Nazi germany

The dirty war of Sefton Delmer

There is an obvious problem with trying to judge who ‘won’ a propaganda war. Unlike its physical counterpart, there is virtually no real-world evidence either way, and everyone involved has spent years learning how to spin, manipulate and outright lie about reality to try to shape it into what they want. As a result, it remains the conventional wisdom – among those who think of such things, at least – that despite their eventual and total defeat in the second world war, it was the Nazis who won the propaganda war of their era. Fake letters from dead German soldiers to their parents reported thatthey had survived, deserted and were

The misery of the Kindertransport children

On the night of 9 November 1938, across Germany and Austria, Jews were attacked and their synagogues and businesses set on fire. In the days that followed Kristallnacht, a scheme was put in place to save children from Nazi persecution. Known as the Kindertransport, it would, over the following ten months, bring 10,000 children to the UK.  The Kindertransport – the word refers both to the means of transport and to the overarching programme – has always been regarded as a symbol of British generosity towards those in peril and seeking asylum. But it was all rather more complicated, as Andrea Hammel sets out to show. There have been innumerable

The sheer tedium of life at Colditz

They say each generation needs its own biographies of Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Napoleon, not just when more evidence is unearthed but because the lens through which we view character and motive changes. The same is true for the great set pieces of history. According to Ben Macintyre, the story of Colditz and its second world war POWs with their ‘moustaches firmly set on stiff upper lips, defying the Nazis by tunnelling out of a grim Gothic castle on a German hilltop’ has been unchanged and unchallenged for more than 70 years. In his latest page-turner, Macintyre includes the stories of those heroes who were not straight, white, moustachioed

‘It was all a fairy tale’: Lina Heydrich’s description of the Holocaust

There have been many biographies of Reinhard Heydrich, the cold, cynical head of the SS in the Third Reich, but none quite like this one. Nancy Dougherty, an American film critic and biographer, died in 2013 before finishing a very large manuscript. The book was put into shape by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, an old friend of hers, who died in 2018. It now sees the light of day years after the research and writing was carried out, but it is a fine posthumous monument to both author and editor. What makes this biography different is not the life of Reinhard but his wife Lina. Dougherty spent three long sessions in the

Why teaching the Holocaust still matters

Pretzsch is a normal small town on the River Elbe, 35 miles north east of Leipzig, with little or nothing to suggest its dark past. Eighty years ago, in the spring of 1941, it became a mustering point for a cadre of men who would perform ‘special tasks’ during the forthcoming Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Over the spring and early summer months, around 3,000 men arrived in Pretzsch. Quartered in SS accommodation, the men eventually learnt they would be part of four Einsatzgruppen — special task forces — who were to move behind the German front line. Their task was framed as maintaining security and eliminating resistance. By the

One of the lucky ones: Hella Pick escapes Nazi Germany

Hella Pick is one of that vanishing generation of Jewish refugees who arrived in Britain on the eve of the second world war, courtesy of the Kindertransport. An only child of separated parents, born and brought up in Vienna, she was luckier than most: her mother got out soon afterwards. Her grandmother, who remained, died in Theresienstadt. Early life in the UK was not easy for refugees from Nazism. Visas were only granted to those who had an offer of work, and just about the only work permitted to them was domestic service, which must have been particularly galling for people like Hella’s mother who had once been prosperous. Young

The ‘unremarkable’ life of SS officer Robert Griesinger

In October 2011 Daniel Lee was at a dinner party at which a Dutch woman told a disturbing story. It concerned an armchair that her mother had recently taken for re-upholstering. The chair was something of a family treasure. As a child growing up in Amsterdam, the woman herself had always sat on it as she did her homework and it featured in countless family photographs. When her mother returned to pick up the chair, however, the upholsterer had addressed her in outrage. He did not work for Nazis, he said. The loved chair, it turned out, contained a hidden cache of SS documents, all stamped with swastikas. The woman