Anne Frank – a brief biography

“I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me.”

anne frankHer voice has come to symbolise the Holocaust, one victim among the six million who spoke for them all, a testament to all who perished with her.

Anne Frank died aged 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in early March 1945, possibly the 7th.

Born 12 June 1929, Anne and her elder sister, Margot, lived their early years in Frankfurt. But in 1933, following Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, the Franks, as a Jewish family, became concerned for their safety as the Nazis introduced increasingly fanatical anti-Semitic legislation.

The Franks Move to Amsterdam

In late 1933 Anne’s father, Otto, was offered and accepted a business opportunity in Amsterdam. In February 1934 his wife and daughters joined him in the Netherlands. Of the half million Jews living in Germany in 1933, about 320,000 had emigrated by 1939.

In May 1940 Hitler launched his attack against France and the Low Countries. Rotterdam was heavily bombed and, on 15 May, the Dutch, fearing further losses, surrendered.

Occupied Netherlands

Life for the Jewish population in Nazi occupied Netherlands became increasingly intolerable and dangerous. In July 1942 Otto Frank received an order to report his eldest daughter for a work camp. The Franks, fearing for their lives, decided they had no option but to go into hiding. Continue reading

Heinrich Himmler – a brief biography

With his rimless glasses and small physique, Heinrich Himmler’s appearance was at odds with his fearsome manner. Indeed, one English visitor observed, ‘nobody I met in Germany is more normal.’ A German officer described Himmler’s ‘slender, pale and almost girlishly soft hands … He looked to me like an intelligent elementary schoolteacher, certainly not a man of violence.’

Chicken farmer

Heinrich HimmlerHeinrich Himmler was born the son of a Catholic schoolteacher in Munich on 7 October 1900. After a stint in the army during the First World War, although he missed out on seeing active service, Himmler studied agriculture and held a number of jobs including that of a chicken farmer and a fertilizer salesman before joining the Nazi Party in 1921.

Hardworking and meticulous, Himmler became devoted to Hitler and the Nazi cause. He took part in the failed putsch of 1923 in which Hitler tried to seize power in Bavaria. Between 1926 and 1930, Himmler acted as the Nazi party’s propaganda leader until, in 1929, Hitler appointed him head of the SS.

In 1934, Himmler became head of the Prussian division of the Gestapo and, two years later, head of all Nazi security organs. In 1933, soon after Hitler’s coming to power, Himmler established the first concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich, and in 1934, played a vital role in the elimination of Hitler’s opponents during the ‘Night of the Long Knives‘.

A page of glory

During the war Himmler was responsible for co-ordinating the systematic murder of Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime, extending and expanding the network of concentration and death camps, and responsible for implementing the ‘Final Solution’.

Himmler DachauHimmler suffered from various psychosomatic illnesses and intense headaches and was shocked and sickened by what he saw when visiting the camps he administered. Yet he remained determined that the work should continue, however distasteful.

On 4 October 1943, addressing an audience of SS officers in Posen, he said, ‘Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interests me only in so far as the tank ditch is completed for Germany … This is a page of glory in our history, which has never been written and is never to be written…. We had the moral right, we had the duty to our people, to destroy this people which wanted to destroy us.’

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Adolf Eichmann – a brief biography

On 31 May 1962, a man who seemed from the outside quite an ordinary person, even banal, was hanged in Ramla prison in Israel. It was, and still is, the only time the Israel state has executed a person. Tall, slim, bespectacled and with a receding hairline, his external persona was indeed very mundane but this was no ordinary person. The man in question was 56-year-old Adolf Eichmann, responsible for the logistical management of the mass deportations of Jews to the Nazi death camps.

Born 19 March 1906 in the town of Solingen in western Germany, Eichmann was brought up in a middle class Lutheran environment. (Eichmann kept his faith right up to the late 1930s, long after it was fashionable for Nazis to denounce religion).

Following his mother’s death in 1914, Adolf Eichmann’s father, an accountant, took his two sons to live in Linz, Austria, the town that Adolf Hitler always considered his home. Eichmann’s early life was certainly ordinary, dropping out of his studies to become a mechanical engineer and drifting from one job to another before finding more permanent employment as a travelling salesman for an Austrian oil company.

The Jewish Expert

Eichmann joined the Austrian Nazi Party in April 1932 having been approached by a friend of his father’s, an SS man, who said to the younger Eichmann, ‘You belong to us’. Within seven months he had become attached to the SS itself, Hitler’s paramilitary corps, headed by Heinrich Himmler. In 1934, as an SS corporal, he worked at the newly-opened Dachau concentration camp.

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Reinhard Heydrich – a brief biography

On 4 June 1942, the Nazi wartime leader of occupied Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich, died. He had been the victim of an assassination attempt a week earlier. Aged 38, the ‘Butcher of Prague’ was dead.

Six months earlier, on 28 December 1941, two Free Czech agents, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabčík, trained by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (the SOE), had parachuted into Czechoslovakia. Their objective, almost certain to end in their deaths, was to assassinate the ‘Deputy Reich Protector of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’, to give Reinhard Heydrich his full title.

Assassination attempt

HeydrichOn the 27 May 1942, the agents, on learning of Heydrich’s movements that day, went into action. As the car taking Heydrich to a meeting slowed to navigate a hairpin bend, the two men attacked. Heydrich, as was his routine, was without an armed escort. Gabčík tried to shoot Heydrich but his submachine gun jammed at the fatal moment. Instead of ordering his chauffeur to drive off, Heydrich chose to fight. He attempted to fire back but a small bomb, thrown by Kubis, exploded, injuring him. Heydrich and his driver gave chase on foot, but the two agents escaped before Heydrich, bleeding profusely, collapsed from his injuries. He was rushed to hospital. Surgeons operated and initially it seemed the stricken Nazi was recovering.

On 2 June, a week after the attack, he received a visit from his superior and mentor, Heinrich Himmler. Following Himmler’s visit, Heydrich slipped into a coma and died on 4 June. He was given a sumptuous funeral in Prague followed by a second ceremony in Berlin.

Meanwhile, Heydrich’s assassins, Kubis and Gabčík, hid in the crypt of a Prague church. Three-weeks later they were betrayed and the church was surrounded by 800 members of the SS. The men held out for as long as possible before turning their guns on themselves.

Young Heydrich

Reinhard Heydrich was born in the eastern German town of Halle on 7 March 1904. His mother was an actress and his father, Richard, a music teacher and occasional opera composer inducing in his sons (Reinhard and his younger brother, Heinz) a love of the operas of Richard Wagner. Reinhard became an accomplished violinist. Heydrich’s father, a fervent German nationalist, was sometimes known as Heydrich-Süss.  Süss having a Jewish ring to it, fuelled rumours that that the family had Jewish blood. Later, Reinhard Heydrich was so haunted by the thought, he ordered an SS investigation into his family ancestry. The report concluded, unsurprisingly, that Reinhard Heydrich’s family contained no trace of Jewish descent. Continue reading

The Wannsee Conference – an introduction

On 20 January 1942 took place one of the most notorious meeting in history. In a grand villa on the picturesque banks of Berlin’s Lake Wannsee, met fifteen high-ranking Nazis. Chaired by the chief of the security police, 37-year-old Reinhard Heydrich, the fifteen men represented various agencies of the Nazi apparatus.

‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’

Wannsee ConferenceReinhard Heydrich‘s objective, as tasked by Hermann Göring (and therefore, presumably, Adolf Hitler), was to secure the support of these various agencies for the implementation of the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’, the systematic annihilation of the European Jew.

Goring’s letter to Heydrich, dated July 1941, pictured, states, ‘I hereby command you to make all necessary organizational, functional, and material preparations for a complete solution of the Jewish Question in the German sphere of influence in Europe.’ (Click image to enlarge).

The mass murder of Jews was already taking place. The initial method of shooting Jews on the edges of pits was considered too time-consuming and detrimental on the mental health of the murder squads. The squads, often recruited from the local populations in conquered areas, willingly collaborated in the killings but eventually found the task gruelling. Seeking alternative methods, the Germans began experimenting with gas, using carbon monoxide in mobile units, but although better this was still considered too slow and inefficient. Eventually, after experiments on Soviet prisoners of war in Auschwitz during September 1941, Zyklon B gas was discovered as a rapid and efficient means of murder.

The Wannsee Conference, as it became known, discussed escalating the killing to a new, industrial level. Heydrich estimated that 11 million Jews still resided in Europe and needed to be “combed from West to East.” He produced a list of nations and their respective number of Jews, not only in countries already under Nazi occupation but also neutral nations and those not yet occupied. For example, Britain, according to Heydrich’s figures, contained 330,000 Jews; Sweden 8,000; Spain 6,000; Switzerland 18,000; and Ireland 4,000, plus 200 Jews in Albania.

“Eliminated through natural reduction” Continue reading

The ‘Jews Out’ Board Game – a brief history

The Wiener Library in London has on display a macabre board game intended to be a bit of fun for your average family living in 1930s Nazi Germany. It is called Juden Raus! ‘Jews Out!’ – with an exclamation mark.

The object of the Jews Out board game is to force the Jews beyond the medieval walls and out the city. The first player to rid the city of six Jews wins the game.

The game comes with a dice, a 50×60 cm board and a number of figurines. The board has thirteen circles representing various Jewish-owned shops and businesses. Each player adopts one of six red figurines with a pointy hat and a belt around its waist, representing the German police force, and the idea is to land on the Jewish business and eject the Jew. The Jew is represented on 32 hat-shaped counters, the same shape as the hats Jews were compelled to wear during the Middle Ages. Each Jew is depicted with a vile, contorted face.

The rules explain that the Jews Out board game is an ‘extraordinarily amusing and up-to-date family game’. On the board are written three bits of text: Display skill in the dice game, so that you collect many Jews! / When you succeed in driving out 6 Jews, you will be winner beyond all question! And at the bottom right, a ‘typical’ Jewish family on the move accompanied by the text, Off to Palestine! Continue reading