Captured Reichstag

The Reichstag shortly after its capture by the Soviet troops, 3 June 1945.

This is a fascinating photograph to me since I have stood on the exact spot where the photographer who took this shot was standing and looked at the building. Everything is green and repaired and perfect now so it is hard to imagine it looked like this but it did.

German soldiers contested each floor of the Reichstag forcing the Soviet troops to both fight their way down to the basement floor by floor as well as up to the roof floor by floor. It was brutal up close fighting with soldiers using everything from hand grenades to sub-machine guns, to knives to a favorite of both sides: sharpened German trench shovels.

The building is deceptively tall and you can look out over much of Berlin from the observation deck. Quite a place to visit. Lots of history. As a German friend of mine said to that statement, “too much history.”

[Image courtesy of UK Imperial War Museum Website.]

Getting Their Just Deserts

After the Battle for Berlin ended on 2 May 1945 and the Soviet Army took control of the city, they seized those who had been members of the Nazi Party and forced them to clear rubble, sweep the streets, dig bodies out of the wreckage, and many other unpleasant tasks. I can’t think of a better group to have been forced into the initial cleanup of Berlin.

(Source: Battleground Berlin: Diaries, 1945-1948 by Ruth Andreas-Friedrich)

A Nazi Saved the Lives of Tens of Thousands of Chinese: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (Part 2 of 3)

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang (5 stars)

Ms. Chang, a journalist and historian, researched this book extensively and uncovered a number of startling facts. One of the most fascinating are the actions of the German businessman and Nazi Party member, John Rabe, who led a small group of Westerners which established the Nanking Safety Zone in an area of the city where foreign embassies had been located. They had all evacuated with the Chinese government before the Japanese came too close and no diplomats were left in the city.

Rabe (pronounced RAH-bay), and the other Westerners helping him, carried out a giant bluff and the Japanese never called them on it. It took great courage to do this. Having come across references to his diary, Ms. Chang located Rabe’s grandaughter in Germany who had the diary and persuaded her to have it published. I haven’t read the diary. The New York Times reviewed the subsequent publication.

Although neither Rabe nor the other Westerners left in the city were diplomats themselves, they declared the entire neighborhood where most of the embassies had been located to be diplomatic property. Hence those Chinese who fled into the Zone were protected.

Rabe’s actions saved the lives of almost 250,000 Chinese. Because of a treaty between Nazi Germany and Japan which focused on containing Soviet expansion, Rabe’s Nazi Party badge and swastika armband gave him a large measure of status with the Japanese. He went out each day of the seven week atrocity, armed only with his Nazi Party badge, which he used to great effect in maintaining diplomatic protection for the Nanking Safety Zone. It’s hard to imagine but almost 250,000 thousand Chinese were guarded and their lives saved by a man armed only with his Nazi Party badge. Clearly Rabe had not gotten the memo that the Nazis were in favor of genocide.

From his diary:

‘These escapades were quite dangerous. ‘The Japanese had pistols and bayonets and I – as mentioned before – had only party symbols and my swastika armband.’

Upon his return to Germany some months later, Rabe carried with him documentary evidence of the massacre, gave lectures, and wrote a letter to Hitler about the matter asking Hitler to use his influence with the Japanese to stop their violence against the Chinese. Naturally he was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo.

Rabe’s employer, Siemens AG, was able to get him released and he worked for the company throughout the war. At the end of the conflict, he and his family were living in Berlin. They were close to starvation but survived because of small sums of money sent to them by the Nationalist Chinese Government in recognition of Rabe’s humanitarian achievement. John Rabe’s story is astounding, tragic, heroic, and hopeful. His life demonstrates that in the worst of times, men and women can be found who will risk their lives to save others. He is remembered in China and Nanking. He deserves to remembered in the West as well.

[Images courtesy of Wikipedia and The Nanking Massacre Project.]

A City Destroyed: Berlin in July of 1945

Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Powers and the Soviet Union on 8/9 May 1945. Berlin itself was surrendered by its garrison commander on 2 May 1945. It’s hard for us to imagine destruction of the magnitude of Berlin in WW II. There had been no close combat fighting in a Western European capital since the Napoleonic era of the early 1800s prior to the Battle of Berlin.

The first three photographs taken for Life Magazine in July of 1945, give a sense of the utter collapse of the city. These women would have had an armed escort of US Military Police. The Fourth photograph shows the author in the same spot fifty-seven years later.

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American WACs examining the anti-aircraft guns atop the Flakturm am Zoo or Zoo Flak Tower tower in the Tiergarten. The tower took up an entire city block and was located at the present day entrance of the Berlin Zoo. The British dynamited the giant structure over a period of months in 1947/48.

 

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Female Russian MP being saluted by American WACs who are passing the Brandenburg Gate. Most Russian military police assigned to traffic duty were women. It doesn’t seem like a big job until one realizes that one Soviet armored division, for example, had thousands of vehicles and dozens of these divisions would be on the move at the same time. Traffic control was a major element in WW II offensive planning on all sides.

 

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American WACs at the Victory Column originally constructed to mark the Prussian victory over Denmark 1864 when the Prussians seized the Danish provinces of Schleswig and Holstein in a dynastic dispute. The provinces remain part of Germany today. Who should govern the provinces was a diplomatic question which dogged European governments for decades. British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston once said, “Only three people have ever understood the Schleswig- Holstein Question. The Prince Regent, who is dead. A German clergyman, who has gone insane. And I, who have forgotten all about it.”

 

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Charles McCain at the Victory Column which survived the war relatively undamaged and remains in the exact same place.