The 99th Fighter Squadron was set up after the army reluctantly agreed to train a group of black pilots at a remote air school in Tuskegee, Alabama, keeping them separate from the rest of the army in line with its policy of segregation.I think it's amazing how far America has come in sixty years.
In all, about 1,000 pilots were trained, and also ground crew. Fewer than a third of the pilots are still alive to receive the medal.
"We had the feeling that the program was designed to fail," said one of the pilots, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Dryden, who graduated from the school in 1942.
"Our mantra was that we dared not fail because if we did, the doors of future aviation would be closed to black people forever," he said in an interview at his home in Atlanta.
Dryden, 86, who stayed in the Air Force after World War Two, recalled the "horrible discrimination" he faced and said he decided to stay away from whites in Alabama as far as possible to avoid breaking the racial mores of the south.
He was particularly incensed to see that German prisoners of war were given access to whites-only facilities at a base in South Carolina that were off-limits to him.
But his memories focus on how his own character was forged in the crucible of combat and racial injustice.
"I had a deep feeling of fear," he said of his first combat encounter. "It wasn't about the enemy, it was about myself ... But the first time I saw the enemy I ran (flew) toward him and I knew that I was a tiger and not a pussy cat."
On graduating from the flying school, he rode the train back to New York wearing his uniform.
"As I was proudly preening my way through the terminal a little white lady said: 'Here Boy. Carry my bags."' The remark angered him but taught him a lesson. "It humbled me. It taught me: It's not the uniform that counts, it's what's inside."
Mr. Breitman explained that after France fell to the Germans in June 1940, fears grew in the United States of a potential fifth column of spies and saboteurs peopled by European refugees. By June of 1941, no one with close relatives still in Germany was allowed into the United States because of suspicions that the Nazis could use them to blackmail refugees into clandestine cooperation. This development closed off the possibility of getting the Frank girls out through a children’s rescue agency or having Otto Frank depart first in the hopes that the rest of his family would quickly follow.
By July, Germany shut down American consulates throughout its territories, retaliating for a similar action on the Americans’ part. As the exchange of letters show, Otto Frank would have had to get an exit permit out of the Netherlands, and transit visas for a series of Nazi-occupied countries to one of the four neutral areas where America still had consular offices. By the summer, an escape to the United States appeared hopeless. “I am afraid, however, the news is not good news,” Straus wrote to Otto Frank on July 1, 1941.
In order to reach a neutral country, Frank then tried to obtain a Cuban visa, a risky, expensive and often corrupt process. In a Sept. 8 letter to Straus, he wrote, “I know that it will be impossible for us all to leave even if most of the money is refundable, but Edith urges me to leave alone or with the children.” On Oct. 12, 1941, he wrote, “It is all much more difficult as one can imagine and is getting more complicated every day.” Because of the uncertainty, he decided first to try for a single visa for himself. It is granted and forwarded to Otto Frank on Dec. 1. No one knows if it ever arrived; 10 days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, and Havana cancelled the visa.
The file, originally in the hands of the National Refugee Service, was turned over to YIVO in 1974 along with tens of thousands of other files from private Jewish refugee agencies.
In 1942, the Gestapo circulated posters offering a reward for the capture of "the woman with a limp. She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies and we must find and destroy her."
The dangerous woman was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore native working in France for British intelligence, and the limp was the result of an artificial leg. Her left leg had been amputated below the knee about a decade earlier after she stumbled and blasted her foot with a shotgun while hunting in Turkey.
The injury derailed Hall's dream of becoming a Foreign Service officer because the State Department wouldn't hire amputees, but it didn't prevent her from becoming one of the most celebrated spies of World War II.
An initiative to refurbish the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp has sparked a storm among Holocaust survivors in Israel.I cannot think of a more ludicrous idea than making a death camp "attractive"; as if visitors go to Auschwitz to see how pretty it is.
The initiative was announced last month by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum's new director, who claimed that the current exhibits were outdated and insufficiently attractive to visitors.
A detailed refurbishing plan has yet to be drawn up, but participants at a recent meeting of Holocaust survivors' organizations warned against moves to "beautify" the site, as has been done with other Nazi concentration camps. "Dachau and Sachsenhausen have already become well-kept gardens; we won't allow the same to happen to Auschwitz," they said.
But not all Arabs joined with the European-spawned campaign against the Jews. The few who risked their lives to save Jews provide inspiration beyond their numbers.
Arabs welcomed Jews into their homes, guarded Jews' valuables so Germans could not confiscate them, shared with Jews their meager rations and warned Jewish leaders of coming SS raids. The sultan of Morocco and the bey of Tunis provided moral support and, at times, practical help to Jewish subjects. In Vichy-controlled Algiers, mosque preachers gave Friday sermons forbidding believers from serving as conservators of confiscated Jewish property. In the words of Yaacov Zrivy, from a small town near Sfax, Tunisia, "The Arabs watched over the Jews."
I found remarkable stories of rescue, too. In the rolling hills west of Tunis, 60 Jewish internees escaped from an Axis labor camp and banged on the farm door of a man named Si Ali Sakkat, who courageously hid them until liberation by the Allies. In the Tunisian coastal town of Mahdia, a dashing local notable named Khaled Abdelwahhab scooped up several families in the middle of the night and whisked them to his countryside estate to protect one of the women from the predations of a German officer bent on rape.
And there is strong evidence that the most influential Arab in Europe -- Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris -- saved as many as 100 Jews by having the mosque's administrative personnel give them certificates of Muslim identity, with which they could evade arrest and deportation. These men, and others, were true heroes.
According to the Koran: "Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world." This passage echoes the Talmud's injunction, "If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world."
Arabs need to hear these stories -- both of heroes and of villains. They especially need to hear them from their own teachers, preachers and leaders. If they do, they may respond as did that one Arab prince who visited the Holocaust museum. "What we saw today," he commented after his tour, "must help us change evil into good and hate into love and war into peace."
The German newspaper has revealed that in 1939, a group of Protestant theologians, loyal to the Nazi regime, established an institution for the "cleansing of Judaism from Christianity". The institution's official purpose was to cleanse the Protestant Church of all ceremonies with non-Aryan influences, and to compile alternative scriptures derived from the Nazi ideology and spirit of the Church, the report said.
The Church staff worked incessantly conducting comprehensive surveys and publishing a large number of documents that imbued Christianity with Nazi commentary, it said. One of these publications, the German Book of Faith, included the rewriting of the 10 commandments in the spirit of Nazi ethics and also added two more commandments, including 'respect thy Fuehrer'.
Another book compiled by the Nazi regime was 'The Institute for the Purification of Christianity', a new prayer book for Christians that removed mention of Hebrew words such as Hallelujah.
One might have thought that if anything could have cured Poland of its anti-Semitism, it was World War II. Polish Jews and Christians were bonded, as never before, by unimaginable suffering at the hands of a common foe. One might also have thought there would have been pity for the Jewish survivors, most of whom had lost nearly everything: their homes, their youth, their hope, their entire families. Besides, there were so few of them left to hate: only 200,000 or so in a population of 20 million.
Instead, returning Polish Jews encountered an anti-Semitism of terrible fury and brutality. Small wonder, then, that nearly as soon as they set foot on Polish soil, most fled all over again. Many went westward, to a place that, oddly enough, had suddenly become an oasis of tranquillity and safety by comparison: Germany. Far from being celebrated, those Poles who had sheltered Jews during the war - and there were many - begged them to say nothing, lest their neighbors deride them as "Jew lovers," or beat them, or break into their homes (searching for money the Jews had surely left behind) or kill them.
Polish attitudes toward the Germans remain understandably bitter. During his trip to Poland this May, when he visited Auschwitz, the German-born Pope Benedict XVI took care to speak mostly in Italian. But as Gross reminds us, in at least one respect many Poles applauded Hitler: Just as he offered a final solution to Germany's Jewish problem, he was taking care of Poland's, too. Nazi policies toward the Jews, the legendary underground Polish diplomat Jan Karski reported to his government-in-exile in London in 1940, formed "a sort of narrow bridge where the Germans and a large part of Polish society meet in harmony."
Penraat's story begins in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. He saw the increased persecution of the Jews by the Nazis and, for a year and a half, helped them by providing them with forged ID cards with non-Jewish sounding names. Working as a draftsman and being the son of a printer, forgery was an easy tool for Penraat, Talbott said.
The Nazis would eventually catch wind of the Penraat's scheme and imprisoned him for six months. During that time he was tortured and kept in bad conditions.
"He came out (of jail) really sick," recounted Noëlle Penraat, his daughter. "It took him a long time to get better."
By the time Penraat was released, Nazi oppression had reached the point that simple ID cards were no longer a help.
"The Nazis kept upping the ante," Talbott said. "Jaap felt he needed to step up as well."
Six months in jail not only didn't shake Penraat's resolve, but it gave him an idea. In prison, Penraat learned of networks used to get downed fighter pilots back to the Allied forces. Penraat searched for and found a similar network to get Jews out of Amsterdam, according to Talbott.
Through a friend, Penraat obtained letterhead for a construction company and forged orders for construction workers to go to France to work on the Atlantic Wall. Penraat himself led a group of 20 Jewish boys posing as construction workers to go Lille, France. From there someone else would take the boys to England, where many joined the British army and fought against the Germans.
Penraat made the trip 20 times and saved 406 lives in all. However, those who knew him say he thought no more of that feat than it was the right thing to do.
Knoop say his information indicates that Beisheim participated in a regiment responsible for death marches of concentration camp inmates as the end of the war approached. Beisheim’s regiment was based in Czechoslovakia, he said.
“What I still need to uncover is Beisheim’s eventual own participation in the death marches. Apart from that, his personal story following World War II raises suspicion too,” Knoop told JTA. “Rumors persist about his involvement in Odessa, the Nazi organization helping SS members flee to South America, the same organization which also transferred Nazi money — often looted — to secret bank accounts in Switzerland.”
The rumors come from statements of three SS members, recorded in the 1990s, said Knoop, a Dutch Jew who now lives in Belgium.
Wette delves back into the history of Imperial Germany and of the Prussian state to illuminate a tradition of anti-Semitism within the military. It was almost impossible for Jews to become officers in the Prussian army in the years before World War I, and although Jews served in large numbers with bravery and distinction in that conflict, the extreme nationalist cadres persisted in propagating a myth of Jewish shirkers and of a Semitic stab in the back that resulted in Germany's defeat. When a study commissioned by the military proved that Jews were in fact serving in numbers at least proportionate to their percentage of the population, the report was suppressed because it did not accord with the prejudices of those who had commissioned it.
Wette goes on to document that the German military embraced the Nazi ideology with an alacrity and speed equaled by few other institutions; indeed its incorporation of racial categorization predated the infamous Nuremberg Race Laws, which imposed them on German society as a whole.
He was a Jew with missing teeth and flat feet. He was married with three children. He fixed heaters, wore reading glasses and wheezed with bronchitis. On March 28, 1943, he surrendered his trousers, winter coat, socks, slippers and shaving kit and stepped through the gates of Auschwitz.
Max C.'s Auschwitz medical card listed a cursory history: hand injury, missed five days of concentration camp work, Dec. 31, 1943; open head wound, March 31, 1944; gangrene, May 16, 1944; virus, July 9, 1944.
He was transferred to Buchenwald. The last medical report is for a back injury on March 30, 1945 — two weeks before the camp was liberated. There is no mention of Max C. after that.
The horror experienced by Jewish and anti-Nazi outcasts shipped to the Australian Outback by the British Government during the war has been documented in a new film that highlights the darker side of Britain's fight against Nazi Germany.
The men, mainly scientists, academics and artists who had fled to Britain from Nazi Austria and Germany at the outbreak of the war, were considered a security threat after the fall of France.
On the orders of Winston Churchill, they were dispatched from Liverpool on the Hired Military Transport (HMT) ship Dunera in July 1940.
When the overcrowded Dunera set sail from Liverpool, its 2,500 internees were told they were bound for Canada.
Watched over by 309 poorly trained British soldiers, the men endured horrendous conditions. They were stripped of their personal possessions, including documents and false teeth, many of which were thrown overboard. They were beaten and insulted as "Jewish swine" and forced to sleep below deck on floors awash with human waste. The hatches and portholes were battened shut.
"There was so little air that to get the job of peeling potatoes on deck was seen as a life-saver," said Walter Kaufmann, 82, a Jewish refugee now living in Berlin whose book Touching Time details the Dunera experience.
Klaus Wilcynski, 86, author of The Prison Ship, recalled being told to walk on the deck in bare feet. "Soldiers had smashed beer bottles so people cut their feet."
German records show that the Nazis viewed the establishment of a Jewish state with great concern. A 1937 report from German General Consulate in Palestine said: “The formation of a Jewish state… is not in Germany’s interest because a (Jewish) Palestinian state would create additional national power bases for international Jewry such as for example the Vatican State for political Catholicism or Moscow for the Communists. Therefore, there is a German interest in strengthening the Arabs as a counter weight against such possible power growth of the Jews.”
The records also show that the news of increased Nazi-Arab cooperation panicked the British government, and caused it to cancel a plan in 1938 to bring to Palestine 20,000 German Jewish refugees, half of them children, facing danger from the Nazis.
Documents show that after deciding that the move would upset Arab opinion, Britain decided to abandon the Jewish refugees to their fate.
“His Majesty’s Government asked His Majesty’s Representatives in Cairo, Baghdad and Jeddah whether so far as they could judge, feelings in Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia against the admission of, say 5,000 Jewish children for adoption… would be so strong as to lead to a refusal to send representatives to the London discussions. All three replies were strongly against the proposal, which was not proceeded with,” a Foreign Office report said.
“If war were to break out, no trouble that the Jews could occasion us, in Palestine or elsewhere, could weigh for a moment against the importance of winning Muslim opinion to our side,” Britain’s Minister for Coordination of Defence, Lord Chatfield, told the British cabinet in 1939, shortly before Britain reversed its decision to partition its mandate, promising instead all of the land to the Palestinian Arabs.
Surveys show that most Austrians continue to deny that 200,000 people welcomed Hitler's troops as they marched into Austria, despite the overwhelming evidence that ecstatic crowds gathered at Heldenplatz in Vienna's city centre to hear him deliver a rousing speech.I can see why Austrians would like to perceive themselves as Hitler's victims, but why did the Allies help promote this lie?
The view most commonly held still is that the Anschluss was forced on a reluctant people.
Mr Fischer picked holes in the 1955 declaration of independence which he said had helped establish the false picture of the country's history which still endures.
In 1942, the Nazis created a special "Einsatzgruppe", a mobile SS death squad, which was to carry out the mass slaughter of Jews in Palestine similar to the way they operated in eastern Europe, the historians argue in a new study.
The director of the Nazi research centre in Ludwigsburg, Klaus-Michael Mallman, and Berlin historian Martin Cueppers say an Einsatzgruppe was all set to go to Palestine and begin killing the roughly half a million Jews that had fled Europe to escape Nazi death camps like Auschwitz and Birkenau.
In the study, published last month, they say "Einsatzgruppe Egypt" was standing by in Athens and was ready to disembark for Palestine in the summer of 1942, attached to the "Afrika Korps" led by the famed desert commander General Erwin Rommel.
The Middle East death squad, similar to those operating throughout eastern Europe during the war, was to be led by SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Walther Rauff, the historians say.
"The central plan for the group was the realisation of the Holocaust in Palestine," the authors wrote in their study that appears in a book entitled "Germans, Jews, Genocide: The Holocaust as History and the Present."
But since Germany never conquered British-controlled Palestine, plans for bringing the Holocaust to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories never came to fruition.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis in Europe. According to their own records, the Einsatzgruppen killed over one million people, most of them civilians.
"O Maman, my dear Maman, I know how much you've suffered on my account and on this happy occasion of Mother's Day I send you from afar my best wishes from the bottom of my little heart. So far from you, darling Maman, I've done everything I could to make you happy: when you've sent packages, I've shared them with the children who have no parents. Maman, my dear Maman, I leave you with hugs and kisses. Your son who adores you. Jacques."Jacques Benguigui was deported to Auschwitz on April 13, 1944, on his 13th birthday. He was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz a month later.
For more than half a century, myths, misconceptions and outright fantasies have crowded around the memory of Noor Inayat Khan. She was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Through the frantic, terrifying summer of 1943, the untried 29-year-old spy found herself virtually in charge of Resistance communications in the Paris area as the Gestapo arrested cell after cell around her. The daughter of a famous Sufi mystic and musician, and an Indianised American mother, she was remembered by all as a "dreamy", sensitive child. Yet Noor the spy became a tigress whose bravery and defiance startled - and outraged - her German jailers and torturers. A few responded differently. When told during his postwar interrogation about her death in Dachau, Hans Josef Kieffer - head of the Gestapo headquarters in Paris - apparently broke down in tears.
According to conversations my father has had with veteran soldiers of the Bergen-Belsen liberation, the Germans and the British had struck a deal to bar the survivors of the camp from leaving. Typhus was rampant in Bergen-Belsen, and it was feared that the disease — which had killed 3 million people in the Soviet Union at the end of the First World War — would spread to the surrounding population. Indeed, the British commandant who took control of the camp was under orders to "prevent the spread of disease and to prevent criminals breaking out." But was typhus the only reason for the inadequacy of the British response? Was antisemitism a factor? Did the British see Jews as expendable? Or was the British army simply ill equipped to cope with starvation, disease and squalor so grotesque that they had never before encountered it on such a scale? In his new book, "After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945," Ben Shephard uses military records, diaries and the survivors' accounts to answer these questions. He does so with sensitivity and careful attention to the facts.
Chinese authorities are drawing up plans for a museum dedicated to the memory of John Rabe, who defied the "Rape of Nanking" - a six-week massacre during which an estimated 300,000 Chinese were slaughtered by Japanese soldiers. Honoring Rabe, who died of a stroke in 1950 at age 67, gives China the chance to draw international attention to Japan's wartime atrocities at a point when relations between the two Asian giants are fragile.
A card-carrying Nazi, Rabe was a China-based Siemens employee in 1937 when the Japanese stormed Nanking, or Nanjing as it is now known. His superiors ordered him to return home, but instead he sent his family back and established a "safety zone" in the city where he offered shelter to terrified Chinese.
Using his Nazi credentials, he and a small group of other foreigners kept the Japanese at bay, at considerable risk to themselves. Some sources say they saved an estimated 250,000 lives.
Rabe wrote a 1,200-page diary that documented the killings and rapes in the city, information that was later used as evidence of war crimes.
The Japanese soldiers "went about raping the women and girls and killing everything and everyone that offered any resistance, attempted to run away from them, or simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," he wrote. "There were girls under the age of eight and women over the age of 70 who were raped and then, in the most brutal way possible, knocked down and beaten up. We found corpses of women who had been lanced by bamboo shoots."
Chinese historians estimate that 80,000 girls and women were raped then.
"One was powerless against these monsters who were armed to the teeth and who shot down anyone who tried to defend themselves," Rabe wrote. "They only had respect for us foreigners - but nearly every one of us was close to being killed dozens of times. We asked ourselves mutually, 'How much longer can we maintain this bluff'?"
Beijing believes Japan has never properly atoned for its atrocities. And Chinese anger is further fueled by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including some of the Class A war criminals held responsible for the massacre in Nanjing.
Recently, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, cancelled a summit with Koizumi because "Japan won't own up correctly to its history". The shrine visits "seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people", he said.
When the pair finally met at a signing ceremony of a regional meeting recently, Wen snubbed the Japanese leader by ignoring his request to borrow his pen. Several awkward seconds elapsed in front of TV cameras before the request was loudly repeated and the Chinese premier smiled and handed over the pen.
Also, there were mass protests in March outside the Japanese Embassy and consulates in China after Japan published a history textbook that glossed over the wartime atrocities.
And tensions between the neighbors are exacerbated by other thorny issues, including a territorial dispute over resource-rich islands in the East China Sea and Japan's desire to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. China fears what it sees as a growing nationalistic militarism in Japan.
"Part of the reason to honor John Rabe now is a response to Japan's bad attitude," said Jiang Liangqin, a historian at Nanjing University. "For example, they honor the war criminals and have never properly said sorry. Some Japanese even deny the massacre took place. We know that Japanese often look down on Chinese and don't believe what we say. Well, here is a European who told exactly what happened. We want to bring the world's attention to that."
While the killings were going on, Rabe wrote to Adolf Hitler several times begging him to intervene, but never got a response. He said later that being based in China meant he was unaware of Hitler's heinous plans in Europe.
After the massacre, Rabe lectured in wartime Germany about what he had seen and submitted footage of the atrocities to Hitler, but the fuhrer did not want to hear about Japan's actions. Rabe was detained by the Gestapo for a short period, denounced by the Nazis and barred from giving lectures.
In post-war Germany he was again denounced - this time for being a Nazi - and was arrested first by the Russians and then the British, but was ultimately exonerated following an investigation. He and his family lived in abject poverty, surviving on occasional care packages posted to him by the grateful people of Nanjing.
"The people of China will never forget the good German, John Rabe, and the other foreigners who helped him," said Ma Guoliang, an 89-year-old woman whose parents were killed by the Japanese.
"He saved so many people and yet at any time he could easily have been killed himself. He could have left, but he stayed with us. We called him the living Buddha of Nanking."