Monday, August 19, 2013

Life on the US Home Front

Life Goes on Back Home

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Get a job!

The United States, alone among all the major combatants, suffered virtually no war damage on its shores. Yes, Pearl Harbor is in Hawaii, and the Japanese did invade the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, but neither place became a State until almost twenty years later.

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Prior to 1942, US schoolchildren recited the pledge of allegiance with the Bellamy Salute, which clearly is very reminiscent of ....

The closest thing to actual war damage suffered on the Continental United States was a Japanese balloon bomb or two in Washington State close to the end of the war, and the rare sight of freighters torpedoed just off the coast. Aside from those incidents, the homeland remained unmolested.

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La Vonne Knapp, Moore shipyard worker, holding a rivet gun up to a caricature of Adolph Hitler. June 7, 1942. Photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. The Oakland Tribune Collection. Gift of ANG Newspapers.

That doesn't mean that life went on as usual. Far from it. The US was the "Arsenal of Democracy," as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it, and normal life changed for the duration. Below are a few examples of how the war affected ordinary citizens.


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Carole Lombard on her last night alive, selling war bonds

The war bond effort went into full swing right after Pearl Harbor. Celebrities such as Carole Lombard volunteered to help the war effort by helping to finance the war. Ms. Lombard crashed on her flight out of Las Vegas, Nevada back home in January, 1942 after the event pictured above.


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Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt came into her own during World War II, exhorting the women at home to step up and help the war effort. While she was a teacher before becoming First Lady, the war propelled her into a whole new realm. She went on to a distinguished career of her own after the war. She was active in Civil Rights, and was a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. Roosevelt also served as the first United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.


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A shooting gallery in Kitchener, Ontario

The war became entwined with popular culture. Films such as "Holiday Inn" and "Buck Privates" either partially or entirely glorified the war effort, and singing acts such as the Andrews Sisters performed in military attire and sang about their love serving in the military. "Johnny Got a Zero," a song about a real-life bomb gunner, was a popular song in 1943. Cheering on the war effort became quite fashionable.


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Jimmy Stewart addresses the first wartime Oscars ceremony

Not only was it fashionable to glorify the war, but many celebrities rushed to enlist just like everyone else. Many of the biggest stars in Hollywood, such as Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Mickey Rooney, joined up and performed honorable service. John Wayne suffered the stigma of not going on active duty for the rest of his life, though his trips in military uniform to forward areas in Australia to boost troop morale never were properly appreciated.

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Wartime poster

Everybody knows the buzz words "Rosie the Riveter," and women really did take on many crucial tasks on the home front. They build fighters, ferried aircraft, took over farming chores, and did everything that needed to be done while their men were off on distant fronts. This caused some problems after the war, as not only did the returning GIs need to find employment again, but the country entered a Recession due to the cutting off of wartime defense spending. The film "The Best Years of Our Lives" neatly summarizes the difficulties many veterans experienced upon returning home.


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A wartime ration book

Everything seemed to be in short supply during the war. Everything ran on oil, and there simply wasn't enough being produced to satisfy all the military needs plus allow everyone on the home front to fill up their tank. Once you used up your ration ticket amount, you were done until you could use your next ticket.

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Buying groceries on a ration card allowance. Note the tiny shopping cart.

The amounts of things permitted such as gasoline weren't great, maybe four or eight gallons of gasoline a week unless you had some special status. Cars didn't get great gas mileage in those days, either. For most, it didn't really matter, since Detroit wasn't making passenger vehicles during the war in any event.

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President Roosevelt inspects ski troops training in Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, Colorado

The interior of the United States took on an importance it never seemed to have before. Many prisoner of war camps were established far from the coasts, and farmers hurt by the 1930s dust bowl experienced a huge revival as they had to feed the Allied troops, prisoners and many liberated countries. Farmers whose land had been next to worthless before the war found themselves millionaires afterwards if they owned their own land - which many, of course, didn't.


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Rita Hayworth gave up her bumpers for the war effort

Oil and steel were required in massive quantities, as all those Liberty Ships and aircraft carriers being built required trainloads of steel. Scrap drives took place throughout the war, even extending to the seemingly petty contributions illustrated above. Learning to live without normal things was simply part of the wartime experience.

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A Wartime USO hall

That doesn't mean that wartime life had to be grim all the time. There were plenty of unattached ladies, and all those young soldiers and sailors in their snappy uniforms. This also led to the famous "Dear John" letters, when the girls back home found other pursuits while their boyfriends or husbands were manning guns in one of the theaters of operations. USO halls entered their own, and a lot of publicity was given to the "Hollywood Canteen" where famous stars of the day such as Barbara Stanwyck put in regular hours serving beers and even occasionally dancing with ordinary guys. Whatever it took to aid the war effort, people were willing to give.

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A wartime public health announcement

Things actually got a little crazy, compared to former times, with all sorts of promiscuity. Anything for the war effort, right? Stay far away from those dangerous dance halls, girls!

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They attacked the syphilis problem from both sides

Fighting sexually transmitted diseases was a major problem for the military throughout the war. The above poster was a punny attempt to attack the problem at its source.

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Working on a P-38 in Burbank, California

The airplane assembly lines in California were running full tilt. One of Robert Mitchum's stories was that, during the war, he worked on an assembly line next to an ordinary girl who seemed fun, but was nothing special. Her name was Norma Jean. Years later, they met again after both achieved Hollywood success, Mitchum as a tough guy in films like "Cape Fear," and Norma Jean in films like "Some Like it Hot" under the name (apparently coined by Mickey Rooney, or so he claims) of Marilyn Monroe.





2014

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Code Talkers

American Code-Talkers Help Defeat the Axis

Navajo Code Talkers

The 2002 Hollywood film "Windtalkers" publicized the efforts of the Navajo code talkers. The term most often refers to bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater. But there is a lot of history behind this area of communication.

"Code talkers" was a term used to describe people who transmit secret messages using a coded language. Code talkers transmitted these messages over ordinary military telephone or radio communications nets using formal or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. This enabled them to bypass fancy encryption machines such as the German "Enigma" machine. Students of the war know that the deciphering of German Enigma machine messages was a basic reason why the Allies won World War II.

Code Talkers were necessary for several reasons. The American military by 1942 had experienced little success with encoding messages. Military experts knew that Japanese cryptographers could crack any standard code. The problem was, the military never would know when that happened, so sending coded messages that were being deciphered by the enemy could backfire badly at the very worst time. Simply speaking normally "in the clear" was impossible because the Japanese were proficient at intercepting short-distance communications, on walkie-talkies for example, and then having well-trained English-speaking soldiers either sabotage the message or send out false commands to set up an ambush. Any other form of communication, such as messengers or elaborate coding machines, was too slow. A secure way to communicate over standard radios and telephones had to be found before the Generals could commit troops to combat.

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Philip Johnston

Philip Johnston, a World War I veteran and civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, proposed the use of Navajo to the United States Marine Corps at the beginning of the war. He had been raised on the Navajo reservation as the son of a missionary to the Navajos, and was one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently.

Early in 1942, Johnston met with Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet. Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions which demonstrated that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds, versus the 30 minutes required by machines at that time. This meant that orders could be passed on in "real time," a tremendous advantage under fluid battle conditions.

Vogel passed on his recommendation that the Marines recruit 200 Navajos. The first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp in May 1942.

Navajo Code Talker Joe Morris Sr

The rest is history. The Navajo code talkers were commended for their skill, speed and accuracy throughout the war. At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. These six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima," Connor said. Being able to send in messages "in the clear" without elaborate encryption was a huge time-saver in those days.


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The Navajo Code Talkers created an unbreakable code from the ancient language of their people and changed the course of modern history. They were young Navajo men who transmitted secret communications on the battlefields of World War II. At a time when America's best cryptographers were falling short, these modest sheepherders and farmers were able to fashion the most ingenious and successful code in military history.


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The 29 original Navajo Code Talkers.


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Above are Navajo Code Talkers in Maui, 1945.


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Undated photo of Chester Nez

Chester Nez was one of the 29 original WWII Code Talkers who developed a code based on the Navajo language - the only code the Japanese never cracked. He finally publicized his autobiography at the age of 90. Mr. Nez was the last of 29 Navajo who were enlisted as code talkers in the Marines during World War II. He passed away on June 4, 2014 at the age of 93.


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John Sells

Many people who had relatives that served in the war know that former soldiers of that generation did not talk much about their experiences. When they decided to open up, which was rare, it was a treat. John Sells (1915 - 2007) was one such Navajo Code Talker. Nearly 60 years passed between the time John Sells, of Shiprock, served as a Navajo Code Talker and the day he told his family he was one of the select group. Imagine hearing that for the first time.


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Navajo code talkers in the American-held Solomon Islands.


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Navajo Code Talkers

The Navajo are justly proud of their heroic code-talking fighters.

Other Code Talkers

While they performed great service during the war, the Navajo were not the only code talkers during World War II. Comanche, for instance, was used in the European theater to great effect.

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Comanche Code Talkers

While the Navajo were used in the Pacific Theater of Operations, other code talkers were used in the European Theater of Operations. Fourteen Comanche code talkers took part in the Invasion of Normandy (D-Day, June 6, 1944), and continued to serve in the 4th Infantry Division as it wheeled across France and Germany during further European operations.

Comanches of the 4th Signal Company compiled a vocabulary of over 100 code terms using words or phrases in their own language. Using a substitution method similar to the Navajo, the Comanche code word for tank was "turtle", bomber was "pregnant airplane", machine gun was "sewing machine" and Adolf Hitler became "crazy white man." It all made sense if you knew the language - but the Germans didn't know the language.

The Comanche Code Talkers were an elite group of young men who were fluent in the Comanche language and used that knowledge, along with the training they were given by the Army, to send critical messages that confused the enemy during World War II. Seventeen young men were trained in communications, but only fourteen were deployed to the European theater. Serving overseas were Roderick “Dick” Red Elk, Simmons Parker, Larry Saupitty, Melvin Permansu, Willie Yackeschi, Charles Chibitty, Willington Mihecoby, Morris Sunrise, Perry Noyebad, Haddon Codynah, Robert Holder, Clifford Otitivo, Forrest Kassanavoid and Elgin Red Elk. They were recruited from Cache, Cement, Cyril, Fletcher, Indiahoma, Lawton and Walters. Albert Nahquaddy, Anthony Tabbytite and Ralph Wahnee, who trained for the same role, did not serve overseas.

Two Comanche code-talkers were assigned to each regiment, the rest to 4th Infantry Division headquarters. Shortly after landing on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944, the Comanches began transmitting messages. Some were wounded but none were killed.

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Choctaw Code Talkers

In the picture above, the Choctaw Codetalkers: Native Americans Solomon Lewis, Mitchell Bobb, Ben Carterby, Robert Taylor, Jeff Nelson, Pete Maytubby, James Edwards, Calvin Wilson, Solomon Lewis.

During World War I, company commander Captain Lawrence of the U. S. Army overheard Solomon Louis and Mitchell Bobb conversing in the Choctaw language. He found eight Choctaw men in the battalion. Eventually, fourteen Choctaw men in the Army's 36th Infantry Division trained to use their language in code. They helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign in France, during the final big German push of the war. Within 24 hours after the Choctaw language was pressed into service, the tide of the battle had turned. In less than 72 hours the Germans were retreating and the Allies were in full attack.

Adolf Hitler, a veteran of World War I, knew about the successful use of Choctaw code talkers during that conflict. Before the Second World War, he sent a team of some thirty anthropologists to learn Native American languages. However, it was too big a task, and his experts were unable to learn the many languages and dialects that existed. The effort did pay off, though: because of the anthropologists' attempts to learn the languages, the U.S. Army did not implement a large-scale code talker program in the European Theater. But other people remembered, too, and the Americans revived the idea during World War II.


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Tony Palmer

Other Native Americans served as code talkers and in other roles in the US military as well. Above is Seminole Code Talker Tony Palmer, a highly decorated WWII Veteran from Seminole County, Oklahoma

Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony

On November 20, 2013, Congress held a special ceremony to honor the Native American code talkers.

For decades, the wartime service of 96-year-old Edmond Harjo and other American Indian "code talkers" was something that wasn't officially acknowledged or publicly recognized. Yes, it was known to those who cared to investigate a bit ever since the war - it wasn't a state secret or anything - but it was not widely disseminated. Several code talkers received Congressional Medals of Honor and other awards, but the effort as a whole was not properly recognized.

But on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, Harjo sat in the Capitol's Emancipation Hall enjoying an enthusiastic standing ovation from hundreds of people. House Speaker John Boehner gave the introduction.

Twenty-five Native American tribes received Congressional Gold Medals for the service of their citizens during World War II. Most of the original code talkers are gone, so members of their tribes received the medals on their and their tribe's behalf.

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html
Code Talker Edmond Harjo of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html
Elleia Chapella, widow of a code talker of the Hopi tribe of Polacca, Arizona. Her husband, Frank, whose picture is on her chest, served in Europe. He passed away in 1984 at age 75

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html
Members of the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html
Kenneth Ryan of the Fort Beck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Montana, with his tribe's gold medal

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html
Members of the Hopi Tribe of Polacca, Arizona and the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html

Congressional Gold Medal Code Talkers ceremony http://worldwartwo.filminspector.com/2013/08/code-talkers.html
Wallace Coffey, Chief of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, with his tribe's gold medal



2014

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Heroes of World War II

The Right Thing To Do



This is going to be a special page. We will review the stories of  people who, for the most part, are forgotten. A few have had movies made about them, but most haven't. That doesn't matter when it comes to being a real-life hero.

A hero is someone who defies their fear to help others at their own personal risk. Usually, a hero winds up losing a lot, perhaps everything. They help others for no better reason than that it is the right thing to do. World War II was full of gun-swinging, torpedo-launching, button-pushing fearless types about whom books and treatises have been written. The gunslingers may have helped win (or lose, depending on what side they were on) the war, and that certainly is necessary for the whole war equation to work itself out. Those types of heroes will get their own page at some point.

Here, though, we look at the Unsung Heroes of World War II. One could say that anyone who died in the gas chambers was a hero, and they would be correct, but we have to keep this manageable. Many of the names of true heroes are lost and never will be known. A few of the names are known, though, and those are the ones we honor in the absence of all the rest. And, no, this page is not meant to be complete. This is a sampling, meant to show the diversity of heroes.

Not everyone would necessarily agree with every name on this page. So be it. The folks mentioned are in no particular order.

Oskar Schindler

Oskar Schindler
"I hated the brutality, the sadism, and the insanity of the Third Reich. I just couldn't stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do. That's all there is to it. Really, nothing more." - Oskar Schindler

Schindler was a German factory owner. He also was a member of the Abwehr, the German intelligence (spy) service. The Abwehr was full of people opposed to Hitlerism, and it was headed by Admiral Wilhem Canaris, a committed opponent of the regime who himself was executed for that reason in April 1945. In contemporary German parlance, the Abwehr was "a nest of spies" for the Allies. Whether that had anything to do with Schindler ultimately opposing the destructive policies of Hitlerism is difficult to say, and may just be a coincidence.

Working for the Abwehr, Schindler helped with the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland, so he was no Saint. However, as the war went on, he became disenchanted with the extermination programs of the Third Reich. Bribing, wheeling and dealing, and generally risking getting shot every other day, Schindler managed to transfer his 1200 or so factory workers from the East to safety in the West during the closing days of the war. They all would have been executed otherwise.

Schindler had no business success at all after the war. Perhaps German customers did not wish to deal with this "traitor"? He survived only by the benefaction of the people he had saved. Although named Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1963, Oskar Schindler died anonymously and in poverty in 1974.

Long after his death, Oskar Schindler had a successful movie made about him, so he is a big deal in the media because of that. That does not matter one way or the other in terms of inclusion on this list. He is a hero of World War II.

Witold Pilecki



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Witold Pilecki

Let's move from the media hero to an unsung hero. Most heroes of World War II were quickly forgotten or never known, but they are no less deserving of recognition.

In September of 1940, Witold Pilecki (May 13, 1901 – May 25, 1948) was a Polish Resistance solider who wanted to know the truth about Auschwitz. He volunteered to infiltrate the death camp, spending the next 2.5 years as a prisoner. On his escape, Pilecki smuggled details about the German methods of execution and interrogation and eventually authored the first WWII intelligence report on the concentration camp. Whether or not the authorities made proper use of that information, Pilecki got it for them in an incredibly sacrificial way.

It is pretty clear that Witold Pilecki was a stud. Thank you for your truth and justice work.

Admiral Canaris



Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, executed in a concentration camp for opposing Hitler

Admiral Canaris was the top man in the German Naval Intelligence service, the Abwehr. He was good friends with and the mentor of a notorious German leader, Reinhard Heydrich, who lived in the same suburb of Berlin. Canaris became involved with the opposition to Hitler and was imprisoned in Dachau. He was executed there during the last days of the war, in April 1945.

Bronka Klibanski

Bronka Klibanski

Bronka Klibanski was a member of the Jewish resistance. She obtained critical weapons for the Bialystok ghetto revolt, gathered intelligence, rescued other Jews and saved the secret archive of the ghetto. After the Bialystok ghetto was destroyed, she continued her work against the regime. She worked with five other young women to continue rescuing and helping Jews. The women also smuggled weapons, supplies and medicine to the partisans in the forests near Bialystok. Completely forgotten today, Bronka, along with the other women, ultimately was awarded the supreme Medal of Heroine of the USSR, which carried a lifetime pension and numerous other benefits.

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Mrs. Mary Couchman, a 24-year-old warden of a small Kentish Village, shields three little children, among them her son, as bombs fall during an air attack on October 18, 1940. The three children were playing in the street when the siren suddenly sounded. Bombs began to fall as she ran to them and gathered the three in her arms, protecting them with her body. Complimented on her bravery, she said, "Oh, it was nothing. Someone had to look after the children."

Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller

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Martin Niemöller

Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller (14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984) was a German anti-Hitler theologian and Lutheran pastor. He was a U-Boat Captain during World War I, so, like Oskar Schindler, he was no Saint. However, also like Schindler, he ultimately had a change of heart that made him a hero. The point of putting Niemöller on this page is to show that saving Jews was not a necessary condition for being a hero, though it may have been sufficient. He was a hero for other reasons.

There is no question that Niemöller is probably the most controversial name on this list. He isn't usually recognized as a big hero, and, in fact, he is almost forgotten except by students of the war. He openly resisted Hitler at the pain of his life, though, and for that he was a hero.

Niemöller initially welcomed the order that Adolf Hitler was able to bring to an unstable country. However, he quickly grew alarmed at the regime's oppressive policies directed against the church and others. Niemöller was not particularly fond of Jews in general, at least at first, and was more interested in saving Christians. However, ultimately he did change his attitude toward the Jews, though not sufficiently ever to earn the title of Righteous Among the Nations from Israel, like Schindler.

What Niemöller did do, and do very effectively, was openly oppose the regime . For his pains, he would wind up in a concentration camp himself. He didn't have to go to a camp, like so many - he basically asked to be sent there as a form of protest. He survived the war by sheer good fortune, winding up in Dachau. In any event, he is best known for the following quotation, which may not be precisely what he said, but is generally agreed to be pretty close:
    First they came for the socialists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.
You have to admit, it is a pretty darn good quote, still used to this day.

Ona Simaite

Ona Simaite

Lithuanian librarian Ona Simaite took food to Jews in the Vilna ghetto, helped hide many Jews outside the ghetto, and saved valuable Jewish literary and historical materials. This photo was taken in Vilna, 1941. She is totally and completely forgotten, like so many heroes. She was a hero.

Wilhelm Hosenfeld

Wilhelm Hosenfeld

It might be a bit jarring to see someone wearing a German uniform on this page, but heroes come from everywhere. German soldiers often were perfectly placed to become heroes, if they made the proper choices. Very few of them did.

Hosenfeld

Wilhelm Hosenfeld (2 May 1895 – 13 August 1952), was a German Army officer who rose to the rank of Hauptmann. He helped to hide or rescue several Poles, including Jews, in German-occupied Poland. He is perhaps most remembered for helping Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman to survive, hidden, in the ruins of Warsaw during the last months of 1944.

He wrote this in his diary on August 13, 1943:
It’s impossible to believe all these things, even though they are true. Yesterday I saw 2 of these beasts in the tram. They were holding whips in their hands when they came out of the ghetto. I’d like to throw those dogs under the tram. What cowards we are, wanting to be better and allowing all this to happen. For this, we too will be punished, and our innocent children after us, because in allowing these evil deeds to occur, we are partners to the guilt.
Hosenfeld survived the war, but died in Soviet captivity on 13 August 1952, from injury possibly sustained during torture. If you think that simply being a German army officer is sufficient grounds for someone to suffer the pains of Hell, well, he did. Were it not for the film "The Pianist," he would be completely forgotten.

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Unknown British Postal Worker collecting the mail after a bombing raid

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Kids need their milk, bombs or no bombs

Heroes came in everyday walks of life. They keep things moving so the flashy ones can get all the press. The guys pictured above, whoever they were - as much heroes as anyone.

Really, when your world comes crashing down around you - what else can you do?

Chiune Sugihara

Chiune Sugihara

Chiune Sugihara. I bet you weren't expecting this one. Sugihara saved 6000 Jews. He was a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania. When the Germans began rounding up Jews, Sugihara risked his life to start issuing unlawful travel visas to Jews. He hand-wrote them 18 hours a day. The day his consulate closed and he had to evacuate, witnesses claim he was STILL writing visas and throwing from the train as he pulled away. The world didn't know what he'd done until Israel honored him in 1985, the year before he died.

Paul Grüninger

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Paul Grüninger
"I am not ashamed of the court's verdict. On the contrary, I am proud to have saved the lives of hundreds of oppressed people. My assistance to Jews was rooted in my Christian world outlook… It was basically a question of saving human lives threatened with death. How could I then seriously consider bureaucratic schemes and calculations? " 
Paul Grüninger was a nobody. He was a border policeman in a nation at peace, who could go home every night to his home, smoke his pipe, listen to the radio, then go peacefully to bed. A civil servant in a nation that wasn't even at war, Grüninger inexplicably and illegally allowed 3,600 desperate Jews entry to Switzerland, where they had a chance at life. Lost his job and pension as a result, died in poverty. End of story.

I don't know anything about Grüninger's later life and, to be honest, at this point it really doesn't matter. The guy was just sitting there in his border control shack, on an ordinary day like every other, minding his own business. Out of the blue he just decides to save 3,600 desperate people from certain death in the camps, despite clear and explicit orders to the contrary. Crazy.

Grüninger knew what would happen to him, civil servants always know the consequences of disobeying. In those days, it was much, much worse than now - there weren't any sympathetic media outlets to go cry on. It ain't pretty that he died poor and struggling when, by just doing nothing at one key juncture and following orders, he could have lived in comfort to the end of his years and left something for his heirs. He gave up something very real to him - sometimes death isn't the only ultimate sacrifice.

Paul Grüninger probably died alone and feeling nobody would ever care a whit what he did, with people around him perhaps even considering him a fool for throwing away his entire future. Without a pension, he was as good as dead. And for what? Just some Jews. Why didn't he just mind his own business.

Some people just deserve to be remembered, somewhere, somehow.

Anton Schmid

Anton Schmid

Anton Schmid (January 9, 1900 – April 13, 1942) was a German sergeant (feldwebel) who, during World War II in Vilnius, Lithuania, was executed by his superiors for helping 250 Jewish men, women, and children escape from extermination by the SS during the European Jewish Holocaust. He gave up everything - his life - to help others when he had no requirement or expectation of doing so. Another German army soldier - go figure. Bet you didn't expect to see anyone with a Hitler mustache!


Unknown Rescue Worker holding cat

Josef Schulz





A young German soldier (pictured center left, without helmet) refused to participate in the execution of 16 Yugoslav civilians. He dropped his rifle and positioned himself within the group. He was executed along with the civilians for disobeying his NCO. The man chose death instead of killing helpless civilians. You can't do any more than give your life. His name was Josef Schulz.


Unknown rescue worker holding cat

Life goes on, and saving something from the ruins is special. It is not glorious work, and nobody remembers them, but rescue workers deserve mention. These folks - heroes.

Armin Wegner

Armin Wegner

Armin Theophil Wegner (October 16, 1886 – May 17, 1978) was a WWI german medic who photographed and documented the Armenian Genocide by the Turks in 1914-1916, Later, he was persecuted by the Germans in WWII for his condemnation of anti-semitism. In 1933, he authored an impassioned plea to Adolf Hitler on behalf of the Jews of Germany. He was not Jewish - what business, most people would ask, was it of his? He considered it his business.

He was there at the beginning, when it counted, and he instantly and loudly protested. If others had joined him, things might have been different - but they didn't. What more can you do? His wife divorced him just before the war because of his protests. He wound up in a succession of concentration camps during the war, including the notorious Oranienburg. Somehow, he survived. He died forgotten, though his memory has been honored at times since then.

Like so many other heroes, Wegner was no Saint. He just tried to do the right thing at his own personal cost. Ultimately, Wegner was declared Righteous Among the Nations by Israel. That's good enough for me.

Anne Frank (and family)


Anne and Margot Frank in 1933

Anne Frank, just before the war

The Franks - they've gotten tons of publicity since their father discovered Anne's hidden diary. You undoubtedly know the story about how they were ordinary folks who hid out for most of the war in a tiny attic until betrayed by someone who never has been identified. All the publicity doesn't make them any more or less of heroes - they simply are heroes. Let's use them as stand-ins for the millions of people killed in the Holocaust. They're all heroes.

Claus von Stauffenberg

Claus von Stauffenberg

Claus von Stauffenberg. Everybody knows about Stauffenberg. Movies have been made about him, such as the Tom Cruise film "Valkyrie," and he remains one wartime figure Germans can point to with pride. He, to a tiny extent, redeemed some German honor during World War II. His motives for trying to kill Hitler were a bit murky, but he actually did what everybody else was afraid to do. Every concentration camp victim wishes they could have done what Stauffenberg actually tried to do. What he did was the right thing to do times ten, and he belongs here.

Stjepan Filipović

Stjepan Filipović

Stjepan Filipović was a Croatian Partisan who fought against Axis forces during WWII. Here he is, moments before his own execution. Moments before dying, he threw his arms into the air and yelled, ”Death to fascism, freedom to the people!” Valjevo, Yugoslavia - May 22, 1942. You won't find him in any other list of heroes. He is completely unknown, completely forgotten, a nobody from nowhere. Let him stand in for all the unknown partisans who helped others behind the lines. He belongs here.

Major Gen. Herman "Henning" von Tresckow

Major Gen. Herman "Henning" von Tresckow

Claus von Stauffenberg did not act alone - he was more or less the triggerman, not the architect, of the plot to kill Hitler. Major Gen. Herman "Henning" von Tresckow was the prime mover behind the plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944. Originating from an old aristocratic Prussian family, Tresckow was an early anti-Hitler plotter who never gave up trying to find a way to do away with Hitler. He was well known in resistance circles as the brains behind the whole deal. His organization actually tried several times to kill Hitler, but each time, the dictator was saved "by the Devil's hand."

Tresckow himself tried to kill Hitler directly by hiding bombs in two bottles of wine that he off-handedly asked someone flying with Hitler to carry for him back to Berlin. As Hitler returned back home after visiting with Army Group Center - his very last visit there, in 1943 - the bombs failed to detonate. The story is chilling in how close it came to succeeding, and it also makes one wonder whether some of the other airplane crashes that killed bigwigs like Werner Molders and Hans Hube were accidents or not. History would have been vastly different had he succeeded. In any event, Tresckow failed as a triggerman, so he had to find someone else. That man was von Stauffenberg, who Tresckow managed to get appointed to a key staff position in Berlin with responsibilities that included direct reports to Hitler himself. That set up Tresckow's final attempt to kill Hitler.

When the final July 1944 bomb plot failed, Tresckow knew it was all over. Hitler finally was on to his organization in a big way, and he could count on someone betraying him eventually. While serving with his unit in occupied Poland, Tresckow committed suicide by exploding a hand grenade under his chin. He gave up everything to try and do the right thing, and German soldier, Jew or Gypsy, that's all anyone can do. There were others like him who also were good at planning things out and organizing assassination attempts, but they all needed someone willing to get his hands dirty like von Stauffenberg and actually do the deed. You do need both - planners/organizers, and effective executioners. Tresckow did his best, despite his failure.

Hannah Szenes

Hannah Szenes
Hannah Szenes

Hannah Szenes was a Hungarian Jewish resistance fighter. She enlisted in the British Army and volunteered for service behind the lines in Europe. They trained her to parachute into occupied Yugoslavia, which was largely controlled by the Italians. After spending three months with Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia, she crossed into Hungary at the height of the deportation of Jews on May 13, 1944. The Hungarian Jews were about to be deported to Auschwitz.

Denounced by locals, Szenes quickly was arrested at the border by the Hungarian police and severely tortured. Despite her torture, she kept the details of her mission secret. During a "trial" in October 1944 she defended her actions but was sentenced to death. Szenes was executed by firing squad shortly thereafter. Not widely known in the West, Szenes is widely regarded by Palestinian Jews as one of Israel's national heroes.

Violette Szabo

Violette Szabo
Violette Szabo was a French-British secret agent. She performed undercover missions in occupied France. Captured after a gun battle at a German checkpoint by the SS Panzer Das Reich near Salon-la_Tour, she wound up in Ravensbruck and was executed by firing squad on February 25, 1945. She was 23.

Polish Resistance Fighters

Unknown Polish Resistance Fighters

You don't need to have a remembered name to be recognized as a hero. The Polish resistance rose up in Warsaw during the summer of 1944 when they heard that the Soviets basically were just across the river. Maybe it would take a few days, maybe a week - but the Soviets would come to their rescue, right? Wrong. The Soviets were strung out with tenuous supply lines stretching hundreds of miles, while the Germans were bringing up the last of their reinforcements. The Germans in fact sent in some of the most sadistic killers who ever wore a uniform. It took five months before the Soviets actually crossed the river and took Warsaw in January 1945. That was about three months too late for these doomed resistance fighters.

Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg - just another guy in a suit

Raoul Wallenberg (August 4, 1912 – July 17, 1947?) was a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian. He is widely celebrated for his successful efforts to rescue tens of thousands - maybe one hundred thousand - Jews in German-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust. Hungarian Fascists and the SS were bloodthirsty during the later stages of World War II, but Wallenberg outwitted them.

While serving as Sweden's special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory. Wallenberg quite possibly saved more lives than any other man in history. Think about that.

Wallenberg is famous, but not quite "Schindler" famous, despite saving more lives than the German businessman. The difference probably lies in Schindler having saved lots of "connected" figures, while Wallenberg saved mostly anonymous peasants who perhaps didn't even know who was saving them. Wallenberg also didn't live to cement his deeds in peoples' minds after the war.

As with many, many, many heroes of World War II, Wallenberg received no accolades during his lifetime, or, at least none that he could have known about. Nobody later made a splashy movie about him, either. He was just some guy in a suit who had no business getting involved at all, but did what he could for the sole reason that it was the right thing to do.

The Soviets completely encircled Budapest by Christmas 1944, and Wallenberg was trapped along with everyone else. All German relief attempts failed, and the city finally fell in February 1945. Well, no problem for such a wonderful guy whom the Soviets would probably decorate with their highest honors, right? Wrong. For his troubles, Wallenberg is believed to have been tortured to death by the Soviets in post-war captivity - though nothing ever has been confirmed. Why would the Soviets be upset at Raoul Wallenberg, an inoffensive diplomat from a neutral nation? You'd have to ask them.

For what it's worth, Raoul Wallenberg was named Righteous Among the Nations by Israel. He has been given (most likely posthumous) citizenship by numerous nations around the world, including by the U.S. No earthly honor would be enough to properly recognize what Raoul Wallenberg accomplished.



2014

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