Tuesday 28 February 2017

Max Manus: Saboteur Extraordinaire

Max Manus served in the Rognus Operation, a resistance movement headed up by the British during the Second World War.  In 1940, discovered by the Gestapo, they were about to bring him in for questioning.  Knowing their brutal tactics, Manus jumped through his apartment window and fell two floors to the street below.  Hospitalized, the doctor announced that he had a concussion, broken shoulder and spinal injuries.  The doctor likely spared his life but putting him in isolation where the Gestapo could not question him.

With the help of Nurse Olsen and a resistance fighter on the outside, Manus was able to escape from the hospital one night using a fishing line and some rope, blocking out the intense pain from his still injured shoulder.  Fearing that Nurse Olsen would be punished by the GEstapo for aiding him in his escape, he arranged to have the doctor give her a facial injection to make it look like he had beaten her up.  A waiting car outside the hospital whisked him away to Roa.  But his escape was not yet complete.  From there, Manus strapped on some skis and skied for six hours until he reached a remote hut where he spent ten days recovering.  There, he bleached his hair, reshaped his eyebrows and adopted a pseudonym, all to keep the Gestapo off his scent.  A resistance fighter met Manus at the hut and escorted him to the Swedish border where he was arrested and questioned by the Swedish Police who were sympathetic to his plight.

Manus returned to Finland and made a roundabout journey to England to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE).  Manus' transformation was complete.  His James Bond career began in earnest as he set out to sabotage the Nazis from afar.  It was not long however before the SOE arranged to have Manus return to Norway, this time via parachute.  While he survived the parachute jump, he almost did not survive his bout with pneumonia.  After recovering, he set to work to sabotage the Nazis.

 "It was Manus' idea to sabotage shipping in Oslo Harbour using specially constructed charges placed on the sides of ships from canoes."  In April of 1943, Manus and a fellow saboteur rowed out to Nazi ships in the Oslo harbour and attached charges to them.  The Orteslburg exploded and sank while the other ships were injured.  The charge on the Tugela also exploded.  Manus received the Military Cross for his dangerous exploits.  After the war, Manus served as Crown Prince Olav's bodyguard when he returned to Oslo.  Manus married in 1947 and opened an office supply business.  While he struggled with nightmares, depression and alcoholism, he lived a long life, passing away in 1996.

Max Manus (right) protecting Crown Prince Olav courtesy http://www.nuav.net/maxmanus.html.

Note:  See Max Manus:  Man of War (2008).

Monday 27 February 2017

Apostolos Santas & Manolis Glezos: Greek Folk Heroes Who Tore Down Swastika

The Nazis raise the Swastika over the Acropolis in Athens, Greece courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostolos_Santas.

More than any other building, the Parthenon defines Greece.  As a child, I remember doing a project about the Parthenon, one of a number of ancient buildings in the Acropolis on a hill overlooking Athens, Greece.    Acropolis comes from akron, meaning highest point and polis, meaning city.  The building is no stranger to warfare as it was damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians when gunpowder stored inside was hit by a cannonball.

It is no surprise that on April 27, 1941, the Nazis claimed the city of Athens by planting their flag on the Parthenon.  Little did they know that only a month later, two university students, Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas, would climb the Parthenon in the dead of night, tear down the Swastika and replace it with the Greek flag.  It became known as one of the first acts of Greek resistance and the two became folk heroes.

Apostolos Santas, left, and Manolis Glezos, right, courtesy https://hellasforce.com/2015/05/30/.

Glezos and Santas, both teenagers at the time, discovered from a library book that the north side of the Acropolis contained a natural cave leading from the base to the top.  Used as a secret passage way in ancietn times, the duo figured that they could climb it undetected.  With only a flashlight and a pocketknife, the two teens sneaked into the cave in the dark of night.  They were disappointed to discover at the exit to the cave that the flagpole was 50 feet high.  It took them three hours to scale the flagpole.  Thrilled, they tore off the Swastika, took some swatches for souvenirs, and threw it to the ground.  They replaced it with the blue and white Greek flag.  Sentenced to death in absentia by the occupying Nazis, the two went into hiding.  Their mothers burned the Swastika swatches as well as diaries explaining their exploits.  The Nazis, however, did not know their identity at the time.

Greek guerillas during WWII courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_People's_Liberation_Army.

The mountainous country of Greece was long known for its guerilla warfare.  Santas joined one such force, ELAS, in 1943, participating in several battles against the Axis.  While Santas survived the war, because of his Communist leanings, he was again imprisoned under sentence of death in 1948. He escaped from the Makronisos Island prison, however, to Italy where he sought and received political asylum in Canada.  In 1962 he returned to Greece and to more turmoil.  He passed away in his homeland in 2011.

Glezos worked for both the Hellenic Red Cross and the Greek Resistance.  In March of 1942, he was arrested by the Nazis, imprisoned and tortured, contracting tuberculosis as a result of his mistreatment.  Freed, he was arrested again by the Italian occupying forces in 1943.  The Greek collaborators arrested him a third time in 1944; he escaped in September of that year.  The end of the Second World War did not signal the end of Glezos' persecution.  Greece erupted in a Civil War and with his Communist leanings, Glezos was imprisoned yet again.  In total he would spend 11 years in prison and 4 years in exile.  With the restoration of democracy in Greece n 1974 Glezos was elected a member of the Greek Parliament.  He continues his political protest activity to this day, arrested as recently as 2012 by riot police.

Manolis Glezos Communist stamp, with the Acropolis in the background, courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manolis_Glezos.

Sunday 26 February 2017

Jorgen Kieler: Danish Resistance Fighter & Underground Newspaper Publisher

Danish underground newspaper courtesy https://www.pinterest.com/pin/409053578636788304/.

Danish physician Jorgen Kieler, along with his sister Elsebet Kieler, published the Frit Danmark or Free Denmark, an illegal newspaper circulated amongst the resistance in the Second World War.
While the Danes retained their radios, they still relied heavily on the news published in Frit Danmark, one of 600 different underground papers.  At its height, the Danish Resistance included 45,000 members.

Kieler helped dozens of Danish Jews avoid extermination by the Nazis.  In the Fall of 1943, rumour had it that the Gestapo was going to round up all of Denmark's Jews.  Kieler worked with the Resistance to co-ordinate the escape of Danish Jews.  In the dark of night, they met at the docks where they boarded fishing boats, cargo boats and any available, seaworthy vessels to cross the water to neutral Sweden.


The Danish Resistance sabotaging the Nazis courtesy 

Ordinary citizens like Kieler played a vital role in the escape.  There were obstacles to surmount, however.  First of all, to secure a place on an evacuation vessel could cost as much as $9,000 a head in today's dollars.  Second of all, the Gestapo became suspicious of activity around the harbours; eighty Jews were arrested in one escape attempt.  Therefore, the fleeing Jews had to be hidden while the preparations took place:  some were "admitted" to hospitals under false names; others took cover in churches; still others hid in holiday homes by the sea.  The crossing was rough.  Pregnant women found it particularly difficult.  The man in charge of one boat knew nothing about navigation.  When the passengers reached land, they realized they were right back where they started at the Danish docks.  All told, at least 7,500 Jews made it to safety in Sweden.

Jorgen Kieler was captured in 1944 and sent to a concentration camp where he remained for the duration of the war.  Upon liberation, he continued his medical studies in the United States.  He took on the fight against cancer just as passionately as the one against the Nazis.  In 1980, he became the director of the Danish Cancer Research Institute, tackling the disease just as passionately as he tackled the Nazis.  Kieler wrote books about both the German occupation and concentration camp syndrome.

Note:  Read Resistance Fighter:  A Personal History of the Danish Resistance Movement, 1940-1945 by Jorgen Kieler.

Danish Jews escape in the dead of night to Sweden courtesy 

Saturday 25 February 2017

Lulu the Belgian Teen Who Defied the Gestapo

Image result for lucie vanosmael

Lucie Vanosmael's father lost an arm in the First World War.  When the Second World War broke out, Lucie was determined to avenge what had happened to her father.  Code named Lulu, Lucie joined the Belgian Resistance in 1940 at the tender age of 15, forging papers to make her appear old enough to fight. She spied on Nazi troops and ammunition dumps.  By the age of 17, Lulu was destroying bridges, ambushing troops and repatriating airmen.  Lulu also helped blow up Schaerbeek railway station in Brussels, packed with German soldiers.

Towards the end of the Second World War, Lulu was caught and turned over to the Gestapo.  She underwent intense torture including being immersed in water, deprived of food for days, and having all of her nails torn off.  However, she refused to divulge any information.  On three occasions, she was tied to a stake and threatened with being executed.  However, a German officer intervened and sent her to Germany as a labourer at a munitions factory.  She tried to escape and ended up being shot in the arm.  Eventually, she did escape and made it to Holland on foot, eating raw eggs and vegetables stolen from farms on the journey.  Upon the liberation of Belgium, she climbed on an Allied tank and directed the troops to their rendezvous.

After the war, Lucie was recruited by her former commander to locate collaborators, compile dossiers on them and testify against them at the Palais de Justice.  Lucie married twice and had three children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  She passed away in 2007 at the age of 82.

Friday 24 February 2017

Mordechai Anielewicz: Leader of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Mordechai Anielewicz died fighting for the freedom of Poland's Jews.  He led a revolt in January of 1943, the prelude to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the biggest Jewish revolt of the Second World War.

Anielewicz, nickanmed the Little Angel, was born and raised in Poland.  In his youth, he joined the Zionist Youth Movement.  In September of 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Anielewicz escaped to eastern Poland to connect with the Polish Army, hoping to fight the Germans.  However, soon after, they met the Red Army, invading from the east.

The young Zionist attempted to enter Romania to find a route for Jews to get to Palestine.  However, he was arrested by the Communists.  Anielewicz, released a short time later, returned to Warsaw where he discovered that only 60,000 of the original 350,000 Jews remained, the rest having been deported to Treblinka concentration camp.

In January of 1943, Anielewicz led a group of a dozen fighters, armed with pistols, to prevent the Nazis from deported a second wave of Jews to the concentration camps.  It was a prelude to the infamous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April of 1943 (http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2012/04/warsaw-ghetto-uprising.html).

It is assumed that the Jewish Resistance leader died on May 8, 1943 at the surrounded ZOP command post on Mila Street in Warsaw.  His body was never recovered.  Anielewicz was awarded both the Cross of Valour and the Cross of Grunwald posthumously.

Note:  Watch the movie Uprising (2001) starring Hank Azaria as Mordechai Anielewicz.

Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument with Mordechai Anielewicz at the centre courtesy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordechai_Anielewicz#/media/File:Monument_of_ghetto_uprising_crop.JPG.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Gino Bartali: Some Medals are Pinned to Your Soul, Not Your Jacket

"Good is something you do, not something you talk about.  Some medals are pinned to your soul, not your jacket." (Gino Bartali)

Gino Bartali, during the Tour de France in the late 30s

Gino Bartali competing in the 1938 Tour de France courtesy 

Gino Bartali was reaching the peak of his career when the Second World War broke out.  The cyclist had three Giro d'Italia medals around his neck as well as one Tour de France trophy.  When someone suggested that he dedicate the Tour de France victory to Italy's fascist dictator Mussolini, he refused. Bartali marched to the beat of his own drummer.  By war's end, Bartali would be a hero once again, but for an entirely different reason.

Gino Bartali, a villager from a poor Tuscan family, took up cycling after being encouraged by his older brother.  While the latter died tragically in a cycling accident, the former continued to race.  A sickly and skinny child, Bartali worked on strengthening his body to endure the gruelling races through the Alps.  In 1936, the cyclist cliched his first major victory, the Giro d'Italia, repeating the feat the following year.  

Mussolini, like Hitler, had his own ideas about the master race, summed up in his Manifesto of Race published in 1938.  That same year, he watched the 1938 Tour de France with interest, assuming that if an Italian won, the victory would just confirm his racial theory.  Bartali did win the Tour, but refused to dedicate his victory to Mussolini, risking the possible wrath of the fascist dictator.

                                Gino Bartali is congratulated by Costante Girardengo after winning the eleventh stage of the Tour de France

    Gino Bartali wins 1938 Tour de France courtesy http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27333310.

The Second World War, for all intents and purposes, put the Tour de France on hold.  But Bartali continued to train in hopes of keeping his strength up.  In 1943, when the alliance collapsed between Italy and Germany, the German army occupied the Northern and Central regions of Italy.  The Wehrmacht started rounding up Italian Jews and putting them in concentration camps.

Bartali, a devout Catholic, was approached by the Florence priest who had married him and asked if he could help the plight of the Jews.  Bartali agreed to become a courier, transporting forged documents to Jews in order to prevent them from being deported.  The occupying forces would see the cyclist racing up and down the Alps and think that he was training for his next race.  In the meantime, inside the handlebars of his bicycle, he carried vital documents that would save lives.  If he were stopped and searched, he would always ask the soldier not to tamper with his bike, that it was set just the way it should be for his next race.  The guard would let him continue on his journey, unaware that the cyclist's destination was a secret printing press.  Bartali was questioned by the secret police at one point and had to go into hiding in Citta di Castello.  

Bartali's son, Andrea, said that he rarely talked about the sacrifice he made to save Italy's Jews. "Good is something you do, not something you talk about," he explained matter of factly.  "Some medals are pinned to your soul, not your jacket."  Bartali's story has a denouement.  In 1948, a full ten years after his first Tour de France victory, he won the title yet again.  Today, Bartali still holds the record for the longest gap between Tour de France victories.

Gino Bartali wins Tour de France again in 1948 courtesy http://www.ilpost.it/2014/07/18/gino-bartali/.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

An Die Nachgeborenen: For Those Who Come After

"The Nazis had a price on Father's head that was second only to the bounty that they were prepared to pay for the capture of German-born Prince Bernhard, Queen Wilhelmina's son-in-law and commander in chief of the pitiful Dutch free forces." (Elisabeth Holdsworth)

The Nachgeborenen Elisabeth Holdsworth second from left Fritz front centre

Elisabeth Holdsworth grew up in the shadow of the Second World War.  Born in 1949 in Middelburg, Holland, she was an only child, long wanted by her parents.  Her mother, a Dutch Jew, was sent to work as young teenager for a prominent family in their hometown.  Her father, a Dutch Christian, was a member of the prominent family.  

Elisabeth's father lived underground during the Second World War as part of the Dutch Resistance. While he performed many heroic acts, he was never officially recognized for his role in helping to save Holland from the grips of the Nazis.  "The Nazis had a price on Father's head that was second only to the bounty that they were prepared to pay for the capture of German-born Prince Bernhard, Queen Wilhelmina's son-in-law and commander in chief of the pitiful Dutch free forces."

Elisabeth grew up with a posse of friends who, dressed in their clogs, scrambled over the piles of war rubble.  One day, her mother gave her a severe beating for playing in a field with hidden land mines.  Her mother was prone to fits of rage, a result of her years in a Nazi concentration camp.  Her husband's brother, Linus, had fingered her as the wife of a member of the Dutch Resistance and the Nazis took her away.  The constant threat of them figuring out she was a Jew weighed heavily on her.

After the bombing May 1940

Middelburg was bombed so heavily by the Luftwaffe that the sky was sometimes completely black from the planes overhead.  The Nazis flattened all of the buildings and there was nothing left suitable for a command post.  This was the scene that Elisabeth's mother returned to upon being liberated from the concentration camp.  There she was reunited with her husband.

Right after the war, Elisabeth's Uncle Linus was murdered and her father was questioned as to the whereabouts of his gun.  He said that it must have disappeared during the war.  Elisabeth said that while no one in her family actually said that her father murdered her uncle, the silence spoke volumes.  While the Nazis were hated, a traitor was despised even more, especially one who fingered his own sister-in-law.

Elisabeth's father spent several years trying to repair the dikes which surrounded Middelburg, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.  In 1953, the dykes collapsed and the region was flooded resulting in hundreds of deaths.  A broken man, Elisabeth's father moved the family to Australia where he died soon after. Her mother died in a car accident there in 1975.  

Note:  Read Elisabeth Holdsworth's Calibre Prize 2007 essay "An Die Nachgebroenen:  For Those Who Come After" at https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/component/k2/131-february-2007-no-288/2369-an-die-nachgeborenen-for-those-who-come-after.

Holdsworth w father

Tuesday 21 February 2017

The White Mouse: The Socialite Who Killed a Nazi with Her Own Hands

"A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I'd pass their [German] posts and wink and say:  'Do you want to search me?'  What a flirtatious little bastard I was." (Nancy Wake)

Nancy Wake (1945).jpg

She was nicknamed The White Mouse for her ability to elude capture by the Gestapo.  She killed a Nazi with her bare hands.  Five million francs were wanted on her head.  

Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand in 1912 and raised in Australia.  Her father abandonned the family and she ran away at 16, sailing to New York City and later to London.  In the 1930's, Nancy trained as a journalist and worked for the Hearst newspapers as a European correspondent.  She met and married a French industrialist in 1937.  The following year, Nancy "saw roves of Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets in Vienna".  

Vowing to help the Jews, she joined the French Resistance.  The Australian bombshell, an unlikely candidate as a spy, used her feminine wiles to distract the enemy.  "A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I'd pass their [German] posts and wink and say:  'Do you want to search me?'  What a flirtatious little bastard I was." When the Gestapo did catch on, they started tapping her phone and intercepting her mail.  However, unable to catch her in person, they nicknamed her "The White Mouse".  

With five million francs on her head, she fled to Marseilles.  Her husband, who remained in Paris, was captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo, paying the price for his wife's role in the Resistance.  Unaware of her husband's fate, Nancy continued to carry out her daring work.  On the night of April 29, 1944, she parachuted into Auvergne, France to serve as a liasion officer for the local maquisards. From July of 1944 to the liberation of France, Nancy and her fellow maquisards fought 22,000 German soldiers and inflicted 1400 casualties while only sustaining 100 casualties. The White Mouse even killed a Nazi with her bare hands using a karate chop she learned in Resistance training.

Ever eluding the Gestapo, Nancy crossed the Pyrenees to Sapin on her sixth attempt.  To replace codes for her wireless operator, she rode a bicycle over 500 kilometres through German checkpoints.  The Second World War ended with no one claiming the prize on her head.

For her heroic efforts, Nancy Wake received the Croix de Guerre (3 fois), Medaille de la Resistance, Medal of Freedom and George Medal.  She married a RAF officer in 1957 and returned to Australia where they enjoyed a 40 year marriage.  

For more information, read:

1.  The White Mouse (Nancy Wake, 1985).
2.  The Socialite Who Killed a Nazi with Her Bare Hands (New York Times, 2012).