Wednesday, January 16, 2019

October 25, 1941: FDR Warns Hitler About Massacres

Saturday 25 October 1941

Franz Baron von Werra 25 October 1941
Franz Baron von Werra, KIA 25 October 1941, and Simba.
US/German Relations: The German Reich has been operating largely in silence on the Eastern Front while its army (Heer) and special services (Schutzstaffel or SS) engages in a growing number of atrocities. For example, mass executions at Babi Yar (Kiev), and Odesa within the past month (and some ongoing) have killed thousands of people, and many other atrocities have been committed. The media has been largely quiet about these incidents because they happen in remote areas and means of communication are sketchy. On 25 October 1941, however, United States President Roosevelt shines a light on these massacres and directly warns German leader Adolf Hitler to stop them - or else.

Picture Show Bette Davis George Brent 25 October 1941
George Brent and Bette Davis promoting "The Great Lie" on the cover of Picture Show magazine, 25 October 1941.
Roosevelt's statement that is issued through the U.S. State Department reads in full:
The practice of executing scores of innocent hostages in reprisal for isolated attacks on Germans in countries temporarily under the [Third Reich] heel revolts a world already inured to suffering and brutality. Civilized peoples long ago adopted the basic principle that no man should be punished for the deed. of another. Unable to apprehend the persons involved in these attacks the [German] characteristically slaughter fifty or a hundred innocent persons. Those who would "collaborate" with Hitler or try to appease him cannot ignore this ghastly warning. 
The [Germans] might have learned from the last war the impossibility of breaking men's spirits by terrorism. Instead, they develop their lebensraum and "new order" by depths of frightfulness which even they have never approached before. These are the acts of desperate men who know in their hearts that they cannot win. Frightfulness can never bring peace to Europe. It only sows the seeds of hatred which will one day bring fearful retribution.
There is little question that this statement, particularly the closing words, "which will one day bring fearful retribution," is a veiled threat to Hitler.

The Camden News 25 October 1941
The Camden (Arkansas) News, 25 October 1941. Unlike in 1939 or 1940, the entire front page of local newspapers now is war news.
Roosevelt is demanding that the German leader have his troops stop committing massacres. Roosevelt refers to this statement repeatedly throughout the remainder of World War II. It seems that this is one of FDR's proudest moments and reflects the strain of moralism that has been growing in United States foreign policy since World War I. The fact that Roosevelt's seems timed to the Kyiv massacres that took place just yesterday suggests that the Allies have a very good real-time understanding of exactly what is happening to people in the Reich and occupied territories. In hindsight, this leads to the question of whether Allied leaders had the same kind of insight into the Holocaust as it was happening and perhaps could have done more to interfere with it.

HMS Welshman in Plymouth, 25 October 1941
HMS Welshman (an Abdiel class cruiser minelayer) in Plymouth, 25 October 1941 (© IWM (A 6044)). 
Eastern Front: The weather in the central section of the Eastern Front is bad and getting worse. The Rasputitsa, or change of seasons, is flooding roads, turning them and other areas into muddy morasses, and making the entire area almost impassable by most vehicles and even men and horses in some areas. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group Center, essentially suspends offensive operations for the time being. The Germans, who are unfamiliar with these conditions, intend to wait until the ground freezes and firms sufficiently to provide tractions for their vehicle. That should happen within about two weeks as the temperature continues to drop as the days get shorter.

German soldiers launching a weather balloon in Tunisia, 25 October 1941
Wehrmacht soldiers launching a weather balloon in Tunisia, 25 October 1941 (Photo: Berliner Verlag/Archiv. - Unbekannt/Tunisia).
That does not mean that everything just stops. Wehrmacht infantry continues to slog forward, trying to catch up with the panzers who are leading the advance. The German 78th Infantry Division, for instance, catches up to the SS Das Reich Division which is consolidating its hold on the central position of Mozhaysk on the main Moscow highway. The Soviets also have time to formulate plans to protect Moscow and also stop the dangerous Wehrmacht offensive north of the city toward Tikhvin. In Moscow, the Soviets prepare a new war production plan to replace the earlier one that has been rendered obsolete by recent German victories on the central front and further south at Kharkiv and in the Donbas industrial region.

Franz Baron von Werra 25 October 1941
Franz Baron von Werra.
While on a practice flight in Bf 109F-4 Number 7285, Franz Baron von Werra crashes in the sea north of Vlissingen due to engine failure. His body is never found. Von Werra eventually will become famous as the subject of "The One That Got Away" (1957) starring Hardy Kruger (also a World War II vet), which chronicles his escape from a POW train in Canada on 10 January 1941. In a dramatic escape, Franz von Werra jumped off a prison train, got across the St. Lawrence River, and made it back to Germany on 18 April 1941 via New York and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He became a media sensation in New York City during his brief stay there, and then a celebrity in the Reich as well. Franz von Werra, also known for his pet lion Simba, remains famous to this day for students of World War II as the only German POW to escape from Canadian custody and make it back to the Reich.

Christening USS Juneau, 25 October 1941
Mrs. Harry I. Lucas christens USS Juneau (CL-52), 25 October 1941. Sunk off Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942 (U.S. Navy).
US Military: The US Army Air Force places an order for two experimental long-range heavy bombers with Northrup. The objective is to create a bomber force that can leave the continental United States, bomb targets in Europe, and return to the United States without landing or refueling. This is a worst-case scenario plan in case Great Britain is invaded by the Reich. The bomber ordered is the XB-35 flying wing.

British Military: Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, newly appointed commander of Force Z and Commander-in-Chief of the China Station, departs from Great Britain in command of his fleet. His command includes his flagship, the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales, together with the veteran Great War-era battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and the four destroyers HMS Electra, HMS Express, HMS Encounter, and HMS Jupiter. They are heading for Singapore to reinforce the massive naval base there. Force Z arrives there on 2 December 1942.

Holocaust: While Hitler officially has suspended his euthanasia program due to broad public disapproval, stirred over the summer by sermons by Bishop Galen and others, in reality, the program continues in secret. Those euthanasia "experts" are now in high demand. Due to conquests in the East that have brought in new hordes of "undesirables," the authorities there are looking for more efficient killing solutions. Erhard Wetzel, an official in charge of race questions for the Ministry of Occupied Eastern Territories, comes up with an idea: why not gas them? He writes a letter to Hinrich Lohse, Reich Commissioner for the Ostland territories, suggesting that those who were working on the euthanasia program be used to implement this solution. They can, he suggests, construct gas chambers in which to eliminate large groups of people, primarily deported Jewish people who are unfit to work. Wetzel's suggestion is not acted upon immediately but reflects a growing consensus within the Reich security forces that simply shooting large numbers of people is inefficient, time-consuming, and bad for morale.

Riga Ghetto is established.

Sweden's new ministers in Copenhagen, Envoyé and Mrs Gustaf von Dardel, 25 October 1941
Sweden's new ministers in Copenhagen, Envoyé and Mrs Gustaf von Dardel, 25 October 1941.

October 1941

October 1, 1941: Germans and Finns Advance in USSR
October 2, 1941: Operation Typhoon Broadens
October 3, 1941: Air Battles Near Moscow
October 4, 1941: Stalin Contemplates Defeat
October 5, 1941: Hoth Goes South
October 6, 1941: First Snowfall After Dark
October 7, 1941: Stalin Gets Religion
October 8, 1941: FDR Promises Stalin Aid 
October 9, 1941: FDR Orders Atomic Bomb Research
October 10, 1941: Reichenau's Severity Order
October 11, 1941: Tank Panic in Moscow
October 12, 1941: Spanish Blue Division at the Front
October 13, 1941: Attack on Moscow
October 14, 1941: Germans Take Kalinin
October 15, 1941: Soviets Evacuate Odessa
October 16, 1941: Romanians Occupy Odessa
October 17, 1941: U-568 Torpedoes USS Kearny
October 18, 1941: Tojo Takes Tokyo
October 19, 1941: Germans Take Mozhaysk
October 20, 1941: Germans Attack Toward Tikhvin
October 21, 1941: Rasputitsa Hits Russia
October 22, 1941: Germans Into Moscow's Second Defensive Line
October 23, 1941: The Odessa Massacre
October 24, 1941: Guderian's Desperate Drive North
October 25, 1941: FDR Warns Hitler About Massacres
October 26, 1941: Guderian Drives Toward Tula
October 27, 1941: Manstein Busts Loose
October 28, 1941: Soviet Executions
October 29, 1941: Guderian Reaches Tula
October 30, 1941: Guderian Stopped at Tula
October 31, 1941: USS Reuben James Sunk


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