Einstein, who was Jewish, was undertaking a visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena when Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor on 30 January 1933. With the Nazis expanding their power in Germany, Einstein chose not to go home when he returned to Europe in March. When his ship docked at the Belgian port of Antwerp on 28 March he renounced his German citizenship by handing in his passport at the German Consulate.
While the Nazis seized Einstein’s cottage and converted it to a Hitler Youth camp, the government barred Jews from teaching at universities and the German Student Union burned his books. With a bounty on his head, Einstein stayed in Belgium for a few months before moving to Britain where he was guarded by his friend, naval officer Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson.
While a refugee in Britain, Einstein lobbied foreign governments and universities to find employment for former German Jewish scientists. Many places were found around Europe, with over 1,000 German Jewish scientists being placed in Turkish universities alone, but Einstein himself was refused British citizenship and instead accepted an offer from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey. He departed England on 17 October 1933.
Although Einstein initially intended to only stay in the United States for a short time, in 1935 he chose to seek American citizenship, which he gained in 1940. By this time he had warned President Roosevelt about the danger of Hitler developing nuclear weapons, and encouraged the United States to begin its own research.
On September 12th 1919, Adolf Hitler officially joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP). At the time no membership cards were issued but, when they made available in January 1920, Hitler was given membership number 55 although he later claimed in Mein Kampf to have been the seventh. Hitler was actually the seventh executive member of the Party’s central committee. His membership card actually identified him as number 555 since the party began its numbering at 500 in order to make it appear to have more members than it really did.
At the time Hitler was working as an army intelligence officer who had been tasked with infiltrating the German Workers’ Party. However, he was attracted to the angry rhetoric of the founder – Anton Drexler – and during a party meeting in the first floor restaurant of the Sterneckerbräu beer hall in Munich on the 12th September put forward a passionate argument denouncing the views of another speaker. In Mein Kampf Hitler describes Drexler as being impressed by his oratorical skills, which resulted in him being invited to join the party.
Despite members of the army not being permitted to have membership of a political party, Hitler was given special permission to join the DAP. However, before long his role in the party began to eclipse his role in the military and he was discharged from the army on the 31st March 1920 after which he began working full-time for the renamed National Socialist German Workers Party.
The Sterneckerbräu building still exists in Munich, although the beer hall has gone and it is now used for residential and commercial purposes.
The Nazi German Luftwaffe launched the first of 57 consecutive days and nights of bombing raids on London in what became known as the Blitz.
The Luftwaffe had been attacking British targets in the Battle of Britain since June 1940. This was an attempt to achieve air superiority over the RAF to enable a land invasion by the Nazis or force the British government to sue for peace.
Having failed to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain, Hitler and Göring instead ordered a policy designed to crush civilian morale. The first raid of the Blitz took place on 7 September in which over 337 tons of bombs were dropped on London, and 448 civilians were killed. The earlier decision by Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding Fighter Command, to focus on day fighter defences meant that Britain was woefully unprepared for German bomber attacks at night when they became the official policy on 7 October.
The Luftwaffe used technology known as beam navigation to locate their target, in which the crews had to detect converging radio signals from two or more ground stations. Britain countered this by transmitting false navigation signals that were designed to send the incoming crews off course. They also created a number of dummy targets such as diversionary airfields and industrial targets that used lighting effects to simulate factories and transport.
By the end of the Blitz on 11 May 1941, approximately 41,000 tons of bombs had been dropped by the Luftwaffe and more than 40,000 civilians had been killed. Yet, despite the psychological pressures of the situation in which class divisions and anti-Semitism often surfaced, British society continued to function, morale remained high and British industrial production actually rose.
On the 25th August 1944, the Nazi German garrison in Paris surrendered the city to the Allies. Having been rules by the Nazis for over four years, the liberation of the capital was not a priority for the forces under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Furthermore, the Allied commanders were unwilling to risk the destruction of the city since they were aware that Hitler had said it, “must not fall into the enemy’s hand except lying in complete debris”.
A series of actions by the Nazis against French political prisoners and members of the resistance sparked mass civil unrest that began on the 15th and climaxed on the 18th August with a general strike. Aware that the US Third Army led by General Patton was close to Paris – but unaware that they did not intend to attack the city – the Nazi military governor ordered explosives to be placed at strategic points.
When the German military withdrew down the Champs Élysées on the morning of the 19th, the French Forces of the Interior – the French resistance – seized the opportunity to begin a full-scale uprising. Barricades were erected the next day, with fighting reaching a peak on the 22nd. It was this that persuaded Eisenhower to change his plan and allow Allied troops to enter Paris.
Over 800 resistance fighters died before the Free French 2nd Armoured Division arrived to assist the uprising just before midnight on the 24th August, led by Captain Raymond Dronne. On the 25th, the US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Von Choltitz, the German military governor, surrendered later that day.
On 23rd August 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop – the Soviet foreign minister and the German foreign minister – signed the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, otherwise known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Outwardly it was a guarantee that neither side would fight against the other in war, but a ‘secret protocol’ also outlined how Eastern Europe would be divided between the two countries. This agreement cleared the way for the Nazi invasion of Poland just nine days later.
Stalin’s Communist USSR distrusted Hitler’s Nazi Germany, knowing that ultimately Hitler intended to invade and annex Russia. Similarly, Britain distrusted Stalin due a fear of Communism. Although talks took place between Britain and Russia in early August 1939 regarding a possible alliance against Hitler, they were never taken seriously by the British government who sent their representative by a slow boat and gave him no authority to actually make any decisions.
Frustrated, Stalin’s government received Ribbentrop later that month. He proposed the Nazi-Soviet agreement which, in the face of continued British reluctance to form an alliance, was accepted. The Soviet government almost certainly knew that Hitler would break the non-aggression pact at some point and would invade Russia, but at least the pact delayed that and gave time to prepare.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact was broken less than two years after it was signed, when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa on the 22nd June 1941. All the territory gained by Russia under terms of the ‘secret protocol’ was lost in just a matter of weeks.
RAF Flight Officer T. D. Dean became the first Allied jet pilot to achieve a combat victory when he ‘tipped’ a Nazi German V-1 ‘doodlebug’ flying bomb with his Gloster Meteor jet fighter.
The V-1 was specifically designed for terror bombing civilians, and had first been used on 13 June 1944. The RAF began to investigate ways to intercept and destroy the Nazis’ new weapon, and soon found that they could be tipped over by positioning an aircraft’s wing to within 6 inches of the V-1’s wing. This manoeuvre used the changing airflow of the interceptor’s wing to force the V-1 upwards, confusing the flying bomb’s gyroscope and resulting in it diving into the ground before reaching its target. The first aerodynamic flip manoeuvre was performed by Major R. E. Turner on 18 June, using a North American P-51 Mustang.
The following month, No. 616 Squadron of the RAF received the first ever Gloster Meteor jet planes. This new aircraft, equipped with Sir Frank Whittle’s revolutionary turbojet engines, could reach speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour and placed it well within reach of the average speed of a V-1. The hope was that the new Meteors would be able to shoot the flying bombs down using their 20mm cannons, but the guns had a habit of jamming.
On 4 August Flight Officer T. D. Dean experienced a problem with his Meteor’s cannons as he approached a V-1. He consequently resorted to the tipping manoeuvre and successfully sent the bomb off course. It is believed to have crashed on farmland near Headcorn in Kent, where shrapnel said to be from the explosion can be detected deep inside the trunk of a nearby oak tree. The destruction of this V-1 marked the first ever ‘kill’ for an RAF jet plane.
On the 2nd August 1934, the 86 year old German Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg died of lung cancer and Adolf Hitler became both the Führer and Reich Chancellor of the German People. It effectively merged the offices of both the President and Chancellor into one role, and therefore completed what the Nazis referred to as Gleichschaltung (or “Co-ordination”) by establishing Hitler as both Germany’s head of state and head of government.
Interfering with the post of President was illegal under the terms of the 1933 Enabling Act, and although Hitler merging the two positions removed any political checks and balances of his personal domination of Germany, a plebiscite held 17 days later on the 19th August saw an enormous 90% of people approving of the change.
Hitler’s assumption of the role of Führer also allowed the Nazi Party to more actively pursue its promotion of the ideology of Führerprinzip. This stated that Hitler possessed absolute control over the German government. Supported by a propaganda machine that relentlessly pushed the slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer – which translates as “One People, One Empire, One Leader” – the Führerprinzip also confirmed the Nazi Party’s complete control over every element of German society. This ranged from local government to factories and even to the management and control schools, although in terms of government it sometimes meant that officials were reluctant to make decisions without Hitler’s personal input or approval. It was also used by Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials to argue that they were not guilty since they were only following orders.
On the 27th July 1942, Allied forces in North Africa stopped the advancing Axis powers in the First Battle of El Alamein. Having been defeated at the Battle of Gazala in Libya the previous month, the British Eighth Army had retreated first to the Egyptian town of Marsa Matrouh 100 miles inside the border and then to the more easily defended line at El Alamein just 80 miles away from the city of Alexandria. This was effectively the Allies’ final hope of protecting Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, the British headquarters in Cairo and, ultimately, the Suez Canal.
The Allied position at Alamein marked the narrowest defensible area between the sea and the Qattara Depression, which lay 20 miles to the south. The position ensured that Erwin Rommel, the German tank commander, would be unable to use his favoured form of attack which involved outflanking his enemy. Furthermore, the position stretched the Axis supply line perilously thin and so starved the advancing army of water, fuel and ammunition.
Despite these resource problems, Rommel ordered the 90th Light Infantry Division to begin its advance at 3am on the 1st July. Although the Axis did eventually succeed in breaking through, the advance took most of the day and gave the Allies time to organise more defences along the line. The battle continued for nearly 4 weeks, with both sides attacking and counter-attacking. However, in the end the battle ended in stalemate with both sides taking time to reorganise and re-equip. However, the Allies had succeeded in stopping the Axis advance.
On the 10th May 1941 Deputy Fuhrer of the German Party, Rudolf Hess, flew from Germany to Scotland on a mission to strike a peace deal with the British government. Other than a couple of close confidantes, nobody – not even Hitler himself – knew what Hess had planned.
In preparation for his mission, Hess had learned how to fly a 2-seater Messerschmitt Bf 110, that was adapted to his specifications. Travelling solo, and navigating by spotting landmarks on the ground, Hess reached the north-east coast of England at around 9pm. Continuing in the air for another two hours, Hess parachuted out of his plane six hours after departing Germany. He landed just 12 miles away from his intended destination of Dungavel House, the home of the Duke of Hamilton with whom he hoped to open peace negotiations.
Hess’ arrival in Britain was not met with the enthusiasm he had hoped. He was discovered by a ploughman working in a nearby field, but soon found himself in custody. Back in Germany, Hitler is said to have taken Hess’ mission as a personal betrayal and signed a secret order that he be shot on sight if he ever returned.
Hess was held in Britain until the end of the war, after which he was found guilty of crimes against peace at the Nuremberg War Trials that resulted in life imprisonment at Spandau Prison in Berlin. When he died in 1987, he had been the prison’s only inmate for 21 years.
The 8th May 1945 was Victory in Europe Day – a public holiday to celebrate the end of the Second World War. The act of military surrender was authorised by Nazi leader Karl Dönitz, who had become Reichspräsident after Adolf Hitler committed suicide at the end of April.
The German army originally only wished to surrender to the Western Allies, and therefore continue to fight against the Soviets. American General Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to accept such terms, and insisted on a complete unconditional surrender. Realising the futility of continuing the war, Dönitz agreed. However, although the complete unconditional surrender was signed on 7th May in the city of Reims in France, the Soviet Union’s representative in the city did not have the authority to accept it. Therefore, a second Instrument of Surrender was signed the next day in Berlin by Georgy Zhukov, the Soviet officer who had led the Red Army through Eastern Europe. As the Berlin surrender was signed after midnight Moscow time, the former Soviet Union marks the 9th May as Victory Day.
VE Day was celebrated with jubilant scenes across the world, much as the end of the First World War had been met with cheers and dancing. It’s therefore quite ironic that the 8th May also marks the date when Edward George Honey, in a letter to the London Evening Standard in 1919, first suggested that the end of war should be marked by a period of silence rather than celebration, making him the first person to suggest the Remembrance Day silence.