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See where 30,000 bombs fell during the London Blitz, 1940-41

In September 1940, the German Luftwaffe unleashed a strategic bombing campaign that targeted all of the major cities across the UK. Over 30,000 tons of high explosives were dropped on sixteen cities during a relentless over 267-day campaign, or “Blitzkrieg” (German for “lightening war”), that claimed over 40,000 civilian lives—half them in London alone—wounded over 100,000 and destroyed more than a million homes. It was an event that changed the nature of the war, and brought repercussions for Germany.

My mother was a child during the Second World War, living with her parents and sister in a tenement in the north-west of Glasgow. She can still clearly recall the regular sound of the siren warning of another German bombing raid. People decamped to the bomb shelters situated in the back gardens, where my mother listened to the whistle and blast of the bombs, land mines and other incendiaries raining down from the planes above.

In March 1941, she was briefly evacuated to a cottage in Milport on the isle of Great Cumbrae, off the west coast of Scotland. During this time, the Luftwaffe carried out two bombing raids on Clydebank—that have been described as “the most cataclysmic event” in war-time Scotland. My mother recalled how the German planes seemed to fly so low she felt she could touch them, while the flames from the raid lit up the sky like it was day.
Clydebank, near Glasgow, after the ‘blitz’ of March 1941.
Devastation in the south of London—a bus lies in the rubble of a bomb crater.
Central Coventry after a bombing raid November 1940.
Sleeping in the shelter of London’s Underground station at Elephant and Castle, November 1940.
More photos plus link to the interactive Blitz site, after the jump…

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Inside the Warsaw Ghetto: Summer 1941

Since 1596 Warsaw has been the capital of Poland. In Polish Warsaw (“Warszawa”) literally means “belonging to Warsz”—a 12th-13th-century nobleman who owned land in the Mariensztat district. Warsaw was home to Europe’s largest Jewish population—around 337,000 in 1939, and 445,000 by 1941.

When Germany invaded Poland in August 1939, the Nazis quickly surrounded the capital city and launched a deadly blitzkreig that claimed many lives and destroyed buildings. The Germans were now in control of the country and in November 1939, an edict issued by Hans Frank, the Governor General, decreed all Jewish men, women and children over the age of ten had to wear a Star of David armband to identify themselves. All Jewish shops had to be similarly marked with a Star of David, and severe restrictions were placed on the Jewish population. Further laws limited the amount of money Jews were able to withdraw, with strict rules on buying produce, letting and owning property and travel.

In March 1940, groups of Polish gangs launched a series of violent attacks on the Jewish population—stealing money, gold, food, clothes and anything they could find of any value. These attacks lasted for eight days until the Germans intervened.

In February 1940, the Germans proposed plans to create a Jewish quarter or ghetto, where all Jews would be contained. On the Day of Atonement, October 1940, a decree was issued establishing a Jewish ghetto. All Jews had to relocate to this ghetto, which meant 30% of the population of Warsaw was packed into only 2.4% of the city’s area—some 400,00 people living in 1.3 square miles, an average of 7.2 people per room.

By mid-November, a wall surrounding the ghetto was built. The wall was over eleven feet high with broken glass and barbed wire on top and was constructed by the German company Schmidt & Munstermann, who were responsible for building the Treblinka concentration. The wall was paid for by the same Jewish community it was built to imprison. Access to and from the ghetto was limited to mainly food and supplies. The Jewish population inside the ghetto were allocated daily rations of 181 calories. The Germans intended to starve the imprisoned population. During 1941 Jewish deaths rose from 898 in January, to 5,560 in August. The average monthly mortality rates for the seventeen months from January 1941 to May 1942 was 3882. But death was not quick enough for the Germans, and in May 1942, 254,000 Jewish ghetto inhabitants were transported to Treblinka for extermination.

Willy Georg was an old German soldier who made money taking photographs of young German soldiers. During the summer of 1941, Georg was given permission to enter the Jewish ghetto and take photographs of the inhabitants. Georg shot four rolls of film, but as he was shooting a fifth roll, a German military policeman stopped him and confiscated his camera, he was then escorted out of the area. However, the policeman had not searched Georg and he was therefore able to sneak out the four rolls of shot film. He developed these films and carefully stored them along with the prints for the next fifty years until the late 1980s when he met Rafael Scharf, a researcher of Polish-Jewish studies, to whom he gave his pictures. These photographs were then published in the book Warsaw Ghetto: Summer 1941 in 1993.
More of Willy Georg’s powerful photographs of the Jewish ghetto, after the jump…

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The ordinary faces of evil: Mugshots of female Nazi concentration camp guards
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Stupid or Evil?

Second World War

Frieda Walter: sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Though their actions were monstrous, they are not monsters. There are no horns, no sharp teeth, no demonic eyes, no number of the Beast. They are just ordinary women. Mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, widows, spinsters. Ordinary women, ordinary human beings.

In the photographs they look shameful, guilty, scared, brazen, stupid, cunning, disappointed, desperate, confused. These women were Nazi guards at the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp during the Second World War, and were all tried and found guilty of carrying out horrendous crimes against their fellow human beings—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons. Interesting how “evil” looks just like you and me.
Hilde Liesewitz: sentenced to one year imprisonment.
Gertrude Feist: sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Elizabeth Volkenrath: Head Wardess at Belsen-Bergen: sentenced to death. She was hanged on 13 December 1945.
More Nazi mugshots, after the jump…

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Alfred Hitchcock’s unseen Holocaust documentary to be restored

It is claimed Alfred Hitchcock was so traumatized after viewing footage of the liberation of the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp that the legendary film director stayed away from Pinewood Film Studios for a week.

Hitchcock had been enlisted by friend and patron, Sidney Bernstein to make a documentary on German atrocities carried out during the Second World War. The director was to use footage shot by British and Soviet film units during the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. The material was so disturbing that Hitchcock’s complete film has rarely been seen. Speaking to the Independent newspaper, Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Department of Research, Imperial War Museum, said:

“It was suppressed because of the changing political situation, particularly for the British. Once they discovered the camps, the Americans and British were keen to release a film very quickly that would show the camps and get the German people to accept their responsibility for the atrocities that were there.”

According to Patrick McGilligan in his biography Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light:

[Hitchcock met] with two writers who had witnessed the atrocities of Bergen-Belsen first-hand. Richard Crossman contributed a treatment, while Colin Wills, an Australian correspondent, wrote a script that relied heavily on narration.

The director had committed himself to the project early enough to give Hitchcockian instructions to some of the first cameramen entering the concentration camps. Hitchcock made a point of requesting “long tracking shots, which cannot be tampered with,” in the words of the film’s editor, Peter Tanner, so that nobody could claim the footage had been manipulated to falsify the reality. The footage was in a newsreel style, but generally of high quality, and some of it in color.


The footage spanned eleven concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ebensee, and Mathausen. The filmmakers ended up with eight thousand feet of film and newsreel, some of it shot by allied photographers, the rest of it impounded. It was to be cut and assembled into roughly seven reels.

Hitchcock watched “all the film as it came in,” recalled Tanner, although the director “didn’t like to look at it.” The footage depressed both of them: the piles of corpses, the staring faces of dead children, the walking skeletons. The days of looking at the footage were long and unrelievedly grim.

In the end, the planned film took Hitchcock and his team much longer than anticipated, and when it was delivered, the perceived opinion was the documentary would not help with Germany’s postwar reconstruction. Despite protests from Bernstein and Hitchcock, the documentary was dumped and five of the film’s six reels were deposited at the Imperial War Museum, where they were quietly forgotten.

Some later thought Hitchcock’s claims of making a Holocaust documentary were mere flights of fancy, that was until 1980, when an American researcher discovered the forgotten five reels listed as “F3080” in the Museum’s archives. These were screened at the Berlin Film Festival in 1985, and this incomplete and poor quality version was then shown on PBS under the title Memory of the Camps, with its original commentary by Crossman and Wills, narrated by Trevor Howard.

Now, the Imperial War Museum has painstakingly restored all six reels according to Hitchcock’s original intentions. This has led to some “wariness” over seeing the documentary as a “Hitchcock film” rather than as an important and horrific record of Nazi atrocities.

Haggith, who worked as an advisor on the project, has said the film is “much more candid” than any previous Holocaust documentary, and has described it as “brilliant” and “sophisticated.”

“It’s both an alienating film in terms of its subject matter but also one that has a deep humanity and empathy about it. Rather than coming away feeling totally depressed and beaten, there are elements of hope.

“We can’t stop the film being incredibly upsetting and disturbing but we can help people understand why it is being presented in that way.

“Judging by the two test screenings we have had for colleagues, experts and film historians, what struck me was that they found it extremely disturbing.

“When you’re sitting in a darkened cinema and you’re focusing on a screen, your attention is very focused, unlike watching it on television… the digital restoration has made this material seem very fresh. One of the common remarks was that it [the film] was both terrible and brilliant at the same time.”

Work on Hitchcock’s documentary is almost complete, and the film (with as yet to be announced new title) will be shown on British TV in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the “liberation” of Europe. The film will also be screened at film festivals and in the cinema.

The following is the 5-reel version of Hitchcock’s documentary. Warning: the film contains horrific and disturbing images, which may not be suitable viewing for all.

Via the ‘Independent’ with thanks to Tara!

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Watch the Second World War unfold across Europe in 7 minutes
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Second World War

This is quite incredible: every single day of the Second World War in Europe as mapped out by YouTube user EmporerTigerstar.

Starting with the German invasion of Poland (1 September, 1939), the invasions of Norway (April 9, 1940), France (May 10, 1940), Yugoslavia and Greece (April 6, 1941), to the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), through to the Battle of Moscow (November 25, 1941), the Battle of El Alamein (October 23, 1942), the German surrender at Stalingrad (January 31, 1943), the Allies capture of Rome (June 4, 1944), the Normandy Landings (6 June, 1944), the liberation of Paris (August 25, 1944), the Soviets enter Berlin (April 23, 1945), and Victory Europe Day (8 May, 1945).

EmporerTigerstar has previously mapped the First World War, and is planning to create a map for the Second World War including all the battles.

Via i09

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‘Art is a means of feeling our way forwards’: Oskar Kokoschka’s letter to a prisoner of war

The artist, poet and playwright, Oskar Kokoschka sent the following letter to a young German prisoner of war, in 1946. In it he advised him to be warmed by love ‘the sight of our neighbor, other people, a foreign nation, another race,’ in which the ‘embrace of love will illumine the choice, form and shape of a new order of humanity.’ Kokoschka understood the young man’s trauma, having himself served as a Dragoon in the Imperial Austrian army, during the First World War, where he slithered in trenches through ‘bottomless mud,’ until he was seriously wounded and considered too mentally unstable to fight - the twisted logic of this was not lost on Kokoschka. Later, he was the focus of hatred and bigotry, when his art was deemed ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis. It forced Kokoschka to flee Austria for Prague, before then moving to Ullapool in Scotland, where he remained for the duration of the Second World War.

In this letter, Kokoschka expounds his belief in the importance of art and the artist that could show the ‘way up from subjection of blind obedience to human freedom.’

To a German Prisoner-of-War (Fritz Shahlecker)

[London,] 4 July 1946

A close friend showed me the drawings you made in the camp in England. He told me of your prospects of soon regaining your freedom and returning home to Tübingen. Like many of your fellow-Germans, you were abused in your early youth by a criminal demagogy and thrown into a war of aggression, during which the authority of human precepts was thoroughly and totally suspended, and which appears even now to threaten the future validity of those same precepts.

As an older man, I am in a position to make comparisons which shed light on the changes that have taken place in the moral sphere. That gives me a right to offer a younger man some advice that may come in useful when you are home again. After every great disappointment - in your case, when one has been the victim of a betrayal - one’s insight is clouded, because one is always overcome by weariness at the same time. The tendency to feel sorry for oneself is only a natural consequence of that weariness. You are honest in your drawings, but it seems to me that you tend towards the idealized view which comes from being in the center of a world that one is trying to rebuild. In your drawings you are trying to give shape to a new world with artistic expressive media available to you, after the reduction of your old world to ruins. You want it to be a human world, in contrast to the physical, materialistic world where naked force ruled, and in my view that is the hopeful and promising aspect of your experiment.

But the advice I would like to give you, however great your present need and poverty may be, is this: stop surrendering to a tendency to study yourself alone and to forget that a sentimental outlook is just as sure to lead to waste and failure as the entire order that is collapsing before our eyes today. That order sprang from individual egoism, and was helped to ripen by nationalistic narrowmindedness. Humanism was believed dispensable. This materialistic attitude found its complete embodiment in Fascism. Bear in mind that your personal need and poverty, both physical and spiritual, are nevertheless infinitesimal compared to the need and poverty of the children abandoned to savagery in today’s world. If your heart turns in hope to the work of rebuilding, because you are young and want to do good, you must help to make a better world for these children. You saw for yourself that what was achieved by the sword came to nothing in the end, therefore take up your pencil in the hope of doing better. You do not succeed in expressing anything about the pain throbbing in mankind today, because you are not yet able to give shape to genuine emotions. It will be like that for as long as you idealize yourself as a man of sorrows, instead of looking for the redeemer in every innocent child. The child can truly be the redeemer, if we can genuinely believe in the possibility of a better world. Sentimentality does not help us to discover new worlds, it makes us cling to the past in fascination. The new world can only be given shape if we love our neighbor. If we are warmed by love, the sight of our neighbor, other people, a foreign nation, another race, will enable us to shape a new image of the world, in the contemplation of which the isolation of the individual and his nameless torment in a ruined world will give way to the splendor in which the embrace of love will illumine the choice, form and shape of a new order of humanity. All art, that of the great epochs as well as that of primitive cultures, that of colored races as well as our own folk art, is rooted in this soil, in which the moral man has vanquished dust, decay and force. Man overthrows the dictates of physical laws and the dominion of blind elements, and by that means fights his way up from subjection of blind obedience to human freedom.

Art is a means of feeling our way forwards in the moral sphere, and it is neither a luxury of the rich nor the rigid formalism that comes out of the theories of the academies. The modern art of the present time also tends towards arid formalism. Art is like grass sprouting from the frozen earth at the end of winter, like growing corn, and like the spiritual bread in which the human inheritance is passed on to future generations.

In hope that you will find the inner strength to practice the spiritual office of an artist in the future, I leave you with my best wishes,

Yours, Oskar Kokoschka

‘Oskar Kokoschka Letters 1905-1976’ is published by Thames and Hudson.

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