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Posts Tagged ‘Invasion of Poland

1939 was a “turning point year”

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German cavalry and motorized units entering Po...
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Writing a review of the latest Hitchens book, Ian Buruma writes that 1939 was a turning point year. Well it is a fact of history that Hitler chose the turn his game of international blackmail in 1936, 1937 and 1938 into all out war in September, 1939.

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What did my father have in mind when he accepted to go to Paris in April 1939 for the Royal Bank of Canada after getting out of Barcelona only months before that in 1938? Did he simply ignore the trend of overt agressiveness being openly shown by Hitler’s Nazi regime? Did he care if that could have any effect on his life and the life of his family?

I’ve read about 1939 in a few history books. All agreed that it was a beautiful spring and summer, especially in Paris. Was that the existential factor that induced him to continue living in Paris even after Hitler’s armies invaded Poland in September 1939?

It’s a fact I remember about my boyhood in Sherbrooke QC during the war years of late 1940 till 1945, that my father rarely missed listening to the BBC news broadcast. Surely he listened to the same news broadcasts in 1939? How could he not feel the menace of attack from the belligerent Nazi armed forces right up to the invasion of Poland and especially as reports from the Eastern Front left little doubt that Hitler’s  intentions couldn’t be peaceful since his takeover and elimination of Polish elites was evident, even at that early stage of WW II?

Or was it that my father subscribed to the ideas of the Canadian Prime Minister of that  time, McKenzie-King, who met with Hitler in 1937 and felt he was a calm and serious political leader, even though Von Neurath, the German Foreign Minister admitted to King that many Jews had been treated “very roughly” in “cleaning things up” in German cities, like Berlin?

In the end me and my family made it out of France at a few minutes after midnight!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/06/28 at 23:32

Previous exchanges in the USSR vs. other Eastern European countries were just the curtain raiser

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Stalin (in background to the right) looks on a...
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It seems that the full blooded words are just beginning today on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland and Danzig. Check out this link for the latest. And this is how the Guardian characterized verbal exchanges in Poland where official ceremonies were held.

Putin today condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact, but equated Stalin’s actions with those of western leaders at the time. “All attempts to appease the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable,” Putin said. “We must admit these mistakes. Our country has done this.”

Adam Rotfeld, a former Polish foreign minister, described the Russian campaign in the run-up to today as “disgusting”. The Polish tabloid press has been screaming with indignation. “Russia! Apologise for your crimes!” said the banner headline in the Super Express. “Apologise for attacking Poland, for the Katyn genocide, for murdering our heroes, for sending Poles to Siberia.”

The Russians are particularly outraged over what they see as western attempts to equate Stalin with Hitler. “Those who falsify history forget the things they gained as the result of the Red Army‘s liberation campaign,” said Lavrov.

But “liberation” ushered in 45 years of repressive Soviet communism in Poland and the Baltic. Adam Michnik, a leading Polish intellectual, told the Russians: “For us, Stalin was a criminal and an aggressor. The creator of the lands of the gulag is entirely comparable with Hitler.”

Of course, a very credible British historian, Richard Overy, who is considered an expert on the Hitler and Stalin, did say very bluntly that the “victory of the Western Allies” over the German war machine, was largely set up by bloody war waged on Russian and Chinese soil.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/09/01 at 21:56

The debate in Eastern Europe about the main cause of WW2 points to a tweaking of history

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Adolf Hitler
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Panzer IV Ausf.
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One side says that Poland caused the war and guess who that is?

This headline puts it clearly:

The war? Nothing to do with Stalin, says Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev

The other says that Stalin’s deal with Hitler in late August 1939 gave Hitler the military cover he needed to launch his Panzers into the first blitzkrieg action. Now Mr. Medvedev promises a commission and documents to prove his case against Poland. That does sound like Putin is very much in favor of at least tweaking history here.

There is little doubt that the USSR, which was dissolved in the late ’90s and replaced to all intents by the Russian Republic, fought the nasty Nazis and bled Hitler’s armed forces dry and then reconquered the Eastern Front until Berlin was occupied.

But Stalin was playing a many sided game in the late 1930s. When it seemed that the democracies couldn’t cut bait to his satisfaction he certainly seemed to trigger the deal with Hitler which led to the double invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Germans from the West and by USSR forces from the East.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/08/31 at 12:03

Some leaders of nearly failed states just can’t face historical facts

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Here is the headline that got my attention:

Medvedev: Blaming Soviets for WW2 a ‘Cynical Lie’

It seems that Medvedev is ready to deny that Stalin, the practical dictator of and head of state of the USSR during the dirty ’30s and ’40s, directed foreign policy that focused on direct intervention in the affairs of many countries such as Spain during it’s Civil War, China during the ascent of Mao Zedong to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the brutal partition of Poland after signing an agreement of mutual support with Hitler in 1939 days before the Nazi horde invaded Poland.

According to Medvedev all those terrible historical verities are a string of cynical lies, which is on the face of it a much bigger CYNICAL LIE today.

There is little doubt that the USSR suffered enormously during the German Nazi invasion and spoliation of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian homelands from 1941 until counterattacks from the USSR armies in 1943-44 and 1945. There is also little doubt that that conflict had more to do with the demise of the Hitlerian 1000 year Reich than any number of pinpricks by Western Allied armies. Those are big facts, but it’s not a fact that the USSR had nothing to do with the invasion and partition of Poland in 1939-40. That was deliberate foreign and military policy/action of the USSR. During that time the USSR armies invaded Finland also!

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The story of my birth family’s exodus journey in 1940 during the fall of France

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MS Batory

I have been piecing this story together for a few years now with slim writings by my father and information published in Royal Bank newsletters. In the last few weeks I have managed to get many details from books and Royal Navy records I found on the Web.

My father and the family got to Paris in April 1939 because my father had accepted to become Manager of the Royal Bank of Canada at 10 rue, Scribe, or in the centre of Paris.

Since he had left Barcelona in the later part of 1938 when the bombing of that city became a terrifying routine, it may seem today that he had decided to get out of the “frying pan’ in Spain just to jump into the fire (being set by Hitler) in Western Europe, since it was well established by then that the Nazi regime in Poland was harsh and brutal.

But it’s also possible that he put too much faith in the way Somerset Maugham viewed Herr Hitler in 1939, to wit:

During annual trips to Germany he seems not to have noticed the Nazis. Even as late as June 1939, he was still echoing the complacency of his Riviera neighbour, Lord Beaverbrook, that “unless the Germans do something idiotic I think we are safe”.

In September of 1939 Britain, France and then Canada declared war with Germany when it refused a British ultimatum to end its invasion of Poland that was undertaken on Sep 1, 1939. But in spite of war in Finland pitting the Soviets against the Finns, as well as the Nazi invasions of Denmark and Norway, the war did not affect life in Paris until May 1940 when the German Wehrmacht attacked Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France on May 10.

Montage of World War II
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My birth family’s status in France, once it was occupied by the German Nazis, would have been more than uncertain since we were citizens of a belligerant country, Canada, as well as British subjects.

In fact, we could have been imprisoned in France or even Germany if we had been forced to stay on in France after the Armistice signed by the Vichy Government of Marshal Pétain in mid-June 1940. In fact, that was the fate of many Britons who stayed on in France.

Here is the narrative of events that led to our precipitous and dangerous evacuation in late June 1940 from the southwest coast of France somewhere between Biarritz and St-Jean de Luz.

I have interwoven my own re-creation of family events with known historical events. The latter notes are in italics.

  • Armistice in Finland March 12, 1940
  • Takeover of Denmark begins April 9, 1940
  • Invasion of Norway by Allies then Wehrmacht April 9-10
  • Invasion of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Ardennes May 10, 1940
  • Allies move into Belgium Dyle River May 10-11
  • Battles for Meuse crossings at Sedan and Dinant May 12-14

My mother, who was then almost nine months pregnant, left Paris on May 11 or 12 to fetch J-P and Helen, my older brother and sister, who were in schools in and around Verneuil-s-Avre. Annette, the youngest was born in Verneuil on May 16. By then I was well into feeling like ” a displaced child” and there were many like me at that time in France.

I just realized that my little sister was conceived in Sep 1939 when war was declared on Germany after it refused to conform to an ultimatum issued by the British government that Germany evacuate Poland by midnight Sep 2.

The Battle for France 1940 was “shock and awe from the East”. The German blitzkrieg moved at a quick pace through the countries of Western Europe towards Paris and the Atlantic coast of France.

  • Breakouts from Meuse crossings May 14-15
  • Surrender of Holland May 14
  • German Panzer units reach the sea at Abbeville May 21
  • Evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk May 26 to June 4
  • First bombing of Paris industrial suburbs June 3
  • Ministries of French govt leave Paris for Touraine June 10 and arrive same day.
  • They then leave for Bordeaux on June 14.

My father left Paris on June 12 by car, probably at night. Apparently, he arranged for a truck to carry physical assets needed to set up a bank branch in the southwest of France. It’s not clear whether or not this was done with agreement from Royal Bank HQ. But my father was a doer and not a sheepish follower.

After doing more research about conditions for evacuation from Paris in June 1940, I got a picture of a very daunting environment of mass confusion, traffic chaos, as well as death and serious injury from constant and horrifying air attacks by the German Luftwaffe on anything and everything that moved on or off the roads. It is estimated that some 8 million people were on the move to the south and west of Paris during the months of May and June 1940. In fact, many residents of Paris couldn’t leave until June 12-13.

All that I have written here is not part of a family narrative. My parents and older siblings, my sister Helen and brother Jean-Paul, have never said much to me about this exodus from a large civilized country falling into the hands of racist monsters. I have read a wide variety of sources in books and on the Internet to flesh out the bare bones written by my father in his own too brief written memory of these events.

The likely route my father took to Cognac, which was about 600 kms from Paris, must have been to Le Mans (where my mother could have met my father June 13) then to Angers, Cholet, Niort and Cognac by June 16.

After giving birth on May 16 in Verneuil, my mother could have been mobile by May 19. What my mother did, as well as where and how she lived with her children between May 19 and June 13, remains unknown and unrecoverable to me. She no doubt encountered many tribulations since all of France was experiencing a mass exodus of citizens from the north  to the south and west of France from May 10 until well into mid-July. All forms of shelter were restricted and at a premium. Supplies of food and drink were under severe stress in all parts of France south and west of Paris. And local transport including trains, buses and whatever were overcrowded and chaotic given the level of violent air attacks by the German Luftwaffe on every thing that moved.

Ordinary French people were being inundated by rumor, refugees, and lots of frantic aliens who felt they had to find a way out from Nazi occupation. It is likely that shopkeepers and hotel owners would not be very forthcoming with help for a mother of 4 all holding British passports.

  • June 17th – The French Government of Marshal Petain requested armistice terms from Germany and Italy.
  • Cognac was on the wrong side of the German front by June 22.

My father could have left Cognac by June 18-19 again just ahead of the Germans who occupied a front between Angouleme and Bordeaux by June 22. It was on that day that Petain signed the Armistice agreement with the Germans.

  • June 17th – The only major loss during the evacuation from western France was off St Nazaire. Liner “Lancastria” was bombed and sunk with the death of nearly 3,000.

It is possible that my father had booked passage on the SS Lancastria, a Cunard line ship, since it was expected to board civilians and military personnel on or about June 15-16 in St- Nazaire Harbor. She sank off St-Nazaire, after being bombed by German aircraft, on June 17. Fortunately on that day my father was still in Cognac doing his best to get bank operations setup.

  • June 22nd – FRANCE capitulated and the Franco-German surrender document was signed.
  • Its provisions included German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control.

Most probably my father was told by British diplomats who were in Bordeaux about the naval operation named Aerial, which Lancastria was a part of. That evacuation operation would be picking up troops and civilians between Bayonne and St-Jean de Luz between June 22 and 25.

It seems possible that we got on one of the following ships sometime between June 22 and 24.

Philippe Pétain (1856-1951)
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  • According to Royal Navy archives anti-aircraft cruiser CALCUTTA (Flag Rear Admiral Curteis, 2nd Cruiser Squadron) and Canadian destroyers FRASER and RESTIGOUCHE patrolled off Bordeaux covering the evacuation of St Jean De Luz where troopships ETTRICK (11,279grt), ARANDORA STAR (15,501grt), BATORY (14,287grt), SOBIESKI (11,030grt) were lifting troops from 22 to 24 June.
  • The convoy departed St Jean De Luz at 1300/24th escorted by destroyers MACKAY and WREN.
  • June 25th  – The Allied evacuation of France ended with 215,000 servicemen and civilians saved, but Operations ‘Aerial’ and ‘Cycle’ never captured the public’s imagination like the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk.
  • On the final day of the evacuation, Canadian destroyer “FRASER” was rammed and sunk by AA cruiser “Calcutta” off the Gironde Estuary leading into Bordeaux.
  • June 25th all hostilities between Germans and French ended officially and the German controlled zone was in effect, including all of France’s Atlantic Coast up to the Spanish-French border.

We probably landed in Plymouth on or about June 26 and made our way to London. My father then made arrangements for our return to Canada on MS Batory from Greenock, Scotland.

  • According to Royal Navy archives on the July 5th, battleship REVENGE met anti-aircraft cruiser BONAVENTURE (Captain H. J. Egerton) and troopships MONARCH OF BERMUDA (22,424grt), SOBIESKI (11,030grt), and BATORY (14,287grt).
  • These five ships, which carried $1,750,000,000 in gold and securities from the Bank of England for safekeeping in Canada, departed Greenock at 0545 on the 5th escorted by destroyer GARTH.
  • The British ships arrived safely at Halifax on the 12th.
  • Troopship BATORY with engine room defects was detached to St John’s, NL escorted by anti-aircraft cruiser BONAVENTURE which then continued on to Halifax.
  • Troopship BATORY arrived at Halifax on the 13th.
  • Monthly Ship Loss Summary mainly by U-Boat torpedoing in July 1940 – 67 British, Allied and neutral ships of 192,000 tons in UK waters.
  • During June and July 1940 German U-Boats were refuelling in Spanish ports of Vigo and El Ferrol.

Here is a link to the wordle from this post.

Here’s my final word in this post. I have recently (2009/11/5) discussed how I must have reacted to this family exodus from Europe under the boot of German Nazis and how I recall I reacted when we got to Canada. A dear friend and professional psychologist suggested to me that for most of my life I was suffering emotionally as a “displaced child”. But I don’t accept that as a free pass into being a victim of uncontrollable forces. Nor would any member of my birth family, if they were all alive.

We survived our bit of hell on earth in France and even in Spain in 1936. But we got out and survived very well thanks, witness that I’m 74 and writing these words with some gusto. I’m very glad that I didn’t live in any kind of prison for civilian aliens in Occupied France until from mid 1940 till later in 1944. And I experienced a lot of nightmare hours as a little boy, teen, young adult and adult. But that was a small psychic price for living that I paid. That has coloured my emotional life and combined with my bipolarism has given me more than my share of emotional zing. SO BE IT!


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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/07/10 at 14:17