Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Muriel Phillips: A Nursing Student on December 7th, 1941

Muriel Phillips during the Battle of the Bulge.  Photo courtesy of Muriel P. Engeelman

When Muriel Phillips heard the news, on December 7, 1941, that the United States Navy had been bombed by the Empire of Japan, she was in her final year of nurse's training at Cambridge Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The following day, all the nurses on her floor gathered around the radio in the doctor's office to hear President Roosevelt give his "Date of Infamy" speech, which informed the American people that the United States had declared war on Japan.

There was no question in Muriel's mind what she would do: right after she finished her nuse's training, she would enlist in the armed services as an army nurse.

Opening paragraphs of "Muriel Phillips: US Army Nurse" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Muriel's memoir: Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Irene Gut: A Choice

The hotel was right next to Radom's Jewish ghetto, and one day Irene witnessed a horrible sight. Jews in the ghetto -- including pregnant women and children -- were screaming, trying to run from SS officers who were chasing them down, trying to kill them. Then Irene saw one officer catch a mother holding an infant. With one movement of his hand, he pulled the baby away from its mother and threw it to the ground on its head.

Irene was horrified. She had been raised in a very sheltered, religious home and couldn't understand how God could allow such terrible things to occur. She wanted to turn her back on God, to leave her faith. But then she realized something; God gives everyone a free will, to choose either good or evil. The Nazis had obviously chosen evil. What would her choice be?

Irene already knew the punishment for helping Jews. She had seen and heard the warning many times, on posters and loudspeakers broadcasting in the street: "Whoever helps a Jew shall be punished by death." Irene made a decision. She told God that if she had an opportunity to help the Jews, she would, although it meant risking her own life . . .

Excerpt from "Irene Gut: Only a Young Girl" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Irena Sendler: Rescuer of Jewish Children

...Even as she was imploring children to memorize their new Christian identities so that their lives could be saved, Irena was also preserving each child's true identity. She made up a list on small strips of tissue paper that contained each child's false Polish name, true Jewish name, and the location where he or she was currently living. She placed two identical lists into two separate bottles and buried them under an apple tree in a friend's yard. She had to be extremely careful in hiding the lists; if the Nazis found them, they would be able to track down every single child Irena had saved.

On October 20, 1943, Irena was having a party to celebrate her name day (the date she had been baptized in the Catholic Church). She set aside the identification lists that she had been updating. Her friend, an associate in the work to hide Jewish children, stayed overnight.

Suddenly, in the early morning hours, there was a horrendous pounding at the door. It was the Gestapo!

Excerpt from "Irena Sendler: Life in a Jar" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hortense Daman: One Last Chance

A tall German officer in an SS uniform stepped onto a train car loaded with female prisoners, their hands and feet chained to their train seats. He glanced around the car until he noticed one particular prisoner, a pretty 17-year-old girl. He walked over to her.

"I'll give you once last chance," he said.

"I don't understand," the girl replied.

The officer almost smiled. "I'll give you your freedom, set your free, if you can tell me where I can find your brother."

"I can't help you," the girl replied.

"Can you hear what I'm saying to you?" he asked again. "Do you understand?"

"I've nothing to say," she replied.

The officer knew that this girl had been subjected to 30 days of beatings and interrogation by the Belgian SS. They were all looking for her brother, Francois Daman, a leading member of the local Resistance who had thus far skillfully evaded their grasp. The girl had taken beating after beating but repeatedly refused to reveal her brother's whereabouts.

This officer was an experienced interrogator who had seen grown men break down and betray their associates under similar treatment. This young woman had been beaten day after day but had remained silent . . .

"A pity, Hortensia," he said. He stepped back, snapped his heels together, and saluted her. "I wish you had been a German." Then he stepped off the train. The wheels of the train began to squeak. It was headed for Ravensbruck, a place called L'Enfer des Femmes or "the Women's Inferno." It was a concentration camp for women . . .

Excerpt from "Hortense Daman: Partisan Courier" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Quotations taken from pages 188-189 of "Child at War: The True Story of a Young Belgian Resistance Fighter."

Ebba Lund: The Girl with the Red Cap

Danish Jews. This photo was most likely taken upon their safe arrival in Sweden.
Soon hundreds of Jews were flocking to Copenhagen and being sent to Sweden in the group of boats that Ebba had organized. Most of the other Danish rescue missions operated only under cover of darkness but Ebba did her work by the light of day. Her reasoning was that the Germans had established a sundown curfew and she didn't want to invite extra trouble. Plus, who would suspect an illegal rescue operation to be occurring in broad daylight?

During the rescue operations, Ebba became known as the Girl with the Red Cap, Red Cap, or Red Riding Hood because she would wear a red cap as a silent signal to the Jews who would be escorted to the port with directions to look for her. Ebba would then walk them down to the boats, pay the fishermen, and make sure the Jews got away safely . . .

One day, after Ebba had helped a group of Jews into a boat and had already taken off her red cap, she was standing on the pier about to pay the fishermen when five Germans in Wehrmacht uniforms began walking toward her . . .

Excerpt from "Ebba Lund: The Girl with the Red Cap" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Irene Gut: "Only a Young Girl"

Irene Gut, a 19-year-old Polish girl, took a seat in the church, her mind filled with worries about food and heat, worries that would have been inconceivable to her just a few years before. The German blitzkreig that had rained fire from the sky two years earlier, when she had been a 17-year-old student nurse, had turned her beloved Poland into smoke, rubble, and ash. Irene had fled from the hospital with the other doctors and nurses as they had followed the retreating Polish army amid the screeching chaos of the blitzkreig. They had traveled east for miles and miles with no particular destination; just as far away as possible from the unstoppable German onslaught.

After learning that their country no longer existed -- that Hitler and Stalin had divided Poland between themselves -- they ended up near the Soviet border in the forests of Lithuania and the Polish Ukraine in a desperate struggle to survive. And try and she might, Irene could never forget the worst experience of all; being discovered, beaten, and raped by Soviet soldiers.

Now she was finally back in her hometown of Radom, Poland. But it was not the same town she remembered. Swastikas were everywhere. Jews were beaten and mocked in the streets. Nazi soldiers regularly shot anyone suspected of overt rebellion as well as anyone who accidentally broke one of the numerous new laws. All the Poles were near starvation, eating what little they could get with the strict ration cards distributed by the Germans while the occupiers ate to their fill.

Irene was suddenly stirred from her worries. She could hear German soldiers outside the church, shouting orders loudly . . .

Opening paragraphs from "Irene Gut: 'Only a Young Girl'" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

On February 3, 1943, after the Nazi government admitted to defeat by the Soviets at Stalingrad, Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, and Willi Graf went out that night (as well as two subsequent nights, February 8 and 15) and painted slogans such as "Freedom," "Down with Hitler," and "Hitler mass murderer" in public places all over Munich.

Then they decided to do something even bolder. On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie carried a large suitcase filled with copies of the sixth White Rose pamphlet into a lecture hall at the University of Munich. They placed piles of the leaflets outside the classrooms, on windowsills, and on the large stairway that led down to the main floor.

They had just left the building when Sophie suddenly realized that there were perhaps 100 nore leaflets left in the suitcase. They went back inside . . .

Excerpt from "Sophie Scholl: The White Rose" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Martha Gellhorn's First Encounters with the Nazis

Martha Gellhorn in Spain in the 1930's. JFK Memorial Library

Martha Gellhorn first knew she wanted to be a writer when she was a 16-year-old student at the John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Missouri. Encouraged in her writing endeavors by two of her English teachers, she decided to send several of her poems to the celebrated poet Carl Sandburg. He wrote back saying, "If you must be a writer, you will be."

Her mother, a suffragette leader and social reformer, and her father, a medical doctor who at the time was one of the only whites in St. Louis to regularly invite black people to dinner with his family, had instilled a strong desire to learn in their three sons and their daughter. But after three years at Bryn Mawr College, Martha decided that her thirst for knowledge could not be satisfied in a college setting. She wanted to write novels in Europe and thought that journalism would be a way to make a living while doing what she loved . . .

In 1934, while living and writing in France, Martha was included as part of a special delegation of young French people invited to Berlin, Germany, to strengthen ties of friendship between France and Germany. After the train of young people arrived in Berlin, Martha and her friends were shocked when German border guards walked into their train car and confiscated their books and newspapers. They responded by singing the "Marseillaise," the rousing French national anthem.

The rest of the trip did little to change Martha's negative opinion of Nazi Germany. The Hitler Youth movement seemed too boisterously patriotic, and everyone seemed obsessed with race, especially the supposed superiority of the Aryans over all others, particularly the Jews. As Martha's parents were both half Jewish, she found this very disturbing . . .

Opening paragraphs of "Martha Gellhorn: War Correspondent" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Johtje Vos: Rescuer

Johtje and Aart Vos didn't sit down one day and decide to begin rescuing Jews from the Nazis in their Dutch village of Laren. Their rescue work began with a piano, a child, and a suitcase.

When their good freinds, professional musicians Nap and Alice de Klijn, were ordered to move into the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, the de Klijn's signed over ownership of one of their pianos to Johtje to protect if from the Germans. The de Klijn's also had a child who was hiding with another family, and when that hiding place suddenly became unsafe, Johtje and Aart took the child into their home, no questions asked. And when another good friend received word that he was also being forced to move to the Jewish section of Amsterdam, he asked the Voses if they would hide a suitcase of valuables for him. They agreed.

Before long the Voses had joined a Resistance organization composed of other like-minded people in the Laren area. The members of the Laren Resistance called themselves the Group. The Voses agreed to work for the Group by using their home as a hiding place for anyone on the run from the Nazis.

Opening paragraphs of "Johtje Vos: A Group Effort" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Johtje Vos: The SS and the NSB Arrive

Suddenly a black Gestapo car pulled up in front of the house. Aart and the hiders ran for the tunnel. The ID cards were still on the table. What was Johtje to do? Their nine-year-old son Peter had just come running down the stairs when he heard the commotion. Johtje stuffed the cards into his sweater and then told him to walk away quietly. Peter clearly understood what was going on, so he took a ball outside and began to bounce it up and down. When he passed the officers, he played his part well, greeting them politely as he walked farther and farther away.

Johtje was horrified that she had put her son in such danger, but as the men walked in, she watched Peter out of the corner of her eye until she knew that he was safe. Now she had other things to worry about. Standing in her house were a German SS officer, a Dutch NSB officer, and Jan, his faced bruised and swollen. He begged Johtje to tell the men the location of the rubber stamps they were looking for. If she handed them over, they would spare his life.

Johtje didn't know what to do. Should she save her Resistance friend and tell the truth? Or should she deny any knowledge of the stamps, thereby saving everyone in the Laren Group, both the hiders and resisters?

Excerpt from "Johtje Vos: A Group Effort" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hortense Daman: Partisan Courier

Hortense had been only 13 when German had invaded Poland in 1939. Her brother, Francois, then 26, was a sergeant in the Belgian army. When Germany invaded and conquered Belgium in May of the following year, Francois began to work for the Red Cross, but that work was just a cover. In reality, he had joined the Belgian Army of Partisans, one of several large militant Resistance organizations in Nazi-occupied Belgium.

Francois asked Hortense to join the Partisans for two reasons. He knew that its work would not be successful without the help of female volunteers. He could also see that if he didn't give her something to do, Hortense might get involved on her own. Francois would rather that Hortense worked closely with him so that he could keep an eye on her.

He asked her to distribute copies of Belgium's most popular underground newspaper, "La libre Belgique" ("Free Belgium"). Then he asked her to deliver a letter to someone she would find sitting on a park bench. Soon, Hortense was doing regular courier work for Francois, delivering important items from place to place. Their mother owned a grocery store in their hometown of Louvain, so Hortense could perform these duties while riding her bike, supposedly delivering groceries. Some of the time she was actually doing just that, but they were black market groceries -- obtained illegally, without ration cards -- used to feed Allied airmen who were being hidden until they could be safetly escorted back to England.

Soon, Hortense's bike basket was filled with more than just groceries: she began delivering explosives for the Partisans . . .

Excerpt from "Hortense Daman: Partisan Courier" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade: Leader of Alliance

Marie-Madeleine was starting to feel fairly confident in her work for Alliance when she suddenly discovered that her job title had changed drastically. Navarre had been arrested! He was sentenced to two years in prison by the Vichy government, headed by Marshal Petain. Up until this moment many in France, and even some in Alliance, had believed that Petain might have been secretly working with General de Gaulle, the head of the French Resistance in London, even as he pretended to oppose him. But when Navarre was sentenced to two years in prison, all hope was gone. Some members of Alliance were now confused. Who was the man to be trusted, Petain or Navarre?

Marie-Madeleine hadn't the slightest doubt about the answer to this question. Petain had condemned General de Gaulle to death and had made a bargain with the Germans. Navarre, on the other hand, she would trust with her life. And now he was putting his trust in her, only in a greater way . . . the work and safety of the Alliance members -- 3,000 spies -- would be on her shoulders for the duration of the war. She would also have sole responsibility for deciding which pieces of information were important enough to send to the French Resistance offices in London. There was no question of stepping down. She was determined to continue the work of Alliance.

The Alliance spies were so numerous and so successful that they eventually came to the attention of the Germans. Many Alliance agents were captured and interrogated, and unfortunately, some of them surrendered information. Names were given out. The Germans were on the lookout for those in high positions in the network; if they could find them and get them to talk, Alliance might be destroyed.

Excerpt from "Marie-Madeleine Fourcade: Only a Woman" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monica Wichfeld: Irish Heroine of the Danish Resistance

A woman carrying a large, heavy bag walked quietly onto a pier where a rowboat was tied, awaiting her use. It was past midnight, but the moon was bright and lit her way as she rowed silently through the still waters of the lake. On these quiet, moonlit nights, this lake reminded her of her childhood, when she used to create magical imaginary worlds with her beloved brother Jack on the lake of their beautiful estate in Northern Ireland.

She still couldn't bear to speak Jack's name aloud, even though he had been killed many years before, during World War I. That war had been started in part, as the current one had, by the Germans, and she would never forgive them for the conflict that took her brother's life. That is why Monica Wichfeld was now risking her life and safety by rowing the two miles across the lake with a bag full of explosives to be used by the Danish Resistance.

Opening paragraphs from "Monica Wichfeld: Irish Heroine of the Danish Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

The Danish Rescue of the Jews: Ebba Lund

Many Danes were content with the polite German occupation, but others were deeply offended and joined Resistance organizations. Some of these organizaions were involved with explosives, weapons, and acts of sabotage and assassination. Others, like the ones Ebba Lund and her sister, Ulla, joined, published illegal underground newspapers. By 1942, two years after the invasion, there were 48 different underground papers in Denmark (and by the end of the war there were 166). "Frit Danmark" (Free Denmark), the paper for which Ebba Lund worked, was the most popular of all Denmark's underground presses because of its lively writing style and its inclusion of many different political opinions, both liberal and conservative. By the end of the war, over six million copies of "Frit Danmark" had been published.

The debate over the necessity for illegal groups and newspapers ended with the publication of another paper, the public one that Ebba had just read. It stated that because of the rise of sabotage activities, the Danish government had lost its ability to maintain order and was being shut down.

The Danish government had resigned the day before the edict, on August 28, rather than cooperate with the Germans any longer. The Danes were finally united and not a moment too son; shortly afterward plans for a roundup of all Danish Jews became known. The Germans ran Denmark now, and nothing was going to stop them in their question to destroy all of Europe's Jews.

Nothing except the Danes. They quickly took action. Sweden had promised to accept any and all Danish Jews who could be brought there. All over Denmark, rescue plans were set in motion. Ebba joined the sabotage-oriented Resistance group Holger Danske (named for a legendary Danish hero), which was planning to work its rescue operation out of Copenhagen . . .

Excerpt from "Ebba Lund: The Girl with the Red Cap" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Muriel Phillips, U.S. Army Nurse: Normandy

US Army nurses in Chester, England, before D-Day. Muriel Phillips is in front, saluting the brass.

"For their next assignment, Muriel and her entire hospital unit . . . were going to cross the English Channel to nurse the wounded of the Normandy invasion (which had taken place several weeks earlier) and await orders for their final destination.

The nurses decided to sleep on the ship's deck as the rooms below were infested with bedbugs. Muriel could hear the German planes flying overhead as she lay in the darkness; she had learned the difference bretween the sound of a German plane and an Allied one. But because a blackout had been ordered on the ship, all the lights had been extinguished. Muriel and the other nurses were not visible to the enmy planes as their transport ship crossed silently thorugh the dark waters of the English Channel.

A trip across the Channel usually took only two or three hours, but all the debris in the water -- broken remnants of airplanes, pieces of ruined ships -- had slowed the trip down substantially so that it took them three days. Finally, the coast of Normandy came into view . . .

As their trucks approached the nearest village, Muriel and the others became silent. The sights -- and smells -- of war were everywhere. Homes and farms lay in ruins. Piles of rubble lay where buildlings had once stood. The smell of death and decay hung in the air . . ."

Excerpt from "Muriel Phillips: U.S. Army Nurse" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Pearl Witherington: In France After D-Day

Pearl Witherington (far right), Henri Cornioley (third from left), and other French resisters who worked with them after D-Day. 
Courtesy of Herve Larroque.

The Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France -- D-Day -- had finally come. Urgent orders had come from London to obstruct the roads to hinder German troops from getting to the Normandy coast, where the Allies had just landed. Pearl Witherington, an SOE agent, and the rural French maquis fighters she was working with had been very busy for two days following these orders, blocking the roads in their area with felled trees and large pieces of debris.

A young man who had just bicycled in from Paris, 80 miles northeast, was outside the gatehouse of the chateau property where Pearl and her team of maquis were living. Pearl questioned him about the condition of the roads to the north.

She was shocked by what he told her: the only obstructions he had seen were in their immediate area. None of the other networks had obeyed the order. The Germans, always trying to weed out bands of maquis, would certainly come looking for whoever had created these obstructions.

Two days later a low-flying reconnaissance plane (referred to by the maquis as the Snoop) flew over Pearl's area. Had the pilot seen them?

Apparently so . . .

Opening paragraphs of "Pearl Witherington: The Courier Who Became a Leader" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Read Pearl's edited memoirs here. 

U.S. Army Nurses: Work, Play, and Song

U.S. Army nurse Muriel Phillips in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge with two "weapons" given her by concerned G.I. patients (a blackjack in her right hand, and a switchblade in her left pocket).

Excerpt from Muriel P. Engleman's memoir, "Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock."

"For many of our GI patients, we were the first American women they had seen in months or years, and this was even more exciting for them than sleeping on a bed with a mattress and clean sheets (something they had not experienced since they left the States). I remember one patient who had grown so accustomed to sleeping in his foxhole that he could not adjust to the luxury of a bed. I would find him each morning, curled up on the cement floor next to his bed. The American soldiers were so grateful for our just being there, and they worried more about our safety than their own. As harrowing as our existence was, it was still a very satisfying one, because we were doing what we came overseas to do.

"And we still had our social life when off duty, whether it was visiting friends at another post or just being in our own Officers' Club tent, dancing to the jukebox, writing letters, playing cards, or singing. Old songs, new songs, parodies ridiculing army brass -- we sang wherever we were. Someone would raise his voice in song, and soon everyone had joined in . . ."

Excerpt from page 54 of Muriel P. Engelman's memoir, Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock.

(Women Heroes of WWII contains a chapter on Muriel's wartime experiences and it she who is leading the army nurses seen marching across the cover of the book).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nancy Wake: The White Mouse

A beautiful woman pedaled her bike furiously along the quiet French road. Her legs were numb with exhaustion. Her seat was very sore. Although she desperately wanted to stop and rest, she knew that if she did, she might not be able to make herself get back on the bike. And it was of the utmost importance that she continue. She was responsible for the arming and the welfare of 17 different maquis groups including 7,000 maquisards whose lives and work against the Nazis now depended solely on her bike ride. And so she pedaled on, blocking out the pain and wiping the sweat from her brow as best she could.

When she passed German soldiers on the road, she forced a sweet smile and waved. Little did the soldiers know that this pretty woman whose smiles and waves they returned was the same woman the Gestapo had named the White Mouse, who was near the top of its "most wanted" list and had an enormous price on her head. She had several code names as an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), such as Andree and Helene, but the name her parents had given her when she was born in New Zealand was Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Opening paragraphs from "Nancy Wake: The White Mouse" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Martha Gellhorn: War Correspondent

Martha Gellhorn in Spain during the 1930's.
JFK Memorial Library.

While in Spain, reporting the effects the Spanish Civil War had on civilians for Collier's weekly newsmagazine, Martha realized that Fascism had to be stopped in Spain or it would take another, larger war to do so. The Fascist Nationalists won the war.

On the evening of June 6, 1944, D-Day, Martha was walking through the docks of London. By this timne, she had been reporting on the world war for Collier's from England, Czechoslovakia, Italy, and the Far East. She no longer believed, as she once did,. that public opinion could be changed by journalism. After all, she and other jouirnalists had been reporting the dangerous rise of European Fascism for years, and it had only grown more powerful. What Martha wanted now was a front-row seat to the fall of Fascism, which she believed had just begun that morning on the shores of Normandy. She thought that being a journalist gave her that ticket.

But she was going to have to find her own ticket this time. Along with the troops that had crossed the English Channel from the very docks she was now strolling through, hundreds of writers, radio journalists, and war photographers had also crossed over into Normandy. Martha, by now a respected and renowned journalist, had not been allowed to travel with them for one simple reason: they were men, and she was a woman. Female reporters weren't allowed on the front lines of battle.

As Martha walked around the docks, she noticed a white ship that had red crosses painted on its side. It was a hospital ship that was going to cross the Channel to help the wounded . . .

Excerpt from "Martha Gellhorn: War Correspondent" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Virginia Hall: The Most Dangerous Allied Agent

Virginia Hall, courtesy of Lorna Catling.

Once, just after reporting to the OSS officer on her radio, Virginia heard a car drive up to the cottage. She thought it was probably an agent coming to see her, but out of practiced caution she hid her radio and went downstairs. When she opened the cottage door, she was shocked to find a group of German officers.

The commanding officer asked her why she was there. In her best "old woman" voice, she explained that she worked for the farmer and his mother. Apparently not satisfied with her answer, the officer sent three of his men into the cottage, and upstairs to her room. Virginia could hear them knocking things over. If they found her radio, she would certainly be arrested. Her heart was beating so wildly, she was sure the soldiers could see it. Would they find the radio? Should she run? How far could she get before she was shot? Wild questions passed through her mind but she remained outside with the soldiers as seconds passed into minutes.

Finally, one of the men came down and handed something to his commanding officer. Virginia couldn't see what it was. The officer looked at the item, then back at Virginia. He walked up to her. Virginia almost stopped breathing.

Excerpt from "Virginia Hall: The Most Dangerous Allied Agent" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Diet Eman: Gestapo on the Phone

Diet Eman, 1940. Courtesy of Diet Eman.

Soon Hein and Diet were both busy with Resistance work, usually apart from each other. Diet would deliver false identification papers and extra ration cards to whoever needed them, whether it was on a farm or in the city. There was one very small apartment in The Hague, rented by a middle-aged woman named Mies, which was being used to hide 27 Jews, an incredibly dangerous number. Even in the country where it was much safer than in the bustling, populous city, there were never that many Jews hidden in one place. Diet regularly delivered the ration cards to Mies but she warned her repeatedly that it was just a matter of time before they were all discovered. Mies allowed Diet to move some of the Jews out of the apartment and into safer locations, but the next time Diet visited, Mies had taken in more Jews.

For her own safety, Diet decided to always phone the apartment before knocking, just to avoid being arrested herself. One day, when Diet called, a strange man’s voice answered the phone. Diet hung up and tried again. Again, the man answered. After calling a third time and hearing the same voice answer, Diet went over to the grocery store across the street from the apartment. Surely, if the Gestapo had raided the apartment, people in the store would be talking about it.

They were.

Excerpts from "Diet Eman: Courier for the Dutch Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Diet Eman: Invasion of the Netherlands

Diet Eman, 1940. Courtesy of Diet Eman.

On May 10, 1940, 20 year-old Diet Eman woke to what sounded like someone beating a rug with a mattenklopper (rug beater). But she suddenly realized that it was the middle of the night and that the “pop-pop-pop” sound was coming much too fast to be a Dutch housewife doing her chores.

Diet ran to join her father and mother, who were already standing outside in the front of their house. There, up in the night sky, they could see an airplane battle. They all ran back into the house and turned on the radio. It was true: Hitler had invaded the Netherlands, only a few hours after promising over the Dutch radio that he wouldn’t. They were at war with Nazi Germany.

In spite of the danger, the next day Diet decided to bicycle to work at the bank as usual. She was surprised when she was stopped on the street by a Dutch policeman who ordered her to slowly speak the words schveningen and schapenscheerder. The Dutch police were trying to weed out Germans posing as Dutch who would most likely not be able to pronounce those Dutch words.

But no matter how many phony Dutchmen the police were able to find, the Germans kept coming. After five days of defensive fighting, and after the city of Rotterdam was bombed to the ground, the Netherlands surrendered to Germany.

Opening paragraphs of "Diet Eman: Courier for the Dutch Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hannie Schaft: A Gun in Her Bag

Hannie Schaft, courtesy of the Hannie Schaft Memorial Foundation

The winter of 1944-45 was a particularly cold one that would become known in the Netherlands as the hunger winter. Certain areas of hte Netherlands had already been liberated by the Allies, but the western sections were still in the control of the Germans when, on March 21, 1945, a dark-haired, bespectacled young woman on a bicycle was stopped at a checkpoint -- a concrete wall with a narrow opening built over a street -- in the northwestern city of Haarlem. The guards searched the girl's bag and found a bundle of illegal newspapers. She was obviously part of the local Dutch Resistance. This didn't surprise them; they had discovered many women working for the Resistance during the occupation. But they found something else in the bag that did surprise them: a pistol. Most female resisters in the area didn't use weapons. If this woman's hair hadn't been so dark, the soldiers might have thought she was "the girl with the red hair" who had been spotted during several assassinations but who had thus far evaded capture. They arrested the woman and took her away for questioning.

Opening paragraph of "Hannie Schaft: the Symbol of the Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Diet Eman: Her Resistance Work Begins

Diet Eman and her fiance, Hein Sietsma, 1939.

When Diet first saws the German soldiers goose-stepping into her city, The Hague, she vowed not to speak a word of German as long as the Germans remained, even though she could speak it fluently. She also stopped socializing with Dutch friends whose families were eager to entertain German soldiers in their homes, homes that were now decorated with portraits of Hitler.

But Diet wanted to do more than avoid the German language and Nazi sympathizers. She and her fiance, Hein Sietsma, formed a Resistance group with some friends. At first, they just listened to the forbidden BBC broadcasts together and spread what they heard to as many people as they could. But when the Nazis began to enact laws against Dutch Jews, Diet's Resistance work began in earnest.

Excerpt from "Diet Eman: Courier for the Dutch Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who were the members of the White Rose?

The following is a sidebar contained within the chapter "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" from "Women Heroes of World War II."

"Who Were the Members of the White Rose?"

"The White Rose was not a membership club in the usual sense. It began casually with a group of university friends who often met to discuss art, music, literature, and philosophy. Soon they realized that they had the same political opinions. They were all decidedly anti-Nazi and, inspired by the successful duplication of Bishop von Galen's sermon, decided to write their own "sermons" of protest. The core group, the ones most responsible for the creation and distribution of the leaflets, were Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Traute Lafrenz. But numerous others were involved, such as fellow student and friend Jurgen Wittenstein, who edited several of the leaflets, and Kurt Huber, a university professor, who wrote the sixth leaflet."

Taken from "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans

"One associate of the White Rose said later that Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell were the minds of the White Rose (because they were the principal authors) but that Sophie was its heart. She helped to copy, distribute, and mail the leaflets and was also in charge of the group's finances, which included buying paper and stamps from many different post offices so as not to create suspicion.

For suspicion there certainly was. The Gestapo was desperate but unable to discover the pamphlets' authors. They called on anyone who received a leaflet to turn it in or face immediate arrest. The Gestapo thought the perpetrators must be a large group. Little did they know that the most active members of the White Rose totaled a mere six people!"

Excerpt from "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Josephine Baker: Spy Singer

In 1917, Josephine lived through an experience that was to shape the rest of her life. Increasing racial tensions in East St. Louis, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, caused by the rising black population after World War I, whites' anxiety over losing jobs, irresponsible newspaper stories, and, above all, racism, combined to create violent and destructive race riots. Black homes were destroyed, and white mobs attacked and killed black people while the police watched and did nothing. Some blacks tried to fight back, but most of them -- about 1,500 in total -- fled to St. Louis. Josephine stood by the foot of the bridge, watching them come. She would never forget their panicked and terrified expressions as they rushed desperately across the bridge away from the violent racism that had chased them out . . .

It was in North Africa that Josephine was reminded of the racism that was still rampant in the United States. Before her shows began, she noticed that the white soldiers were always seated in the front and the black soldiers in the back. She refused to perform until the seating was desegregated. It usually was.

Excerpts from "Josephine Baker: Spy Singer" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Andree de Jongh: Founder of the Comet Line

Andree de Jongh, courtesy of Sherri Greene Ottis.

Andree de Jongh was a native of Belgium, a 23 year-old artist and nurse-in-training when the Germans overran Belgium in the spring of 1940. She had been inspired to study nursing by Edith Cavell, the heroic British nurse who was executed in Brussels by a firing squad during World War I because she had helped British servicemen escape from German-occupied Belgium.

Andree's father, Frederic, who had lived through that previous war, broke down in tears of rage and despair when he saw the Germans march into Brussels, Belgium's capital city. Andree, who had never seen her father cry before, comforted him by saying "You'll see what we'll do to them. You'll see, they are going to lose this war. They started it, but they are going to lose it."

When Andree realized there were Allied servicemen trapped inside Belgium because they had attempted to assist the Belgian army against the Nazi invasion, she organized a series of safe houses in and around Brussels where the servicemen could hide, receive civilian clothing, and secure false identity papers. They couldn't stay there forever, though; they had to get back to England somehow. The path back to England was through France, over the Pyrenees Mountains, into neutral Spain, then home to Great Britain.

Excerpt from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Noor Inayat Khan: Royal Agent

Noor Inayat Khan
Courtesy of Shrabani Basu

Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of an Indian-born father and an American mother, was born in Moscow, the capital city of Imperial Russia, on New Year's Day, 1914. It was fitting that Noor should have been born within steps of the Kremlin, a building that had been built for the royal tsars of Russia. Her great-great-great-grandfather was the royal Tipu Sultan, called the Tiger of Mysore, a Muslim ruler who had fought bravely for his lands and people.

Noor grew up in France, just a few miles from Paris, where she lived in a house called Fazal Manzil, or the House of Blessings. There she learned music, art and poetry. She also learned a great deal about Sufism, the religious and meditative philosophy that her father and his friends followed.

After graduating from the University of Sorbonne, Noor began to write and illustrate children's stories. She was planning to create an illustrated children's newspaper, which would be called "Bel Age" -- "The Beautiful Age" -- when Hitler's tanks rolled into Poland on September 1, 1939, and the whole world changed.

Excerpt from "Noor Inayat Khan: Royal Agent" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Noor Inayat Khan: Gestapo at the Door

Noor Inayat Khan
Courtesy of Shrabani Basu

The Gestapo knew there was a radio operator in Paris, but for months Noor successfully eluded them. They failed to track her down because Noor was careful to transmit from many different locations and because she was a very fast radio operator. She also possessed a keen intuition that alerted her to the dangers of being followed or the overtures of too-friendly strangers. The SOE knew that the Gestapo was closing in on Noor and continued to urge her return to London. But she still refused to leave until they could send a replacement. Once she was assured that this would happen, she would make plans to return to London.

One day when Noor opened her apartment door, a French man named Pierre Cartaud, who was working for the Gestapo, was there to meet her . . .

Pearl Witherington: SOE Courier

Pearl Witherington and Henri Cornioley, courtesy of Herve Larroque.

Courier work was often dangerous, sometimes in surprising ways. Once Pearl was sent to collect money from a certain maquis leader but she had been given no password with which to identify herself. She was greeted coldly. She tried to give code names of the other agents. This did nothing. The leader became more hostile. Pearl sensed she was in serious danger. Finallly, she mentioned the name of the farmer on whose property she had landed the night she parachuted into France.

Suddenly, several large men came into the room . . .

Excerpt from "Pearl Witherington: The Courier Who Became a Leader" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Great Britain's Princess Anne at the 20th Anniversary of the F Section SOE Memorial in Valencay, France, May 6th, 2011

The memorial to the agents of the SOE F (French) Section was dedicated in May of 1991 in Valencay, France. The 20th anniversary of the memorial marks the 70th anniversary of the first SOE agent dropped into Nazi-occupied France, May 6, 1941.

Photos by Herve Larroque, publisher of Pearl Witherington Cornioley's 1995 originally French memoir, Pauline, which was translated into English in 2013 as Code Name Pauline.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Josephine Baker, the Spy at the Party

A beautiful, glamorous woman at the Italian embassy party was making quite a stir. No one who noticed Josephine Baker laughing, talking, and flirting with the party guests would have suspected for a moment that she was there on a mission as an Allied spy. After a while, she walked casually toward the ladies' room. She had overheard something that might prove to be valuable information. When she was alone, Josephine quickly wrote what she had heard and pinned the note to her underwear. Then she returned to the party, once again playing the part of a vivacious entertainer. Who would dare even think of searching for evidence of espionage in the undergarments of Josephine Baker, the famous African-American turned Frenchwoman who had taken Paris by storm?

Apparently no one.

Opening from "Josephine Baker: Singer Spy" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Condemned at Ravensbruck

Andree Virot, courtesy of the estate of Andree Peel and Loebertas Publishing.

During a roll call, a Nazi official was moving slowly through the rows of prisoners, looking at each prisoner intently. He stopped and looked at Andree for a long moment.

"Take that woman's number," he shouted, lashing at Andree with his whip, "for the gas chamber."

A guard came up to Andree and violently twisted her arm so that he could see the number tattooed on it. He wrote her number on a piece of paper, then walked away and placed the paper on a table containing a pile of similar papers with the numbers of other doomed prisoners. Andree was filled with a deep sadness. She would never see her family again. She would not live to see France freed from Nazi tyranny.

Excerpt from "Andree Virot: Agent Rose" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Andree Virot: The Invasion of Brest, Brittany

Andree Virot. Courtesy of Estate of Andree Peel and Loebertas Publishing.

The Germans were coming. Everyone in Brest, a French coastal town in the far northwest province of Brittany, had shut themselves inside their homes. Andree Virot was inside her beauty salon, filled with a deep sadness. The street outside was absolutely quiet.

Suddenly, loud running footsteps shattered the silence. Andree ran to the window. French soldiers were trying to escape from the fast-approaching Germans. In their military uniforms, they would certainly be taken prisoner by the Germans. Andree quickly invited them to hide in her beauty salon. Then she ran from house to house, asking neighbors for men's clothing. Everyone was willing to help, and the soldiers were able to go on their way disguised as civilians.

A short time later, a huge number of German troops appeared on the street, making a loud noise with their motorbikes, roughly pushing the people of Brest against the walls so they could parade through. As Andree watched, a German officer approahced her, sneering, and said, in very good French, "This upsets you, does it not? We are the conquerors!"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Muriel Phillips: U.S. Army Nurse. At the Battle of the Bulge.

Muriel Phillips during the Battle of the Bulge. The blackjack is in her right hand and the switchblade in her left pocket, both gifts from wounded GIs in case the Germans came too close.

Section of the 16 general tent hospital, courtesy of Muriel Phillips Engelman.

"In December 1944, six months after the Normandy invasion, the buzz bombs were still falling all over Liege, but now something even worse was on the horizon. German troops launched a sudden surprise attack that managed to push U.S. troops backward, making a bulge in the troop line, in what was called the Ardennes Offensive, more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge.

"The tent hospital became more crowded than ever with wounded GIs, and the Germans were coming closer and closer. Muriel had more to worry about than most of the other nurses. Her dog tag -- the metal identification tags that every serviceman or -woman was required to wear at all times -- had an "H" on it, for Hebrew. Muriel was Jewish, and she understood what the Nazis would do to her if they were able to capture her.

"On Christmas Eve, the Germans were only 10 miles from Liege. The sickest patients were evacuated to hospitals in France or England, away from the fighting. The wounded GIs who remained in the tent hospital were concerned for the safety of their nurses and often urged the nurses to take their places in the evacuation vehicles. None of the nurses did so, of course. Muriel received two "presents" from her protective patients that week. One was a blackjack, a type of weapon made out of rubber hosing and lead sinkers, and the other was a switchblade. Muriel had no idea if she would be able to follow the instructions that accompanied her gifts if approached by a German (the blackjack was to be slapped across his eyes and the switchblade plunged into his abdomen), but she was grateful for her patients' concern."

Excerpt from Women Heroes of World War II: "Muriel Phillips: U.S. Army Nurse."

Muriel's Memoir: Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Muriel Phillips, U.S. Army Nurse: Buzz Bombs in Belgium

Muriel Phillips during the Battle of the Bulge. Courtesy of Muriel Phillips Engelman.

Muriel Phillips was a US Army nurse stationed in a general tent hospital in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Her wartime experiences are featured in her personal memoir, Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock and she is also featured in the US section of  Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, both excerpted below. (In addition, she is the platoon leader of the group of army nurses who can be seen marching across the cover of "Women Heroes of WWII").

". . . After Muriel and her hospital unit had been near Liege for about a month, the Germans began sending buzz bombs (the V-1 bomb, or the robot bomb) all over the area. A single buzz bomb contained nearly 2,000 pounds of explosives and made a "putt-putt" sound before plunging to the earth at a 45-degree angle with a loud, horrible, whining whistle. It would destroy everything within a few hundred feet and the explosion could be felt miles away . . .

Muriel wrote about this two-month bombing spree in a letter to her cousin, dated November 26, 1944:

"Never in my year overseas have I put in such a hectic life as I have the past few weeks and I'm afraid if the buzz bombs continue annoying us the way they have, I won't have to worry about any postwar plans. We've been lucky so far, having had some narrow squeaks, but it can't last. It's the most awful feeling in the world when you hear the motor of the bomb stop almost above you and then wait a few seconds for the explosion. I'd rather have it all at once and get it over with, but then, Hitler never consulted me. Incidentally, keep this mum, won't you, as I wouldn't want my mother or Ruth to worry though frankly, I'm scared silly and for the first time in my life I've lost my appetite.

"I'm on night duty in our tent hospital which is in a sea of mud, and with the continual rain for the past 2 1/2 weeks, it will never dry out. The work has been hard and the hours long but I really feel satisfied now because we're doing the stuff we came overseas for, and they really need us. Our quarters are in the heart of a city, some miles from here, so we have to commute each night -- leaving there at 5:00 p.m. and getting back at 10 the next morning -- and we're supposed to sleep. Sleep, however, is out of the question when buildings all around us are being bombed and each time they get it, the force practically knocks us out of bed."

(Letter taken from Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock by Muriel Phillips Engelman and included in Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Maria Gulovich: Slovak for the OSS

Maria Gulovich's identity card, 1942.
Museum of The Slovak National Uprising, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia

No one had forced Maria to spend a month of nights sleeping in the grade school classroom where she was a teacher in the town of Hrinova, Slovakia, while two Jews hid in her own tiny room next door. When a leader in the Slovakian Resistance, Captain Milan Polak, discovered what she was doing, he gave Maria an ultimatum: either face Nazi arrest for hiding the Jews or work for him as a courier for the Resistance. She chose to become a courier after Polak promised to help the Jews find other shelter.

But it seemed that Maria had no choice when, abandoned by the Soviets she had been ordered to work for as an interpreter in Banska Bystrica, the town that had been a center of the Slovakian Uprising, she was kindly invited to flee the oncoming German onslaught with the Americans who had been using that town as a base of operations. They were working for the OSS, a U.S. espionage organization . . .

Her direct superior, General Rudolf Viest, a Slovak commander whom Maria respected, gave her a formal release from the disintegrating CFI, telling her, "You stay with the Americans, Maria. You know the mountains, the languages, the people, and the political situation. Help them in any way you can."

Excerpt from "Maria Gulovich: Slovak for the OSS," from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

("You stay . . . " Quote taken from page 75 of Maria Gulovich: OSS Heroine of World War II by Sonya N. Jason).

The Soviets and the Slovak

The identity card of Maria Gulovich, 1942.
Museum of the Slovak National Uprising, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.

"The Soviets did not trust the Americans or the British. They interrogated Maria more than the others since she was the only one in the group who spoke Russian. What had the Americans been doing in Slovakia? Why was she traveling with them? Why didn't she admit to being a spy for the Americans? Maria didn't tell them that one key aspect of the Dawes mission was to gather information on Soviet activity in Slovakia. She repeated, again and again, that the Americans had been in Slovakia to help the CFI and to wage sabotage warfare against the Germans, their common enemy. They didn't believe her and grew increasingly hostile, at last forcing her to sign a paper stating that she would now work for the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police, for an unspecified amount of time. Maria had no choice but to sign.

When the others were ordered to be shipped to another location, Maria was told that since she was now employed by the NKVD, she would have to remain behind. She was able to escape this fate by pretending to be married to one of the men, Guilliam Davis, a British sergeant who had been protective of Maria since he had joined the retreating Dawes team.

The Soviets consented, with the stipulation that Maria would return later to fulfill her duties with the NKVD. They were all put on a train going to Odessa. When they learned that their train was going to stop in Bucharest, Romania, where there was an American army post, they devised a desperate plan . . ."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Maria's Couch

Maria von Maltzan, The German Resistance Memorial Center

When Hans had moved in with her, Maria noticed that his large counch with a space inside might be a good hiding place during an emergency search. She drilled some air holes into the bottom of it, then covered the bottom with a thin material that would mask the holes but still let in air. Then she fixed the couch so that once someone was hidden inside, it could not be opened from the outside.

The Nazis knew that they had not found all of Berlin's Jews, so they stepped up their searches. Maria had long come under suspicion for hiding Jews. One day a Nazi ffocial searching for Jews came into Maria's apartment, looked at the couch where Hans was hiding, and said, "How do we know nobody is hiding in there?"

Maria calmly answered, "If you're sure someone is in there, go ahead and shoot. But before you do that, I want a written, signed paper from you that you will pay for new material and the work to have the couch re-covered after you put holes in it."

Excerpt from "Maria von Maltzan: the Countess Who Hid Jews," from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maria von Maltzan: The German Countess Who Hid Jews

Maria von Maltzan, German Resistance Memorial Center

. . . Although Maria sensed that the refugees were on their way to safety, as she retraced her steps she had a bad feeling that something was about to go wrong. If she were stopped by a German patrol, she would have a very hard time explaining what she was doing in the woods in the middle of the night.

When Maria was nearly out of the woods, she heard dogs barking. Just 100 yards ahead of her, she saw a beam of light. Then another beam of light appeared behind her. She was trapped! the dogs were barking because they had picked up her scent. What could she do?

There was a brook nearby. If she could get there before the dogs found her, they would lose her scent. It was her only chance of escape . . .

She waited there for hours, exhausted and freezing. She knew that the patrollers with the dogs were probably still looking for her, waiting just outside of the woods. Her only hope was an Allied bombing, a frequent occurrence in Germany at this time. During the confusion following a bombing, there was a good chance that her pursuers would stop looking for her . . .

Taken from "Maria von Maltzan: The Countess Who Hid Jews" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

from the German intro of "Women Heroes": Mildred Harnack

Mildred Harnack in 1938. German Resistance Memorial Center.

Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) was the name the Gestapo gave to several Resistance organizations in different countries. The Red Orchestra in Berlin was composed of a small group of people with Nazi affiliations who worked to overthrow the Nazi government from the inside by passing top-secret and high-level information to the Soviets. They also recruited Resistance members and helped hide Jews.

One of the women involved in the Berlin-based Red Orchestra was an American named Mildred Fish Harnack, a scholar, translator, and professor of the German language. After she was caught and tried, she received a prison sentence. But Hitler specifically ordered a new trial for her, which resulted in the death sentence. Just before she was beheaded, she was reported to have said, "And I have loved Germany so much."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Excerpt from "Women Heroes of WWII: Sophie Scholl and the White Rose"

Now more determined than ever to overthrow the Nazi government, the members of the White Rose quickly wrote the fifth leaflet. They wanted to give an impression that the White Rose was part of a much larger network, so they got on trains and mailed the leaflets -- 20 percent more than any of their previous mailings -- to and from many different German cities.

On February 3, 1943, after the Nazi government admitted to defeat by the Soviets at Stalingrad, Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, and Willi Graf went out that night (as well as two subsequent nights, February 8 and 15) and painted slogans such as "Freedom," "Down with Hitler," and "Hitler mass murderer" in public places all over Munich, including city hall and the university.

Then they decided to do something even bolder. On February 17, 1943, Hans and Sophie carried a large suitcase filled with copies of the sixth White Rose pamphlet into a lecture hall at the University of Munich. They placed piles of the leaflets outside the classrooms, on windowsills, and on the large stairway that led down to the main floor.

They had just left the building when Sophie suddenly realized that there were perhaps 100 nore leaflets left in the suitcase. They walked back inside . . .

Excerpt from the young adult Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Marlene Dietrich: "The Only Important Thing"

Marlene Dietrich behind enemy lines.
Courtesy of Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek.

It was December 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge was raging across the Ardennes Forest of Nazi-occupied Belgium. A woman with a German accent, wearing an American soldier's uniform, sat shivering in the snow in the midst of some American soldiers. German troops were moving in, closer and closer. She fingered the pistol in her pocket. She now had to face the thought she had been trying to avoid ever since she had come back to Europe: would the Germans find her, and if so, what would they do to her?

Her name was Marlene Dietrich. She had been born in Berlin, Germany, in 1901. As a young woman, she had become a stage entertainer and then a successful movie star, first in her native Germany and then in America. Her films were so popular in Germany that in 1937, Adolf Hitler (who owned a collection of her movies) sent personal messengers to Marlene to offer her a very rewarding movie career: she could be the "queen of German film" if only she would return from the United States to Germany and make films for the Third Reich.

She told the messengers that she was currently under contract to make films in Hollywood with her longtime mentor, Jewish-German director Josef von Sternberg, but that she would gladly make a German film if he would be allowed to direct it.

There was a tense silence. Marlene finally broke it. "Do I rightly understand," she asked, "that you refuse to have Mr. von Sternberg make a film in your country because he's Jewish?"

The German messengers began to talk at once. They said that Marlene had been "infected" with false American propoganda and that there was no anti-Semitism in Germany. Marlene knew better. Hitler had drastically altered the Germany of her youth . . .

Excerpt from "Marlene Dietrich: The Only Important Thing" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

(Author-signed copies can be obtained from the bookstore linked above).

Excerpt from Maria Anne Hirschmann's second memoir

Taken from Maria Anne Hirschmann's second memoir, "Hansi's New Life," an American interviewer asks her about the concentration camps. Maria Anne was in the Hitler Youth but never joined the Nazi party and didn't know about the camps. She knew plenty about anti-Semitism but apparently didn't realize that the Jews were being systematically tortured, starved, and murdered on such a grand scale.

" . . . 'However, there is one thing you said that most people find incredible -- how could it be possible that you as a high Nazi youth leader didn't know about the concentration camps?' He underscored the last five words.

I stared into Art's smiling face and bit my lips. My mind went blank and I wondered what to say. I remembered the prior interview. He had asked about those camps and I had answered in one short sentence: 'I didn't know about it.' That was all. I knew one thing for sure; he had just very politely called me a liar . . .

'Art,' I said and cringed, 'how can I explain to you and the American people how it was I didn't know about it . . . How would you Americans understand what it is like to live under dictatorship? You take freedom for granted, you always expect to hear both sides of the story -- you just don't know how controlled our life was. Really, Art I didn't know about it! . . . '

'I can't talk about it, Art, it hurts too much. How would you Americans know what it is like to carry a load of collective guilt? I carry it, Art; so does an entire nation across the ocean. Most of us Germans didn't know about it, but we still feel responsible. I was part of a group that killed millions of Jews. I can't even face a Jew today . . .'"

Excerpted from "Hansi's New Life" by Maria Anne Hirschmann

Excerpt from Maria Anne Hirschmann's memoir

Maria Anne Hirschmann, if not exactly a heroine, was at least very obviously a victim of Nazi propoganda and Hitler worship. A few telling exerpts from her first memoir, which was given to me as a Christmas present while I was a high school student, provide a startling window of understanding into the Nazi mindset:

"At that time I heard one of Hitler's many speeches over the radio. We listened to all of them, but that address was something special, given at one of the annual sport festivals for the Hitler youth. How that deep voice could send chills down my back! 'Hitler Youth, you are my youth," he said affectionately at the end. 'I believe in you and I claim you, for you are the Germany of tomorrow, MY Germany of tomorrow.'

Thousands of voices drowned out the rest of his words. Young voices responded the way we all felt. 'Heil! Heil! Seig Heil! Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler!' We could imagine the sea of outstretched arms, the eager faces, the exultant shouts. Tears ran down my cheeks and as we heard the national anthem over the radio we all stood with outstretched arms to join in, but I was too choked up to sing. Yes, we all belonged to Hitler, even little me. For the first time in my life I felt someone claimed me as his own -- and I WANTED to belong to him. . . And if I had to make the supreme sacrifice someday and lay my life down for him, I would be willing to do so. Hitler's war raged and his youth stood ready to die! Fuhrer, command; we obey. Heil Hitler!"

Excerpted from "Hansi: The Girl Who Loved the Swastika" by Maria Anne Hirschmann