Please help identify the scene. Who are the officers? Is this Paris after Germany's invasion?
I'm afraid I cannot identify the specific officers in the photo, nor the exact date this photo was taken. However, I can provide at least one firm answer to your question. And I may be able to help "identify the scene," as you put it.
This photo was definitely taken in Paris. Specifically, on Rue Auber, adjacent to the southwest corner of the Palais Garnier. There is a link to the latest Google Streetview of this location at the end of my reply. I think you'll find the Palais Garnier hasn't changed much since 1875, althought the road and surrounding buildings certainly have.
I can perhaps offer a little more evidence that it was taken in France, and most likely in late August of 1944.
On the building on the background, I can make out the letters "te Laitiere Magot". I would speculate it says "Societe Laitiere Margot" which would roughly translate to Margot Dairy Company. But I'm not able to confirm such a company existed. In any case, Laitiere is french for creamery or dairy. Magot is a figurine of sorts from the East - probably a reference to a play that was very popular in France during that era, entitled "Les Deux Magots de la Chine".
It's extremely difficult to see in your photo, but the letters "PPF" are marked on the nearest column of the building in the foreground. This almost certainly stands for "Parti Populaire Français" or French Popular Party, which was only active from 1936 to 1945.
The German occupation authorities in Paris commandeered the Hotel Meurice as their headquarters between Septemeber 1940 and August 1944. That hotel is less than a kilometer south of Palais Garnier. So it's certainly not a stretch that the German officers depicted in this photo were being escorted away from that headquarters after Dietrich von Choltitz surrendered the German garrison to the Forces Françaises Libres (Free French Forces). That surrender occured on 25 August 1944. Most of the German staff officers, including von Choltitz, had already been transferred to Trent Park by 29 August 1944. So, I would postulate the photo was probably taken sometime between 25 August and 28 August 1944.
The Free French Forces had a mix of American, British and French made uniforms, which might explain the odd look of the rifle-carrying man on the right of the photo who appears to be escorting the German officers. It's equally possible he was a part of the French Resistance (a.k.a soldiers without uniforms) - many of whom were recruited into the Free French Forces in the 1940's.
This is a photo of the German General Staff taken prisoner during the liberation of Paris in late August 1944. German General Dietrich von Choltitz disobeyed Hitler's order to level the city due to his affection towards the French city. Choltitz surrendered his 17,000 man army to the Allies on August 25, 1944. Therefore, it is probable that Choltitz in not in this photo because he was in captivity already in Trent Park.
French: "Etat-major allemand fait prisonnier à l'Opéra pendant la libération de Paris, fin août 1944," translated to "German General Staff made prisoner at the Opera during the liberation of Paris in late August 1944."
(Source: 2014 film Diplomacy based on factual newspaper evidence)
I'm still trying to find the actual officers in this photo by going through the officers of the 325 Security Division that was in Paris August 1944. (Or other German officers in Paris at this time. I'm going to have to go through books in order to find out.)
The Disgusting Nazi Military Brothels of World War II
E very war involves violent sexual assaults. Throughout history, armies committed sexual atrocities on the civilian population. World War II was no exception.
The German forces inflicted a massive amount of sexual violence on women. Rape, forced prostitution, and sexual harassment were rampant and systematic.
World War II Photos
This is a representative sampling of photographs from World War II that can be found in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration. For more information on materials from World War II visit our World War II Records page.
Many images and other records can be located online in our National Archives Catalog.
For additional select images of WWII, see:
Hitler accepts the ovation of the Reichstag after announcing the `peaceful acquisition of Austria. It set the stage to annex the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland, largely inhabited by a German- speaking population. Berlin, March 1938. 208-N-39843.
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, Germany, ca. June 1940. 242-EB-7-38.
A Frenchman weeps as German soldiers march into the French capital, Paris, on June 14, 1940, after the Allied armies had been driven back across France. 208-PP-10A-3.
USS SHAW exploding during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. December 7, 1941. 80-G-16871.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War against Japan, December 8, 1941. 79-AR-82.
We Can Do It. Color poster by J. Howard Miller. 179-WP- 1563.*
Stars over Berlin and Tokyo will soon replace these factory lights reflected in the noses of planes at Douglas Aircraft s Long Beach, Calif., plant. Women workers groom lines of transparent noses for deadly A-20 attack bombers. Alfred Palmer, October 1942. 208-AA-352QQ-5.
Officer at periscope in control room of submarine. Ca. 1942. 80-G-11258.
Howard A. Wooten. Graduated December 1944 from Air Corps School, Tuskegee, AL. Ca. December 1944. 18-T-44-K-17.
Back to a Coast Guard assault transport comes this Marine after two days and nights of Hell on the beach of Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. His face is grimey with coral dust but the light of battle stays in his eyes. February 1944. 26-G-3394.
Landing on the coast of France under heavy Nazi machine gun fire are these American soldiers, shown just as they left the ramp of a Coast Guard landing boat. CPhoM. Robert F. Sargent, June 6, 1944. 26-G-2343.
Nurses of a field hospital who arrived in France via England and Egypt after three years service. Parker, August 12, 1944. 112-SGA-44-10842.
Cpl. Carlton Chapman. is a machine-gunner in an M-4 tank, attached to a Motor Transport unit near Nancy, France. 761st Mt. Bn. November 5, 1944. Ryan. 111-SC-196106-S.
Flag raising on Iwo Jima. Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press, February 23, 1945. 80-G-413988.
Standing in the grassy sod bordering row upon row of white crosses in an American cemetery, two dungaree-clad Coast Guardsmen pay silent homage to the memory of a fellow Coast Guardsman who lost his life in action in the Ryukyu Islands. Benrud, ca. 1945. 26-G-4739.
Pfc Angelo B. Reina, 391st Inf. Regt., guards a lonely Oahu beach position. Kahuku, Oahu. Rosenberg, Hawaii, March 1945. 111-SC-221867.
Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the ENOLA GAY, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, waves from his cockpit before the takeoff, 6 August 1945. 208-LU-13H-5.
New York City celebrating the surrender of Japan. They threw anything and kissed anybody in Times Square. Lt. Victor Jorgensen, August 14, 1945. 80-G-377094.
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Why Is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?
An election year already notable for its menagerie of extreme and unusual candidates can add another one: Rich Iott, the Republican nominee for Congress from Ohio's 9th District, and a Tea Party favorite, who for years donned a German Waffen SS uniform and participated in Nazi re-enactments.
Rich Iott, second from right, in a Nazi SS Waffen uniform.
When contacted by The Atlantic, Iott confirmed his involvement with the group over a number of years, but said his interest in Nazi Germany was historical and he does not subscribe to the tenets of Nazism. "No, absolutely not," he said. "In fact, there's a disclaimer on the [Wiking] website. And you'll find that on almost any reenactment website. It's purely historical interest in World War II."
Rich Iott and his wife, as shown on his campaign website.
Iott, a member of the Ohio Military Reserve, added, "I've always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things. I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that's incredible."
Iott says the group chose the Wiking division in part because it fought on the Eastern Front, mainly against the Russian Army, and not U.S. or British soldiers. The group's website includes a lengthy history of the Wiking unit, a recruitment video, and footage of goose-stepping German soldiers marching in the Warsaw victory parade after Poland fell in 1939. The website makes scant mention of the atrocities committed by the Waffen SS, and includes only a glancing reference to the "twisted" nature of Nazism. Instead, it emphasizes how the Wiking unit fought Bolshevist Communism:
Historians of Nazi Germany vehemently dispute this characterization. "These guys don't know their history," said Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., a retired history professor and author of "Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-45," which chronicles an SS division. "They have a sanitized, romanticized view of what occurred." Sydnor added that re-enactments like the Wiking group's are illegal in Germany and Austria. "If you were to put on an SS uniform in Germany today, you'd be arrested."
Christopher Browning, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said, "It is so unhistorical and so apologetic that you don't know to what degree they've simply caught up innocent war memorabilia enthusiasts who love putting on uniforms."
Iott says he does not recall exactly when he joined the Wiking group (his name appears on a unit roster as far back as 2003), but did so with his son "as a father-son bonding thing." He says his name and pictures were removed from the Wiking website not out of concern that they would harm his political career, but because he quit the group three years ago, after his son lost interest.
Iott participated in the group under his own name, and also under the alias "Reinhard Pferdmann," which has also been removed, and which Iott described as being his German alter ego. "Part of the reenactor's [experience]," Iott said, "is the living-history part, of really trying to get into the persona of the time period. In many, not just in our unit, but in many units what individuals do is create this person largely based on a Germanized version of their name, and a history kind of based around your own real experiences. 'Reinhard' of course is 'Richard' in German. And 'Pferdmann,' 'pferd' is a horse. So it's literally 'horse man.'"
Asked whether his participation in a Nazi re-enactor's group might not upset voters, particularly Jewish voters, Iott said he hoped it would not: "They have to take it in context. There's reenactors out there who do everything. You couldn't do Civil War re-enacting if somebody didn't play the role of the Confederates. [This] is something that's definitely way in the past. . [I hope voters] take it in context and see it for what it is, an interest in World War II history. And that's strictly all."
Rabbi Moshe Saks, of the Congregation B'nai Israel in Sylvania, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo that sits in the 9th district, disagreed. "Any kind of reenactment or glorification of Nazi Germany, to us, would be something unacceptable and certainly in poor taste, if not offensive," he said. "I think the reaction here will be very negative. And not just among the Jewish community, but the broader community."
In a follow-up email today, Iott seemed at pains to address concerns that his conduct may have alienated veterans groups but made no specific mention of possible offense to Jews or human rights groups: "Never, in any of my reenacting of military history, have I meant any disrespect to anyone who served in our military or anyone who has been affected by the tragedy of war. In fact, I have immense respect for veterans who served our country valiantly, and my respect of the military and our veterans is one of the reasons I have actively studied military history throughout my life." He added that he has participated in re-enactments as a Civil War Union infantryman, a World War I dough boy and World War II American infantryman and paratrooper.
The actual Wiking unit has a history as grisly as that of other Nazi divisions. In her book "The Death Marches of Hungarian Jews Through Austria in the Spring of 1945," Eleonore Lappin, the noted Austrian historian, writes that soldiers from the Wiking division were involved in the killing of Hungarian Jews in March and April 1945, before surrendering to American forces in Austria.
"What you often hear is that the [Wiking] division was never formally accused of anything, but that's kind of a dodge," says Prof. Rob Citino, of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas, who examined the Wiking website. "The entire German war effort in the East was a racial crusade to rid the world of 'subhumans,' Slavs were going to be enslaved in numbers of tens of millions. And of course the multimillion Jewish population of Eastern Europe was going to be exterminated altogether. That's what all these folks were doing in the East. It sends a shiver up my spine to think that people want to dress up and play SS on the weekend."
Ritchie Boys: The secret U.S. unit bolstered by German-born Jews that helped the Allies beat Hitler
The Ritchie Boys were responsible for uncovering more than half the combat intelligence on the Western Front during World War II. For the many German-born Jews in their ranks, defeating the Nazis was heartbreakingly personal.
- 2021 May 09
- Correspondent Jon Wertheim
This video is available on Paramount+
For as casually as we often toss around the word "hero," sometimes no lesser term applies. Tonight we'll introduce you to members of a secret American intelligence unit who fought in World War II. What's most extraordinary about this group: many of them were German-born Jews who fled their homeland, came to America, and then joined the U.S. Army. Their mission: to use their knowledge of the German language and culture to return to Europe and fight Nazism. The Ritchie Boys, as they were known, trained in espionage and frontline interrogation. And incredibly, they were responsible for most of the combat intelligence gathered on the Western Front. For decades, they didn't discuss their work. Fortunately, some of the Ritchie Boys are still around to tell their tales, and that includes the life force that is Guy Stern, age 99.
Jon Wertheim: You work 6 days a week, you swim every morning, you lecture, any signs of slowing down?
Guy Stern: Well I think not (laugh) but I don't run as fast, I don't swim as fast but I feel happy with my tasks.
A few months shy of turning 100, Guy Stern drips with vitality. He still works six days a week and if you get up early enough, you might catch him working out at his local park in the Detroit suburbs.
But ask him about his most formative experience - and he doesn't hesitate. It was his service in the military during World War II.
Jon Wertheim: What was it like for you, leaving Nazi Germany, escaping as a Jew, and the next time you go back to Europe it's to fight those guys? What was that like?
Guy Stern: I was a soldier doing my job and that precluded any concern that I was going back to a country I once was very attached to.
Guy Stern: I had a war to fight and I did it.
Stern 80 years ago
This is Guy Stern 80 years ago. He is among the last surviving Ritchie Boys - a group of young men &ndash many of them German Jews &ndash who played an outsized role in helping the Allies win World War II. They took their name from the place they trained - Camp Ritchie, Maryland &ndash a secret American military intelligence center during the war.
Starting in 1942, more than 11,000 soldiers went through the rigorous training at what was the army's first centralized school for intelligence and psychological warfare.
David Frey: The purpose of the facility was to train interrogators. That was the biggest weakness that the army recognized that it had, which was battlefield intelligence and the interrogation needed to talk to sometimes civilians, most of the time prisoners of war, in order to glean information from them.
David Frey is a professor of history and director of the Center for Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Jon Wertheim: How effective were they at gathering intelligence?
David Frey: They were incredibly effective. 60-plus percent of the actionable intelligence gathered on the battlefield was gathered by Ritchie Boys
Jon Wertheim: 60% of the actionable intelligence?
David Frey: They made a massive contribution to essentially every battle that the Americans fought - the entire sets of battles on the Western Front.
Recruits were chosen based on their knowledge of European Language and culture, as well as their high IQs. Essentially they were intellectuals. The largest set of graduates were 2,000 German-born Jews.
David Frey: If we take Camp Ritchie in microcosm, it was almost the ideal of an American melting pot. You had people coming from all over uniting for a particular cause.
Jon Wertheim: All in service of winning the war?
David Frey: All in service of winning the war. And there's nothing that forges unity better than having a common enemy.
David Frey: You had a whole load of immigrants who really wanted to get back into the fight.
Immigrants like Guy Stern. He grew up in a close-knit family in the town of Hildesheim, Germany. When Hitler took power in 1933, Stern says the climate grew increasingly hostile.
Guy Stern: My fellow students &ndash it was an all male school &ndash withdrew from you.
Jon Wertheim: because you were Jewish you were ostracized?
Guy Stern: That is correct.
Guy Stern: I went to my father one day and I said "classes are becoming a torture chamber"
By 1937, violence against Jews was escalating. Sensing danger, Stern's father tried to get the family out. But the Sterns could only send one of their own to the U.S. They chose their eldest son.
Jon Wertheim: Do you remember saying goodbye to your family?
Jon Wertheim: What do you remember from that?
Guy Stern: Handkerchiefs (pause), I couldn't know at that point that I would never see my siblings or my parents again nor my grandmother and so forth and so on.
Guy Stern arrived in the U.S. alone at age 15, settling with an uncle in St. Louis. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Stern, by then a college student, raced to enlist.
Guy Stern: I had an immediate visceral response to that and that was this is my war for many reasons. Personal, of course, but also this country - I was really treated well.
In New York, Paul Fairbrook had a similar impulse. Now 97, Fairbrook is the former dean of the Culinary Institute of America. His Jewish family left Germany in 1933 when he was 10.
Jon Wertheim: Why did you want to enlist initially?
Paul Fairbrook: Look I'm a German Jew. And there's nothing that I wanted more is to get some revenge on Hitler who killed my uncles, and my aunts and my cousins and there was no question in my mind, and neither of all the men in Camp Ritchie. So many of them were Jewish. We were all on the same wavelength. We were delighted to get a chance to do something for the United States.
At the time though, the military wouldn't take volunteers who weren't born in the U.S. But within a few months the government realized these so-called enemy aliens could be a valuable resource in the war.
Paul Fairbrook: You can learn to shoot a rifle in 6 months but you can't learn fluent German in 6 months. And that's what the key to the success was
Paul Fairbrook: You really know an awful lot of the subtleties when you're having a conversation with another German and we were able to find out things out in their answers that enabled us to ask more questions. You really have to understand it helps to have been born in Germany in order to &ndash in order to do a good job.
Both refugees like Fairbrook and Stern, as well as a number of American born recruits with requisite language skills, were drafted into the Army and sent to Camp Ritchie.
Jon Wertheim: How did you find out you were going to go to Camp Ritchie?
Guy Stern: I was called to the company office and told you're shipping out. and I said "may I know where I'm going?" and he said "no, military secret".
Jon Wertheim: They swore you to secrecy?
Originally a resort, Camp Ritchie was a curiously idyllic setting to prepare for the harshness and brutality of war. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland &ndash it was away from prying eyes and prying spies &ndash but close enough to decision makers at the pentagon.
Jon Wertheim: Give us a sense of the kinds of courses they took.
David Frey: Well the most important part of the training was that they learned to do interrogation, and in particular of prisoners of war.
David Frey: techniques where you want to get people to talk to you. You want to convince them you're trustworthy.
David Frey: But they also did terrain analysis, they also did photo analysis, and aerial reconnaissance analysis. They did counterintelligence training.
Jon Wertheim: This was really a broad range of intelligence activities.
David Frey: It was a very broad range. And they did it all generally in 8 weeks
Jon Wertheim: What you describe, it almost sounds like these were precursors to CIA agents.
David Frey: They were in fact. Some of them were trained as spies and some of them went on to careers as spies
Victor Brombert: My parents were pacifists so the idea of my going to war was for them calamitous, however they realized that it was a necessary war, especially for us.
Victor Brombert, now 97 years old, is a former professor of romance languages and literature at Yale and then Princeton. He was born in Berlin to a Russian Jewish family. When Hitler came to power, the Bromberts fled to France, and then to the U.S., eager to fight the Nazis, he, too, joined the Army. After recruiters found out he spoke 4 languages, they dispatched him to Camp Ritchie, where strenuous classroom instruction was coupled with strenuous field exercises.
Victor Brombert: There were long and demanding exercises and close combat training. "How to kill a sentry from behind." I thought, "I'm never going to do that," but I was shown how to do it.
Jon Wertheim: So physical combat training as well as intelligence?
Victor Brombert: yes, well with a stick. You sort of swing it around the neck from behind and then pull.
Among the unusual sights at Ritchie: a team of U.S. Soldiers dressed in German uniforms. The Ritchie Boys trained for war against these fake gGermans with fake German tanks made out of wood. Another unusual sight: towering over recruits, Frank Leavitt, a World War I veteran and pro wrestling star at the time, was among the instructors.
Training was designed to be as realistic as possible. The Ritchie Boys practiced street-fighting in life-size replicas of German villages and questioned mock civilians in full scale German homes. Some of the prisoners were actual German pows brought to the camp so the ritchie boys could practice their interrogation techniques.
Jon Wertheim: I understand you &ndash you had sparring partners. You playacted
Victor Brombert: One had to playact with some of the people were acting as prisoners and some of them were real prisoners.
By the spring of 1944, the Ritchie Boys were ready to return to Western Europe &ndash this time as naturalized Americans in American uniforms.
Still, if they were captured, they knew what the Nazis would do to them.
Some of them requested new dog tags &ndash with very good reason.
Jon Wertheim: This dog tag says Hebrew. Did your dog tag identify you as Jewish?
Guy Stern: I preferred not having it. I asked them to leave it off.
Jon Wertheim: You didn't want to be identified as Jewish going back to Western Europe.
Guy Stern: No because I knew that &ndash the contact with Germans might not be very nice.
On june 6, 1944, D-Day, the Allies launched one of the most sweeping military operations in history. A mighty onslaught of more than 160,000 men, 13,000 aircraft, and 5000 vessels.
Guy Stern: We were on a PT boat taking off from Southampton. And we all were scared. We were briefed that the Germans were not going to welcome us greatly. As a Jew, I knew I might not be treated exactly by the Geneva rules.
Divided into 6-man teams the Ritchie Boys were attached to different Army units. When they landed on the beaches of Normandy, Wehrmacht troops were waiting for them &ndash well-armed and well prepared.
Victor Brombert was with the First American Armored Division to land on Omaha Beach. He is still haunted by what he experienced that day.
Victor Brombert: I saw immense debris. Wounded people. Dead people.
Victor Brombert: I remember being up on a cliff the first night over Omaha Beach. And we were strafed and I said to myself, "now, it's the end" because I could-- you could feel the machine gun bullets
Jon Wertheim: Is that when you first realize &ndash I'm &ndash I'm in a war here?
Victor Brombert: Yes, I realized that I was afraid. I never calculated that there is such a thing as terror, fear. So I experienced viscerally, fear.
On the front lines from Normandy onwards, the Ritchie Boys fought in every major battle in Europe, collecting tactical intelligence, interrogating prisoners and civilians, all in service of winning the war.
In 1944, the Ritchie Boys headed to Europe to fight in a war that was for them, intensely personal. They were members of a secret group whose mastery of the German language and culture helped them provide battlefield intelligence that proved pivotal to the Allies' victory. The Ritchie Boys landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and helped liberate Paris. They crossed into Germany with the Allied armies, and witnessed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. All the while, they tracked down evidence and interrogated Nazi criminals later tried at Nuremberg. It was also in Europe that some of them, like Guy Stern, learned what had happened to the families they left behind.
By the summer of 1944, German troops in Normandy were outnumbered and overpowered. The allies liberated Paris in August and drove Nazi troops out of France. But Hitler was determined to continue the war. In the Ardennes region of Belgium, the Germans mounted a massive counteroffensive, which became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
Jon Wertheim: I see a tent in the background of that photo right in front of you
Guy Stern: Yes, that's my interrogation tent
Jon Wertheim: So this is you on the job. You're in Belgium?
Guy Stern: Yes, doing my job interrogating. Right.
Amid the chaos of war, Guy Stern and the other Ritchie Boys had a job to do. Embedded in every army unit, they interrogated tens of thousands of captured Nazi soldiers as well as civilians &ndash extracting key strategic information on enemy strength, troop movements, and defensive positions. They then typed up their daily reports in the field to be passed up the chain of command.
Victor Brombert: Our interrogations - it had to do with tactical immediate concerns. And that's why civilians could be useful and soldiers could be useful, "where is the minefield?" very important because you save life if you know where the mine &ndash "where is the machine gun nest?" "How many machine guns do you have there?" "where are your reserve units?" and if you don't get it from one prisoner, you might get it from the other.
97-year-old Victor Brombert says they relied on their Camp Ritchie training to get people to open up.
Victor Brombert: We improvised according to the situation. According to the kind of unit, according to the kind of person we were interrogating. But certainly what did not work was violence or threat of violence. Never. What did work Is complicity.
Jon Wertheim: What -What do you mean?
Victor Brombert: By complicity I mean, "Oh we are together in this war. You on one side and we on this side. Isn't it a miserable thing? Aren't we all sort of, tired of it?"
Jon Wertheim: The shared experience?
Victor Brombert: The shared experience, exactly. Giving out some cigarettes also helps a lot. A friendly approach - trying to be human.
The Ritchie Boys connected with prisoners on subjects as varied as food and soccer rivalries but they weren't above using deception on difficult targets. The Ritchie Boys discovered that the Nazis were terrified of ending up in Russian captivity and they used that to great effect. If a German POW wouldn't talk, he might face Guy Stern dressed up as a Russian officer.
Guy Stern: I had my whole uniform with medals. Russian medals and I gave myself the name Commissar Krukov.
Jon Wertheim: That's what you called yourself?
Guy Stern: That was my pseudonym.
Jon Wertheim: How did you do commissar?
Guy Stern: Thank you for asking (laugh) I gave myself all the accouterments of looking like a fierce Russian commissar.
Guy Stern: And some we didn't break but 80% were so darned scared of the Russians and what they would do.
Jon Wertheim: So there's a real element of - costumes and deception and accents.
Guy Stern: Yes and it's theatrics in a way yes.
Their subjects ranged from low-level German soldiers to high ranking Nazi officers including Hans Goebbels, brother of Hitler's chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels.
Another bit of indispensable Ritchie Boy handiwork: the order of battle of the German Army. Paul Fairbrook helped write this compact manual - known as the red book &ndash which outlined in great detail the makeup of virtually every Nazi unit, information every Ritchie Boy committed to memory.
Paul Fairbrook: When the soldiers said "I'm not going to talk" they could say "wait a minute. I know all about you. Look, I got a book here and it tells me that you were here and you went there and your boss was this." And they were impressed with that.
Jon Wertheim: So it sounds like this gave the officers in the field a guide to the German Army so they could then interrogate the German POW's more efficiently.
Paul Fairbrook: That's exactly right.
The Ritchie Boys earned a reputation for delivering important tactical information fast, making a major contribution to every battle on the Western Front.
Jon Wertheim: Their work saved lives?
David Frey: Absolutely. They certainly saved lives. I think that that's quantifiable.
David Frey teaches history to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
David Frey: Part of what the Ritchie boys did was to convince German units to surrender without fighting.
Jon Wertheim: And you're saying some of that originated at Camp Ritchie?
David Frey: Much of it originated at Camp Ritchie because it had never &ndash it hadn't been done before. How do you appeal to people in their own language? Knowing how to shape that appeal was pretty critical to the success of the mobile broadcast units.
In trucks equipped with loudspeakers, Ritchie Boys went to the front lines under heavy fire, and tried, in German, to persuade their Nazi counterparts to surrender. They also drafted and dropped leaflets from airplanes behind enemy lines.
Jon Wertheim: This was one of the leaflets that was dropped out?
Guy Stern: Out of a plane. I have some that were shot.
Guy Stern: This one was our most effective leaflet and why was that? Because Eisenhower had signed it and the Germans had an incredibly naïve approach to everything that was signed and sealed.
Jon Wertheim: And you think because it had that signature, somehow that certified it.
Guy Stern: Yes, that carried weight and the belief in the printed matter was very great.
Jon Wertheim: That's the kind of thing you would know.
Jon Wertheim: As a former German who understood the psychology and the mentality.
Apart from the fighting, there were other threats confronting the Ritchie Boys. Given their foreign accents, they were in particular danger of being mistaken for the enemy by their own troops, who instituted passwords at checkpoints.
Victor Brombert: What happened to one of the Ritchie Boys - at night on the way to the latrine, he was asked for a password and he gave the name - the word for the password - but with a German accent. He was shot right away and killed.
Jon Wertheim: Did you ever worry your accent might get you killed?
Victor Brombert: Yes of course. You know, I don't talk like an Alabama person or a Texan.
By the spring of 1945, Allied Forces neared Berlin and Hitler took his life in his underground bunker. Germany surrendered on May 8 of that year.
Jon Wertheim: What do you remember feeling that day?
Guy Stern: It was absolutely, "we won kid!" (laugh)
Jon Wertheim: And those are your &ndash those are your comrades.
Jon Wertheim: Those are your guys.
But joy turned to horror as Allied soldiers - and the world - learned the full scale of the Nazi mass extermination.
Guy Stern recalls arriving at Buchenwald Concentration Camp three days after its liberation, alongside a fellow American sergeant.
Guy Stern: We were walking along and you saw these emaciated, horribly looking, close to death people. And so I fell back behind because I didn't want to be seen crying to a hardened soldier and then he looked around to look where I was, how I was delayed, and he, this good fellow from middle of Ohio was bawling just as I was.
A few days later, Stern returned to his hometown, hoping to reunite with his family. But Hildesheim was now in ruins. A childhood friend described to Stern how his parents, younger brother and sister had been forced from their home and deported.
Guy Stern: They were killed either in Warsaw or in Auschwitz.
Guy Stern: None of my family survived. I was the only one to get out.
Jon Wertheim: Did you ever ask yourself why me? Why were you the one that made it to the United States?
Guy Stern: Yes, even last night. And I said "Well, huh, in slang, there ain't nothing special about you, but if you were saved, you got to show that you were worthy of it. And that has been the driving force in my professional life.
Jon Wertheim: So as a way to honor your family that perished.
After the war, Guy Stern, Victor Brombert and Paul Fairbrook came home, married, and went to Ivy League schools on the G.I. Bill. Guy Stern became a professor for almost 50 years.
They all rose to the top of their fields, as did a number of other Ritchie Boys, says history professor David Frey.
Jon Wertheim: I understand there are some Ritchie boys (that) became fairly prominent figures.
David Frey: There are a whole variety of prominent Ritchie boys.
It turns out author J.D. Salinger was a Ritchie Boy. So was Archibald Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. As was philanthropist David Rockefeller.
David Frey: Some became ambassadors. Some became critical figures in the creation of the CIA. Others were actually really important in American science.
Jon Wertheim: So there's all sorts of impact years and years and years after the war from this-- this camp in Maryland?
David Frey: It was not only the short term impact on the battlefield. It was an impact on war crimes. They were critical in terms of arresting the - some of the major figures and gathering the evidence for Nuremberg, then shaping the cold war era, they really played a significant role.
Jon Wertheim: How do you think we should be recalling the Ritchie Boys?
David Frey: I think we look at this group and we see true heroes. We see those who are the greatest of the greatest generation. These are people who made massive contributions. Who helped shape what it meant to be American and who &ndash in some cases &ndash gave their lives in service to this country.
Jon Wertheim: This - This is a remarkable story. Why do so few Americans know about this?
David Frey: Because it involves military intelligence, much of it was actually kept secret until the - the 1990's.
David Frey: A lot of what was learned and the methods used are important to keep secret. And only in the early 2000's did we begin to see reunions of the Ritchie boys.
Now in their late 90s, these humble warriors still keep in touch, swapping stories about a chapter in American history now finally being told.
Jon Wertheim: What is it like when you get together and reflect on this experience going on 80 years ago?
Guy Stern: We always find another anecdote to tell. (laugh)
Jon Wertheim: You have a smile on your face when you think back.
Guy Stern: Yes, this is what happens.
It was hard for us not to notice that beyond the stories runs a deep sense of pride.
Paul Fairbrook: (laugh) You bet your life I'm proud of the Ritchie Boys. It was wonderful to be part of them!
Paul Fairbrook: I was proud to be in the American army and we were able to do what we had to do. I don't think we're heroes. But the opportunity to help fight and win the war was a wonderful way. I can look anybody straight in their eye and say I think I've earned the right to be an American. And that's what &ndash that's what it did for me.
Produced by Katherine Davis. Associate producer, Jennifer Dozor. Broadcast associate, Elizabeth Germino. Edited by Stephanie Palewski Brumbach and Robert Zimet.
10 Lesser-Known Iconic Photos of WWII
There are many iconic photos that emerged from the Second World War. Many of the people in these photos are instantly recognizable &ndash Churchill flashing the &ldquoV&rdquo for victory sign, for example. In other photographs, however, you may not know the name of the people depicted &ndash the sailor kissing the nurse on VJ Day, the Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima &ndash but you definitely know the story.
Ten of those somewhat lesser-known photographs are presented here, along with the fascinating stories of the people in them.
This WWII era photograph was used to show Americans that women were doing their part to fight the war &ndash even when they really weren&rsquot. The four women pictured here, in front of the famous &ldquoPistol Packin&rsquo Mamma&rdquo aircraft, were part of the Women&rsquos Airforce Service Pilots program &ndash better known as the WASPs. One of the four &ndash the farthest on the right &ndash is Blanche Osborn Bross.
The WASPs were a very exclusive club. Over 25,000 women applied for the program, and only 2,000 were selected of which barely 1,000 graduated and became pilots. Though they did not see wartime action, some of them did die in airplane accidents. After the war, Blanche Osborn Bross continued to fly, and later served with the Red Cross in China. She died at the age of 92.
This Soviet WWII photograph was unidentified for 23 years until the man in it, Aleksey Gordeyevich Yeremenko, was recognized by his wife and children when they saw the photograph in Pravda. It remains one of the most iconic photographs of World War II. Yeremenko was a junior political officer serving with the 220th regiment of 4th Rifle Division. On July 12, 1942, the commander of his regiment fell during battle. Rallying his troops to the attack, Yeremenko stood and waved them on. Seconds after this photograph was taken, Yeremenko was shot dead.
Many WWII photographs are shocking because of what they depict (&ldquoThe Last Jew of Vinnitsa&rdquo for example). This Japanese photograph is shocking because of what it implies. Seen here are two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda, each leaning against his Samurai sword. The photograph was widely shown in Japanese newspapers in 1937, and depicted a &ldquocontest&rdquo between Mukai and Noda to see who could be the first to cut off 100 heads.
The photograph and story came from about the time of the Japanese invasion of China and the slaughter and rape of Chinese cities such as Nanking, where the Japanese army systematically raped and killed untold thousands of civilians and Chinese prisoners of war.
The newspaper articles tried to describe the killing contest as being performed during &ldquohand to hand combat&rdquo, but in all likelihood, the beheadings by sword were carried out on helpless civilians and prisoners. Later editions of the newspapers stated that each had broken the &ldquo100 head&rdquo goal, and were therefore resetting the goal to 150 heads. After the war, one of the men admitted that only four of the beheadings had taken place during combat &ndash most of his total came from passive, lined-up Chinese prisoners. After the war, both Mukai and Noda were executed for war crimes.
On September 16 and September 22, 1941, the Nazis rounded up all of the Jews in the town of Vinnitsa, Ukraine, and executed them. Pictured here in this famous photograph we see a man, kneeling before a pit filled with bodies, about to be shot by a German soldier. This photograph was found among a German soldier&rsquos photo album, and on the back was written the title &ldquoThe Last Jew of Vinnitsa&rdquo.
A Wehrmacht officer who observed the slaughter described it in all its horror. The people were told to show up at the already dug pit for a &ldquocensus&rdquo. They were then forced to disrobe and turn in all their belongings. A row of naked people were then lined up along the pit, and mowed down by German soldiers using pistols. The next group would be ordered to shovel quicklime onto the still-writhing bodies in the pit, then repeat the process of undressing, turning over their valuables, and being shot &ndash until each and every one of them joined their families and neighbors in the pit. All 28,000 Jews from Vinnitsa were killed in this manner.
So many images from World War II, like this one, do not have captions detailing who was in the photograph. In some cases, photographers quickly snapped photographs of soldiers who were on the move or in action. The photographers never had the time to ask their name, company, or other information.
Other images, similar to this one, were never documented because of what they depicted. Though the year and campaign are given for this tragic photo, there is little wonder why the name of the woman and her child were never recorded. They were about to be executed by a German soldier. Who were they? All we know is that the photograph was taken in the Ukraine, and shows the execution of Jews from Kiev. Mailed from the Eastern Front back to Germany, the photograph was intercepted by a member of the Polish Resistance who kept it as documentation of German war time atrocities. The only description written on the photograph was &ldquoUkraine 1942, Jewish Action [operation], Ivangorod.&rdquo
Though largely over shadowed by the bloody fighting the U.S. Marines and Army encountered on other islands such as Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the battle for Peleliu Island in 1944 was just as bloody &ndash maybe even more so. The fighting on Peleliu was sheer butchery on both sides. The US Marines and army would suffer 6,800 casualties, the Japanese army at least double that.
Captured here in an iconic photograph of WWII, on September 15, 1944, are two Marines enjoying a brief respite from the constant battle. Gerald Churchby (later found out to be Thursby) and Douglas Lightheart are sitting in a shell hole, with the jungle of Peleliu shattered and broken all around them. That&rsquos private Lightheart from Michigan, sitting holding the large machine gun in his lap, with a cigarette butt hanging from his mouth. The look in his eye is one of acute awareness, as if the enemy were about to attack at any second (which they probably were). Sitting to his right is private Churchby, seen holding his rifle with a far more casual and unconcerned look. Maybe he was just trying to smile for the picture?
Thomas Murray would do his part to win WWII by being the poster boy for rationing. During the war, Americans had to use ration stamps to buy all manner of goods that were in short supply, because these goods were needed for the war effort. Coffee, butter, rubber, and many other staples were hard to come by. The US used poster campaigns to put a face on the soldier who was fighting for the country and who needed these goods, as a way to encourage Americans to make sacrifices and tolerate rationing. This iconic photograph of Murray smiling to the camera and holding a military cup of &ldquoJoe&rdquo was one of the most popular &ldquosupport rationing&rdquo posters of the war effort. Murray died in 2002 at the age of 87, and was buried with full military honors.
Murray&rsquos face would later be used in another war effort &ndash the war (still ongoing) for Internet discussion board civility. A copy of the poster, with the words changed to &ldquoHow About a Nice Big Cup of Shut the Fuck Up&rdquo (Think Before You Say Something Stupid) was &ndash and still is &ndash commonly used on discussion boards to try to shame trolls into thinking before they post. The rationing effort was far more successful.
Not much is known about this iconic World War II photograph, but to many it is instantly recognizable, and is titled simply &ldquoGrief&rdquo. The photograph was taken by Soviet photographer Dmitri Baltermants. He photographed many Soviet battles including Stalingrad, and he himself was wounded twice. All of his photographs were censored by the Red Army. Only the ones that fit into the Soviet propaganda campaign would be published. Though this photograph was sent around the world during WWII, few newspapers or magazines would publish it, considering it to be another piece of staged Soviet propaganda.
The photograph did not become widely known until the 1960s, and is now one of Baltermant&rsquos most famous images. Shown is the aftermath of a German army massacre of Jews in Kerch, in 1942. The village women search the bodies for loved ones. The brooding, saturated sky adds to the drama of the photo. The woman standing with her arms out would later find the body of her murdered son.
Everyone recognizes General Dwight D. Eisenhower in this famous image. He is seen here addressing American paratroopers on June 5, 1944, the day before the D-Day invasion of Europe. The tall man standing directly in front of Eisenhower and wearing the #23 around his neck was Lt Wallace C. Strobel. Strobel was part of an airborne infantry regiment that parachuted behind enemy lines, the night of the D-Day invasion. Of the 792 men in Strobel&rsquos regiment, only 129 would still be fighting six days later. One of those 129 was Strobel. He died in 1999.
Strobel remembered meeting Ike. He and the other paratroopers had smeared burned cork or cooking oil over their faces, to blacken them for night-time operations. The number hanging around his neck was meant to designate his assigned plane. Strobel was the jump master for his plane. He and his fellow crew were making last minute preparations for the mission when Ike appeared and walked straight up to him. Ike asked him what state he was from, and whether or not he felt ready for the mission. Strobel told Eisenhower that he was from Michigan &ndash and yes, they were ready. Eisenhower responded that he had been to Michigan, and loved the fishing there. Though Strobel felt Eisenhower had come to try to reassure the men and lift their spirits, it actually seemed to be they who lifted Ike&rsquos spirits. Strobel remembered how well-trained and prepared they were, and that their confidence had a real calming and reassuring effect on Eisenhower.
Sergeant Leonard Siffleet was a commando fighting with the Australian Army in New Guinea when he was captured by natives, who turned him over to the occupying Japanese army. Trained as a radio operator in the Special Forces, Siffleet was part of a secret surveillance detachment sent to New Guinea to watch the coast and report back on enemy activities.
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ADDRESSES FOR INFORMATION AND RESEARCH
Bundesarchiv - Militärarchiv
Federal Records Office - Military Archive
Phone: +49 (0761) 47817 0
Fax: +49 (0761) 47817 900
Archive specialist service:
Phone: 0761 47817 864
User room service:
Telephone: +49 (0761) 47817 911
Bundesarchiv - Zentralnachweisstelle
Federal Central Record Office
Phone: +49 024 081470
Fax: +49 024 0811437
The offical Institution which houses documents and information of historical importance to the German Federal Republic. A great deal of information it holds relates to WWII, and is available for use by researchers and authors. As per the Bundesarchiv: "Everybody shall upon application have the right to use Federal archival documents more than 30 years old unless legal stipulations provide otherwise. "
Bundesarchiv - Personenbezogene Auskünfte - PA
Federal Records Office - Personal Information
Phone: +49 (030) 41904 440
+49 (030) 41904 100
As a branch of the German Federal Archive system, this office is a contact point for information on specific personnel questions relating to those who survived WWII. For information on German veterans MIA or KIA during WWII, please see WASt below.
Bundesministerium der Verteidigung
Federal Ministry of Defense
Bundesministerium der Verteidigung
Postfach 13 28
Deutsche Dienstelle (WASt)
Wehrmacht Information Office for War Losses and PoWs
Deutsche Dienstelle (WASt)
Postfach 51 06 57
Phone: +49 (030) 41904-100
Fax: +49 (030) 41904-100
For the notification of next-of-kin of members of the former German Wehrmacht who were killed in action. The WASt can help with the following:
- Provide certificates confirming a person was killed in action.
- Providing supporting documentation when applying for death certificates.
- Help solve MIA cases.
- Help decode Wehrmacht identity discs.
- Help decode Wehrmacht Field Post Office Numbers.
- Provide known locations of war graves.
- Aid in the administration of personal effects.
- Provide records of Military Service.
- Provide certificates required by the Social Security Services, Ministry of Pensions, etc.
- Provide proof of time spent as a POW.
- Provide proof of decorations and Honour Awards.
- Provide proof of nationality.
Please note that in accordance with the German Data Protection Law the Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt) is only allowed to provide information to the persons concerned, their relatives or their legal heirs, or to Authorities in the carrying out of their legal duties.
History of the WASt:
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the National Information Office was opened in Berlin W 30, in accordance with Article 77 of the Geneva Convention of 27.07.29 dealing with the treatment of prisoners-of-war. It took up its duties on 26.08.39 as Office of the Wehrmacht High Command with the title "Wehrmacht Information Office for War Losses and P.o.W.s" or WASt. In addition to providing information about foreign prisoners-of-war its main tasks were the registration of German Wehrmacht casualties (wounds, illness, deaths, MIAs), the processing of these cases including personal status control and official grave service. In August 1943 the Wehrmacht Information Office was moved to Thuringia, part of it being stored in Saalfeld and part in Meiningen. After the occupation of Thuringia, from the 12.04.45 onwards, the WASt worked under the supervision of the American Military Commission. On the 01.07.1945, immediately before Soviet troops took over in Thuringia, the Americans moved the WASt to Fürstenhagen near Kassel. At the end of January 1946 the WASt returned to Berlin and received its present name, which is a literal translation of the American designation. On the 14.06.46 the Allied Control Commission decreed that the WASt was to continue its work created by national and international commitments. At the same time the French section of the Control Commission took over the administration of the WASt. During the early post-war years the Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt) received many comprehensive records of other military and para-military organisations. In addition, in December 1990, it took over a large amount of records of the one-time Wehrmacht for evaluation. These records had been stored in the Military Archives Potsdam and the State Archives of the one-time GDR substation Dornburg near Zerbst/Anhalt. Owing to post-war laws the original task of the WASt has increased considerably. Because of its unique material the Information Office is approached by private individuals as well as authorities dealing with cases which concern Wehrmacht service and its effect in numerous areas. After an Administration Agreement on the 09.01.51 between the Federal Government and the Land Berlin the Information Office (WASt) became an Authority of the Land Berlin. It is part of the Senate Adminstration of Health and Social Security subordinate to the President of Department of Health and Social Security Berlin.
Deutsches Rotes Kreuz
German Red Cross
Deutsches Rotes Kreuz
Deutsches Rotes Kreuz
D-81549 München (Munich)
The German branch of the international Red Cross, the world-wide emergency relief organization. The DRK was active during WWII, and also maintains a great deal of documents and information pertaining to WWII.
Institut für Vertriebenenforschung
Institute for Research of Expelled Germans
The Institute for Research of Expelled Germans is an academic organisation that documents the largely unknown story of more than 10,000,000 ethnic German civilians who were subjected to deportation, compulsory labour, and in many cases starvation and ethnic violence after World War II.
Internationaler Suchdienst Arolsen
International Tracing Service Arolsen
Große Allee 5 - 9
34454 Bad Arolsen
Phone: +49 (0)5691 629-0
Fax: +49 (0)5691 629-501
The Arolsen Archives carrys out research for survivors and relatives, they provide information for people involved in education and research and organize exhibitions, lectures and more.
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge
German War Graves Commission
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräbefürsorge
Werner-Hilpert Strasse 2
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e.V. is a humanitarian organisation charged by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany with recording, maintaining and caring for the graves of German war casualties abroad.
Gemeinshaft der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger
Organization of Air Force Fighter Pilots
Gemeinshaft der Jagdflieger
Vereinigung der Flieger
Deutscher Streitkrafte e.V.
The community is an amalgamation of members and former members of the flying units of the German armed forces, including the support staff and members of their families. The community wants to preserve the traditions of the aviator generations and critically examine the eventful history of the German armed forces. In the interests of international understanding, they connect with the relatives and former members of foreign aviation associations.
Interview With World War II German Officer Siegfried Knappe
Berlin was a stout place for a fight. It was large, modern and well-planned, which had allowed it to remain less damaged than other German cities, even though it had been heavily bombed. Still, by 1945, approximately 25 percent of Berlin had been destroyed by air raids, but its essential services had never been overwhelmed. Because of its sturdy construction, a great effort would be required to capture the capital city.
The same factors that made Berlin so bomb-resistant also helped it resist ground attack. Throughout the city, large apartment buildings stood on strong, deep cellars. Wide boulevards and avenues at regular intervals served as firebreaks and would also serve as killing zones against Soviet tanks and infantry. Natural obstacles within the city made it even more defensible. The Spree River cut from the northwest part of the city through its center to the southeast. Berlin’s southern approaches were guarded by the Teltow Canal. The center of the city, the heart of the capital, lay in a ‘V’ surrounded by the Spree River and the Landwehr Canal.
Many of the city’s defenders were fighting for survival in the hope that they could delay the Soviets long enough for the Western armies to occupy more of Germany and, hopefully, Berlin. That was a hope that would never be realized, however. Berlin was defended by the LVI Panzer Corps under General Karl Weidling. At the start of the Soviet offensive, the LVI Panzer Corps was still not fully manned and consisted of only two divisions, the recently formed Muncheberg Division and the 20th SS Panzer Division, whose strength had been severely depleted during futile counterattacks at Kustrin. Eventually, the corps would consist of five divisions. When it fell back into Berlin, it lost contact with one division, so the last battle was fought with four divisions, as well as those forces already in the city–a total of 60,000 men and 50 to 60 tanks.
The Soviet armies were well-trained and well-equipped. Their plan was to surround and capture the city on the sixth day of the offensive. By the 11th day, the Red Army was at the Elbe River. Contrary to the Soviet plan, Berlin did not surrender until May 2, a full 17 days after the offensive began. The American and Soviet troops first met on April 25 at the Elbe River, 10 days after the offensive began.
While it is difficult to say exactly how many Soviet soldiers actually participated in the assault on Berlin, the Berlin Medal was awarded to nearly 1,082,000 troops. That means the Soviet forces had more than 10 times the men the Germans had during the fight for the city itself. Even so, it took the Red Army from April 21, when it first reached the city, until May 2 to capture Berlin–a total of 12 days.
The length of time required to capture the city can be explained by the desperate German resistance, the difficulties involved in street combat and the Soviet soldiers’ knowledge that the war was all but over. Soldiers have no desire to die, and it is difficult to motivate them to take extra chances if they feel that their deaths would be meaningless. The Soviet soldier had nothing to gain or prove by dying for the motherland so late in the war. Even so, losses among the three Red Army fronts involved in the operation from April 16 to May 8 totaled more than 300,000 men–over 10 percent of their total strength.
One German soldier who fought during the battle for Berlin was Siegfried Knappe. At the time of the battle, he was a major and the operations officer of the LVI Panzer Corps. Knappe, along with Ted Brusaw, has recently written Soldat, a book on his experiences in the German army from 1936 to 1949.
WWII: How were the defenses of Berlin laid out?
Knappe: The defenses of the city consisted of three rings with nine sectors. The outer ring was about 60 miles in circumference and ran around the outskirts of the city. It mainly consisted of partially dug trenches and hastily emplaced roadblocks. The middle ring was about 25 miles in circumference and made use of already existing obstacles such as the S-Bahn [surface railway] and solidly built houses. The inner ring was the center of the city and consisted of massive government buildings. In addition, there were six bombproof flak towers. Eight of the sectors, labeled A through H, radiated in a pie shape through all three defensive rings. The ninth, Z, was located in the center of the city. Sector Z had its own defensive force consisting of Hitler’s SS guard units. Beyond the flak units there were no regular army units to speak of in Berlin until we arrived.
WWII: How many experienced soldiers did you have in the LVI Corps?
Knappe: I have a report here that gives a good answer to that question. It says that the fighting power when we had all five divisions was the equivalent of two divisions.
WWII: How many men would that be?
Knappe: About 40,000 men if both divisions had their full peacetime complement. The report also says that other units in Berlin were the equivalent of two to three divisions and that the Waffen SS was the equivalent of half a division. All together it says about four to five divisions consisting of 60,000 men with 50 to 60 tanks.
WWII: How good were the other units?
Knappe: Their fighting ability was limited. Some were Volkssturm [Home Guard] and Hitler Youth, and their equipment was very limited. Others, such as the anti-aircraft units, were limited in their mobility. They all tried but were not trained or equipped for infantry fighting. The Russians say in their literature [that we had] 180,000 men.
WWII: That would make it seem like a bigger victory.
Knappe: Yes. They may have come up with that number by taking the number of divisions and using their peacetime complement. But we were not even close to that.
WWII: Did you ever think that you had a chance to win the battle?
Knappe: No. It was clear from the beginning that we had no chance. We were only delaying until the Western powers could get to Berlin.
WWII: Did you ever talk among yourselves and say, ‘We can hold the Russians for a week,’ or some other time period?
Knappe: No, we didn’t put anything in time limits like that. We knew that we could hold out long enough for the Western powers to get to Berlin.
WWII: How did you, as a major, become a corps operations officer? In addition, you mention that the 20th Division was commanded by a colonel, but that is normally a major general’s position. Was that fairly normal during that time of the war–to have a much lower ranking officer in those positions?
Knappe: Yes, during that time of the war crazy things were happening. As I mention in my book, I almost became the commander of a division as a major!
WWII: In Berlin, how did you communicate with and control the troops?
Knappe: We started out with the Berlin civilian telephone system. As quickly as we could, we got our own net, but we did not have all of the communications equipment that we needed. So, we were glad to have the civilian telephone system available.
WWII: How much control did you really have over the troops?
Knappe: We had good control over the troops in Berlin. We lost control over the 20th during the fierce fighting outside of the city, just like the Ninth Army lost control over us. We just didn’t have all of the wireless that we should have had. All of our communications was with makeshift stuff, but we still could manage.
WWII: During World War II, the German army had a lot of ad hoc units. The Muncheberg Division was one of those, and they seemed to have done a very good job from the Seelow Heights, when they first entered combat, until the very end in Berlin. How was the German army able to do that?
Knappe: It was our training. There were still enough well-trained officers and noncommissioned officers that it could work, even at the end of the war. All of them had gone through the same training.
WWII: How could they develop unit cohesion when they were thrown together and then almost immediately sent into combat?
Knappe: That was a function of the officers and noncommissioned officers. Until Stalingrad we didn’t have to do that, but after it became a regular occurrence with all of the losses and retreats. Everyone knew that if they kept together and fought together they could evade captivity or being killed.
WWII: How was the Muncheberg Division formed? Did they take individual soldiers or did they try to keep them in groups?
Knappe: Everyone knew that there would be a big fight for Berlin, and the home units got orders to send everybody to the city of Muncheberg, which is where the name came from. The general staff decided what would be needed to start a new division there. The materiel, artillery, communication equipment and anything else that would be needed was identified and arranged to be sent to Muncheberg. A division staff had already been appointed, and they were there to receive the equipment. So, when the men arrived, the equipment was organized and waiting for them. I did this in France when the Sixth Army was lost at Stalingrad. I went to France, and the people that I needed of all ranks came for a battalion of artillery plus 250 horses and the guns.
WWII: You mention in your book that the Soviets lost an opportunity to seize Berlin sooner than they actually did. Could you expand on that?
Knappe: The time that I was talking about, when they could have had Berlin much earlier than they did, was after the initial breakthroughs in our outer defenses. There was a period of time where our defenses looked like a dumbbell. One end was circling the [Adolf Hitler’s] bunker and one end was circling the Olympic Stadium, which included the Pichelsdorf Bridge, where we were going to break out from, with a very long, narrow strip between the two on either side of Heerstrasse. They could have very easily attacked the bunker area by driving east, straight down Heerstrasse. In fact, they had individual tanks crossing Heerstrasse all the time. We were able to keep in contact with the units around the Olympic Stadium by the subway tunnel that ran under Heerstrasse. Every time I updated the situation map I always wondered why they didn’t realize what they could do. We just didn’t have enough troops to defend everywhere. The Russians just kept attacking where we were the strongest. They kept trying to get to the center of the city by the shortest way when the longer way would have been a lot easier.
WWII: You went into Hitler’s bunker a number of times during the battle. Initially, the guards took away your pistol, but toward the end they stopped searching you and you were able to take your pistol in. You say in your book that you had the opportunity to shoot Hitler, and while you thought about it you decided not to. Could you elaborate on that?
Knappe: If I had shot him it would not have changed anything because the fighting was all but over.
WWII: After all of those years of Hitler being Fuhrer, what caused you to change your mind about him? Did the change occur in a day or two, or was it something that you had been thinking about for some time?
Knappe: It was not a sudden change. It was something that had started right after Stalingrad. It was not just me but a general feeling among the front-line officers. We could see what was really happening.
WWII: What made you think about killing Hitler when the opportunity was presented?
Knappe: Probably his statement to General Weidling when Weidling was asking him for permission to break out and for him to go with us. General Weidling told me that Hitler had said that he did not want to die in the street like a ‘Landstreicher.’ Landstreicher does not have an exact translation into English, that is why my book uses the word ‘dog,’ but a Landstreicher is someone like a hobo or panhandler. Both of us had seen hundreds of German soldiers die in the streets during the war, and now Hitler was saying that he did not want to die like they died. My brother died from his wounds that he received in Russia. So, both of us were very upset by Hitler’s use of this word. It was just such an unbelievable comment, especially to make that type of comment to a soldier. It wasn’t until this time that I finally began to realize what sort of man we had been fighting for.
WWII: So, it was that one statement?
Knappe: Yes. I just had this impulse to shoot him. I wasn’t worried about being executed afterwards, for I thought that I was a dead man anyway. We had recaptured some places from the Russians during the war and whenever we did, we almost always found that the German officers had been executed. So, I thought that the Russians would execute me after I was captured. Unconsciously, I realized that I couldn’t afford to make Hitler into a martyr. This would have created another Dolchstosslegende or’stabbed-in-the-back legend.’ [Joseph] Goebbels [Hitler’s propaganda chief] would have made the most out of it. I’m sure that he probably would have said that if the Fhrer had not been killed by a general staff officer he would have found some way to save the German people.
WWII: You mention in your book that you ate in the bunker when everyone was eating their last meal, before they were going to try to break out, and that you sat at the same table as Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary. There have been stories for years that Bormann survived the war and has been seen. What do you think happened to him?
Knappe: He is dead. He was fat and untrained. If you are in a battle situation you have to be trained. You need to know what to do when someone is shooting at you. He would not have known what to do when the shooting started. I am sure that he was shot somewhere in the city. There have been several reports from people in that group that he was shot after crossing a bridge. But of course no one in the group checked on him. Everyone was just interested in themselves, and besides, no one had any love for him anyway.
WWII: You were the one who typed the order from General Weidling directing any German soldiers who were still fighting to stop after the surrender?
Knappe: That’s correct. A Russian writer, Ilya Ehrenburg, incorrectly reported that a blond female secretary typed the order. I was blond at the time, but that was the only similarity. [Ilya Ehrenburg was one of the Soviet Union’s top propagandists during the war.]
WWII: After the surrender, you went into a prison camp in Berlin and were transferred to a prison camp in Russia for five years?
Knappe: That’s correct, but that’s another story.
This article was written by Ed McCaul and originally appeared in World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!
World War II: The horror of war in pictures
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The deadliest and most destructive war in human history claimed between 40 and 50 million lives, displaced tens of millions of people, and cost more than $1 trillion to prosecute. The financial cost to the United States alone was more than $341 billion (approximately $4.8 trillion when adjusted for inflation). Nearly one-third of homes in Great Britain and Poland were damaged or destroyed, as were roughly one-fifth of those in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Yugoslavia. In Germany’s 49 largest cities, nearly 40 percent of homes were seriously damaged or destroyed. In the western Soviet Union, the destruction was even greater.
The human cost of the war can hardly be calculated. Civilian population centres were intentionally targeted by both the Axis and the Allies. Planes of the U.S. Army Air Forces burned scores of Japanese cities to the ground with incendiary bombs before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed with atomic weapons. Japan’s troops in Asia enslaved some 200,000 women to act as sex workers (“ comfort women”) and often acted with a general disregard for human life, especially toward prisoners. Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army carried out horrific medical experiments on thousands of prisoners of war and civilians men and women were subjected to chemical and biological agents and vivisected to survey the results.
After agreeing to a partition of Poland with Germany, the Soviets slaughtered as many as 20,000 Polish prisoners of war at Katyn. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact guaranteed Soviet hegemony over the Baltic states, and tens of thousands of people were killed or unjustly imprisoned after the Soviets invaded Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The troops of the Red Army used mass rape as a terror tactic as they advanced into Germany using medical records and written requests for abortions as data points, experts estimated 100,000 women were raped in Berlin alone. Claims of war crimes carried out by the Red Army were generally dismissed by the Soviets as Western propaganda, however. When these actions were acknowledged, the Soviets professed that they were justified given the treatment of Soviet civilians by the Wehrmacht and SS troops.
The institutional scale of the Third Reich’s crimes against humanity makes it clear that the Holocaust was not merely a by-product of the Nazi war effort but a goal in itself. Hitler laid the bureaucratic groundwork for the mass destruction of European Jewry with the T4 Program, a targeted “euthanasia” campaign that sought to purge Germany of the infirm or disabled. These people—who ranged from newborns to the elderly—were deemed nutzlose Esser (“useless eaters”) possessing lebensunwerten Lebens (“life unworthy of life”), and they were murdered by the tens of thousands. The T4 Program proved the efficacy of gas chambers as implements of mass murder, and they became a key element of the “ final solution” proposed by SS official Reinhard Heydrich at Wannsee on January 20, 1942:
Another possible solution of the problem has now taken the place of emigration, i.e. the evacuation of the Jews to the East, provided that the Führer gives the appropriate approval in advance.
These actions are, however, only to be considered provisional, but practical experience is already being collected which is of the greatest importance in relation to the future final solution of the Jewish question.
Approximately 11 million Jews will be involved in the final solution of the European Jewish question…
It was understood by all attendees that “evacuation of the Jews to the East” was a euphemism for the Vernichtung (“annihilation”) of millions of people. That Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann, and the genocidal apparatus they constructed fell short of their goal of “11 million Jews” was due to advancing Allied armies and not to any lack of effort on the part of the Nazis.
Hürtgen Forest: The heroic German officer killed in a minefield trying to save an AmericanGermans firing back at the American forces in the Hürtgen Forest on 22 November 1944
October 7, 1994, saw a strange sight over the Hürtgen War Cemetery in Hürtgen, Germany. The cemetery is the final home of 3001 bodies – mostly German and mostly from WWII. It is therefore quite common to see Germans gather there to honor their dead.
But on that day, there was another group paying their respects to the fallen. Led by Lieutenant Colonel John Ruggles, former Regimental Executive Officer of the 22nd Infantry, the men were setting up a monument to a German officer.
What makes the whole thing strange was that the men were American veterans of WWII. Not only that but they had actually fought the German officer they were there to honor.The Siegfried Line
To understand this, we have to go back to 1944. The D-Day landings at Normandy saw the Allied forces gaining ground and fighting their way through Normandy one hedgerow at a time. Then came the breakout and in August of 1944 the Germans were pushed back towards Germany, often retreating faster than the Allies were able to advance.
Buoyed by their success, the Allies continued their rapid advance toward Germany. In so doing, they overextended their supply lines which slowed their progress and gave the Germans some breathing room by which to rebuild their strength.
By mid-September, the US First Army wanted to cross the Rhine River into the German heartland, but they were blocked outside the city of Aachen. By October, the US 1 st Infantry Division arrived to support the XIX Corps and the VII Corps as it surrounded the city which still refused to surrender.
The Battle for Schmidt
There was also concern about the Ruhr Dam. The Americans feared that the Germans might destroy it, creating a deluge that would mire down the Allied forces further downstream. To get to that dam as quickly as possible, they had to go into the Hürtgen forest which lay between the city and the Ruhr. A dense forest with steep hills and deep ravines.
Opposing them were the German 275 th and 353 rd Infantry Divisions under Lieutenant General Hans Schmidt. These had dug themselves in by setting up minefields, barbed wire, and booby-traps. They also used bunkers which serviced the Siegfried Line – a series of defenses along Germany’s western border which was built between 1936-1939 and was then abandoned for four years. Nature took over and gave the German bunkers near-perfect camouflage.
They knew the terrain well, some came from the nearby villages, and being there first, were able to prepare their defenses. Although the Allies were superior in the air, the dense vegetation of the forest virtually nullified their advantage since pilots couldn’t identify enemy targets. So while the Germans were outnumbered five to one, the odds were still in their favor.
The Kall Bridge
On September 19th, the US 60 th Infantry Regiment made their first foray into the forest but were beaten back. They had suffered some 4,500 casualties by October 16th when the US 28 th Infantry Division joined them. The 28 th launched a major assault on the German positions on November 2nd and captured the town of Schmidt the next day before they were expelled by a strong German counterattack.
On November 4th, the Americans retreated to Kommerscheidt where they pushed the enemy back. They again attacked Schmidt and fighting continued until November 10th when they were forced to retreat.
Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld was with the 275 th and became commander of the 2 nd Company when his Company Commander died in October. November saw them in Vossenack between Schmidt and Hürtgen, fighting desperately to save the town with the 116 th Panzer Division that would eventually dislodge the Americans and force them to retreat.
Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld
By November 10, Lengfeld’s company was exhausted. The group had been decimated, and those who survived hadn’t bathed in days. Everyone was suffering from a serious bout of lice, hunger, malnutrition, and severe cold, as well as damp because of the snow and rain.
They had been fighting over a forester’s lodge in the woods to the south of where the Hürtgen War Cemetery now stands. At the time, the lodge had been used as a shelter by both sides depending on who held it.
The structure was beside a minefield the Germans called “Wilde Sau” (wild sow) and despite its decrepit condition, it provided some shelter from the elements. The following day, Lengfeld lost two men from sniper fire, so they prepared for another attack.
Rifleman Hubert Gees who later attended the monument’s consecration
Later that evening, the US 12 th Infantry captured the lodge, causing Lengfeld to lose more men. Rallying around him, they launched a counterattack and managed to drive the Americans out the following morning. As the Americans retreated, one of them ran directly into the Wilde Sau with disastrous consequences.
Though severely injured, the American survived and began calling out for help. Beside the minefield was a safe path guarded by a German machine gun. Lengfeld ordered Hubert Gees (a rifleman and his communications runner) to go to the gunner and tell him not to fire at any Americans who came to rescue the man.
Hours passed and no one came for him, either believing he was dead or because the Americans had retreated in disarray. Unable to take the man’s cries any longer, Lengfeld decided to mount a rescue himself.
The lodge was located beside a road protected with antitank mines the company had placed and knew the locations of. At around 10:30 AM, Lengfeld led a team of medics beside the road till he got opposite the American soldier. He then went into the minefield, but as he got off the safety of the path, he stepped on a hidden anti-personnel mine which blasted him away.
They quickly carried Lengfeld back to the lodge, but it was too late. There were two deep holes in his back, and he was suffering from serious internal injuries. They managed to get him to the First Aid Station in Froitzheim where he died later that evening.
The identity of the American soldier remains unknown.
The Battle of Hürtgen Forest was one of the longest battles fought in WWII, lasting from September 1944 until February 1945 at a cost of some 33,000 American lives and about 28,000 German ones.
Despite this, Ruggles felt compelled to honor Lengfeld’s heroism during the battle’s 50 th anniversary. And that’s why veterans of the 22 nd US Infantry Society set up a monument in his honor at the cemetery.
In part, it reads: No man hath greater love than he who layeth down his life for his enemy
The Monument to Langfeld. Photo Credit