Monthly Archives: October 2010

U.S. Medic Donates Holocaust Diary

Tony Acevedo, a former US Army medic during  WWII,  kept a secret diary while he and his comrades were incarcerated by the Germans in a slave labor camp (Berga) in 1945.  Fiftyt-five years later, Acevedo decided to donate that diary to the US Holocaust Museum.

The story is by Wayne Drash for CNN, October 28, 2010:

Washington (CNN) — The tattered journal, its pages yellow with age, contains the painful memories of a U.S. medic, a man who recorded the deaths of soldiers who survived one of World War II’s bloodiest battles yet met their end as slaves in Nazi Germany.

32. Hamilton 4-5-45
33. Young 4-5-45
34. Smith 4-9-45
35. Vogel 4-9-45
36. Wagner 4-9-45

“Some were dying,” said its author, Tony Acevedo, now 86. “Some died, and I made a notation of that.”

Flipping through the pages, you encounter a horrific part of world history through the eyes of a 20-year-old inside a slave labor camp. Amid the horror, the journal captures extraordinary human moments of war. Acevedo sketched beautiful women in the back pages, pinups whose eyes provided comfort amid hell.

Acevedo kept the diary hidden in his pants. He feared death if the commanders saw it. Yet he believed it was his duty as an Army medic to catalog the deaths and the atrocities against the 350 U.S. soldiers at the camp known as Berga, a subcamp of the notorious Buchenwald compound.

With his hair silver-streaked and a smile that exudes charm, Acevedo recently made the journey from his California home to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capital. He carried his Red Cross medic’s band, a cross that provided comfort in war and his diary. He also brought a prayer book that he read to the sick and dying.

“I speak for all my buddies who were there,” Acevedo told museum staff members in a private ceremony. “I turn this over to the Holocaust museum with honor and pleasure, with all my heart.”

He spoke softly, gently. Like the book itself, his hands showed the mark of time. His face beamed with pride, his chin held high. On his lapel, he wore a pin with a star and beneath it the words: “U.S. Army.”

Acevedo flipped through the diary pages one final time. He licked his finger, like he’d done thousands of times over the past 65 years, to help turn a page, drawing raised eyebrows among archivists.

As personal as the diary is, for the museum, it underscores a universal truth about the Holocaust — in which 6 million Jews were killed — that sometimes escapes notice.

“This diary exemplifies the fact that the Holocaust is a story that belongs to many types of people from various ethnic, religious, national groups,” said Scott Miller, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs.

I turn this over to the Holocaust museum with honor and pleasure, with all my heart.
–Tony Acevedo, World War II medic

“You did your best as a medic,” he told Acevedo. “You did your very best as a witness to history by writing this diary for us and future generations.”

The room erupted with applause. Acevedo smiled and nodded his head in thanks.

It took six decades for the U.S. Army to publicly recognize the Berga soldiers — largely the result of Acevedo’s diary and his telling his story to CNN two years ago.

On this visit, he became the first Mexican-American to register with the museum’s Holocaust survivor list — out of 225,000 others. His diary is one of 150 donated to the museum and the first written by an American captive.

It almost never made it out of the slave labor camp. Twice, it fell in front of an older Austrian guard, the only one at the camp with any compassion.

“He would ask me what I write. I would say, ‘I’m writing about the nice vacation I’m taking here in your compounds.’ ”

The guard would laugh. “I’ll never forget him,” Acevedo said, his voice trailing off into the past.

Singled out and sent to slave labor camp

They were hand-picked to be the Germans’ slaves.

Gallery: WWII vet donates Holocaust diary

  • The American soldiers, most captured during the Battle of the Bulge, were called into a yard at the prisoner of war camp known as Stalag IX-B in Bad Orb, Germany, where thousands of American, French, Italian and Russian soldiers were held.

Word had spread among the American captives that Jewish soldiers would be separated. It was early February 1945.

“All Jews,” the German shouted, “and anyone who looks like a Jew, step forward.”

Few willingly did so. About 80 Jewish soldiers were singled out. The Germans needed 350 slave laborers. They began choosing 270 other “undesirables.”

A guard shoved Acevedo, a Catholic, forward. “You’re going to a beautiful camp with a theater and live shows,” he was told.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Acevedo had been segregated before. As a young boy in Pasadena, California, he couldn’t attend the same classes as his white peers.

And in 1937, his parents were deported to Mexico. Though 13 and a U.S. citizen, he went with them. Four years later, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Acevedo returned to his homeland. He signed on as a medic in the U.S. Army.

That decision had led him here, thousands of miles from home, cold, frozen, frigid, unaware of his fate. He and the other soldiers were about to experience something no other U.S. soldier faced: the Holocaust behind enemy lines.

They marched from the prison compound to an awaiting train.

“If you need to defecate, you do it in there,” a German soldier said of the cattle cars.

The men were packed inside, 60 to 80 standing shoulder to shoulder. Many, like Acevedo, were youngsters fresh out of high school. Others were fathers, their family lives interrupted by war.

The train pulled away and into the bitter winter. They were packed so tight, they had to sleep standing up. Icicles clung to the windows. The soldiers broke them off and sucked on them.

“Fear was always within you,” Acevedo remembered.

American planes strafed the train, unaware of its inhabitants. Acevedo closed his eyes and prayed.

The boxcars arrived at Berga after a week on the tracks. The men would spend the next two months digging tunnels, in 12-hour shifts, forced to work for the German military machine. At a separate Berga compound, political prisoners, mostly Russians and Slovaks, also were forced into slave labor.

They were beaten and starved. Many died.

The diary arrived in a Red Cross package, along with a Sheaffer fountain pen. Acevedo mixed snow with the ink to help it go further; other times, he’d urinate in the ink container to make it last.

There were two journals in the pack. He gave the other to Pfc. Stephen James Schweitzer, POW #25802, on March 20, 1945. Schweitzer would also survive the war.

Acevedo wanted to make sure history was recorded. It was ingrained in him, as a medic and as a soldier who kept the war ethos: I will always place the mission first; I will never quit; I will never accept defeat, and I will never leave a fallen comrade.

“Five more men escaped today — Goldstein’s body was returned here today for burial,” Acevedo wrote March 20, the same day he gave Schweitzer the other journal. “He was shot while attempting to re-escape. So they say, but actually was recaptured and shot in the head (forehead).”

One sketch shows a German guard beating a soldier. That was typical of the treatment: Soldiers were struck with rifle butts or rubber hoses and forced to continue to work in mines. Ice water was dumped on one malnourished American, who died of shock moments later.

“Today, I received the only letter from my girlfriend, the girl I am hoping to see when I get back,” he wrote on March 24, 1945. “I think a lot of her. I won’t forget; her name Lolin Espinoza.” (He married Lolin, his second wife, in the 1980s, and they’re still together.)

The next sentence comes back to camp reality: “Another of our boys died last night from malnutrition.”

A few days later, he marked Good Friday. “On this Holy Day our thoughts are all at home and of the coming Easter Sunday,” his March 30 entry says. “It is also the feast of Passover for our Jewish comrades and they also think of home and family.”

By April 2, the day after Easter, the situation had grown dire. “Two more of our men died today and one last night, 3+ 16 — makes 19; living in unsanitary conditions; water must be boiled before it is drinkened. No latrines. Deaths are increasing in great number.”

As liberating American troops advanced, the American soldiers held in Berga were forced on a death march, beginning on April 6. “The highway of a super hell, a Hitler super hell,” Acevedo reflects.

Acevedo pushed a wooden cart with as many as 20 men on it. Some suffocated under the weight of their comrades. Lines of political prisoners in front of them caught the full brunt of the defeated Nazis.

“You could see them hanging to the barbed wire, trying to escape, but they hung up when they were shot,” he says. “Men, women, children.”

At one point, they came across a “pile of women, children, men, young men being slaughtered by the Germans. They were Jewish. It was awful.”

He was liberated on April 23, 1945. Before returning home, Acevedo signed a document that still haunts him today. “You must give no account of your experience in books, newspapers, periodicals, or in broadcasts or in lectures,” it said.

It ends with: “I understand that disclosure to anyone else will make me liable to disciplinary action.”

A war crimes trial, convictions — and commutations

The camp commanders, Erwin Metz, and his superior, Hauptmann Ludwig Merz, were tried for war crimes in Germany in 1946.

They gave a very different account of treatment at Berga. They described prisoners who ate better than guards, of comfortable accommodations and of trying to help the American soldiers as best they could. Survivors were not called to testify.

Merz described inspecting the soldiers on April 19, two weeks into the death march. “Roughly 200 prisoners were there, all of whom gave the appearance of being well-rested,” Merz told the court. “I noticed one sick, who was sitting on the ground, because he could not stand up the entire time it took me to make my inspection.”

Pressed further, he said, “Among those that I saw there were no sick, except the one I mentioned.”

Acevedo’s diary entry from that same day, April 19, paints a different picture. “More of our men died today, so fast that you couldn’t keep track of their numbers,” he wrote. “We kept on marching. I fell back of the column to help the sick …”

The next day, he added, “Day and night, it rained. Every man was wet from top to bottom. We march and as we walked along the road you could see men which had been shot through the head. These were political prisoners. Every 25 yard intervals there layed 3 or 4 men — men that couldn’t make the march had to drop out, then were shot.”

Merz and Metz were found guilty and sentenced to die by hanging. Yet, in 1948, the U.S. government commuted their death sentences, and in the 1950s, the men were set free.

The two were among dozens of convicted Nazi war criminals whose sentences were commuted by the U.S. government as part of an effort to bolster Germany, which was facing the threat of Soviet expansion.

“Metz, though guilty of a generally cruel course of conduct toward prisoners, was not directly responsible for the death of any prisoners except one who was killed during the course of an attempt to escape,” the War Department said in explaining the commutations.

The Berga soldiers weren’t just survivors of the Holocaust; they’d become early victims of the Cold War.

A loving uncle’s fight

Back home, the chief advocate for Berga survivors was a dogged and powerful Manhattan attorney named Charles Vogel, whose nephew had died in Acevedo’s arms.

Working pro bono, Vogel contacted more than 100 survivors of the Nazi slave camp and forwarded their accounts to the U.S. War Department. He was relentless, a loving uncle doing all he could for his nephew.

Vogel had even offered to pay for Berga survivors to fly to Germany to testify against Merz and Metz, an offer the War Department refused.

When he learned, in June 1948, that the death sentences for Merz and Metz were being commuted, Vogel was outraged. He spent the next few months gathering signatures of dozens of “survivors of this horror and by the next-of-kin of the G.I. dead.” He pleaded in a petition to President Truman, Secretary of State George Marshall and Defense Secretary James Forrestal to act against “these monsters.”

“The civilian prisoners received treatment on a par with that at Buchenwald and Dachau,” Vogel wrote. “This, in itself, is sufficient cause for Merz and Metz to hang.”

That justice never came.

The soldiers’ captivity at Berga, and the release of the camp commanders, has always been a touchy subject for the Army.

For decades, no ranking Pentagon official had described Berga as a “slave labor camp.”

Yet after Acevedo first spoke to CNN, in November 2008, hundreds of people lobbied two members of Congress: Reps. Joe Baca, D-California, and Spencer Bachus, R-Alabama, who had long championed the Berga soldiers.

The congressmen urged the Army to act, and in June 2009, the Army did just that in a ceremony for prisoners of war in Orlando, Florida.

“These men were abused and put under some of the most horrific conditions,” Maj. Gen. Vincent Boles said. “It wasn’t a prison camp. It was a slave labor camp.

“Just as they never left their fallen comrades, we will never leave them,” Boles said. “You were good soldiers, and you were there for your nation.”

Six of the roughly 20 remaining Berga survivors attended. Acevedo boycotted it. He felt that any recognition of the soldiers should be held in Washington.

Boles told the men the tunnels they were digging were part of a sophisticated V-2 rocket factory. As for the “secrecy” document many signed, he said it was intended for POWs to “not to talk about escapes, people who had assisted them, people who had helped them.”

“What they went through didn’t need to be kept a secret,” Boles said. “That was not our intent at all, but we screwed that up.”

Acevedo begs to differ. He was there, at Camp Lucky Strike. The American interrogator, he says, told him to keep his mouth shut.

“We had to sign our lives away,” he says. “It was almost like signing a will of death, not able to say anything about what we had gone through.”

He began talking of his experience to family, to schools, to veterans groups in the 1990s. Enough years had finally passed, he thought.

The U.S. Army says 70 soldiers died at Berga or on the death march, although war crimes investigators found the bodies of more than 90 soldiers. Charles Vogel calculated about 115 Berga deaths from his interviews with survivors and letters from families of those who died.

Acevedo still believes the death toll was higher. His diary contains at least 68 deaths. But, he says, he couldn’t keep up with the rising toll in the final days.

A hero comes full circle

For years, Acevedo trembled in bed. He’d wake up sweating. Sometimes, he screamed.

His diary was a constant companion. He’d turn the pages, to remember, to reflect, to never forget. It was part of him for 65 years.

A day after giving it to the Holocaust museum, he took a private tour of the place. He said he missed his little book. But donating it was the right decision, he said. “I did it with honor.”

Wearing a black cap that said “POW-MIA You Are Not Forgotten,” he paused often amid Nazi displays and the documentation of the extermination of Jews

“It brings back memories. You don’t forget. You remember more.”

When he came across a wooden cart like the one he pushed on the death march, Acevedo gaped. He’d told stories about the cart for years, of tugging and toiling to not leave soldiers behind. The bodies were stacked five high.

“That’s the cart,” he said, in a hushed voice. “You see this and you say, ‘How inhuman everything was.’ ”

He continued on. He stopped outside a rail car. His face grew pale. His son, Fernando, placed his hand on his father’s shoulder.

It was as if Acevedo was transported through time, to the side of the tracks where the Nazis crammed the soldiers inside boxcars meant for cattle.

Slowly, cautiously, he stepped forward. The car stunk of sweat and feces. He pointed at the tiny windows, talked of eating icicles, of being moved like cattle. Of being treated as though he were not human.

“All we did was just pray and say, ‘We’re in your hands, God.’ ”

Finally, he broke down and wept. His son held him.

And this time, as Acevedo left the train, he stepped into freedom, a part of history.



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Civil War Dolls May Have Assisted Confederate Troops

Story by Steve Szkotak, Associated Press, October 27, 2010:

Two Civil War-era dolls thought to have been used to smuggle medicine past Union blockades were X-rayed Wednesday, disclosing hollowed papier-mache heads that once could have contained quinine or morphine for wounded or malaria-stricken Confederate troops.

The 150-year-old dolls, dubbed Nina and Lucy Ann, were likely packed with the drugs and shipped from Europe in the hope that Union troops would not inspect toys when looking for contraband, a museum official said.


Nina and Lucy Ann were taken to VCU Medical Center from their home next door, The Museum of theConfederacy, to see if the contours inside their craniums and upper bodies were roomy enough to carry the medicines.

The conclusion: yes.

The next step could be forensic testing for any traces of the drugs.

The dolls were given to the museum by donors who said they were used to smuggle medicine past Northern blockades to Southern troops.

Nina was donated to the museum in 1923 by the children of Gen. James Patton Anderson, who commanded the Tennessee Army of the Confederacy. She has red felt boots.

Lucy Ann, attired in a salmon-colored cape and dress, was given to the museum in 1976 by an anonymous donor. She is adorned with a coral necklace.

Lucy Ann has an open gash on the rear of her bonneted head, possibly made when its contents were emptied. Nina was likely disassembled then stitched back together.

Museum officials believe the dolls were in fact used for smuggling in the Civil War.

“In all of the research that I have been able to do, these are the only two confirmed smuggling dolls that I’ve been able to find,” said Catherine M. Wright, collections manager at the museum. The X-rays were conducted as part of the museum’s continuing research of its vast Confederate holdings, believed to be the largest in the U.S.

“People have been so interested in children’s toys and dolls from the Civil War in general,” she said. “The smuggling aspect is very captivating.”

Wright carried the dolls, each 2 to 3 feet long, in a box to the radiology department of the hospital.

Registered technologist Lanea Bare gently placed each doll on the X-ray table, taking images of each facing up, then on their sides. Ghostly images were then displayed on a screen in the busy radiology department, drawing stares and wisecracks from passing doctors and technicians as the dolls lay neatly back in their box.

“Looking here, this looks like a cavity in the head and upper chest,” said Dr. Ann S. Fulcher, pointing to Nina’s image on the screen. “That’s probably where the majority of the goods, the medicine, was put.”

The hospital visit was free-of-charge.

The dolls’ heads and shoulders are stitched to the bodies, which are stuffed with wool or cotton. Safety pins used to secure their clothing, including undergarments, were visible in the X-rays.

The museum knows little about the dolls’ silent service to the Confederacy.

One theory is that they were purchased in Europe, then shipped to a Southern port with the medicines stuffed in their heads to avoid detection by the North’s blockade of Southern ports.

“The idea behind the smuggling dolls is that even if a ship was boarded and searched, it was unlikely that they were going to do such a thorough search that they would find this medication hidden inside of dolls,” Wright said.

The blockade from 1861 until 1865 was intended to thwart the delivery of arms, soldiers and supplies such as medicine to the South. Rhett Butler, the fictional rogue in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” was a blockade runner.

A well-known illustration from the period shows a woman tying bundles of medication under her hoop dress for delivery to Confederate troops, Wright said.

Once the dolls reached a port, the powdered quinine would be pressed into pills for Southern troops, Wright said.

Malaria was widespread among Union and Confederate troops. Some 900,000 Union troops contracted malaria during the war, leaving 4,700 dead, according to the “Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War.”

Statistics for Southern troops were not compiled but malaria was probably more widespread, said Robert Krick, park historian at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, which includes the site of the Confederacy’s largest hospital.

Wright, the museum collections manager, was elated after the examination.

“This has been really thrilling,” she said. “It’s not often that you get to research a topic that one else has ever worked with before.”



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Iwo Jima Mementos Bring Closure to Japanese

Story by Eric Talmadge, Associated Press, October 28, 2010:

For decades, the faded photograph of a baby Japanese girl and a child’s colorful drawing hung on a wall in the home of Franklin Hobbs III in America.

As a 21-year-old U.S. soldier fighting on Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, Hobbs found them in the pocket of a fallen Japanese soldier and took them as a souvenir.

Until recently, he tried not to think too much about the battle or the photo and drawing. Then, a few years ago, at his wife’s suggestion, he decided to try to give them back.

For the girl in the photo and her sister, they meant the world.

Hobbs, now 86, returned to Japan this week for the first time since the war and met with one of the daughters whose life he changed by returning the items. Chie Takekawa had drawn the picture of an air raid drill that Hobbs found on her father — a man she barely knew and whose remains have never been found.

“As a child, I had always wondered when my father would come home from the war,” Takekawa, 74, said Thursday with a beaming Hobbs by her side. “I feel like he has actually come back after all these years. I am very grateful.”

The story of the mementos very nearly ended on Hobbs’ wall.

Hobbs — himself an orphan from an early age — said he first found them in an envelope on a Japanese soldier lying dead outside a large cave. A corporal in the Army Signal Corps, Hobbs had just survived an intense battle on the beach, dug in deep with a buddy and eating raw bacon for three days.

When the fighting had calmed enough, he was assigned to drive a truck to help set up lines of communication for the U.S. troops. He was steering up a hill when he came upon several other Americans searching the bodies of three dead Japanese.

One of them was 36-year-old Matsuji Takekawa.

“I saw the letter sticking out and I said, ‘I don’t want any swords or anything, but I think I’ll take this letter.’ I just picked it up, I suppose out of curiosity. But I felt a little bad about it at the time.”

Hobbs took it with him when Japan’s surrender that August meant he could leave the island after eight months.

He considered himself lucky.

The battle, which began on Feb. 19, 1945, and lasted more than a month, claimed 6,821 American and 21,570 Japanese lives.

Closure for the Japanese families is rare. About 12,000 Japanese are still classified as missing in action and presumed killed on the island, along with 218 Americans.

Japan’s government announced last week it is investigating two sites believed to be mass graves that may contain as many as 2,000 of the dead. Officials say it could take months to collect the remains, and identification is expected to be extremely difficult.

The battle for the tiny volcanic island became a symbol and rallying point for the United States after the U.S. flag was raised on its highest ground, Mount Suribachi.

For Hobbs, it was simply a killing field.

“It was just death everywhere, and I hated it,” he said.

Hobbs graduated from Harvard Business School, married and raised a family. His wife framed the mementos and put them up in one of their sons’ rooms. Hobbs never discussed his memories of the war.

“My kids didn’t know what the drawing was; they thought maybe their mother had drawn it,” he said. “I never really told my kids because there wasn’t that much to tell.”

He later divorced, and when his new wife, Marge, was going through his things at their home in Brookline, Massachusetts, she noticed the mementos and suggested Hobbs try to return them. They contacted a family friend, Reiko Wada, who could read the address on the envelope.

Though the address was outdated, Wada contacted the Japanese health ministry — which keeps records for pensions — and was able to find the family in the northern Japan city of Sanjo, where it owns a liquor store. To Wada’s surprise, the baby in the photo — Yoko Takekawa — was living in New Jersey, where she had moved to do missionary work.

On a trip to Japan two years ago, Wada turned the photo and drawing over to Japanese officials, who had them delivered to the older sister, Chie, who still lives in Japan.

Chie Takekawa said they are now on the family altar, where she makes daily offerings of water — in her father’s letters home, he often spoke of his constant thirst and how there was never enough water for the soldiers to drink.

“It’s hard to bring back the emotions that I felt when I first saw the letter,” she said. “We were all amazed that this could happen. I was just so happy.”

Like Hobbs, Takekawa had tried to put the war and her loss behind her, but the return of the photo and drawing rekindled her feeling of a connection with her father and inspired her and her sister to join a government-sponsored trip to Iwo Jima for an annual memorial last March.

“When I got off the airplane I was shocked by how small an island it is,” she said. “All my sister and I could do was cry. I felt I was walking on the soil where he is buried. I wanted to dig in my hands and try to find him.”

Takekawa now intends to go to Iwo Jima every year. “I feel that somehow my father made this all happen,” she said.

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German Foreign Ministry more involved in Holocaust than previously thought

A new study conducted by a panel of German historians (Eckart Conze (Germany), Norbert Frei (Germany), Peter Hayes (Northwestern University), and Moshe Zimmerman (Israel), commissioned by former top German diplomat Joshka Fischer, reveals that the German foreign office had greater involvement in the Holocaust than previously acknowledged.

Story by Jan Friedmann and Klaus Wiegrefer from Der Spiegel, October 25, 2010:

Historians have found that the German Foreign Ministry was far more deeply involved in the Holocaust than had been thought. A new study commissioned by former minister Joschka Fischer in 2005 is due to present its findings this week, and concludes that diplomats went on covering up the past for decades.

As far as book launches go, this will be an unusual one. Three German foreign ministers past and present will be marking the publication on Thursday of a history about the ministry’s role during the Nazi era.


The 880-page work compiled by a panel of historians was commissioned in 2005 by Joschka Fischer shortly before the end of his tenure as Germany’s top diplomat. It will be formally handed over to the present incumbent, Guido Westerwelle, on Thursday afternoon.


That evening, Fischer and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was foreign minister from the end of 2005 until last year, will be attending an event hosted by the publishing company Blessing Verlag.

All three ministers will have to talk about the Holocaust, about war crimes, about diplomatic failure, about perfidious behavior and about rare incidents of heroism, all in the context of the German Foreign Ministry during the Third Reich.

The book will be presented by a commission that includes the historians Eckart Conze and Norbert Frei of Germany, Peter Hayes of the United States and Moshe Zimmermann of Israel. Their book deals with the history of this most distinguished of German ministries during this dark chapter, and about how it dealt with its past after the war.

Diplomats ‘Actively Involved’ in Holocaust

The experts’ verdict is damning. “The diplomats were aware of the Jewish policy throughout,” they write, “and actively involved in it.” Cooperating in mass murder was “an area of activity” of ministry staff “everywhere in Europe.”

Fischer had commissioned the study in 2005 to settle a heated dispute in his ministry about the extent of its historical guilt. The results are unlikely to calm the controversy. Fischer was shocked by the findings. “It makes me feel sick,” he said.

The head of the commission, Eckart Conze, even described the Foreign Ministry as a “criminal organization” in an interview with SPIEGEL (to be published in English later this week). That was the term used at the Nuremberg Trials to describe the SS. Conze’s assessment amounts to a condemnation of Germany’s upper classes during the Nazi era. No other institution had so many members from illustrious families on its staff — the Weizsäckers, the Bismarcks, the Mackensens.

The historians’ findings about the ministry in the post-war West German era are also explosive. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who had the job of foreign minister from 1951 until 1955 during his tenure as West German leader, allowed former Nazis to remain on the ministry’s staff even though he was well aware of the roles they had played under Hitler. Diplomats with Nazi pasts were posted in Arab countries and Latin America where they were unlikely to encounter public criticism.

Former Nazis in West German Foreign Service

The situation didn’t improve much when the center-left Social Democratic Party came to power in 1966. Willy Brandt, who resisted the Nazis and emigrated during the 1930s, became foreign minister and then chancellor. But he continued to work with Ernst Achenbach, a foreign policy expert for the Free Democratic Party in the 1960s and 1970s, who — according to the commission — was involved in the deportation of Jews from occupied France during the war when he was a high-ranking member of the German embassy in Paris. Right up until 1974, Achenbach blocked an agreement between West Germany and France to permit the prosecution of Nazis who had committed crimes in France.

Well into the 1980s, during the tenure of Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, historians ran into a wall of silence when they wanted to dig for incriminating documents in the ministry’s archives in order to refute the official version of events — that it had been “haven of resistance.”

Former Foreign Minister Steinmeier says the study’s findings about the post-war years were among the most depressing passages. He said it was “incredible” that it had taken 60 years to conduct systematic research into the history of the ministry. The study was only launched because Fischer got into an argument with his staff.

Fischer says the trigger was a “ridiculous obituary” circulated among staff in 2003 about Franz Nüsslein, who had been a diplomat in the West German Foreign Ministry. The text declined to mention that Nüsslein had been senior prosecutor in Prague during the war and had been partly responsible for hundreds of executions there. Fischer, who was foreign minister at the time, ordered that the ministry should refrain in future from honoring former Nazi party members.


This ban was applied for the first time a year later after the death of Franz Krapf, West Germany’s ambassador to NATO under Genscher. He had been a member of the Nazi party and the SS.


Former diplomats rebelled against the ban and many active members of the diplomatic service joined the protest. They argued that it was unfair to condemn staff who had been members of the Nazi party, and 128 former diplomats put a large death notice in the respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in defense of Krapf’s honor.

Surprised by the reaction, Fischer responded by hiring the commission. He feels that the findings have confirmed his stance. “That’s the obituary these gentlemen deserve,” he said.

But Fischer’s victory isn’t that clear-cut. The study shows that membership in the Nazi party in itself says nothing about the extent of involvement in crimes. But above all, it isn’t as balanced as the studies that usually put debates such as this to rest.

It contains repeated references to “the” diplomats even though they didn’t all commit crimes, as the book itself emphasizes in another passage. In addition, it assumes that diplomats had demonstrated their support for the “Final Solution” — the term the Nazis used for the Holocaust — just by reading the reports filed by the murderous death squads and signing them as read.

The study also creates the impression that several diplomats were involved in murders, but then fails to provide proof.

For example, Krapf was stationed at the German embassy in Tokyo during the war. The historians write: “Little is known about Krapf’s activities (editor’s note — in Japan), but it’s clear that German diplomats dealt with the ‘Final Solution’ of the Jewish question even in the Far East.” That is supposed to mean: Krapf took part in the genocide somehow.

Former diplomats won’t be the only ones to scrutinize such passages. The historians are also likely to face criticism from younger diplomats because the study accuses staff members of having failed to question the official line right up to the 1990s. One high-ranking ministry official said that wasn’t true. He pointed to research conducted long ago by the historian Hans-Jürgen Döscher about the crimes committed by diplomats. Staff members had read that research, the official said.

Contrary to the commission’s claims, the ministry has already adopted a differentiated view of its own past, the official added. An official brochure published in 1995 says the ministry had contained “several fanatical supporters” and a “considerable number” of people who went along with the Nazis and were indifferent about their crimes.

In a sign of how sensitive the study’s findings are, Westerwelle cancelled a joint book presentation with Steinmeier and Fischer after the publishing firm said it planned a panel discussion between the three ministers and the historians.

Westerwelle seems to have had a feeling that he couldn’t win in a clash with the eloquent Fischer, for whom confronting Germany’s Nazi past has been a lifelong theme and who always relishes taking a swipe at Westerwelle.

New Approach to Dealing With Past

But Westerwelle too has praised the book as “a weighty piece of work” which would help reaffirm the ministry’s sense of self. He wants to incorporate the book in the training course for young diplomats and to change the way the ministry observes its traditions.

The ministry also plans to revise any brochures that fail to mention the roles former staff members played during the Nazi era. In addition, it will take a closer look at the portraits of diplomats hanging on the walls of the ministries and of embassies.

It may well be that embassies follow the example of the London embassy, which mentions the Nazi past of Konstantin von Neurath, the foreign minister from 1932 to 1938, beneath a portrait of him. It may be that in future, only portraits of post-war ambassadors will be shown.

The study in itself represents a break with the past in one important respect: The foreign ministry has put itself at the forefront of historical research into its past. The other ministries largely ignore their Nazi history to this day.

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Exhibit Documents Albanian Muslims Shielding Jews During Holocaust

More stories like these might help relations . . .

Story by Tim Townsend,, October 23, 2010:

In 2003, Norman Gershman was looking for some of the righteous.

What he found astonished the investment banker-turned photographer and led him toward a project that is on display in a St. Louis synagogue.

The Righteous Among Nations are gentile rescuers who make up “a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values,” according to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum. “The few who helped Jews in the darkest time in their history.”

Gershman’s story begins during the Holocaust and involves Albanian Muslims — villagers, peasants and farmers — who risked their lives and the lives of their families to shelter Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Italy invaded Albania in 1939 and occupied the country until the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in 1943. Germany then took over the Albanian occupation. Before the war, Gershman estimates from his research, only about 200 Jews lived in Albania, a country that is about 70 percent Muslim. During the years of occupation, 10 times as many Jews streamed into Albania to escape persecution from Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Greece and Italy.

Gershman says it was the only country in Europe where the Jewish population grew by the end of the war. Most of the Jews who were hidden either fled to Israel or back to their native countries after the war. Albania’s postwar communist regime made it impossible for the Jews who had been hidden to stay in touch with their Muslim shelterers back in Albania.

In 2003, New Jersey native Gershman heard hints of the story and began doing research, eventually traveling to Albania to begin interviewing those Muslims who took part and who were still alive. Gershman said it wasn’t just Muslim families who shielded Jews from the Nazis, but also Orthodox and Catholic families.

All of them were motivated by an Albanian code of honor called “besa,” a concept that can be translated into “keeping the promise,” Gershman says. The Albanian villagers were motivated to risk their lives by the simple concept of helping one’s neighbor.

“We chose to focus on the Muslims because, who ever heard of Muslims saving Jews?” Gershman said in a telephone interview from Israel, where he is at work on his next project.

Gershman’s research eventually led to an exhibit of his photographs, “Besa: A Code to Live By,” which opened at Congregation Temple Emanuel in Creve Coeur on Thursday, and a book, “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II.”

The exhibit makes the case that the Muslim Albanian villagers who sheltered Jews from deportation to concentration camps did so from a sense of religious obligation.

“Besa is a cultural idea, but for the Muslims in Albania it was ingrained in their faith as well,” Gershman said.

Ahmet Karamustafa, professor of history and religious studies at Washington University, said saving a life is a universally acknowledged Muslim value.

Protecting a life, Karamustafa said, “has always ranked at the very top of moral and legal categories articulated by legal and theological scholars in Islam.”

The exhibit has been traveling the world since 2006, opening in Yad Vashem in Israel, the United Nations in New York, and synagogues, mosques, college campuses and Holocaust museums from Turkey to El Paso, Texas.

David Sherman, president of Temple Emanuel, said a member of the congregation was at a wedding last year in Philadelphia, where “Besa” was on display.

“The photos and the stories were so fantastic,” Sherman said. “We decided it could be an opportunity to educate the public about this piece of history that was a model of dialogue and tolerance.”

Temple Emanuel’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Justin Kerber, said one of the Reform congregation’s goals with the exhibit is to combat a common depiction of the modern relationship between Jews and Muslims.

“There’s so much coverage about Muslim-Jewish strife and conflict,” Kerber said. “It’s important to tell people that’s not the whole story, and these are examples of Muslim-Jewish respect, tolerance and love. This was a good opportunity for us to be part of that conversation.”

Temple Emanuel partnered with the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and the Brodsky Jewish Community Library to display 30 of Gershman’s photographs through Dec. 1.

The exhibit includes a photograph of Lime Balla, born in 1910, who told Gershman that a group of 17 Jews came from Albania’s capital, Tirana, to her village of Gjergi in 1943 during Ramadan.

“We divided them amongst the villagers,” Balla said, according to Gershman. “We were poor. We had no dining table, but we didn’t allow them to pay for food or shelter. We grew vegetables for all to eat. For 15 months, we dressed them as farmers like us. Even the local police knew.”

In 2006, former President Jimmy Carter endorsed the exhibit, writing that at a time when conflict between Muslims and Jews attracts so much attention, “it is heartening to be reminded that mutual aid and friendship also have characterized the relationship.”

Gershman’s photos, Carter wrote, “offer hope for a future in which Muslims and Jews can overcome their conflicts and focus on their common humanity.”




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Saratoga Battle Data Base Available

Story from NPR, October 21, 2010:

Descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers who fought in one of history’s most important battles can now find their American ancestors in a computer database, and some day they might be guided by GPS to the exact spots where their relatives faced musket fire, cannon barrages and bayonet charges.

History buffs spent 12 years gleaning information from 200-year-old military documents to assemble the list of thousands who participated in the Battles of Saratoga. The database, recently unveiled at Saratoga National Historical Park, contains the names of about 15,000 of the more than 17,000 soldiers of the Continental Army and various state militias who defeated the British here in 1777.

About 2,500 more American names are being added, while the names of most of the 9,000 enemy combatants — British soldiers, German mercenaries, Canadians and loyalists — are expected to join the database in several years, according to Eric Schnitzer, a National Parks Service ranger and park historian. The names of some of the Native Americans who fought here — Oneidas for the Americans, Mohawks for the British — also will be added, he said.

Tourists can search the database for names using a touch-screen computer in the park’s visitor center. The list is also available on the website of Heritage Hunters, the Saratoga County-based group of volunteers who scoured 18th century regimental muster rolls and other records to compile the list.

By knowing a soldier’s regiment, park rangers can help visitors find the general area on the 3,400-acre battlefield where each unit is known to have fought or been encamped, Schnitzer said. The park hopes to eventually link the database with GPS data so visitors can stand in the exact spots where their ancestor’s units engaged in some of the bloodiest actions of the war.

The project was made possible by the detailed records kept by many American regiments, dispelling a common perception of America’s first citizen soldiers as ragtag, undisciplined and prone to wandering about at will, Schnitzer said. Muster rolls, often updated every three months, told commanders how many men were available for duty, who they were and how much weaponry, housing and supplies they needed, he said.

“If guys were just coming and going as they wanted, like in a free-for-all, that’s death to an army. That’s a disaster,” Schnitzer said. “That’s why it wasn’t done.”

Members of Heritage Hunters decided in 1998 to compile a list of American participants in the Saratoga battles, said Pat Peck, a member of the group’s board of trustees. The project’s researchers spent tens of thousands of hours poring over 233-year-old muster rolls, pay lists and other documents in the National Archives and elsewhere, she said.

“We’re not just taking the fact that you say, ‘Oh, my great-great-great-grandfather was there,'” Peck said. “We’re looking for something hard, firm that says, ‘Yes, this person was actually at the Battles of Saratoga.'”

The digitized “muster roll” at Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park, started on paper in the 1940s, now contains the names of more than 33,000 American soldiers who camped there in the winter of 1777-78. But Saratoga is considered unique for compiling what is someday expected to be a nearly complete list of battle participants, said one parks official.

“Saratoga is very much in the lead in getting it digitized,” said James Perry, spokesman for the parks service’s Yorktown Battlefield. Perry said Yorktown is in the early stages of compiling its own database.

At the Saratoga Battlefield, soldiers are listed on the database alphabetically. Each entry includes rank, regiment, length of service and home state. Some hometowns also are listed. Personal information also is included for some soldiers, including details of wartime service and names of family members.

More than 10,000 of the soldiers who fought here hailed from New England. Massachusetts led the way with 7,800, followed by New Hampshire with 1,500 and Connecticut with 1,000. Most of the rest were backwoodsmen from Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The Americans defeated an invading British force on Oct. 7, 1777, nearly three weeks after the redcoats won the first battle but couldn’t advance south toward Albany because of heavy losses. After the second battle, the British force retreated several miles north before becoming surrounded. British Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered on Oct. 17 in what is now a village park along the Hudson River.

Many historians consider the American victory at Saratoga one of history’s most significant battles because it persuaded France to join the fledgling United States in its fight for independence. French troops and ships later played a major role in the final defeat of the redcoats at Yorktown in October 1781.


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WWI British Merchant Navy Captain vs German U-Boat

Story by Jasper Copping, Telegraph, October 16, 2010:

It was one of the most controversial episodes of the First World War, ruthlessly exploited by both sides for maximum propaganda advantage.

But while other stories from the conflict remain familiar, the act of bravery shown by British merchant sailor Charles Fryatt as he tried to ram an enemy U-boat and his subsequent death by German firing squad have since slipped from public awareness.

A new exhibition featuring artefacts linked to these extraordinary events is due to open on Saturday (16 October) in a bid to restore his place in history.

Captain Fryatt became an overnight hero in Britain and a villain in Germany for his actions on 28 March 1915 when his ship, the SS Brussels – a passenger ferry which ran a regular service between Harwich and neutral Holland – was intercepted by a submarine, U33, in the North Sea.

Rather than see his vessel sent to the bottom, Captain Fryatt ordered full steam ahead and tried to ram the U-boat, forcing it into a crash dive.

On his return to Britain, he was lauded as a hero for taking on and humiliating the Imperial German Navy. He was feted in the House of Commons and awarded a gold watch by the Admiralty.

However, his actions had enraged the Germans, who considered them a breach of international law, which stated that merchant vessels should not take aggressive action, even against war ships intent on sinking them.

Determined to exact revenge, they deliberately set out to capture him and, in June 1916 sent destroyers to again intercept the SS Brussels. This time, he and the vessel were captured and taken to occupied Belgium.

Capt Fryatt was found guilty at a court martial of being a “franc tireur” – a civilian who took up arms against the usual rules of war – and executed by firing squad. The gold watch was produced as evidence against him.

His death prompted an international outcry, including in the United States, which had not yet entered the war, where there was outrage that a civilian had been killed for defending himself.

It was described by newspapers there as “a deliberate murder” and “the crowning German atrocity”.

The British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith described it as an “atrocious crime against the laws of nations and the usages of war” which showed the Germans had adopted a “policy of terrorism”.

King George V expressed his indignation in a letter to Fryatt’s widow, Ethel. His personal secretary wrote: “I am commanded to assure you of the abhorrence with which His Majesty regards this outrage.”

A memorial was erected in Fryatt’s honour at Liverpool Street Station and, at the end of the war, his body was exhumed from the cemetery near Bruges where he had been buried, and returned to Britain where he was given a funeral, with full honours, in St Paul’s Cathedral.

During the war, his death was compared with the execution of British nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by the Germans in 1915 for helping British soldiers escape from occupied Belgium, but it now remains the less well known of the two.

However, it is now the focus of an exhibition which opens at the Imperial War Museum North, in Manchester, this week.

Nick Hewitt, a historian at the museum, said: “Captain Fryatt has rather slipped out of the public imagination but his is a fascinating story and a very sad one for him and his family that we hope to highlight.

“At the time, the Germans were not practising unrestricted submarine warfare, so U-boats had to surface and allow the crew of the merchant ship to abandon ship and, in theory, board and inspect the ship and make sure it was carrying illegal cargo before they sank it.

“For their part, merchant skippers could not take offensive action against submarines. These were the rules as they had been developed, in a much earlier period, before submarines even existed, with their origins in the Napoleonic era.

“Everyone was discovering that there were impracticalities about the rules and the whole thing would get blown out of the water later in the war with the Germans practising unrestricted submarine warfare, which did not acknowledge any rules.

“In a strictly legal sense, the weight is in favour of the German argument that they were entitled to try and execute him. But that is an interpretation strictly on the letter of the law, and not a moral one.

“Whether they were morally justified in doing so is a totally different argument.

“As with Edith Cavell, it was a catastrophically stupid decision by the Germans. In both cases, they might have had a technical entitlement to execute them both, but they would have had a far more significant propaganda success if they had sentenced them to death and then pardoned them.”

Doris Stewart, 90, from Southampton, is a great niece of Captain Fryatt, born four years after his death.

She said: “There was a large photo of him hung in our front room when I was growing up and when we asked who it was, we were just told that it was uncle Charles and that he was shot by the Germans.

“We weren’t told anything of his background. Children weren’t told about those sorts of things in those days.”

She only discovered the story behind his death in 2006, when a local historian in Southampton gave a talk on the subject.

The exhibition will include the port scuttle light from the SS Brussels, a half crown coin reportedly given to Captain Fryatt by a nun on the day of his death, and medals he was awarded posthumously – the British War Medal and the Chevalier of the Order of Leopold and Maritime Decoration, 1st Class, which was awarded by the Belgian government

It will also feature notices written in Flemish, German and French announcing the death sentence.

The SS Brussels herself was torpedoed several times by the British during the Zeebrugge Raid, an attack on the port in 1918, but did not sink.

She was later scuttled by the Germans in the port, before being raised at the end of the war and presented to the Admiralty.



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