On the 11th April 1961, the trial of Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann began in Israel. Eichmann was known as the architect of the Final Solution, the man who coordinated the transportation of Jews from across Europe to Death Camps in the East.
At the end of the Second World War, Eichmann had fled Europe in an attempt to escape being tried for war crimes. Eventually arriving in Argentina with his family, he lived for a number of years under the assumed name Ricardo Klement. However, as one of the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminals, the Israeli secret police – the Mossad – spent years tirelessly searching for him. After being given the tip-off that he may be in Buenos Aires, they eventually captured him and forcibly took him to Jerusalem for trial.
With Eichmann sitting inside a purpose-built bullet-proof glass booth, the trial lasted 16 weeks and exposed for the first time the extent of the atrocities that occurred in the Holocaust. Eichmann’s main line of defense was that he was not personally involved with the killings, and was just following orders. However, on the 15th December 1961, the three judges hearing the case unanimously found him guilty of the 15 charges against him and sentenced him to death. Eichmann was executed by hanging six months later, his body cremated, and his ashes scattered at sea.
The raid by the Royal Navy and British Commandos was overseen by Combined Operations Headquarters. Their task was to disable the only dry dock on the Atlantic seaboard that was big enough to accommodate the terrifying German battleship Tirpitz. This was vital to British attempts to weaken the German presence in the Atlantic. If the St Nazaire facility could be put out of action, the Germans would have to send Tirpitz home for any repairs and would ultimately keep the dangerous ship out of the Atlantic.
265 commandos and 346 Royal Navy personnel arrived at the French docks in a convoy led by the old British destroyer HMS Campbeltown in the early hours of 28 March. The convoy was spotted before reaching the enormous gates of the dry dock but, despite of intense fire from the German batteries on the shore, Campeltown ploughed into the dock gates at 1.34am. Commandos surged ashore to destroy key dock facilities with explosives while assault teams tried to draw away German defenders. Meanwhile, time fuses attached to explosives hidden in the bow of Campbeltown were set.
With almost all the British evacuation ships destroyed or unable to reach the docks, it became clear that the Commandos left on shore would be unable to leave by sea. They consequently fought on until they ran out of ammunition, after which all but five were taken prisoner. At around noon the explosives inside Campbeltown detonated, destroying the dry dock.
Only 228 men returned to England. 169 had been killed and 205 became prisoners of war, but the raid itself was a success as the dock remained inoperative for the rest of the war.
On the 7th March 1936, the German Army under control of Adolf Hitler violated international agreements by remilitarising the Rhineland. Although Germany had retained political control over the area following the Treaty of Versailles, it had been banned from stationing armed forces there. France reacted with horror, but they didn’t take any action.
The Rhineland area of Germany, which lay on the border with France, had been banned under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles from containing armed forces within a 50km-wide strip. This had later been confirmed by Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann in the Locarno Treaties of 1925. However, by 1936 Hitler had come to power and had begun to break the terms of Versailles by increasing the number of German weapons beyond the agreed limits and reintroducing conscription.
The Western powers had failed to respond to these moves with anything more than diplomatic grumbling, so Hitler felt emboldened to further test the limits of the Versailles settlement. After France and Russia signed the 1935 Franco-Soviet Pact, Hitler chose to send three battalions, or approximately 22,000 German troops, into the Rhineland on the morning of the Saturday 7th March in what he claimed was a defensive move against ‘encirclement’. His own generals were expecting retaliation from France, and Hitler had even ordered an immediate withdrawal if the French army made a move. But it didn’t – France refused to act without the support of Britain, which had been severely weakened by the impact of the Great Depression, distracted by the unfolding Abyssinia Crisis, and sympathised – to an extent – with the German desire to defend its own border.
On the 27th February 1933, the Reichstag building in Berlin was set on fire in an arson attack. Generally accepted to have been conducted by Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe, the fire provided the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler with an opportunity to consolidate Nazi control of the German government.
Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on the 30th January, but had demanded new elections for the Reichstag. These were scheduled to take place on the 5th March, and Hitler hoped to increase the Nazi’s share of the seats in order to pass the Enabling Act and take control of political decisions for himself.
Shortly after 9pm on the evening of the 27th February, Goebbels was informed that the Reichstag was on fire. Although the blaze was extinguished before midnight, the inside of the building was destroyed. Communists were declared responsible, and van der Lubbe was arrested.
The day after the fire, Hitler persuaded President Hindenburg to pass the emergency Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State, which suspended many civil liberties and allowed the Nazis to arrest their opponents. Thousands of communists were rounded up by the SA, along with Social Democrats and liberals, and placed in so-called ‘protective custody’.
Van Der Lubbe was tried, convicted, and executed. Although there is debate over the exact circumstances of the fire, Sir Ian Kershaw says there is consensus among the vast majority of historians that he did set the fire. Whatever the circumstances, the situation was certainly exploited by the Nazis and was the first step in the creation of a single-party state.
The German Empire established its first air force, the Fliegertruppe, in 1910 which saw extensive action in the First World War. Following Germany’s defeat and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was banned from possessing an air force and the Fliegertruppe was dissolved.
Despite the ban, the German military established a secret flight school at Lipetsk in the Soviet Union that began training fighter pilots and ground crew from 1926. This meant that there were already up to 120 trained pilots by the time Hitler came to power in January 1933. Senior Nazi, and former First World War pilot Hermann Goering, was named Reich Commissioner of Aviation.
On 15 May 1933 the Reich Ministry of Aviation took control of all military flying operations. Although often considered by many to be the ‘birth’ of the Luftwaffe the development of military aircraft continued in secret. Having formally approved its position as a third military service alongside the army and navy on 26 February 1935, Hitler and Goering began to reveal the Luftwaffe.
Germany’s expansion of its air force was protested by both France and Britain, the latter of which had begun to strengthen the Royal Air Force in March. However, neither country nor the League of Nations attempted to sanction this blatant defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. Consequently the Luftwaffe continued to grow, and the following year the Condor Legion saw action for the first time as part of the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. As a result, up to 20,000 members of the Luftwaffe gained valuable combat experience.
On the 20th January 1942, a number of senior Nazis met at the Wannsee Conference where they discussed what was referred to as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich called the meeting, in which he outlined the deportation of European Jews to extermination camps in Poland where they would be systematically murdered.
Six months earlier, on the 31st July 1941, Hermann Goering had ordered Heydrich as his second-in-command to submit plans “for the implementation of the projected final solution of the Jewish question”. Heydrich was a trusted member of the Nazi elite, and had been referred to by Hitler as “the man with the iron heart”. He had already helped to organise Kristallnacht, established Jewish ghettos in Nazi-controlled territories, and command the Einsatzgruppen that were responsible for millions of Jewish deaths prior to his planning of the Final Solution.
Heydrich originally planned for the Wannsee Conference to take place on 9th December 1941, but it was postponed due to the USSR’s counter-offensive in the Battle of Moscow and the entry of the USA into the war. Fifteen representatives from a variety of government ministries attended the delayed meeting on the 20th January instead.
By this time hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been killed in the east, and the planning and construction of extermination camps had already begun. The meeting was, therefore, more to ensure coordination between the various government agencies in implementing the deportations.
Minutes from the meeting survive as what is known as the Wannsee Protocol, although the language was edited so that mass extermination was never explicitly recorded.
In November 1923 Hitler had led an attempted coup against the Weimar Government by trying to seize power in the Bavarian city of Munich. The putsch failed and Hitler was found guilty of treason in the subsequent trial. Sentenced to five years imprisonment, he was sent to the Festungshaft prison in the Bavarian town of Landsberg am Lech.
Hitler’s ‘fortress confinement’ provided him with a reasonably comfortable cell in comparison to conventional facilities, and meant that he was able to receive mail and have regular visitors. The discovery in 2010 of more than 500 documents relating the Hitler’s imprisonment show that more than 30 people were able to visit him on his birthday on 20 April 1924, just 19 days into his sentence.
Imprisonment provided Hitler with the opportunity to dictate his autobiography, Mein Kampf, to his deputy Rudolf Hess. It was in this book that Hitler laid out his blueprint for the future of Germany. Although it gained only modest success when it was first published, Winston Churchill later claimed that if world leaders had read it they could have better anticipated the scale of Nazi domestic and foreign policy.
In a memorandum dated 18 September 1924, the Landsberg warden Otto Leybold described Hitler as “sensible, modest, humble and polite to everyone – especially the officers of the facility”. He was released on 20 December 1924 after serving on nine months of his five-year sentence and soon set about rebuilding the Nazi Party which had been banned in Bavaria as a result of the Beer Hall Putsch. The ban was lifted less than two months after Hitler’s release.
On the 25th November 1936, Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. Although directed against the Communist International, the international organisation that sought to create a worldwide communist republic, the treaty was in reality specifically against the Soviet Union.
The idea for an anti-Communist alliance had first been suggested in late 1935, as Hitler and Mussolini sought to present themselves as upholding traditional values in the face of Soviet Communism. However, the plan stagnated while the German foreign ministry weighed up the pros and cons of an alliance with the arch-enemy of their traditional Chinese ally.
By summer 1936 the military were an increasingly dominant force in Japan’s government. Meanwhile Europe was beginning to fear the implications of the Franco-Soviet Alliance that went into effect at the end of March. As a result Hitler pushed ahead with the Pact in the hope of securing an Anglo-German alliance as a result.
The Pact didn’t result in Hitler’s desired alliance with Britain, but did later expand to include Italy. Mussolini’s decision to join with Germany and Japan on the 6th November 1937, two years after the collapse of the Stresa Front with France and Britain, led to the formation of what was to become known as the Axis Alliance.
The Anti-Comintern Pact specifically stated that the signatories would not make any political treaties with the Soviet Union. However, on the 23rd August 1939, Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This caused a rift with Japan, but the relationship began to heal following the later Tripartite Pact in September 1940.
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.