Kristallnacht - The Night of Broken Glass, broke out throughout Nazi Germany against its Jewish citizens. For two days, the Nazi German SA paramilitary forces as well as German citizens, launched a pogrom against the Jews. Nobody intervened. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, buildings were demolished with sledgehammers. The rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged. Martin Gilbert, a British historian wrote that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening. The events as reported by foreign journalists, sent shock waves around the world. The British "Times" newspaper wrote, "No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday." Kristallnacht changed the nature of the Nazi persecution of Jews from economic, political, and social to that of physical beatings, incarceration, and ultimately mass murder. Kristallnacht has often been referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust. In the words of historian Max Rein in 1988, "Kristallnacht came...and everything was changed. (The word, Kristallnacht, comes from the shards of broken glass that covered the streets after Nazis smashed the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues.)
Witold Pilecki and his Commander Major Włodarkiewicz, co-founded the Secret Polish Army TAP), one of the first Polish underground organizations in Poland. Pilecki became organizational commander of TAP which expanded throughout Warsaw, Siedlce, Radom, Lublin, and other major cities of central Poland. TAP had approximately 8,000 men (more than half of them armed), some 20 machine guns and several anti-tank rifles. Later, TAP was incorporated into the Union for Armed Struggle (Związek Walki Zbrojnej), and later renamed as the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, or AK) Witold Pilecki was a Polish cavalry officer, intelligence agent and resistance leader. He served as a Rotmistrz (captain) with the Polish Army in the Polish-Soviet War, Second Polish Republic, and World War II. During World War II, he volunteered for an underground resistance operation in which he allowed himself to be captured and imprisoned in the Auschwitz death camp. His mission was to gather intelligence on the Nazi German operations, and to later escape. While in the camp, Pilecki organized a resistance movement and in 1941 informed the Allies of the atrocities that were occurring in Auschwitz. His report, which eventually became published, was the first comprehensive intel report on the camp and the Holocaust. (Editors note: I strongly urge you to read Pilecki's book, "The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery" It can be purchased from Amazon online, or you may find it in university libraries.)
The Fall of the Berlin Wall: The infamous wall began to fall on the evening of November 9, 1989, continuing on for several weeks. East Germans, nicknamed Mauerspechte (translation: Wall Woodpeckers) used whatever tools they could find to chip off bits of the wall to keep as souvenirs, and in the process, massive sections of the wall were eventually demolished, and inadvertently opened numerous unofficial border crossings. Enormous crowds rallied on both sides of the wall, and waited for hours to cheer the bulldozers that tore down portions of the Wall and reconnect the divided roads. Before the Wall was constructed, approximately 3.5 million East Germans ignored Soviet emigration restrictions, and attempted to defect to West Germany and other European countries. From 1961 to 1989 the Wall prevented almost all such emigration, but despite the dangers, 100,000 East Germans attempted to escape and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall. The death toll was estimated to have ranged from 136 to 200 in and around Berlin. The East German government gave "shooting orders" to border guards in controlling the actions of defectors. In an order dated October 1973, discovered much later by researchers, the guards were indeed instructed to shoot to kill, and that the defectors were considered criminals that needed to be shot. An excerpt of the order read as follows: "Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used" If an escapee was wounded in the attempt to make a crossing, and lay on the death strip, no Westerners could dare intervene to help the person, no matter how close they were to the Western wall; the fear was so great that any rescue attempt would trigger a barrage of fire power from the "Grepos" (border guards). The Grepos would allow "fugitives" to bleed to death in the middle of this hell. So many people attempted to escape yet failed, and many died trying. Peter Fechter, a young man of 18 years of age died on August 17, 1962. He was shot as he attempted the crossing and bled to death in full view of the Western media.