaeologist, that:
It is important to notice that his name, Moses, was Egyptian. It is simply the Egyptian word `mose’ meaning `child’, and is an abridgement of a fuller form of such names as `Amen-mose’ meaning `Amon-a-child’ or `Ptah-mose’ meaning `Ptah-a-child’…and the name Mose, `child’, is not uncommon on the Egyptian monuments.
Freud recognizes that the Cult of Aten existed long before Akhenaten raised it to prominence but points out that Akhenaten added a component unknown previously in religious belief: “He added the something new that turned into monotheism, the doctrine of a universal god: the quality of exclusiveness” (24). The Greek philosopher Xenophanes would later experience a similar vision that the many gods of the Greek city-states were vain imaginings and there was only one true god and, though he shared this vision through his poetry, he never established the belief as a revolutionary new way of understanding oneself and the universe. Whether one regards Akhenaten as a hero or villain in Egypt’s history, his elevation of the Aten to supremacy changed not only that nation’s history, but the course of world civilization.

To those who came after him in Egypt, however, he was the `heretic king’ and `the enemy’ whose memory needed to be eradicated. His son, Tutankhamun (reigned 1336-1327 BCE) was given the name Tutankhaten at birth but changed his name upon ascending the throne to reflect his rejection of Atenism and his return of the country to the ways of Amun and the old gods. Tutankhamun’s successors Ay (1327-1323 BCE) and, especially, Horemheb (c. 1320-1292 BCE) tore down the temples and monuments built by Akhenaten to honor his god and had his name, and the names of his immediate successors, stricken from the record. In fact, Akhenaten was unknown in Egyptian history until the discovery of Amarna in the 19th century CE. Horemheb's inscriptions listed him as the successor to Amenhoptep III and made no mention of the rulers of the Amarna Period. Akhenaten’s tomb was uncovered by the great archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1907 CE and Tutankhamun’s tomb, more famously, by Howard Carter in 1922 CE. Interest in Tutankhamun spread to the family of the `golden king’ and so attention was brought to bear again on Akhenaten after almost 4,000 years. His legacy of monotheism, however, if Freud and others are correct, was a part of the world’s culture since he instituted what remains a potent aspect of daily life in the present day.


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Real 'Beast of Belsen'? Irma Grese and Female Concentration Camp Guards

The female guards at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Ravensbrück are less well known than their male counterparts, but they were no less brutal.
Irma Grese

Irma Grese
'[They] hit the prisoners, who were almost as thin as skeletons with a thick stick … withholding of food and beatings, [they] also made the prisoners stand for hours'
Scenes like this were inflicted by thousands of SS guards who reigned terror upon millions of prisoners interned in the hundreds of concentration camps throughout the Nazi regime. Names such as Josef Kramer, Rudolf Hoess and Theodor Eicke have become synonymous with such atrocities. Yet, to the female prisoners held in camps such as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Ravensbrück, the names Irma Grese, Maria Mandl and Dorothea Binz – amongst many others – instilled as much, if not more, panic and fear than those of the SS men. In fact, the scene described above was committed by the Aufseherin (female overseer) Lehmann at Ravensbrück concentration camp, and was far from unusual in the female sections of camps.
Of the 37,000 SS guards who actively participated in the daily suffering, torture and death of the internees, approximately 10 per cent were female overseers. Some of these overseers, including Irma Grese, were sentenced to death along with their male colleagues for ‘murder’ and ‘crimes and atrocities against the laws of humanity’. Others were sentenced to between one year to life imprisonment. Few were acquitted. Their role in the Third Reich was a far cry from the Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church) propaganda embedded in Nazi philosophy; they too were cogs in the killing machine of the Holocaust that led to the death of at least 1.5 million Jews.  
Irma Grese, known as the 'beautiful beast' of Belsen, was, according to the charges brought against her at the Belsen Trial in 1945, one of the 'most sinister and hated figures' of the camps. Witnesses claimed that she used to beat women until they collapsed.
And she was not the only one. Renee Lacroux, a French prisoner held in Ravensbrück, told of how several female guards ‘killed the weaker ones and threw many of the girls onto the ground and trampled on them’. Just like their male counterparts, the female guards upon entering the camps were trained to become hardened and to punish prisoners severely when necessary. Many became accustomed to beating and kicking prisoners – sometimes to the point of death – with their jackboots, sticks, truncheons and, in the case of Irma Grese, with a whip made of cellophane. Some were involved in administering lethal sterilisation experiments and many were present in the selection of those prisoners to be sent to the gas chambers. Some also carried a gun. 
Not all guards, however, became equally accustomed to brutality. There were reports by some former prisoners of ‘humane’ guards: one such guard called Krüger is alleged to have shared extra food with her workers in Ravensbrück. And this case cannot have been isolated; an order was sent by the SS Obergruppenführer (senior group leader) to remind female overseers that they were not to have personal dealings with inmates. There was no equivalent order sent to SS men. Equally, murder was not customary for the female guards. They rarely used their guns and none, without exception, administered the fatal Zyklon B gas that killed over 6 million Jews, gypsies and asocials – amongst others – in the gas chambers. Direct killing was viewed solely as a masculine endeavour. This is not to say, however, that female guards did not kill the prisoners indirectly through their ill-treatment and violence – and violence was the norm throughout the camp environment. 
So, how did these guards, described as 'sadists' and 'beasts' by former prisoners, find themselves committing these crimes against humanity? Elisabeth Volkenrath, chief female overseer in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, sentenced to death in 1945, was an unskilled labourer prior to becoming a guard. Ruth Closius, also sentenced to death for her exceptional cruelty, had dreamed of becoming a nurse but, since she left school too early, became a saleswoman in a textiles warehouse. The notorious Irma Grese worked at a dairy farm after leaving home at 15 years of age. Before entering the camps these women were, to all intents and purposes, ordinary women leading ordinary lives.
Many were not even members of the Nazi party. Unlike the overwhelming majority of male SS guards who were ardent believers in Nazi ideological and racial beliefs, less than 5 per cent of female guards were formal members of the Nazi party. For some then, the lure of a stable, well-paid job complete with uniform and accommodation was enough. Female guards earned approximately 185 RM, considerably more than the average wage of women of the same age in an unskilled factory job, 76 RM. Becoming a guard represented upward mobility for many of these under-educated and lower-class women. Even so, the recruitment campaign from 1942 onwards failed to attract the large numbers the SS needed in order to manage the increasing number of female prisoners. Instead, they had to turn to conscription. Even Irma Grese claimed that the labour exchange ‘sent [her] to Ravensbrück’, where all female guards underwent training, and that ‘[she] had no option’. 
Whatever the reasons for becoming guards – financial, a thirst for adventure or conscription – Nazi ideology was rife and the ill-treatment of ‘enemies of the state’ was commonplace. As predominantly young, Aryan women aged between 17-45 (as strict entry criteria), these women had grown up in the midst of Nazism; many had been members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) and had grown up with Nazi propaganda. Further ideological training, which included propaganda films such as Jüd Süss, was imposed upon new recruits during their orientation period at Ravensbrück and manifested itself as violence within a matter of days. One prisoner noted how it took one guard just four days.
Many of these women were never brought to trial and were able to return to their pre-war, ordinary lives. For those who were brought to trial, however, such as Irma Grese, their ordinary life became a distant prospect to which they were never again able to return. Seventy years after the liberation of the camps, it is important to remember that women were not only victims, mothers or wives; they too were active agents in sustaining the terrors experienced by millions during the Holocaust. 
Lauren Willmott works at the National Archives, London.
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