The "perfect Aryan poster baby" was actually Jewish

[repost from my Facebook writer page]

The cover of the January 1935 issue of “Sonne ins Haus” (“sun in the house”, a Nazi magazine for mothers) featured the winner of the “most beautiful Aryan baby” photo contest.

Cover of “Sonne ins Haus”, January 1935


There was only one problem with the undeniably beautiful baby Hessy Levinsons: she was Jewish.
When her mother Pauline had taken Hessy to Hans Ballin’s photography studio for a baby portrait, the photographer had asked her if he could enter said portrait for the “most beautiful Aryan baby” contest. Pauline, flustered, felt obliged to inform the photographer that both parents were non-Aryan. The photographer’s answer: “I know. I want to make the Nazis look lächerlich” [ridiculous].

Recounting the story 80 years later, Hessy Levinsons Taft, now a chemistry professor emeritus at St. John’s University in New York, says she can laugh about it now, but realizes she might not have been alive today if the Nazis had known.

As it happens, following her father arrest and brief imprisonment in 1938, the Levinsons got the message and fled to France. After the Nazi invasion, they made it to Nice in the unoccupied zone (a.k.a., “Vichy France”). In 1941 the husband was able to bribe a Cuban consular official for visas, and with that visa they were presumably able to get a transit visa to Portugal, as they traveled to Lisbon shortly after. In 1942, they were finally able to make it to Havana, where Hessy and her sisetr Naomi attended a British school .
Come 1949, the family relocated one last time to New York City, where Hessy attended a more sciences-oriented high school and immediately was hooked on chemistry. She studied the subject at Columbia and stayed on for her doctorate, during which she met her husband, a mathematics instructor and future professor Earl J. Taft, as in “Taft-Hopf algebra”.)

The exigencies of raising small children made her leave the lab for a while, but she did continue working in science, just on the educational rather than the research side: she oversaw the development of the AP Chemistry test at Educational Testing Services in Princeton, NJ. Later she did return to research, now focusing on water treatment and sustainable water supply. Here is a very recent review article that she co-authored on the subject: http://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.8b05859

Would an editor chide me for putting this “unrealistic” story in a novel? Possibly, since unlike history, fiction has to make sense. She isn’t the only “Aryan poster boy/girl” used by the Nazis who was Jewish in whole or in part, BTW: Werner Goldberg, the “Ideal Wehrmacht Soldier” whose picture was used for recruiting posters, had a Jewish father. [I will cover his story in a future post.]

Let’s raise a glass wishing Hessy many more healthy and fulfilling years. Ad meah ve’esrim!

[For further reading: http://www.bild.de/regional/berlin/adolf-hitler/berliner-juedin-hessy-taft-war-hitlers-propaganda-baby-36611794.bild.html (in German) and https://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i36/Hessy-Taft.html (in English) If you do not read German fluently, check out the amazing Deep Learning-based machine translator DeepL]

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! An alert commenter there points out that “Sonne ins Haus” predates the Third Reich and wasn’t originally a Nazi periodical — merely Gleichgeschaltet [literally: “switched in line”, idiomatically: “made to conform”] after the National Socialist takeover.

I was unable to find any online pre-1933 issues, but it seems the owner of the publishing house was a Leipzig-based entrepreneur named Kurt Herrmann (German wikipedia page). Summarizing in translation, Herrmann was a close friend of Hermann Göring [y”sh] and even acted as a witness at Göring’s remarriage to Emmy Sonneman. Already wealthy, he leveraged his pull with the Nazi top to enrich himself enough through forced “Aryanizations” — the forced sale of Jewish-owned firms to new “Aryan” owners for a tiny fraction of their value[*] — that he became the richest man in Leipzig. Near the end of the war, her fled to Liechtenstein. His firm was expropriated after the war by the Communist East German regime and Gleichgeschaltet for the second time. Herrmann himself got off lightly in his denazification trial, being classified only as category 4: Mitlaufer (fellow traveler).

[*] One of these plundered firms was the venerable sheet music publisher C. F. Peters, then owned by Henri_Hinrichsen (Hamburg 1868—Auschwitz 1942). After the war, the Communist East German government expropriated the Leipzig firm again and ran it as a state enterprise; Hinrichsen’s sons Max and Walter, who had set up the London and New York branches of the company, recreated the private company in Frankfurt. After German reunification, the company was reunited as well.

The “Malgré-nous”: Alsatian French citizens involuntarily recruited into the Wehrmacht

On French-language QUORA, somebody asked the troll question if it was really true that, after the initial invasion, more French had fought on the side of the Axis than of the Allies. 
Of course this doesn’t hold water: total number of combatants in the Free French forces reached about 1.3 million at the time of Liberation. In contrast, about 11,000 French voluntarily joined the Axis forces (mostly the Waffen-SS — near the end of the war, one French battalion that had been transfered from the wiped-out Charlemagne Division to bolster the 11th Waffen SS Division “Nordland” fought nearly to the last man in the final defense of Berlin’s government district).

About 125,000 or so Vichy French forces in North Africa switched sides from the Axis to the Allies a few days ninto Operation Torch, and there were smaller Vichy French forces (about 8,000 in Syria and Lebanon) who fought against the Allies. (The future Israeli general Moshe Dayan lost one eye to a Vichy French bullet during a 1941 British commando raid to secure bridges across the Litani river. He wore his iconic eyepatch ever since.)


In all, we are talking at most 275,000 French combatants on the Axis side. The missing 130,000 or so in this total were not volunteers at all: they called themselves the “Malgré-nous”, literally “despite ourselves”, idiomatically “against our will”.

You see: the Franco-German border regions of Alsace and Lorraine (capital city: Strasbourg/Strassburg) changed hands several times between France and Germany; most recently to Germany in 1871 after French defeat in the Franco-German War, and back again to France after WW I. Much of the local population did not think of itself as French or German first, but as Alsatian (Elsasser). The local vernacular, Elsasserdeutsch, is fairly close to Swiss German, with influences from both French and Yiddish.[*]

After the Nazi occupation, Alsace-Lorraine was de facto annexed to the Reich as part of the Reichsgau Westmark [“Western march”], which also included the Saarland and the Palatinate/Pfalz in Germany. The Nazis regarded the Alsatians as ethnically German, and hence imposed conscription on them, initially (May 1942) just for labor, from August 24, 1942 also for the Wehrmacht. Many went underground and tried to escape via the Vosges mountain range to Switzerland. Of the remaining 130,000, about 90% were sent to the Eastern Front — where about 32,000 fell in battle and another 10,500 went missing. 
Among the remaining 10% was a small group who had been cherry-picked out of the Wehrmacht draft by Waffen SS recruiters: this was a common practice by that stage of the war. Indeed, 14 Alsatians belonging to the 2nd Waffen SS-division “Das Reich” participated in the Oradour massacre in Normandy, 1 of them a volunteer (sentenced to death after the war), the other 13 “shanghaied” as described above.

The main long-term effect of the Nazi occupation was that the Alsace population now decisively embraced France and French culture — ironically, achieving in a few years what the French themselves had been unable to do in a century.
As for the “Malgré-nous” themselves, initially they were often seen as collaborators — especially by Communists, who did not care for the frank descriptions of Soviet POW camps that newly released POWs gave. Eventually, however, their forced conscription was recognized as a war crime by both France and the German Federal Republic, which in the 1980s started paying a (rather symbolic) indemnity to the about 80,000 surviving “Malgré-nous”.

[*] A very sizable Jewish population used to live in Alsace-Lorraine: I will devote a future blog post to them. As a teaser, let me just point out that Dreyfus is a typical Alsatian-Jewish surname [originally an archaic name for Trier], and Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was originally from Mulhouse.

Jewish Rescue in Dutch Limburg: the NV Group [Kristallnacht anniversary post]

In the South of the Netherlands, sandwiched between Belgium and the German province [presently called] North Rhine-Westfalia, lies the rural and somewhat sleepy Dutch province of Limburg. (This is not to be confused with the German town of Limburg on the Lahn River.) Its capital, Maastricht, goes back to a Roman settlement by the name of Mosa Traiectum [Maas/Meuse river crossing].
The local dialect of Dutch is nearly indistinguishable from the Plattdeutsch [Low German] spoken across the German border, and traffic and commerce across the border was fairly frequent in the prewar era. 
Limburg only had a small Jewish population, 1,660 as of August 1941, 0.27% of the total population and just 1.2% of all Jews in the Netherlands. Most Dutch Jews lived in Amsterdam — to this day known in Dutch slang as “Mokum” [from Hebrew makom=place] — or its suburbs, to a lesser degree in the other major population centers (Rotterdam, Utrecht, Leiden,…) of what meanwhile has become the Randstad Holland megalopolis.

After Hitler [y”sh] came to power and the persecution of the Jews commenced, Limburg was one area where Jews who couldn’t afford the ruinous exit taxes would slip across the border. Usually they traveled on to the Randstad Holland, but many were trans-migrants who subsequently slipped across the lightly guarded Belgian border into Belgian Limburg, then onward to Antwerp with its large Jewish community and its port with ships going every which way. 
Yet a number of Jews stayed on in Limburg. At first they caused grumbling among the local tradespeople, who complained they had it tough enough as it was (in the later phases of the Great Depression) without having to deal with new competitors. However, as the persecution in Nazi Germany escalated from economic and civil marginalization to physical violence [particularly the Reichskristallnacht 81 years ago to this day], the attitudes of many Limburgers softened. Local Catholic clergy at first focused primarily on Catholics of Jewish origin, but later broadened their activity.
After the 1940 invasion and occupation, resistance in Limburg was at first the work of individuals and small groups working in isolation, later coalescing into larger resistance groups. Their history is discussed at great length in a 1994 Ph.D. thesis (in Dutch) at Groningen State University by one Alfred P. M. Cammaert, “Het verborgen front: Geschiedenis van de georganiseerde illegaliteit in de provincie Limburg tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog” (The Hidden Front: History of the organized underground in Limburg province during WW II), available in full online here:
http://hdl.handle.net/…/cc35a139-e781-46bd-b062-ede455ecb1d7

Some of those resistance group worked in Jewish rescue as a side activity. (Interestingly perhaps; while many Dutch rescuers were motivated by philosemitism and/or their beliefs, Cammaert quotes antisemitic diary entries from some Dutchmen who engaged in Jewish rescue nevertheless — their hatred of the Nazi occupation and desire to thwart the occupiers overcame their prejudices. A similar phenomenon existed in Belgium, particularly in the French-speaking part with its traditional aversion to anything Germanic. Recent memories of German occupation during WW I helped too: the Netherlands had been neutral throughout that war.)

Developments in Amsterdam, however, inspired the formation of a few dedicated Jewish rescue groups. One of the largest, based in Limburg, went by the name of NV-group, NV being the Dutch acronym for “naamloze vennootschap” /“anonymous venture”, idiomatically the term for a public joint-stock company or “Ltd.”.

In Amsterdam, Jews who had been rounded up were initially collected at the Hollandsche Schouwburg [Dutch Theatre] for registration and trans-shipment to the Dutch camps at Westerbork and Vught, and hence (usually) to the extermination camps in the East (particularly Sobibor and Auschwitz). As the building became too crowded, a “creche” (idiomatically: daycare) annex was opened across the street where children under 12 were held and cared for by Jewish Council employees.

As Cammaert explains it, this building was less well guarded than the Schouwburg, and bordered on a trade school run by the Reformed Church. Until the creche’s closing on September 29, 1943, about 1,000 children were smuggled out to non-Jewish rescuers via the school, in outgoing dirty laundry baskets, and using various other subterfuges. Registrars Süsskind and Halverstad would finagle the card indices and deportation lists, with the connivance of director Ms. Pimentel; after the latter was herself deported, head nurse V. Cohen (daughter of the controversial Jewish Council co-chair) likewise got involved. The children were first conveyed to two addresses in Amsterdam, where they were given forged evacuation slips, claiming they had been made homeless by the destructive 1940 Nazi bombing of Rotterdam. (Holland had mandatory ID cards then as now, but children under 16 were exempt.)

The children were handed over to a rescue group started by several students at Utrecht University (“Utrecht Children’s Committee”), working in tandem with another group around Amsterdam law student Piet Meerburg (later to become a prominent theatre producer in the postwar Netherlands). (The group got some financial assistance: Cammaert reproduces letters from the [Catholic] Bishop of Utrecht explaining that his diocese had used 25,000 guilders from its assistance fund and calling on other dioceses to chip in as well.) Until the arrest of most of the Utrecht group in mid-1943, they managed to smuggle out some 350 children, usually to foster parents in rural areas like Friesland and Limburg that were less well policed. (Hiding in the anonymity of a large city might seem superficially appealing, but Amsterdam and other large cities were teeming with both Nazis and Dutch collaborators belonging to the NSB.)

Another rescue stratagem was devised by a Dutch pediatrician named Ph. H. Fiedeldy Dop. He discreetly advised Jewish new parents to ‘expose’ their infants: non-Jewish rescuers would then “find” the babies, and they would then be registered as non-Jewish foundlings. This activity had to be abandoned when somebody “helpfully” wrote about it in the Jewish Weekly’s January 15, 1943 issue. The mind wonders how naive that reporter had to be not to realize that the one allowed Jewish periodical would be tightly monitored by the occupiers…

The rescue operations’ main bottleneck was finding temporary foster parents for that many children. [NB: as the Nazis considered the Dutch Aryans, those caught rescuing Jews were treated more leniently than, say, Poles, who usually paid with their lives as well as those of their families.] Here is where NV and similar groups entered the stage.

The first contact was a traveling salesman from Maastricht named A.H. van Mansum, who worked as a sales representative for an office equipment supplier in The Hague. As such, and with the papers to prove it, he enjoyed relative freedom of movement, which he put to use as a courier for forged IDs and ration cards. [He leveraged a number of his old contacts in the small and tightly-knit Dutch Reformed community in mostly Catholic Maastricht.]

After the Utrecht and Meerburg groups reached out to him, he managed to find homes for a number of children in the mining areas of Limburg. Many of the foster families were working class with many children, where one more would be less conspicuous.

The kingpins of the NV group were two Amsterdammers named J. Woortman en Jaap Musch. The latter, a lab technician at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, answered an ad for a position at the analytical labs of Dutch State Mines in Heerlen, Limburg, and was hired. There, together with dominee (=Reformed pastor) G. J. Pontier, he set about recruiting foster parents in Limburg for the NV effort.

NV was not the only such group (others were the Stakenborg and Paaschen group), but a particularly thorough and well-run one. All 231 children they hid survived. Jaap Musch was arrested and brutally murdered, and one Protestant clergyman in the group, dominee De Jong from Venlo, was arrested in 1944 and shot in 1945. (NV operative J. Postuma was killed in an Allied air raid on Nijverdal.)

Earlier, until its arrest by the Sipo (Sicherheitspolizei) with the help of a mole, the unrelated Westerweel Group had managed to smuggle about 100-150 Jews to Spain and Switzerland. One group of Youth Aliyah pioneers, mostly originally from Germany, was smuggled out in particularly devious fashion: after equipping the whole group with false papers, their guides signed up the whole group and themselves for voluntary labor service with the Organization Todt (OT) and got papers to travel to Bordeaux and La Rochelle in southwest France, where the OT was then carrying out major construction works. Arrived there, they went underground and made their way across the border into neutral Spain.

Aside from the specifically Jewish rescue groups, there was the national https://nl.wikipedia.org/…/Landelijke_Organisatie_voor_Hulp… (LO) which helped all manner of people wanted by the Nazis to go into hiding: numerically the largest group were Dutch men who were being press-ganged into forced labor in Germany, and understandably had no desire to contribute to the enemy war machine.

Tragically, a number of Limburg rescuers reported later that they had earlier offered Jews in smaller towns like Valkenburg help to go underground, but that their help had been declined, as these small communities could not believe what was awaiting them.

Limburg was liberated by Allied troops in the autumn of 1944, and thus was spared the “Hunger Winter” that caused about 20,000 deaths in still-occupied Holland.

In many cases, the children in hiding had been orphaned, and those who had been raised by Protestant or Catholic foster parents often had no idea who they really were and their foster parents desired to have them baptized and to adopt them. As in other places, a heart-wrenching tug-of-war developed between the would-be adoptive parents and surviving Jewish relatives.

As for the rescuers: a number (including LO leaders imprisoned at Vught concentration camp) had been executed in the bloody period of the https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deppner-executies Deppner executions, when following the failed Valkyrie plot Hitler (y”sh) issued an order that resistants were no longer to be tried by courts-martial but to be handed over directly to the SD and Sipo for (implied) execution. Ironically, SS-Sturmbannführer Erich Deppner himself escaped the arm of justice, while both some subordinates and his superior Schöngarth were sentenced to death by Dutch postwar courts and executed.

Many of the NV group people, and the NV group as a whole, were later honored with the Righteous Among The Nations designation by Yad Vashem. Here is the information page on Jacobus “Jaap” Musch. 

https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=righteous_only&language=en&itemId=4016551&ind=32

His main accomplice, Reverend Pontier, survived the war and was honored in the same way. https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=righteous_only&language=en&itemId=4043458&ind=36

Greater love hath no man…

Ernst von Dohnányi (composer) and “six degrees of separation” from the Operation Flash protagonist

It was the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy who, in a short story called “Chains”, first laid out the “six degrees of separation” concept. I’ve had numerous occasions to think of this while doing background research for the Operation Flash book series.

This month, the Hyperion classical music label issued a new recording of music by Dohnányi Ernö (1877-1960), better known perhaps by the German version of his name, Ernst von Dohnányi. [Hungarian naming conventions put the family name first.] Brahms and/or Schumann aficionados won’t want to miss this lovely recording.

Ernst von Dohnanyi (EvD) was born in Pozsony/Pressburg/Bratislava to a mathematics professor and amateur cellist, whose family had been ennobled in 1697. He got his first music lessons from his father, then from age 8 studied organ with the a local church organist. At age 17, he enrolled in the Budapest conservatory, where he studied piano with pupil of Franz Liszt and composition with Hans von Koessler, a first cousin of neo-Baroque composer Max Reger and a devotee of Brahms. EvD’s first published composition was praised and plugged by Brahms; as a pianist, he rose to fame following an American tour.

This early Dohnanyi composition earned the praise of Brahms

Unlike many concert pianists at the time, EvD avidly performed chamber music aside from the usual solo works and concerti: he establised a musical association with the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim, likewise a Brahmsian. (The German-speaking musical world was at the time torn by factional dispute between followers of Wagner and traditionalist followers of Brahms.)

EvD’s fame as a composer and performer was such that, following a long stint as a professor of composition at the Berlin conservatory (where Joachim had invited him), he was appointed the director of the Budapest conservatory. Despite being considered “too German” by the more nationalist Hungarian musicians, he would often showcase works by Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.

EvD’s first wife was a concert pianist named Elsa Kunwald (who herself appears to have been of at least partial Jewish origin[*]), with whom he had a son and a daughter. Their daughter, Grete, married the German physical chemist Karl Bonhoeffer (discoverer of ortho- and para-hydrogen), brother of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The son, Hans von Dohnanyi, (himself married to Dietrich’s sister Christel) did remain a skilled amateur musician all his life, but sought a career in law and government. Eventually, he became a senior civilian specialist in the Abwehr, the German espionage agency, where he was deeply involved in the anti-Hitler conspiracy cell led by the Abwehr’s second-in-command, general Hans Oster (with at least the tacit approval of the Abwehr’s enigmatic chief, admiral Wilhelm Canaris). When Hans’s brother-in-law Dietrich Bonhoeffer was forbidden to preach or publish by the National Socialist authorities, Hans hired him as an Abwehr agent, on the grounds that his extensive contacts with senior Protestant clergy abroad made him a valuable operative.

In our timeline, Hans was arrested shortly after the failure of the Arsenal Bombing Plot (March 21, 1943) for his role in helping a number of Jewish families escape to Switzerland as “agents”. [Yad Vashem would eventually honor him as “Righteous Among The Nations” for those actions.] Bonhoeffer, Oster, and Canaris were eventually all hanged at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, after secret diaries by Canaris had been discovered that revealed the depth of their involvement in anti-Hitler conspiracies. They were joined in death by Karl Sack, the military judge-advocate who had been in charge of the investiagtion against them, but (as a member of the underground himself) had used delaying tactics in an attempt to run out the clock on the Third Reich before the men’s trial. Hans met his end on the same day, but at Sachsenhausen.

His son, Christoph von Dohnanyi, would in time become the musical director of the Cleveland Orchestra; another son, Klaus, served as Oberbürgermeister (freely: Lord Mayor) of Hamburg 1981-1988.

The Operation Flash series is, of course, set in a timeline where the Arsenal Plot succeeded. (Of course, then the plotters discover that killing Hitler and his chief henchmen was the easy part.) Hans, the handler and mentor of (fictional) protagonist Felix Winter, becomes a senior official in the Emergency Government led by Chancellor Carl Goerdeler. [Goerdeler, a popular former Lord Mayor of Leipzig who had resigned in protest against Nazi chicaneries, was the head of government-designate in case either the real-life Operation Flash plots or the 1944 Operation Valkyrie had succeeded.]

In our timeline, after the war EvD had to defend himself against accusations of NS sympathies, as he had continued to perform in Germany throughout. However, in view of the number of Hungarian-Jewish musicians who credited him with saving their lives, that dog would not hunt; EvD soon after left for the US to take up a professorship of music at Florida State University. His later compositions include a number of works inspired by American folk themes, such as American Rhapsody.

Ernst von Dohnányi, “American Rhapsody” Op. 47 (ca. 1953)

On a final “six degrees” note: EvD’s second wife was herself the ex-wife of composer and violinist Bronislav Huberman, who in 1936 would become the founding director of the Israel Philharmonic.


[*] The conductor Antal Dorati was Elsa Kunwald’s nephew (son of her sister Margit Kunwald)

Critical praise for “Operation Flash, Ep. 2”

From Pat Patterson’s long review on GoodReads:

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

When the series was introduced, it immediately was placed into my “Guilty Pleasures” category. A book in that category gets read, IMMEDIATELY, regardless of what else I’ve had in the queue ahead of it, and also regardless of whether or not I’m being at all diligent in in reviewing the books I have actually read. 
I don’t like talking about the fact that I have a Guilty Pleasure category. In fact, I plan to deny having such a category in all future conversations. Here’s the take-away: I absolutely LOVE this series. 

Just in case you missed my review of the first book, here’s the basic idea: one of the very many plots against Hitler actually succeeded.[…] the Allies are thrown into confusion that nearly matches that of the German leadership. Nobody is certain who they can trust, and how far.

This is not a criticism, not a criticism, not a criticism! The books end too soon.
That is SIGNIFICANTLY ameliorated by the fact that these books are so historically sound in their basis, that if you are like me, and love going on rabbit trails when your curiosity is triggered, you can spend a LOT of time reading about the way history worked out in OUR timeline. Almost all of the characters are based on real people; they make for fascinating reading. 
If the author had just used hand puppets, and told the story with them, it would still be a really nice thought-exercise of ‘what-if.’ However, through the eyes of the few fictional characters, we get great insights to the way people think, and what would have been real reactions to these circumstances, because the author has done a wonderful job of making the words on the page into real, flesh-and-blood people.

I’m going to eat each of these installments as they come out, BUT the real feast will be when the series is finished (and I hope that isn’t going to be too soon), and I grab up every installment and binge-read. Maybe multiple times.

Delightful!

The book is available for $0.99 on Kindle, or is included with your subscription for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

The wartime clandestine ‘Shetland Bus’ to and from Norway, and the Telavåg tragedy

In the west of Norway, not far from Bergen, lies the fishermen’s village of Telavåg. The linear distance to the Shetland Islands is fairly short (about 185 nautical miles). Hence, during the Nazi occupation of Norway, fishing boats were used for what the British called “the Shetland Bus“: resistance men wanted by the Gestapo were smuggled out to the Shetland Islands, while SOE operatives traveled in the opposite direction. After some losses, three US Navy submarine chasers on loan to the British were disguised as fishing boats, manned by Norwegian seamen who’d made it to England.

HNoMS Hitra, one of the three former US sub chasers that plied the Shetland Bus
Kapt.Lt. Leif “Shetlands” Larsen, commander of HNoMS Vigra

Sadly, as I was told at the Telavåg Nordsjofartsmuseum, the men running the Telavåg “Bus station” were not big on operational security: all it took was for somebody to knock on their door saying they needed help getting to England. And thus, one day a Gestapo stool pigeon managed to penetrate the operation.

On April 26, 1942, the Gestapo came to carry out arrests, but a firefight broke out, in which two mid-level Gestapo officers were killed, Kriminalrat Gerhard Berns and Kriminalsekretär Henry Bertram.

The Nazi viceroy, Reichskommissar Josef Terboven[*], decreed retaliation. On April 30, the SS landed with boats, deported the entire population of the village, and razed it to the ground. Had this been Poland or Russia, the entire population would likely have been killed outright. But as Norwegians were considered Aryans and not so-called “Untermenschen”, the men (aged 18 to 60) were instead deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (north of Berlin), while the women and children were imprisoned at a school. A local doctor who knew how to “fake” positive tests for infectious diseases managed to prevent their further deportation.

The fate of the Norwegian inmates at KL Sachsenhausen is discussed here, in German, on the blog of Prof. Günter Morsch (former longtime director of the Sachsenhausen memorial site and author of a monograph on the camp). The SS inspector-general for Norway, Hans Loritz, had previously been the camp commander until deposed for corruption. He may have favored sending such Norwegian political prisoners there as were not incarcerated locally. (Additionally, about 900 Jews who were unable to hide or escape to neutral Sweden were sent to the extermination camps, including even the tiny Jewish community of Tromsø above the polar circle! [**] )

About half of the deported men died in the camp or shortly afterwards, mostly from privations suffered there. (Notices that their widows got from the camp administration, listing the usual camouflaged causes of death such as “pneumonia” or “heart failure”, are on display at the museum.) As explained by Morsch, at the end of 1942 the Norwegian inmates were given permission to receive food parcels (particularly from the Red Cross), which greatly reduced mortality among the Norwegians. In March 1945, finally, the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte brokered an agreemeent that permitted the repatriation of Danish and Norwegian prisoners via what came to be known as the “Bernadotte Buses”. Only a single, moribund Telavåg prisoner was left at the camp.

The returnees rebuilt Telavåg after the war. Their fellow Norwegian inmates had included a number of intellectuals (from the former Chancellor of Oslo University to the son of polar explorer and humanitarian Fridjof Nansen), and Morsch explains that Sachsenhausen survivors played a very prominent role in Norwegian postwar politics.

In 1998, a memorial museum was opened at Telavåg.

As for Josef Terboven, he committed suicide on VE-Day rather than face an assured death sentence and execution.

[*] Terboven was first and foremost a party boss, the erstwhile Gauleiter (regional leader) of the NSDAP for the Ruhr area.

[**] I will blog about their tragic fate, and Tromsø in WW II more generally, in the near future.

Real, not alternate history: the Battle for Castle Itter, the one time when US Army and Wehrmacht fought together against the SS

On May 5, 1945, just three days before VE-Day, Castle Itter[*] in Northern Tyrol became the scene of a most improbable battle. 
Since 1943, this castle had been converted by the SS into a kind-of “VIP prison” for prominent inmates from occupied France. These included two former French PMs (Edouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud); Charles de Gaulle’s sister Marie-Agnès; General Maurice Gamelin and his successor Maxime Weygand; Michel Clémenceau, son of the WW I-era prime minister; former French ambassador to Germany André François-Poncet; and many others. 
The place was administratively an Aussenlager (satellite camp) of Dachau (where another group of “prominents” was held in the main camp itself). A group of lower-status Dachau inmates carried out menial work.
The commander, SS-Hauptsturmführer [i.e., captain] Wimmer, was under orders to shoot the prisoners if capture by the Allies became imminent. He supposedly promised a prisoner delegation he would not implement this order, but the inmates placed no trust in this promise.
The camp electrician, a Yugoslav inmate, was sent out on an errand as a cover to go looking for US troops. He found a reconnaisance patrol nearly 70 km away near Innsbruck. The SS garrison did meanwhile flee, but the prisoners feared a roving SS unit would come to the castle.

The Americans sent a small team (14 men under Lt. “Jack” Lee, including crews of two Sherman tanks, “Besotten Jenny” and “Bochebuster”), which joined up with about 20 Wehrmacht soldiers led by a defector to the Austrian resistance, Major Josef Gangl.
Lee posted “Besotten Jenny” at the castle and “Bochebuster” at the bridge. The meager force’s ranks were swollen by a number of the French prisoners who had taken arms from the armory — and even one wounded SS officer who decided to switch sides. On May 5, the castle came under attack from a force of about 100-150 SS soldiers. The much smaller defending force held the SS at bay for most of May 5, until relieved in the late afternoon by a company of the 142th US Infantry Regiment. Major Gangl was killed by a sniper, but the others managed to survive. Gangl was honored posthumously as an Austrian resistance hero, while Lee got a DSC and a promotion to Captain.[**]

The Swedish power metal band Sabaton [***] often has lyrics based on actual war history and feats of wartime heroism. Their song “The Last Battle” (see below) is a pretty straight-up retelling of the event.  Kudos to the band for introducing many young(er) listeners to bits of war history they are unlikely to learn in school or from books.

The Sabaton song “The Last Battle” commemorates the Battle of Castle Itter

History is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose… (with apologies to JBS Haldane)…

[*] The castle has a musical connection: the female concert pianist and conservatory teacher Sophie Menter (a former pupil of Liszt) owned the place from 1884 until the early 1900s. Tchaikovsky was her guest at the castle and wrote works there.

[**] Mark Felton has a more detailed video here. Felton notes one other situation where a similar Wehrmacnt-US Army ad hoc coalition former against the SS — this time to rescue the precious Lipizzaner horses.

[***] Despite its superficial similarity to the Hebrew word Shabaton (sabbatical), a “sabaton” is the armored shoe or boot of a medieval suit of armor