Thursday, January 29, 2015

WW2 | 3. The Nazi Invasion (Updated Oct 18, 2016)

[This is a chapter of a book on WW2 in Holland - outline here.]

Germany after World War I had huge problems. In 1914, Germany was the second-largest economy in the world after the United States. But four years later it had lost millions of its labor force to a war of attrition in the trenches. Its production capacity had been diverted to war needs.

The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to pay reparations to the Allies that were out of proportion to the country's economy to absorb. Creditor countries sent French and Belgian troops in response to non-payment in 1921, and occupied the Ruhr to confiscate goods and raw materials.

During 1923 workers reacted to their reduced standard of living by striking. The German government then resorted to running the printing presses to pay workers. Hyperinflation resulted, wiping out the value of people's savings. From this trauma emerged the Nazi Party.

In November 1923, the Weimar Government resumed reparation payments. Hitler's nascent Nazi Party led by Hermann Göring surrounded the Munich beer hall where Bavarian officials were meeting. They demanded concessions that the Bavarian Government agreed to at the point of a gun. But the next day Bavarian troops and police came back and surrounded the occupying forces in the War Ministry. The police overwhelmed about 3,000 Nazi marchers.

In a 24-day trial, Adolf Hitler and some other Nazi rebels spoke out against the Weimar government and gained sympathy of judges and some of the public. Hitler was given a five-year sentence, the minimum for treason. In prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, establishing the principles of German racial pride in opposition to what he described as a Jewish and Communist conspiracy. Under political pressure, the Bavarian Government released Hitler after only nine months.

Hitler's Rise to Power Fueled by the Crash of 1929

Out of prison in 1925, Hitler published his hate-filled book and reorganized the Nazi party around himself as a quasi-religious Führer. In 1928, his party got only 2.6 percent of the vote–Germany was again relatively prosperous, as the booming United States invested heavily in the country. The German economy was rebuilt, unemployment was reduced and people began to feel secure.

All this changed in 1929. The Wall Street Crash, followed by a growing series of bank panics, was viewed as a crisis of capitalism. Hitler seized the opportunity to appeal to the public for a better deal.
  • In 1930 Hitler's support leaped to 18 percent of the German vote. 
  • In 1932, it went to 37 percent. 
Had the Weimar Government in Germany held on for two more years, U.S. investment might again have recovered. But President Paul von Hindenburg was weak and tired. Reelected in 1932, he was at his wit's end. Although he had a low opinion of Adolf Hitler, he decided he had to seek a partnership with him and his Nazi Party so that he might better control Hitler. He appointed Hitler Chancellor.

By so doing, Hindenburg put the reins and guns of government in the hands of thugs. The Nazis first gave themselves the power to make laws by executive fiat, a plan that von Hindenburg approved. That done, Hitler eliminated von Hindenburg's position. In 1933, for example, Albert Einstein, visiting the USA, decided not to return to Germany after his German residences were ransacked. On the economic front, the Nazis promised to
  • Reduce unemployment
  • End hyperinflation
  • Expand production of consumer goods to improve middle- and lower-class living standards.
To understand how the Nazis remained in power, one must recognize that they largely achieved their economic goals by 1936. Germany's GNP increased by an average annual rate of 9.5 percent, and industry alone rose by 17.2 percent. The expansion brought the German economy out of its Depression and into full employment. Public consumption  increased by 18.7 percent, while private consumption increased by 3.6 percent per year. The expansion of the Germany economy may have resulted from delayed response to Weimar economic policies, but the Nazis took credit for it.

Inflation was reduced but was still a problem. The Nazis created make-work projects to put young men to work, such as spending money on expanding military capability and initiating a draft to remove working-age males from the civilian labor force.

The continuing economic pressures tempted Hitler to use the country's expanded war-fighting capability. Hitler presented to the German people a propaganda package that blamed the global Depression on an international banking cabal–a cabal with a sinister Jewish label on it–and prepared the German people for war. To sustain their growth, the Nazis were looking beyond their borders for
  • land–Lebensraum for Germany (more room for living),
  • labor from occupied countries for their army, farms and factories,
  • cash to pay for continuing warfare.
The Nazis seized cash wherever they could, starting in the mid-1930s or before. People who had their money taken were greatly resentful and became a formidable source of opposition. Other countries built up their military strength, but the United States was largely "isolationist", i.e., determined to stay out of any future European war.

Confident that European countries and the United States were so anxious to avoid another war that they would look the other way,
  • In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria without bloodshed. 
  • In October 1938, having threatened a timid Neville Chamberlain with war, Hitler marched into the Sudetenland and carved up Czechoslovakia.
Kristallnacht, 1938


The morning after Kristallnacht... Hitler's murderous 
Holocaust was now without fear and in full view.
Convinced now that Western governments were paper tigers, Hitler turned to his long-simmering determination to wipe out Jewish communities in Germany.

In November 1938, Hitler initiated the public phase of the Holocaust with Kristallnacht (Crystal-night, "the night of broken glass"). The Nazi Party coordinated an attack throughout Germany on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues.

My brother Randal Marlin has recently issued a second edition of his book Propaganda, and I was interested to see how the Kristallnacht attacks follow the propaganda playbook that his book describes.

1. Use News Stories for Propaganda Purposes.  The Kristallnacht attacks were inspired by the fact that a German diplomat was murdered in Paris and the suspect was Jewish. When Hitler heard the news, he decided to use the event as the pretext for a mass uprising against Jews in Germany.

2. Stir Up or Create a Violent Response. Hitler and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers throughout Germany and told them to attack Jewish buildings, making the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations.

3. Do Not Protect, and Instead Arrest, the Victims.  Firefighters were told not to put out fires in Jewish homes, only on adjacent non-Jewish properties. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims!

It worked. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were the victims' neighbors. To pile injury on injury, the Nazis
  • Confiscated compensation claims that insurance companies paid to the Jews who lost their property.
  • Imposed a huge collective fine on the Jewish community for the crime of having incited the violence by the murder of the diplomat.
  • Barred Jews from schools and most public places, and forced them to adhere to more restrictive curfews.
  • Sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps.
Kristallnacht was a turning point in the Holocaust. Before, the Nazis killed people secretly. Some 100 Jews were killed that night. Afterwards, the Nazis persecuted and killed Jews openly, because the propaganda ensured that public opinion would be against anyone who tried to stop them. Randal sent me his views on Kristallnacht:
What a terrifying time it must have been to be Jew at that time, recognizing that you had no protection from lawless violence. What needs attention is the original statement of Nazi party principles. They made it quite clear that Jews were not citizens of Germany and were without civic standing regarding voting and other civic rights that we today take for granted. That was back in the early 1920s. The moral for us today is to wake up and see what is happening with respect to erosion of the principle of rule of law, and not to allow it to decay any further.
    On Kristallnacht, in 1938, Hitler used a
    murder of a German diplomat to stir up
    public outrage against Jews and urged 
    burning Jewish businesses and synagogues.

    Kristallnacht provides a historical marker, through the end of 1938 of Hitler's rise to power. If I were to write a historical companion to books for children on World War II, this would be point to focus on. Then I would connect Kristallnacht to Anne Frank, as has been done here.

    Toronto's York University, Canada's third-largest university, has received funding to study the effect of Kristallnacht on public opinion.

    Invasion of Holland, 1940

    The Netherlands had remained neutral during World War I. With the advent of World War II, the Netherlands sought to again remain neutral–a hope bolstered by a promise of nonaggression made by Hitler. 

    Holland Prepares for War, 1939. (It Had Been Neutral
    in WW1, and Hitler Said He Would Not Invade.)
    However, shortly after 4 a.m. on May 10, 1940, the German army began its invasion of the Netherlands. Queen Wilhelmina left for Britain on May 13, but left behind in a bunker ministers who could run the government (Friedhoff, 27). 

    On May 14, the Germans bombed Rotterdam (Friedhoff, 30). Despite valiant efforts by an outgunned Dutch army, the Netherlands fell to the Germans after only five days of fighting. After the flattening of central Rotterdam, and the threat of Utrecht next, the Dutch Queen capitulated.

    The Resistance

    Patriotic resentment flooded all layers of Dutch society at the unprovoked invasion by the Nazis. The response of the Dutch people took three forms:
    • Collaboration - active cooperation with the occupying forces, on the principle that one goes along to get along. The collaborators prospered during the war and were rounded up when the war ended and dealt with severely.
    • Passive Cooperation - doing what one is told to avoid being killed or punished. This group might choose on occasion to help either the occupying forces or the Resistance, but only if detection was highly unlikely. This group was probably the largest in Holland.
    • Active Resistance - those who took serious risks of detection, deportation and execution were the heart of the Dutch Resistance. The risks were greatest in the middle part of the war, when the Nazis were fully in charge. Toward the end of the war, the Nazis and the collaborators knew that there would come a time when the tables were turned. 
    Encouraging Collaboration. In occupied countries, the Nazis used fear and greed to encourage collaboration. This was done by alternating "whippings and gingerbread" in the words of Joseph Goebbels. Resisters were whipped or shot. Collaborators got the gingerbread.

    A child could understand this. My mother's book, The Winged Watchman, shows how the Landwatchers in Holland were given power even at young age, and were rewarded for turning in their own families. In the rural areas virtually every farmer was violating the laws about turning over produce to the occupiers, so it was easy enough to intimidate the farmers.

    Razzia in North Africa.
    Razzia–Enslavement. As German soldiers went to war, the Nazis needed recruits for their factories and their army supply units. They did this by:
    • Rounding up areas in the cities, or entire villages, and going house to house looking for men of recruitment age (18-45), especially those just turning 18.
    • Threatening families with execution if they did not produce a missing boy.
    This practice was called razzia, after the North African word for enslavement of one tribe by another.
    Razzia in Amsterdam.

    Taking Valuable Items. The Nazis stole from anyone who did business in Germany. Once they occupied countries, they discovered that stealing from Jews was the easiest way to raise money because they could then deport them and the whole business could be kept quiet. They developed a modus operandi that was highly methodical:

    1. Find out who is Jewish.
    2. Find out from them what their assets are.
    3. Require that these assets be brought in.
    4. Take them.
    5. Deport the owners.
    6. Put as many as possible to work. Kill the ones who can't work any more.

    This played out in Holland.

    1. The SS identified all Jewish people in Holland. The SS in 1940 looked for lists with addresses, which, unfortunately, was an easy matter in Holland where public charities were supported by taxes, with allocations based on religious membership.  Every resident was identified by religion. The SS just had to find a copy of the lists in official or private hands. (Source: Letter from Mrs. Rijnbach.) Where these lists were found not to be complete, the SS would block off an area and search every house razzia-style, demanding papers for every resident. (Source: Email from Charles Boissevain.) The SS in Holland was far more thorough, devious and vicious than the Wehrmacht in France, but anti-Semitism in France provided an extra impetus to the Vichy authorities. (Query S. about the Bourse.)

    2. Jewish Businesses Had to Register, with Lists of Assets. The authorities then pursued a procedure repeated in other occupied countries. Once identified, all Jews were required to identify their businesses and their assets, under pain of severe penalties. (See documents in the Mayenne archives in Laval about how Vichy France conducted their Jewish Policy in the Mayenne.) Compliance appears to have been extremely high (see records in the Mayenne). In retrospect, this may be hard to understand but well-off Jews in France might have been told that those with more assets would be given an opportunity to buy lenience from the authorities. Maybe this actually happened even though few records survive of bribery of Nazi officials. Documentation of this type might not have been so meticulous.

    3. Owners of Assets Were Interrogated. They were required to bring in all bank account records, titles, certificates, jewelry or cash for inspection (as shown by records in the Mayenne). Since Dutch people were already aware that they might have to leave quickly, and Jews must have deduced this from Kristallnacht, some assets must have been highly liquid, such as gold and silver coins.

    4. Assets Were Seized.  Seizing of assets fueled the Nazi march - a neglected aspect of the Holocaust, that it was a source of funding and a motivator of Nazi officials to pursue Jews. We know Hitler and Goering liked to acquire fine art; everyone had a taste for coins.

    5. Asset Owners Were Deported. Their being alive was now inconvenient for the new owners of their assets. (Dead men tell no tales.)

    6. The "Final Solution". The end of the line, Hitler’s “Final Solution”, was the gas oven.

    [This is a draft chapter of a book with the working title The Dutch Boissevains Resist the Nazis.
    Here is the outline and links to other chapters.]