Thursday, July 12, 2018

March 5, 1944: Democracy

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas newspaper- The Mercury Chronicle


Nazis Use Our Treatment of Negro As Propaganda

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

The war on the battlefronts of Europe has come to a temporary lull, while Germany is throwing 22 divisions into Italy and the Allies are preparing to wrest the initiative from the Germans. The war on the propaganda front, however, is raging with full fury.

Taking advantage of our domestic troubles, Dr. Goebbels tries to get Europe to believe that the United States is ready for another Civil War. This is by no means a new-born baby in Goebbel's ministry of propaganda; it has been tried with varying degrees of success ever since F.D.R. received his third term. To the non-Nazi population of Europe, America has always meant a country with democratic resources: a background of security, which would never permit a Nazi victory. Roosevelt's speeches on foreign policy strengthened this feeling tremendously and it did so before the war had officially started.

Propaganda Shakes

During the 1940 elections, Goebbels had complete faith in the defeat of Roosevelt, and therefore centered all his propaganda on the foreign field in the supposition that the American people, since they would not re-elect Roosevelt, proved they would have nothing to do with any kind of interventionist policy. When Roosevelt was reelected in spite of Goebbels' prophecies, the German propaganda system was seriously shaken.

The next chance for Goebbels came soon: strikes. The fact that strikes were possible during wartime means to many of us a guarantee of our democratic institutions; it was a sign that we cling to the ideas of democracy even at a time when democracy seems to be inefficient; to Goebbels, the labor strikes in America came just at the opportune time. Since strikes are not even thought of any more in Germany or any part of occupied Europe, since any attempt at strikes would mean an attempt at revolution, the word strike just has a much stronger connotation in European countries than here. Therefore each time a strike stopped work in any American plant, it was reported with all details and a great number of exaggerations in German newspapers and was interpreted as a revolutionary endeavor on the side of the American worker.

U.S. Treatment of Europe

Possibly the major target of German propaganda at the present time, as far as this country is concerned, deals with the way we treat the Negroes. Whenever any group in any country accuses the Nazis of the cruel, brutal and terroristic way in which they continue their systematic extermination of the Jews in Europe, Hitler's propaganda refers to the Negro's position in the United States, and items like the poll tax, the thousand kinds of social and economic discriminations are mentioned. The recent race riots in Detroit and other towns made the headlines in German papers and were interpreted as a sign of disintegration of democracy.

Japs As Liberators

We are not concerned with the feeling of the Nazis in this respect. However, we are concerned about the goodwill and cooperation of many a native population in the Pacific, in Burma, India, and in the South Sea islands. With the only exception of the Philippines, the natives of these islands and countries have taken sides against us and for the Japanese during the times of Japanese invasions. To them, the Japanese appeared to be the liberators, freeing them from the white man's oppression.

We cannot expect these people ever to cooperate with us or consider us as friends, ever to give us any kind of military assistance which is so vital in the jungles unknown to most Allied soldiers, as long as the example of the Negro's life in the U.S. as a U.S. citizen does not give them any promise for improvement of their conditions after Allied reoccupation.

German and Japanese propaganda are strongest in this respect. The Japanese call this war the war of liberation against the supremacy of the white race. Whether or not, according to Japanese wishes, the supremacy of the white race will be followed by a tyranny of the yellow race is not the point: the fact is that this propaganda has been most effective and contributed largely to the initial successes of the Japanese. The only way to stop this dangerous enemy propaganda is to prove its untruthfulness by a fair and democratic treatment of the minority populations in this country.

There is a lot going on here. First, I want to note that Opa chose this topic fairly soon after hearing a social worker speak about her work with African Americans in the South. He clearly learned (if he didn't already know) about the plight of the African Americans in the United States. It is important to note that as a German, Opa was brand new to the race conversation in the United States. In Germany, there wasn't much conversation because there weren't many people of African descent, and there wasn't a historical luggage cart full of wounds from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and Civil War. 

I imagine Opa learned about the American Civil War much like we learned about the French Revolution, it was interesting and "over there." In his Quaker youth group, Opa learned about apartheid, Mahatma Ghandi, and other examples of struggles for equality. Now he lived in a nation with an open racial wound. 

Opa is called to write about the war, not the race riots or racial discrimination. I was annoyed that he talked about the riots and necessary better treatment of African Americans and other people of color only in the context of the war effort. However, he may have been trying to advocate for equal rights in a way that was amiable to a broader audience.

Either way the whole thing just made me sad. As a nation, we still have so far to go. The Nazis weren't pointing out the mistreatment of African Americans, they were pointing out the instability of the nation. They didn't care about the inequality, they cared that there were protests and disruptions to production. As Opa wrote- the perception for the Nazis was that democracy was inefficient. In the dictatorship, there was no space for rebellion, only obedience. The Nazis flaunted their efficient obedience. 

Opa wrote about the news of "the cruel, brutal and terroristic way in which they continue their systematic extermination of the Jews in Europe." This is a reminder to us that the Allies knew about the Holocaust, at least to some extent. Opa knew that the Nazis were both capable and willing to attempt the annihilation of the Jews. I'm not sure anyone believed just how successful they had been. When he typed that sentence, did he think of his Mom and wonder where she was and if she was safe? 

I looked up some information on the race riots and found that the war provided an opportunity for the African Americans to participate in the war cause and advocate for their equal treatment at the same time. This, of course, made some white people very upset. In Detroit, when some African Americans were promoted to higher job positions, it was too much for some white people. I read this article from Time Life magazine (I encourage you to read it), and my favorite line is this one: 
Seventy years after the Detroit riots, offers a series of photos from a great American city in turmoil — pictures that, whether we want to remember this slice of history or not, remind us that for a significant number of Americans, both then and now, allegiance to race trumps allegiance to country every time.

That line shook me. And how true it is. 

So while this article of Opa's rubs me the wrong way, I believe the main reason is because it speaks the truth of where America was then, and is now. Race is still a marker for division rather than a celebration of diversity and nuance in our culture. War is still the dark innovator of all things: new technologies and hope for advances in equality (because we need something from "them"). When the war ends, will the minorities and women then be asked to step down, thank you for your temporary help, we don't need you anymore? (Yes they will.) I suppose an advance even for the wrong reasons can still result in a positive step forward despite ourselves. 

But my God, how are we so crass and dumb as a human species?!

At the very least, Opa does point out the hypocrisy of America asking for Pacific Islanders to rally for their cause when they treat minorities in their own country so poorly. Why would the Islanders think they would be treated any differently? Of course there is a deeper scar when dealing with African Americans whose family trees were ripped apart and sold into slavery for generations. But for Japan and Germany, they can use this hypocrisy to their advantage. Japan can promise that they are the liberating power in the face of this powerful nation that mistreats even their own citizens. Germany can say that America doesn't have their act together after all, so the Allied powerhouse is not so strong after all.

This propaganda is especially dangerous, because there is truth in it. Democracy is built on diversity of people, opinion, and religion. If we as Americans decided that a certain people, opinion, or religion should be privileged over another, we lose a stronghold of our democracy. We start to chip away at it so we can be "more efficient." But a more efficient democracy in this vein, is simply a path to dictatorship. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

March 2 & 9, 1944: Religion and Ignored Problems

Articles mentioning Opa in Student Life magazine, The Collegiate


Lutheran Student Association will have its usual meeting starting at 3:00pm Sunday afternoon. It will include Fellowship Hour and games. Tom Doeppner will be the speaker at the Devotional program.
Cosmopolitan Group Hear Champ Tonight 

Mrs. Minnie Champ who has spent several years doing social work among the Negroes of the South, will talk about her work tonight at the regular meeting of the Cosmopolitan Club. The meeting will be held at 7:30pm, in Room 201 of Nichols Gymnasium. The public is invited. 

Cosmopolitan Club officers for next semester elected at their last meeting are Victoria Majors, president, and Leora Bentley, vice-president. Ella Hanson was elected treasurer and Thomas Doeppner, corresponding secretary.

Opa continues to be greatly involved in campus life, with speaking engagements and officer roles. He led a remarkably active life in college, it blows my lazy college days out of the water! 

I noted a couple of things from these short announcements. First, Opa was never particularly religious. Despite the fact that he was the head usher of a Methodist Church for many years, even I understood as a kid that he was involved more as a civic duty than a religious one. Or maybe I was wrong. I've learned from Opa's earlier letters and discussions with Gisela, that he was very thoughtful and had a spiritually inquisitive mind. Maybe it was more philosophical than spiritual, but he was curious. So although it still strikes me as odd that he would be a speaker for a Lutheran group, I wonder if perhaps Opa never stopped being curious about religion. Perhaps he was just never quite convinced to jump all the way in. 

The second thing I noted was the topic of the talk in Opa's Cosmopolitan Group. I love this group, it feels like the cool kids group (or maybe just the opposite), but they dared to learn about taboo topics. What did this woman talk about? Disenfranchisement? Segregation? Reparations? Systemic Racism? Who knows what level of understanding she had about the people she worked with, or the goals she had in working with them. I would be so fascinated to have heard that talk; to hear the perspective of a woman speaking with midwestern folks and a sprinkling of foreign students about a huge issue about which they had no idea or experience. 

It stops me in my tracks a little. With the war raging on, everyone is hyper-focused on the drama overseas, completely unaware of the persistent tragedy in their back yard. It's a lesson that if you do not appropriately address a problem, it will not disappear, even if another problem overshadows it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

February, 1944: The Engineer- FANCY Student Union Building

Article in The Engineer by Opa


The New Student Union Building
The Sub
of Kansas State

By Thomas Doeppner, E.E. '44

Let us dream for a while. Let us imagine this  were 1954 instead of 1944. The war will have been over for quite a while, and the SUB of Kansas State, the Student Union Building, as designed by the Architecture Department, will be in use for students and faculty. We get out of Heat Power Class in the Engineering building, and, therefore, need something to remind us that there are also pleasant things in the world, so we cross the street and enter the SUB through its Main Entrance. To our right, there is the office of the caretaker, and right behind it, the famous window with the word "Information" written on top of it. Behind that window, there sits one of those coeds who disprove the theory that nine out of ten girls in Kansas are cute, and that the tenth one goes to Kansas State.

Just in time, Clair discovered that the girl was wearing something sparkling on the third finger of her left hand, so we decided to continue our conversation to business. Conversation we wanted, however, so we had her tell us a little something about the history of our famous SUB.

We found out plenty. It was early in the forties when that new president of General Electric was still an undergraduate at Kansas State, that the students decided that something just had to happen to make life more interesting and more college like on K State campus. The bowling alleys in Aggieville just became too crowded; the time you had to wait for your coke in the Palace became just too embarrassingly long, and there was no place in town where a girl could play pool, or where you could dance on week nights. So, a committee consisting of both students and faculty members was set up and, unlike most committees, they got something done. Even we knew that for a great number of years every student was soaked five dollars per semester for the would-be Student Union Building, until a sufficiently great amount of money was collected to pay at least part of the expenses for the new building. The total cost of the building: a small matter of $800,000. The students decided to pay half of it, the rest was to be paid by the state. A loan of approximately 300,000 dollars was to speed things up a little bit.

Right after the war (our dream did not tell us just what year that was: even dreams won't reveal military secrets) the building was started, and only a little more than two years after that, it was ready for use. The building was built in three sections: the center wing first, and after it was completed, they added the right wing, and then the left wing.

Because of the afore-mentioned reasons, we did not bother our Information-please girl any longer, but continued our excursion trip as stags. We crossed a wide corridor and entered the Main Lounge. It is a huge one, its size more than eight thousand square feet. Easy chairs and little tables are scattered around the place, and quite a number of students act as though this was their living room at home. Some are catching up on badly needed sleep, others are engaged in some pretty hot bull sessions, and over there in the corner sits a girl who actually seems to be studying.

There are four smaller lounges, two on each the west and east side of the main lounge. On the east, there is the art lounge and the browsing library. No wonder our art department looks sort of empty these days; it seems as though all of the better exhibits have been taken down here to decorate the art lounge. In the browsing library, we find another bunch of students, each of them sandwiched in between an easy chair and a magazine (anything from Ladies' Home Journal to Esquire) or a book of fiction. It certainly is a relief: there appears to be not a single technical book in this paradise of reading. On the west, there is the tea lounge and, right north of it, the music lounge. Nobody is serving tea right now, so we go one to the music lounge. Thank goodness the doors and walls are soundproof, for you could not expect any outsider to listen to that girl take her daily gym exercise on the piano. Fortunately, our appearance and probably shocked and tortured-looking faces make her quit, so we can enjoy looking at things. That looks like a swell grand piano she was pounding on, and while Teet is dreaming about the way his girl would look sitting on that bench in front of the paint, Clair and I discovered a radio and super-modern record player. Record player is an instrument which I have learned to play with a considerable degree of perfection, and with the help of an ample collection of records, I gave an unusually good performance of Bach, Beethoven, Irving Berlin, Ray Stokeley, Tschaikovsky, and Matt Betton.

Clair thought he needed some fresh air, so we crossed the main lounge and stepped onto the terrace just south of it. There was Pete, with dark glasses, taking a sun bath, while Ruth used her household physics in a vain attempt to find a position in which the sun would shine neither on her face nor on her book. We crossed the main lounge again, going north this time, and continued our investigations. The first door to which we came after turning east in the corridor, had written on it "Women's Lounge." I wanted to peek in there too, but Teet wouldn't let me. He said Dean Moore may be inside. Only after he promised me to let me sleep for ten minutes on the davenport in the men's lounge, I gave in.

The corridor turned a corner, and we decided to do the same, so here we went south again. It seemed as though all the extra-curricular activities of the entire college were concentrated in this wing. Here was the room of the Student Council, then three rooms for college activities, the YMCA and YWCA offices, and the offices of the student pastors. 

Back we went on our corridor, and to the west wing. Right at the corner, the north-west corner, there was the Social Room. Quite a room; 49 by 19.5 feet in size, it looked just terribly expensive. Expensive upholstery, good pictures on the walls, Clair unconsciously adjusted his tie when entering that room. (I would have too, had I worn one.) South of that room, there was the office of the alumni secretary, and then there were three rooms whose existence I had never expected. An alumni lounge, a faculty lunge, and a faculty game room. We couldn't go inside of course, but Teet let me take a look. You should have seen the way Dea Durland beat Prof Kerchner in ping-pong; the score was 18 to 11. And here I thought Kerchner would need all his spare time to think up those tricky questions he asks us on A.-C. Machinery quizzes.

Clair wants to go to the second floor, so we go. Boy, does that ever look stylish. There is a ball room which makes the Avalon look like a deserted dessert plate. Here is room for 620 couples, and that leaves 15 square feet for each couple. A movable platform is provided for Ray Stokeley, his successor or assigns, and a cyclorama which furnishes that background which so many a dance band needs so badly. all that is on the east end of the two-floor ball room: on the west end there is, believe it or not, a serving kitchen. I start indulging in future planning: grab a girl with your right hand, a bottle of coke with your left, swing the one around the ballroom and press the other one close to your lips. As long as you don't get them mixed up, it works swell.

On the other side of the kitchen there is, lo and behold, another dancing room. This one is smaller, though, and holds only 235 couples. There is a small band platform and right behind it, a terrace. Just think of those moonlight nights in May, when you can take her out on the terrace for a waltz. That gives me an idea, and I go back to the large ball room. Yessir, there is another terrace, a larger one yet, connected to the ball room I wonder if the are going to have chaperones both inside the ball room and out on the terrace? Some more activity rooms, two dining rooms, and a number of lounges make up the rest of the second floor. Oh yes: there are one, two, three phone booths out in the hall. Teet thought they might come join handy. When someone cuts in on him, he can go out and call up another Margaret.

Up we go to the third floor. As suspected, another series of activity rooms: (Clair calls them "necking rooms." He won't tell me why, though.) There is a small balcony to watch the jitterbug from, and there is a large balcony, right over the band platform, to do the jitterbug on. The size of that balcony is 79 by 23.5 feet. Figuring 15 square feet per couple, that will take care of one hundred thirty-four and a half couples, according to my slide rule. Whether that half couple is a boy or a girl or one half of each, the slide rule won't say.

I wanted to go to the fourth floor, but Clair said there wasn't any. So we went down again, to the basements. Yes, plural: there are two of them, a basement, and a sub-basement.

The basement looked awfully good to me. There was a huge cafeteria with 466 seats. I didn't feel like eating a meal yet; that Heat Power class was still lying in my stomach, but a little refreshment wouldn't be too bad. So we went to the canteen, which is just adjacent to the Cafeteria. It was a good-sized place, too. A counter with 20 seats, and then, all around the walls, there were thirty five booths, and cozy ones at that. A nickelodeon was provided, and there was dancing space for I-don't-know-how-many couples. Well, I went to the counter, asked for a scotch and soda, got a dirty look and a coke, drank the latter, paid for both, and left. "Around the corner" again, to my right, there was the post office, about three times as big as the one which lived in my memory from Anderson Hall; boxes all around it, and some easy chairs in front so you can enjoy reading your flunk slips. Right opposite the post office there is, very appropriately, a billiard room equipped with seven tables. I had not supposed Margie would ever be able to learn that game, but there she was, leaning over the table, tongue between teeth, squinting through one eye toward that unfortunate ball which a few seconds later, to Margie's and every onlooker's surprise, disappeared in one of the holes. Finally a place in Manhattan where girls can play pool.

North of that, there are offices of and for the student publications. The Royal Purple and the Collegian are begotten in these sacred dwellings, and in order to avoid the gossip column for at least one week, we sneak away as softly and fast  as possible. Next stop: one of those three game rooms. They are just all right: ping pong tables, shuffle boards, checkers and chess games, and just a lot of similar items that make life worth wasting.

On the west wing, there are a few rooms my male intuition tells me to stay away from: kitchen and dish washing room. After seeing the electric dish-washing machines, though, the blood returns into my face and I feel better. Clair wants to beat me in a game of bowling, so we go down to the sub-basement.

No kidding, there, as close to China as I have ever been, are twelve bowling alleys with the equivalent number of pin boys. I made a strike the first time, then a few spectators came, and my luck was over. Clair just beat the life out of me, but was nice enough not to tell anybody that he usually does.

The west wing of the sub-basement is filled with what Dr. Grimes of the Economic Department calls "Intermediate goods." Pipes, transformers, air conditioning equipment, and more pipes. Then, there is an idol for home eccers: Vegetable storage, potato storage, meat storage rooms. Back we go to the more inviting east wing, and find another miniature canteen. Fifteen stools around the counter, a tap room with three tables and seven booths, and a stag room with four tables and thirteen booths. On my question whether they tap beer in that tap room, the waiters give me another one of those dirty, dirty looks. I decided I must be so dangerously dirty from all those looks that it is time to take a shower: and sure enough, second door to the right has a sign "Men's Shower Room." Teet didn't think he was particularly dirty, but he is a sociable sort of a fellow, so he took a shower with me.

Clair would do that to me. He reminded me that it is time to get back to the Engineering Building for my Strength of Materials Class; the mere thought of it would wake anybody up from any dream which is not a nightmare, so my dreams were over and I found myself in Strength Class: under Prof. Koenitzer at that.

Well, it was just a dream for us. For those boys, though, who ar now in high school, it will become reality. Only a few years and this grand Student Union Building will be born. It might be a consolation to us that we, with our modest (and enforced) donations of five dollars a semester, are contributing to that wonderful addition to K-State Campus, the dram of every student, the SUB of Kansas State.

This is the longest propaganda piece on why the $5 a semester is worth the sacrifice. I think it is fascinating that the Engineer has such a long narrative description of a future building with hardly any technical (or even graphics) descriptions. I enjoyed the dream-sequence into a super fancy Student Union Building. I couldn't imagine it would be that elaborate, but then I looked it up online. 

It's that elaborate. They have a bowling alley, they host weddings and banquets in their great halls. Look here. I mean, holy cow the dream became a reality! It was opened in 1956, so not too far off of Opa's 1954 dream. I'm kind of shocked. 

Yeah, it was worth the $5.

Monday, July 9, 2018

February 27, 1944: Waiting for Liberation

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Reverses In Italy Have Taught A Lesson To The Allied Public

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

There is much talk these days that the invasion of Europe has been postponed, maybe till 1945, because of the reverses which the Allies suffered in Italy: The remarkable success which our forces are now having in the Pacific theater of war seems to indicate that Japan may be the first one on the Allied list, which would mean a complete change in general strategy.

Even though many events of the last weeks definitely favor this theory, there are many reasons for having the invasion of Europe come off as scheduled, namely this spring or early summer. The people of the occupied countries have been expecting their liberation for quite a while.

Late in 1942, especially after the invasion of North Africa, many underground groups in France and Yugoslavia got set for the real thing: they were disappointed. Invasion, then, was promised to occur in 1943, even though no Allied leader ever committed himself. It did not come that year. This year, however, the big push has been predicted by both political and military leaders. 

Churchill, Roosevelt and Eisenhower are the major figures whose committances to 1944 invasion plans are regarded as a promise by the occupied population. The morale of these unfortunate people in Nazi-occupied Europe is  not likely to be tested for another year, it has passed its peak already.

No Handicap In Plans

The reverse in Italy do not necessarily constitute a handicap in invasion plans. It is true, the actions in this theater of war are far behind schedule; the experience gathered in invasion tactics and also in German defense tactics, however, will add tremendously in making the big invasion a success.

Another reason for the reverses in Italy is the fact that the Allies are sending only a very limited number of reserves into that country. The Fifth and British Eighth armies are the only ones fighting at present, while the whereabouts of the remaining Allied troops in the Mediterranean area still is a mystery. 

It is known that the United States has approximately 4,000,000 troops overseas, most of them in European area. Certainly, some of these would be rushed to Italy for badly needed reinforcements if there was not some big reason for keeping those troops at their present location.

The only reason the Allies can have to keep such a vast army out of action is that they plan a big action. The only big action which can be in progress now is the invasion of Europe.

Invasion Problems Solved

Nevertheless, the day of invasion still lies at least two months ahead. By now, the major problems of supply have probably been solved, and the necessary amount of ships, planes, and troops is probably ready for action. The final preparations may be in progress: final plans for the "psychological warfare" which is believed to play a very decisive part in the coming fight; and the softening up of German anti-invasion defenses, which, strangely enough, has hardly been started. The relative decrease of Allied air activity over Europe during the last few months may be due to the concentration and saving of air power for the air offensive, and softening up actions which can be expected to sort any time now.

The reverses in Italy, thus, are unlikely to postpone the invasion by any considerable length of time. They have taught the Allied public the lesson, though, which military leaders have been advocating for some time that German morale is not cracking yet, that the German army still has a tremendous defensive and offensive power, and that the days of invasion and victory are separated by a long stretch of time and a great amount of tough fighting and hard suffering.

In a way, this article is a bit of psychological warfare for the morale of the Allied forces. It looks like there is defeat in Italy (or at least a harder fought victory than expected), which makes everyone a bit more nervous about the timing and positive outcome of this hugely anticipated Big Invasion. If this invasion of Europe does not succeed, it would be a huge blow to the Allied war effort, and a psychological set back in the before assumed overall victory. 

The slow and painful victory in Italy has made the Allied public question everything they had formerly assumed. They thought Germans were tired and fading, and yet they were proven otherwise. They thought that the Allies could easily push through and march to their goals, on their way to inevitable victory. The battle was far more difficult and costly. If they are struggling in Italy, what does that mean for the big invasion of Europe that everyone has waited for? Does it mean the Allies need to wait to regroup? Is the war in the Pacific taking too much from the European effort?

Opa makes a strong case for the invasion to stay on schedule despite the slow-down of the Italian timeline. He talks about the signs of things still building up for the invasion: the lack of extra available resources going to Italy being his strongest point. 

I honed in on his argument that the "people of the occupied countries have been expecting their liberation for quite a while." It's not a particularly strong military argument, but for morale, the occupied are starving for an attempt at rescue. As Opa wrote this article, I wonder if he had any idea of the situation his family members were in. His mother was imprisoned in a concentration camp: Theresienstadt (now Terezin, Czech Republic). His sister was playing her part, as safely as she could, in the French resistance. His father was hiding his Jewish wife (Emma) and trying to stay under the radar as a previously black-listed German journalist. They all had been resisting for quite some time. Opa's friends Gisela and Anni were in Berlin, watching their parents (and often themselves) being questioned and harassed for their suspected help of Jews and other targeted minorities in Germany. (They were totally helping.) Their friends and loved ones were forced to fight as Nazi soldiers, forced to die for a cause they hated, as their choice was potential survival or absolute death. Friends were scattered across the globe, and into early graves. 

So, yes, the occupied were waiting for liberation. In so many ways they were holding on to the last bits of energy and hope. Opa rightfully suspected that they could only hold on for so much longer. It was time. He knew the history and feeling of being under the Nazi thumb, although for a shorter time. Opa could only imagine what it must have felt like to be still stuck without opportunity or freedom and in a war zone. Part of the psychological warfare of the big invasion was to show mainland Europe that the armies were actively planning on their liberation. The promise of invasion was a carrot for the resistance to keep going just a little bit longer.

No one could have known the extent to which the liberation was necessary. There were plenty of signs and news reports from sources within that gave an indication of the dire situation that awaited relief. Tales of death camps, labor camps, starvation and destruction were available. Much like any cataclysmic devastation, the truth seemed too terrible to be real. I doubt anyone believed that the worst was not only true, but that the truth was even worse. 

So now I am stuck a bit in time, in February of 1944, waiting with my family and friends from the past, for their much-awaited liberation. Everywhere weary people wondered "how long will we have to wait?" Opa hopes that it isn't much longer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

February 20, 1944: Poor Finland

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Allies Should Consider How Finland Got In Present Mess

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

Finland's position is more difficult and more peculiar than that of Poland as a diplomatic and military football that is being tossed around between Germany and the Allies. Before judging her too harshly, and before expecting from her an attitude which may turn out to be a suicidal one, the Allied world should consider how Finland got into the mess in which she finds herself at the present.

Finland was one of the first European countries that felt and fight the sting of unprovoked aggression. At that time, Russia was in the same boat as Germany, and for that reason the entire Allied world encouraged Finland in her heroic struggle. When Germany suddenly betrayed her former good friend, Russia, Russia suddenly became an ally of England, and the Finnish war was looked upon with a different set of glasses.

Finland, in order to get rid of Russian occupation, joined up with the Nazis and succeeded in driving the Russians out. The Nazis were surprisingly careful in their treatment of the Finns in order to keep the good will of their newly-won partner, and there had been absolutely no desire on the part of any major group of Finns to throw off the Nazi yoke in favor of a Russian one.

Only recently, when the Russians came closer again toward the Finnish borders, and when the Nazis showed their determination to resist the Russians in Finland to the last Finn, did the feeling change.

New Peace Movement

At the present, there exists a very strong group of Finns, mainly from the Social-democratic party. Finland's largest party, which openly calls for peace with Russia, which would mean a break with the Nazis.

Voionmaa, one of Finland's most prominent statesmen, and Paasikivi, former foreign minister of Finland, are the leading figures in the new peace movement. Both these men were present at the peace conferences between Russia and Finland early in 1940. For the first tie since the Russo-German war, a Finnish paper has broken the censorship ban and got by with it: the "Sotslalidemokrati" published on the first page, a call for peace with Russia. The Helsinki radio broadcast Cordell Hull's warning to the Finns to quit the war, and the Finnish population listened to Moscow's radio giving them the warning that unless Finland makes peace now, "the vipers who are crawling on their bellies before Hitler, saying they wish to defend Finland as far east as Petrozavodsk, may find the Red Army defending the Soviet Union as far west as Helsinki."

Through Sweden, the Finns received the terms for peace with Russia. They include: (1) Restoration of the 1940 frontiers, ie, the frontiers which remained after the Russian invasion of 1939-40. (2) Russian occupation of Finland until the end of the Russo-German war. (3) Demobilization of the Finnish Army. (4) Reorganization of the Finnish government to eliminate Ryti, Tanner, etc. (5) Russian guarantee of Finland's survival after the war. (The Russians remain silent as to whether Finland should survive as an independent state, or as a Soviet Republic.)

Can't Fulfill Peace Terms

These terms are extremely lenient in comparison with the unconditional surrender which is demanded from other Axis nations. There is no question that Finland could not expect the Nazis to give her terms that even approach these in consideration and leniency. The great drawback, however, is that Finland may not be in a position to accept these terms. Nazi troops are in Finland and show no inclination whatsoever to leave voluntarily. The Nazis threaten to give to the Finns a sample of Gestapo rule, if Peace with Russia should be negotiated, and to change Finland into a bloody battlefield in case of Russian invasion. The Finns haven't any more power to fulfill Russia's peace terms than Badoglio's government had to deliver Rome to the Allies.

What the Allies are working for at the present may not be so much a real peace treaty between a Finnish government and Russia, as the assurance that the Finnish population, in case of a Russian advance into Finland, will be pro-Allied and that they will accept the Russian terms as soon as they are free to do so.

Well now it's poor Finland. They have no good choices in front of them. To fight off the Russian occupation, they joined the Nazis after the Russians flipped sides. They got the Russians out, but now they have the Nazis. It was the lesser of the two evils at that point. They thought. Now they get to decide which really is the lesser of two evils. The Nazis are losing the war (which I'm guessing the Finnish aren't really invested in, other than their own security). The US is sending propaganda encouraging them to join the Allied efforts (which is compelling, since they're the current winning side), the Russians are giving more violent images for them to ponder if they don't cooperate, and the Nazis have their own threats to add to the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" decision pot. 

My guess is that Finland really just wants everyone to leave them alone. They played sides to gain their own security, and their hand ended up not taking the pot. I think it is interesting that Russia's "deal" is supposed to be so delicious wit the argument that Finland can't ask for much since they were allied with the Germans. Um. So were the Soviets? And Italy? And a number of other places that seem to be able to flip sides without too much penance. Finland is at a disadvantage because they have something people want, and very little power to fight off any oppressor. So everyone gets to make big demands with the idea that Finland doesn't really have any good choices. 

Finland does ultimately kick the Germans out (at a price: they didn't leave nicely) and make nice with the Russians. It's not a win for them, but it's better than a total loss. They were able to keep their country with some modified borders, and ended up owing Russia reparations. 

Finland could easily have played this same game with different results, it just didn't work out for them.

Before you get upset about Finland playing with the Nazis, remember that they were fighting for survival. At the time the Nazis were their obnoxious neighbors who were ridiculous and dangerous- but maybe didn't have the infamy (yet) that Russia had. I'm not sure, maybe they knew full well it was a deal with the devil, but like I said before, war makes for weird negotiating.

I feel bad for Finland, they were the cheered underdogs when they first resisted Russia, and they ended up owing Russia reparations at the end. 

My Grandmother used to have a phrase that annoyed and amused my family: "Poor Ron." She would express pity for my Dad, but the irony was that it almost always was some circumstance where he was inconvenienced, but everyone else was paying a higher price. Like when my Dad had to go on business trips and my Mom was home taking care of three children. Poor Ron. In that same vein: Poor Finland.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

February 14, 1944: Psychology of War

Article by Opa for Manhattan, Kansas newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Allies Gain Knowledge About Nazi- Invasion Tactics

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

For a few days it looked as though the coast of Anzio, south of Rome, might witness another Allied Dunkirk. The danger is not quite over yet, but has definitely passed its climax.

The outlook was very rosy after the first few days of Allied landings in that sector, and it still remains a mystery just why and how the Allies were forced into the defensive. Counter offensives by the Germans had been anticipated, but what the Allied leaders did not foresee was the great importance which the Germans attributed to the fighting in this new sector. German troops were withdrawn from the Gustav line and from Southern France, as well as from the Rome defenses themselves, to fight an all-out attack against the new beachheads. The situation was grave because the German communication lines were shorter, and the Allies had to play for time.

Just why did the Germans put up such a terrific and costly struggle? One reason was that the success or failure of this new Allied blow would largely determine the immediate fate of Rome. Rome, even though militarily not of outstanding importance, is politically, as well as in its effect on morale, a factor of far-reaching consequences.

Another reason was that the German people had not read about any major (or even minor, if they got the truth) victory on any front for a terribly long time. The news of another Dunkerque, even though only on the Italian front, would have been worth a million to the German propagandists, and Hitler was determined to achieve this even at the expense of defeat farther south.

The immediate objective of the Allies when they established their new beachhead was twofold. In the first place, it was expected that the fight over Cassino and west of Cassino would come to an end at approximately the same time, so that a union between the 5th army and the new invasion troops might be established. This union would have outflanked the Gustav line and thus submitted that line to the same fate as the Maginot line in 1940. There still is a chance that this goal may be accomplished. It all depends on whether the offensive can be taken away from the Germans fast enough to permit a southward push before the German defense line can be readjusted.

Surprise Attack Failed

The other objective of the beachhead was to launch a surprise attack on Rome by attacking between Rome and its outer defense circle. In this respect, the landings were a complete failure. The attack was stopped too far away from Rome, and the Nazis already had time to build new defensive positions around Rome.

No matter what the fate of this new invasion force will be, one thing is certain. The Allies have gained a tremendous amount of information concerning new German anti-invasion tactics, information which will be very valuable in future operations. Among the things which were learned was the fact that the criterion of such an operation does not occur at the time of landings, but days afterwards, at a time when beachheads may be soundly established. 

It is being argued that the partial failure of the Anzio beachhead operation will delay the Allied invasion of Europe by as much as several months. If the Allies are driven back into the sea, it may. The danger for that seems to be past, though, and there is no reason why the experiences gained in this operation may not have provided the Allies with facts which will give them more confidence in launching the big invasion.

Opa had reported in this article from January 30, '44, a full-scale "Hoorah!" to the victory of the Allied offensive move in Italy. I mention in the blog from that article that he spoke a little too soon or at least simplified the victory. Here it seems he gets the news himself in real time. The victory of this battle was ultimately the Allies, but it was definitely harder than they expected. Opa doesn't mention the geographic (topographic?) reasons why that battle might have been as hard as it was. I remember reading in my research that the Germans had a better handle on the terrain and used it to their advantage. Also, as Opa mentions, the Germans are also not so far from home, supplies, and communication. 

This article he references the battle of Dunkirk, in saying that he hopes this doesn't end up like that. There is now a major motion picture about this battle, which happened in 1940 when the Nazis successfully invaded France and the Netherlands. Allied soldiers were backed up to the ocean, and a tremendous effort by military and civilian alike, allowed the soldiers to be evacuated from the shore. 

Opa makes the obvious note that just because you land on the shore, doesn't mean the battle is over, you have to be able to hold on to that beach-head and further in to be successful. 

The final victory in Italy in this particular battle is referred to as the "Stalingrad" of Italy. I mentioned in the last blog about this battle that this was a victorious battle by the Allies (mainly Russians) that was hard-won with much loss, but was a turning point in the war. 

I think it is interesting how other battles are used as markers for comparison. It makes perfect sense, and I wonder if there was a part of the memory of those battles that encouraged the soldiers to either continue with tradition or change it. This is completely a terrible analogy, but as an Auburn graduate, I know that football fans do this with major games. If you've won many years in a row against your rival, you use that as a confidence booster that you'll keep the record going. If you lost in the last year, you are more determined to change the story. 

I'm realizing how much the psychology of a war is just as important as the weapons and resources. Of course it's all connected, and some things must be in place, no matter how motivated an army is. However, the whole propaganda piece is a big deal. And I may have said this before, but propaganda isn't in itself a dirty word. I've always thought so- and in some ways it kind of is... but the objective of it is really to encourage people. That encouragement might be for nefarious means, or it might be a pep rally speech. Propaganda is telling a story with animation, to keep people connected and committed to the cause. Propaganda is PR. Every country does it. The problem begins when propaganda replaces facts, and manipulates people to do things that are not in their best interest (or the best interest of the country at large). 

Nearly every propaganda effort is done with conviction that it is for the best result. It just might be the best result for a despot.

Opa's optimism of turning the difficult battle into an opportunity for learning is endearing, and typical. He's also right, the Allies will have some lessons learned from this exercise in humility, which might give them a better chance at this great invasion Opa keeps predicting. Back to the terrible football analogy: if you go into a game thinking there is no way you'll lose, that is a sure-fire way of giving the other team a chance to beat you. There is a thin line between confidence and cockiness; and it is an important one. This hard win might have been the psychological sharpening that the Allies needed to realize that they hadn't quite won the war yet, and there was plenty of work left to do.

Monday, June 11, 2018

February 6, 1944: Argentina - Ally?

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Big Stick Wielded Towards Argentina Makes New Ally

Editor's Note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theatre carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

Last week, the Nazis lost their last foothold in the Western hemisphere; Argentina broke diplomatic relations with the Axis powers. It had baffled many people for a long time just why Argentina did not take this step when the other South American countries did, but there were reasons. 

Economically, Argentina had strong and ancient ties with Europe. In the last year before Pearl Harbor, 74 per cent of her exports went to Europe, while only 13 per cent came to this country. Argentina's trade houses and ship lines were controlled or at least strongly influenced by European stockholders.

Politically, Argentina has been rivaling with Brazil concerning the supremacy in South America, and, until just recently, Argentina had the upper hand in this struggle. When the war started; however, Lend Lease aid was given to Brazil, while it was refused to Argentina. This changed the situation considerably, and Argentina lost her prestige in South America. She was still strong enough, however, to maintain her pro-Axis position because of the aid she received from Germany.

Center of German Activities

Germany's interest in Argentina is obvious. As long as Germany could break through the blockade, much badly needed material and food was bought from her South American "good neighbor," and Argentina was made to prosper by that trade. The center of German intelligence activities for the entire Western hemisphere was believed to be located in Argentina, and the vast number of arrests made by the Argentine police during the last few days seems to confirm this. Argentina also was an excellent listening post for things going on in the Pacific area. Germany was willing to pay as high a price for her Argentine foothold in the Western Hemisphere as she could possibly afford.

It was mainly due to an excellent sample of Big Stick Policy that the United States finally succeeded in eliminating this Axis stronghold. To accomplish this, it was necessary to offer to Argentina more than she received from Germany, and also to indicate by convincing measures, that Argentina had no chance of holding on to her Nazi-born prosperity.

Allies Take Risk

The Allies took a great risk in their policy toward Argentina. They decided on an ultimatum which would leave complete economic blockade as the only alternative to playing ball on their side. The import from Argentina is very vital to the United Nations, and it was only hoped that a stop in the flow of goods from Argentina to the outside world would hurt Argentina more than the Allies.

On January 26, Argentina had given in. Buenos Aries announced the breaking of diplomatic relations with Germany and Japan.

Aside from the fact the one partner has been forced into the pact, the Western Hemisphere collaboration is now complete as far as the war goes. Argentina will receive Lend Lease instead of dollars for her meat and wheat, and Nazis are out of the continent. The Big Stick has worked again, and Mr. Hull has lost one of his biggest headaches. 

I couldn't help but sing "Don't Cry for me Argentinaaaa" while reading this article. 

My first reaction to this article is that Argentina is acting super shady, and seems to actually have the upper hand in this political game. Everyone wants to have a friend in Argentina, and she is happy to let them pay for her allegiance. Here's the thing though, this makes Argentina like a mercenary- they'll go with the highest bidder. Or they'll play for both sides. The insurance policy for the Allies is the ability to cut off trade with Argentina. 

Clearly, Argentina makes a fiscal judgement here. The Nazis are losing (slowly but surely) and the Allies are quick to point out that the Germans might not be able to be a high bidder for much longer. The Lend-Lease Act (read about it here you history nerds!) was basically a "put it on my tab" for any country who was willing to use the money for the Allied cause. The US did a ton of lending, but they also did some leasing too. For the US, this was in her best interest in terms of security and returning the world order to one amenable to the US. It was a very risky move (I think) and a big bill to pay, but it ultimately seems to have been the right move. 

This Big Stick policy Opa refers to is one named after Roosevelt's foreign policy habits, based on his famous quote "Speak softly, carry a big stick." Essentially, the phrase is about a morally justified bullying of a country or group to do what you want them to do. The US had some power to wield a Big Stick, and they needed Argentina to just stop being a thorn in their side. So- with the threats of a blockade, and promise of entry into this Lend-Lease contract- Argentina decides to cash in. 

Here is where I learn (am still learning) as a newly minted history nerd that moral absolutes do not have much of a place in political maneuvering. Is Argentina wholly "good" and does every citizen pledge allegiance to a free world under the example of the United States and other Allies? Not so much. They have not had a change of heart about who are the "good guys." They have a change of heart about which friend will benefit them the most. Winning a war, and getting ahead in any negotiations, often means just that: negotiating. Deals are made to make everyone happy, or at least to make the needs met. Argentina needed to have an economy- who cares who provides it. The US needed Argentina to close off the Western Hemisphere to Europe and Asia, who cares whether their intentions are pure. Maybe this is why people see politicians as so wishy-washy and sketchy: a lot of what they do behind the scenes involves bending and compromising to make things work. 

I like how the Argentine police force makes some arrests of Nazis after they officially join the Allied cause. I am fairly certain this was more a publicity stunt and less a real desire to rid their country of Nazis. In fact, I have read articles talking about Nazis being found in Argentina years later, and brought out of hiding in order to be prosecuted for their crimes. Argentina was a nest for Nazi activity, and that likely didn't completely go away even after they joined the Allies. This seems like a big risk for the Allies to give supplies and cooperation to a country who had been a headquarters for  Nazi spies essentially. I'm reminded that there is always a LOT more going on underneath the surface, and I'm sure that there were eyes and ears everywhere. The Allies must have felt confident they could keep the Nazi spies/collaborators under their thumb.

Argentina, you are an interesting country! I know embarrassingly little about South America and the history and politics of that continent. I'll have to do some more searching. 

In the meantime, my biggest take-away is that compromise can sometimes mean shaking hands while holding your nose. And sometimes that might be the best you can do.