On the 12th June 1942, Anne Frank received a diary as a thirteenth birthday present from her father. Barely three weeks later, Anne and her family went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Her diary, which chronicled her experiences over the next two years, was published posthumously after the war under the title The Diary of a Young Girl and became one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated books.
The Frank family originated in Frankfurt, Germany, but moved away after the Nazi party won local elections in 1933. Anne’s father, Otto, was a businessman who chose to move the family to Amsterdam after receiving an offer to start a company there. However, when the German army invaded the Netherlands in 1940 the family found themselves trapped in a country subjected to anti-Semitic laws.
When, in July 1942, Anne’s older sister Margot was ordered by the Nazi authorities to go to a labour camp, their father instead arranged for the family to go into hiding in a so-called ‘Secret Annexe’ above his office building. It was here that Anne wrote her diary, which she addressed as Kitty. Over three volumes she recorded the relationships between the Frank family, the Van Pels family, and her father’s friend Fritz Pfeffer with whom they shared their confined hiding place.
An anonymous tip-off led to the discovery and arrest of the eight inhabitants on the 4th August 1944. They were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp a month later. Anne died of typhus in early 1945 after being transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She was fifteen years old.
The 6th June 1944 saw the largest seaborne invasion in history, when the Allied forces of the Second World War launched Operation Neptune – more commonly known as the D-Day landings. The amphibious landings in Normandy marked the start of the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Western Europe.
The invasion was focused on a 50-mile long stretch of Normandy coastline that had been divided into five codenamed sections known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the Desert Fox for his leadership of Italian and German forces in the North African campaign, commanded the Nazi defence along what was known as the Atlantic Wall.
Prior to the landings, an airborne force of 24,000 Allied troops had been dropped behind enemy lines to seize or destroy features such as bridges, crossroads and key gun batteries. Despite this, the work of the first seaborne divisions was still difficult as they fought to clear the beaches under heavy fire from the numerous smaller gun emplacements that overlooked them. Rommel had previously identified the Normandy beaches as a possible invasion point and so had installed a range of obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and anti-tank devices that slowed down the Allied landing.
The Allies failed to achieve all their objectives on the first day and suffered at least 10,000 casualties. However, they did successfully establish a foothold on the continent that was gradually expanded over the next few months and led to the liberation of France and the defeat of the Nazis in the West.
Operation Dynamo, better known as the evacuation of Dunkirk, began.
Applauded by the British press as a heroic and miraculous rescue, Operation Dynamo saw an armada under the command of the Royal Navy successfully evacuate over 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches around the French port of Dunkirk.
The German army had invaded France on 10 May, and within just two weeks had cut off and surrounded a combined force of British, French and Belgian troops. Referred to by the recently-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as ‘a colossal military disaster’ the only hope was to retreat to the port of Dunkirk and evacuate as many soldiers as possible.
Operation Dynamo was overseen by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay who reputedly worked in a room within the cliffs of Dover that once housed an electrical dynamo, though there is no reliable evidence for this claim. The order to begin the operation was received at 18:57 on 26 May, less than a week after planning began.
The operation is famous for the flotilla of ‘little ships’ that sailed from Britain to assist the evacuation. Most of these were used to ferry soldiers from the beaches to the large navy ships that would sail across the Channel, although the majority of soldiers boarded ships directly from the stone and concrete mole that protected the harbour.
The evacuation took place amidst ferocious attacks from German aircraft and artillery. In response the Royal Air Force sent all available aircraft to protect the operation. Churchill later praised the fact that hundreds of thousands of soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkirk, but in a speech on 4 June needed to warn the public that ‘Wars are not won by evacuations.’
Josef Mengele, the Nazi ‘Angel Of Death’, was transferred to begin work at Auschwitz concentration camp.
Menegele had been a member of a right-wing paramilitary group that was absorbed into the Nazi SA in 1934. In 1937 he formally joined the Nazi Party and, the following year, began serving in the SS. By the start of 1943 Mengele had proved himself as both an effective medical officer in the field and a dedicated member of the Race and Resettlement Office.
Having developed an interest in the study of twins as part of his earlier genetics research, Mengele applied for a transfer to the concentration camp service. He was posted to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 24 May 1943 where he initially served as the chief physician in the Romani family camp.
As he moved up the ranks numerous sources record his delight in taking part in the “selections” that determined which prisoners were to be killed in the gas chambers and which were to be spared, as these often provided him with new subjects.
Mengele’s experiments involved such gruesome actions as injecting live subjects with chemicals, purposefully infecting people with diseases and, in one well-evidenced case, sewing two twins together in an attempt to create conjoined twins. Mengele was consequently responsible for the deaths of numerous victims thanks to his sadistic and barbaric actions.
Mengele was evacuated from Auschwitz in January 1945 and gradually moved West, escaping capture by the USSR. He was eventually taken as a prisoner of war by the Americans in June but, due a combination of factors, was later able to obtain false papers and flee to South America where he died, having evaded capture for war crimes, in 1979.
The Battle of Berlin ended after German General Helmuth Weidling surrendered to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov.
Determined to capture Berlin before the Western Allies, Stalin’s generals began their assault on the defensive line of the Oder and Neisse rivers on the morning of 16 April. 2 million German civilians and no more than 200,000 German soldiers were in and around Berlin when the USSR broke through the defences having suffered casualties in the tens of thousands.
Travelling at up to 30-40km a day, the first Red Army troops reached Berlin in time for Hitler’s 56th birthday on 20 April. Artillery began bombarding the city and didn’t cease until the surrender almost two weeks later. Meanwhile other Soviet units encircled the city leading to Hitler, who was based in the Führerbunker, angrily declaring that the war was lost. Nevertheless he appointed General Weidling to command the Berlin Defence Area with a force of 45,000 soldiers supported by police officers, members of the Hitler Youth, and the Volkssturm militia.
By 30 April Soviet troops had reached the Reichstag and, late that evening, successfully placed a flag on top that was removed the following morning by German defenders. The building was finally taken over on 2 May and a new flag was raised, of which an iconic photograph was taken. General Weidling and his staff surrendered the same morning having failed to negotiate a conditional surrender.
Following the surrender the Soviets sought to restore essential services and provide food to the German survivors. However, some troops who reached the city lacked the discipline of the first echelon and committed shocking crimes against Berliners including rape, pillage and murder.
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.