Previous posts in this discussion:
PostThe Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands" (Paul Levine, Denmark, 01/25/13 2:00 pm)
A naive question in response to Nigel Jones (25 January): where did the myth that the Wehrmacht had "clean hands" originate?
JE comments: An excellent question, to which I would add this followup: was the "rehabilitation" of the non-SS members of the German armed forces part of the Western Allies' effort to win German support during the Cold War? Then we always hear tales of "warm & fuzzy" WWII leaders such as Gen. von Choltitz, who apparently refused Hitler's orders to destroy Paris.
The Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands"
(David Gress, Denmark
01/26/13 6:37 AM)
Several things can be said in response to Paul Levine's question of 25 January.
For one, that the Wehrmacht, i.e., the German military, was a very large and complex organization. The best study of it from a postwar viewpoint is the multi-volume Anfänge westdeutscher Sicherheitspolitik from the 1980s-'90s. Its first volume documents that about 20 per cent of the officers, mostly the younger ones, socialized in Nazi Germany, were predominantly wedded to the ideology. A large middle part, about 40 per cent, were politically neutral, and the remainder, another 20 per cent, opponents of the regime, of whom the most brilliant example is, of course, Colonel Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, who gave his life after the failed attempt on the Führer's life on July 20, 1944.
Second, that General Eisenhower did indeed, at a discreet ceremony, at which he happened to be ill with the flu, in West Germany in I believe 1950, shake hands with and salute certain German officers, who later became among the chief organizers of the Bundeswehr. Well, of course! Stalin had four to five times the manpower and firepower of the demobilized Western allies in their rump of Germany. If the newly formed NATO could recruit some Germans, all the better. This proved in fact a difficult task, because most Germans, even in the West, wanted no more of war, and the battle to secure West German rearmament was a bitter one. But the challenge was immediate: rearm, or see the Red hordes continue their rape and pillage of what remained of European civilization.
Third, Choltitz was not "warm and fuzzy" (JE's words), a particularly anachronistic and irrelevant set of epithets. Generals should not be fuzzy, they should fight, something US generals seem to have forgotten; see their failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Vietnam.
Choltitz did abandon Paris in violation of the Führer's orders, but that is a very minor detail in the history of World War II. The behavior of the majority of German general officers is well illustrated by the sources adduced in recent posts by Nigel Jones and Angel Viñas, i.e., not very impressive by our later and oh-so-better moral standards. I, for one, prefer to try to understand historical figures from when they acted and not by a later day's all too simplistic and primitive standards. German soldiers were German soldiers; they fought for the Fatherland. Mehr gibt's nicht zu sagen.
JE comments: Did Ike bestow "Clean Hands" on the Wehrmacht through this famous handshake? (I'll retract my "warm and fuzzy" label for Gen. von Choltitz, but I was trying to explain how history has rehabilitated those Germans who refused the Fuhrer's orders to commit wanton destruction after the war was already lost. At the very end, didn't Hitler also order Speer to undertake a "scorched earth" policy in Germany itself? I won't call him warm and fuzzy, but Speer is remembered as the most humane of the Nazi leaders. A lot of this, to be sure, came from his own post-war writings.)
"Fuzzy" US Generals?
(Michael Delong, Qatar
01/27/13 4:09 AM)
Regarding David Gress's generalization of US Generals during Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam as "fuzzy" (26 January): We might not agree on issues, but "them are fightin' words."
Google Lt Gen Mike Delong... Yours truly... Again we might not agree, but fuzzy?
JE comments: Yes, before anyone questions the martial commitment of US Generals, they should familiarize themselves the record of our own Michael "Rifle" Delong:
I learned from the above that Michael has Michigan roots, and a Masters degree from Central Michigan University (1977). Makes me proud.
I'll take the blame for this "fuzzy" debate, as I first used the term in connection with our discussion on the the Wehrmacht's "clean hands." It was a poor choice of words on my part.
From war to peace: next in the queue, Siegfried Ramler meets a Nobel Laureate.
- The Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands"; Choltitz and Speer (Nigel Jones, UK 01/27/13 4:51 AM)
Interestingly, Dieter von Choltitz, the German Commander whose failure to destroy Paris so enraged Hitler, is one of the captured German Generals featured in Sonke Neitzel's first book Tapping Hitler's Generals which kicked off this WAIS discussion.
David Gress (26 January) says that Choltitz's failure to carry out the Fuhrer's "scorched earth" orders in Paris was but a "very minor detail" of the Second World War. Not, I would venture to suggest for the people of Paris--nor for Western Civilisation of which the French capital is such an ornament. The total destruction of Warsaw by the retreating Wehrmacht was one of the major war crimes committed by the Germans during the war and the similar destruction of Paris that Hitler intended would have been Warsaw x 10.
I think that Choltitz's failure to act was prompted more by a lack of will and capacity than humanity or respect for the cultural glories of the French capital. He appears from Neitzel's book as a mediocre figure who preferred to fall into Allied hands rather than return to Germany to face the Fuhrer's wrath.
John Eipper says that Speer was one of the most "humane" of the Nazi leaders. That is not how he would have appeared to the denizens of the slave labour camps and factories he controlled and mercilessly exploited as the Reich's munitions minister. In my humble opinion Speer was a self-serving creep who deserved the rope far more than some of those--for example Jodl--who were hanged at Nuremberg. As it was he survived 20 years of Spartan but safe confinement in Spandau, to spend an old age writing his self-exculpatory memoirs, charming gullible journalists and biographers, only to die in London while "in the saddle" with his mistress. Certainly not humane--just sly and rather lucky.
JE comments: I didn't say Speer was the most humane Nazi leader; I used the weasel-word "is remembered..." Siegfried Ramler told me that Speer was the most polite and cooperative defendant at Nuremberg, at least among the higher-ups. Was this a sign of Speer's character, or merely his self-interest? Speer very successfully created a post-war reputation as an apolitical architect caught in Hitler's web. But as Munitions Minister he was responsible for incalculable human suffering, both among the enslaved workers and among those on the receiving end of the matériel.
- The Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands" (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/26/13 7:32 AM)
The myth that the Wehrmacht had "clean hands" originates in Post-War Western propaganda (see Paul Levine's question of 25 January). The enemy is usually villainized during wartime to stir up hatred among the domestic population, which is useful to motivate the population to support the war effort (and the fact of the war, too). It is an evil, manipulative habit of governments. After WWII, we needed the Germans to help us against our new Cold War enemy--the Soviet Union. So it was useful to neutralize some of the wartime propaganda against the German people by allowing people to know that Germans were not all bad; they were lead astray by Hitler; the army and its leadership were actually pretty decent from time to time; the Wehrmacht was an admirable fighting force, etc., etc., etc.
The second propaganda line is actually closer to the truth, since any mass of people like the population of any country is necessarily a mixed bag of good and bad like human nature itself. But it's also not all true, as Nigel has pointed out. It's not all true in many respects; the fighting ability of the Wehrmacht is also somewhat exaggerated in the popular mind, and there is very widespread error on the quality of the Wehrmacht's weapons and general state of supply, particularly tanks, as I have written about before.
The Wehrmacht was certainly a mixed bag. On the Eastern Front, where the Germans occupied vast areas of Poland, the Baltics, the Soviet Union, and other countries for long periods of time, mostly under Wehrmacht control, people experienced all kinds of different things from hideous brutality to kindness and helpfulness. In my own village, occupied by Germans for a few months in 1942-3, the old people still tell stories about the Wehrmacht doctor who cured a local boy who was considered a hopeless case, and remember other acts of kindness. In Western Ukraine, where the population had never really accepted Soviet Rule (and where people were just getting over Stalin's intentional mass starvation, which was his revenge for that, the "Golodomor" as it's called there now), the Germans were welcomed and mostly lived quite peacefully with the local population, breaking up some of the hated collective farms and introducing better methods of agriculture, for example.
But in other areas the Wehrmacht committed its share of rape, pillage, freebooting, and murder.
The Soviets paid back the Germans double or triple for this--the Red Army was specifically ordered to treat German civilians with brutality as it advanced into German territory, and the extent of rapine, in particular, as documented in Anthony Beevor's Berlin: The Downfall, is almost incomprehensibly horrifying. Here is a really interesting article Beevor wrote about it for the Guardian:
JE comments: Cameron Sawyer brings up an important corollary to the Wehrmacht's "Clean Hands" myth: the notion that it was a formidable force, better led and equipped, and with more fighting spirit. Or how about this one: the Wehrmacht lost because it ran out of fuel, for example, at the Battle of the Bulge. To research how these myths (let's call them "interpretations") became accepted knowledge could shed light on the early post-war years.
I'm confused by Cameron's mention of his "village." Is he referring to a dacha? I didn't know Cameron had a village.
- The Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands"; A Note from Eugenio Battaglia (Italy) (John Eipper, USA 01/30/13 1:50 AM)
I received this interesting note from a reader in Italy, Eugenio Battaglia, who spent the war years in Savona. I've exchanged a couple of e-mails with Eugenio, which have revealed a true polymath: his career was in the shipping industry, in Kuwait, Italy, and the US (Chicago), and he holds a Doctorate degree in history from the University of Genoa. In his retirement, Eugenio is now an olive farmer.
WAISers will see that Eugenio's memories of WWII challenge the prevailing view of the flag-waving Italians welcoming their Allied liberators. Is this the work of Hollywood? I asked Eugenio for permission to publish his comment:
Regarding the Wehrmacht "Clean Hands" topic that came up on WAIS (beginning with Paul Levine, 25 January), the victors always rewrite history to accuse the loser of all possible crimes, and during WWII psychological warfare was a science, and did an excellent job of brain washing.
From my boyhood experience during the war in Italy, I can say that the Wehrmacht was extremely respectful and helpful of the civilians, providing that the civilians would not become terrorists shooting the Germans in the back, inspired by the Allied radio broadcasts. Where the Wehrmacht was present, there were no robberies, rapes, Mafia, etc., but of course the same cannot be said when the Allied troops arrived.
The wartime famine was so great, that almost everybody scoured the land for food, going to the countryside to find grass, roots, mushrooms, nuts, etc. I too would go to the countryside with my mother, between one bombing and another, to get roots and grass (the grass was also for a couple of rabbits that we were keeping on the balcony as reserve food...I do not eat rabbit any more). One time, after a long walk on a more or less scorched field, we reached a small valley with luxurious vegetation, so we rushed down. On the top of the hill nearby was a artillery post of the Wehrmact, and one German started yelling like hell. We could not understand, and my mother was saying: What the heck does this guy want? Does he not see that we are a woman with a child, that we are not partisans? But the poor guy continued shouting and another joined in yelling and shaking his rifle in the air. Finally we were smart enough to look around, and we saw well behind us a post with Achtung Minen--Minefield, so we moved back, trying to put our feet in the same spots. Finally we were on safe ground with a happy hello from the Germans. A few days after the end of the war, two little girls, friends of mine, wandered there and were killed.
As for other examples, there are many. Once in a village fairly near my hometown, an Italian girl was raped by a German soldier and he was immediately shot by a German firing squad. (The French General Alphonse Juin, with this type of justice, would have lost half or more of his army.)
In the square where Mussolini was hanged, the Germans had installed a place giving free food to the poor, but the "heroic" partisans threw a bomb, killing the Germans and many Italian civilians.
I very well understand that it is extremely difficult to find the good side of the enemy (or former enemy). By the way, an American Officer (friend of the mother of three my mates) once came and offered chocolate to them and also to me, but I refused it (!), because for me he was still an enemy...you will not believe it but I am proud of my silliness.
Anyway I like all the ways to find the truth. Do you remember for how many years people around the world believed the fable that during WWI the Germans were cutting off the hands of Belgian children?
JE comments: I thank Eugenio Battaglia for his interest in WAIS. I wonder if the Wehrmacht's "benevolent" image was singularly pronounced in Italy, which was a nation allied with Germany. My Polish in-laws have no such positive memories of the German occupation. What about France? Norway? Greece? The "German-friendly" regions of Yugoslavia, such as Croatia?
The Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands"
(Leo Goldberger, USA
01/30/13 3:08 PM)
While I am currently enjoing the sun and surf in Costa Rica (where the intermittant Internet service has made it difficult to follow WAIS), I simply want to alert those interested in the Wehrmacht issue of a splendid book by the Israeli historian, Omer Bartov, entitled Germany's War and the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003), unless it was already cited.
Bartov is an authority on the German Wehrmacht. He provides extensive and detailed accounts of the gradual process of barbarization and nazification among officers and ordinary soldiers of the Wehrmacht, espcially on the Eastern front (e.g. Poland and Greece). They were not just a few "bad apples," but represented a sizeable coningent of willing instruments of genocide.
In my own wartime in occupied Denmark, I would say that the Wehrmacht played at most a very minor role in the intended round-up of us Jews on October 2, 1943. This was, in part at least, due to the inter-service rivalry between the commanding General of the Wehrmacht Hermann von Hannecken and Dr. Werner Best, the Reichskomisar with the rank of SS general who was in charge of the police forces (that included a horde of Danish Nazi collaborators as well).
It seems quite clear, as someone has pointed out in an earlier post, that one should be wary of generalizations about the Wehrmacht as such.
JE comments: My best wishes to Leo Goldberger in Costa Rica. Generalizations are abhorrent, but might we say that the Wehrmacht behaved less appallingly in the West than in the East (Italy being in the West)? Leo also points out an important factor that so far we've touched on only tangentially: interservice rivalry, with the professional Wehrmacht vs. the politicized SS.
The Wehrmacht and "Clean hands"; Heinz Guderian
(Timothy Ashby, Spain
01/31/13 7:29 AM)
I have found the WAIS discussion of the Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands" fascinating, due to a family connection with "Panzer General" Heinz Guderian, a pioneer in the development of Blitzkrieg armored warfare. My maternal grandfather's grandmother, Rosalie Guderian, was the great-aunt of Schneller Heinz. My mother has a photo of her father with Heinz taken at a family gathering in Germany in the early 1920s. The two cousins were contemporary in age and looked remarkably alike.
In addition to his fame as one of the most successful tank commanders in history, Generaloberst Guderian was known for his reckless independence and insubordination of Hitler and Field Marshal von Kluge (who challenged Guderian to a duel that required Hitler's intervention). Throughout the war, Guderian had a series of violent rows with Hitler over what he considered mismanagement of the war on both fronts. Although Guderian was appointed Army Chief of Staff after von Stauffenberg's failed coup in July 1944, Hitler finally dismissed him in March 1945 following a shouting match in which both men were described as "purple with rage," to the extent that the shocked officers present thought they would "come to blows." Guderian literally had to be dragged away by other officers. Why Hitler tolerated such seemingly suicidal behavior is a historical mystery, which I offer a fictional explanation for in my forthcoming novel, In Shadowland.
After the war, Guderian was not charged with crimes during the Nuremberg Trials, as his actions and behavior were "thought to be consistent with those of a professional soldier." In his memoirs, Guderian admitted that he was fully aware of the brutal occupation policies of the German administration of Ukraine, claiming that this was wholly the responsibility of civilians, about whom he could do nothing. Considered politically shrewd, he paid lip service to Nazi ideology but carefully avoided involvement with the regime's crimes.
For WAISers interested in a firsthand account of Guderian's famous final shouting match with Hitler, here is an excerpt from the memoir of Nicolaus von Below, who served as the Fuhrer's Luftwaffe adjutant:
In the last months of the war, Hitler's explosive temper had become even more evident and Herr Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, as Chief of the Army General Staff, had a series of intense arguments with Hitler which often left Hitler cursing and yelling at Guderian and all the generals of the German Army whom Hitler constantly accused of being incompetent. On 28 March 1945, Hitler interrupted a situation briefing being given by Guderian on a failed attack earlier in the day. The Führer shouted and raved directing a stream of invective against the general staff and the army. Guderian could not hold his temper, and there occurred a shouting match between Hitler and Guderian which paralyzed the other officers in the room and was without question something never seen before. Both men were shouting at the tops of their voices, Hitler's spit flying around the room.
"Why did the attack fail? Because of incompetence! Because of negligence!" Hitler yelled.
"Explanations! Excuses! That's all you give me. Who let us down, the troops or Busse?" (The General commanding the attack). At that moment Guderian's self-control snapped. "Nonsense! This is nonsense! ... to say that the troops are to blame--look at the casualties! Look at the losses! The troops did their duty. Their self-sacrifice proves it!"
"They failed! They failed!" Hitler screamed.
"I must ask you not to level any further accusations against ... the troops!!!"
The row continued, both men purple with rage, yelling at each other, pounding the table. Not one of the other officers could even move, they were so shocked. Nor did any of them remember exactly what was said or how long the argument went on. The Führer and Guderian almost came to blows. Finally, one of the other generals dragged Guderian to the other side of the room and Guderian's ADC ran from the conference room, phoned the next ranking general on the staff and told him what was happening. They agreed on this strategy which they implemented immediately: Guderian's ADC dashed back to the conference room, said an emergency required Guderian to speak to General Krebs, the next ranking general officer on the staff, immediately, and he pulled Guderian out of the room and put him on the phone with Krebs.
Incredibly, during the fifteen-minute phone call Guderian regained his composure as did Hitler, who summoned Guderian into the conference room, dismissed everyone except that lickspittle, Field Marshall Keitel, and calmly told Guderian that Guderian's health required the general to take six weeks of convalescent leave beginning that evening.
--Nicolaus von Below, At Hitler's Side: The Memoirs of Hitler's Luftwaffe Adjutant, p. 82 (Frontline Books, 2010)
JE comments: Tim Ashby has the most illustrious relatives! (WAISers will remember that one of Tim's ancestors was on General Washington's staff.) A most interesting story; General Guderian is one of the Wehrmacht officers whose reputation for competence and military integrity knew few rivals (Rommel comes to mind).
Tim told me in a separate e-mail that he doesn't presently have a copy of the photo depicting his grandfather with Cousin Heinz. (Tim: if you locate it later I'll post it to the Forum.)
I also hope Tim will give us notice when In Shadowland becomes available for purchase. I'm a big fan of Tim's historical fiction.
- Werner Best and the Danish Jews (David Gress, Denmark 02/02/13 5:22 AM)
Leo Goldberger's post of 30 January is very pertinent. I will address his point about the Danish Jews. It is, I think, well established among historians that Werner Best, the Reich Plenipotentiary in Denmark, had no interest in having a problem in Denmark, meaning that public arrests of Jews might cause popular resistance, which would in its turn disturb the Danish deliveries of supplies to Germany. Accordingly, he leaked the information about when the "Judenaktion" in Denmark was to occur to the Danish Resistance, the main vehicle of this information being the German Naval Attaché in Copenhagen, Georg von Duckwitz, who had good contacts to the Resistance.
Earlier historians assumed that Duckwitz acted on his own. This is no longer credible; he had the green light from Best. Since the Danes successfully transported almost all Danish Jews to Sweden within a few days of Rosh Hashanah 1943, Best's problem was solved; Denmark was now "judenrein."
The point, if any, is that Best seriously feared trouble if he ordered Gestapo or Wehrmacht, i.e. soldiers, to arrest Jews. And he would have been right. In August of 1943, Danes had gone on strike across the country in opposition to German claims. To start arresting Jews, fellow-citizens, in the open street would have invited further strikes. The German stranglehold on Denmark was not all that tight.
The utterly unpleasant Herr Dr. Best was arrested after the Liberation and condemned to death, but later reprieved and sent to West Germany for completion of sentence, which was brief. He enjoyed, as I understand, a long-lasting subsequent legal career.
The fact remains, however, that without Dr. Best's leaking the information, most Danish Jews would indeed have been arrested and sent to Theresienstadt and from there, perhaps, to Auschwitz.
JE comments: Obergruppenführer Best's sparing of Denmark's Jewish population, as David Gress points out, had nothing to do with humanitarianism. However, this one act is probably what saved his life after the war.
Best's goal was to turn Denmark into a showcase puppet state in the new German Europe, and he did not want to overly antagonize the Danish people. Wikipedia reports that Best was one of the leading "theoreticians" on the map of the New European Reich. The borders would be drawn according to racial identity. I was struck how even Spain would be divided into Galician, Basque, and Catalan (and I presume, Castilian) mini-republics. What about that German ally, Franco?
Best lived to the ripe old age of 85, dying in 1989.
- The Wehrmacht in Italy (Roy Domenico, USA 01/31/13 3:45 AM)
I found Eugenio Battaglia's comments (30 January) on the Germans and the war in the Genoa very interesting. He showed how complex these issues were and I absolutely agree with him.
The Germans weren't always bad. The Allies, he mentions General Juin's troops, had a lot to answer for. Of course he's mainly talking about the Goums (Goumiers), the North Africans--the Italians usually called them the Marocchini--who had a terrible reputation. See, for example, Moravia's (and De Sica's) Two Women. Nevertheless, as Eugenio points out, there was a lot of resentment toward the Allies. I came across some of this ambiguity reading a prefectural report from Milan--written in, I think, 1944, it said that the Soviet Union was the most popular nation among the milanesi because it was the only country that wasn't bombing or killing anybody there.
But on the bottom line, as nice as some Germans may have been, practically no one (except maybe the most diehard Fascists) wanted them to stay in Italy. And even some Fascists circulated a joke during the war--if Germany loses the war, we lose too; but if Germany wins the war, we're lost. And by 1945 the Anglo-Americans (particularly the Americans) were considered liberators and a positive force by--easily--most of the nation.
Finally, on JE's comment on the Leo Goldberger note of 30 January, if you look at Western and Eastern Europe, Italy is definitely in the West. I've never heard it spoken of as an Eastern European country.
JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia and I spoke of Moravia/De Sica's Two Women (La Ciociara) in our off-Forum communication. I came across the film on cable TV just a few months ago, and ended up watching it again after at least 20 years. It's a powerful indictment of the Allied abuses of the Italian population during the Liberation. Of course, the most compelling reason to watch La Ciociara is Sophia Loren.
- The Wehrmacht and "Clean Hands"; Response to Eugenio Battaglia (Istvan Simon, USA 02/01/13 1:35 PM)
I found Eugenio Battaglia's comments about the Wehrmacht very troubling. Notwithstanding his childhood recollections, he should have asked himself some deeper questions before writing in praise of the Wehrmacht's wartime record in Italy.
Two German soldiers saved Eugenio's and his mother's life by alerting them to a minefield. But who put the mines there in the first place? Most certainly it was not the American GIs whom Mr. Battaglia considered his "enemies."
No one ever said that every German soldier was a monster. But as Leo Goldberger already told us in response to Eugenio's post, the Wehrmacht's hands were extremely dirty, and the Wehrmacht was only a shade better than the worst of the SS. The cruelty of German soldiers is legendary, and they committed war crimes all over Europe, even if less so in Italy.
During the occupation of France they summarily shot 10 civilians at random for every German killed by the French resistance. They raped plenty of women all over Europe. Worse, they shot Jews for no reason whatsoever, which is something they did in Italy as well.
The idea that the Wehrmacht was unfairly maligned by the victors of World War II, advanced by Eugenio in his post, is not supported by any serious discussion and historical research of this subject.
By the way, the GIs that Eugenio felt were his enemies, were received as heroes by other Italians. Many Italian women in fact married GIs that they met during the liberation of Italy from the Nazis. The same happened in France and every other country which our GIs liberated at great cost from the Nazi scourge.
JE comments: I asked Eugenio Battaglia about his father's experience in WWII, and I received a fascinating response. It turns out that he was captured by the Americans, and finished the war as a POW in Missouri. After the war, he returned to Italy, but soon emigrated to Brazil. Eugenio will share the rest of his father's story in a forthcoming WAIS post.
The Wehrmacht and the SS
(David Pike, France
02/02/13 8:30 AM)
Istvan Simon (1 February) should not write of the need for "serious discussion and historical research of this subject" in the same posting in which he writes: "the Wehrmacht was only a shade better than the worst of the SS."
It is hyperbole and excitability of this kind that gets us nowhere.
As for discipline within the Wehrmacht, ask those in France who lived through Occupation and Liberation. I remember in the late 1940s asking young women in Nice: "Here you knew all four: Vichy, the Italians, the Germans and the ‘Allies' (not to be specific). In the summer 1944, you knew the Wehrmacht and the liberators. When did you feel safer as a woman out on the street?" The reply I got, "As women we were much safer under the Germans."
At that time I put a different question to Jewish people in Nice: Which was worse, Vichy or the Italians? The answer was clear: Vichy.
JE comments: We've seen two recent WAIS postings (first from Eugenio Battaglia, and now from David Pike) on the law-and-order aspect of Wehrmacht occupation. One of the (very few) advantages of a harsh dictatorial regime concerns street safety. I've heard this argument countless times: "Under Franco (Stalin, Pinochet, Galtieri, the Brazilian generals...) we could walk anywhere with no worry."
Could WWII Have Been Averted?
(Bienvenido Macario, USA
02/04/13 1:53 AM)
I am eagerly awaiting the continuation of the topic as to what point in history Hitler could have been stopped from starting WWII and the destruction of Europe. It seems the discussion was diverted.
I have to add that according to Wikipedia, the US Congress in 1937 passed a more stringent Neutrality Act forcing FDR to declare that "the US would not join a 'stop-Hitler bloc' under any circumstances, and he made it quite clear that in the event of German aggression against Czechoslovakia, the US would remain neutral."
What if Hitler had been stopped in time? How many lives would have been saved? Knowing American history, it always takes a USS Maine, a Pearl Harbor Attack or a 9/11 to convince the "man on the street" who typically would listen to the wrong self-declared experts.
I hope the same pre-World War II situation of Europe is not happening today in Southeast Asia, with China's imperialist/expansionist moves of late.
JE comments: Bienvenido Macario is referring to the Chinese claims on the disputed Spratly islands.
Could WWII Have Been Averted?
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
02/04/13 2:52 AM)
In response to Bienvenido Macario (4 February), it's part of the accepted mythology of WWII, accepted as given by almost anyone who has read any of the popular histories of the war, that WWII would never have happened, if only the West had had the backbone to stand up to Hitler early enough, and had not dithered over the Ruhrland and then Czechoslovakia.
There is something to it, of course, but reality was not as simple as in the story crafted by Winston Churchill, in his self-aggrandizing memoirs, the story that one must stand up to bullies and have guts and be fearless, lest one be bullied forever and still not avoid a fight. There is some truth in that, of course, as it applies to life in general, but wars and nations and schoolyard bullies are not really all the same, in all respects, and it is dangerous to apply such simplistic maxims to questions of war and peace, as we discovered in the Middle East lately.
At the time of the runup to WWII, the US had just lost a considerable amount of blood and treasure participating in an utterly pointless European war from 1917 to 1918, losing 100,000 people. It was quite a reasonable response, after that, for Americans, on top of everything else still reeling from the biggest economic depression they had ever had, to be strongly disinclined to participate in further such disasters. Why should the US be the world's policeman? The willingness to play that role, and the idea that being aggressive enough early enough is the right way to deal with any perceived evil in the world, is exactly what got us into the hideous mess we find ourselves in the Middle East today. It is an overliteral application of Churchill's mythology about the origins of WWII, which got us there.
Hitler was bluffing a great deal in the early days leading up to WWII, with a lot of bluster and relatively little real military force, and perhaps he could have been stopped by Britain or France, if it had been possible, politically and/or militarily, to take some strong action at some point during those days, something hard for us to second guess. The more important thing, however, is that WWII would not have happened, if there had been no WWI. WWII was really just an aftershock of WWI. If there had been no WWI, there would have been no Bol'shevik Coup in Russsia, so no Cold War. No mass famine in Germany, no Soviet Republic of Bavaria, no humiliating Versailles Treaty, no dismemberment of Germany's industrial areas, no chaos making it possible for a bloodthirsty and insane Austrian corporal to become the dictator of a highly developed and supposedly civilized European nation. And what did we fight WWI over? Why, nothing at all. Just because everyone was mobilized and set up to go to war mechanistically (Serbia and the Archduke Ferdinand were forgotten immediately; the combatants got around to Serbia only after the war had been going on for more than a year). WWI is the Original Sin, if you like, behind all the disasters of the 20th century, and WWI was not caused by not standing up to schoolyard bullies.
JE comments: I'm absolutely convinced by Cameron Sawyer's metaphor of WWI as "Original Sin"--nearly every international conflict of the last 100 years can be traced back to that pointless war. I believe it was the great Barbara Tuchman who said that the Great War broke out, simply, because "peace became intolerable."
Could WWII Have Been Averted?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
02/04/13 2:47 PM)
I've enjoyed reading this Forum's exchanges about WWII. I agree with Cameron Sawyer's views (4 February) questioning the widespread belief that "WWII would never have happened, if only the West had had the backbone to stand up to Hitler early enough, and had not dithered over the Ruhrland and then Czechoslovakia." Cameron also astutely recognized that "reality was not as simple as in the story crafted by Winston Churchill, in his self-aggrandizing memoirs, the story that one must stand up to bullies and have guts and be fearless, lest one be bullied forever and still not avoid a fight."
There is one conjecture that I have never read anywhere but that I find quite interesting: Contrary to Churchill's laments about not confronting Hitler earlier and calling his bluff, I often wonder what have happened later if the UK and France had confronted him earlier, forcing him to back down while Germany was still "half-cocked." Perhaps then the world would have had to face a much better prepared Germany, with V3 weapons, and possibly even with nuclear capability. I am also left with another conclusion that for all his great fame for evil genius, Hitler was a lousy strategist, who made too many stupid assumptions about his potential and actual foes rather than listening to his experts and doing his homework more carefully.
JE comments: Was Hitler a bad strategist? Yes. However, Tor Guimaraes brings up a huge "what if": if Hitler had been forced to back down, say, in 1937, but had remained in power, how prepared militarily would the Reich have been by 1945? 1950?
I know we're not supposed to do them, but WWII hypotheticals are irresistible.
- Could WWII Have Been Averted? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/04/13 3:03 PM)
In general I´m in agreement with Cameron Sawyer's post of 4 February. Yet I wouldn´t go so far as to say that WWI was pointless. It was a struggle to the death between what used to be called the satiated empires and an emerging and insatiable one (Imperial Germany). The seed for a possible new confrontation may be have been planted by the Versailles Treaty, but during the 1920s Weimar Germany was well on its way to recovering its international standing and securing its borders. Two things happened: the Depression and the way the German Government (Brüning) responded to it (austerity + austerity) and, of course, Hitler´s Machtergreifung, favored by German élites not reconciled with democracy and gambling on their ability to cage the invited chancellor.
All this is well known and has given rise to a massive literature. No period in German history has been so thoroughly researched. A few years ago a German historian (whose name I just don´t remember but I could look for) made a startling discovery in the German archives taken by the Soviets after 1945 and kept in Moscow. It was a very famous but only partially known speech given by Hitler a month after having become chancellor to the leading Reichswehr commanders. The full record showed that the phantasies which he had developed in Mein Kampf and in his second book were for him genuine long-term plans. They implied a confrontation with the Western democracies and, obviously, destroying communism so as to build a new German empire in the East.
When I was a young student in Germany, a number of distinguished German historians made a name for themselves by minutely analysing Hitler´s so-called Stufenplan, a general blueprint for achieving world hegemony. Obviously this perspective led to bitter academic controversies.
For Americans a relatively recent book by Norman Goda, Tomorrow the World: Hitler, Northwest Africa and the Path toward America, may illustrate their point. By 1940 Hitler had compressed his blueprint into some kind of more operational plan which, with a bit of luck, could be carried out during his own lifetime.
What is clear is that Hitler did not expect a European war to break out in 1939. His plan was for it to start a few years later. Economic, military and foreign policies were made dependent on that strange vision.
One could have expected a resurgent Germany without Hitler to try to throw its weight around. The racially/biologically course the European war took under Hitler was difficult to predict, although Mein Kampf remains a testimony to Hitler's "strategies" and his own disconnect with Realpolitik.
JE comments: As only an expert historian can, Angel Viñas's exploration of Hitler's plans gives us a suggestion of the "what if" without straying from historical fact. I'm going to look for the Goda book, although the Amazon reviews (taken as a collective, they're usually fair) are not glowing:
- Could WWII Have Been Averted? (Istvan Simon, USA 02/05/13 4:45 AM)
I'm afraid I disagree with Cameron Sawyer's take (4 February) on whether World War II could have been avoided. First of all, Cameron incorrectly assigns this idea to Churchill, without any supporting evidence.
Though the view that World War II could have been avoided appears in Churchill's monumental History of the Second World War, which Cameron unjustly maligns, this idea appears also elsewhere, and with considerable evidence to support it. So the picture that Cameron presents of simply standing up to bullies is a very simplistic view of what went on before the war.
William Shirer's excellent book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, presents very convincing evidence that indeed if the Western allies had more of a backbone prior to World War II, Hitler would have had to back down from his grandiose plans. This evidence is based on the Third Reich's own archives, and to my mind is very compelling evidence that indeed the war could have been avoided.
The Western non-response to Hitler's every outrage much before World War II reinforced Hitler's political position in Germany. The German Generals were all against Hitler's gambles, because as professionals they knew that if the West responded forcefully, Germany would lose. But the West did not respond forcefully, and every gamble of Hitler worked. Therefore his position as an infallible magician, who read the political realities so accurately, grew with every successful gamble.
Hitler's orders when he reoccupied the Rhineland were that if the Western powers reacted militarily, Germany would immediately withdraw with their tail between their legs, so to speak. Had that happened, instead of becoming a successful magician, Hitler would have been exposed as an irresponsible and dangerous gambler and the more prudent professional German Generals, who were indeed very competent, would likely have been able to rein in Hitler, because his gamble would have failed. Instead the lack of a backbone gave Hitler an enormous boost as the infallible leader.
As in so many other cases when it comes to history, Churchill was right.
JE comments: I don't recall Cameron Sawyer ever maligning Churchill as a writer or historian. Pointing out that Churchill's histories are self-serving is not maligning per se: don't all statesmen and stateswomen do this in their memoirs?
Here's a historical riddle: what was the only nation to call Hitler's bluff prior to 1939? Stay tuned for the answer.
Could WWII Have Been Averted?
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
02/06/13 1:35 AM)
With apologies to Istvan Simon (5 February), William Shirer was a journalist. His book was written when a lot of things we now know were unknown then. We now know, for example, that there was not the remotest chance that France would have dared to rise in arms against Rhenania's remilitarization. We now know that His Majesty's Government was aghast at the idea. We now know that HMG believed that Hitler was a major bastion of anti-Communism. That the Deuxieme Bureau and the General Staff in France hopelessly inflated the danger of both Communism and Hitlerism. Moreover, in 1936 it was not so obvious that Hitler was bent upon building a new empire to the detriment of France or the UK.
Should I remind WAISers of the fate of the only country where Fascism was being opposed by the force of arms? Just after the military rebellion broke out in Spain, the man in possession of all British security secrets, Sir Maurice Hankey, secretary to the Cabinet, was wondering whether the best way to go for the UK was to approach Italy and Germany to contain the pestilential danger of communism in France and Spain! Needless to say Hitler and Mussolini had given a lesson on how to checkmate working-class aspirations and channel them into building a new and strong "national" State.
What is surprising is that the same HMG was at that time in possession of a lot of Comintern plans, and thus perfectly aware of the minuscule danger of Communism in the UK. For good measure, MI5 had long infiltrated an agent into the Communist Party who was to become the personal and confidential secretary of Harry Pollit, the communist leader. If you go by the tabloids of the time, and even by the dense pages of the Hansard, you would never believe that.
JE comments: For us New Worlders, the Hansard is the printed transcript of the UK Parliamentary debates. I think I knew this at one time, but had un-remembered it.
Guderian on the German Occupation of the Rhineland
(Istvan Simon, USA
02/07/13 4:12 AM)
When reading up on the topic of whether WWII could have been averted by standing up to Hitler in the mid-1930s, I came across this quote from Tim Ashby's illustrious relative, the German general Guderian:
Heinz Guderian, a German general interviewed by French officers after the Second World War, claimed: "If you French had intervened in the Rhineland in 1936 we should have been sunk and Hitler would have fallen."
Hitler himself said:
"The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance."
I note that in my WAIS post of 5 February I had used the "tails between our legs" metaphor, but at the time I was not aware that I was actually quoting Hitler on the subject.
JE comments: An interesting quote; I hope Tim Ashby will add his thoughts here. I assume Guderian was speaking after the close of WWII, which explains the "Hitler would have fallen" part. What evidence do we have that standing up to Hitler in 1936 or '38 would have lead to his political downfall, and not just taught him the lesson that he should spend few more years re-arming, say until the mid-1940s? (This was the point raised by Tor Guimaraes a few days ago.)
Guderian and Wehrmacht Culpability
(Timothy Ashby, Spain
02/08/13 8:04 AM)
I thank Istvan Simon for bringing up General Guderian in his post of 7 February.
Immediately after the War, Guderian and other senior officers spent many months being interrogated by the US Army Historical Division. Guderian shared prison quarters with two other general officers, General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (another great Panzer commander and one of Guderian's very few friends in the Wehrmacht) and Generalfeldmarschal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb. I believe that these three officers were quartered together because the Allies knew them to be "dissidents" (my term) within the Wehrmacht high command. The quarters were bugged by the US Seventh Army Interrogation Center and conversations recorded. One of these transcripts, a discussion about National Socialism, is particularly interesting in light of our WAIS discussion:
Geyr: "Any objective observer will admit that National Socialism raised the social status of the worker, and in some respects even his standard of living as long as that was possible."
L (Leeb): "This is one of the great achievements of National Socialism. The excesses of National Socialism were in the first and final analysis due to the (warped) personality of the FUEHRER [capitals in the original script]."
GUD (Guderian): "The fundamental principles were fine."
L: "That is true."
These men were not referring to Nazi persecution of Jews (none were known to be anti-Semites), but to what they saw as the necessary rehabilitation of the German economy and the restoration of German pride.
After the war Der schnelle Heinz was often invited to attend meetings of Allied veterans' groups, where he analyzed past battles with his old foes. During the early 1950s he was active in advising on the redevelopment of the Bundeswehr (his son--who had been a Wehrmacht Panzer officer--became a general in the new West German army). The remark quoted by Istvan Simon may have been made during one of these meetings, as Guderian was probably the only German general who respected Charles de Gaulle, whose work on maneuver warfare he had read before the War and personally translated into German to be shared with fellow officers. (Guderian was fluent in both English and French).
A personal (family) note about Guderian: Some historians have criticized him for a remark recorded at Hitler's Midday Situation Conference on September 1, 1944--"I'm all for racial purity." Having met--and had long conversations with--two of Guderian's officers in 1980 (one was a staff officer), I am aware from their warm memories of him that Der schnelle Heinz had a dry (distinctly un-Prussian in my opinion) sense of humor that went over the heads of most of his contemporaries. I think this remark was a quip, given that Guderian was the target of a whispering campaign by his enemies in the Wehrmacht and Nazi Party, who claimed that he was of Armenian descent because of his unusual name and therefore not "racially pure" (actually the name derived from "Guderjan" [Guter Jan]), which means "Good Jan").
Given Guderian's constant battles with his own superiors, including Hitler, I think the following quote is brilliant: "Der Kampf gegen die eigenen Oberen macht manchmal mehr Arbeit als gegen die Franzosen" (It is sometimes tougher to fight my superiors than the French).
Returning briefly to our discussion about Wehrmacht culpability in war crimes, a couple of final biographical notes about Guderian's post-war roommates seem appropriate:
Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb was openly anti-Nazi during his military career and was involved in putting down the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler despised him but needed good generals, so he tolerated von Leeb for awhile. Before the Battle of France, von Leeb was the only German general to oppose the offensive through the (neutral) low countries on moral grounds. He wrote: "The whole world will turn against Germany, which for the second time within 25 years, assaults neutral Belgium! Germany, whose government solemnly vouched for and promised the preservation of and respect for this neutrality only a few weeks ago." When von Leeb failed to capture Leningrad quickly in the winter of 1941-42, Hitler impatiently commented, "Leeb is in a second childhood; he can't grasp and carry out my plan for the speedy capture of Leningrad. He fusses over his plan of assuming the defensive in the northwestern sector and wants a drive in the center on Moscow. He's obviously senile, he's lost his nerve, and like a true Catholic he wants to pray but not fight." When von Leeb heard of this comment, he asked Hitler to relieve him of his command, and it was announced that he had stepped down for health reasons (similar to Guderian's dismissal three years later).
Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, who commanded Panzer Group West during the Normandy Invasion, was previously a military attaché, serving in Brussels, the Hague and London between 1933 and 1937. He was in London at the time of the Rhineland crisis, from where he sent messages back to Berlin warning the German government not to underestimate the British. He was also bold enough to warn about the dangers of Hitler's adventurous foreign policy, earning an official rebuke and Hitler's long-term distrust. After D-Day, Hitler proclaimed Geyr to be a defeatist, and he was relieved of his command.
JE comments: WAISers will remember that Tim Ashby is a distant relative of General Guderian: Tim's great-great grandmother was the General's great aunt:
It's funny: I always assumed Guderian was an Armenian name! I worked for years in a building named after an illustrious Armenian (Alex Manoogian, inventor of the single-handle "Delta" faucet), so anybody named X-ian is Armenian in my book. Until today: I thank Tim for setting the record straight.
Is Guderian an Armenian Name?
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
02/09/13 5:22 AM)
When commenting Tim Ashby's post of 8 February, JE wrote:
"I always assumed Guderian was an Armenian name! I worked for years in a building named after an illustrious Armenian (Alex Manoogian, inventor of the single-handle 'Delta' faucet), so anybody named X-ian is Armenian in my book. Until today: I thank Tim for setting the record straight."
I'm betting that Heinz Guderian was descended from Armenians. Guderian/Gederian/Giderian/Guderyan etc. is a fairly common Armenian surname (Armenian is written with its own very ancient alphabet, so any given Armenian name might have a lot of variations in Latin letters, especially in cases where, like the case of Armenians from Poland, as are the likely ancestors of Heinz Guderian, the name came through Russian first.)
"Guter Jan" does not seem like a plausible German origin of the name to me; for one thing I don't think this "d"/"t"/"th" substitution is characteristic of the Eastern forms of German. It would be an exceptionally odd coincidence that a very unusual German name like this, formed in a unique way, would coincidentally resemble a common Armenian surname. I don't buy it.
Heinz Guderian was born in what is now Chelmno, Poland, near the geographical center of present-day Poland. Guderian's father was born in Wielka Klonia not far away, and Guderian wrote in his memoirs that as far as he knew, all of his ancestors were landowners and lawyers from West and East Prussia. There has been a significant Armenian community in Poland for many centuries. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenians_in_Poland . It is true that the Teutonic Knights who conquered the region (episodically) and established a German presence in this geography did not mix very much with the local populations, but it was not unheard of. This area of West Prussia was more under Polish (and therefore often Russian) control than under German control, over the four or five centuries previous to Guderian's birth. As time went on, the German landowners and nobles did intermarry sometimes with Polish landowners and nobility of similar social status. Armenians in Poland were quite often landowners and there were a number of Polish-Armenian noble families. Whether there were any Guderians or Gederians among them I have not been able to determine, but I bet the data is available somewhere. Here is a whole history of the Polish-Armenian noble familes: http://www.wbc.poznan.pl/dlibra/docmetadata?id=72812&from=publication . But it is in Polish, which I can't read.
I'm guessing that "Guderian" really is an Armenian name; that the "Guter Jan" story was invented later for Aryan credibility.
JE comments: When Aldona wakes up, I'll pester her for a reading of the above. I'm puzzled that by the confusing race ideology of the Nazi era, an Armenian name would carry a stigma: aren't the Armenians more "Caucasian" than anyone, except perhaps for the Georgians?
Another question: did the Nazis use "Caucasian" as a race term, together with the vaguely Indo-Iranian "Aryan"? According to Wikipedia, the notion of a "Caucasian race" originated in Germany, around 1800.
Is Guderian an Armenian Name?
(Timothy Ashby, Spain
02/10/13 3:50 AM)
I tend to agree with Cameron Sawyer (9 February) that the Guderian surname is probably of Armenian origin (some genealogists have suggested this as well).
The Third Reich enlisted Armenians (mainly Red Army POWs) as a foreign unit of the Wehrmacht during World War II (the Armenische Legion or 812th Armenian Battalion), and Alfred Rosenberg, the Reich Minister for Occupied Territories, officially declared that Armenians were Indo-European, or Aryans, and thus subject to conscription. However, there is no doubt that Hitler and other senior Nazis considered Armenians to be "Non-Aryans" and therefore racially "impure." Hitler said "In spite of all declarations from Rosenberg and the military, I don't trust the Armenians either" (Dallin, Alexander . German Rule in Russia: 1941-1945: A Study of Occupation Policies. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. pp. 229, 251).
This bolsters my theory that Guderian was highly sensitive to his family background. How he managed to survive amidst the inner Nazi circles given this factor as well as his insubordination is a historical mystery.
By the way, among anecdotes related to me by his former officers, they said that Guderian was a "soldier's soldier" who enjoyed being in the field, and could drive a tank and operate a cannon or machine gun as well as any man in the Panzerkorps. He was also fond of quips--the officers I met repeated Nicht Kleckern sondern Klotzen! ("Don't do things by half") with smiles. (I didn't really get this, but apparently the old Panzer soldaten loved it!) So, I think Guderian was exercising a bit of very risky sarcasm in the "racial purity" conference with Hitler.
Here is what his friend General Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg said about Guderian after he died of congestive heart failure in 1954: "Sixty per cent of what the German Panzer Forces became was due to him. Ambitious, brave, a heart for his soldiers, who liked and trusted him; rash as a man, quick in decisions, strict with officers, real personality, therefore many enemies. Blunt, even to Hitler. As a trainer--good; thorough; progressive. If you suggested revolutionary ideas, he would in 95 per cent of cases say 'Yes,' at once."
JE comments: Guderian's maverick personality, tactical genius and popularity among his troops remind me of that great Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. (Though I was hoping to be the first to make the connection, scroll down to "Trotsky" [?] at the following link: http://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/archive/index.php/t-116245.html ) Forrest was self-taught and semi-literate, though, and my understanding of Guderian is that he was from a patrician background. Still, imagine what Forrest would have achieved in command of a Panzer division.
Compare Guderian to Nathan Bedford Forrest? Don't
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
02/10/13 9:28 AM)
Ah, don't compare the elegant and dashing Guderian with Nathan Bedford Forrest! [This is what I did at the conclusion of Tim Ashby's post of 10 February--JE.]
Forrest was one of our great military geniuses, there is no doubt, but by all accounts, as a person, he was a nasty piece of work. In contrast to the refined and aristocratic Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals, Forrest was rough and uneducated, and was a slave trader by profession. His cruelty and bloodthirstiness are legendary. He is notorious for the Fort Pillow massacre, and for advertisements he placed raising troops for his regiment, calling for men with good horses who would like to "have some fun and kill some Yankees"; reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's revolting Inglorious Basterds.
Although there is some historical controversy about it, he is generally considered (in Tennessee, at least) to have founded the Ku Klux Klan. His cruelty extended to his own troops, who feared and hated him. He was, however, the greatest military mind of the war, probably. But don't compare him to Guderian!
JE comments: I vaguely recall from a Forrest biography read years ago that the General agreed to serve as head of the KKK with the understanding it was a Confederate mutual benefit and "pride" organization, but resigned when the Klan's racist policies became evident. Be that as it may, that Forrest was a slave merchant prior to the Civil War is widely known. Interestingly, even slaveholders looked on the traders with contempt.
I'll let Tim Ashby, whose relatives fought in both conflicts, be the judge here: should we draw any parallels between Generals Guderian and Forrest?
- Mussolini on "Checkmating Working-Class Aspirations"; from Eugenio Battaglia (John Eipper, USA 02/07/13 4:32 AM)
Eugenio Battaglia sent me this response to Angel Viñas's post of 6 February:
I wonder what Angel means by "[checkmating] working-class aspirations," because in Italy the Social State was founded for the benefit of all Italians, and it was possible to survive the Great Depression fairly well. I wish to remind WAISers that FDR sent two members of his government to Italy to get suggestions for the New Deal.
The Italian Government under Mussolini granted the following to the working class:
Insurance against invalidity and accidents in the workplace, insurance against professional illnesses and unemployment, Social Security, special assistance to mothers and children, special vacations at the seashore or the mountains for all children, the Carta del Lavoro--the "Work Paper" of 1927, which granted rights to the workers, including a 40-hour week, additional premium wage for a nonworking wife and children, houses for the poor, special entertainment for after work, etc. In January 1944 with the Socializzazione, work was put at the center of the production, as in the Board of Directors the representatives of capital were in the same number as the representatives of the workers, with all profits divided among investors, workers and a compensation fund.
By the way, now the Social State is in the process of being dismantled.
JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia's note raises two questions that might take this discussion in interesting new directions. 1) How deep was FDR's admiration for Mussolini's policies in the early years of his (FDR's) administration, say in 1933-'35? I note that this was the time when aviator Italo Balbo was captivating the world with his transoceanic flights, which even got a street in Chicago named after him. In short, was there a short-lived Mussolini "fad" in the Depression-era US? And was this enthusiasm limited primarily to Italian-Americans? And here's my question 2) How widespread is Mussolini nostalgia in Italy today? I'm sensing a hint of it from Eugenio Battaglia. Are Italy's current fiscal woes adding fuel to this "revival"?
In the US we remember first and foremost the deportation of Italy's Jewish population during the RSI (Salò Republic), which precludes any reappraisal of Mussolini's possible good points. Among Spaniards, Mussolini can only be remembered as the midwife who delivered them Franco--a legacy that long outlived Il Duce himself.
Mussolini and "Checkmating Working-Class Aspirations"
(Angel Vinas, Belgium
02/07/13 6:37 AM)
I thank Eugenio Battaglia for his comments of 7 February. Eugenio raises questions which would lead us to discuss the social significance of the Mussolini regime. For that matter, also the social achievements in Nazi Germany and in Franco Spain. All this leads to the meaning of Fascism.
I do not think that there is much enthusiasm in the relevant historical literature to consider Fascism as a precursor of the Welfare State. One doesn't need to be Marxist-oriented to realise that one of the features of Fascism was the integration of the working class into the National State. What for? For creating a solid block able to surmount class struggles and redirect national energies to a war of conquest.
JE comments: Fascism's attempt to eliminate class struggle, if I read Angel Viñas correctly, is/was not for the good of the masses but for the "good" of national ambition. Nigel Jones (next in line) has also sent his thoughts on Mussolini's legacy.
Didn't Mussolini's regime also invent the limited-access highway? (Not exactly: Wikipedia informs us that the first Autostrade were conceived prior to 1922.) Last summer I drove a good deal on Poland's spanking-new "Autostradas." I'm curious why they've adopted the Italian word. Socialist Poland assembled and sold Fiats as their "national" cars. So perhaps there's a strong link in the Polish consciousness between Italy and all things automotive.
- Mussolini and His Early Admirers (Nigel Jones, UK 02/07/13 6:51 AM)
Mussolini was certainly widely praised in Europe during the first decade of his rule, not least by Winston Churchill, of all people, who said, in his inimitable way, that if he had been an Italian "I would have donned the black shirt in your [Mussolini's] struggle against the bestial appetites of Leninism." Also, undeniably, the corporatist element in Fascism was fashionable--and Keynesian/New Deal economics have an awful lot in common with it.
The Fascist dictator was admired for in general disciplining and dragooning the notoriously un-disciplined and anarchic Italians. The current phrase was "he made the trains run on time"--which indeed he did. Another Mussolini achievement was his defeat of the Mafia--the only Italian ruler to have done so. (In retaliation the Cosa Nostra helped the Allied invasion and occupation of Sicily in 1943, which opened the way for them to restore their control of the island.)
Fascist violence was always implicit in the movement's theory, and indeed in its actions: the notorious feeding of castor oil to humiliate its opponents (I heard of one victim of this practice who bottled his oiled excrement and fed it back to the Fascist militant concerned when the tables were turned in 1945); the trashing of opposition offices, HQs and clubs, the beating up and indeed murder of political rivals--most notoriously the Socialist deputy Matteotti and the Rosselli brothers in France.
All this was largely overlooked by the outside world until Mussolini made the fatal step of allying with Hitler. Although the ideology of Fascism and Nazism was similar, as were the trappings of the two movements, the biggest difference between the two was Fascism's lack of Nazism's central racist ideology (except when applied to the Africans of Abyssinia).
Jews were unharmed in Italy until Mussolini was pressured by the Nazis to introduce racial legislation late in the war.
It is indeed fascinating to see how the balance swung in what the historian FW Deakin memorably termed "the brutal friendship" between the two dictators. At the beginning Mussolini was definitely the senior partner. Hitler had always admired him, and his 1923 abortive Beer Hall putsch in Munich was specifically modeled on Mussolini's March on Rome 11 months earlier. After Hitler came to power, he was in visible awe of the Duce at their first meeting in Venice in 1934. Later that year, as has already been remarked, Mussolini moved Italian troops to the Brenner pass to deter Hitler from invading Austria after Austrian Nazis had murdered the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss in an abortive putsch. Embarrassingly Dollfuss's family were Mussolini's guests at the time of his assassination.
Thenceforth, the balance of the relationship swung steadily in Hitler's favour, until, by the time of the Salò Republic, Mussolini was nothing more than a sawdust puppet in German hands who owed his life, his liberty (after his dramatic rescue from a mountaintop hotel by German commandos) and his return to a semblance of power entirely to Hitler, who continued to admire his old friend to the end. Mussolini did not return the compliment.
Mussolini and His Early Admirers
(Roy Domenico, USA
02/07/13 9:41 AM)
A few points on the recent Mussolini discussion. The Fascists certainly made a number of innovations in the creation of Italy's welfare state. Before Unification most of what passed for welfare was in the hands of the Catholic Church. The founders of the new Kingdom scrapped most of that in favor of their pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap liberal visions. Mussolini "corrected" this in the 1920s and 1930s--it might be said for his own purposes. We also need to remember Mussolini's roots as a Socialist--he was one of the Party leaders before 1914--and that his pre-Fascist ideas (and those of the first few years of the movement from 1919 until the early 1920s) resurfaced, as Eugenio Battaglia pointed out, in the "Socialization" measures of the Salò regime.
Much has been made of Mussolini returning to his roots at Salò and the "Social Republic"-issued propaganda which played up the fact that the dusty old (and treasonous) monarchy had been thrown into the garbage can--only to be propped up in the south by the Anglo-Americans. Salò even recalled its "Mazzinian" roots in a series of postage stamps--one of the more outrageous whoppers in the Duce's bag of tricks. It should also be remembered that those measures were utterly sabotaged by the Nazis and by the working class, which refused to cooperate. The Allies considered the measures to be "social bombs" that the Duce was planting before his inevitable defeat (he had few illusions of victory by 1944).
Regarding Mussolini's reputation before Hitler--he certainly enjoyed a lot of prestige in Britain and in America and, yes, FDR sent one of his brain-trusters, Rexford Tugwell, to investigate fascism, although nothing really became of it. An excellent book on America's and American Liberals' fascination with the Duce is John Patrick Diggins's Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America. The Wall Street Journal famously published a poetic paean to him on their editorial page in, I think, 1923 and the US ambassador Washburn Child was instrumental in publishing his autobiography in America. Child even claimed some credit in Mussolini's March on Rome! If they can find it, WAISers might also enjoy looking at the classic July 1934 issue of Henry Luce's Fortune magazine which was fawningly dedicated to the Regime.
JE comments: I'm learning a lot from this conversation. Perhaps Roy Domenico could give us an idea of Mussolini's image among Italian-Americans pre-1939? I suppose there were Italian-Americans of monarchist leanings, who opposed him from the beginning.
- Mussolini: Thoughts from Luciano Dondero (John Eipper, USA 02/07/13 1:43 PM)
I heard recently from an Italian reader of WAIS who lives in the Canary Islands. Luciano Dondero has given me permission to publish his note:
Benito Mussolini was for the a good part of his early life a revolutionary socialist, leader of the left-wing of the PSI (Italian Socialist Party).
In 1901, when an anarchist killed the King of Italy, Mussolini quipped: "Regicide is an occupational disease for monarchs!"
In 1912, when Italy went to war against Turkey to capture Libya and a bunch of Greek islands (then under Turkish rule), BM led the struggle against those who wanted to support the Italian state (like Bissolati).
His authority as a leftist--even though he was never a Marxist--was so great that the people who were to found the Communist party (PCI) in 1921 (like Bordiga and Gramsci and Togliatti) were to a great extent from the youth wing of the PSI, and had been earlier followers of BM.
Mussolini was in charge of the PSI newspaper "L'Avanti!" (Forward!) for several years, as he was a quite talented journalist.
Italy by 1914 was still in an alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, but did not join the war on the side of the Central Powers.
At that point, Mussolini, apparently receiving some funds from the French, launched a new newspaper called "Il Popolo d'Italia," which started agitating for Italy's entry in the coming war on the side of the Entente (France, Great Britain, Russia) against its former(?) allies. This happened a year later.
In 1919 BM created the first "fascist" organisation.
The "fasci" are that bunch of wooden sticks with an ax on top, which had been a symbol of the Roman empire, but were resuscitated by the French revolution, and are to this day used to identify some kind of statehood (or police force) in several countries. In Italy the fascia become the symbol of Mussolini's movement, and are today forbidden in any kind of representation.
Mussolini also took from the Italian labour movement the word "camerata" (like the French camarade, the Spanish camarada and the English comrade) to identify the members of his own movement and party. A similar thing happened in Germany, by the way, so that Italian and German are the two languages were you cannot identify a leftist by using the word used in most of the rest of the world. (I happen to know this, as I used to be a leftist years ago, and for quite some time I did lot of translations at international left-wing gatherings, and that word was always a sticky issue...).
JE asked me off-Forum why some members of the PSI, like Mussolini, turned to the Fascists, while others moved to the PCI. I don't have a ready-made explanation, but as a start I suppose one should explore the issue of nationalism--Austria had held Trento, the lands across the Adriatic Sea (Dalmatia, and so on). Eugenio Battaglia was born in Zara (Zader in Croatia today), and he might actually have lots of interesting things to say about this.
JE comments: I asked Luciano Dondero to introduce himself, and he sent this reply:
I was born in 1950 in a Communist family and I spent a good deal of my life being an active revolutionary Trotskyist (well, mostly writing and selling newspapers with flamboyant headlines...) roaming around several European countries.
My father, Dario, had been deported to Germany (in early 1944, I think), because he had initially refused to serve in the RSI army. And he came back a year later in an American uniform, as he had joined the US army somewhere in Czechoslovakia, while the Third Reich was crumbling down. His stories were very interesting, told at night when we were kids, filled with fear and hope.
My mum, Teresa, had spent that interminable time waiting for him under Allied bombings, and taking refuge in underground bunkers, which also occasionally housed Italian and German military. And she told me of a German submariner from Hamburg who fell in love with her, and wanted for her to marry him and go to Germany. Thus I might have been born a German!
(This may have some relevance to the WAIS debate about the Wehrmacht.)
Anyway, I have a strong interest in historical matters, as well as in science (evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, astronomy and space exploration), and I have come to the sad realization that my existence was somewhat wasted in the pursuit of something irrational--I no longer think that Marxism provides a valid explanation for mankind's journey from our apes/hominid ancestors until the present day, nor for the ins and outs of civilization. And I have no particular interest in current politics (besides thinking that it was good that the Americans re-elected their president).
I came across WAIS while doing some research for a blog I started recently (http://losiento.sosblogs.com/ ) which is meant to understand and convey to Italian-speakers some of the reality of Spain and more widely of the Spanish-language world. While I intend to avoid going into much politics, inevitably a bit of it will creep in.
I have found WAIS discussions wide and open and intriguing.
I currently live in the Canary Islands, on Fuerteventura (La Oliva), as even the Ligurian coast was not warm enough for me, in wintertime. (Not to mention the feeling of disgust I had for all the antics of Berlusconi!)
JE comments: Great to hear from you, Luciano! Best of luck with your new blog. "Lo siento" (I feel it, but also I'm sorry) is a very cool name for a website. Here's the link again:
Could you put in a good word for WAIS, too, Luciano?
Canary Islands and WWII
(Robert Whealey, USA
02/09/13 3:34 PM)
I thank Luciano Dondero for his fascinating note of 7 February. His early history of Mussolini 1901 to 1922 squares with my understanding of his evolution.
Apparently Luciano Dondero has only recently become interested in the history of Spain and the Spanish language. I presume he will spend time studying the Spanish Civil War. It could be an embarrassing story for this generation of Italians. In this respect, French scholars would also like to change the subject.
I hope Luciano will look at my book Hitler and Spain, where he will see a map of the Canary Islands including Fuerteventura. In 1937 Hermann Goring sent his own "fishing expedition" to that island, apparently to acquire an intelligence base, over the objections of Admiral Canaris, the German Navy and Hitler's conservative Ambassador von Stohrer.
I should add that a German national, probably a veteran of World War I, was living in Fuerteventura before 1936. His name was Gustav Winter. Winter survived the war in a remote mansion. I met a young Spanish historian in the late 1960s from the Canary Islands who tried to visit him. No such luck.
JE comments: Winter found a beautiful place to winter!
There must have been a lot of naval intrigue in the Canaries during WWII. I'm sure Robert Whealey addresses this topic in his Hitler and Spain. Allow me an naive question: were German U-boats permitted to dock/resupply in the Canaries?
Canary Islands and WWII; Luciano Dondero Responds
(John Eipper, USA
02/10/13 5:31 AM)
Our reader on the beautiful island of Fuerteventura, Luciano Dondero, sent this response to Robert Whealey (9 February):
I thank Robert Whealey for recommending his book Hitler and Spain, and although this topic is not really a recent interest of mine, I have no qualms about admitting that Robert is right that I will have to go on studying the Spanish Civil War--considering that my previous sources of knowledge were mostly Ernest Hemingway, Felix Morrow, George Orwell, Hugh Thomas, and above all, Leon Trotsky.
There is a novel written by Spanish writer Lucía Etxebarria, El contenido del silencio (Planeta, Barcelona, 2011), which sheds some light on the connections between Fuerteventura and Nazi Germany. She writes fiction, but this is based on some published materials, like Orígenes de la propiedad del suelo en la península de Jandía by Juan Pedro Martín Luzardo, Ayuntamiento de Pájara (FV, 2003), and the chapter "Apuntes históricos sobre Cofete" by Rosario Cerdeña in the book Homenaje a Francisco Navarro Artiles, Academia Canaria de la Lengua, 2004.
If you think this is worth a more detailed info, I suppose I could translate a couple of pages from Etxebarria's book for reference.
The gist of it is that before WWII, the Germans had plans to use Fuerteventura, but they did not materialize--probably this is linked to Hitler's complicated relationship with Franco, and his change of mind over invading the Canary Islands and the Azores.
But mainly Etxebarria goes into the Islas Afortunadas becoming a safe haven for former Nazis after the war--which divulges a bit of the story. I won't spoil it here, though...
The Gustav Winter house still exists in the south of the island, in a place called Cofete, and can be visited these days, as the old man died several years ago.
Considering the interaction that Franco had with the Canaries, I think it's significant that in the Northern town of Corralejo on Fuerteventura there was an Avenida Francisco Franco until 1994. In various maps we can see it listed as "Main Street" or "Avenida Principal," and that's a typical Spanish ruse or codename to avoid the unspeakable. Like in Barcelona, where the long avenue cutting across the city was forever called "La diagonal" so as not to use its official name of "Avenida Generalisimo Franco."
As for JE's question: "were German U-boats permitted to dock/resupply in the Canaries?"
Well, one of the "secret stories" about the Winter house in Cofete, FV claims that it was a secret U-boat base. I should think that the Western islands were better suited, though, for such an endeavour, especially Hierro. Now, if what the German movie about the U-boats (Das Boot, 1981) is truthful, it should not have been too complex for the Third Reich to have neutral-flag ships moving in and out of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria or Santa Cruz de Tenerife to resupply U-boats.
This interaction is apparently a much-speculated about issue here. For some examples see:
and "Nazis en Canarias": http://angulo13.com/angulo13_alfonsoferrer2.htm
There is also a book by Jaime Rubio titled Submarinos y arqueología nazi en Canarias.
I'd also like to cite an interview with a historian of the Canaries:
Here's a quote from Professor Juan José Díaz Benítez:
Entonces, sobre el suministro de submarinos, ¿en qué quedó realmente?
--Bueno, en 1940 se realiza toda una serie de intentos de abastecimiento de submarinos nazis en puertos de la Península sin éxito, porque los comandantes de marina no lo permitieron, aduciendo que no tienen autorización. Ni en Vigo, Ferrol o Cádiz. Sin embargo, en febrero de 1941 el ministro español de Marina autoriza al comandante naval de la Luz a realizar seis abastecimientos a submarinos nazis, tanto de combustibles como de víveres y torpedos. Se sabe ahora que los segundos llegan al Puerto de La Luz procedentes de la Península, como algunas tripulaciones, en buques de la Armada Española [teóricamente gozaban de neutralidad y no debían ser interceptados por la Armada británica, que tenía el control del pasillo Estrecho-Canarias]. De todos es sabida la repatriación de la tripulación del U-167, submarino oceánico alemán hundido y que alcanzó la playa de Las Burras. Como hubo mucho transporte español de Canarias a La Península de tripulaciones de submarinos nazis hundidos en el Atlántico Sur que llegaban a las Islas como polizones en buques trigueros. Y de Madrid salían en avión a Berlín.
JE comments: Thank you, Luciano Dondero, for filling in the blanks. According to Prof. Díaz Benítez, the German U-Boat contact with the Canaries was minimal, beyond the repatriation of rescued crewmembers. There was one instance of re-supply in 1941, however--did the Allies ever get wind of this? Franco was very crafty at playing both sides of WWII, and must have been aware that any open support of the U-Boats would have met with the full wrath of the British Navy.
Canary Islands and WWII
(Robert Whealey, USA
02/10/13 2:49 PM)
I have no evidence of German submarines coming to the Canaries. [This is apparently not the case; see David Pike, below--JE.] The British Navy watched for submarines in the waters off the islands. The key to the Canary Islands strategic base is the fact that in 1931 Juan March, Spain's richest man, created his own oil company CEPSA. The crude oil was supplied by Texaco to Franco's armies 1936-1941. There may also have been a little "hot oil" supplied by Cárdenas government in Mexico from 1938 to 1940. PEMEX was in a long battle with the Shell Standard cartel over nationalization.
Texas crude and crude from Latin America was sold to CEPSA. The German submarines were supplied by black market on the high seas by the OKM's tanker service. See my index Ettapendienst (Supply Service). Admiral Canaris organized a global system of oil deliveries. There are many Ettapendienst records that I had no time to use for my book on Spain.
There may be a second volume here for some future researcher, "Spain's Oil Diplomacy 1936-1941." When the US declared war in 1941 the Caribbean oil fields were closed down for Franco and Nationalist Spain.
JE comments: I'm puzzled that Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas would sell oil to Franco, so soon after he actively supported the Republic. Do I understand Robert Whealey correctly that Cárdenas was supplying Franco as early as 1938?
Yes, Oil Diplomacy is an excellent lens to view world history since around 1910. There must be several books on the topic that need to be written.
Canary Islands and WWII
(David Pike, France
02/11/13 6:56 AM)
Robert Whealey wrote, a trifle grandly, "I have no evidence of German submarines coming to the Canaries [during WWII]" (10 February). There is evidence, which is available in Freiburg-im-Breisgau (Bund.-Mil., Seekriegsleitung, RM7/844).
The report from Admiral Kurt Fricke gives precise figures of the amount of fuel oil, lubricating oil and food supplies available at Las Palmas sufficient for one U-boat Type U-45 for six weeks, with re-supplies available on request to Berlin. "Supplies to U-boats are to be carried out in every case inside the harbor, alongside the German supply ship and during the night, sailing submerged if necessary, in order that the operation, both in docking and putting to sea, passes unobserved."
JE comments: This is very interesting; I suspected as much. And the "cloak of darkness" approach would seem to line up with Franco's playbook: in the World War, always hedge your bets.
- Mussolini Nostalgia: Comment from Eugenio Battaglia (John Eipper, USA 02/08/13 2:16 AM)
On 7 February, I asked Eugenio Battaglia for his thoughts on Mussolini "nostalgia" in today's Italy. Eugenio sent this response:
Be sure, in spite of all Italy's troubles, that Mussolini nostalgia among the Italians is extremely limited. Unfortunately, a few young fellows are fascinated by some silly exterior attitudes of Imperial Fascism which are absolutely obsolete, while a handful of Italians are fascinated by the social (non-racist) fascist theories. Lastly, there is another handful which would like, for a historical appraisal, to separate the good from the bad and the truth from the propaganda.
For instance, I believe that the Jewish situation in Italy from 1922 to 1945 has been completely misunderstood by the overwhelming impact of the Holocaust in Germany and elsewhere. The Jewish writer Leon Poliakov wrote about a "protective screen for the Jews where the Italians troops arrived." Also, during the RSI in which, officially, the Jews were considered "citizens of an enemy country," there was some protection. In fact the infamous deportation of the Roman Jewish Community was performed by the Germans when the RSI was not yet completely organized in late September-early October 1943. Here's one episode of note: the lover of Pavolini, secretary of the Republican Fascist Party and Chief of the Armed Forces of the Party, had a Jewish lover, the actress Duranti. He was very independent from the Germans, and probably in retaliation the SS arrested the lady. Promptly Pavolini sent in his Brigate Nere [Black Brigades], and with the threat of firing on the SS, liberated her.
However the total of the Jews deported by the Germans from the territory of the RSI was 6807, of whom 5791 died, while the other 35,000 Jews in Italy managed, one way or another, to survive, some also in the under ceiling of the Government Palace of Milan (!).
PS: Previously it was indicated that the total of deported Jews was 7495, of whom 551 were children.
JE comments: Wikipedia's entry on the Holocaust reports that some 8000 Jewish Italians perished in the Holocaust. This is a slightly higher figure than the numbers Eugenio Battaglia gives, although he specifically states that the 6807 number is the number of deportees from the RSI.
- "I Propose to Write that History Myself": Churchill (John Heelan, UK 02/06/13 1:44 AM)
When commenting Istvan Simon's post of 5 February, JE wrote: "I don't recall Cameron Sawyer ever maligning Churchill as a writer or historian. Pointing out that Churchill's histories are self-serving is not maligning per se: don't all statesmen and stateswomen do this in their memoirs?"
Indeed! Churchill himself pointed that out in his speech to the House of Common on 23 January 1948 when he said, "For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself."
JE comments: Look at that...two references to the Hansard this morning!
- Churchill as Historian (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 02/06/13 1:57 AM)
I think Istvan Simon (5 February) misunderstood my thesis. Indeed I did not say that Churchill was wrong. I specifically said that if it had somehow been possible for the UK or France to take some forceful action in the late 1930s, Hitler might very well have been stopped, as Churchill wrote.
My thesis was more subtle--that it's wrong to think of it in simplistic terms today--that it all could have been solved so easily--that it was nothing more than a schoolyard bully situation which required nothing more than a bit more grit than Churchill's political enemies, unjustly in power in the UK at the time, were able to muster up. Churchill portrays it this way, and this version has become part of the mythology of WWII. "If only those craven appeasers had listened to me!" is the subtext of Churchill's account, and it is a self-aggrandizing portrayal of the situation (even if it's not exactly wrong!).
There was much more at play than just "backbone?" or "no backbone"--it was less personal than Churchill makes it out to be. There were much more complicated military, economic, and political factors at play--that was all I was trying to say. Churchill was a great man, and one of my big heroes in history. But contrary to what Churchill would sometimes have us believe, history is made not only by great men, but by other, more complicated factors as well. Which means that a great man in the right place at the right time still might not necessarily save the day. And I think that if Churchill, rather than Chamberlain, had been PM at the time of Munich, probably he could not have done as much as he thought. To really and definitely prevent WWII, you would really have had to prevent WWI--that was my thesis. By 1936 it was really already too late, even for a giant like Churchill.
JE comments: Perhaps we should change our question to "Could WWI Have Been Averted?" My provisional answer is "absolutely," but it wasn't, and we're still paying for that mistake.
- Mussolini Challenges Hitler, 1934: Eugenio Battaglia (John Eipper, USA 02/05/13 5:03 AM)
Eugenio Battaglia, who has become a familiar voice in WAISworld over the last week, sent this response to Cameron Sawyer's post of 4 February:
I'd like to congratulate Cameron Sawyer on his informative note.
By the way, the only country that sent threatening troops against Hitler's advances was Mussolini's Italy in 1934, defending Austria on the first tentative coup of the Nazis, but no one else moved.
By 1938 things had completely changed. The Austrian people were in great majority favourable to a union with Germany, while the three million German Sudetens rightly wanted to be reunited with the Fatherland.
In 1939, following an agreement between Hitler and Mussolini, the ethnic Germans of Bolzano on the northern border of Italy could, if they felt to be more German than Italian, emigrate to the Third Reich. It's a curious fact that some ethnic Germans remained in Italy, while some ethnic Italians moved to Germany.
JE comments: What do we really know about Mussolini? I've always accepted the appraisals found in "orthodox" histories, where Il Duce comes across as 1/2 dangerous megalomaniac, 1/2 incompetent buffoon, and Hitler's obedient lackey throughout. Eugenio Battaglia's more nuanced views force us to re-think these perceptions.
Here's one factoid I do know: Mussolini was named after the great Mexican liberal patriot Benito Juárez--Mexico's Lincoln. There's a good deal of irony in that.
Mussolini Challenges Hitler, 1934
(Robert Whealey, USA
02/06/13 2:28 AM)
Eugenio Battaglia wrote on 5 February: "By 1938 things (between Mussolini and Hitler) had completely changed."
Not exactly. The Axis relationship changed in September 1937 when Mussolini visited Berlin. Mussolini wanted to speed up Franco's victory in Spain. Hitler could afford to wait for Franco to win the land war. The flexible Axis agreement of October 1936 was cemented in Spain.
Mussolini's Fascism was now captive of Nazi Germany. In March 1938, Hitler merely cashed his Austrian check. The independent Duce of 1934 and the Stresa Front was a dead letter by September 1937. I recommend my book Hitler and Spain to Eugenio.
JE comments: If the Hitler-Mussolini relationship changed in September 1937, to say "by 1938 things had completely changed" is not incorrect. Or am I missing something?
- Mussolini Challenges Hitler, 1934; on the Anschluss (Istvan Simon, USA 02/08/13 1:33 AM)
I read with interest Eugenio Battaglia's WAIS post of 5 February.
Eugenio asserts that by 1938 the majority of Austrians was for the union with Germany. There are reasons to doubt the truth of this assertion.
Clearly, Austria was systematically subverted by the Nazis, by the usual methods of brute force intimidation and assassination, used in Germany itself, before the Nazis assumed power, and since no free elections were ever held on this issue, it is problematic that Eugenio would have any information about the true desires of the Austrian people. The referendum held after the Anschluss was obviously not free, but rigged--it is hard to imagine any legitimate referendum in which over 99.73% vote one way or the other. Clearly such results are characteristic of dictatorships, not free elections. See:
There was actually an attempt to have a real referendum prior to the Anschluss, in which the expected result was to maintain Austrian independence, but this was prevented from ever taking place by a coup of the Nazis. This fact alone, that the Nazis prevented a real referendum from taking place, puts in doubt Eugenio's assertion. Indeed if what he says were true, why would the Nazis not allow a legitimate referendum to take place?
Eugenio also pointed out that Mussolini in 1934 defended Austrian independence by massing troops on the Italian side of the border. Unfortunately, Mussolini soon changed his mind, because by 1936, he indicated that he would not have any objection to Germany's annexation of Austria, or making it a puppet state of the Nazi regime.
Even more astonishingly, Eugenio asserts that the German minority in the Sudetenland wanted to be reunited with Germany. This is astonishing, because even if this were true, and again no evidence is presented for his assertion, it is highly unusual in truly democratic countries, as Czechoslovakia undoubtedly was in 1938, for minorities to determine what shall happen to a country's territory. Though he does not explicitly say so, it seems like a fair inference from his statements that Eugenio may be in favor of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia that indeed took place with the shameful events at Munich, when Chamberlain "ceded" Czechoslovakia's Sudetenlands to Germany.
Czechoslovakia was not even consulted on the matter. In my view and that of Winston Churchill, this was one of the most dishonorable events of twentieth-century history. Since this also stripped Czechoslovakia of its natural defenses against Germany, it did not take too long before the rest of Czechoslovakia would be swallowed by Nazi Germany.
Strangely enough, Eugenio does not accord the same generous terms to the German minorities in Italy. There he only says that the minorities were given the right to emigrate to Germany. He does not explain why the same solution would not have been also sufficient in the case of the Sudetenland, for those Germans that so fervently desired to live under a Nazi regime.
JE comments: Istvan Simon raises a valuable question: why were the ethnic Germans in Italy give the right of immigration, whereas the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia was annexed outright? Mussolini was an ally of Hitler, to be sure. Also, I suspect the Germans also saw their action against Czechoslovakia as a reaction to the "artificial" borders drawn after WWI. This "justification" does not apply to the Anschluss on Austria, however.
- Achtung Minen (Randy Black, USA 02/03/13 7:04 AM)
In his 1 February rebuttal to Eugenio Battaglia's post about the good or bad sides of the Wehrmacht, Istvan Simon retorted, "Two German soldiers saved Eugenio's and his mother's life by alerting them to a minefield. But who put the mines there in the first place? Most certainly it was not the American GIs whom Mr. Battaglia considered his "enemies.'"
My curiosity has gotten the best of me. I must ask Istvan how and why he came to the conclusion that "only a German might set out mines on the battlefield?"
It seems to me that the Americans were just as likely the culprits as the Germans might have been.
JE comments: I presume, as did Istvan, that the "Achtung Minen" sign meant it was the handiwork of Germans. Eugenio Battaglia also mentioned that the minefield was in front of a German artillery position. To protect your battery with a minefield makes tactical sense...and the signs certainly are creepy:
- Life in the RSI; Response from Eugenio Battaglia (John Eipper, USA 02/04/13 2:01 AM)
I received this note from Eugenio Battaglia, who has already posted two interesting comments on his wartime experience in Italy. Here Eugenio writes in response to Istvan Simon's post of 1 February:
I am very grateful to Istvan Simon for his comments. I can, with pleasure, present a few more points on the issue.
The first is personal: I was not "feeling" the Allies as my enemies, they were my enemies. In the years 1943/45 I was a subject of the Italian Social Republic, which continued the war started on June 10, 1940, and any legal action in order to avoid an invasion (liberation for Istvan), including placing minefields, was fine for me and for the rules of war.
The Italian Social Republic had a "de facto" government which was making its laws independently, printing its money, had a budget surplus (how it managed such a miracle is astonishing) and had its armed forces which, however had to coordinate with the German Forces. On the contrary, the Italian Monarchy of the South had a so-called government with absolutely no power, as the AMGOT, Allied Military Government Occupied Territory, was the real government printing its own money, AMLire.
Of course the Italian Social Republic had some disagreements with the German Military Authorities, for instance regarding the famous law on Socializzazione, which would be interesting to talk about.
In any case no one, not even a diehard Fascist, would have liked the German Army to remain in Italy after the end of the war. By the way, at present we still have about one hundred foreign military bases on Italian territory.
The condition of "enemy" is however a very temporary condition, as during a war an enemy who cannot fight any more because he is wounded or prisoner becomes a human being entitled to help and protection. When peace arrives, the enemy is again a friendly fellow.
Except for the war in Africa, which was fought between the Germans-Italians and the Britons-Americans according to the International Conventions of La Hague and Geneve, afterward all nations of WWII failed to respect these conventions. if someone does not recognize this sad fact, it is only because the psychological warfare had done a great job.
Two examples of the chivalry in the Africa theater, one great and one small: when Italo Balbo died shot down by friendly fire, the Chief of the British Air Force sent a plane to drop a wreath during the funeral; my father, captain of an artillery group, used to invite British Officer POWs to dinner.
In Chicago there is (or up to few years ago was) Avenue Italo Balbo.
About the retaliation ten to one practiced by the Germans in France, again I have to stress that retaliation is a legal practice according the International Conventions, as the population in occupied territories is entitled to protection but should not commit hostile acts against the occupying army. Even the Nuremberg Trials accepted that. If someone gets is horrified by a retaliation against civilians ten to one, what should he feel about the bombing of Dresden, in which about 200,000 civilians were burned to death?
All Armies used retaliation, and many used a ratio higher than 10 to 1; i.e. the French and Russians. In March 1945 when General Rose was killed in an ambush, as retaliation the US Forces shot over one hundred German citizens.
The acts of the resistance were again contrary to the International Conventions and in reality were only terrorism, but justified because they ended up on the winning side. The only difference between the partisans and the Al Qaeda men is that the former were killing and escaping, while the latter kill and get killed in the act.
JE comments: Until today I've never heard anyone defend the Italian Social Republic (RSI), usually remembered as the Salò Republic. Eugenio Battaglia reminds us that there were regular folks who were RSI citizens--and as such tried to live normal lives in extraordinary times. (And yes, I've seen the Pasolini film--it's on my all-time "hardest to watch" list.)
I cannot accept Eugenio's comparison between WWII partisans--say, in France and Poland--and today's Al-Qaeda operatives. Why? Let me try to avoid indignation and moral absolutes, and simply say that the WWII partisans were fighting to establish a political order I'd want to live in, and Al-Qaeda isn't.
Finally, Balbo Avenue still exists in Chicago. It probably has kept its name because the aviator was killed in 1940, so he was never actually at war with the US.
- A Father's Wartime Experience: Eugenio Battaglia (John Eipper, USA 02/02/13 7:33 AM)
As a followup to Eugenio Battaglia's WAIS post on his boyhood experience in wartime Italy (30 January), I asked him about his father, who was absent during the war years. Eugenio sent this response, which I post with his permission:
Yes, my father was away for the war. He volunteered in 1940 and was shipped to Libya. He was promoted for valour to Captain with a medal, and surrendered after some delay, in order to try to be the last one to surrender at Cape Bon in May 1943. He considered war according to the old rules of chivalry. Once when he met some British Officer prisoners, few in number as he served in the Artillery, he invited them to dinner. I believe that in Libya, the war between the Axis and the Allies was fought according to the International Conventions--one of the few cases of this in WWII.
My uncle too was taken prisoner at Cape Bon, but he was in an airfield without planes and was captured in a very funny way. An American jeep arrived at the airfield, where they threw a few Italians some cigarettes and said: "Follow us." Both my father and uncle ended up as prisoners in the USA.
I had a big map of North Africa and Italy, where I used to place a small flag to indicate the front line until the day that the front line was placed in my own hometown...
Unfortunately, I do not know many details about my father, because after his return in Italy in very late 1945 he did not recognise his old Italy, had some difficulties with society, including my mother, and soon departed for Brasil. I was in touch with him finally, by phone in 1982 until his death in 1984. At a meeting on Safety of the International Tankers Association, I met the representative of Petrobras, who knew my father and gave me his phone number in São Paulo.
These are the details I do know: He was taken prisoner at Bir Brassine, somewhere in Cape Bon, on May 11, 1943. At first he had some fuss with his Allied captors, as he claimed he was entitled to his pistol, and when he was told "no" he refused to surrender. However, the Allied troops were wiser and decided to wait it out. Some hours later all my father's battery was taken prisoner.
He was taken by car to Orano, then by the ship Monarch he was transferred to Liverpool on July 24. A month later he was shipped to Newport News (Virginia) and from there to Monticello, Arkansas by train. On September 11, 1944, he was transferred to Weingastine (?) [Weingarten? It's south of St Louis--JE] in Missouri, and finally on September 21 1945 he was moved to New Jersey, from where he should have returned to Italy.
As you probably know, the Italian prisoners in the USA received good treatment with plenty of food.
But after September 8 1943, the Italians were divided in "cooperators" and "non-cooperators" (among these were included also the soldiers of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana who were taken prisoner after this date). The cooperators had a good life. My uncle was a cooperator somewhere in the state of New York, where he went to work and even had a girlfriend! I believe that my father was a non-cooperator. Prisoners in this category received, especially in the final months of the war, very harsh treatment and a near-starvation diet, as the various US Commanders of the concentration camps, following orders from Assistant Secretary of War Mr. McCloy, could not accept that they did not wish to cooperate and tried their best (or worst) to convince them. The harshest camp of non-cooperators was in Hereford, Texas. However, when the Italians left, the Commander in his last speech to them saluted them as true soldiers who remained loyal to their old ally Germany.
The camps of the "non-cooperators" were called Fascist Criminal Camps, even if no crime had been committed.
The story of the Fascist Criminal Camps is very interesting but practically unknown.
All the best to WAISdom, and many thanks.
JE comments: My thanks to Eugenio Battaglia for this fascinating (and sad) family story. The experience of Axis POWs in the US rarely draws much attention. I do remember that Missouri took in a good number of POWs--being in the center of the country, it was a safe place to tuck them away. My boyhood town of Louisiana, Missouri, put POWs to work in the local apple orchards; an old-timer once told me he regularly saw a group of "59 Germans and a Jap." [Yes and ouch, that's a sic.] No Italians, but I can imagine they would be considered naturals to put to work in the vineyards of Weingarten, MO.
The popular US image of Italian combatants in WWII is of the reluctant, happy-go-lucky warrior only too happy to surrender to the Americans. The contrasting experiences of Eugenio Battaglia's father and uncle give us a more nuanced perspective.
Italian POWs in the US
(Roy Domenico, USA
02/02/13 3:12 PM)
Again, interesting reading from Eugenio Battaglia (2 February), although as I wrote earlier, I'm not quite sure I share in all of his conclusions.
I have looked into Italian POWs in America a bit--some of it on behalf of my old (and unfortunately, late) friend in Italy, Lamberto Mercuri, who undertook some serious study of the topic. Italians were treated differently from the Germans and the Japanese in part because of cultural impressions--that the Italians weren't as threatening as their Axis partners. This stems from the old stereotype that the Italians made love, not war--that kind of stuff--the attitude that too easily glosses over the real atrocities conducted by the Italians. But it's true, as I think I pointed out before, that as the occupying forces in Greece and the Balkans (and as David Pike points out--in France), they were truly less vicious than the Germans.
The Greeks called the Italian occupiers the "lover boys." There was an interesting (and condescending) British side to this in a 1943 report I saw from an administrator in liberated southern Italy, that the occupying troops were not to treat the locals "as pets." I personally think that some of this does hold water--that the Italian culture has in it an admirable strain of humanity and decency.
But, as might be expected, beyond the cultural, the different treatment also did have a legal side. After the September 8, 1943 Armistice, the Italians simply weren't at war with the US and Britain, and Italy became a "co-belligerent" with them (without having full allied status), therefore placing them in a new legal category. I also remember hearing while I went to grad school in New Jersey, that at the two (I think) camps in that state--in Bayonne and in Piscataway (Camp Kilmer close to the Rutgers campus)--that it was common for the POWs to be "let out" on weekends so they could take the train up to Manhattan or Jersey City or Hoboken to see their relatives or girlfriends. I have since learned that not only did this happen, but that some authorities (state or national I'm not sure) would host the Italians on field trips to the Bronx Zoo, Rockefeller Center and other places! As might be expected, quite a few POWs married and stayed in the US. Can we say that in these precious few cases, war wasn't exactly hell?
JE comments: This discussion is teaching me a lot. Armistice with Italy or not, how could one ever imagine granting "weekend passes" to foreign POWs? I'm sure this was never the case with the Germans or (especially) the Japanese, where even loyal Japanese-American citizens were imprisoned in camps.
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