Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Messaging from the Ukraine Government.

Ukraine: An historical perspective.

The messaging coming from Ukraine has powerful resonance in parts of Europe. The constant use of the word ‘resistance’ and expressions such as a ‘people’s war’ and a ‘war fought by the people’ goes back to the European resistance against Nazi occupation. In the case of Ukraine, it acts as a reminder this is not simply a war between two armies: like those who resisted subjugation and German occupation during WW2, we currently see Ukrainian civilians who were once shop keepers, farmers, office workers and from a multitude of other non-military employment also fighting to preserve their freedom and democracy.   

Ukraine 2022

Another historical connection are the war crimes and Russian attacks against civilian targets which are currently being investigated and continue to be reported by the ‘free’ press.  Also, like Germany during WW2 the Russian government controls all news entering the country but according to press reports Russia is slowly losing their information war as an increasing number of citizens turn to social media to learn the truth.

Nazi Euthanasia Programme

Much continues to be written about war crimes by the SS and Gestapo during the Second world War and this short piece is intended to bring attention to the mass murder of German civilians including children who through illness were regarded ‘worthless idiots’ and an unnecessary burden on German society.

In current parlance the term euthanasia refers to the practice of so-called ‘mercy killing’ commonly described as the painless ending of life of a person who is terminally ill and only at their request. Although the Nazis used the term euthanasia they described it as the “Destruction of worthless life”.

The following British translations of Nazi documents discovered by the allies are among the many I studied at university.

In the 1920s Professor Karl Binding a former president of the Reichsgericht, the highest criminal court, and Professor Alfred Hoch, Professor of Psychiatry at Freiburg University wrote a book called “Permission for the Destruction of Worthless Life, its Extent and Form.” 

Binding and Hoch believed “because of the war {WW1} and the alleged expansion in the numbers of ‘mental defectiveness’ as a result of exaggerated humanitarianism, Germany had become intolerably lumbered with living burden who were absorbing a disproportionate amount of resources which ought to be devoted to a national revival.”

They also said the state should be allowed to kill “the incurable lunatics, irrespective of whether they were born as such or whether they are paralytics in the final stage of their condition… Their life is completely worthless… they represent a terrible heavy burden for their relatives as well as society.

This Nazi eugenics poster from 1935 illustrates what they believed to be the dangers of allowing so-called genetic undesirables to live, reproduce, and account for a larger percentage of the gene pool than those with desired traits. (Federal German Archives)

Hoch also said:

I can find no reason, either from a legal or from a social or from a moral, or from a religious standpoint for not giving permission for the killing of these people.

Both also stressed the enormous financial cost involved in maintaining what they called “Idiots” and went on to say … “There was a time which we regarded as barbaric, in which the elimination of those who were born or became unviable was regarded natural. Then came the phase we are in now, in which finally the maintenance of any, even the most worthless existence is considered the highest moral duty: a new period will come which on the basis of a higher morality, will cease continually implementing the demands of an exaggerated concept of humanity and an exaggerated view of the value of human life”.    

After the Nazi Party took power in 1933, these views were officially endorsed in its most extreme form as national socialism established itself on the belief of biological materialism governed by social Darwinism and the belief that human life was a struggle for the survival of the fittest which meant ‘performance’ had to be essential for all citizens.

During the Nuremburg Party Rally on 5 August 1929 Hitler said:

“If Germany was to get a million children a year and was to remove 700 to 800,000 of the weakest people, then the final result might even be an increase in strength…The most dangerous thing is for us to cut off the natural process of selection and thereby gradually rob ourselves of the possibility of acquiring able people…”  

The Children’s Euthanasia Program

(Federal German Archives)

The following passage describes a ‘children’s asylum’ near Munich during a visit by members of the Nazi Party and SS officers on 16 February 1940, when a senior doctor was describing his facilities.

“We have children here aged from one to five. All these creatures represent… a burden for our nation… With these words he pulled a child out of its cot. While this fat, gross man displayed the whimpering skeletal little person like a hare which he had caught he coolly remarked: ‘Naturally we don’t stop their food straight away. That would cause too much fuss. We gradually reduce their portions. Nature then takes care of the rest… This one won’t last more than two or three days.”

On 15 October 1942 a doctor wrote to a colleague: “We have found a lot of nice idiots in the Hirt Asylum in Strasbourg, request for transfer will follow.”

(Federal German Archives)

The Adult (and young people) Euthanasia Programme

The exact date is unknown but is thought to have been in June or July 1939 when Hitler ordered the programme to be extended to adults. There are a large number of documents relating to this part of the project, but the following short overview is intended to provide an insight into the mindset of the doctors, nurses and others involved in the Nazi Euthanasia Programme.

Disabled people being transported to camps for extermination (German Federal Archives)

There are many documented accounts of ‘ambulances’ arriving at homes to take disabled children and adults to clinics for treatment and relatives being unaware the exhaust pipes were pumping a lethal cocktail of fumes into the rear of the vehicle where the ‘patients’ were sitting.

 The killing of those considered unworthy to live was later stopped after several doctors complained about ambulances driving round for several miles but not killing all the ‘idiots,’ and several others complained it was too time consuming to kill them in the required numbers and more efficient methods had to be developed.  Some historians believe the Euthanasia Program was regarded as a learning process for later mass murder on an industrial scale at dedicated concentration camps.  

Battle of Waterloo: Carabiniers Breast Plate

A booklet which was once inside a pocket of the padding but has since been lost, bore the name of François Antoine Fauveau aged 23.
We know his profession was dairyman and was serving with the 2nd Rifle Regiment of the French army in May 1815.

According to his family this was not François but was his brother who stood in for him and died at Waterloo after being hit by a British cannon ball.
(Photo Musée de L’Armée).

The Dumon Sisters and the Belgium Resistance during WW2.

‘Michou’ Dumon with her husband, Pierre Ugeux who served with SOE (Comete line)

Micheline Dumon (code names Lily and Michou) served with the Belgium Resistance and worked on the Comet Escape Line and her surname often appears misspelt as ‘Dumont’.

As a member of Comet, she helped allied aircrews shot down over Belgium and France evade capture and was credited for assisting 250 aircrew by guiding them through Belgium and France to neutral Spain, and is noted for being one of the most experienced and longest serving member of the escape line.

Comet Escape Line

In August 1942 her father who also worked on the Comet Line was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to a concentration camp where he later died.

In 1944 the line was infiltrated by a double agent named Jacques Desoubrie a Belgium working for the Gestapo infiltrating resistance groups in Belgium and France and after finding herself on the Gestpo wanted list was forced to escape to England where she spent the remainder of the war training MI9 agents.

After the war Micheline Dumon said, “I knew a lot of people and I moved around a lot. I never stayed in one place, and so I was always alone. Also, I was lucky.”

Andree Dumon

Andree (code name Nadine), Micheline Dumon’s sister, was in charge of safehouses where aircrews were hidden until they could be moved down the line and she also prepared false identification cards and connected escapers with escorts to take them from Belgium to neutral Spain by bicycle, train and on foot. After a narrow escape from the Gestapo, she went underground and lived in a safehouse for several weeks and obtained false identity papers which said she was 15-years-old and accoding to several airmen she looked about 12 or 13 and dressed accordingly. She also spoke English and interacted with allied airmen who rarely spoke French.

In June 1943 the Comet Line was close to collapse after many arrests by the Abwehr and Gestapo and Andree Dumon took on a leadership position which she described as “A sort of odd-job woman: looking after safehouses, escorting aircrews, recruiting new agents, collecting food coupons and repairing escape routes after waves of arrests.”

By January 1944 it was too dangerous for her to remain in Brussels so she moved to Paris and then to Bayonne in southwestern France to work with Elvire de Geer who was the leader of that end of the line during which she escorted two groups of 10 allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain, and in March 1944 she was one of three Comet Line leaders who attended a meeting in Madrid with senior MI9 officers to plan their activities for D-day.

After the meeting she went to Paris and shortly after arriving was arrested by the French police and spent two nights in jail. From the time she was in police custody she behaved like a young girl and the way she was dressed supported the deception and instead of being handed to the Gestapo the police commandant released her becuase she was a child. After this close escape she found a new safehouse and continued her resistance work until France and Belgium were liberated.

Helena Marusarowna and Polish Resistance during WW2

Helena Marusarowna was born in 1918 and between 1936 and 1939 she was famous in Poland as a skier after winning nine Polish championships.

After Germany invaded Poland on 17 September 1939 she joined the Polish Resistance and began taking messages to other members of the resistance network and guiding people through mountain passes.

In March 1940 she was caught by the Slovak Police and handed to the Gestapo and whilst being tortured refused to provide information about other members of the resistance. It has been said the Gestapo found in her possession a letter from Stefania Hanausknowy who was known to be a member of the resistance and this possibly sealed her fate.

On 12 September 1941 Helena Marusarzowna was condemned to death by the Gestapo and shot near Tarn. Another version states she was shot on 23 July 1943 in Krukowski Forest with five other female members of the resistance and among them were Stefania Hanausknowy and Jania Bednarka.

Norwegian Resistance during WW2: Anne-Sofie Ostvedt

Anne-Sofie Ostvedt (soure common)

Anne-Sofie Østvedt, (later married Strømnæs), (2 January 1920 to 16 November 2009) was second in command of a Norwegian Resistance group called XU. Like many throughout occupied Europe during WW2 who later joined the resistance she started resisting by publishing underground newspapers and in December 1941 she was recruited by XU. Despite being only in her early 20’s she was vital to XU’s underground movement and became their second in command.  In 1942 the Gestapo was attempting to track her down, but her identity was not known by other members of the movement and she was only known as ‘Aslak’ which I understand is a male name in Norway. According to several accounts, after the war many members of the group who she gave orders to were surprised at her young age and the fact she was female.

The Sussex Safe house and the French Resistance: Bignor Manor

The Bertram Family (source unknown)

Anthony and Barbara Bertram with their young son rented a cottage called Bignor Manor in the small village of Bignor located in Chichester, West Sussex and quickly became respected members of the village community. There was nothing unusual about the Bertram family: they kept chickens and exchanged fresh eggs for other produce; their son had a pet goat called Wendy and he spent most of his spare time playing with other children in the village. 

Bignor Manor

   In 1995 Barbara Bertram published her war memoirs, ‘The French Resistance in Sussex’, and many of the villagers who knew the family during the war were shocked to discover the important role the Bertram’s and Bignor Manor played during the secret war in France.
   Bignor Manor was around 11 miles from RAF Tangmere which during the moon-period Lysander aircraft from 161 Special Duties Squadron used for air landings deep inside France to deliver and pickup SOE, MI6, MI9, RF (Free French agents) and Bignor Manor was the forward safe house for agents being transported to and from France.  

Sitting room and dartboard

  A dartboard in the sitting room concealed a cupboard containing equipment being issued to agents including personal firearms, special devices and weapons and Cyanide capsules.
  Even Wendy, the pet goat, played a part in their clandestine work. Barbara recalled, “London received an urgent wireless request to pick up an agent who was being hunted by the Germans. The BBC French service sent a cryptic message saying, ‘Wendy needs a new dress.’ This meant their message had been received and arrangements were being made. A few hours later a BBC announcer said, ‘Wendy has bought a new dress’ and this told the agents a Lysander had entered French airspace.

The British Homefront during WW2: The Café de Paris bombed during the London Blitz

The Café de Paris was a London nightclub in Coventry Street W1 near Leicester Square which opened in 1924 but closed permanently in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After receiving a direct hit during the Blitz, it was reported in newspapers but due to censorship the full story only became known several years after the war.

On the night of 8 March 1941, the Café de Paris which had a maximum capacity of 700 people was described as heaving with couples dancing to Ken ‘Snake hips’ Johnson’s big band. Twenty-six-year old Ken Johnson was from British Ghana and had just started playing when according to one of the few survivors there was an immense blue flash. Two bombs entered the night club down a ventilation shaft from the roof and exploded in front of the band. Ken Johnson’s head was blown from his shoulders and the legs of dancer’s were sheared off. Due to the confined space the blast was magnified and burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly.

Ken ‘Snake Hips’ Johnson

When rescuers arrived one tripped over a girl’s head on the floor, looked up and saw her torso still sitting in a chair. The dead and dying where heaped everywhere.

The number of fatalities determined by body parts is not known and numbers varying considerably but this was not uncommon during the Blitz.

Johnny Ramensky: the Glaswegian who cracked safes behind enemy lines during WW2

Johnny Ramensky spent most of his life in and out of jail.

    Several agents who served with the Special Operations Executive who graduated from the Beulieu finishing school mentioned a larger than life Glaswegian career criminal called Johnny Ramensky who was also known as ‘Gentle Johnny’ because every time he was arrested he was polite to the police and owned up to his crimes. Ramensky had a Polish Father and Scottish mother and was released from prison after agreeing to train students to become safecrackers and cat-burglars and after disappearing from Beulieu it was rumoured he was back in prison after being caught breaking into a safe.

Due to his criminal skills still being in demand he was released from prison again in 1943 and enlisted into the Fusiliers, but throughout the remainder of the war he served with 30 Commando and was later awarded the Military Medal. Apart from cracking safes and sabotage operations behind enemy lines it was widely said Ramensky found time to loot the Germans and find ways to transport various valuables back to Scotland and even gave an expensive ‘stolen’ present to the governor of a prison where he previously served time for burglary and during a short time in hospital a senior police officer who arrested him several times over many years sent a letter addressed to  ‘Gentle Johnny’ wishing him a speedy recovery.   

Ramensky started his long criminal career shortly after leaving school and spent 40-years of his life in and out of various prisons and after the war returned to crime. Sometime in 1972 Ramensky was sentence to one-year in prison after being caught on the roof of a shop and whilst in prison ‘Gentle Johnny’ suffered a stroke and died at Perth Royal Infirmary on 4 November 1972.

Polish Section SOE

Polish Section SOE.  Agents trained at station 43 (Audley End House and Gardens near Saffron, Essex which is now owned by English Heritage) This section became known as the Cichocienmni – the silent unseen. Between 1941- 1945, 316 Polish SOE agents were dropped into occupied Poland and 103 men and women were killed in action or executed by the Gestapo and a further 9 were killed by Soviet Forces after the war. In 1983 a memorial urn was placed in West Park in memory of the 103 Polish parachutists who lost their lives during the war.

Every year on 11 November (Armistice Day and Polish Independence Day), the staff at Audley End stop their work, and gather at the memorial for a short service, ensuring that the dedication and bravery of the Cichociemni are not forgotten.