VE Day Reader: A Polish Girl’s Holocaust Diary

Rutka Laskier and her baby brother in 1938. They were both murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

Rutka Laskier and her baby brother in 1938. They were both murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

A teenage Jewish girl living under the Nazis in Poland during 1943 feared she was “turning into an animal waiting to die”, according to her diary, which documents the final months before her death in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Rutka Laskier, 14, the same age as the Dutch teenager Anne Frank, wrote the 60-page diary over a four-month period in Bedzin, Poland. The diary, published by Israel’s Holocaust museum, documents the steady collapse of the ghetto under the weight of the Nazi occupation and deportations, as well as the first loves, friendships and jealousies of an adolescent girl growing up during the war.

News of the concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and the brutal killings of Jews, filtered through to her.

Writing on February 5 1943, she said:

“I simply can’t believe that one day I will be allowed to leave this house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day. If this happens I will probably lose my mind from joy.

“The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, he would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with the butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death.”

Later she wrote: “The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter. I’m turning into an animal waiting to die.” Her final entry is brief: “I’m very bored. The entire day I’m walking around the room. I have nothing to do.”

The last entry is dated April 24 1943, at which point she hid the notebook in the basement of the house her family were living in, a building that had been confiscated by the Nazis to be part of the Bedzin ghetto. In August that year, the teenager and her family were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp and it is thought she was killed immediately.

The diary was found after the war by Stanislawa Sapinska, a Christian whose family owned the house lived in by the Laskiers, and who had met Rutka several times during the war.

Ms Sapinska, now in her late 80s, took the diary and kept it secret for more than 60 years until one of her nephews last year convinced her to present it to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and archive in Jerusalem.

“She wanted me to save the diary,” Ms Sapinska told the Associated Press. “She said ‘I don’t know if I will survive, but I want the diary to live on, so that everyone will know what happened to the Jews’.”

The diary was authenticated by Yad Vashem, which has now published it as Rutka’s Notebook, in Hebrew and English. Rutka’s father, Yaakov, was the only member of the family to survive the camp. He moved to Israel and had a new family. He died in 1986.

His daughter in Israel, Zahava Sherz, who has written a foreword to the diary, knew nothing about Rutka before the journal surfaced. “I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka,” said Dr Sherz, 57. “I was an only child, and now I suddenly have an older sister. This black hole was suddenly filled and I immediately fell in love with her.”

Diary entry from February 20 1943

“I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time. There is an Aktion [a Nazi arrest operation] in town. I’m not allowed to go out and I’m going crazy, imprisoned in my own house. For a few days, something’s in the air. The town is breathlessly waiting in anticipation, and this anticipation is the worst of all. I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell.

“I try to escape from these thoughts, of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies. If only I could say, it’s over, you only die once. But I can’t, because despite all these atrocities I want to live, and wait for the following day. That means waiting for Auschwitz or labour camp. I must not think about this so now I’ll start writing about private matters.”

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When Evil Lost: V-E Day at 70 – A Look Back in Photos

Soldiers from the British Women's Royal Army Corps celebrate the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945, at Trafalgar Square in London. It is the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, when allied forces defeated Nazi Germany in World War II.  R. J. Salmon, Getty Images

Soldiers from the British Women’s Royal Army Corps celebrate the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945, at Trafalgar Square in London. It is the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, when allied forces defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. R. J. Salmon, Getty Images

Parisians march through the Arc de Triomphe jubilantly waving flags of the Allied Nations as they celebrate the end of World War II on May 8, 1945. German military leaders signed an unconditional surrender in Reims, France, on May 7.  Associated Press

Parisians march through the Arc de Triomphe jubilantly waving flags of the Allied Nations as they celebrate the end of World War II on May 8, 1945. German military leaders signed an unconditional surrender in Reims, France, on May 7. Associated Press

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, center, waves to crowds gathered in front of Whitehall in London.  Keystone

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, center, waves to crowds gathered in front of Whitehall in London. Keystone

People ride on a van loaded with beer at Piccadilly Circus in London.  Keystone

People ride on a van loaded with beer at Piccadilly Circus in London. Keystone

People gather around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on VE Day.  AP

People gather around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on VE Day. AP

People celebrate at Times Square and 42nd Street in New York City.  Matty Zimmerman, AP

People celebrate at Times Square and 42nd Street in New York City. Matty Zimmerman, AP

A British sergeant is carried by the crowd as they celebrate the end of World War II in Europe in Moscow.  Keystone

A British sergeant is carried by the crowd as they celebrate the end of World War II in Europe in Moscow. Keystone

People celebrate outside the U.S. and British embassies in Lisbon, Portugal. The jubilant crowds celebrated for two days.  AP

People celebrate outside the U.S. and British embassies in Lisbon, Portugal. The jubilant crowds celebrated for two days. AP

Crowds of civilians, British and Allied troops wave and cheer as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, second balcony from left, and members of the Cabinet appear at Whitehall in London.  AP

Crowds of civilians, British and Allied troops wave and cheer as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, second balcony from left, and members of the Cabinet appear at Whitehall in London. AP

A damaged bust of German dictator Adolf Hitler lies in the ruins of the Chancellery in Berlin.  Reg Speller, Fox Photos, via Getty Images

A damaged bust of German dictator Adolf Hitler lies in the ruins of the Chancellery in Berlin. Reg Speller, Fox Photos, via Getty Images

When the second British Army took the Prison camp at Westertinke near Bremen, which had been the only naval prison camp on May 8, 1945 in Germany, they found that many American and Allied prisoners had been moved in by the retreating Germans form camps farther to the west.   AP

When the second British Army took the Prison camp at Westertinke near Bremen, which had been the only naval prison camp on May 8, 1945 in Germany, they found that many American and Allied prisoners had been moved in by the retreating Germans form camps farther to the west. AP

Happy crowds gather round the Rond-Point on the Champs-Elysees, Paris, on VE Day, May 8, 1945, to celebrate the announcement of Germany's unconditional surrender.  Henry L. Griffin, AP

Happy crowds gather round the Rond-Point on the Champs-Elysees, Paris, on VE Day, May 8, 1945, to celebrate the announcement of Germany’s unconditional surrender. Henry L. Griffin, AP

Enthusiastic Danish crowds greeted the British column on its arrival in Copenhagen, May 8, 1945.  AP

Enthusiastic Danish crowds greeted the British column on its arrival in Copenhagen, May 8, 1945. AP

With the final capitulation of the German armed forces Denmark once again celebrates her freedom. Riding in horse-drawn vehicles, on bicycles and on foot, Nazis filed out of Copenhagen to surrender to the nearest British forces. Here Germans crowd onto a miniature tank carrying a trailer on their way to surrender to British troops, May 8, 1945.   AP

With the final capitulation of the German armed forces Denmark once again celebrates her freedom. Riding in horse-drawn vehicles, on bicycles and on foot, Nazis filed out of Copenhagen to surrender to the nearest British forces. Here Germans crowd onto a miniature tank carrying a trailer on their way to surrender to British troops, May 8, 1945. AP

Video: VE at 70: Picking Up the Pieces –

Even with the defeat of Nazi Germany, there were daunting concerns still facing the world.

Europe was in shambles, it needed to be rebuilt – it needed money, resources, clean water, food, supplies, there were countless German POWs to process before allowing them to return home while also weeding out war criminals (the SS were of major concern), and millions of Nazi camp survivors needed a new start.

Plus there were also the tasks of implementing de-nazification and dividing Germany between America, Britain, France and Russia as agreed on by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta conference (sometimes called the Crimea Conference and code-named the Argonaut Conference) held February 4–11, 1945.

There was also Japan.  The war with Imperial Japan still raged on in the Pacific and would continue for another three months.

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Sacred Sunday: 11th and 12th Century European Cathedral Architecture

Interior view c. 1050 Photo San Miniato al Monte, Florence

Interior view
c. 1050
Photo
San Miniato al Monte, Florence

Italy remained closest to the classical language of architecture. San Miniato al Monte in Florence uses Corinthian columns and marble veneer.

Exterior view c. 1080 Photo Saint-Nectaire, Puy-de-Dôme

Exterior view
c. 1080
Photo
Saint-Nectaire, Puy-de-Dôme

This Romanesque church was built in the middle of the twelfth century in honor of St. Nectaire by the monks of La Chaise-Dieu. It was built on the site of the shrine erected by Nectaire Auvergne on Mount Cornadore. It features 103 magnificent capitals. In the mid-nineteenth century, the church was still surrounded by walls, a cemetery, a castle and a small chapel. These parts were destroyed shortly after, at a church restoration. Now surrounded by forests, the church was in the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, at the heart of a densely populated region, where wood was scarce.

The building is a typical church of the Auvergne, with an octagonal crossing tower and a round apse with radiating chapels.

Pantheon of the Kings of León 1063-1100 Photo Royal Basilica of San Isidoro, León

Pantheon of the Kings of León
1063-1100
Photo
Royal Basilica of San Isidoro, León

The Royal Pantheon in the basilica is a funeral chapel of the kings of León. It is one of the examples of surviving Romanesque art in León. The columns are crowned with rare Visigothic capitals (re-used Roman capitals), with floral or historic designs. The 12th century painted murals are in an exceptional state of preservation and consist of an ensemble of New Testament subjects along with scenes of contemporary rural life.

Chapter house c. 1100 Photo Monastery, Osek

Chapter house
c. 1100
Photo
Monastery, Osek

The Cistercian monastery in Osek was the spiritual centre of the region of Northern Bohemia between Decin and Karlovy Vary. It has a history of more than 800-year.

The picture shows the chapter house where the abbot presided. The administrative matters were settled here.

Sainte-Foy Abbey Church: Exterior view 12th century Photo Sainte-Foy Abbey Church, Conques

Sainte-Foy Abbey Church: Exterior view
12th century
Photo
Sainte-Foy Abbey Church, Conques

The 12th-century Romanesque church at Conques, in central France, was a stopping-place on the road to Compostela. The church contains the relics of Sainte-Foy, which arrived in Conques through theft in 866.

The original chapel was destroyed in the eleventh century in order to facilitate the creation of a much larger church as the arrival of the relics of St. Foy caused the pilgrimage route to shift from Agen to Conques. The second phase of construction, which was completed by the end of the eleventh-century, included the building of the five radiating chapels, the ambulatory with a lower roof, the choir without the gallery and the nave without the galleries.

The third phase of construction, which was completed early in the twelfth-century, was inspired by the churches of Toulouse and Santiago Compostela. Like most pilgrimage churches Conques is a basilica plan that has been modified into a cruciform plan. Galleries were added over the aisle and the roof was raised over the transept and choir to allow people to circulate at the gallery level.

Sainte-Foy Abbey Church: Exterior view 12th century Photo Sainte-Foy Abbey Church, Conques

Sainte-Foy Abbey Church: Exterior view
12th century
Photo
Sainte-Foy Abbey Church, Conques

Abbey of Saint-Gilles: Façade c. 1150 Photo Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, Provence

Abbey of Saint-Gilles: Façade
c. 1150
Photo
Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, Provence

The façade of the church bears witness to the presence of Roman temples in the vicinity.

Interior view 1140s Photo Abbey Church, Saint-Denis

Interior view
1140s
Photo
Abbey Church, Saint-Denis

The picture shows the east end of the abbey church of Saint-Denis. The technique of Gothic architecture allows spaces to flow freely into one another instead of being compartmentalized.

Exterior view 12th century Photo Cathedral, Durham

Exterior view
12th century
Photo
Cathedral, Durham

Durham Cathedral was built between the late 11th and early 12th century to house the bodies of St. Cuthbert (634-687 AD) (the evangelizer of Northumbria) and the Venerable Bede (672/3-735 AD).

It attests to the importance of the early Benedictine monastic community and is the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. The innovative audacity of its vaulting foreshadowed Gothic architecture. The Cathedral lies within the precinct of Durham Castle, first constructed in the late eleventh century under the orders of William the Conqueror.

Interior view 1100-20 Photo Cathedral, Durham

Interior view
1100-20
Photo
Cathedral, Durham

Durham Cathedral has thick circular piers with incised (and originally painted) patterns and one of the earliest rib-vaults in Europe.

Exterior view 12th century Photo Cathedral, Ely

Exterior view
12th century
Photo
Cathedral, Ely

Ely Cathedral is the principal church of the Diocese of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, England, and is the seat of the Bishop of Ely and a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon. It has a cruciform plan with central crossing tower, and it was likewise one of the largest buildings under construction north of the Alps at the time.

The construction was started in 1081 and was completed in the 1180s. The 66 m high west tower of the cathedral represents the last, profusely ornamented, stage of Romanesque. The porch and upper parts are already Gothic.

Interior view 12th century Photo Cathedral, Ely

Interior view
12th century
Photo
Cathedral, Ely

Exterior view c. 1150 Photo Abbey Church, Maria Laach

Exterior view
c. 1150
Photo
Abbey Church, Maria Laach

Maria Laach Abbey is a Benedictine abbey situated on the southwestern shore of the Laacher See (Lake Laach), in the region of the Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. The church exemplifies a particular German form of Romanesque with apses and round towers at both east and west ends.

Exterior view c. 1160 Photo Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, Toro

Exterior view
c. 1160
Photo
Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, Toro

The Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor (Church of Saint Mary the Great) is a church in Toro, Spain. It was begun around 1100, and was finished in the mid-13th century. It is one of the most characteristic examples of transitional Romanesque architecture in Spain. The crossing tower is a Spanish specialty – an octagon of repeated arches with four tourelles at the corners.

Refectory 1180-1200 Photo Monastery, Alcobaça

Refectory
1180-1200
Photo
Monastery, Alcobaça

Monasteries were places of peace and order in the disturbed medieval society, organized round a routine of liturgy, work, study, and regular meetings, in which a man could spend his whole life. In the refectory, during meals a monk read from the raised pulpit.

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Liberation of Buchenwald – 70 Years Later

A former prisoner, Petro Mischtschuk from Ukraine, lays flowers during a commemorative event on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, on April 11, 2015

A former prisoner, Petro Mischtschuk from Ukraine, lays flowers during a commemorative event on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, on April 11, 2015

Frankfurt, Germany – More than 80 survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp observed a minute’s silence on Saturday, 70 years to the day since it was liberated.

Several US army veterans and representatives of the nearby eastern German town of Weimar joined the elderly survivors from Europe and countries including Israel, the United States, Australia and Canada for the commemoration, watched by a crowd of residents of the state of Thuringia.

Several of the participants in the ceremony wore replicas of the uniforms worn in the camp, and some wept, a journalist from the DPA agency reported.

Watchtower at the memorial site Buchenwald,.

Watchtower at the memorial site Buchenwald,.

They held a minute’s silence at 3.15 pm, the time that the camp was liberated by US forces.

At the gate to the camp, which incorporates the slogan in German “Jedem das Seine”, or “To each what he deserves”, the survivors laid red carnations and white roses on the commemorative plaques.

Buchenwald was the largest concentration camp on German soil. Between 1937 and 1945, the Nazis held almost a quarter of a million people there.

24 April 1945, US Senator Alben W. Barkley (D-Kentucky) looks on after Buchenwald's liberation. Barkley later became Vice President of the United States under Harry S. Truman.

24 April 1945, US Senator Alben W. Barkley (D-Kentucky) looks on after Buchenwald’s liberation. Barkley later became Vice President of the United States under Harry S. Truman. US Army photo.

Bones of anti-Nazi German women still are in the crematoriums in the German concentration camp at Weimar, Germany, taken by the 3rd U.S. Army.  Prisoners of all nationalities were tortured and killed.  April 14, 1945.  Pfc. W. Chichersky.  (Army) NARA FILE #111-SC-203461

Bones of anti-Nazi German women still are in the crematoriums in the German concentration camp at Weimar, Germany, taken by the 3rd U.S. Army. Prisoners of all nationalities were tortured and killed. April 14, 1945. Pfc. W. Chichersky. (Army)
NARA FILE #111-SC-203461

An estimated 56,000 people died in Buchenwald, either killed by the Nazis or they perished through illness, cold or starvation. Thousands of Jews were among the dead, but also Roma, gypsies and political opponents of the Nazis, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners of war.

On the Web:  Buchenwald – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Buchenwald Concentration Camp (Germany)

History & Overview of Buchenwald | Jewish Virtual Library

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Photo Essay: The Winds of War

Politics aside, there are times when war is necessary. However, whether justified or unprovoked, war inevitably has its share of victims, the innocent, the powerless – those souls who are unwilling thrown into the mix as their world unravels as well as those who unknowingly, blindly follow a tyrant hellbent on domination and destruction.

This rather eye-opening edition of Throwback Thursday is dedicated to them…

War is about as close to Hell as a human being can be.

Some readers may find some of the images disturbing. 

Reader discretion is advised.

June 1944 : A sergeant of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps bandages the wounded ear of 'Jasper', a mine-detecting dog, Bayeux, France

June 1944 : A sergeant of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps bandages the wounded ear of ‘Jasper’, a mine-detecting dog, Bayeux, France

April 1945 : A German woman runs through the streets of burning Siegburg with what belongings she is able to carry, as the American 97th Infantry Division and German troops battle for control of the city street by street.

April 1945 : A German woman runs through the streets of burning Siegburg with what belongings she is able to carry, as the American 97th Infantry Division and German troops battle for control of the city street by street.

1932 : An uniformed small child joins a parade of forty thousand teenage Fascists(ONB) at Rome's Place du Peuple Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) was an Italian Fascist youth organization.

1932 : An uniformed small child joins a parade of forty thousand teenage Fascists(ONB) at Rome’s Place du Peuple
Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) was an Italian Fascist youth organization.

Oct 1945 : Homeless orphaned sisters on a street in Rome, Italy after the end of WWII.

Oct 1945 : Homeless orphaned sisters on a street in Rome, Italy after the end of WWII.

1915 : 19 year old Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia with wounded Russian soldiers.  "My sister Olga is working as a Nurse. Olga, Tatiana and mother became nurses and worked in hospitals, even assisting in surgeries. Maria and I were too young to become real nurses, but both of us, and Aleksey, observed and helped out in operations. We saw many wounded soldiers die. Maria and I had our own hospital in the Fyodorovsky Village near the Alexander Palace. We went there all the time and tried to cheer up the wounded men. It felt like we were attending funeral services all the time." - Anastasia Olga was assassinated by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918 aged 22 after they were refused sanctuary in England. Olga fell in love with a wounded officer she was nursing.

1915 : 19 year old Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia with wounded Russian soldiers.
“My sister Olga is working as a Nurse. Olga, Tatiana and mother became nurses and worked in hospitals, even assisting in surgeries. Maria and I were too young to become real nurses, but both of us, and Aleksey, observed and helped out in operations. We saw many wounded soldiers die. Maria and I had our own hospital in the Fyodorovsky Village near the Alexander Palace. We went there all the time and tried to cheer up the wounded men. It felt like we were attending funeral services all the time.”
– Anastasia
Olga was assassinated by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918 aged 22 after they were refused sanctuary in England. Olga fell in love with a wounded officer she was nursing.

March 1933 : The last picture taken of Anne, Edith, and Margot Frank in Germany, prior to emigrating to Netherlands.  Anne Frank is 3 years, 9 months old. They are standing in the Hauptwache square in the center of Frankfurt am Main.

March 1933 : The last picture taken of Anne, Edith, and Margot Frank in Germany, prior to emigrating to Netherlands.
Anne Frank is 3 years, 9 months old. They are standing in the Hauptwache square in the center of Frankfurt am Main.

Dec 1940 : A Dutch woman keeping Balls of paper - the main fuel in winter during Nazi occupation, Amsterdam.

Dec 1940 : A Dutch woman keeping Balls of paper – the main fuel in winter during Nazi occupation, Amsterdam.

1917 : A loaded cart pulled by two dogs in Belgium during WW1  Horses in World War I were used by the belligerent nations for transportation of troops, artillery, materiel, and, to a lesser extent, in mobile cavalry troops. Due to lack of Horses, most carts in France, Germany and Belgium were pulled by dogs.

1917 : A loaded cart pulled by two dogs in Belgium during WWI
Horses in World War I were used by the belligerent nations for transportation of troops, artillery, materiel, and, to a lesser extent, in mobile cavalry troops. Due to lack of Horses, most carts in France, Germany and Belgium were pulled by dogs.

Dec 1945 : Elderly citizens of Berlin rest on a bench marked 'Not for Jews', after the end of WW2 An ugly reminder of Nazi days. It took 3 years to remove of all Nazi images and symbols, however with a country as large as Germany, a few were missed and still exist even to this very day.

Dec 1945 : Elderly citizens of Berlin rest on a bench marked ‘Not for Jews’, after the end of WWII
An ugly reminder of Nazi days.
It took 3 years to remove of all Nazi images and symbols, however with a country as large as Germany, a few were missed and still exist even to this very day.

Jan 1945 : A Chinese girl who recently discovered her husband's body in their burned out home, sifting through the ashes for personal possessions, Kweilin, China  Much like the Slavs, Jews, Poles, Indians and Gypsies, the Chinese were slaughtered without mercy during WWII. Photo by Jack Wilkes, LIFE magazine.

Jan 1945 : A Chinese girl who recently discovered her husband’s body in their burned out home, sifting through the ashes for personal possessions, Kweilin, China
Much like the Slavs, Jews, Poles, Indians and Gypsies, the Chinese were slaughtered without mercy during WWII.
Photo by Jack Wilkes, LIFE magazine.

70 years ago this month - Mar 1945: Anne Frank dies at age 15 of typhus in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.  Anne Frank's enduring legacy still resonates around the world.

70 years ago this month – Mar 1945: Anne Frank dies at age 15 of typhus in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.
Anne Frank’s enduring legacy still resonates around the world.

1943 : Polish youngster carrying an armload of loaves of bread at Red Cross refuge camp in Tehran, Iran during WWII.

1943 : Polish youngster carrying an armload of loaves of bread at Red Cross refuge camp in Tehran, Iran during WWII.

English children who had been evacuated during WWII are finally reunited with their families.

English children who had been evacuated during WWII are finally reunited with their families.

A man looks directly at the photographer, an Einsatzgruppen soldier, the moment before he is shot; below him are his dead friends, neighbors and family. The soldier wrote on the back of this photo "the last Jew in Vinnitsa, 1941."

A man looks directly at the photographer, an Einsatzgruppen soldier, the moment before he is shot; below him are his dead friends, neighbors and family. The soldier wrote on the back of this photo “the last Jew in Vinnitsa, 1941.”

Dec 1918 : A young Serbian refugee in the town of Grdjelitza after the end of WWI, as photographed by Lewis W. Hine. Hine was hired by the Red Cross to document its European relief efforts. In the waning months of World War I and after the armistice, Hine traveled through France, Belgium, Germany and the Balkans shooting the shattered continent devastated by World War One.  Hine wrote as he took the picture of this young Serbian girl: "With not even a roof over their heads, these families were finding their way back home on foot from northern Serbia where the Austrians and Germans had sent them to produce food for the enemy … When these people reach home, it will not be home, but simply ruins."

Dec 1918 : A young Serbian refugee in the town of Grdjelitza after the end of WWI, as photographed by Lewis W. Hine.
Hine was hired by the Red Cross to document its European relief efforts. In the waning months of World War I and after the armistice, Hine traveled through France, Belgium, Germany and the Balkans shooting the shattered continent devastated by World War One.
Hine wrote as he took the picture of this young Serbian girl: “With not even a roof over their heads, these families were finding their way back home on foot from northern Serbia where the Austrians and Germans had sent them to produce food for the enemy … When these people reach home, it will not be home, but simply ruins.”

Allied servicemen stop to hand out sweets to Dutch children during the Allied liberation of the Netherlands, summer 1944.

Allied servicemen stop to hand out sweets to Dutch children during the Allied liberation of the Netherlands, summer 1944.

A German dog hospital, treating wounded dispatch dogs coming from the front, 1918

A German dog hospital, treating wounded dispatch dogs coming from the front, 1918

Colourized WWII photo : Pfc. Harvey White of Minneapolis gives blood plasma to a Pvt. Roy W. Humphrey from Toledo, Ohio of the 7th Inf. Regt., US 3rd Division at the aid station, Sant'Agata, Sicily, after he was wounded by shrapnel on the 9th August 1943  (Pvt. Humphrey was wounded near San Fratello and was later taken to the 93rd. Evacuation Hospital, where he recovered)

Colourized WWII photo :
Pfc. Harvey White of Minneapolis gives blood plasma to a Pvt. Roy W. Humphrey from Toledo, Ohio of the 7th Inf. Regt., US 3rd Division at the aid station, Sant’Agata, Sicily, after he was wounded by shrapnel on the 9th August 1943
(Pvt. Humphrey was wounded near San Fratello and was later taken to the 93rd. Evacuation Hospital, where he recovered)

1943 : An on-leave serviceman and his date take a break from a dance at Fullerton Beach, Chicago.

1943 : An on-leave serviceman and his date take a break from a dance at Fullerton Beach, Chicago.

Anna Zakrzewska served with the Polish underground army as a courier and a medical orderly.  Zakrzewska's underground code name was Hanka Biała (White Hannah). She received training at the end of June and in July 1944 in the Wyszkowa forest. She was killed in the course of desperate combat during the Warsaw Uprising, aged 18.

Anna Zakrzewska served with the Polish underground army as a courier and a medical orderly.
Zakrzewska’s underground code name was Hanka Biała (White Hannah). She received training at the end of June and in July 1944 in the Wyszkowa forest. She was killed in the course of desperate combat during the Warsaw Uprising, aged 18.

Concentration camp survivor - This little girl was asked to draw a picture of her home, while living in a residence for disturbed children in Poland 1948. As you can see, she no longer has any concept of what 'home' is (or was) The look in her eyes is truly haunting...

Concentration camp survivor – This little girl was asked to draw a picture of her home, while living in a residence for disturbed children in Poland 1948.
As you can see, she no longer has any concept of what ‘home’ is (or was) The look in her eyes is truly haunting…

May 1945 : Inmates of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria pull down the swastika emblem over the main gate after Liberation This camp had many prisoners of war(Pow's); mostly Soviet & French officers. Nearly 210,000 inmates perished at Mauthausen.

May 1945 : Inmates of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria pull down the swastika emblem over the main gate after Liberation
This camp had many prisoners of war(Pow’s); mostly Soviet & French officers. Nearly 210,000 inmates perished at Mauthausen.

1942 : Three Soviet citizens are hanged from a tree near Minsk in Belorussia by SS forces with a placard reading “We are partisans and have shot at Germans” in both German and Russian.

1942 : Three Soviet citizens are hanged from a tree near Minsk in Belorussia by SS forces with a placard reading “We are partisans and have shot at Germans” in both German and Russian.

1948 : A little girl with her battered doll, waiting for milk distribution along with her little brother at an Orphanage run by Unesco at Naples, Italy  The World War II casualties and even larger numbers of POWs meant that many Italian children were left with only their mother to support them. And in a collapsing economy this was very difficult. When the fighting reached Italy itself, villages and cities were devastated all the way up the peninsula. Many children were killed or wounded and in many cases lost both parents. Large numbers of children were displaced as well as many orphaned.

1948 : A little girl with her battered doll, waiting for milk distribution along with her little brother at an Orphanage run by Unesco at Naples, Italy
The World War II casualties and even larger numbers of POWs meant that many Italian children were left with only their mother to support them. And in a collapsing economy this was very difficult. When the fighting reached Italy itself, villages and cities were devastated all the way up the peninsula. Many children were killed or wounded and in many cases lost both parents. Large numbers of children were displaced as well as many orphaned.

March 1946 : A young orphan eating bread provided by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association in post war Rome, Italy. From mid 1945 to 1949, most of mainland Europe was in absolute poverty caused by the devastation of WWII.

March 1946 : A young orphan eating bread provided by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association in post war Rome, Italy.
From mid 1945 to 1949, most of mainland Europe was in absolute poverty caused by the devastation of WWII.

Guide Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1942 to aid blinded servicemen returning from World War II.  The first veteran to graduate from the program was Sgt. Leonard Foulk, who was paired with a Guide Dog named Blondie.

Guide Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1942 to aid blinded servicemen returning from World War II.
The first veteran to graduate from the program was Sgt. Leonard Foulk, who was paired with a Guide Dog named Blondie.

1945 : The Cologne Cathedral stands tall in the midst the ruins of the city after Allied bombings, Germany. During the 1939 to 1945 period the Royal Air Force dropped 34,711 tons of bombs on the Cologne.

1945 : The Cologne Cathedral stands tall in the midst the ruins of the city after Allied bombings, Germany.
During the period from 1939 to 1945, the Royal Air Force dropped 34,711 tons of bombs on Cologne.

Crash

Crash Cinema: March Movie Pick – “Lore”

Lore Release Date: February 8, 2013

Lore
Release Date: February 8, 2013

As the Allies sweep across Germany, Lore leads her siblings on a journey that exposes them to the truth of their parents’ beliefs. An encounter with a mysterious refugee forces Lore to rely on a person she has always been taught to hate.

Genres: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Runtime: 109 minutes

Filmed in Australia

Synopsis

In southwestern Germany during the immediate aftermath of World War II, five destitute siblings must travel 900 km to their grandmother’s Husum Bay home near Hamburg after their high-level Nazi parents disappear in the face of certain arrest by Allied Forces. Along the way, they encounter a variety of other Germans, some of whom are helpful while others are antagonistic. Eventually they meet up with a young man who has been pretending to be Thomas, a young Jewish concentration camp survivor, who joins their group and becomes their unofficial guardian.

Plot

The return of a Nazi officer towards the end of World War II upsets the family household in southern Germany. They pack in a rush, kill the family dog and flee their stately home to hide-out in a secluded cabin in a clearing in the woods in the Black Forest. Lore’s mother carefully wraps a porcelain figurine of a deer to take with them.

Lore’s father, a high ranking Nazi officer, leaves for destinations unknown and with the news of the death of Hitler, her mother also decides to flee, abandoning her five children and leaving Lore in charge with instructions to go to her grandmother Omi’s house in Husumnear Hamburg. Before leaving, Lore’s mother gives her all of her jewellery and some money for the train tickets. After the neighbors are no longer willing to sell them any food, Günther is caught stealing so Lore decides it’s time to leave. Unfortunately the trains are no longer running so they have to leave all their belongings behind and start their 900 km journey on foot.

The children arrive at the ruins of an abandoned house and Lore discovers the dead body of a woman. She goes into the house to look for her brother Günther and stumbles upon a young man sleeping. The next day they arrive at a church and Lore pays a woman to breast-feed her baby brother Peter. They again run into the young man from the day before.

News and photos of the atrocities committed at the Nazi concentration camps are posted on a wall in the center of the nearby village for all to see. Lore looks at the photos intently and recognizes her father in Nazi officer’s uniform.

That evening, they move on to stay the night in a school. They encounter the same young man on his own who later makes a sexual advance on Lore but is rebuffed. The next day he follows them out of the town as they continue on their journey. Arriving at a farm, Lore gives a gold bracelet and her mother’s gold ring to an old woman in exchange for food. Lore finds the body of a dead man who shot himself and steals his watch. The old woman begs Lore to leave the baby behind so others will give them food, but she refuses and they leave.

(L-R) Liesel (Nele Trebs), Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), Jürgen (Mika Seidel) and Günther (André Frid) in Lore. (Music Box Films)

(L-R) Liesel (Nele Trebs), Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), Jürgen (Mika Seidel) and Günther (André Frid) in Lore. (Music Box Films)

While walking, Lore again runs into the same man. She keeps on walking and he follows them. A truck with American soldiers drives up and stops. When asked for identification, the young man says his name is “Thomas” and shows the soldiers his Jewish identification papers and says he is Lore’s brother. We see he has a serial number from a concentration camp tattooed on the inside of his forearm. The Americans give them a lift. The next day Lore falls ill and Thomas provides food for all of them. While bathing, Liesel questions why Lore doesn’t like Thomas. Later Lore approaches Thomas, takes his hand and has him fondle her. When he lays his head against her legs she pushes him away.

The following day while walking in the forest, Lore buries the picture of her father and the picture of him at the concentration camp. They continue walking and reach a river they cannot cross. “Thomas” offers to go across with Peter. Lore says he’ll go across and leave the rest of them. Lore goes down a hill and finds a man with a row-boat. She asks him for help but he is not interested. She then sees Thomas on the road behind the man, so she allows the man to make sexual advances on her to distract him. Thomas hits the man over the head with a rock and kills him. Lore is visibly shaken. They take the man’s boat and cross the river, but while climbing the river bank Lore is guilt-stricken and backs into the river with Peter, the baby, in her arms. Thomas pulls them both out and takes Peter from Lore’s arms and hands him to Liesel.

Upon reaching the English sector, they are denied passage and must remain in the Russian sector. Lore asks Thomas if he told the soldiers what they did, and he pulls her back from the guards. They decide they will cross into the English sector at night so they can catch one of the trains that are running there. After walking at night in the forest they pitch camp. When they smell somebody cooking, Thomas tells them to stay put and goes off to investigate. A restless Günther sees a man returning and, believing it to be Thomas, runs towards him but is shot and killed by Russians. Thomas then threatens he will leave them behind unless they keep moving on with him.

During an argument with Lore, Thomas says he can’t help them anymore and that they can take the train and reach their destination safely. Lore is afraid he will leave them and in her anger and frustration calls him a filthy Jew. She cries and breaks down, so he decides to stay. They manage to board a train but are stopped by soldiers that ask for their papers. Thomas finds he is missing his wallet with his identity papers so he steps off the train to avoid getting caught.

During the final leg of the trip along the muddy tidal plains of the western coast of the Jutland Peninsula, Jürgen confesses that he actually stole Thomas’ wallet so he wouldn’t abandon them and that the papers weren’t his anyway, but belonged to someone else called Thomas Weil, who Thomas had been impersonating.

The four remaining siblings finally arrive at Omi’s house. She takes them in, feeds them and lectures them to not ever be ashamed of their parents. She mistakes Jürgen for Günther, and they tell her Günther died in the Russian sector.

Lore goes to her bedroom, which was her mother’s when she was a child, and places her mother’s porcelain figurine of the deer on the dresser, next to a collection of similar figurines.

Lore finds it difficult to adjust and refuses to cheerfully dance to American music with Liesel in the kitchen. She goes for a walk in the woods and looks at the identity papers and family pictures of Thomas Weil in Thomas’s wallet.

Back at the house, they are sitting at the dining table when Jürgen impulsively grabs a piece of bread. Omi scolds him for not waiting to be served by the housekeeper and asks him whether he has ever learned anything at all. Lore is angered by her grandmother’s authoritarianism so, siding with her brother, she also grabs a piece of bread without asking, bites into it and intentionally knocks over her glass of milk, pushes the milk off the table into the palm of her hand and drinks the milk. Omi excuses her from the table. Lore goes back to her room, throws the porcelain figurines off the dresser onto the floor and crushes them one by one with her heel.

7.1/10·IMDb

94%·Rotten Tomatoes

4/4·Roger Ebert

76%·Metacritic

On the Web: 

In ‘Lore,’ a shattering rendezvous with reality

Lore (2012) – IMDb

Lore – Rotten Tomatoes

Lore | Music Box Films

Crash

#MilitaryMonday: US Army’s Mighty 8th, Savannah, GA

In the month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Army’s 8th Air Force is established in Savannah Georgia.

It has seven men and no planes.

Less than a year later it is tasked with defeating the most powerful Air Force in the world – the German Luftwaffe.
This is their story in six high-definition videos…
Crash

Germany: Auschwitz SS Guard Charged with Accessory to 300,000 Murders

Au1

Oskar Groening, who was a guard at Auschwitz, has been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. Photo: Crash MacDuff

Prosecutors say Oskar Groening, now 93, dealt with belongings and counted money of Hungarian Jews sent to their deaths.

Prosecutors in Germany have charged a 93-year-old man with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an SS guard at the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp.

Groening is accused of helping operate the death camp in occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 almost immediately gassed to death.

In his job dealing with the belongings stolen from camp victims, prosecutors said among other things he was charged with helping collect and tally money that was found.

“He helped the Nazi regime benefit economically, and supported the systematic killings,” state prosecutors in the city of Hannover said in a statement.

Groening’s attorney, Hans Holtermann, declined to comment on the charges.

Groening has openly talked about his time as a guard and said while he witnessed horrific atrocities, he didn’t commit any crimes himself.

In 2005 he told Der Spiegel magazine he recalled one incident on “ramp duty” when he heard a baby crying. “I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs,” he said. “He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”

Groening, who lives in the Hannover area, is one of about 30 former Auschwitz guards who federal investigators last year said state prosecutors should pursue under a new precedent in German law.

Groening is the fourth case investigated by Hannover: two have been shelved because the suspects have been deemed unfit for trial and one was closed when the suspect died.

Thomas Walther, who represents 20 Auschwitz victims and their families as co-plaintiffs in the case against Groening as allowed under German law, said it was their last chance “to participate in bringing justice to one of the SS men who had a part in the murder of their closest relatives”.

“Many of the co-plaintiffs are among the last survivors of Auschwitz,” he told the Associated Press.

Photo: Crash MacDuff

Photo: Crash MacDuff

The case against Oskar Gröning highlights Germany judiciary’s Holocaust problem. With only 50 out of 6,500 SS guards at Auschwitz convicted, critics say German law has been too slow to seek justice.

He was once called “the accountant of Auschwitz,” but he is also one of the few former Nazi death camp guards to speak out against Holocaust deniers. Now, at the age of 93, he is to face trial in Germany, and his case has highlighted what some historians see as the failure of the German judiciary to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice.

From 1942 to 1944, Oskar Gröning counted money taken from the luggage of murdered Jews and sent it back to SS headquarters in Berlin. He also stood guard as the transports of human beings entered the camp.

That much has long been known, not least because he himself described his experiences to the media, but it has taken a new investigation, carried out by Germany’s central office for the investigation of Nazi crimes in Ludwigsburg, for charges to be brought against him. In February this year, the office searched the homes of several former members of the SS across Germany. Of these, Gröning is the only one to have been pronounced fit enough to stand trial.

For what state prosecutors called “legal and evidence reasons”, Gröning’s formal charges relate only to two months of his time at the camp – 16 May to 11 July 1944, the time of the so-called Hungary Operation, when “around 425,000 people from Hungary arrived at the camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau”, of whom “at least 300,000 found their deaths in the gas chambers”. Gröning has therefore been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder.

Gröning caught public attention in 2005 when he appeared in the BBC documentary Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’, in which he described how being confronted by Holocaust deniers had led to him to speak out. “I see it as my task now, at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced, and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened,” he said. “I saw the crematoria, I saw the burning pits.”

But Gröning also denied his culpability, telling Der Spiegel magazine in the same year: “Accomplice would almost be too much for me. I would describe my role as a small cog in the gears. If you can describe that as guilt, then I am guilty, but not voluntarily. Legally speaking, I am innocent.”

Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. Photo courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center. Used by permission.

Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. Photo courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center. Used by permission.

State prosecutors disagree – but only now. Despite high-profile trials in Nuremberg just after the war, and Frankfurt in 1964, the German judiciary has been notoriously sluggish about punishing those directly involved in the Holocaust. A previous case against Gröning himself was dropped for lack of evidence by Frankfurt prosecutors in 1985. The historian Andreas Eichmüller once calculated that of the 6,500 SS members who worked at Auschwitz and survived the war, only 49 had ever been convicted.

Jörg Friedrich, a historian and author of Acquittal for Nazi Justice: The Sentencing of National Socialist Judges since 1948, challenges the view that the German judiciary dragged its heels. “There were hundreds of thousands of investigations, kilometres of investigation documents,” he told the Guardian. “I don’t know of any state that did the same … A compromise had to be drawn between assimilation and prosecution, and I think Germany was a success in both cases.” The legal difficulty is in defining individual guilt; attempts to convict other SS members have failed in the past because they could not be linked to specific murders. Ingo Müller, law professor and author of Terrible Lawyers: the Past Our Judiciary Has Not Overcome, thinks this is a historical failure. “Just participating in the Holocaust doesn’t count.”

On the Web: Official site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau (German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp) Memorial and State Museum.

Crash

#MilitaryMonday: World War One At 100

wwiheader

World War 1, also known as the First World War or the Great War and the War to End All Wars, was a world conflict lasting from 1914 to 1919, with the fighting lasting until 1918. The war was fought by the Allies on one side, and the Central Powers on the other. No previous conflict had mobilized so many soldiers or involved so many in the field of battle. By its end, the war had become the second bloodiest conflict in recorded history.

148th American Aero Squadron field. Making preparations for a daylight raid on German trenches and cities. The machines are lined up and the pilots and mechanics test their planes. Petite Sythe, France. (August 6, 1918)

148th American Aero Squadron field. Making preparations for a daylight raid on German trenches and cities. The machines are lined up and the pilots and mechanics test their planes. Petite Sythe, France. (August 6, 1918)

World War 1 became infamous for trench warfare, where troops were confined to trenches because of tight defenses. This was especially true of the Western Front. More than 10 million died on the battlefield, and nearly that many more on the home fronts because of food shortages, genocide, and ground combat. Among other notable events, the first large-scale bombing from the air was undertaken and some of the century’s first large-scale civilian massacres took place, as one of the aspects of modern efficient, non-chivalrous warfare.

Soldiers and mule wearing gas masks, 1916

Soldiers and mule wearing gas masks, 1916

The Start of World War I

The spark that started World War I was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinandand his wife Sophie. The assassination occurred on June 28, 1914 while Ferdinand was visiting the city of Sarajevo in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Although Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of Austria’s emperor and heir-apparent to the throne, was not very well liked by most, his assassination by a Serb nationalist was viewed as a great excuse to attack Austria-Hungary’s troublesome neighbor, Serbia.

However, instead of reacting quickly to the incident, Austria-Hungary made sure they had the backing of Germany, with whom they had a treaty, before they proceeded. This gave Serbia time to get the backing of Russia, with whom they had a treaty.

The calls for back-up didn’t end there. Russia also had a treaty with France and Britain.

This meant that by the time Austria-Hungary officially declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, an entire month after the assassination, much of Europe had already become entangled in the dispute.

At the start of the war, these were the major players (more countries joined the war later):

  • Allied Forces (a.k.a. the Allies): France, the United Kingdom, Russia
  • Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary
Verdun 1916 The Battle of Verdun was fought from 21 February – 18 December 1916 during the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies, on hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France. The German Fifth Army attacked the defences of the Région Fortifiée de Verdun (RFV) and the Second Army on the right bank of the Meuse, intending to rapidly capture the Côtes de Meuse (Meuse Heights) from which Verdun could be overlooked and bombarded with observed artillery-fire.

Verdun 1916
The Battle of Verdun was fought from 21 February – 18 December 1916 during the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies, on hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France. The German Fifth Army attacked the defences of the Région Fortifiée de Verdun (RFV) and the Second Army on the right bank of the Meuse, intending to rapidly capture the Côtes de Meuse (Meuse Heights) from which Verdun could be overlooked and bombarded with observed artillery-fire.

Schlieffen Plan vs. Plan XVII

Germany didn’t want to fight both Russia in the east and France in the west, so they enacted their long-standing Schlieffen Plan. The Schlieffen Plan was created by Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, who was the chief of the German general staff from 1891 to 1905.

Schlieffen believed that it would take about six weeks for Russia to mobilize their troops and supplies. So, if Germany placed a nominal number of soldiers in the east, the majority of Germany’s soldiers and supplies could be used for a quick attack in the west.

Since Germany was facing this exact scenario of a two-front war at the beginning of World War I, Germany decided to enact the Schlieffen Plan. While Russia continued to mobilize, Germany decided to attack France by going through neutral Belgium. Since Britain had a treaty with Belgium, the attack on Belgium officially brought Britain into the war.

While Germany was enacting its Schlieffen Plan, the French enacted their own prepared plan, called Plan XVII. This plan was created in 1913 and called for quick mobilization in response to a German attack through Belgium.

Photograph of two unidentified World War I soldiers. Courtesy of Mrs. J.H. Alexander and Mrs. E.R. Dean. World War Roll of Honor, 1917-1920, Marion County Kansas.

Photograph of two unidentified World War I soldiers. Courtesy of Mrs. J.H. Alexander and Mrs. E.R. Dean. World War Roll of Honor, 1917-1920, Marion County Kansas.

As German troops moved south into France, French and British troops tried to stop them. At the end of the First Battle of the Marne, fought just north of Paris in September 1914, a stalemate was reached. The Germans, who had lost the battle, had made a hasty retreat and then dug in. The French, who couldn’t dislodge the Germans, then also dug in. Since neither side could force the other to move, each side’s trenches became increasingly elaborate. For the next four years, the troops would fight from these trenches.

A War of Attrition

From 1914 to 1917, soldiers on each side of the line fought from their trenches. They fired artillery onto the enemy’s position and lobbed grenades. However, each time military leaders ordered a full-fledged attack, the soldiers were forced to leave the “safety” of their trenches.

The only way to overtake the other side’s trench was for the soldiers to cross “No Man’s Land,” the area between the trenches, on foot. Out in the open, thousands of soldiers raced across this barren land in the hopes of reaching the other side. Often, most were hewn down by machine-gun fire and artillery before they even got close.

World War One Tank

World War One Tank

Because of the nature of trench warfare, millions of young men were slaughtered in the battles of World War I. The war quickly became one of attrition, which meant that with so many soldiers being killed daily, eventually the side with the most men would win the war.

By 1917, the Allies were starting to run low on young men.

U.S. Enters the War and Russia Gets Out

The Allies needed help and they were hoping that the United States, with its vast resources of men and materials, would join on their side. However, for years, the U.S. had clung to their idea of isolationism. Plus, the U.S. just didn’t want to be involved in a war that seemed so far away and that didn’t seem to affect them in any great way.

However, there were two major events that changed American public opinion about the war. The first occurred in 1915, when a German U-boat (submarine) sunk the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania. Considered by Americans to be a neutral ship that carried mostly passengers, Americans were furious when the Germans sank it, especially since 159 of the passengers were Americans.

(Picture from the National Archives and Records Administration.) Photostat of the Zimmermann Telegram as received by the German ambassador to Mexico (Jan. 19, 1917) In the midst of World War I, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann sent an encoded message to the President of Mexico proposing a military alliance against the United States. In return for Mexican support in the war, Germany would help Mexico regain New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona from the United States. The British intercepted the secret message, deciphered it, and turned it over to the U.S. Government.

Photostat of the Zimmermann Telegram as received by the German ambassador to Mexico (Jan. 19, 1917) In the midst of World War I, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann sent an encoded message to the President of Mexico proposing a military alliance against the United States. In return for Mexican support in the war, Germany would help Mexico regain New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona from the United States. The British intercepted the secret message, deciphered it, and turned it over to the U.S. Government. (Picture from the National Archives and Records Administration.)

The second was the Zimmermann Telegram. In early 1917, Germany sent Mexico a coded message promising portions of U.S. land in return for Mexico joining World War I against the United States. The message was intercepted by Britain, translated, and shown to the United States. This brought the war to U.S. soil, giving the U.S. a real reason to enter the war on the side of the Allies.

On April 6, 1917, the United States officially declared war on Germany.

As the United States was entering World War I, Russia was getting ready to get out.

In 1917, Russia became swept up in an internal revolution that removed the czar from power. The new communist government, wanting to focus on internal troubles, sought a way to remove Russia from World War I. Negotiating separately from the rest of the Allies, Russia signed the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Germany on March 3, 1918.

With the war in the east ended, Germany was able to divert those troops to the west in order to face the new American soldiers.

Armistice and the Versailles Treaty

A newspaper headlining the end of World War 1. The Treaty of Versailles was signed at 2 p.m. on June 28, 1919.

A newspaper headlining the end of World War 1. The Treaty of Versailles was signed at 2 p.m. on June 28, 1919.

The fighting in the west continued for another year. Millions more soldiers died, while little land was gained. However, the freshness of the American troops made a huge difference. While the European troops were tired from years of war, the Americans remained enthusiastic. Soon the Germans were retreating and the Allies were advancing. The end of the war was near.

Sergeant Alvin York, a backwoods Tennessean who became the most highly decorated soldier of World War I.

Sergeant Alvin York, a backwoods Tennessean who became the most highly decorated soldier of World War I.

At the end of 1918, an armistice was finally agreed upon. The fighting was to end on the 11th hour of 11th day of 11th month (i.e. 11 am on Nov. 11, 1918).

For the next several months, diplomats argued and compromised together in order to come up with the Versailles Treaty. The Versailles Treaty was the peace treaty that ended World War I; however, a number of its terms were so controversial that it also set the stage for World War II.

The carnage left behind by the end of World War I was staggering. By the end of the war, an estimated 10 million soldiers were killed. That averages to about 6,500 deaths a day, every day. Plus, millions of civilians were also killed. World War I is especially remembered for its slaughter for it was one of the bloodiest wars in history.

On the Web: 

World War I on Wikipedia

World War I – Battles, Facts, Videos & Pictures

A Multimedia History of World War One

Sgt. Alvin York (Sergeant York)

Crash

#MilitaryMonday: Real Reasons Why Germany Doesn’t Want China Anywhere Near Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to students during the welcoming ceremony by German President Joachim Gauck at Bellevue palace in Berlin on March 28. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to students during the welcoming ceremony by German President Joachim Gauck at Bellevue palace in Berlin on March 28. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

China’s official visit to Germany brings two world’s together but is a powder-keg of old wounds and a trunk-load of misunderstandings

Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Germany for two days, meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials. It’s the third leg of Xi’s European Union trip, and an important one – as Deutsche Welle notes, Germany is China’s most important trade partner in Europe.

There is, however, once place that Xi wasn’t wanted during his time in Germany: Berlin’s famous Holocaust memorial. Der Spiegel reported this month that German authorities had refused a request from Xi’s entourage for an official visit to the site. While the Chinese president may visit the site on his own, it will not be a part of the official itinerary and Merkel will not accompany him.

Visits to the Holocaust memorial, officially known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), are a key part of a trip to Berlin for many visitors. Why wouldn’t Xi be granted an official visit?

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

The reason has little to do with the Holocaust itself. Instead, according to Der Spiegel, German officials fear that they would get involved in China’s spat with Japan. China has frequently tried to contrast Japan’s handling of its World War II legacy with Germany’s behavior. An op-ed in Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily expanded upon this theory today, arguing that the “government of China has been trying to impress the world with the sharp contrast between post World War II Japan and Germany in facing their parallel burdens of history.” One source told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that Germany did not want a “third country” to use the monument for “diplomatic purposes.”

Japan’s attitude to World War II has long been a controversial issue for China: Whereas Merkel might visit Berlin’s Holocaust memorial, Japanese leaders have been visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo for years. Yasukuni is dedicated to Japan’s war dead but includes 14 war criminals and is seen by critics as a monument to Japan’s imperial excesses.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the shrine in December despite protests from both China and South Korea. In China, anger over the visits to the shrine even led to a restaurant owner briefly becoming an online celebrity after putting a sign reading “Yasukuni Shrine” above his establishment’s toilets. Other issues, such as Abe’s challenging of Japan’s wartime use of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian sex slaves, have also played into the perception of Japan as a wartime aggressor that refuses to apologize.

Japan and China’s lack of reconciliation after World War II has long been a problem, but in recent years its become a major bone of contention due to their territorial dispute over a small group of islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands by Japan and the Diaoyu Islands by China. The uninhabited islands are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, and have been at the center of a number of tense military moments recently. Both Xi and Abe have taken a hard line on the issue, and there are serious concerns that it could devolve into war.

Of course, Xi’s visit to Germany, and his proposed visit to the Holocaust memorial, come at a time when much of the world’s focus is on territorial disputes and geographical gray areas. Abe recently compared Russia’s annexation of Crimea with China’s intentions for the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, drawing an angry rebuke from China.

Germany doesn’t want to get involved in this, which seems quite sensible. History can be benign in one situation yet explosive in another.

The Japanese inhabit the islands of Japan and also the permanent state of denial. The Chinese should just stop the saber-rattling, forget about Japan’s WWII atrocities, and move into the 21st century. One would hope the Boys in Beijing and Tokyo are bright enough to realize the incalculable costs and unpredictable consequences of yet another military conflict. One would hope.

Let’s be very clear about the differences between Merkel and Abe. Merkel visited the site for VICTIMS of Nazi war criminals, NOT a site for the latter, whereas Abe visited a site for the PERPETRATORS of Japan’s war crimes. Also, to say that only 14 of the Imperial Japanese soldiers honored at the Yasukuni Shrine are war criminals is like saying that only few of the Nazi soldiers can be considered as war criminals, also, while the remaining soldiers were just heroes defending Germany. That is an utter nonsense! As soldiers who carried out the aggressions and atrocities against their neighboring countries on behalf of their aggressor countries, all Nazi and Imperial Japanese soldiers are technically war criminals. Imagine the outrage and uproar by their European neighbors, as well as most Germans themselves, if Germany had a memorial or a shrine dedicated to its Nazi soldiers similar to the Yasukuni Shrine. Of course, that is why Germany has no such site dedicated to, much less honoring, the Nazi soldiers, except for their individual private cemeteries by their families. Really, can the West or the whole world, for that matter, imagine Angela Merkel paying an annual tribute to the dead Nazi soldiers? If she did, Germany, too, would find itself be shunned and detested by its neighbors, as Japan is now.

Let’s also be clear that the”West” isn’t papering over the atrocities committed by the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s. They are a matter of public record everywhere. The German “crimes against humanity” of the mid-20th Century were a bigger issue than those of the Soviets and Japanese solely because they were the ones who started the Second World War and because they were always a bigger threat to world peace and civilization.  And, of course, because Germany committed most of its atrocities in the “West”, where people took them a lot more personally.

The Putin government in Russia is now back in the business of papering over Soviet atrocities, but that is going to be another story.

Crash