Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Opposition in Nazi Germany - Rosenstrasse Protest

27th of February, 1943. Berlin. It's early in the morning and hundreds of German elite soldiers of the 1st Division Leibstandarte SS Hitler (LSSHA, Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard) are getting ready for a new mission: to arrest the last Jews that still remain in the German capital.

About 2000 Jewish men had been living under a privileged status called Mischling that exempt them from the deportation measures imposed by anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of 1935 by reason of being married to German spouses (Aryan, of course!). However, Hitler was determined to make Berlin "Judenfrei" (free of Jews) before his birthday.

Give Us Our Men Back!

Helena is married with Sebastian Weissler, a German Jew. He usually goes back home from work at midday but it's nearly 3 in the afternoon and he has not returned. Rumours of a mass arrest operation over Jews are spreading all over the city and she is more worried than ever. Then a hidden determination arise inside her:  Helena has decided to look for her husband at all cost. Surrender is not an option anymore.

Helena found out that the arrested German Jews were locked up in a improvised prison at Rosenstrasse 2 and 4, a former assistance centre of the Jewish community in Berlin, now owned by the Gestapo (Nazi Germany secret police). By the time she got there, there were already 200 other women asking for their kidnapped husbands in front of the gates of the building.

The women began to call out together in a chorus: "Give us our husbands back!"

                    Rosenstrasse 2-4 building before it was destroyed in 1945

It was cold outside but they could not care less. Not the presence of the Gestapo officers or the British bombing over the city discouraged them. The crowd grew and grew along the evening with no one wanting to disperse, and not only at Rosenstrasse 2-4 but also in front of the Office of Jewish Affairs of the Gestapo, on Burgstrasse, not far away from the improvised prison on Rosenstrasse. Most of them spent the night outside. Meanwhile, inside the building, the men stayed awake all night; they had been hearing the outcry of their wives and feared the worst over them as they were perfectly aware that confront the Nazi regime was suicidal.

On the 2nd of March Goebbels wrote in his diary: "We are expelling the Jews from Berlin forever. We catch every one of them in a raid and we are going to take them to the east immediately". He didn't take into account the crowd that was growing larger day by day, holding the protest day and night.

Goebbels Defeated

5th of March. That day the situation came to a head. The SS guards prepared machine guns and threatened to kill them all: "If you don't disperse now, we'll shoot". But none of those defiance women stepped back. The answer was clear. " You should go to the east and die fighting Russians!", screamed one of the women. "You murderers!", followed the others.

                                Photogram from the film 'Rosenstrasse' (2003)

No one wanted to believe their eyes when the SS guards began to clear out. They had won.

The day later Joseph Goebbels ordered the liberation of all the German Jews locked in Rosenstrasse 2-4 claiming that the detention was due to a "bureaucracy mistake". Even the prisoners that were already deported to Auschwitz (25 of them) were released and brought back to Berlin.

                       Rosenstrasse Memorial "Block der Frauen", Berlin  

Rosenstrasse events proved that citizen resistance worried the Nazi leaders and question those who chose to remain passive.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The story of the man who never was: Operation Mincemeat

30th of April, 1943. That day started just like any other for José Antonio Rei, a humble fisherman of Punta Umbría, in Spain, a coastal town situated not very far away from the British colony of Gibraltar. It was early in the morning when he was walking along the beach in order to get his boat and be able to start another work day at the sea; but he was destined to have a day off.

Then he saw it. There was a body lied over the beach, near the shore, obviously brought by the sea. A drowned man. As he approached the body, the fisherman was soon surprised to find that the body wore a military uniform and had a briefcase tied over his waist.

A British officer?

Local authorities identified him as Major William Martin of the British Royal Marines due to his wallet. Officially, the briefcase was open only in the presence of British consul Francis Haselden, but that wasn't true at all. That was the Spanish fascist dictatorship of General Franco after all...

Yes, Spain was full of Abwehr (German military intelligence) agents by those years, specially around the fortress of Gibraltar, a bastion of British sea power in the Mediterranean sea. Adolf Clauss, operating under the cover of an agriculture technician, was one of them. And he was deeply interested about the finding of the body; he immediately informed his superiors in Madrid.

Meanwhile, a high number of low encryption telegrams were flying constantly between London and the British embassy in Madrid with one message: "Recover the content of the briefcase is a must". Later, The Times reported the death of Major Martin.

Mayor Karl-Erich Kuhlenthal, high officer of the Abwehr in Spain, took a keen interest in know about the content of the briefcase. The Spanish were soon persuaded to collaborate after some calls from the Abwehr Headquarters in Berlin and a copy of the documents held in the briefcase was sent to the German embassy. It was a personal letter from Lieutenant-General Archibald Edward Nye to Field Marshall Harold Alexander, commander of the British troops in Northern Africa: "We will recover Southern Europe by landing in Greece and Sardinia".

"Mincemeat Swallowed Whole"

The German army redirected part of the defensive war efforts in the Mediterranean Sea. Erwin Rommel moved to Greece in order to assume overall command, and three panzer divisions (two of them taken from the Russian front, reducing German strength right before the decisive Battle of Kursk) were moved to Greece to reinforce the Axis troops garrisoned in that country.

Mussolini, the Italian dictator, was not very happy with the defensive plan as the most likely invasion point from Tunis (were the allies were concentrated) was the island of Sicily. But Hitler was so convinced by the letter that he remarked over and over again that any incursion over Sicily should be regarded as a feint.

On 9 July of 1943, the allies forces launched Operation Husky and landed in Sicily with relatively little resistance. The island was conquered after just five weeks of combat.

Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley were appointed to the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire for masterminding and carry out this successful plan.

                                           Ewen Montagu (right) and Charles Cholmondeley (left)

The grave of the man who never was is still there, in Soledad Cemetery, Spain. There rest the remains of Glyndwr Michael, a homeless 37-year old man found in a morgue by Montagu who had died after taking rat poison.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ancient Mayan pyramid in Belize destroyed by road crew

A construction company has decimated one of Belize’s oldest and largest Mayan pyramids, reducing it to rubble for use as gravel in a road project. According to the Associated Press, the Nohmul complex in northern Belize, which is estimated to be around 2,300 years old, was torn down using backhoes and bulldozers.

Jaime Awe, director of the Belize Institute of Archeology told the AP, “It’s a feeling of incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity … they were using this for road fill. It’s like being punched in the stomach, it’s just so horrendous.”

The complex, which stood in a privately-owned sugar cane field, was distinct from the surrounding landscape, said Awe. It is unlikely, he maintained, that the road-building crew mistook it for a natural hill.
“These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness,”, said Awe. He said to the AP:
“Just to realize that the ancient Maya acquired all this building material to erect these buildings, using nothing more than stone tools and quarried the stone, and carried this material on their heads, using tump lines,” Awe said. “To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building. Why can’t these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It’s mind-boggling.”
The BBC reported that prosecutors in Belize City are considering bringing criminal charges against the construction company.
“There is absolutely no way that they would not know that these are Maya mounds,” Dr. John Morris of Belize’s Institute of Archaeology told the BBC.
Even though the complex was on private land, Belizean law states that all pre-Hispanic ruins are protected by the government.
Currently, only the pyramid’s slender inner core is left standing. The rest of the structure has been stripped away and crushed into gravel.
Article from:

What is left now of the Nohmul pyramid. Simply awful.

According to Past Horizons, the pyramid had already been damaged by a road crew in 1940:

"... one structure was partially demolished to provide road material for the San Pablo to Douglas highway. At least three burial chambers were uncovered during its demolition and while some of the contents were recovered by the authorities, most were either smashed or looted."

Archaeologists say that incidents of this kind are not uncommon in the country.

This is certainly not a good way to protect your national heritage!