Category: World War II

baurA few days ago I was browsing recommendations on Amazon and came across this book whose title caught my attention. I have not read anything on Nazi Germany in quite some time so I decided to take a closer look.  I was unaware of Hans Baur (1897-1995) and his relationship with Adolf Hitler (1889-1945).  As the Fuhrer’s pilot, I knew Baur would have very intimate knowledge of Hitler’s life behind the scenes and the book does not disappoint.  However, it should be noted that it is really Baur’s story with Hitler filling many of the pages for obvious reasons.  The story is interesting but I could not help feel that Baur left many things out.  Readers may also feel the same way for reasons that will be discussed below.

Baur begins with his early life but quickly moves forward to his career as a pilot.  It is apparent from the start that he was a very gifted aviator with an extraordinary career.  His recollections about the early days of aviation are fascinating and will remind the reader that flying today is exponentially safer than it once was.   He does not go into too much technical detail but just enough so that anyone can follow along.  He even discusses some monumental moments in aviation including the founding of the German airline Lufthansa.  From a historical standpoint, it is a good summary of the development of air travel in Europe. But by no means is it the only source of information and Baur never implies as much.  He was a devoted pilot and you can feel his love of aviation in his words.  With hundreds of thousand of air miles, the future for him was bright but his entire life changed when he was summoned to appear before Adolf Hitler.

It will be no surprise that at this point in the book, the story picks up pace sharply.  Hitler is no ordinary passenger, but instead the Fuhrer who ruled Germany and began a world war.  Curiously, the image of Hitler given by Baur is in stark contrast to the man who plotted to take over Europe and gave the go ahead for the Final Solution. The Hitler we see here comes across as an affable uncle type character who dotes on his close acquaintances and their children.  In Baur’s defense, his time with Hitler was mainly spent in the air and in private conversation.  And according to his words, Hitler did not discuss future plans for the war with him, typically resulting in Baur finding out major news at the very last minute from someone else working for the Fuhrer.

Because the book is about the Third Reich, there is the elephant in the room regarding the treatment of the Jews.  Baur barely discusses it and only brings it up once in the book.  Without Baur here to answer for himself, it is nearly impossible to say what he believed about Jewish people.   At no point in the book does he display any antisemitism but it is possible that even if he did have those feelings, he would not have stated such in his memoirs.  I was honestly mystified about this and felt that if he was against the Final Solution, he would have made a statement clarifying his position.  But that is simply my opinion.  0Most likely, he had very good reasons to avoid discussing the Final Solution.   This may not satisfy some readers but I caution that the book is still good regardless.

His inside position in Hitler’s circle gave him unrestricted access nearly everywhere and he interacted with all of the major figures of the Reich.  Hermann Goering (1893-1946) and Rudolf Hess (1894-1987) are frequent flyers with Baur, whose criticisms of Goering are quite amusing.  But what is more incredible is that he was present at nearly every major moment in the history of the Reich.  And although he had no military power or responsibilities in planning aerial missions against the Allies, he was a keen observer of the reality facing Germany as it started to become clear that the war would be lost.  Baur is frank in his assessments of those around him and the German war effort.  He confirms what historians have written for years and what many Germans began to realize as the Allies started to make gains and bomb in broad daylight.

In April, 1945, the Allies began to close in on Berlin.  Hitler knew the end was near and had buried himself inside his bunker.  Baur stayed with him until the very end, resisting Hitler’s efforts to send him off.  He provides a detailed account of the final days with Hitler and what happened inside the bunker.  The information he provides can be crossed-referenced and readers will find that it matches with the descriptions given by other authors. However, I believe that the entire dialogue between Baur and Hitler is not provided anywhere else.  As I read this part of the book, I found myself in disbelief at some of the scenes that play out even as the Red Army is only hundreds of yards away.   They are surreal and caused me to wonder if those involved believed they were in a film and waiting for the director to yell cut.

Following Hitler’s death, Baur escapes with several others before falling into Soviet Hands.  The last part of the book is about his time as a prisoner of war being held in Russia.  It was clearly a rough experience and he explains in detail all that happened.  His title and rank resulted in never ending questions and Soviet officers maintained disbelief that he had no knowledge the Reich’s war plans.  After ten hard years, he was released and returned to Germany in a homecoming.  I leave it up to readers to decide whether he was a hero or a war criminal guilty by association.  Yet it is also possible that he was simply Hitler’s pilot.

ASIN: B00FOGG0ZE

Biographies World War II

paperclipOn April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler fatally shot his wife Eva Braun and then turned the gun on himself as it became evidently clear that allied forces were closing on the führerbunker.  The fear of falling into Russian hands and a subsequent trial for war crimes proved to be too much for the top echelon of the Third Reich that remained in Berlin.  Many top-ranking officials  had previously fled and others had left Germany after realizing that all hope for a victory in the war had been lost.  As allied forces move in and occupied the country, the true horrors of the Nazi reign became clear and soldiers were faced with the grim discoveries of concentration camps, emaciated and dead prisoners.  The Final Solution had been revealed for the entire world to see.  In the aftermath of the war, several hundred Nazi party members were executed by allied forces. Others were acquitted or had their death sentences commuted to long-term imprisonment.  Another group consisting of scientists and doctors, found their way to America with the help of the United States Government in what became known as Operation Paperclip.  Their story is the focus of this incredible book by author Annie Jacobsen.

Government files regarding the secret operation had been marked classified and would have remained hidden if not for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which gave Americans a tool to learn the truth about many of the Government’s secrets. This tool was thoroughly employed by Jacobsen in discovering the truth of this story that was first disclosed by the New York Times.  Jacobsen explains herself that some of her FOIA requests are still pending and it is unknown if or when they will be answered.  Nevertheless, she has written the story that will shock anyone who decides to open the pages of this book.   Her focus is on selected former doctors and scientists of the Reich who had worked on the V-2 rocket program at Nordhausen and concentration camps in which medical and biological experiments had been conducted, with Auschwitz and Ravensbrück being high on the list.  I warn readers that this book is not for the faint at heart .  The atrocities that are revealed defy logic and reveal the very dark side of human nature.  And as the book progresses, the names of the former scientist and doctors will be seared into the reader’s memory as a reminder of the many secrets the Third Reich tried to hide as the military collapsed.   As horrible as the actions of the Reich were, the crux of the book is the courting and resettlement of former Nazis by the United States Government through a program that will cause consternation, shock and even anger in some readers.

The book begins as the German military collapses in defeat and allied forces are scouring Berlin and other parts of Germany on intelligence missions to discover the secrets of the Reich.  Britain and Russia are also conducting their own intelligence missions and a race against time develops as the three nations each seek to obtain as much information as they can from their defeated enemy.   As the author explains, the Cold War was looming in the distance and in the name of “national security”, government officials were more than willing to recruit former Nazis out of fears they would be recruited and resettled in the Soviet Union.  The V-2 rocket and nerve agents Tabun and Sarin, became hot items as superpowers prepared for the next world war which they believed would include the use of biological weapons.  The United States spared no expense and would not let Joseph Stalin have the upper hand.  The brilliant German minds behind innovations that exceeded allied capacity were to be recruited at all costs, even at the expense of morality.  Annie Jacobsen has captured the emotion and tense battles that raged as the State Department battled the military over a program that it found to be appalling.  The American public slowly became aware of this nefarious program and mounting opposition forced the Government to act in what could described as a war against itself.

The main focus is rightly on the secret intelligence operation but the author also includes a stead stream of facts about other members of the Reich and actions that were being taken behind the scenes throughout Germany as the tide of the war changed and defeat became a stark reality.  The entire cast of characters makes an appearance in the story. Some would escape Germany, fleeing to South America and others took their own lives rather than be tried, convicted and executed in a military trial.  Before the collapse of the Reich, officials went to great lengths to hide as much information as possible from the allied forces.  Today there is a strong possibility that secret tombs exist containing secrets of the Reich are still hidden across Germany.  Time will tell if all of them will be discovered or if they will continue to fade from public consciousness.

The amount of research that was conducted in order to produce this book is staggering.  Yet, there is still much we do not know about Operation paperclip as the Government claims files were lost or destroyed.  Some are still classified with no release date on the horizon.  At some point in time, someone will find out the truth about what truly did happened in the wake of World War II as America embraced German talent.  By then, anyone who participated in World War II will be long gone, rendering any type of prosecution or accountability null.  But the public will finally know just how complicit American officials and the White House were in recruiting war criminals for the technological advancement of the United States.  Jacobsen has given us a detailed roadmap with which to start and this book will undoubtedly stand the test of times as one of the finest works on the Third Reich.  My only complaint about this book is that I wished it had never ended.  I found myself glued to the book from the beginning and was unable to put it down.  The is the true story of Operation Paperclip, one of World War II’s darkest secrets.

ASIN: B00BAXFBI

World War II

20190202_003914On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began as the German army invaded Poland as part of Adolf Hitler’s quest for world domination.  Britain had warned Germany that any military action against Poland would result in England coming to the aid of its ally.  Interestingly, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) did not want to go to war with England, preferring to accomplish the annexation of Poland through diplomatic methods after having successfully partitioned Czechoslovakia in what is infamously referred to as the “appeasement at Munich”.  But if Hitler did not want to wage war against Britain, knowing their intention to save Poland, then why did he give approval to the invasion that plunged the world into a major conflict?  The answer to that question lies in the story of his Foreign Minister and Nuremberg defendant, Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946).

In the annals of the Third Reich, perhaps no other figure is as glanced over as Joachim von Ribbentrop.  Standing next to nefarious characters such as Hermann Goering (1893-1946), Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) and Heinrich Himmler  (1900-1945), he is often an afterthought.   Semi-illiterate but able to speak fluent English, he was one of the few officials in the Third Reich with extensive exposure to the culture of the west. And the time he spent in London early in his life, made him the right choice by Hitler for the position of Ambassador to Great Britain.  By all accounts, no one found him to be enjoyable company but incredibly, he maintained a position close to Hitler’s ear with the Führer listening intently and in some cases implementing Ribbentrop’s suggestions.  Their unusual relationship would have dire consequences in 1939 at Hitler set his sights on Poland. It is here in this phenomenal biography that we learn another part of the story behind the Poland invasion and Ribbentrop’s critical role in the events.

At first glance, it is easy to write of Ribbentrop as “non-essential” to the story of the Third Reich.  And although he is mentioned in many books about the Nazi regime, his role is typically minor in the grand scheme of events.  But make no mistake, his advice and misconceptions about foreign nations, played pivotal roles in the rise and fall of the Third SS Reich. Bloch has capture Ribbentrop’s life beautifully in this biography that tells the story of the former Foreign Minister for all to see.  In comparison to the other figures of the Nazi regime, his personal life could be considered average.  But his entry in the Nazi party and actions thereafter, helped changed the course of history.  As I was reading the book, I could not help feeling mystified as to how a figure such as Ribbentrop maintained the confidence of Hitler as each blunder piled up.   Admittedly, Hitler did not consult him on every foreign policy matter, apparently realizing his many shortcomings.  But he did trust Ribbentrop enough on some of the most important decisions to be made, many of which changed the course of world history and produced a mark on the history of Germany which can never be erased.

Notwithstanding his restricted voice in Hitler’s government, he was an important figure in Hitler’s vision of a Anglo-German unification.  In fact, Ribbentrop’s actions towards and with the British government are the crux of the book.   Naturally, his positions as Ambassador and later Foreign Minister, resulted in his constant communication with the Ambassadors of England, Italy and Japan.  However, his close position to the Führer did not earn him the envoy of others but rather their wrath.  Hitler was known to pit subordinates against each other, using the divide and conquer technique.  Their fights and attempts to sabotage each other take center stage in the book as they compete for Hitler’s approval, the elimination of enemies and advancement in rank.   The story reveals a terrible cast of characters drunk on power and filled with venom for competitors and the Jews of Europe.  Standing center among these characters was the sad Ribbentrop, the man often the butt of jokes and contempt, who was rarely seriously.  Having finished the book, I am dumbfounded as to how Hitler’s administration functioned at all.  The decisions they reached and methods used were simply surreal and Ribbentrop plays a direct part in many of them.

On October 14, 1946, Ribbentrop was the first to be executed after Goering committed suicide in his cell the night before.  He left behind a widow and four children, all of whom are still alive today.  Decades have passed since their father’s death and in the passage of time, their lives will also reach a conclusion.  But they remain witnesses to a time in history in which the world was on the brink of complete anarchy as Adolf Hitler set out to dominate the planet.  Next to him was his fanatically dedicated Foreign Minister.  This is the definitive biography of the life and death of Joachim von Ribbentrop.

ISBN-10: 0517593106
ISBN-13: 978-0517593103

Biographies World War II

20180603_133752On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Poland and started the Second World War.  In violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had rearmed itself and under the determination of Hitler, set its eyes upon conquering all of Europe.  The looming threat of German domination had been lingering for quite some time before the outbreak of the war.  But sadly, many of the nations that would later be opposed to Germany did not think that Hitler would be brazen enough or have the resources to initiate a world conflict.  In hindsight, we know that way of thinking was short-sighted and later highly regrettable.  The actions of the British government in response to Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia, resulted in the condemnation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and established Germany as a legitimate threat to world peace. The episode has been recalled in history books and documentaries and continues to provoke discussion about how Hitler could have been stopped before his army invaded neighboring Poland.

In 1940, a student at Harvard University presented to his professor with his senior thesis entitled Why England Slept.  Twenty years later he became the Thirty-Fifth President of the United States of America, known affectionately as Jack.  To the world, he remains John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  The thesis was eventually published into this short but well-researched and well-written book that probes the question of why England failed to respond to the growing Germany menace.   Henry R. Luce (1898-1967), the creator of Time-Life magazine provides a foreword to this edition, published in 1962.  Incredibly, the book sold for $.95 as printed on the cover.  I believe it was severely undersold.   The beauty in the book is that Kennedy does not simply lay blame for Hitler at England’s feet. Instead he examines the conditions and beliefs that lead to the slow realization that armament was necessary and that Hitler was a very real threat.  It should be remembered that Kennedy spent a great deal of time in London as the son of then Ambassador to Great Britain and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy.   Fully aware of the nature of British culture and politics, Kennedy wisely incorporates this into the text which helps to explain many of the actions and inaction taken.

In fairness to Britain, it was not easy to foresee the coming of the German nightmare. Hitler invoked secretive maneuvers, arouse national sentiment and provided a source of hope to a nation in despair. And as Kennedy thoroughly points out, he had the advantage of running a dictatorship against a democracy, the latter of which is always slower to respond to the threats of war. Furthermore, distance and size gave Germany advantages against the prying eyes of foreign nations.  Today social media has made it far more difficult to conceal the mass production of good and machinery. But in the 1930s, secrecy was easier to effect and many countries used it to their benefit.  But even so, Britain did know that Hitler was up to something and was aware that Germany had slowly been rearming itself.  But the slowness to act depending on several factors that Kennedy lays out for all to see and understand.  Sympathy of Germany, pacifism in Britain, a restricted budget, naiveté and political ambition combined to severely delay the rearmament of Britain prior to beginning of the deadliest war in world history. And as Kennedy explores each issue, we may find ourselves filled with shock and disbelief towards England’s actions. However it is imperative to remember that we have the benefit of history our on side and look back and see the errors of their ways.  England did not have this advantage and even struggled internally with how to deal with growing danger.

More than seventy years have passed since the end of World War II. Hitler was eventually defeated and Britain was spared from annexation by the Third Reich.  But this account of England’s actions prior to the war will remain a guide for us to use as we face new threats to world peace.   And it is hoped that world leaders will remind us of why England slept.

ASIN: B000JKO9Y4

World War II

pianistRecently, I watched the 2002 film ‘The Pianist’ starring Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman (1911-2000), the pianist for Polish Radio who miraculously survived in Warsaw, Poland during the Nazi occupation.  The film was recommended to me by someone very  close to me in Buenos Aires and to say the film left me speechless would be an understatement.  After viewing the film, I decided to locate the book that inspired it and found Spzilman’s book on Amazon.  The book left me just as speechless as the film and even more in awe of Szpilman, as I know in order to have written the book, it would have required an extraordinary amount of courage on his part.  The film follows closely to the book with very minor liberties taken by the filmmakers.  Their finished product, is one of the best film adaptations that I’ve seen.

Spzilman’s book is slightly different in that it’s one told from life inside Poland and not Germany. The book begins on August 31, 1939, the day before the Germany Army launched the planned invasion of its Polish neighbor. The invasion had been planned well in advanced and a covert operation, named “canned goods” was used to describe the false flag mission that gave provocation for the Nazi assault.  The Nazi threat had been looming over Poland for some time but as we see in the book, the savagery that resulted post-invasion was never envisioned by the people of Poland. Spzilman, a musician, and his family remain in Warsaw as the Germany army approaches, refusing to leave the only place they’ve called home. Their lives would never be the same after the war and for Spzilman, he would never again see any of his family members.

The Nazis began to construct the Warsaw ghetto as they continuously redesigned territorial borders expanding the reach of the Third Reich.  As Szpilman relates, the ghetto was in a way worse than a jail cell for in a jail cell there’s a concrete definition of the nature of the relationship that exists.  With the ghetto, no such definitions existed giving the Jews the false sense of well-being which lead many of them to believe that they would return home after serving in the labor camps during the war.  The Germans’ macabre and perverse motto  of arbeit macht frei, posted at the entrance of camps, reveals the level of vindictiveness displayed by unwavering believers of Aryan-supremacy and Jewish inferiority.  Painful as it may be, Szpilman recounts the daily humiliation endured by Jews and the careless acts of murder committed by the Nazi regime.  The crimes committed and disregard for human life are beyond shocking but reveal the truly revolting nature of the Third Reich’s plan for the removal of Jews from Europe that culminated with the deadly “Final Solution”.

By chance, Szpilman is separated from his family and is forced to survive on the streets of Warsaw, literally hiding in plain sight.  Air raids, evacuation of residents and mounting German losses in the field, resulted in the neglect of many parts of Warsaw which would serve as a refuge for Szpilman during his quest to stay alive.  Death, hunger, disease and mental instability are all threats to him on a daily basis but fate was on his side and he survives through sheer determination and help in some of the most unlikeliest of places.

Following the war he returned to Polish Radio but never forgot the events of those years. His story is among many of the horrors of the Holocaust which serve to remind us of the dangers of blind patriotism and fanatical beliefs.  And as we continue to move forward in life and find ourselves at a crossroads in which decency and criminality cross paths, we can turn to the story of ‘The Pianist’ to remind us of the importance of helping others which in turn, allows us to learn about ourselves and the human race.

ISBN-10: 0312263767
ISBN-13: 978-0312263768

World War II

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Alan Turing is famously remembered for developing the machine used to crack the encrypted messages of the German military during World War II.  However, in the Pacific, where fighting against the Japanese army and navy was just as brutal, coded messages sometimes meant the difference between life and death.  U.S. military officials, looking to gain the advantage  in the battles against Japan, decided to use a language unknown to the Japanese that could be used to transmit highly important messages between soldiers and commanders.  Officials decided to try a new approach and selected members of the Navajo tribes. Chester Nez (1921-2014), one of the original Navajo code talkers, presents his autobiography with the help of Judith Schiess Avila.

A native of New Mexico, Nez begins his odyssey when he and fellow Navajo tribe members enlist into the United States Marine Corps. They are told they will have to develop a secret code based of their native tongue.  But just how do you develop a code from a language which isn’t written in any shape or form? Navajo is a rare language in that it is taught by word of mouth and not through books.  The young code talkers start working and as we see in Chester’s memories, they develop a code that proved to be unbreakable throughout the entire war.  The code was so secret, that it wasn’t declassified until 1968.  And even today, their story is still largely unknown and many of them remain unsung heroes in the story of World War II.

In 2001, Nez received the Congressional Medal of Honor from then president, George W. Bush.  As he explains in the book, it was one of his proudest moments and he proudly served the nation he’s always called home.  His courage and patriotism are remarkable considering that in grade school at Fort Defiance, the students were prohibited from using their native Navajo language and were subjected to physical punishment as a result. But when the Marines came calling, Chester and his friends answered the call and in the process would change the course of World War II.  His story is an invaluable part of American history as today, Native Americans still struggled with the dark history of the United States which includes acts of extreme violence and prejudice to those of Native American heritage.  This book should be required reading by all students and for those who find English to be a second language, his courage and acts of heroism can serve as positive reinforcement for anyone concerned about the acceptance of their heritage among their peers.

In 2002,  John Woo directed Nicholas Cage in ‘Windtalkers’, the story of a Marine designated to protect a Navajo code talker.  As expected from Hollywood, the effects and actions sequences are visually stunning. But the focus of the film lies in the wrong place and doesn’t come close to telling the whole story of the code talkers.  To date, this is the only biography of a code talker and many of them are now deceased. In fact, Chester was the last living code talker until he died on January 4, 2014.  He life is an example of those who proudly serve their country even when their country doesn’t serve them.  The courage and never-ending efforts to protect the lives of American soldiers shown by the code talkers while risking theirs on the battlefield, make them true American heroes.

ISBN-10: 0425247856
ISBN-13: 978-0425247853

Biographies World War II

41yjtx-tdml-_sx331_bo1204203200_In modern history, the Holocaust ranks among the worst atrocities committed against a group of people by another.  The systematic segregation and later extermination of over 6 million Jews throughout Europe brought shame, anger and retribution upon Germany.  Today the Holocaust is a distant memory and survivors of the crime are now in their advance years with the number of living survivors declining each year. Recently, Elie Wiesel, the best-selling author of the classic ‘Night’ died  at the age of 87. His story, and that of Kitty Hart-Moxon, the star of the 2015 documentary ‘A Day in Auschwitz‘ are just two of the many stories written and told by survivors of the many concentrations camps erected by the Third Reich.

One of the burning questions has always been, how did the decision to murder the Jews come about?  To this day, debate continues about how much Adolf Hitler either knew about the camps or how much influence he had in their construction and operation.   While no notes have survived to shed light on Hitler’s thoughts or decisions, the notes of some of his underlings did survived shedding light on how the Final Solution became a reality.  At the helm of the plan to eradicate Europe of its Jewish citizenry was a former chicken farmer from Munich, Heinrich Himmler.  The feared former chief of the notorious SS,  is considered by many to be the mastermind behind Hitler’s plan to rid Germany and the conquered territories in Europe of all Jewish people or in Hitler’s words, judenfrei.

In this close look at the development of the Final Solution, Richard Breitman has carefully reconstructed the plans of Hitler and his administration, revealing how and why the Final Solution came to be a reality.  Drawing upon diaries and other correspondence that survived the war, Breitman does a masterful job of exposing Himmler for the psychotic murderer that he truly was.  Blinded by his belief in Aryan supremacy and his devotion to the Führer, the fanatical Himmler takes on the role of a menace in his own right and the ease at which he and other members of the Third Reich causally planned their actions are sure to leave the reader in shock and asking even more questions that can be answered.  In spite of the overwhelming evidence against Himmler, there just isn’t enough credible evidence to prove that Hitler gave the final order for murder as Breitman points out. But the reality is, he didn’t have to.  The evil genius Himmler and his henchmen, most notably Reinhard Heydrich, carried out the wishes of their leader with unquestionable loyalty displaying a devotion that bordered on the insane. 

A chilling aspect of the Holocaust is that while Himmler and the many perpetrators of the crime planned these heinous acts, they were also husbands and fathers.  And this is one of the most disturbing parts of the book.  Murders against men, women and even children occurred with not only the knowledge, but with also the blessing of the supreme architect of murder himself.  And while Himmler himself was far from the image of aryan supremacy he like to project, his devious and cunning ways,  struck fear in his enemies and his closeness to Hitler earned him the protection, encouragement and loyalty of the Führer. And with this trust, he carried out the extermination of millions of innocent men, women and children.  His murderous rampage is unparalleled in modern history and his name continues to live in infamy.  He is without a doubt, the architect of genocide.

ISBN-10: 0874515963
ISBN-13: 978-0874515961

World War II

20180602_234529On January 19, 2013, Hans J. Massaquoi,  the former editor of Ebony magazine and writer for Jet magazine, died at his home in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 87. Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1926, the late Massaquoi is famously remembered for this critically acclaimed autobiography recounting his memories of his childhood in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi controlled Germany.  The result of the union between a German mother and Liberian father, the young boy grows up in a tyrannical web of racial discrimination and systematic extermination of the members of society considered to be undesirable.  This is his story and the memories he shares are vivid, shocking and ultimately tragic.  Germany has come a long way since World War II. And although it still struggles with right-wing Neo-Nazi extremist groups, the days of the Third Reich are long gone.  But as Massaquoi shows us, there was a time where hate and racial ideology ruled society and made life for any non-Aryan, a living nightmare composed of daily humiliation and suffering.

Massaquoi begins by tracing his heritage on both sides of his family before he enters the world in January, 1926.  As a kid, he has German friends, classmates and relatives whom he greatly adores.  But as Adolf Hitler becomes Reichskanzler in 1933 and the Nazi regime places Germany in a stranglehold, he finds himself labeled as an outcast and is faced with daily reminders of the prevailing myth of Aryan supremacy.  His memories are sometimes heartbreaking and for most kids today, his experiences will seem surreal.  But under the Third Reich, there was nothing surreal about it, it was his daily reality.  His childhood is composed of a mix of characters,from fanatical Nazis, love interests, American G.I.s and others, some of who were stringent proponents of racial equality.  And as the war rages, he continues to grow up without a present male figure but under the tutelage  and wisdom of his mother who served as his protector and guide in the only ways she knew how.

Lon before the surrender of Berlin, many Germans knew the war would end in defeat and never-ending embarrassment and prosecution of those responsible for the war and the murder of millions of Jews.  As the allies came closer to victory and nearly obliterated Germany with air raids,  the Nazi infrastructure began to collapse and after Hitler’s demise and the liberation of Berlin, many Germans breathed a sigh of relief, including Hans and his mother.  But his story doesn’t end there, in fact, it is there that is picks up even more speed and we follow him as he befriends American troops while boarding American ships and even becomes an unofficial entrepreneur as he hustles on the street.

Unsatisfied with life in post-war Germany, Hans makes his move, first to Liberia, where his father re-enters the story and finally, to the United States of America where he would live out the rest of his life.  Serving in the military, majoring in journalism and becoming a husband and father, Massaquoi achieves what is considered to be the American dream.  He made a return to Germany to see his homeland after 18 years and the emotions he goes through reinforce the notion that no matter where we go in life, our home will always be where we trace our beginnings.  For many like Massaquoi, it’s bitter-sweet in that the very placed he called home, almost caused his extinction.  This memoir pulls at our moral compass forcing us to confront our own prejudices and reminds us that less than 100 years ago, a brutal tyrant and a racist regime nearly conquered Europe and threatened the safety of the Western Hemisphere.  And as Hans points out, there were so very few black people in Germany that they were disregarded on most occasions leaving them destined to witness.

ISBN-10: 0060959614
ISBN-13: 978-0060959616

 

Biographies World War II

ShadowsThe Holocaust remains one of the most regretful moments in the history of mankind.  The Final Solution, engineered by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi government, resulted in the deaths of over six millions Jewish men, women and children.  The many concentration camps became factories of genocide and symbols of the Third Reich’s relentless efforts to remove all Jewish citizens from Germany and the occupied territories of the Reich.  As Hitler made his rise to power, many Jews fled Germany fearing the worst under the rule of the tyrannical dictator from neighboring Austria.  Others were forced to seek refuge in Germany and survive in any way possible.  But still there were other Jews who found help among non-Jewish Germans and were able to hide themselves right in Berlin, under the eyes and ears of the N.S.D.A.P.

This is the story of seven men and women who found refuge and protection in Berlin during the war and how they lived to tell their tales.  They’re now deceased, but before their deaths, Barbara Lovenheim conducted interviews with them, allowing them to recount their incredible stories of fear, survival and eventual happiness  after moving on with life and building lives outside of Germany.   Their stories truly exemplify what it means to hide in plain sight. Through each of them, we are able to see the resiliency of the human spirit and are reminded that even in the worst of times, there will always be those of us who refuse to give in to evil and truly understand what humanism really means.

As we are introduced to the characters, the Nazis begin to step up the effort to remove all Jews from the Fatherland.  Reaching out to friends and acquaintances, the men and women in this book, Erich Arndt, Ruth Arndt, Charlotte Lewinsky, Ellen Lewinsky and Bruno Gumpel, manage to survive the Final Solution through determination, luck and in some cases, superb methods of deception. Faced with starvation, sickness and in most cases, desperation, their will to survive is inspiring and heartbreaking.  But as we make our way through the book, we see trust is also a large factor and underscores every move that each of them make to stay alive.  Enemies appear with smiles and looks are sometimes very deceiving.  And what we learn painfully in the book is that in some cases, not even fellow Jews could be completely trusted making each word spoken and each offer accepted, a matter of life and death.

Their stories are the main objective of the book, but a sub-story also exist in the form of the many non-Jewish Germans who risked their lives and well-being to save their Jewish friends and others threatened with death at a concentration camp.   Oskar Schindler’s story is well-known and he was immortalized by Liam Neeson in the classic ‘Schindler’s List’.  But throughout the war and even in Berlin as we see here, many ordinary German citizens took great strides to protect Jews from extermination at the hands of the Gestapo.  And following the war, the formerly persecuted Jews made it clear to Allied forces that their saviors were to be protected and left alone.  Others we know turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Third Reich and some even turned in Jews to the authorities.  But the efforts of the upstanding citizens serves as an example of the good that humans can do even in the face of overwhelming death, destruction and despair.

There are many stories about the Holocaust from writers such as the late Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel and Rena Kornreich Gelissen.  The stories of these seven survivors stands among the greats as a historical record of a horrific time in world history.  And although more than 70 years have passed since the Allied victory over the Axis powers, the horror and pain of the survivors of the Final Solution stay fresh in our minds as a reminder of why it’s important to never forget our history.

ISBN-13: 9781504039987

World War II

51ilnnwz87l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The tyrannical reign of Adolf Hitler stands as one of the worst the world has ever seen and has been the subject of countless documentaries, films, specials and books.  The Third Reich and it’s final solution, produced upon Europe, a dark cloud that it had never seen before.   Hitler’s rise to power and rule over Germany is a well-documented story that has been told over and over again. But what isn’t often told are the stories of those who opposed Hitler.  Tom Cruise starred in the sensational film ‘Valkyrie” which depicts the failed assassination attempt on Hitler by Claus Von Stauffenberg on July 20, 1944.  The attacked injured Hitler but he escaped death and continued to rule until the Allied forces closed in on Berlin on April 30, 1945.

Among the many voices in opposition to Hitler was Dietrich Von Hilderbrand, editor of the journal Der Christliche Ständestaat which became a voice for anti-Nazi beliefs.  His outspokenness earned him the wrath of Hitler and his associates forcing Dietrich to flee Germany and Austria.  Though pursued by the Nazis, he never abandoned his stance in opposition to the racial ideology of the Third Reich and the antisemitism that was widespread at the time.  His voice and beliefs were so well-respected that he was once considered the biggest threat to the survival of National Socialism. In this look into his life, writings and beliefs, we come to know Von Hilderbrand and understand why he was so important to the large number of critics of the Third Reich and its infamous practices.

Catholicism and philosophy are central themes in the book and shed light on the many contradictions and faults that lie in nationalistic ideology.   His words resonate with those of us who find ourselves opponents of racial discrimination and the destruction of the moral compass of society.   Von Hilderbrand reminds us of the importance of humanity and our individual duty to reconcile our beliefs and actions in accordance to what is not only divine but morally correct.  And although his words are more than 70 years old, they are still relevant today.   Throughout history there have been many versions of Adolf Hitler surrounded by regimes determined to enforce totalitarian rule through violence and intimidation.  In contrast there have always been voices in opposition, some stronger than others.  For Nazi Germany, Dietrich Von Hilderbrand serves as one of history’s most important voices against a brutal dictator that disrupted world peace and nearly destroyed the Fatherland.

ISBN-10: 0385347510
ISBN-13: 978-0385347518

World War II