On 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 inactions 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.
Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII-Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila
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.
The 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.
On June 4, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich died from injuries he sustained several days earlier in an assassination attempt carried out by Czech exiles trained by the British Operations Executive. He is only thirty-eight years of age. The former SS-Gruppenführer left behind a widow and four young children. His death sends shock waves through the Nazi regime and causes Hitler to erupt in a monumental rage. Shortly thereafter, the small village of Lidice is seized by the Germany army and razed to the ground as retribution of Heydrich’s murder. And as Hitler proclaimed, it was erased from the earth permanently. Lidice is mentioned in documentaries and books about the Third Reich and serves as an example of the unrestrained barbarity used by the regime to crush any opposition to the expansion of German rule. In death, Heydrich is turned into a martyr and is held in high regard as the poster boy for the Reich’s belief in racial superiority. Several years would pass before the Third Reich collapsed and Germany was forced to surrender to the Allied forces. The loss of the war and the exposure of the criminality of the leaders of the Reich, cast devastating blows to the supremacists rhetoric employed by the fanatical Hitler and his subordinates. Heydrich had remained a martyr in the eyes of many Germans throughout the war but the reality is that his story is much darker and far more sinister than meets the eyes.
Robert Gerwath has composed this outstanding biography of the officer Hitler called the man with the iron heart. Following the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the Reich began to annex smaller neighboring countries typically by coercion but in some cases, through armed invasion. In the process, military commanders were appointed as as rulers in the newly acquired territory. Heydrich, whose final post was as the Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, served as the agent of death and is said to have been even more ruthless than his mentor, the infamous SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. He ruled with an iron fist and set an unwavering goal to expand Germany domination across Europe beginning with Czechoslovakia which he intended to make completely Judenrein (Jew free). His vindictiveness and insatiable thirst for blood lead propelled his ascension to the top of the Reich and earned him a position as an architect of the dreaded Final Solution.
I forewarn the readers that his story is not pleasant at times and there are many disturbing aspects of his life which are shown in the book. The horrors of the Holocaust and the extreme ideology embraced by Heydrich are just one example of the campaign of death the Nazis unleashed across Europe. But for those who are able to tolerate the facts as they are revealed, you will find that the book is a great examination of his life and career. He died several years before the war’s end and was not able to join his co-conspirators in the defendant’s section. Had he survived the war, I believe he would have been led to the gallows like other high-ranking officials. More than 70 years have now passed since the world’s deadliest conflict raged but we can still look back at those who played critical roles in its development and execution. And as we look back, we have stories such as this that show us what evil truly looks like.
The 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.
Adolf Hitler’s death and the surrender of Germany in World War II, brought and end to mankind’s deadliest conflict. For over 70 years, the war is still being studied and Hitler’s Third Reich serves as an example of power that is allowed to develop without restraints. To some he is the most evil dictator in world history. To others, a wrongly persecuted leader of a nation in ruins and savior to millions. His life story is well documented. But what was the young Hitler really like? The turning point his life from young aspiring artists to raging anti-Semite is still unknown and surrounded by speculation. The death of his father Alois and mother Klara both occurred before he turned 18. It is to be expected that their deaths must have played some role in his future mental and emotional development. Hitler never revealed much of any friendships he had but as we can see in this interesting book by August Kubizek (1888-1956), he did in fact have at least one friend during his youth in Austria.
It is interesting to some that although Hitler seized control of Germany, he was Austrian by birth. Born in the small village of Spital on Eastern Sunday in 1889, he would spend most of his early life in Austria before making the move to Germany and joining the Wehrmacht. But years before he became the future Chancellor of Germany and Führer of the Third Reich, he was simply Adolf, a young man with a teenage crush and dreams of being the best artist Germany had ever seen. This is the story of two friends who cross paths at a critical time in their lives and the friendship that developed.
Affectionately nicknamed Gustl by Hitler, Kubizek is the best witness we have to what Hitler was really like as a young man in Linz. Their days are filled with visits to the Opera, discussions about life and Hitler’s endless drawings as he pursued his artistic goals. And throughout the book, there is no trace of the future dark visions that became part of his persona. Adolf is your average teenager moving through life with his best friend. And incredibly as the reader goes through the book, it is easy to forget that Adolf would one day cause the deaths of millions of people and bring shame to Germany. And this is the truly special part about the book. Kubizek shows nothing that gives any indication of the future Adolf. For those seeking an answer to the megalomania that became a staple of the Reich, you will not find it here because it does not exist. What does exist is the tragic story a young man faced with the deaths of both parents and an uncertain outlook in life.
Following his mother’s death, Hitler remained in Linz before moving on to Vienna and crossing into Germany. He parted ways with Kubizek after Klara died and the two did not reunite until nearly 30 years later. By his own words, Kubizek never joined the Nazi party and remained in Austria where he married and became a father. And while he did have opinions about the events transpiring at the time, he remained neutral to Hitler. The book is neither for or against Hitler, but the remembrance of one friend by another. It was an incredible friendship forged by common interests and mutual understanding. And of all the what if questions that surround Hitler, we can only wonder what if he had followed Kubizek back home instead of moving toward Germany. Perhaps there would have never been a second world war. For those looking to learn more about the life of Adolf Hitler, this is a welcome addition to the library.
In June, 2013 I visited Denmark and The Netherlands and was presented with an opportunity to visit the Anne Frank Museum in Holland. The visit was the first I had made to a structure dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. As you make your way through the museum, a chill can come over you as the realization of what happened begins to sink in. Many of the original belongings of the Frank family are still there including her father Otto’s books and Anne’s collection of images and clippings that covered her wall. The museum provides an intimate look into the life of Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank (1929-1945).
A visit to the museum is not complete unless you have read the best-selling and widely translated diary she left behind. Her story has become one of the most widely read books about the Nazi extermination of Europe’s Jews. I currently have a copy of my shelf and each time I read it, the book becomes more a classic than ever before. At the time she wrote the diary, I do not believe she had any idea of what it would become. And as she laid dying of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen camp, I remain assured that her thoughts were centered on more pressing things around her. Following the war her father Otto returned to the annex and recovered what was left of his daughter’s writings. His other daughter and Anne’s sister, Margot, died at the same camp several days before Anne at the age of 15. Published posthumously, the diary went on to become a worldwide treasure and has made her image an icon of the Jewish experience in World War II.
The diary is fascinating for it shows the musings of a typical teenage girl living in atypical times. Her account of daily life in the annex and thoughts about her family, war and her feelings towards the other occupants in the annex are interesting and significant in understanding her tragedy. Her words are humorous, insightful and promising. The threat of discovery by the Gestapo provides a stark reminder of the seriousness of their situation and hangs over the book like a dark cloud. However it gives us an idea as to the fear and paranoia that everyone in the annex faced each day as they hoped the end of the war was near. Today, most teenagers are busy with classes, learning about the opposite sex and finding who they are in life. But for Anne Frank, it was a time of war, murder and the reality of The Final Solution. March, 2017 will mark 72 years since she left this world. She is no longer here in a physical form but her words remain and are an inerasable part of world history.