We’ll Always Have Paris, Just
Not Because of You-Know-Who
Anyone would be hard pressed to come up with a single thing Adolf Hitler did for the good of mankind. We came up with two (stay with us on this): one was not to bomb Paris, a decision he made when he toured the city 72 years ago today. The other, of course, was to die a miserable death and none too soon, a few years later.
Even if the reasons why he spared the City of Lights had nothing to do with charity, it still remains as a small consolation, amid all the horrors he visited upon millions during World War II. What’s even harder to fathom though, is that besides the mass murders he ordered while in power, given a chance, he’d have committed even more evil.
For the man who, by most accounts, professed Christian beliefs, but did not hesitate to gas people to death, also inspired countless plots to destroy his enemies, who at that time were pretty much everyone who was not Nazi enough. ‘Chocolate Bombs,’ cans of plums, outfitted with hidden explosives, even poisonous throat pastilles sent around the world, were but just some of those plans, which mostly never caused the harm intended.
But if such plots may now resemble those of Monty Python movies, there was no mistake about what was behind them, and how his loyal armies were trying to top each other to gain his favors. Also, as any serial killer case worth its body count, that of Adolf H. includes several bounties put up for his assassination, and at least one passionate admirer, a woman whose copious 1930 letter to him was uncovered recently.
Finally, since the annual Gay Pride Parade sails on tomorrow, in New York City, this post may be a good reminder that, among millions of Jews, thousands of members of that so called minority were also murdered by Hitler forces, along with Roma, Gypsies, activists from the left, labor union workers, and anybody who stood on their way by principle or mere chance. We can and must never ever forget.
In the light of the Nazi’s Final Solution plan, it’s very easy to dismiss the various other plots their were concocting, to enhance their dreams of world domination. But all proportions being kept, such schemes were coming from the same dark place which, at the time, could have only taken flight with no small help of the world’s indifference.
Their ultimate lack of success masked the ingenuity and truly effort involved in their preparation. Take the secret files collected by British intelligence during the war, which include detailed sketches of how to outfit tins of plums, throat sweets, shaving brushes, soap, lumps of coal, motor oil, Thermos flasks and pencils with small but lethal explosives.
If they had been successful, they’d have caused mass panic in the still resisting cities. But even if the documentation of their efficacy is at best sketchy, it’s safe to say that at least a few of them found their way to the backpacks of many undernourished children and innocent citizens. According to the files, there were even plans to stuff dead rats with explosives.
The possibility that the main target for these undercover bombs were children is, naturally, an assumption. What should be no doubt about is the fact that they were designed to kill people right where they ate and slept. What may have prevented the intended panic, thus, was mainly the fact that German technology to kill at the time was not that sophisticate.
LETTER & POSTCARD
Elsa Walter‘s 80-page letter to Hitler predate his accession to power by three years. But it has some stunning insights of what his rule would be about. There are elaborated references to her ‘position with regard to the Jewish question,’ along with views about what the role of women should be in the German society.
Albeit seemingly devoid of sexual tinges, it’s obviously the writing of someone infatuated if not with the man at least with what he appeared to represent to her. Reading excerpts of it, one can’t help think about the people who married confessed convicts of violent crimes, and what such pathological fascination may be about. That lasts some two or three minutes. Then, one thinks: what an idiot.
Of course, this is all from the safety of our own high horses, pontificating about everything and everyone, as we like to believe we would have made completely different, and infinitely more humane, choices, if we were in the same situation. The reality is better expressed by the sad, teary expression of a French citizens, photographed when the Nazi troops paraded Paris for the first time.
As it had happened in Germany and in other occupied nations, as soon as a fiery underground resistance movement took root, its counterpart of betrayers and collaborationists got busy doing at times the dirty work that not even the occupying forces were willing to do. That’s certainly one of the reasons why bloody, authoritarian regimes usually last way longer anyone would expect.
Another piece of mail that preceded his election to Chancellor of Germany in 1933, was a postcard that Hitler, then a soldier fighting in World War I, sent in 1916, while recuperating from injuries away from the front. It’s a quaint, almost normal wartime correspondence, with one particular exception of note: it was addressed to another soldier of his regiment, not to his family.
THE PARADE OF SHAME
France, under the command of WW I hero Marshall Petain, had been forced to sign an Armistice with Hitler the day before, after a few catastrophic weeks, when the British allies had been beaten out of the continent and the French army was decimated. Knowing his history, Hitler chose Compiegne, a forest north of Paris, as the setting for the signing of France’s capitulation.
Twenty-two years earlier, at that very same place, it had been the Germans who were forced to sign the end of the war, so the new document, which in fact gave two thirds of France to the occupying forces, had a special revenge taste for Hitler. The day after, he decided to rub it off on the face of the Parisians.
It was one of the saddest sights of the whole war, despite all the carnage and brutality of the Holocaust. Mainly because by then, most people still didn’t have idea of the immensity of the the Final Solution, and wars, by definition, already represent an inconceivable waste of human life. So the possibility of Paris be bombed and destroyed by such a ruthless dictator was, at that time, a clear and present danger.
Ironically, the only airstrikes that the city ever received happened three years later, by ally warplanes that razed a few weapon-making facilities set up by the Germans. Nothing before or ever since caused a bigger blow to the French national pride, though, than the spinal-chill inducing sight of Adolf Hitler taking a tour of Paris.