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