Friday, August 22, 2014

These Days In History: August 23, 1939: Non-Aggression Pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR is signed in Moscow.

The Pact aligned the dictatorial regimes between September 1, 1939 and June 22, 1941.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Non- Aggression Pact between the Nazi Germany and the USSR, named by the signatories, Soviet foreign minister Viacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

The secret protocol to this treaty provisioned division of Poland between Germany and USSR and the annexation of East European countries and territories in favor of the USSR.

In return, the USSR withdrew from the anti-German negotiations with Great Britain and France. After the German Army invaded Poland, the Soviet Army entered the Polish provinces from the East. Despite the Soviet betrayal, the Polish Army courageously fought for one month. Jewish population of Poland demonstrated valor defending the common homeland. ​

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Day In History: August 21, 1941: Drancy Transit Camp under the French Administration

The Dracy Transit Camp was administered by French police commanders from August 21, 1941 to July 1, 1943, when SS officers took direct command. 

Harsh as living conditions had been before, things worsened considerably once the Nazis took control. The camp entered a period marked by a severe deterioration of the inmates’ living conditions and an intensive effort to deport growing numbers of Jews to the East. 

As the population of prisoners from many nations and all ages grew, life became increasingly intolerable, marked by the filth of a coal mine, straw mattresses full of lice and bedbugs and horrid overcrowding. 

With six faucets for eighty-six women, there was no time to wash. There were paralyzed women, women who had breast operations and who couldn’t move their arms, pregnant women, blind women, deaf mutes, women on stretchers, women who had left their small children all alone and more.

Despite its horrors, Drancy was noted for its solidarity and for the spirited resistance among its inmates.  Between 1941 and 1943, there were 41 successful escape attempts, and an untold number of unsuccessful attempts. 

There was also limited contact with the outside world, as non-Jewish French citizens would climb the barbed wire fence to find a childhood friend who had disappeared suddenly. 

Although there is little information about music and musicians per se, there was generally a wide variety of cultural activities, including concerts and literary evenings. These were attended by many of the luminaries of French Jewish life, including the poet Max Jacob and the choreographer René Blum.  None of these were to see liberation.

The Americans officially liberated Paris on 25 August 1944, by which time there were only around 1,500 prisoners left alive.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

These Days In History: August 19, 1942: Dieppe Raid

The Dieppe Raid, also known as the Battle of DieppeOperation Rutter and, later, Operation Jubilee, was an attack by the Allies during the Second World War on the German-occupied port of Dieppe on the northern coast of France on August 19, 1942.  

The assault began at 5:00 a.m., and by 10:50 a.m. the Allied commanders were forced to call a retreat. Over 6,000 infantrymen, predominantly Canadian, were supported by a Canadian Armoured regiment and a strong force of Royal Navy and smaller Royal Air Force landing contingents. It involved 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British troops, and 50 United States Army Rangers. 

Objectives of the Raid included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove that it was possible and to gather intelligence. Upon retreat, the Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defenses, port structures and all strategic buildings. The raid had the added objectives of boosting morale and demonstrating the firm commitment of the United Kingdom to open a western front in Europe. Virtually none of these objectives were met. 

Allied fire support was grossly inadequate and the raiding force was largely trapped on the beach by obstacles and German fire. Less than 10 hours after the first landings, the last Allied troops had all been either killed, evacuated, or left behind to be captured by the Germans. Instead of a demonstration of resolve, the bloody fiasco showed the world that the Allies could not hope to invade France for a long time.

A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force failed to lure the Luftwaffe, the German air force, into open battle, and lost 96 aircrafts (at least 32 to flak or accidents), compared to 48 lost by the Luftwaffe.

The Royal Navy lost 33 landing crafts and one destroyer. The events at Dieppe influenced preparations for the North African (Operation Torch) and Normandy landings (Operation Overlord).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This Day In History: August 19, 1941: the Einstzkommando 8 in Mogilev, USSR, killed 3,726 Jews

On the 19th of August 1941, a group of soldiers from Einsatzkommando 8, along with German police units from the Center Police Regiment, carried out an Aktion, in which they murdered 3726 Jews, the majority of the ghetto population. 

Although many details are as yet unclear, it seems apparent that in autumn 1941 the SS intended to send at least some European Jews to Mogilev with the intentions of killing them there. 

Mogilev is only one of several locations where there is evidence of a similar intention to establish an extermination camp; Lodz, Minsk, and Riga are among the others.

It would appear that the plans for a death camp in Mogilev ultimately became superfluous as other killing sites became operational.

Monday, August 18, 2014

These Days In History: August 15,1941: Henrich Himmler, Chief of the SS and German Police, inspects the Soviet Prisoners of War Camp in Minsk

Heinrich Himmler, the Chief of the German Police and Reich Leader of the SS, inspects Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) at a German camp in Minsk, Belarus. The Nazi-German state depicted the war against the Soviet Union as a racial war between German "Aryans" and subhuman Slavs and Jews.
From the very beginning the war against the Soviet Union included the brutal treatment of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) by the Germans, in violation of every standard of warfare and the killing of POWs on a massive scale. During the Second World War some 5.7 million Soviet army personnel fell into German hands.
By January 1945, the German army reported that only about 930,000 Soviet POWs remained in German custody. The German army had released about one million Soviet POWs to serve as pro-German auxiliaries in the War and about half a million Soviet POWs had escaped German custody or had been liberated by the Soviet Red Army as it advanced westward through eastern Europe into Germany. The remaining 3.3 million, or about 57 percent of those taken prisoner, were dead by the end of the War. Second only to the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war were the largest group of victims of Nazi racial policy.
Those Soviet prisoners of war who survived the German captivity and after the War returned to the USSR (they trusted the Soviet Propaganda) had been sent to the GULAG labor camp.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

This Day In History: August 17, 1941: Vertiujeni camp for Jews is established in Bessarabia (present-day Moldova)

In early August 1941, the Romanian military authorities decided on Vertiujeni as the site of a transit camp, because of its location and because it was a Jewish village.
The first Jews brought to the camp were those who had tried to escape from the German and Romanian armies and had been driven back from the Ukraine by German forces.
Some thirteen thousand Jews were packed into the camp on August 17, 1941. The following day another four thousand Jews were brought from Lipicani, and on August 21st several thousand more were imprisoned in the camp.
They were survivors of the first wave of killings by the Romanian army in a number of small camps and villages in the Soroca district, Bessarabia. The camp now had twenty - six thousand Jews.
Pictured: Romanian soliders rounding up the Bessarabian Jews, summer 1941

Saturday, August 16, 2014

These Days In History: Liquidation of the Bialystok Ghetto, from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw

71 years ago, the Germans began the second and final action of the liquidation of the ghetto in Białystok.

During the night of August 15th, German troops surrounded the ghetto with a triple cordon. The surprise of its civilian inhabitants was complete. Szymon Datner, a historian and witness to the events, reported, “It has never been so cheerfully in the ghetto as during the last days preceding its destruction. It was during the period after Stalingrad, the El Alamain, after the victorious [for the Allies] end of the North African campaign and landing in Sicily. [...] Help was coming. The Germans continued to be committed to winning the war — with the Jews.”

During the night, the fighters handed out weapons stored in storehouses and agreed on the plan of action. Their main goal was to make a hole in the wall of the ghetto and struggle out of it to the forest with as many residents of the ghetto as possible.

Unfortunately, the plan did not succeed. The Germans, having the experience gained in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, were well prepared for the elimination of the Białystok Jewish communities. “The fight is uneven. About 300 poorly armed Jews fighting against the SS troops consisting of over 3,000 soldiers armed only with machine guns,” wrote Datner. “To the fight against the Jewish fighters they added also armored cars, light tanks and... aircrafts.” 

The quotes used in the text come from a publication by Szymon Datner “Walka i zagłada białostockiego getta” (The fight and the destruction of the Bialystok Ghetto) published in 1946 in Lodz. Thanks to the efforts of the JHI, a critical re-edition of this book rereleased this year.

Pictured: Children in the Bialystok Ghetto.