Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hitler's Maid, Elisabeth Kalhammer

Inside the Berghof

Elisabeth Kahlammer
Elisabeth Kahlammer in 2014.
Dictators always seem to have women about who see them through to the end - which is usually not a very pretty sight - and then just go off and live their lives. That was the case with Moammar Khaddafy, for instance, who had a Russian girl hanging around with him until he sent her away a short while before his bloody passing. It also was the case with Adolf Hitler.

In Hitler's case, he had a whole passel of young women - nurses, secretaries, maids, Eva Braun - around until things went south, and in some cases, they stuck around even after he committed suicide. As these support staffs reach the end of their lives in the 2000s - the ones, obviously, who survived, unlike Braun - they have had an occasional tendency to step forward and tell their stories (though many took their stories to the grave, too).

Telling all as they get older is not a new phenomenon for the Hitler girls. It was done, for instance, by daredevil aviatrix Hanna Reitsch in the 1970s. Reitsch, realizing her days were running short (she died a few years later), donned her Third Reich medals with pride in 1976, put on a broad smile and gave a lengthy filmed interview heavy on her experiences as a test pilot but woefully short on her interactions with Hitler. You can hear the pride in her voice as she talks about the Third Reich. Reitsch was the poster child for unrepentant former members of the regime.

It has taken much longer for most of the other girls in the bunker to reach that point, though. Only in the 2000s did many of these young girls of the 1940s reach that age where they felt comfortable popularizing their Hitler experiences because their own years were running short. Unfortunately, they, too, like Reitsch, tend to have little of significance to say about Hitler personally, though they give some interesting background color.

Elisabeth Kahlammer
For geographical context, here is a map of the area where Kalhammer lived. Munich is at the far left (unmarked), Berchtesgaden is at the center bottom, Wels is in a bit from the right edge of the map in the middle, where the blue line diverts, and Mauthausen is marked at the extreme right with a red arrow.
Elisabeth Kalhammer née Marchtrenkerin, born in 1925 and 89 in 2014 when she revealed her story to the world media, grew up in or near Wels, Austria. She worked at a bakery in Wels until some time in 1943, when she left that area. For context, Wels is about a 45-km drive to the southwest of Mauthausen, the notorious work camp. However, Mauthausen did not begin housing female inmates until 1944, so it is unlikely that Kalhammer would have had any opportunities there to work or cause to see what was going on. Kalhammer claims to have never known what was happening at the camps until after she returned to Wels in late April or May 1945.

Perhaps the bakery closed in 1943 because the owner entered the military. Or, perhaps the Germans simply closed the bakery because "unnecessary" shops were wasting resources. They did this increasingly as the war dragged on, particularly right after the Stalingrad defeat in February 1943 when Joseph Goebbels launched his "Total War" campaign.

Whatever the cause, in 1943 (apparently early in the year) Elisabeth needed a job. Extremely naïve, Kalhammer innocently answered an ad for a job in Berchtesgaden:
Maid wanted. Location: The Berghof on the Obersalzberg.
Berchtesgaden was about 130 km by car to the southwest, a long distance in those days, but a girl had to eat. In any event, it was a live-in position with room and board. Against her mother's opposition (why her mother objected is unclear, but probably simply because 19-year-old girls in that culture were supposed to stay at home until they got married), Elisabeth took the job. Kalhammer claims that she beat out "thousands" of other girls, or at least she was told that.

Elisabeth Kahlammer
Eva Braun living the high life at the Berghof. My understanding is that Eva liked to dress up in peasant outfits occasionally along with her girlfriends - perhaps because it was more comfortable than the somewhat severe suits then fashionable for women in the Reich. So, this kind of peasant attire would not have been completely unusual at the Berghof. Incidentally, Kalhammer says that she wore a blue uniform while the other staff wore red - why she was given blue is unclear.
Now, who might that employer be? It was no secret in 1930s Germany who lived at the Berghof. However, Elisabeth was just an uneducated peasant girl who likely had never ventured further than 10 kilometers from her home. This was common for the time, especially up in the mountains. It is not inconceivable that she would have known who Hitler was and that he was a powerful and rich man by hearing people talk, but not know anything else about him, such as where he lived or his reputation for starting wars.

Kalhammer only realized later that she would be working for Herr Hitler in the laundry and sewing rooms. Perhaps the three SS guard posts through which she had to pass on her first day was a tip-off? There were 21 other maids on staff, all sworn to secrecy, and one can tell from how long they have kept their silence how serious they were about that promise.

Elisabeth Kahlammer

It is important not to overstate Kalhammer's importance. Anyone looking for insights into Hitler's 1944 Ardennes strategy or the response to D-Day is sure to be disappointed by the likes of Kalhammer. She claims never to have met the man or spoken to him, only to have seen him through the window or perhaps while going about her duties. Anyone who has worked on a modern-day yacht of a wealthy dilettante would know the routine: once Kalhammer broke a cup and was disciplined harshly. That's how it was then, and how it is now. Actually, now the servant who broke a cup likely would be fired. Kalhammer was only grounded for a week, like a little girl. So, if you've ever worked on such a ship, your boss likely was worse than Hitler.

Kalhammer's major contribution to history? That Hitler enjoyed eating a special ‘Fuhrer Cake’ – an apple cake strewn with nuts and raisins – at night. This comports with a general understanding that Hitler liked to stay up late and sleep in, and he liked late-night snacks after his daily midnight war briefing. He went to bed at 4 a.m. and rarely got up before 2 p.m. Service staff like Kalhammer were not permitted to speak to Hitler or listen in on his conversations, much like modern-day pop stars who order the little people not to look them in the eye. Some folks put a great deal of stock in Kalhammer's recollection that Hitler liked to sleep late, but that fact already was very well known.

So, we get some trivia you won't find elsewhere. Another tidbit from Kalhammer is that Hitler's girlfriend Eva Braun ran the Berghof like an empress and that the staff greeted Braun with "Heil M’lady’, kind of an odd form of greeting. Obviously, Braun did not mingle with the servants. Kalhammer liked Braun, who turned out to be a big fan of propaganda actress Marika Roekk. Braun wasn't quite as popular later in the Berlin bunker, where people resented her presence as people will when powerful people lose power. But, in Berchtesgaden, Eva Braun ruled the roost.

Kalhammer worked at the Berghof for two years - until it was bombed into rubble at the very end of the war - and then disappeared into the mists of history like all the other girls. She probably lived thereafter at her parents' home until she got married. Hey, steady work is good to find even when your world is collapsing around you! She did not make it to Berlin for the bunker scene, there was a completely separate support staff there. But at least Kalhammer made this final effort to tell her story and is to be commended for that.


Monday, April 7, 2014

US Presidents at War

Every United States President from Franklin Delano Roosevelt through George H.W. Bush served in World War II.

Putting aside FDR and Harry S. Truman, who served as Presidents during the conflict, that leaves Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, And George Bush.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th US President.

"Ike," as he was fondly called, became a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe; he had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO, and in 1953, US President.

World War II Luftwaffe aces
Dwight David Eisenhower is the only US President to serve in the military in both World War I and World War II.

Ike is one of the few US Presidents, along with George Washington and US Grant, whose war exploits arguably overshadowed their fame as Presidents.
Future President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a senior at West Point, after a knee injury ended his football career.
General Eisenhower speaking to paratroopers before the D-Day invasion. The photograph above was taken on June 5, 1944, one day before the Allied invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy.
Eisenhower and Montgomery at Allied HQ in France after the Normandy landings, July 27, 1944. "Monty" was a constant worry for Eisenhower given the former's acerbic style and tendency to question strategy every step of the way. The British leader had few admirers in US ranks; it was to Eisenhower's credit that he was able to keep personal rivalries at a minimum and pursue the war with efficiency.
Patton, Bradley, Hodges, and Eisenhower, Germany, March 28, 1945
Ike got a lot of publicity when Germany surrendered
Eisenhower, Patton, Truman
Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower and wife Mamie leaving the Capitol for the inaugural parade, January 20, 1953.
Past Inaugurations: President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke tradition by reciting his own prayer after taking the oath, rather than kissing the Bible, which preceded his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1953. Seated behind Eisenhower is former President Harry Truman and Vice President (future President) Richard Nixon.
The 1962 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower walking together at Camp David following the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Two US Presidents and WWII Vets

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, right, with his brother and sister in London on 1 September 1939, walking to attend a special session of Parliament.

John F. Kennedy JFK Solomon Islands
JFK a few years later in the Solomons.

John F. Kennedy JFK
Lt. (jg) John F. Kennedy aboard the PT-109, Solomon Islands, 1943

John F. Kennedy was the 35th US President.

JFK was a Lieutenant (jg) in the US Navy, a Senator, and US President.

Everybody loves and honors John F. Kennedy. Well, pretty much everybody. I don't think I've ever met anyone who didn't.

John F. Kennedy JFK
JFK and sister Rosemary in the 1930s. Rosemary suffered a heinous fate at the hands of her father

John F. Kennedy JFK
A smiling JFK shortly before his night encounter with the Japanese

John F. Kennedy JFK
The boat JFK served on until it sank

John F. Kennedy JFK
JFK, lucky to be alive after the PT 109 adventure, 1944

John F. Kennedy JFK
A portrait of John F. Kennedy in uniform in World War II by Robert J. Donovan

John F. Kennedy JFK Jackie Kennedy
JFK and Jackie, maybe the early 1950s? A standard photobooth shot, but JFK already has a larger-than-life look.

John F. Kennedy JFK Jackie Kennedy
Not sure when this was, probably after attending Church during his Presidency

John F. Kennedy JFK Colorado Springs
JFK driving to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. That is probably the Commandant of the Academy beside him, where Jackie normally would sit. That area in the distance beyond the trees and across the highway (unseen) is all built up now.

John F. Kennedy JFK Colorado Springs
JFK visits the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, June 1963. He appears to be descending the steps at the famous AFA Chapel, though that is just a guess

John F. Kennedy JFK Colorado Springs
JFK inspecting the new Air Force Academy. That appears to be the visitor's center in the background left.

John F. Kennedy JFK Colorado Springs
JFK in Colorado Springs June 1963. Note the brass band and... the open convertible.

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ, as he was universally known, was the 36th US President.

LBJ was an anomaly among Presidents who served during World War II. He was a Roosevelt Democrat who was a Congressman when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Johnson, still in Congress, became a commissioned officer in the Naval Reserve. He then asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a combat assignment, but was deemed too valuable to risk. Instead, LBJ was assigned to inspect shipyard facilities in Texas and on the West Coast.

In the spring of 1942, President Roosevelt sent LBJ to the Southwest Pacific in order to get unfiltered reports on conditions there. Forrestal suggested Johnson, who went on a three-man survey team to the Southwest Pacific. LBJ reported back that the Pacific had to be upgraded in budget and equipment allocations.

Soon after this report, Roosevelt ordered all active-duty Congressmen back to Washington.
Future US President Lyndon Johnson at 18 months old - A precocious young gentleman ~ Lyndon Baines Johnson "LBJ" ~ (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973) DEMOCRAT From Stonewall, Texas, He is one of only four people who served in all four elected federal offices of the United States: Representative, Senator, Vice President, and President.
FDR shakes hands with young LBJ, Gov. Allred of Texas in between. Galveston, Texas. May 11, 1937. President Roosevelt stopped in Galveston on his return from a fishing trip and posed for a photo op with the Governor and the new Congressman. In later campaigns, Johnson edited Governor Allred out of the picture to assist his campaign
Lyndon B. Johnson in the uniform of a U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, March 1942
LBJ and President Kennedy
LBJ and Richard Nixon
LBJ driving his amphibious "Amphicar." He was a prankster who liked to pretend to lose control of the vehicle and plunge into the lake, scaring his unsuspecting passengers half to death.

Richard Nixon

Richard Milhouse Nixon was the 37th US President.

"Dick" Nixon, as he liked to call himself, was a Quaker, and thus could have avoided serving during World War II had he applied for a deferment. However, to his credit he not only did not attempt to avoid service, he applied for acceptance to Officers Candidate School. Nixon was commissioned as an ensign in October 1942.

His first post during the war was as aide to the commander of the Naval Air Station Ottumwa in Iowa. Wishing to see action, Nixon requested sea duty and was reassigned as the naval passenger control officer for the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command, supporting the logistics of operations in the South West Pacific theater. This included some of the major battle zones of the war, including Guadalcanal. He spent much of his time checking manifests of cargo aircraft. He received an official letter of commendation for his service.

On October 1, 1943, Nixon was promoted to lieutenant after earning two service stars. He was appointed the administrative officer of the Alameda Naval Air Station in California, his home state, and then, in January 1945, he was transferred to the Bureau of Aeronautics office in Philadelphia. There, he helped to negotiate the termination of war contracts, and he received another letter of commendation for his service.

It is easy to denigrate President Nixon's service as purely bureaucratic and administrative. However, he served in active combat zones and did a job that needed to be done. He didn't have to be anywhere near the military had he so chosen, and then he could have spent his time in a backwater, but he actively chose otherwise. Among all of those who served, Richard Nixon deserves at least as much credit as anyone else for volunteering and serving, though he did not have any glamorous combat action.

After winning the Presidency, Nixon ended the Vietnam War, saw the first men land on the Moon, went to China, and signed into law major legislation to make the country's air and water cleaner. He was forced to resign for unlawful political activities in 1974, but staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in American life, becoming an elder statesman until his passing in the mid-1990s.
Richard Nixon playing football, Whittier, California High School
Richard Nixon in his naval uniform, 1952
Sen. John F. Kennedy, left, and Vice President Richard Nixon made history by appearing in the first televised president debate, which took place on Sept. 26, 1960 at the WBBM studio in Chicago.
ALLAN GRANT :: Former VP Richard Nixon on the roof of his home in Los Angeles, trying to douse fires caused by a brush blaze, 1961. The kicker? He was renting.
Nixon had a playful side. Here, he is about to go out snowballing.
Appearance on "Laugh-In," 1968
Richard Nixon Telephones Neil Armstrong on the Moon.
Elvis Presley & President Richard Nixon, December 21, 1970. It was just an ordinary workday for the President. As his mama might have said, "Always wear clean socks, you never know who'll come to visit." Four days before Christmas, it was The King, unscheduled but allowed in anyway.
A less well-known picture from the Elvis encounter. Nixon was under no obligation to see Elvis, but personally approved it. Staffers later recalled that out of all the visitors to White House - Kings, celebrities, politicians - Elvis was the one who caused the greatest stir.
"Only Nixon could go to China."
Nixon resigns, August 1974 - a traumatic event for a man and a nation, but both recovered nicely. The most devastating 6th year in office of any President in history
Richard Nixon with Robocop in the late 1980s
Obama: “In A Lot of Ways, Richard Nixon Was More Liberal Than I Was”
Richard Nixon has found unlikely posthumous fame in comics such as "Watchmen" and "X-Men."

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford was the 38th US President.

President Ford was a most unusual President: he was never elected. Instead, he finished out the remainder of President Nixon's term after Nixon resigned. He lost an extremely close Presidential election to Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Gerald Ford as a high school football player. He was offered contracts with the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.
Gerald Ford as a Park Ranger before World War II
Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Ford in uniform, 1945 - served in the light aircraft Carrier Monterey in the Pacific war. Later promoted Lieutenant Commander USNR.
Gerald Ford using a sextant to take a siting to establish the ship's position
Harrison and Ford in the White House - along with Billy Preston and Ravi Shankar
Gerald Ford with soccer star Pele
Gerald Ford was a college football player and quite possibly the best athlete ever to hold the office of the President, but this one slip-up (look at how rainy it was!) became a running joke for a bumbling presidency. Chevy Chase performed flamboyant falls on Saturday Night Live, making Ford the show’s first presidential victim. The joke was that Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was just one banana peel away from the presidency.
Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon gather at the White House during funeral for Hubert Humphrey, 01/15/1978

Jimmy Carter

James Earl Carter was the 39th US President.

"Jimmy," as he called himself in political races, enrolled at Georgia Southwestern College in Americus. Later, he applied to the United States Naval Academy and, after taking additional mathematics courses at Georgia Tech, he matriculated there in 1943. Carter graduated 59th out of 820 midshipmen at the Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree with an unspecified major, as was the custom at the academy at that time.

After serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific U.S. Submarine Fleets, Jimmy Carter attended graduate school at Union College, majoring in reactor technology and nuclear physics. While technically not on active service during World War II, Jimmy Carter was enrolled at the Naval Academy during the conflict and thus was in uniform during the last two years of the war. During his service after the war, Carter became an expert on nuclear propulsion systems for the Navy.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan was the 40th US President. Ronald Reagan

"Ronnie" Reagan, as he was nicknamed, was an established Hollywood star upon the outbreak of World War II. He was one of the very few celebrities who was a part of the military even before September 1, 1939. Reagan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve on April 29, 1937, as a private assigned to Troop B, 322nd Cavalry at Des Moines, Iowa. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corps of the cavalry on May 25, 1937.

As a reserve, Reagan was eligible for activation, and indeed he was called up on April 18, 1942. He was classified as near-sighted, so Reagan had only limited service options. His first position was at the San Francisco Port of Embarkation at Fort Mason, California, as a liaison officer of the Port and Transportation Office. He then applied for, and was granted, a transfer from the cavalry to the Army Air Force on May 15, 1942. He was assigned to AAF Public Relations and subsequently to the First Motion Picture Unit (officially, the "18th Army Air Force Base Unit") in Culver City, California. On January 14, 1943, he was promoted to first lieutenant and promoted to captain on July 22, 1943. In 1945, Reagan was recommended for promotion to Major, but the war was winding down by that point and the promotion request was disapproved.

By the end of the war, Ronald Reagan's film units had produced some 400 training films for the AAF, of inestimable value to the Allied cause. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan as a young football player
Reagan as a young sports radio broadcaster
Ronald Reagan starred in many Westerns in the 1930s
Ronald Reagan ice-skating 1942
Ronald Reagan in a wartime film with Errol Flynn
Ronald Reagan's acting roles including acting with Bonzo the chimp
Ronald Reagan played Notre Dame legend George Gipp in a film, which led to his nickname of "The Gipper"
Ronald Reagan romance co-star Nancy Davis on the set of "Hellcats of the Navy"
Ronald Reagan wins his first primary for Governor of California
Ronald Reagan was twice elected Governor of California. Here he is with wife Nancy
Ronald Reagan's official Presidential portrait
President Reagan dancing with Princess Diana
Ronald Reagan liked to ride horses during his Presidency
Ronald Reagan statue. Freedom Square Szabadság tér, Budapest. Ronald Reagan to this day is revered around the world for his fight for national self-determination.
Statue of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in Gdansk, Poland
Ronald Reagan in 1993, shortly before retiring from public life

George H.W. Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st US President.

George Bush enlisted in the US Navy upon graduation from  Phillips Academy in 1942 and became a Naval Aviator. After training, he was commissioned as an Ensign on June 9, 1943, the youngest ever up until that time.

Bush participated in the Battle of the Philippines Sea and received promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade) on August 1, 1944. He piloted a Grumman TBM Avenger aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima. His flight mates were shot down and beheaded by the Japanese on the island: Bush, engine on fire, managed to bail out over water and was rescued by a US submarine, the USS Finback, a lucky break.

He returned to service, then later became a trainer. Ultimately, Lt. Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to San Jacinto.
That is George Bush in the life raft, the island in the background
George Bush in the cockpit of his TBM Avenger during World War II, ca. 1944. Note the plane's name.
George HW Bush meets ailing Babe Ruth in 1948, shortly before Ruth's passing
George HW Bush at his inauguration, with Barbara Bush, President Reagan and Nancy Reagan
George HW Bush with his son, President GW Bush
Former President George Bush received the Presidential Medal of Freedom 2012