On 2 May 1942, German destroyers attack the Arctic convoys. Back in March, we saw how German battleship Tirpitz began operating against the Allied convoys to the Soviet Union, showing the Royal Navy once more how vulnerable their freighters are to swift sorties from Germany's bases on the Norwegian coast.
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But this does not stop the British from trying. Convoy PQ 15 leaves Iceland for Murmansk on April 26th under heavy escort by the Royal Navy. They do not see any trouble until May 1st, which comes from an unexpected angle. Amid foggy conditions, destroyer HMS Punjabi suddenly makes a sharp turn to avoid a mine, bringing her in battleship King George's path, who smashes straight into Punjabi's port bow. The destroyer quickly sinks, bringing with her 49 of its crew.
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Today, another friendly fire incident occurs when a destroyer and a minesweeper spot an unidentified target on their sonar. They start dropping depth charges onto what they believe to be a German U-boat. In actuality, they are attacking Polish submarine ORP Jastrząb. When the Poles surface their ship, they are again fired upon, killing five. The British soon rescue the others when they correctly identify the Poles, but they are forced to scuttle the severely damaged submarine.
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While PQ 15 is busy fighting itself, convoy QP 11, heading in the opposite direction, faces repeated German attacks. On April 30th, U-boats strike at QP 11, scoring two hits on British light cruiser HMS Edinburgh. While she begins limping back to Murmansk, three German destroyers head for the now vulnerable convoy QP 11. They severely damage an old destroyer and sink a Soviet freighter before opening the hunt on Edinburgh.
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They find her today while she is in tow. A battle ensues in which the German ships damage two British destroyers, lose one of their own, but manage to score a fatal torpedo hit on Edinburgh. The British scuttle the disabled light cruiser, which sinks to the bottom of the icy ocean along with her precious cargo of gold bars, worth over 70 million pounds by today's standards.
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Photo: British sailors cleaning up the forecastle of HMS Victorious, Arctic, March 1942.
Source: IWM, A 8152
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#Convoy #Destroyer
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On 30 April 1942, German Führer Adolf Hitler and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini meet at the Berghof residence, southern Germany. The two allies last met in August 1941, when they visited the Eastern Front together. After a bumpy flight back to Germany, in which Mussolini -much to Hitler's dismay- piloted the plane, the two parted ways again.
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Now, they meet each other once more in a hastily organized conference in Salzburg to discuss urgent matters. Mussolini arrives by train on the 29th, and after a short exchange of formalities, the two dictators head for Castle Klessheim, where no more time is wasted and the talks proceed immediately.
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The first point on the agenda is the Italian Expeditionary Corps in the Soviet Union. Although its commander, Giovanni Messe, has made it clear that his forces lack the transport capabilities and equipment to sustain more than the current three divisions, Mussolini is eager to increase his presence on the Eastern Front for political reasons. He wants to stay on par with the Romanians, Hungarians, and the Slovaks, and assures Hitler that the Italian force in Russia will grow to over 200.000 men to support him in the summer campaign.
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When talks resume today at the Berghof near Berchtesgaden, the attendees have to live through one of Hitler's (in)famous monologues, which lasts an hour and forty minutes. Armed Forces (OKW) Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl reportedly dozes off on the couch, while Mussolini keeps his eyes on his wristwatch.
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However, they also discuss another urgent issue on the agenda: Malta. Chief of Commando Supremo, Ugo Cavallero, outlines his plans for the seizure of Malta, which involves both amphibious and airborne operations. He has the support of german Commander in Chief South Albert Kesselring, whose planes now command the skies above the island. Hitler is still hesitant after the high losses suffered at Crete, but he approves the plan for mid-July with the condition that Erwin Rommel's forces in Libya will need to have gained the upper hand and taken its immediate objectives such as Tobruk.
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Photo: Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler during their August 1941 visit to the Eastern Front.
Source: NAC, 2-1377
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On 29 April 1942, an explosion kills hundreds in Tessenderlo, Belgium. The quiet town of Tessenderlo has so far escaped the horrors of war, staying unharmed during the invasion of 1940 and away from harsh oppression by the occupation forces. The village is centered around an ammonium nitrate factory, which produces fertilizer and detergents, and employs hundreds of Tessenderlo's inhabitants. Their children go to school in an adjacent building.
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Just before 11:30 hours today, the peace and quiet of Tessenderlo is suddenly and violently disturbed by a massive explosion in the factory. The shockwave causes walls and roofs throughout the town to collapse, while the factory itself is almost completely wiped off the face of the earth.
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The school, too, is badly hit. Sixty of its young students are killed in the explosion. Among them is 16-year-old Jozef Timmermans, who finds himself stuck between two beams, dangling several meters above the ground. German soldiers try to rescue him but are forced to leave him hanging, as moving the beams would make the entire floor collapse and claim even more victims. When he's finally saved a couple of hours later, Jozef has already succumbed to his injuries.
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Young student René Van Thienen survives the explosion and starts running home to check up on his family: 'Having reached home, I saw a horse and carriage. The horse was still standing, but the man lay dead. In the coal warehouse, I found my elder brother. He was alive but in a bad state. The blast had catapulted him against the wall. I stayed with him until his last moments.'
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When the dust has settled, the damage becomes apparent. The explosion leaves a 70 meter (230 ft) wide crater. A thousand people are left injured, while 190 lose their lives. What has caused the explosion is not immediately evident. The Germans suspect the resistance is behind it, who want to stop the ammonium nitrate from being used for explosives. More plausible is the story of the surviving workers, who point to the use of dynamite to separate a 200-ton caked cargo of ammonium nitrate.
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Photo: German soldiers attempting to rescue Jozef Timmermans, 29 April 1942
Source: Karolien Coenen
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#Belgium
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On 28 April 1942, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlines a new national economic plan in another fireside chat. By freezing wages, rationing essential commodities, and increasing the taxes, among other measures, he hopes to increase the government's income and keep prices low. Doing so would help the country obtain 'the enormous quantities of weapons of war which we need.'
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'The blunt fact is that every single person in the United States is going to be affected by this program,' Roosevelt says, but he does not believe 'sacrifice' is 'the proper word with which to describe this program of self-denial.'
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'[...] When, at the end of this great struggle we shall have saved our free way of life, we shall have made no "sacrifice." The price for civilization must be paid in hard work and sorrow and blood. The price is not too high. If you doubt it, ask those millions who live today under the tyranny of Hitlerism.'
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'Ask the workers of France and Norway and the Netherlands, whipped to labor by the lash, whether the stabilization of wages is too great a "sacrifice." Ask the farmers of Poland and Denmark, of Czechoslovakia and France, looted of their livestock, starving while their own crops are stolen from their land, ask them whether "parity" prices are too great a "sacrifice."[...] Ask the women and children whom Hitler is starving whether the rationing of tires and gasoline and sugar is too great a "sacrifice." We do not have to ask them. They have already given us their agonized answers.'
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'[...] As we here at home contemplate our own duties, our own responsibilities, let us think and think hard of the example which is being set for us by our fighting men. Our soldiers and sailors are members of well disciplined units. But they are still and forever individuals - free individuals. They are farmers, and workers, businessmen, professional men, artists, clerks. They are the United States of America. That is why they fight. We too are the United States of America. That is why we must work and sacrifice. It is for them. It is for us. It is for victory.'
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Photo: An American woman hands in silk stockings, 1942.
Source: National Archives
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#FDR #Roosevelt
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On 26 April 1942, 1549 Chinese workers lose their lives in the biggest mining disaster in history. The mine in question is located in Benxi, Manchuria, which has been under Japanese occupation since 1931, when the Imperial Japanese Army marched into the region and seized its natural resources. Since then, and especially since the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Japanese authorities have relied on Chinese forced labor to exploit Benxi's coal riches.
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As you can imagine, conditions at the mine are abysmal. Workers of all ages suffer daily beatings and are barely given anything to eat as they work in the extreme heat and sleep in the unforgiving cold. The thousands of workers are cramped into jam-packed barracks where diseases quickly spread to add to the misery of the workers.
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Today, on another grey and rainy day at the Benxihu coal mine, the ground suddenly thunders and roars when coal dust particles ignite and cause a massive underground explosion. A fire quickly spreads throughout the mineshaft while thousands are still trapped inside the tunnels.
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Soon, bystanders and relatives of the miners start rushing to the entrance to help the trapped workers, only to be stopped by Japanese guards. In an attempt to extinguish the flames and save the mine, the Japanese seal the entrance and stop the flow of oxygen. They do not make any attempt at saving the workers, who are left to suffocate as the mineshaft fills with smoke.
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The fire leaves 1549 dead, making today's accident the biggest mining disaster in history, surpassing the Courrières mine disaster of 1906. It will take ten days for the workers lucky enough to escape the explosion to carry the bodies out of the mines and bury them in mass graves, after which operations will return to normal.
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Photo: Chinese work to repair a railway line under the supervision of a Japanese officer, 1938
Source: Mainichi Newspaper, May 1 1938.
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#Manchuria #Manchukuo #Mine #Mining #Disaster #Tunnel #Collapse #Worker #Laborer #Miner #China #Japan #Benxi #Benxihu #Fire #Coal
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On 25 April 1942, Japanese forces renew their attacks in Chekiang province, China. Back on the 18th, we saw how American bombers under the command of James Doolittle raided the Japanese mainland. They were supposed to land on airfields the Chinese had prepared for them, but their early launch and strong headwinds caused the planes to run out of fuel before they could reach the airstrips. Fifteen of them ended up crash-landing along the Chinese coast.
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Although the Japanese catch 8 of the Doolittle raiders, and three more are killed during the various crash-landings, the over 60 others survive with help from the local Chinese. Under the protection of guerillas, the aviators are smuggled to territory controlled by the Chinese Army, where the wounded receive all the care they need.
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The Japanese, in the meantime, are seriously disturbed by the raid. It has shown them that the Japanese mainland is within range of Allied bombers but that they will need to rely on Chinese airfields to make the return trip. To eliminate this threat, the Japanese Army in China receives orders to ‘defeat the enemy in the Chekiang area and to destroy the air bases from which the enemy might conduct aerial raids on the Japanese Homeland.’
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The main force to be employed in the operation is the Japanese 13th Army, stationed around Shanghai. Starting May 15th, the army is to advance south for hundreds of kilometers and lay waste to the province of Chekiang to prevent the area from ever being used as a base of operations against Japan again. We can expect it to be a bloody affair in which the lines between combatant and non-combatant will be blurred and biological weapons will be used extensively.
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Today, the Japanese 22nd Division begins its preliminary attacks to the offensive while also looking for the Doolittle raiders, torching entire villages in the process. What was a raid to bolster American morale and crack the Japanese one, is turning out to have more considerable consequences than anyone could have imagined.
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Photo: Doolittle raiders Lt James Macia, Lt Jack Sims, S/Sgt Jacob Eierman, and Maj John Hilger in China, April 1942.
Source: U.S. Air Force
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#Doolittle #China #Zhejiang
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On 22 April 1942, British commandos and Canadian troops set out to raid the French coastal town of Hardelot, near Boulogne. During the past months, we have seen how the commandos launched several raids along the French coast, seizing a radar dish at Bruneval and destroying a dry dock at Saint-Nazaire. Although attacks such as these are relatively small in size, they force the Germans to stay on edge and commit a significant chunk of their forces to the coastal defenses. Today, the commandos strike once more.
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They do so at the beach of Hardelot, south of Boulogne. The commandos aim to map out the area, deal some damage to the German defenses, and take a couple of prisoners back to Britain. The mission, codenamed Operation 'Abercrombie', is to be carried out by 100 commandos under Captain Lord Lovat, aided by 50 Canadians from the Carleton and York Regiment, eager to see their first action.
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The first attempt at landing was made back on the 19th, but bad winds and the sinking of a landing craft forced the Allies to call it off. During the early hours of today, they try again. This time, the 100 commandos under Lord Lovat make it to the beach unscathed, where they cut their way through the barbed wire. However, they quickly find out that they have been put ashore too far north of their objective. The commandos decide to push through and expand their perimeter, but they encounter no resistance as the Germans avoid confrontation.
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Meanwhile, the Canadians are struggling to find the beach in the first place. Their Royal Navy navigator has brought a faulty compass which sends them in circles, unable to find the coast. The landing craft then lose sight of each other, while the German machine guns open up on them from a distance. The Canadians decide to abort the mission and return for Britain.
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The Allies suffer one wounded from friendly fire, and probably inflict none. After the spectacular successes at Bruneval and Saint-Nazaire, Operation Abercrombie has been a disappointing failure.
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Photo: Lord Lovat giving orders to his men before the raid on Hardelot, 21 April 1942.
Source: IWM, H 18953
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#Commando #Canada #Hardelot #Dieppe #Raid #SpecialForces #Lovat
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On 17 April 1942, French general Henri Giraud breaks out of Königstein Castle and escapes from German captivity. Giraud has a long history of service behind him, serving in the French military since the beginning of the 20th century, and fighting in the Great War with the rank of captain.
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In 1914, he was captured by the German army at St. Quentin while leading a unit of Zouaves in a bayonet charge. However, he managed to escape to the Netherlands with the help of no one less than Edith Cavell, the nurse who caused so much international commotion when the Germans executed her for treason.
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Twenty-five years later, Giraud once again found himself fighting the Germans, this time commanding the 7th Army in northern France during the western campaign of 1940. On May 19th, he was again captured during a reconnaissance patrol at the front and sent to the high-security prison at Königstein, Eastern Germany.
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Giraud is locked up in an unconquerable castle on a tabletop mountain, surrounded by high walls dating from the 16th century. The place seems perfect for containing an escape-minded individual such as Giraud, but he is unimpressed. He learns to speak German, maps out the area during his daily walks, and notifies his relatives in France of his plans in coded letters.
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Today, Giraud finally decides to make a run for it. He shaves off his mustache, puts on his Tyrolean hat, and descends down the 45-meter (150 feet) cliff with an improvised rope made of twine, copper wire, and bedsheets. Giraud then boards the first of many trains taking him to Switzerland. On his journey, he will have several near misses with the Gestapo, who's after the over six feet (183cm) general with a distinctive limp he gained during the previous European War.
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The Swiss will apprehend him on the border before he can reach Vichy France, but it is highly doubtful that this is the last we'll hear from the troublesome General Henri Giraud.
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Photo: General Henri Giraud during his daily walk in German captivity at Königstein Castle.
Source: U.S. National Archives
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#Giraud #HenriGiraud #General #Escape #Königstein #Prison #Jail #TheGreatEscape #PrisonBreak #France #Gestapo #Alcatraz #StQuentin
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On 16 April 1942, the survivors from the Bataan Death March are trickling in at Camp O’Donnell. Back on the 9th, General Edward King surrendered the men on Bataan to the Japanese with the request that he could organize the transfer to the prisoner of war camps. The Japanese denied this request but were soon up to a surprise.
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The number of soldiers and civilians on the peninsula exceeds their estimates by three to four-fold. As a result, the Japanese have made no adequate arrangements for their captives, who are in a bad way after months of siege. The Japanese decide to move their prisoners 100 kilometers (60 mi), through San Fernando, to Camp O'Donnell. What follows is a march dominated by thirst, death, and sadism, which anywhere between 5.500 and 25.000 men will not survive.
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An example of the savagery the prisoners face along the way by the hands of the Japanese guards can be found in tanker Lester Tenney's account of the Death March, which tells what happens when one stops to rest without permission:
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‘One man in my group, Hank, finally limped over to the side of the road and fell in the brush. Within seconds a guard ran over to him. Some of us passing our fallen friend hollered as loud as we could, "Get up, get up!" It was too late. With his bayonet aimed at Hank's body and while screaming something in Japanese at the top of his voice, the guard bayoneted the exhausted American soldier.’
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‘After five or six jabs, Hank struggled to get up. With blood trickling down the front of his shirt, he hobbled back into the line of marching prisoners and joined a different group of prisoners who were marching by at that particular moment. Hank survived, but not for long. That evening I was told by another friend of ours that Hank had passed out while walking, fell to the road, and was shot by one of the guards. I could not cry; it seemed I was all cried out. All I had left were just memories, memories of a fine young man who did nothing wrong but who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
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Photo: Samuel Stenzler, Frank Spear, and James Gallagher during the Bataan Death March, 1942. None of them would survive the war.
Source: National Archives, 74252422
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#POW
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On 13 April 1942, a British fighter plane strafes a crowd of spectators during a training exercise near Imber, Wiltshire. The area has been under the control of the War Office for decades now, which sees it as a perfect place to conduct military training exercises without disturbing any nearby civilians.
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Today, one such training exercise is in progress for the Royal Air Force, which has set up dummy tanks, troops, and lorries for their fighters to fire upon. A crowd of military spectators watches from a distance of about 800 yards (731 meters) as No. 175 Squadron descends on the targets and opens fire with their machine guns. Five Hurricanes fly by and hit the dummies with great accuracy, but the sixth is nowhere to be seen.
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21-year-old Sergeant William McLachlan, an American volunteer enlisted into the Royal Canadian Air Force, has lost sight of Hurricane No. 5 amid the hazy conditions. A crosswind has driven him off course as he descends from an altitude of about 600 meters (2.000 feet) when he spots what he thinks to be the targets. At about 60 meters (200 feet), he fires a burst of rounds before steering his aircraft back up at around 30 meters (100 feet). As he flies by, McLachlan can see the people falling around and he immediately realizes what he has done. He has missed his target and opened fire on the crowd of spectators.
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The accident leaves carnage on the ground, where 14 are killed on the spot and many more severely wounded. Another five succumb to their injuries on the way to the hospital, while six more die upon arrival. Seventy-one of the spectators survive their injuries.
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The War Office is quick to announce the accident to the public, and an inquiry is made into Sergeant MacLachlan. However, no sanctions follow, and he will continue to fly missions with his Hurricane. The visit by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American Chief of Staff George Marshall to a similar demonstration at Imber in two days will go ahead as planned.
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Photo: A Hawker Hurricane in flight, 9 December 1941.
Source: IWM, A 9826
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#Accident #Imber #Wiltshire #Hurricane #Aviation #Plane #Aircraft #HawkerHurricane #Pilot #Airplane #RAF #RoyalAirForce #Strafe #RAF
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On 12 April 1942, Sergeant Anton Schmid awaits execution in his cell. Born into a devout Catholic family in Vienna in the year 1900, Schmid served in the Austro-Hungarian army during the last months of the Great War. He then lived a quiet life as an electrician until he was drawn into another World War in the fall of 1939.
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Schmid was soon drafted into the Wehrmacht and given a desk job in Vilnius, Lithuania, to oversee the collection of German soldiers who got separated from their units. From his office, Schmid could witness the harassment the Jews of Vilnius endured as they were marched off to the pits of Ponary to be massacred en masse.
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When a Polish Jew by the name of Max Salinger sought his help one day, Schmid provided him with the papers of a fallen soldier and employed him in his office. Salinger would be the first of many as Schmid's name started going round in the ghetto. His apartment became a place of refuge from where Jews were smuggled out, while the carpentry workshop he administered became a safe haven for over a hundred Jewish workers carrying the yellow papers that kept them out of the hands of the SS.
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Not long after, he became an integral part of the ghetto's underground resistance, in which he helped them obtain arms and smuggle individuals in and out of the city. In February of this year, Schmid's luck finally ran out when he was arrested and put on trial, where he was given the death penalty. Tomorrow, he will appear before the firing squad.
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In a last letter to his wife and daughter in Vienna, Schmid writes: 'You can imagine, dearest Steffi and Gerta, that it will be a hard blow for us but please, please forgive me. I have only acted as a human being and I did not want to hurt anyone. My dearest, when you hold this letter in your hands I will no longer be on earth. I will not be able to write anymore but rest assured that we will see each other again in a better world with our dear God.'
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Photo: Anton Schmid with his wife and daughter.
Source: Yad Vashem, Manfred Wieninger
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#Vilnius #Holocaust #Shoa #Shoah #Wehrmacht #AntonSchmid #YadVashem #Remembrance #Hero #Jew #Jewish #Austria #Osterreich #Family #Photo #Ghetto #Wien #Ponary
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