Category Archives: World War II

Ribbentrop: A Biography – Michael Bloch

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

My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance In The Shadow of the Third Reich

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

What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany – Eric A. Johnson and Karl Heinz Reuband

what-we-knewIn April, 1945, allied troops moved through Germany as the walls surrounding Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) began to collapse. His suicide on April 30, allowed him to escape justice but helped to cement his place in history as one of mankind’s most tyrannical leaders.  Concentration camps across Germany and Poland were liberated, releasing thousands of Jews who had been imprisoned as the Third Reich began its Final Solution, the plan produced by the minds of homicidal maniacs such as Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) and Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942).  The emaciated figures that were once lively young men and women provided allied troops with a shocking sight that no one could ever forget. Even today, images and videos of bodies stacked upon bodies produces a feelings of disgust and anger toward those responsible for the crimes and others who feigned ignorance.

I have visited Germany twice and enjoyed my experiences there. Today it is hard to imagine that less than eighty years ago, one man plunged the world into war and oversaw the deaths of millions of Jews.  When Adolf Hitler seized control of Germany giving the N.S.D.A.P. the majority presence,  German society was transformed and turned upside down.   Many Jews fled Germany before the Third Reich began its campaign of genocide and some of them never returned. The actions of an unhinged Hitler, nearly brought Germany to the brink of collapse.  Widespread famine and lack of basic necessities made life in post-war Germany close to unbearable.  Some undoubtedly believed that Germans only had their selves to blame for the war and should suffer for what they did to other nations. The United States and Soviet Union stepped in to divide Berlin and the wall constructed remained in placed until 1989.  It was the end of two different German nations contained within one mass of land. The division is similar to the subject of this book entitled ‘What We Knew”.

Historians have always debated what ordinary Germans knew and did not know.  Surely, there were many Germans who sought to save their own lives and desperately avoided being linked in any way to Hitler’s failed regime.  Many claimed that they had no idea Jews were being systematically murdered in concentration camps.  For the Jews, it was hard to believe they could proclaim such ignorance when Antisemitism was a pillar of the Nazi ideology.  Americans and other foreign nations always pondered the same question. This book by Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband has attempted to take on those questions in the search for the truth about how much the German people knew about the fate that awaited millions of Jews across Europe. Divided into two parts, the first half of the book contains interviews of German Jews who either fled Germany or survived concentration camps.   The second half contains interviews of non-Jewish Germans who witnesses the events that transpired.  What’s revealed in these pages is both eye-opening and enlightening.

As to be expected each side has their own convictions about what each side knew.  Whether they were telling the complete truth is something we will never be able to answer.  But what is clear from the book is that the place in Germany in which one lived, played a role in what they knew or did not know.  The authors do not attempt to make any decisions about who is to be believed or not believed.  They simply present the statements for the reader to decide.  From a personal standpoint, I did find that denial is apparent in many of the interviews of non-Jewish Germans while the Jewish Germans unanimously agree that their neighbors definitely knew of the systematic extermination of the Jews and used it as an excuse to plunder and seize what was left over in houses and apartments.  Several of the Jewish survivors vowed never to return to Germany and believe that they never did.  But they were among the fortunate who were able to survive the Third Reich and tell their stories here.

The debate about the knowledge of the Reich’s atrocities by German citizens will continue for an eternity.  But what is clear is that there was much many had knowledge of but preferred not to know.  The stories of what really happened cannot be lost to history and to prevent another Holocaust requires that demons from the past are confronted.  These are the stories of Germany’s survivors who are here to tell you what they knew.

“To sin in silence while others doth protest makes cowards out of men.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

ISBN-13: 978-0465085712
ISBN-10: 0465085717

Superfortress- General Curtis Lemay and Bill Yenne

superfortressThe second world war marked a turning point in world conflict with the introduction of the B-29 bomber.  No longer solely relying on ground infantry divisions, the rules of engagement had been changed forever. General Curtis Lemay, the legendary Air Force General and leader of the Strategic Air Command presents this excellent writing of the story behind he development of the B-29 bomber, appropriately named the Superfortress.

Lemay provides a detailed history of air warfare in the United States armed forces paying homage to Billy Mitchell (1879-1956), considered by many to the be the father of the United States Air Force.  Dismissed for insubordination, Mitchell would be blackballed for several years until 1941 when the B-25 was named in his honor.  Sensing that a major offensive change was needed in the war, development began on new aircraft to turn the tide of the war against the axis powers.  Boeing’s production of the B-29 signaled the dawn of a new era and completely changed the face of the allied effort in World War II. This is the great story behind the masterpiece machine and one of the greatest times in aviation history.

 

ISBN-10: 1594160392
ISBN-13: 978-1594160394

Nanking-K.A. Kent

NankingWorld War II is the worst conflict the earth has ever seen. It is estimated that well over 50 million people died during the war.  This number will vary from source to source and the total number of casualties may never be known.   The German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, triggered a world conflagration unlike anything mankind had ever seen. The Japanese army in seeking to establish and empire of its own, invaded mainland China, waging a path of destruction and terror with the intention on obliterating several Chinese cities from existence.  Shanghai was reduced to rubble and Nanking nearly completely destroyed.   In total, nearly 20 million Chinese perished during the war and the actions of the Japanese government became the source of tension between the two nations which continues to this day.  The intervention by the United States in the conflict and defeat of Japan allowed the people of China to breathe a sigh of relief.  The actions of the Japanese Army were horrific and unspeakable but characteristic of the known and unknown number of atrocities committed during the second World War.

Minnie Vautrin (1886-1941) was a missionary who worked in Nanking and is best remembered for her efforts to save the young women under her care at the Gingling College as the Japanese military launched its invasion of Nanking.  K.A. Kent presents Minnie’s story in this engaging yet tragic tale.  Her tireless efforts to save the lives of as many girls and women as she could would make her one of the greatest unsung heroines of the 20th century.  After serving 28 years as a missionary, she made her return home to the United States in 1940.  Sadly she would take her own life in 1941. Thousands of young women were assaulted physically and sexually, tortured and murdered in what became known as the Nanking massacre.  The story has been told in books and even films and in each case, the chilling reality of what transpired hits strikes the reader and viewer to the core. The barbarity exhibited by the Japanese military helped condemn Japan in the eyes of the world.  Today, Japan has acknowledged the actions of its army during the war but has stopped short of offering a detailed and full apology.  Only time will tell if Japan and China will fully heal from a dark time in world history.

I forewarn the reader that this book is a tough read at times and I found myself stepping back from the book.  Kent has told the story in a semi-fictional matter. Vautrin is in the book but the names of others have been changed and composite characters instituted in their place. Nonetheless, the story is accurate as regards to what did happen and how it happened.  For those who are unable to read stories of sexual assault or have been victims of sexual assault, this book may not be for you.  For war enthusiast that seek to learn as much about World War II as possible, this book is a good addition to the library.  But it is ugly at times and the truth does hurt but it is also necessary to understand the savagery that composed the world’s deadliest war.

ISBN-10: 1419616021
ISBN-13: 978-1419616020

My Father’s Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders-An Intimate History of Damage and Denial-Stephen & Norbert Lebert

20180602_234500May 1, 1945- The Allied forces are nearly at the entrance of Hitler’s underground bunker in Berlin.  Hitler and Eva Braun have been dead since the day before.  Others have fled Berlin in fear of their lives. The remaining members are forced with choosing between capture by the Allies or death.  Third Reich propaganda minster Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda both commit suicide after having their six children poisoned.  Their children escape the fate of falling into Allied hands and do not witness the final collapse of the Third Reich and the division of post-war Berlin.  The fear of retribution by the Red Army and the revelations of the atrocities committed against Europe’s Jewish population have caused many Germans to prefer death rather than face justice at the hands of an Allied soldiers.  Goebbels’ children although deprived of their lives, escaped a fate that would effect the children of other Nazi party officials.  They would be faced to confront the truth of their parents’ actions during the rise of the N.S.D.A.P. and Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany.  This book contains the stories of some of those children.

Hitler never had any children of his own stating clearly that he had too much responsibility towards the people of Germany to think about his own family line.  Perhaps it is one of the saving graces of the war for I shudder to think about the amount of cruelty a child of Hitler would have faced had they survived the war.  The belief of the “master race” resulted in German men and women being encouraged to have as many children as possible. And in fact, many of the top members of Hitler’s cabinet were fathers.  Their children did survive the war and are still alive today . Stephen Lebert resumed the work of his father Norman in exploring the effects of the revelations upon the lives of the Nazi descendants.  And what father and son have found is remarkable and also tragic. They conducted interviews with the children of Martin Bormann, Hans Frank, Rudolf Hess, Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler.  The interviews are revealing and the damage inflicted upon them is evident in many way.  Denial is a common theme in the interviews  and some of them refuse to believe what has been proven to be correct. The others have accepted it and have lived shattered lives unable to come to terms with what their father had done.   And incredibly, one in particular remains committed to her father’s standing as a Nazi and truly believes him to be innocent.

The most interesting part of the book is that there is no way to know beforehand which way the subject will go.  Their responses, thoughts and feelings vary highlighting the haphazard effect the war had upon them.  I had often wondered what happened to the children of the Reich. This book answers that question and more.  A truly tragic reality is that they were not allowed to have a normal childhood by any means.  The tyrannical rule of Adolf Hitler and the Reich’s illogical policies plunged Germany into a war and allowed its members to live out their own sadistic ideals as they pillaged, raped and murdered innocent people.  And the true irony is that these very same people who sent the children of Jews to their deaths, had families of their own. But I do not believe they ever thought of their children for if they did, they would have never placed them in such a position.

Today they continue to live their lives but the memories of the war and their parents are still fresh in their minds.  To their very last day, they will scary the mental and emotional scars inflicted upon them by the fallout from the second world war.  And as they think back on the family life they lost, they will have to ask the question if they are truly their fathers’ keepers.

ISBN-10: 0316089753
ISBN-13: 978-0316089753

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