August 14, 1945 Victory Kiss

When the sailor spotted Greta Zimmer, the dental assistant was dressed in the same white uniform as those Navy nurses. To him, she must have seemed like one of those white-clad angels of mercy from those earlier months.

The most destructive war in history ended this day in 1945, with the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan.

Rumors were flying since the small hours on the morning of August 14, but President Harry Truman had yet to receive the formal surrender. The White House’ official announcement was still hours away.

article-2138126-12DED591000005DC-157_306x402Born and raised in Austria, Greta Zimmer was 16 years old, in 1939. Fearful of the war bearing down on them, Greta’s parents sent her and her two sisters to America, not knowing if they’d ever see each other again.

Six years later Zimmer was a dental assistant, working at the Manhattan office of Dr. J. L. Berke.

Patients had been coming into the office all morning, with rumors that the war was over.  Greta’s lunch break came just after 1:00.  She set out for Times Square, knowing that the lit and moving type on the Times news zipper would give her the latest information.

Petty Officer 1st Class George Mendonça was on his last day of shore leave, spending the day with his new girlfriend, Rita Petry. The couple had heard the rumors too, but right now they were enjoying their last day together. The war could wait until tomorrow.

George-MendonsaThe couple went to a movie at Radio City Music Hall, but the film was interrupted by a theater employee who turned on the lights, announcing that the war was over. Leaving the theater, the couple joined the tide of humanity moving toward Times Square.

The pair stopped at the Childs Restaurant on 7th Ave & 49th, where bartenders were pouring anything they could get hands on into waiting glasses. Revelers were scooping them up as fast as the glasses were filled.

Mendonça’s alcohol-powered walk/run from the restaurant left Rita trailing behind, but neither one seemed to mind. Times Square was going wild.

The sailor from the USS Sullivans had seen bloodshed. He’d been there on May 11, as kamikaze planes smashed into the USS Bunker Hill. Explosions and fires killed 346 sailors that day. 43 of their bodies would never be found. Mendonça had helped to pull the survivors, some of them hideously burned, out of the water. He had watched while Navy nurses tended to the grievously wounded, and the dying.

When the sailor spotted Greta Zimmer, the dental assistant was dressed in the same white uniform as those Navy nurses. To him, she must have seemed like one of those white-clad angels of mercy from those earlier months.

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Reporters from the AP, New York Times, New York Daily News and others descended on Times Square, to record the spontaneous celebration.

As a German Jew in the 1930s, Alfred Eisenstaedt had photographed the coming storm. He had photographed Benito Mussolini’s first meeting with Adolf Hitler in Venice, in 1934. Alfred EisenstaedtNow Eisenstaedt and his Leica Illa rangefinder camera worked for Life Magazine, heading for Times Square in search of “The Picture™”.

The lit message running around the Times Building read, “VJ, VJ, VJ, VJ” as George Mendonça grabbed a stranger and kissed her. Two seconds later the moment was gone, but Eisenstaedt and his camera had been in the right place at the right time.

The image of the sailor kissing the nurse would become as famous as Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, but not until years later.

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After the war, Greta Zimmer learned that both of her parents had died in Nazi concentration camps. She later married and made her home in Frederick, Maryland. Greta Zimmer Friedman never returned to Austria, and passed away in September 2016, at the age of 92.

The German made camera which took the iconic image recently went to auction at the Westlicht auction house in Vienna, where it was expected to sell for $30,000. The winning bid was nearly $150,000.

George Mendonça and Rita Petry were married after the war, and put down roots in Rhode Island.  The couple, now married seventy-one years, recently celebrated George’s ninety-fifth birthday.  A framed copy of the famous photograph hangs in the hallway of the couple’s home.   Rita once pointed to herself, grinning in the background of the image.  And then she admitted:  ‘In all these years, George has never kissed me like that.’

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“Former Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonça and his wife of 71 years, Rita, celebrate George’s 95th birthday”. H/T Navy Times
Feature image, top of page, Victory Kiss by James Laurier Fine Art, www.jimlaurier.com
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July 31, 1917  Did we really send men to fight in That?

Following the battle of Passchendaele, staff officer Sir Launcelot Kiggell is said to have broken down in tears.  “Good God”, he said, “Did we really send men to fight in That”?! 

The “War to end all Wars” exploded across the European continent in the summer of 1914, devolving into the stalemate of trench warfare, by October.

The ‘Great War’ became Total War, the following year.  1915 saw the first use of asphyxiating gas, first at Bolimow in Poland, and later (and more famously) near the Belgian village of Ypres.  Ottoman deportation of its Armenian minority led to the systematic extermination of an ethnic minority, resulting in the death of ¾ of an estimated 2 million Armenians living in the Empire at that time, and coining the term ‘genocide‘.

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Battle of Passchendaele

Kaiser Wilhelm responded to the Royal Navy’s near-stranglehold of surface shipping with a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, as the first zeppelin raids were carried out against the British mainland.  German forces adopted a defensive strategy on the western front, developing the most sophisticated defensive capabilities of the war and determined to “bleed France white”, while concentrating on the defeat of Czarist Russia.

Russian Czar Nicholas II took personal command that September, following catastrophic losses in Galicia and Poland.  Austro-German offensives resulted in 1.4 million Russian casualties by September with another 750,000 captured, spurring a “Great Retreat” of Russian forces in the east, and resulting in political and social unrest which would topple the Imperial government, fewer than two years later.   In December, British and ANZAC forces broke off a meaningless stalemate on the Gallipoli peninsula, beginning the evacuation of some 83,000 survivors.  The disastrous offensive had produced some 250,000 casualties.  The Gallipoli campaign was remembered as a great Ottoman victory, a defining moment in Turkish history.  For now, Turkish troops held their fire in the face of the allied withdrawal, happy to see them leave.

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Passchendaele, 1917

A single day’s fighting in the great battles of 1916 could produce more casualties than every European war of the preceding 100 years, civilian and military, combined. Over 16 million were killed and another 20 million wounded, while vast stretches of the Western European countryside were literally torn apart.

1917 saw the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, and a German invitation to bring Mexico into the war, against the United States.  As expected, these policies brought America into the war on the allied side.  The President who won re-election for being ‘too proud to fight’ asked for a congressional declaration of war, that April.

Sealed TrainMassive French losses stemming from the failed Nivelle offensive of that same month (French casualties were fully ten times what was expected) combined with irrational expectations that American forces would materialize on the western front led to massive unrest in the French lines.  Fully one-half of all French forces on the western front mutinied.  It’s one of the great miracles of WW1 that the German side never knew, else the conflict may have ended, very differently.

The sealed train carrying the plague bacillus of communism had already entered the Russian body politic.  Nicholas II, Emperor of all Russia, was overthrown and murdered that July, along with his wife, children, servants and a few loyal friends, and their dogs.

This was the situation in July 1917.

third-battle-of-ypres-passchendaele-ww1-007For eighteen months, British miners worked to dig tunnels under Messines Ridge, the German defensive works laid out around the Belgian town of Ypres.  Nearly a million pounds of high explosive were placed in some 2,000′ of tunnels, dug 100′ deep.  10,000 German soldiers ceased to exist at 3:10am local time on June 7, in a blast that could be heard as far away, as London.

Buoyed by this success and eager to destroy the German submarine bases on the Belgian coast, General Sir Douglas Haig planned an assault from the British-held Ypres salient, near the village of Passchendaele.

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British Prime Minister David Lloyd George opposed the offensive, as did the French Chief of the General Staff, General Ferdinand Foch, both preferring to await the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).  Historians have argued the wisdom of the move, ever since.

The third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, began in the early morning hours of July 31, 1917. The next 105 days would be fought under some of the most hideous conditions, of the entire war.

In the ten days leading up to the attack, some 3,000 guns fired an estimated 4½ million shells into German lines, pulverizing whole forests and smashing water control structures in the lowland plains.  Several days into the attack, Ypres suffered the heaviest rainfall, in thirty years.

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German pillbox, following capture by Canadian soldiers.

Conditions defy description. Time and again the clay soil, the water, the shattered remnants of once-great forests and the bodies of the slain were churned up and pulverized, by shellfire.  You couldn’t call the stuff these people lived and fought in mud – it was more like a thick slime, a clinging, sucking ooze, capable of claiming grown men, even horses and mules.  Most of the offensive took place across a broad plain formerly crisscrossed with canals, but now a great, sucking mire in which the only solid ground seemed to be German positions, from which machine guns cut down sodden commonwealth soldiers, as with a scythe.

Soldiers begged for their friends to shoot them, rather than being left to sink in that muck. One sank up to his neck and slowly went stark raving mad, as he died of thirst. British soldier Charles Miles wrote “It was worse when the mud didn’t suck you down; when it yielded under your feet you knew that it was a body you were treading on.”

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Passchendaele, before and after the offensive. H/T Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons

In 105 days of this hell, Commonwealth forces lost 275,000 killed, wounded and missing.  The German side another 200,000.  90,000 bodies were never identified.  42,000 were never recovered and remain there, to this day.  All for five miles of mud, and a village barely recognizable, after its capture.

Following the battle of Passchendaele, staff officer Sir Launcelot Kiggell is said to have broken down in tears.  “Good God”, he said, “Did we really send men to fight in That”?!  The soldier turned war poet Siegfried Sassoon reveals the bitterness of the average “Joe Squaddy” whom his government had sent sent to fight and die, at Passchendaele.  The story is told in the first person by a dead man, in all the bitterness of which the poet is capable.  It’s called:

Memorial Tablet – by Siegfried Sassoon
Sassoon“Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell (They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’…that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west…
What greater glory could a man desire?”

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July 30, 1916 Black Tom

The explosion at Black Tom was the most spectacular, but by no means the only such attack. The archives at cia.gov reports that “[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”.

In the early months of World War I, Britain’s Royal Navy largely swept the seas of the Kaiser’s surface ships and blockaded ports in Germany. The United States was neutral at the time, and more than a hundred German ships sought refuge in American harbors.

The blockade made it impossible for the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary to import war materiel from overseas, while Great Britain, France, and Russia continued to buy products from US farms and factories. American businessmen were happy to sell to any foreign customer who had the cash, but for all intents and purposes, such trade was limited to the allies.

British-blockadeTo the Central Powers, such trade had the sole purpose of killing their boys on the battlefields of Europe.

The first and most overt reaction from the Kaiser came in the form of unrestrained submarine warfare, when even vessels flying the flags of neutral countries were attacked. Less apparent at the time, was the covert campaign of sabotage carried out by German agents on US soil.

“Black Tom” was originally an island in New York Harbor, next to Liberty Island. So called after a former resident, by WWI, landfill had expanded the island to become part of Jersey City. The area contained a mile-long pier with warehouses and rail lines operated by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and served as a major hub in the trade of war materiel to the allies.

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Black Tom Island, 1880

On July 30, 1916, the Black Tom terminal had over two million pounds of small arms and artillery ammunition in freight cars, and one hundred thousand pounds of TNT on a nearby Barge.

Guards discovered a series of small fires around 2:00am. Some tried to put them out while others fled, fearing an explosion. The first and loudest blast took place at 2:08am, a detonation so massive as to be estimated at 5.5 on the Richter scale. People were awakened from Maryland to Connecticut in what many thought was an earthquake. The Brooklyn Bridge shook and the walls of Jersey City’s municipal building were cracked as shrapnel flew through the air. Windows broke as far as 25 miles away, while fragments embedded themselves in the clock tower at the Jersey Journal building in Journal Square, over a mile away. The clock stopped at 2:12 am.

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Firefighters were unable to fight the fires until the bullets and shrapnel stopped flying. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Stained Glass windows were shattered at St. Patrick’s Church, and Ellis Island was evacuated to Manhattan. Damage to the skirt and torch carried by the Statue of Liberty alone, came to over $2¼ million in 2017 dollars. To this day, the ladder to “Lady Liberty’s” torch, remains off limits to visitors.

The enormous vaulted ceiling of Ellis Island’s main hall, collapsed.  According to one Park officer, damage to the Ellis Island complex came to $500,000 “half the one million dollars it cost the government to build the facility.”

Wrecked_warehouses_and_scattered_debris_after_the_Black_Tom_Explosion,_1916Known fatalities in the explosion included a Jersey City police officer, a Lehigh Valley Railroad Chief of Police, a ten week old infant, and the barge captain.

The explosion at Black Tom was the most spectacular, but by no means the only such attack. The archives at cia.gov reports that “[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”.

Responsibility for the Black Tom explosion was never proven, conclusively. Early suspicions centered on accidental causes. Legal wranglings would climb the judicial ladder all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and continue well into the second World War. Anna Rushnak, an elderly Czechoslovak immigrant who ran a four-bits-a-night boarding house in Bayonne was thrown from her bed by the explosion, to find then-23-year-old Michael Kristoff sitting on the edge of his bed, mumbling “What I do? What I do?”

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Lehigh Valley Railroad pier, after the explosion

Kristoff, a Slovakian subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, (Germany’s principle ally in WW1), was arrested by Bayonne Police and interrogated, and judged to be “insane but harmless.”

In 1922, the Lehigh Valley Railroad was buried in lawsuits, and looking to fix blame on a German act of sabotage. Kristoff came into the judicial spotlight once again, and located in an Albany jail where he was serving time for theft. Kristoff admitted working for the Germans “for a few weeks” back in 1916, but was released before the claim could be investigated. Kristoff was finally traced to a pauper’s grave in 1928 and there ends his story, yet that ‘insane but harmless’ label may be open to question. Papers carried on the body exhumed from that potter’s field were indeed those of Michael Kristoff, but the dental records didn’t match.

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“German Master Spy Franz Von Rintelen and his “pencil bomb” were responsible for acts of sabotage in the United States during World War I”. H/T Smithsonian

Meanwhile, suspicion fell on the German-born naturalized citizen Kurt Jahnke who ran sabotage operations for the German Admiralty out of bases in San Francisco and Mexico City, and his assistant, Imperial German Navy Lieutenant Lothar Witzke. Witzke was arrested on February 1, 1918 in Nogales, Arizona and convicted by court martial. He was sentenced to death, though the war was over before sentence could be carried out. President Wilson later commuted the sentence, to life.

By 1923, most countries were releasing POWs from the “Great War”, including spies. A report from Leavenworth prison shows Witzke heroically risking his life, entering a boiler room after an explosion and probably averting disaster. It may be on that basis that he was finally released. Lieutenant Lothar Witzke was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge on November 22, 1923, and deported to Berlin, where a grateful nation awarded him the Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd Class.

The U.S.–German Peace Treaty of 1921 established the German-American Mixed Claims Commission, which declared in 1939 that Imperial Germany had, in fact been responsible and awarded a judgement of $50 million.  The Nazi government refused to pay and the matter was finally settled in 1953, with a judgement of $95 million (including interest) against the Federal Republic of Germany. The final payment was made in 1979.

The Black Tom explosion and related acts of pro-German espionage resulted in the Federal Espionage Act signed into law in June 1917, creating, among its other provisions, a “Bureau of Investigation” under the United States Department of Justice.  Now, nothing remains of the Black Tom terminal or the largest foreign terrorist attack on American soil until 9/11, save for a plaque, as seen in the photograph below.  That, and the FBI.

Feature image, top of page: Shrapnel damage can be seen in this image of the Statue of Liberty
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View of the Statue of Liberty from the site of the Black Tom explosion
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

July 28, 1914 Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Few could imagine a war in which a single day’s fighting, could produce casualties equal to that of every war of the preceding 100 years, combined. 

In 1869, Germany had yet to come into its own as an independent nation. Forty-five years later, she was one of the Great Powers, of Europe.

Great Powers, 1914

Alarmed by the aggressive growth of her historic adversary, the French government had by that time increased compulsory military service from two years to three, in an effort to offset the advantage conferred by a German population of some 70 million, contrasted with a French population of 40 million.

Joseph Caillaux was a left wing politician, once Prime Minister of France and, by 1913, a cabinet minister under the more conservative administration of French President Raymond Poincare.

Never too discreet with his personal conduct, Caillaux paraded through public life with a succession of women, who were not Mrs Caillaux. One of them was Henriette Raynouard.  By 1911, Madame Raynouard had become the second Mrs Caillaux.

A relative pacifist, many on the French right considered Caillaux to be too “soft” on Germany. One of them was Gaston Calmette, editor of the leading right-wing newspaper Le Figaro, who regularly excoriated the politician.

On March 16, 1914, Madame Caillaux took a taxi to the offices of Le Figaro. She waited for a full hour to see the paper’s editor, before walking into his office and shooting him at his desk. Four out of six rounds hit their mark.  Gaston Calmette was dead before the night was through.

Cailloux Affair

It was the crime of the century.  This one had everything: Left vs. Right, the fall of the powerful, and all the salacious details anyone could ever ask for. It was the OJ trial, version 1.0, and the French public was transfixed.

The British public was similarly distracted, by the latest in a series of Irish Home Rule crises.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, a sprawling amalgamation of 17 nations, 20 Parliamentary groups and 27 political parties, desperately needed to bring the Balkan peninsula into line, following the June 28 assassination of the heir apparent to the dual monarchy. That individual Serbians were complicit in the assassination is beyond doubt, but so many government records of the era have disappeared that, it’s impossible to determine official Serbian complicity. Nevertheless, Serbia had to be brought to heel.

Balkan Troubles

Having given Austria his personal assurance of support in the event of war with Serbia, even if Russia entered in support of her Slavic ally, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany left on a summer cruise in the Norwegian fjords. The Kaiser’s being out of touch for those critical days in July has been called the most expensive maritime disaster in naval history.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire delivered a deliberately unacceptable ultimatum to Serbia on the 23rd, little more that a bald pretext for war.  Czar Nicholas wired Vienna as late as the 27th proposing an international conference concerning Serbia, but to no avail. Austria responded that same day.  It was too late for such a proposal.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia the following day, the day on which Madame Caillaux was acquitted of the murder of Gaston Calmette, on the grounds of being a “crime of passion”.

As expected, Russia mobilized in support of Serbia.  For her part, Imperial Germany feared little more than a two-front war, with the “Russian Steamroller” to the east, and the French Republic to the west.  Germany invaded neutral Belgium in pursuit of the one-two punch strategy by which she sought first to defeat France, before turning to face the far larger Russian adversary.

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On August 3, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey announced before Parliament, his government’s intention to defend Belgian neutrality, a treaty obligation German diplomats had dismissed as a “scrap of paper”.

Pre-planned timetables took over – France alone would have 3,781,000 military men under orders before the middle of August, arriving at the western front on 7,000 trains arriving as often as every eight minutes.

Declaration

This time there would be no “Phoney War”, no “Sitzkreig”, as some wags were wont to call the early days of WWII.   Few could imagine a cataclysm to rock a century and beyond, a war in which a single day’s fighting could produce casualties equal to that of every war of the preceding 100 years, combined.  Fewer still understood on this date, one-hundred and four years ago, today.  The four horsemen of the Apocalypse, were only days away.

Sir Edward Grey

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July 14, 1987 The Other Hitler

William Patrick Hitler petitioned President Roosevelt for permission to fight on the American side, receiving permission in 1944.  Drafted into the Navy, the induction officer asked his name.  The reply came, “Hitler”. “Glad to see you Hitler,” the officer replied, “My name’s Hess.”

Suppose for a moment, that Gallup or Ipsos were to conduct a survey, naming the top ten bad guys, in all history. One name I daresay would top every list, would be that of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party leader, Adolf Hitler.

Hitler himself wouldn’t have the term, “Nazi”. That was bitter insult, coined long before the rise of the Nazi party. In German, Hitler would have referred to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP for short.

Alois Johann Schicklgruber was born on June 7, 1837, to the 42-year-old unmarried peasant Maria Schicklgruber.  The boy’s father was known to her, the priest wrote “illegitimate” on the baptismal certificate. Johann Georg Hiedler married the peasant woman when the boy was five.  By ten, Alois was sent to live with Heidler’s brother, Johann Nepomuk Hiedler. Three years later, Alois  Schicklgruber moved to Vienna where he worked as a cobbler’s apprentice, finally becoming a low level civil servant in the Austrian Finance Ministry.

There are plenty of variations on the Hiedler family surname. ‘Hiedler’ apparently derives from an Austro-Bavarian dialect, meaning one who lives by a Hiedl, or underground spring. Other derivations come from the German Hutte (hut), as in “one who lives in a hut”.  Be that as it may, the variations appear to have been interchangeable.  Common variations included Hitler, Hiedler, Hüttler, Hytler, and Hittler.

5025565e94b0d956cd32e9326850bdf6There are plenty of tales regarding the man’s paternity, but none are any more than that. Alois Schicklgruber ‘legitimized’ himself in 1877, adopting a variant on the name of his stepfather and calling himself ‘Hitler”.

Historian Alan Bullock has described Alois Hitler as “hard, unsympathetic and short-tempered”. He seems to have had a problem with marital fidelity, as well. Alois was thirty-six when he married Anna Glasl-Hörer, the 50-year-old, invalid daughter of a customs official. By age 43, he was carrying on with the 19-year-old servant girl, Franziska “Fanni” Matzelsberger, with whom he had an illegitimate son, Alois Jr.

Alois Sr. was for all intents and purposes ‘married’ to the Matzelsberger girl for the next two years, while his lawful wife Anna, sickened and died. Hitler, 45, married Matzelsberger, age 21 in May, 1883. The couple’s second child Angela, was born two months later.

Sixteen-year-old Klara Pölzl moved in years earlier as household servant, and no woman was going to do to the new Mrs. Hitler, that which she had done to another woman.  Frau Hitler demanded that the “servant girl” be sent away but Pölzl would return the following year, as Fanni herself sickened and died.

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Pölzl was by this time pregnant with the first of the couple’s four children, but there was a problem. There are many candidates for Alois (Schicklgruber) Hitler’s biological father. If Hitler’s step-father was in fact his real sire as implied by the name change, that made Klara Pölzl his first cousin once removed, at least by law. The couple was too close to marry.

Alois petitioned the church for a humanitarian waiver. The waiver was granted and Klara Pölzl became the third Frau Hitler in January 1885. The first-born child was born five months later.

Adolf Hitler as an infant

The future leader of the National Socialist Party was born fours later, by that time the only child born to his mother Klara.  Her first three children Gustav, Ida and Otto, all died in childhood.

Alois Hitler, Sr. seems to have been a thoroughly unlikable man, lording it over neighbors and brutalizing his own family. Historian Robert Waite notes that, “Even one of his closest friends admitted that Alois was ‘awfully rough’ with his wife and ‘hardly ever spoke a word to her at home’.” The man would berate Klara and children alike, and apparently beat them on a regular basis.  Alois Jr. left home never to return, following a violent argument with his father. The elder Alois swore that he would never give the boy a single mark of inheritance, over what the law required. The youngest, Adolf, grew up a frail and sickly child, doted on by his mother and often at the center of violent rages by his father.

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Alois Hitler

Alois tried to browbeat his youngest into following him, into the civil service. The boy feared and detested his father, and wanted nothing to do with him.  Adolf Hitler would follow the path which would bring him to that list of the great monsters of the 20th century, as his brother Alois Jr., made his own way in the world.

Some apples don’t fall far from the tree. Alois Hitler Jr. went to Ireland, where he met Bridget Dowling at the Dublin Horse Show. Nothing more than a poor kitchen porter at the Shelbourne Hotel, Hitler managed to convince her that he was, in fact, a wealthy hotelier, touring Europe. The couple eloped to London in June 1910. Bridget’s father William threatened to bring Hitler up on charges of kidnapping, and only relented when Bridget pleaded with him to stop.

It was a decision she would come to regret.

Dowling-Hitler
Dowling-Hitler

The couple had their only child in 1911, William Patrick Hitler. Alois left home in Liverpool in May 1914 to establish himself in the safety razor business.  He had become violent by this time and begun to beat the boy.  Bridget refused to go with William’s father and would end up, raising the boy alone.

War descended over Europe in 1914, when the elder Hitler met and (bigamously) married his second wife, Hedwig Heidemann.

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Heinz Hitler was captured by Soviet Forces in 1942, and tortured to death

Alois’ second marriage  produced a son, Heinz, who went on to become a committed Nazi. In 1933, William moved to Germany, in an effort to take advantage of his uncle’s rise to power.  He got a job at an Opel factory and later worked as a car salesman, but  badgered his uncle for a better job. At last, he threatened to sell embarrassing family stories to the newspapers, if Uncle Adolf didn’t do something to improve his “personal circumstances”.

Ironically, Nazi party regulations precluded Adolf Hitler himself from proving his own “Aryan Purity”, based on his father’s unknown paternity.  For years, Hitler had been dogged by hushed speculation about “Jewish blood”.  Quiet rumor became front-page headline this day in 1933, when Austrian newspapers published reports that the German Chancellor, sworn enemy of all things Jewish, was himself, a Jew.  That same day, all political parties but the Nazi party, were banned from Germany.

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Pharmacists Mate William Patrick Hitler

Der Führer of the fledgling thousand-year Reich promised his nephew a “high ranking post” in 1938, in exchange for renunciation of his British citizenship. Suspecting a trap, the younger Hitler fled Germany, traveling to the United States in 1939. William Patrick Hitler petitioned President Roosevelt for permission to join the American side, receiving permission in 1944.

Drafted into the Navy, the induction officer asked his name.  The reply came, “Hitler”. “Glad to see you Hitler,” the officer replied, “My name’s Hess.”

William Patrick Hitler served honorably for the duration of the war, holding the rank of Pharmacists Mate (a designation later changed to Hospital Corpsman) and earning a purple heart in the process.    Hitler’s half-brother Heinz was captured by Soviet forces in 1942, and tortured to death. Their more famous uncle took his own life in 1945 and died, childless.

Ironically, Hitler’s childhood home in Liverpool was destroyed in the last air raid of the Liverpool Blitz, in 1942.

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Alexander

Wishing to live a life of anonymity, “Willy” Hitler changed his name to William Patrick  Stuart-Houston at the end of the war, and married fellow German emigre Phyllis Jean-Jacques in 1947.  The couple made a home in Patchogue, New York and raised four sons: Alexander Adolf (b. 1949), Louis (b. 1951), Howard Ronald (1957–1989), and Brian William (b. 1965).

William Patrick Stuart-Houston, nephew to one of the worst dictators in history and a man who fought with honor on the side of his uncle’s mortal enemy, died this day in 1987, leaving no grandchildren.

Alexander Adolf Stuart-Houston,, an American social worker, dismissed speculation of a pact to end the Hitler line. There was no such agreement among the last four boys in the family.  Things just turned out that way.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 9, 1943 The Most Decorated K-9 of WW2

The machine gun episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

By the end of the “Great War”, France, Great Britain and Belgium had at least 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, Imperial Germany as many as 30,000. Some sources report that over a million dogs served over the course of the war.

Dogs performed a variety of roles in WWI, from ratters in the trenches, to sentries, scouts and runners. “Mercy” dogs were trained to seek out the wounded on battlefields, carrying medical supplies with which the stricken could treat themselves. Sometimes, these dogs simply provided the comfort of another living soul, so that the gravely wounded should not die alone.

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French propaganda postcard of WW1

The famous Rin Tin Tin canine movie star of the 1920s was rescued as a puppy, from the bombed out remains of a German Army kennel, in 1917.

Leaders of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) discussed the use of dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals, but the war was over before US forces put together any kind of a War Dog program.  America’s first war dog, “Sgt. Stubby”, went “over there” by accident, serving 18 months on the Western Front before coming home to a well-earned retirement.

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Sergeant Stubby

In March 1942, the US Army Quartermaster Corps began training dogs for an American “K-9 Corps.” In the beginning, the owners of healthy animals were encouraged to “loan” their dogs to the Quartermaster Corps, where they were trained for service with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Chips.jpgOne such dog was “Chips”, the German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix who would become the most decorated K-9 of WWII.

Chips belonged to the Wren family of Pleasantville New York, who “enlisted” their dog in the “Dogs for Defense (DfD) program in 1942. He was trained at the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal Virginia, and served in the 3rd Infantry Division of Patton’s 7th Army, along with with his handler, Private John Rowell.

Tip of the hat to my son-in-law Nate who also served in the 3rd ID in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan, partnered as handler and “battle buddy” with a four-year-old German Shepard and Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD) named “Zino”.

Back to WW2.  Chips and his handler took part in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  He served as a sentry dog for the Casablanca Conference of 1943, where he met the American President Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Allied invasion of Sicily was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, beginning this day in 1943 and lasting through the 17th of August.  The Rowell/Chips team was part of the landings, beginning six weeks of land combat in an action code named “Operation Husky”.

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Chips

During the night landing phase on July 10, Private Rowell and Chips were pinned down in the darkness by an Italian machine gun team, operating out of a nearby hut. The dog broke free from his handler as the platoon dived for shelter, covering the beach in a flash and jumping into the building.

Private Rowell described the scene.  “There was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped. Then I saw one soldier come out of the door with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man.”

Three others were quick to follow, hands up.  Chips had grabbed the Italian’s machine gun by the barrel, knocking the gun off its mount before turning his attentions on the team. The dog sustained a scalp wound and powder burns, demonstrating that someone had tried to shoot him during the brawl.  How many lives were spared by the actions of a single dog, is anyone’s guess.

That episode ended with a final score of Chips 4, Italian machine-gun team 0, but he wasn’t done. Before the day was over, Chips had helped to bag ten more.

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“Chips” goes to war, 1942

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart, but those awards were later revoked. At that time the army didn’t permit commendations to be given to animals. His unit awarded him a Theater Ribbon with an Arrowhead for the assault landing anyway, along with eight Battle stars. One for each of his campaigns.

Chips was discharged in December, 1945, and returned home to live out the rest of his days with the Wren family in Pleasantville, New York.  In 1990, Disney produced a made-for-TV movie based on the life of the most highly decorated K-9 of WW2, calling it “Chips, the War Dog”.

Afterward

In 1917, the British animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin founded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), to “provide care for sick and injured animals of the poor”. Today, the PDSA is the largest veterinary charity in England, carrying out a million or more free veterinary visits every year and employing the largest number of veterinary surgeons and nurses in the United Kingdom.

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Dickin_Medal

The Dickin Medal was established in 1943, to recognize animals displaying “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units“.  Sometimes referred to as “the animals’ Victoria Cross”, the Dickin medal has been awarded only 75 times as of November 2017, plus an honorary Dickin Medal for all animals who served during WW1.

On January 15, 2018, seventy-five years to the day following the Casablanca Conference, Chips was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal.  John Wren, who was only four when Chips went to war, accepted the award in Chips’ honor.  United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop and Military Working Dog (MWD) Handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer of the United States Air Force were also there, along with MWD Ayron, who stood in for Chips to wear his Dickin Medal.

The medal reads “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve.” Previous recipients include 33 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, four horses and a ship’s cat.

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“John Wren (left), who was four years old when Chips the family pet returned from the war effort, with military working dog Ayron and his handler Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mayerhoffer (centre) and US Lieutenant Colonel Alan Throop (right) in London today”  H/T Daily Mail

June 30, 1917 Doughnut Lassies of the Great War

Men stood in line for hours, patiently waiting in the mud and the rain for their own little piece of warm, home-cooked heaven in a world full of misery.

For a variety of reasons, the eastern front of the “War to end all Wars” was a war of movement. Not so on the Western front.  As early as October 1914, combatants were forced to burrow into the ground like animals, sheltering from what Ernst Jünger called the ‘Storm of Steel’.

Conditions in the trenches and dugouts must have defied description. You would have smelled the trenches long before you could see them. The collective funk of a million men and more, enduring the Troglodyte existence of men who live in holes. Little but verminous scars in the earth teaming with rats and lice and swarming with flies, time and again the shells churned up and pulverized the soil, the water and the shattered remnants of once-great forests, along with the bodies of the slain.

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By the time the United States entered the ‘War to end all Wars’ in April, 1917, millions had endured this existence for three years. The first 14,000 Americans arrived ‘over there’ in June, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) forming on July 5. American troops fought the military forces of Imperial Germany alongside their British and French allies, others joining Italian forces in the struggle against the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

You couldn’t call the stuff these people lived in mud – it was more like a thick slime, a clinging, sucking ooze capable of swallowing grown men, even horses and mules, alive.

Captain Alexander Stewart wrote “Most of the night was spent digging men out of the mud. The only way was to put duck boards on each side of him and work at one leg: poking and pulling until the suction was relieved. Then a strong pull by three or four men would get one leg out, and work would begin on the other…He who had a corpse to stand or sit on, was lucky”.

On first seeing the horror of Paschendaele, Sir Launcelot Kiggell broke down in tears. “Good God”, he said. “Did we really send men to fight in That?”

kalamazoo-gazette-newspaper-0518-1919-wwi-donuts-salvation-armyOften unseen in times of such dread calamity, are the humanitarian workers. Those who tend to the physical and spiritual requirements, the countless small comforts, of those so afflicted.

Within days of the American declaration of war, Evangeline Booth, National Commander of the Salvation Army, responded, saying “The Salvationist stands ready, trained in all necessary qualifications in every phase of humanitarian work, and the last man will stand by the President for execution of his orders”.

These people are so much more than that donation truck, and the bell ringers we see behind those red kettles, every December.

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Lieutenant Colonel William S. Barker of the Salvation Army left New York with Adjutant Bertram Rodda on June 30, 1917, to survey the situation. It wasn’t long before his not-so surprising request came back in a cable from France. Send ‘Lassies’.

wwi-doughnut-girls-7A small group of carefully selected female officers was sent to France on August 22. That first party comprised six men, three women and a married couple. Within fifteen months their number had expanded by a factor of 400.

In December 1917, a plea for a million dollars went out to support the humanitarian work of the Salvation Army, the YMCA, YWCA, War Camp Community Service, National Catholic War Council, Jewish Welfare Board, the American Library Association and others. This “United War Work Campaign” raised $170 million in private donations, equivalent to $27.6 billion, today.

roads_donutGirl2‘Hutments’ were formed all over the front, many right out at the front lines.  There were canteen services.  Religious observances of all denominations were held in these facilities. Concert performances were given, clothing mended and words of kindness  offered in response to all manner of personal problems.  On one occasion, the Loyal Order of Moose conducted a member initiation. Pies and cakes were baked in crude ovens and lemonade served to hot and thirsty troops. Of all these corporal works of mercy, the ones best remembered by the ‘doughboys’ themselves, were the doughnuts.

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Helen Purviance, sent to France in 1917 with the American 1st Division, seems to have been first with the idea. An ensign with the Salvation Army, Purviance and fellow ensign Margaret Sheldon first formed the dough by hand, later using a wine bottle in lieu of a rolling pin. Having no doughnut cutter at the time, dough was shaped and twisted into crullers, and fried seven at a time on a pot-bellied wood stove.

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The work was grueling. The women worked well into the night that first day, serving all of 150 hand-made doughnuts. “I was literally on my knees,” Purviance recalled, but it was easier than bending down all day, on that tiny wood stove. It didn’t seem to matter. Men stood in line for hours, patiently waiting in the mud and the rain for their own little piece of warm, home-cooked heaven in a world full of misery.

doughnuts-top-sliderBefore long, the women got better at it. Soon they were turning out 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts a day. An elderly French blacksmith made Purviance a doughnut cutter, out of a condensed milk can and a camphor-ice tube, attached to a wooden block.

It wasn’t long before the aroma of hot doughnuts could be found, wafting all over the dugouts and trenches of the western front.  Salvation Army volunteers and others made apple pies and all manner of other goodies, but the name that stuck, was “Doughnut Lassies”.

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June 2, 2017 – Salvation Army employees Cheryl Freismuth (l) and Susan Klyk (c) celebrate the 100th anniversary of the “Doughnut Lassies” of WW1 with student Catie McDougall (r). H/T The Detroit News

One New York Times correspondent wrote in 1918 “When I landed in France I didn’t think so much of the Salvation Army; after two weeks with the Americans at the front I take my hat off… [W]hen the memoirs of this war come to be written the doughnuts and apple pies of the Salvation Army are going to take their place in history”.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.