The 75th anniversary of D-Day took place a few days ago, on June 6th. In honor of that, today we have a contribution from an author of a recently published book about D-Day - D-Day UK: 100 Locations in Britain (Amazon USAmazon UK). Here Simon Forty explains the background to World War Two’s D-Day and his book.

US troops approaching Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

US troops approaching Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

In June 1944 Allied forces invaded France to liberate Europe and destroy Nazism.

Immortalised in film and book, D-Day is, rightly, seen as a turning point in 20thcentury

history and opened a land campaign that finished less than a year later in the

unconditional surrender of the enemy. 


The speed, means and method of this victory have been discussed and debated

ever since. Most of the discussion has concentrated on the landings and the battles

that followed: the bravery of the soldiers, sailors and airmen; the effectiveness and

personality of the commanders; the efficiency and abilities of the respective tactics,

weapons and armies.


The locations are written indelibly in our memories: Omaha and Juno, Pegasus

Bridge, Arromanches, Pointe du Hoc, Sainte-Mère-Église. Understandably, much of the

military remembrance – the cemeteries and memorials – are on the French side of the

English Channel, as are most of the remnants of war – bunkers, vehicles, scarred buildings.

However, like the tip of an iceberg, the D-Day landings and the battle of Normandy

– about two months’ fighting from 6 June until the end of August – were the result of

years of preparation that took place to a great extent in Britain. It was in Britain that

the plans were developed, the logistics organised and the weapons prepared. It was in

Britain that the soldiers boarded the ships to take them to France, from Britain that

the air forces provided aerial cover and the armada set sail. It was in Britain that large

numbers of young American, Canadian, Polish, and French men and women spent so

much time that they became part of the everyday life of the country. And it wasn’t all

work: the influx of that many young men and women – including more than 100,000

black troops – had a striking affect on Britain’s social scene. After the war, 60,000 war

brides left Britain for a future in North America. British and American culture hadn’t

become one entity, but it had certainly joined at the hip.


Americans start to arrive

The first Americans arrived in Northern Ireland in January 1942 – although

‘Special Observers’ had been there since spring 1941. By May 1944 their ranks had

swelled to around 750,000, a figure that doubled before 1944 was out. Some of these

soldiers spent a short time in Britain before heading to the Mediterranean theatre;

others spent as much as 20 months training for action.


This invasion – often dubbed the ‘friendly invasion’ – affected most people

in Britain in one way or another. The Americans had to be housed and fed; they

had to have places to train and trainers to tell them what to do. They had to have

equipment and places to practise using it. The supplies for the battles to come had

to be stored somewhere. The details of the invasion had to include secure locations

for final preparation, places to board ships and receive final orders. And then there

were the naval facilities, and those needed for the US Air Forces: airfields, runways,

hangars. This was no mere temporary posting. This was the creation of an American

infrastructure in a way that hadn’t been done before. The rulebook had to be created.

Over the next two years the preparations for the invasion of France took form.

It wasn’t a linear progression: political considerations, fighting in Africa and the

Mediterranean, the strength of the opposition – all these things interrupted progress

until late 1943. From then on the countdown had begun and while the actual end date

changed slightly, it wasn’t a question of if, but when.


D-Day UK, published to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, chooses 100

locations in Britain to tell the story of how the invasion of France came about. It covers

the practicalities of the planning process, the main people and the major organisations

involved. It looks at the specialist training the troops needed and the major exercises;

gives an insight into some of the logistical issues, covers the movement of troops from

marshalling camp to embarkation – for delivery to France by landing craft or aircraft;

examines the range of air assets over the battlefield, from fighters through medium

bombers to the heavies; and touches on the naval side of the landings, particularly the

minesweepers and landing craft.


Choosing 100 locations

Choosing 100 locations proved to be a difficult job and I’m sure that many would

disagree with my choices: too much air and not enough naval; too much in Hampshire

and not enough in Essex; too much American and not enough British or Canadian; too

much that can’t be seen today. In the end it’s impossible to please everyone.

Finally, I decided early on not to include museums in the listings: there could

have been 100 of them alone, including the Imperial War Museum, National Army

Museum, RAC Tank Museum, D-Day Museum, Royal Signals Museum, Fleet Air

Arm Museum, the excellent Portsmouth naval museums (the Submarine Museum,

Naval Museum and Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower), Bletchley Park, Cobbaton

Combat Collection, museums at airfields (Tangmere, Shoreham, Dunkeswell), up to

and including the Commando display in the Fort William Museum. All these and many

more have material related to D-Day and are worth a visit.



D-Day UK: 100 Locations in Britainby Simon Forty is available here:Amazon USAmazon UK

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Museums are important in helping us connect with the past and with historical events – but not all museums are equal. Here, Shannon Bent explains why she thinks Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum, a museum that considers the dark past of the Nazi regime, is an excellent museum.

Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum. Remains of the Berlin Wall are at the top of the picture. Source: Adam Carr, available  here .

Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum. Remains of the Berlin Wall are at the top of the picture. Source: Adam Carr, available here.

In my previous article posted here on ‘History is Now’ (here) I spoke about Checkpoint Charlie, a well-known tourist destination in Berlin. I talked about this over-commercialised site, and how completely insensitive and underwhelming I felt the ‘attraction’ was. Funnily enough, a few days ago and around a month after I wrote this article, my Dad handed me a page from the British Daily Mailnewspaper with the headline ‘Mona Lisa? It’s a bit rubbish’. It was a small section on the page and detailed the results of a survey done by the airline ‘easyJet’ about what the most desirable tourist destinations to visit in Europe were. While the Mona Lisa was named the most disappointing, Checkpoint Charlie came in at a close second with 84% of 2,000 Britons polled saying they disliked the site. At the risk of being smug, or using the phrase ‘called it’, I’m hardly surprised. It does, however, further the idea that this site is rather useless at its intention and doesn’t exactly educate or even interest many visitors. I was actually rather pleased to read this; at least quite a few other people actually agree with me and I’m not just overreacting!  

Now we’ve seen an instance of failure in the museum sector, perhaps I can offer a view and recommendation for a museum I feel could not be more opposite to the infamous Checkpoint Charlie. Situated perhaps less than a five-minute walk apart, this museum to me is a symbol of the right way to do it; an example of how to educate accurately and effectively on a sensitive subject while remaining interesting and respectful: The Topography of Terror.


The Topography of Terror Museum

The building is initially imposing, yet it is not obvious as to what it contains. Situated next to a preserved section of the Berlin Wall, and on the site of the SS central command, this simply curated museum takes the visitors through the chronology of the reign of terror that the Gestapo, SS and Reich Security lead over the people of Germany and beyond during the Second World War. With room for temporary and special exhibitions within the space that remain within the general theme of the museum, this site doesn’t hide anything. The site that it is on also provokes thought. What better way to keep the memory of the horrors inflicted alive than by placing them in a building sat on the area where the headquarters of the main perpetrators once resided. There is something fairly poetic and thought-provoking about this. Furthermore, with the remains of a piece of the Berlin Wall encompassed into the site that you can walk along and see the remnants of the graffiti from those that lived through it, it further serves as a reminder of the humanity caught up in war, and seeks to remind you that you are learning about individual and real people who had to face the horrors that presented themselves to them during both the Second World War and the Cold War. The area is alive with history, and therefore is the perfect place to keep history alive in. 

When you first enter the Topography of Terror, I would argue that most would be struck with the expanse of space, cleanliness and I should think some would argue sparsity of the place. The museum is free, something that I always appreciate. So, there is no funnelling towards a desk where they’ll ask for your money and try and sell you an overpriced guide book on top of your tickets. Furthermore, and thankfully, there is no gift shop. I hardly think it would be appropriate to place the SS symbol on a pencil or a tote bag to sell at the end of your visit, so a huge well done to the person that manages to keep the retail and commercialisation issue away. Therefore, upon entrance you are free to roam wherever you wish to begin. Despite this, the fantastic curation of the museum lends itself to naturally leading you in a chronological order through the build up to the Nazi regime and through the Second World War.


The Curation

I mentioned that it is the fantastic curation that pulls you into a kind of ‘one-way system’ concept around the room, yet the curation is simple. The entire concept is just boards hung from the ceiling, with one main introductory board per section, numbered in order to help the flow. As you can see, it pulls you around each corner and makes you curious for the next board, in a rather morbid way perhaps. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. Just because these subjects are some of the darkest and bloodiest points in history doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting. Besides, if people are interested, or if it is interesting to them then they are learning about the topic. Ultimately, isn’t this the aim of museums such as the Topography of Terror? Education of these subjects so they shall never be repeated again is of course the main remit of the museum. Consequently, I see no issue with a visitor of this museum finding the content of interest, and with a want to learn more around each information board. 

The phrase ‘it pulls no punches’ may be a little insensitive on this subject, but also fairly appropriate. Perhaps one of my favourite things about this museum is it does not seek to hide the facts, or veil them in mystery and inaccuracy. The facts, the stats, the numbers and the photos are clear for everyone to see. It perhaps for some is an overload of information and writing; if you aren’t already interested in the topic then perhaps this isn’t the museum for you. Certainly, it isn’t a museum to bring younger children. They would find it pretty boring, with no interaction or engagement tailored to them. But in my opinion, this isn’t poor planning or curation on the museum’s part. They knew their target audience, and they knew what information they were aiming at who, and in my opinion they have pulled this off very well. The text is simple and fairly broken up into smaller paragraphs, interspersed with many photos of varied sizes. It gives the exhibition variety, but also makes it an information packed display which is of course the overall aim.


The Meaning of the Museum

The reason I wanted to speak about this museum though, is because of its greater meaning. It has been created by the German people in full knowledge of the history of the site that it is sat on, and it is a symbol that they are not afraid of the truth. While a comical concept, there was once a thought of ‘don’t mention the war’ when it came to the countries that were involved. However, this museum shows that education and information does not have to be hidden from its place of origin and removes the concept of guilt or blame and simply seeks to teach so we can learn from mistakes. It baffles me that there was once a thought that Germany should not be open about the crimes that occurred during the Second World War. After all, and I think I can be accurate and agreed with when I say this, the Nazi regime and the extreme SS that came from it were not truly representative of the country or the majority of its people at the time. These days, while neo-Nazism does exist in various countries and that is a terrifying thought, the viewpoint that caused the atrocities that the Topography of Terror details are reserved luckily to a small section of people. This museum proves that the past doesn’t have to be hidden, or glossed over and more to the point can in fact be shown in greater detail to educate as many people as possible. 

This museum, and certainly this mindset, is a triumph. I can only hope that this continues and spreads wider. The Topography of Terror achieves what all museums should set out to do; clear and accurate information, accessible to as many people as possible and presented in an intriguing and unique way. Even if the subject matter is difficult and sensitive, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, usually the total opposite. It is these subjects that need to be understood the most, by as many people as possible. Its museums like this one that ensure that it can be understood, so it is never repeated in history again. 


I would highly recommend this museum. If you are interested, here is the website and if you are in the area, I would urge you to visit. Let’s keep the knowledge of topics like this and the museums that tell the stories as widely known as possible. Link here.


I hope you can come along with me on this exploration. Don’t hesitate to comment, feedback, and you could even email me for a chat about all this on I would really love people to get involved in this.

The Republic of Uzice was the first free territory in occupied Europe in 1941, and the best proof that the Nazi German Army was not invincible. Existing for only 67 days, this short-lived liberated Yugoslav territory was remembered as a heroic attempt at resistance against a much stronger enemy, even after its fall following a strong German offensive. During the existence of the Republic of Uzice, a factory of weapons and ammunition in the town of Uzice was working full time to produce weapons to fight against the Nazis. In 1941, it was the only factory in occupied Europe where weapons were produced to fight against the Wehrmacht (Nazi forces). Zorica Jovanovic explains.

Slobodan Sekulic, Commander of the Partisan Company, paying homage to the killed soldiers in the town of Uzice, October 2, 1941.

Slobodan Sekulic, Commander of the Partisan Company, paying homage to the killed soldiers in the town of Uzice, October 2, 1941.

Axis forces occupied Yugoslavia in April 1941. The rebellion against the occupiers, which began in Serbia in the summer of 1941, reached wide proportions. By the end of September 1941, almost all major towns in western Serbia were liberated.

The so-called Republic of Uzice is the name that settled in post-war communist Yugoslavia for the first liberated territory inside war-torn Europe in World War II. This "republic" lived, for one fall, for 67 days, from September 24 to November 29, 1941. It was located in Yugoslavia, in Western Serbia, and was part of the Nazi-run ‘Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia’. The Republic of Uzice didn’t have a permanent border, the borders changed almost daily with every movement of the resistance on one side and the occupier on the other side. In this territory, nearly a million inhabitants lived in an area of approximately 19,000 square kilometers.

The united forces of the Partisan (communist) movement and the Chetnik movement (a guerrilla organization that was loyal to the Yugoslav government in refuge) took part in the creation of the free territory in Western Serbia. The newly-appointed German commander in Serbia, Franz Böhme, decided that German soldiers should leave Uzice on September 21. The Germans left the town under the pressure of the uprising, leaving untouched the most important weapons factory in Serbia. The line of Germans was 6 kilometers long and consisted of 1,217 soldiers.

Captured German soldiers in Uzice, 1941.

Captured German soldiers in Uzice, 1941.


The Republic of Uzice wasn’t a homogeneous territory with one authority and a single armed force. There were two different powers in the Republic of Uzice, one from the Partisan movement and the other from the Chetnik movement. For the time that the Republic existed, there was dual authority, army and command, but the Partisans gave the most significant contribution to the organization of authority and defense, especially due to their military strength (25,000 fighters against several thousand Chetniks). The Partisan center of this free territory was located in Uzice (hence the name Republic of Uzice), and the Chetnik center was in the town of Pozega.[1]

The economy was under war conditions in the town of Uzice. There was a weaver workshop, where the linen, towels and some medical supplies were made. Also, the town had a tailor's workshop for making military clothes, a footwear workshop, a partisan bakery, and a leather workshop. Three small hydroelectric plants were continuously operating on the Djetinje River, and the town and all key facilities were regularly supplied with electricity. There was also a railway that was primarily used for military purposes (soldiers were transported to the front), but also served for civilian needs. Workers made an armored partisan train for safer transport.

In this free territory there were established kitchens for the disabled. The influx of population and the evacuation of the wounded to the towns, led to the organization of free health care in hospitals in free towns. An intense cultural life also developed. In Uzice, the Partisans printed newspapers,which posted news of battles. There was even an arts section within the Partisan Company, which had active drama, art and music sections.

An ammunition factory was set-up after the entry of Partisan forces into the town of Uzice on September 24, 1941. Since frequent German bombings prevented consistent production, the factory was displaced several times in different locations in the town to hide its location. Machines of one part of the ammunition department and tools were placed in underground facilities that were built before the beginning of the war for the needs of the National Bank.

In the Republic of Uzice, partisans produced and fixed weapons and ammunition for the front including:[2]

Rifles: 21,000

Special rifles for the supreme headquarters: 40

Ammunition for rifles: 2.7m

Ammunition for handguns: 90,000

Bulletproof ammunition: 20,000

Grenade guns: 300

Hand grenades: 30,000

Fixed machine guns: About 300

Fixed cannons: 3

Repaired cannon grenades: 5,000

Made landing mines: 2,000

Bottles filled with gasoline: 3,000


The breakdown

Hitler was angry because of the rise of the largest and only free territory in occupied Europe. The command for the suppression of the Republic of Uzice came from the highest point of the Third Reich. On September 16, Hitler gave an order to reclaim the liberated territory. Command was entrusted to General Franz Böhme, the commander of the 18th Army Corps. The attack by the German 342nd Division began on September 28, 1941. Wehrmacht units fought against rebels for one month. Although the Partisans and Chetniks repeatedly negotiated during the autumn, they did not agree firmer co-operation. Conflicts between the groups and the weakening of resistance forces were going hand-in-hand, and the Germans who launched an offensive on November 25, 1941.

The Germans, who were more numerous, technically more equipped, and better military-trained, quickly broke the resistance. The Wehrmacht Army reached the Kadinjača Ridge where a large battle took place between the Germans and the Partisans on November 29. The German forces surrounded the Partisan battalion and all the fighters lost their lives in the battle. After World War II a monument was set up for the fallen soldiers at Kadinjača ridge. Just five days after the start of the final offensive, the German division occupied the center of the Republic of Uzice. The German 342nd Infantry Division agreed a demarcation line with the Italians on December 1, with three hunt groups, and that effectively ended the German offensive. After the offensive, the Germans attacked the Chetnik headquarters in Ravna Gora. About 1,500-2,000 partisans from western Serbia retreated with the Supreme Headquarters, to the south of Serbia.



In post-war communist literature, First Enemy Offensivewas the name for the operations that the Wehrmacht occupying forces led against the rebels in the Republic of Uzice, a name that the older citizens still remember today, while the Germans named this operation - Operation Uzice. In the memory of the Yugoslav people, the Republic of Uzice was remembered and celebrated for its glory.

In Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia, glorious battles of World War II were turned into films, so in 1974,the Uzice Republicfilm was made. However, it was more political than action-based. The film wasn’t about the resistance and heroism – politics was the main theme as it was made to glorify the Partisan movement.[3]

Although this free territory did not last long, there was hope in the minds of the Allies that the struggle against the Axis Powers would be successful. The Soviet Union supported the Partisans, and the United Kingdom supported the Chetnik movement, so their attention was piqued with the uprising and the creation of this large free territory. This event also showed the importance of the Balkans and even influenced the creation of resistance movements in other parts of war-torn Europe.


What do you think about the Republic of Uzice? Let us know below.

[1]Petranović, Branko (1992). Srbija u Drugom svetskom ratu 1939—1945  (

[2]Uzice'sNational Museum, Partizanska fabrika oružja i municije (


The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a non-aggression pact signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on August 23, 1939, a week before the start of World War II that would allow these two powers to invade Poland. Here is an introduction to the Pact and an overview of its consequences for World War Two.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop shake hands after agreement on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Source: Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H27337 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available  here .

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop shake hands after agreement on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Source: Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H27337 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available here.

The Pact

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed between Nazi Germany’s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and the Soviet Union’s foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov in Moscow on August 23, 1939.

With the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union committed themselves to not attack each other, and to not support or assist states that were an enemy of the other. The Pact was supposed to last for ten years. The treaty also led to economic and commercial benefits, most notably in a separate 1940 agreement.

The exact details of the treaty were known only by the leadership of both governments - and they were not revealed to the public; however, much later it was found out that the treaty had some secret clauses. Eastern Europe was to be divided into zones of German and Soviet influence, leaving Poland divided between the two powers, and with Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania recognized by Germany as areas of Soviet interest.

Under the terms of the Pact, if Germany attacked Poland, the Soviet Union would not provide support to the government in Warsaw. Furthermore, if the consequence of Germany invading Poland was a war with the Western Powers (in particular France and Great Britain), the Soviet Union would not enter the conflict, thus preventing the opening of a second front for Germany. 


The consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact 

The conclusion of the pact meant that Germany would be able to pursue its expansionist objectives in Poland. Adolf Hitler wanted the German state to grow and he wanted “living space” (or lebensraumin German) for the German people in Eastern Europe. In order to obtain this, Hitler had been busy creating a dispute with Poland, just as he had done with Czechoslovakia previously. With Poland, the dispute was regarding Danzig, a largely German-speaking city that was a free state and that became independent of Germany as a consequence of the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles, along with parts of Poland where people spoke primarily German. Hitler wanted these territories to become part of Germany. Indeed, Adolf Hitler used these disputes as a pretext to invade Poland. 

This meant that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact enabled Hitler to invade Poland without Stalin’s interference and allowed for the start of World War II. On September 1, 1939, the Germany army invaded Poland, and on September, 17 1939, with the Polish Army greatly weakened, the Soviet Union attacked the eastern part of Poland. Even before the Soviet invasion, the Western Powers of Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939.

A further consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was that the Soviets did not join the fight against Germany from 1939, which may have prolonged the Second World War until 1945. Without the Pact, the war could have ended sooner – although that is far from certain as the Soviet Army may not have been able to defend the Soviet Union effectively against the Germans in 1939 as it was able to in 1941.


German advantages

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact gave Germany some tremendous strategic advantages, as it allowed the country to focus its attack on Britain and France. Hitler did not need to split his forces between the eastern and western fronts; where as during World War One, Germany had to split its forces on two fronts, which may have cost them victory. In 1939, this was not the case, as the German army could fully focus on the west. Thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the German army launched a large-scale attack solely on Western Europe. Within in less than a year of the outbreak of the war, countries including Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France were invaded by the Germans. 

By mid-1940, Stalin may have started to question his decision to cooperate with Hitler, since Hitler had become the master of Europe. Nonetheless, Stalin kept observing the Pact’s terms due to the seeming strength of the German war machine and the need to further strengthen the Soviet Army.

On June 22, 1941, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact came to an end when Germany launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union, known as Operation Barbarossa. While this was not totally unexpected by Stalin and the Soviet leadership, they were still not fully prepared for a large-scale German assault at that time. So, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact enabled Adolf Hitler to invade France, leave Britain largely isolated in Europe, and allow him to concentrate his efforts on defeating the Soviet Union. 

Even though at first Stalin thought that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was beneficial, as he was able to secure his western borders against attack and gain territory in Eastern Europe, Stalin empowered Germany to dominate Western Europe and later invade the territories of the Soviet Union. In the end, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact made the USSR vulnerable, which resulted in great human and industrial loss to the Soviet Union over the period 1941-45.


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The policies of Nazi Germany and Showa Japan towards Muslim-majority warzones differed greatly. This became increasingly evident throughout the period 1931-45, and notably as World War Two became tougher for the Axis Powers from 1942-45. Here, Guan Kiong Teh considers how Nazi Germany used a ‘confidence-and-supply’ approach in Palestine, and Iraq and Japan a ‘coalition’ approach in Malaya and Singapore.

Adolf Hitler meeting with influential war-time Palestinian Amin al-Husseini. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1987-004-09A / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Available  here

Adolf Hitler meeting with influential war-time Palestinian Amin al-Husseini. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1987-004-09A / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Available here

This article defines policy as ‘a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual’[1], and ‘warzone’ as ‘a region where occurred physical conflict’. Whereas the Japanese were interested in a ‘coalition’ with Muslims, trying to incorporate Malay, Indian, Muslim identities as subjugate to a Japanese seishin (‘national spirit’), the Germans preferred a ‘confidence-and-supply’ arrangement, working to lobby and influence Muslims to solicit cooperation in specific aspects, but almost entirely disinterested in other aspects of Islamic life. This policy comparison could take one of several focuses: Islamic importance to each regime’s military strategy or the role of Japanese and German policy in postwar Muslim conflict, to give examples. However, both regimes had, by the eve of campaigns in Muslim-majority regions during the Second World War (1939-45), come to recognise Islam’s capital as a global religion. Both identified that Muslim-majority regions were rich in physical resources. As the dominant religion and identity in many Allied colonies, Protectorates and Mandates, Islamic political interests could be shaped to solicit cooperation to hasten the decline in Allied international influence. Both regimes shared interest in expansionist policy, even if the role of Muslims within these interests differed.

From these commonalities in outlook, four warzones stand out as clear candidates to assess Muslim policy: Malaya & Singapore during the 1941-5 Pacific War for the Japanese, and Palestine & Iraq for the Germans. All four had common experiences as British colonies or mandates. All four were plural societies, accommodating at least one significant minority: the Jews in the Middle East; the Chinese in Southeast Asia. This essay shall first compare the reasons for different interpretations of this resource, assessing how and why German and Japanese regimes altered their approaches to Muslims in these regions during the Second World War. The Japanese and Germans produced two very different strains of philosophies, plans and policies, often only united by Muslim response and interpretation of these policies. Nonetheless, the identification of Muslims as a resource was a common theme, and shall be this essay’s focus.


Japan and Germany: Different Approaches

Differences in contributions to Japanese and German ‘racial’ and ‘ethnic’ intellectual theory throughout the 1930s produced two vastly different approaches towards defining relationships with Islam. The scholarly contribution to Japanese Muslim policy during the 1930s was more complex than that in Germany. This, along with far greater resource scarcity than experienced by the Germans, later translated into a set of policies that demonstrated interest in the indoctrination and long-term domination of society so that Malays and Indian Muslims would view their Muslim identity as subordinate, to their identity as part of the Japanese Minzoku (ethnic nation). By the 1930s, the biological concept of ‘race’ and its mathematical formulae as a means of justifying Japanese superiority and expansionism was outdated amongst Japanese scholars. Takata Yasuma, in particular, rejected ‘the Germanic emphasis on "blood and soil’ as it was insufficiently sensitive to the importance of culture and too dependent on nature for its definitions of the nation’[2]. Most contemporary scholars agreed that the Yamato people were composed of waves of migrants from Southeast Asia, China and Siberia. The study of ethnology was dominated by two competing strains: the theories of Takata Yasuma, and the Society of Ethnology, established in 1934. Doak’s analysis of the Minzoku (ethnic nation) concept claims that the competition in the field of ethnology ‘fanning the flames of wartime aggression’ more so than would a doctrine that believed in racial purity[3]. Takata envisioned a Minzoku that permitted other religions and ethnicities, but ultimately loyal to Japan in language, and, more importantly, political allegiance.


Resource Scarcity in Japan

Contemporary sources demonstrate many practical, pressing concerns in ensuring that the conversion of Muslim opinion occurred rapidly. Writing in 1938, the sociologist Jesse Steiner notes currents of panic amongst the Japanese at the scarcity of resources; horror at the effects of the 1929 Great Depression in destabilising the nation after the Meiji economic boom proved unsustainable[4]. These fears were further compounded by long-standing concerns of overpopulation, which was in turn compounded by widespread opposition to the government’s offer of emigration to Manchuria. By 1938, Japan was unable to feed herself. There was, between 1930-38, a 12-fold increase in whale consumption and reliance on international waters around Japan’s physical boundaries[5]. In Southeast Asia, this was the story. The 1000-strong Japanese fishermen community in Singapore enjoyed plentiful supply of tropical fish. Malaya had plentiful seafood and arable land. Given the lack of evidence of prewar Japanese community ‘befriending’ ordinary Malays, we can assume that resource scarcity took precedence over theory for most Japanese. The mining community in Kuantan and Terengganu (with disproportionately small Chinese communities) showed little evidence of Muslim employment. The most prolific Japanese, ironically, were those who operated businesses in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor - areas with high Chinese concentrations[6]. While the greater academic input contributed towards greater interest in befriending Muslim communities and co-opting their political agendas than amongst the Nazis, there is neither much evidence of transparency nor trust, or even of en-masse interest in socialising with the Muslims in Southeast Asia.


Nazi Germany: Geopolitical Priorities

There were far less spontaneous calls amongst the Germans to work with the Muslims during the 1930s[7]. To some extent, this was simply down to a different approach: while the Institut fur Geopolitik (Geopolitics Institute) fulfilled a similar role to the Society of Ethnology in international research, its research interests were naturally more concerned with geopolitical strategy. Motadel’s quotations suggests that - far more than any academic discussed by Doak or Esenbel - some German academics understood that the stakes of trying to dominate Islam were very high. In 1936, Heinrich Eck discussed Moscow’s abject failure to ‘control’ Muslims. Two years later, Schmitz’s All Islam! Weltmacht von Morgen, asserted that Islam, despite Stalin’s best efforts, remained the ‘life fundament’ of opposition in Russia[8]. Amidst the propagandistic overtones (particularly that of Islamic ‘strong opposition’), the implications of these texts collectively are clear: Islam and Nazism were ideologies that wanted to see similar types of change, and thus, could collaborate over certain matters. Yet its domination was a risky and unnecessary experiment. The contributions of figures such as Oppenheim and Rosenberg during the 1930s were more clearly related to government policy in the 1940s than were those of Takata, Okawa, and others. Yet, as portrayed by Nicosia in Nazi Germany and the Arab World, they were rarely theoretical; more ‘troubleshooting’. Within this ‘troubleshooting’, there was slightly more evidence of planning the ‘confidence-and-supply’ relationship. Rosenberg’s brand of ‘troubleshooting’ is a good example. As director of the Ausschenpolitisches Amt der NSDAP, Rosenberg demonstrated ingenuity in balancing engagement with the Middle East with the more prominent aim of an Aryan sanctuary in Europe. He agreed with Hitler that any claims staked upon former colonies had to be made on grounds of materials. Indeed, the dramatic increase in military spending in the late 1930s strained Germany’s budget and highlighted its shortage of raw materials. Yet the extent of shortages that Germany faced was a far cry from the desperation described in Japan. In addition to an aggressive autarky programme that was demonstrating competency in feeding the nation by 1939, Germany also had the option of annexation for resources, which Japan naturally did not.

The most prominent resource in Palestine to catch Nazi attention was opposition to the Jewish National Home. Having identified this, Rosenberg set out to manipulate it. A June 1936 article in the Volkischer Beobachter details Rosenberg’s caution that the British supported Jewish emigration to Palestine. For at least two years after the publication of this article, however, Rosenberg continued to promote directing Jewish immigration ‘first and foremost to Palestine’[9]. Nicosia’s point that the annexation of Austria and its 200,000 Jews simply meant 200,000 more potential migrants to Palestine is further proof of Rosenberg’s brilliance of ‘troubleshooting’. These actions were characteristic of Germany’s ‘confidence-and-supply’ view of Muslims. Rosenberg understood that there were factions of Arabic society prone to anti-Jewish sentiment, and understood the importance of maintaining a courteous relationship with leaders, as evidenced in German Foreign Office records of arms sales to Palestine in 1936-37. This was to be expected considering general Nazi trade interests in the region in the mid-1930s, and should not be interpreted as interest in political cooperation[10].


The Japanese in Malaysia

Early Japanese attempts to establish ‘coalition-style’ policies often did not demonstrate much evidence in planning, other than a desire to dominate. This is evidenced in their relationship with Ibrahim Yacob: a series of rewards as a direct consequence of damages to his objectives. The Japanese quickly demonstrated interest in working closely with Ibrahim Yacob, going to great lengths to ensure that they presented an illusion of supporting his interests when they detected suspicion and disillusionment. In April 1941, Ibrahim purchased (with Japanese funding) the Warta Malaya newspaper, using it to promulgate anti-British propaganda[11]. The newspaper was distinguished: by the end of the 1930s, it had the highest circulation amongst all Malay-language periodicals. The Japanese were also indulgent. Sensing Ibrahim’s disillusionment at the disbandment of the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (Young Malays Union), Ogawa and Watanabe hosted Ibrahim, appointing him as an advisor by the first week of August 1942. That this appointment occurred just two months after the Japanese outlawed the KMM suggests indulgence. The following October, Japan transferred Perlis, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan to Thai administration. Again, sensing Ibrahim’s disillusionment, Ibrahim was tasked with establishing the Giyu-gun and Giyu-tai. It is likely that the decision to instruct Ibrahim to disband the KMM was reached very quickly: Cheah notes that it occurred shortly after the KMM rapidly gained popularity, growing their membership to approx. 10,000 urban and rural Malays[12]. The Japanese could not risk Malay nationalism dominate their young efforts to enforce Japanese seishin. To be sure, the net effects of Ibrahim’s efforts are debatable: Warta Malaya was a well-read paper, but merely an urban, well-read paper[13]. Nonetheless, these efforts were symbolic of Japanese efforts to reach out to influential Muslims in Malaya.


Nazi Confidence-and-Supply

Few events discussed in this essay were more humiliating than al-Gaylani’s requests for assistance to resist the British, following his coup. Hitler responded by providing two Luftwaffe squadrons. Kehoe and Greenhalgh are right to note that Hellmuth’s appointment, and the two Luftwaffe squadrons undermine arguments of German enthusiasm or naivety about strengths needed to resist the British[14]. In addition to his incompetence, Hellmuth’s highest attainment was merely a three-star badge as Lieutenant-General. In addition to incompetence, Hellmuth was also distracted to seek out figures like al-Gaylani in Syria and Lebanon - not indicative of a dedicated, focused deployment[15]. This essay, however, questions the judgement that insufficient resources ‘doomed the German mission to inevitable failure’. Shortages were a vital factor. The urgency of preparations for Operation Barbarossa can be felt through these figures: between late February and late May 1941, over 2.3 million German troops were amassed. However, there is scant evidence of genuine concern for Gaylani’s demands. Scholarship that attribute Gaylani’s defeat to the ruthless efficiency of the British campaign only reinforces this essay’s argument: Gaylani had mooted specific requests since December 1940, asking for captured British weapons for ease of use against the British[16]. If the Nazi administration had truly been enthusiastic about weakening British influence in the region, if, more damningly, the administration could accommodate al-Husseini and al-Gaylani in luxury[17], their failure to make any progress on Gaylani’s coup strongly suggests a lack of interest in achieving aims that did not conform to Nazi interests.

Hitler’s lacklustre response to Gaylani’s coup forms one part of the litmus test that validates the nature of the confidence-and-supply relationship. The other is in Axis involvement in the Baghdadi Farhud of June 1-2, 1941. This time, the Nazis wanted Iraqis to supply violence against Baghdad’s Jewish community. The increasing focus of recent scholarship upon lesser Iraqi and Palestinian nationalist figures and ordinary Iraqis reveals a rapid evolution of discourse in the two months between Gaylani’s coup and the Farhud. While the Nazis were unwilling to make a meaningful contribution to Gaylani’s coup, they injected his short-lived regime with a cocktail of concentrated doses of nationalistic and anti-Semitic propaganda. This, with the rapidity of the British invasion and Grobba, Husseini and Gaylani’s desertion caused doubts over German credibility. There was some evidence of anti-Semitic sentiment before the war: Iraqi volunteers participated in the 1936-39 Arab Revolts. What was new was the inclination towards spontaneous violence in Baghdad. As the British arrived in Iraq in early May, the Nazis began broadcasting propaganda programmes stressing the strengths of the ‘Arab race’ throughout history, and the merits of contemporary Arab nationalism. The motive in doing so - to ‘strengthen their self-assurance’ - is somewhat extraneous given concurrent propaganda efforts on the same subject matter by Arabs.

Restlessness and paranoia grew as the British approached: in the week before the attack, Ida Staudt’s memoirs describes a break-in performed by a mob hunting for British materials over claims that a Union Jack had been spotted, only satisfied when they found a book with a depiction of Churchill[18]. Reeva Simon further notes the paranoia on the streets regarding British spies: a woman was treated as suspect by merit of her reflective gold button, allegedly used to signal the British. Indeed, the emotionally-charged nature of Staudt’s memoirs subject her record of fact to questions over objectivity[19]. However, her portrayal of increasing paranoia agrees with Simon’s characterisation[20]. Moderation is important: Grobba did not convert the average Baghdadi into a Nazi. However, extant evidence suggests that the rapid turn of events in the two months left an indelible imprint in the minds of many. Many reacted in what they perceived as the only way possible: to take it out on foreigners they saw. Ironically, the Nazis’ haphazard accumulation of propaganda succeeded in achieving Jewish persecution at the cost of severe damage of Muslim perceptions.


Japan from 1942-45

The aforementioned differences between German and Japanese policies to Muslims only became more prominent in the 1942-45 period. The ‘coalition’ versus ‘confidence-and-supply’ approaches towards Muslims grew increasingly disparate as pressures from global strategy mounted. The ‘coalition’ assessment of Japanese policy is reinforced in its deteriorating treatment of ‘ordinary’ Muslims and lesser aristocrats in Malaya and Singapore. Japanese administrative and religious interferences sought to solicit an increasing willingness to adopt the Japanese seishin. Overall, policies were designed to enforce, even more stringently than before, loyalty to Japan. Kratoska illustrates that the Malays demonstrated a consensus of dissatisfaction with the ‘benign neglect’ of British rule on the eve of the invasion. The civil service, in particular, was infamous for excessive bureaucracy. Strangely, despite Kratowska’s assessment that ‘many elements of the pre-war administration survived the occupation nearly unchanged’, he cites much evidence that suggests otherwise. The Japanese appointed lesser aristocratic Malays to replace the British as District Officers (D.O) in 1942[21]. This policy initially seemed to support improving Muslim political agency. Yet other policies from 1943-45 demonstrate the DO’s vulnerability. The Southern Army’s headquarters were relocated to Singapore in April 1943, improving the efficiency of the Military Administration. Between 1943 and 45, D.O’s noted increasing Japanese involvement in daily tasks, including de facto surveillance through accompanying field visits. This allowed more efficient administration of the D.O’s. The position of the Gun Shidokanho, created near the end of the Occupation is symbolic of this ‘coalition’ arrangement: the formalisation of a Japanese ‘super District Officer’ above the Muslim District Officer; Japanese identity over Muslim identity. That the official policy declaration for the Gun Shidokanho position defined its purpose as ‘guiding the District Officer in order to adjust and (make) adequate the executions of the latter’s duties’ suggests Japanese expectation that these minor aristocrats would cooperate with the ‘need’ for surveillance[22]. Village chiefs were forced to recruit forced labour. Indeed, the ordinary Muslim had reason to fear, and be suspicious of the Japanese. In general, the Japanese saw no need to indulge ordinary Muslims, whose influence in disseminating anti-British thought was far less.


Nazi Germany and the Middle East from 1942-45

The Japanese and Germans entered and engaged with Islamic consciousness with such different aims and planning styles. It is relatively easy to assess the effectiveness of either according to their own aims, but comparing the effectiveness of both can be problematic, without diverging into speculation (what if al-Gaylani defeated the British on his own merit?). The most telling indicator is in an evaluation of Japanese and German policy towards Muslim interaction with non-Muslims. The intensification of anti-Semitic rhetoric throughout the Second World War, but particularly following the May 1943 defeat in North Africa experienced mere pockets of effectiveness, despite its exception as an exemplar of the ‘confidence-and-supply’ relationship; as one of the few aspects of life in the Middle East which the Nazis hoped to significantly influence through the use of such figures as al-Husseini and Yunus Bahri. Motadel traces the growing virulence of this rhetoric. Propaganda directed towards the Middle East in the summer of 1942 attempted to justify anti-Semitism, prescribing annihilation because ‘The Jews are planning to violate your women, to kill your children and to destroy you.’[23]. By 1944, the need for such justification had dissipated: on March 1, al-Husseini broadcast the far more emotive and direct: ‘Kill the Jews wherever you find them; this pleases Allah, history, and religion. This saves your honour. Allah is with you.’[24]. Despite extensive Nazi efforts in this respect for nearly five years, there was scant evidence of spontaneous uprising against Jewish populations in the Middle East and North Africa, bar the aforementioned Farhud. This is a particularly damning verdict, considering the concurrent anti-Semitic policies of the Vichy government. Motadel, to his credit, recognises that his research illustrates but ‘snapshots’[25]. Nonetheless, his argument is made even more convincing, given the fallacies of the opposition: Herf asserts that propaganda could reasonably be judged to have encountered ‘positive reception’ based on a Voice of America’s report on discussing Judaism with the Palestinian population (it is unclear what these observations are based on)[26]. Herf strongly implies that the messages were quite popular in Palestine and Iraq by his need to make frequent, obvious assertions (such as ‘The purpose of (propaganda) was to inflame and incite, not inform’ and ‘Not only did these assertions… wildly exaggerate the powers of the Jews’)[27].


Japanese ‘Indirect’ Discrimination

Almost the exact opposite is true for the Japanese. Cheah is right to insist that there is little evidence ‘to show that the Japanese deliberately promoted racial animosity’ in Japanese policy, at least until the very final two months of Occupation. However, the motivations and objectives of many Japanese economic and social policies facilitated justification of anti-Chinese sentiment, even violence. The sheer violence of Sook Ching in February 1942 created a great impression among many ordinary Malays. Although Chinese schools, for instance, were allowed to re-open in October 1942, the Japanese forbid the use of Mandarin as the language of instruction[28].

To meet the war’s increasing demand upon resources, the Japanese rescinded Malay Land Reservation Enactments, transferring hitherto protected land in rural Johor and Negri Sembilan to Chinese farmers. Whereas land was also allocated to Malay farmers, suggesting that the need to maintain Malayan food supplies did take precedence over racial policy, only land in the smaller more urban state of Syonan-To (Singapore) was granted[29]. The resultant ethnic conflict that lasted from May 10th to September 1st, 1945 in Batu Pahat and surrounding regions in the Northwest of Johor, had a far wider-ranging and deeper impact than did the Baghdadi Farhud of 1941, and comparisons are inappropriate. Much as some Baghdadis justified their persecution of the Jews by claiming that the latter committed espionage for the British, some Malays justified their massacres by claiming that their Chinese victims were communists[30]. The only main difference: the Japanese role, unlike that of Grobba and Gaylani, was implicit.

A small criticism of Cheah: he cites an anecdote from Chin Peng of a July incident wherein the Japanese ‘went to a mosque… and slaughtered a pig’[31], thereby inciting more conflict. There are issues with Chin’s objectivity as a liaison officer between the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army and the British military. Cheah, to his credit, also notes that the logistical considerations of the war - preparations for significant, widely-reported concurrent battles with the British in the North of Malaya that would absorb much Japanese attention[32] - would overwhelmingly suggest that this anecdote is likely untrue, and, if true, was unlikely to have significant impact. Certainly, the region of Batu Pahat, Endau and Muar constitutes but a small region in Malaya, and was also the only notable spontaneous act of anti-Chinese resistance. However, its severe destabilisation upon the Chinese community - 14,000 displaced refugees who had to flee town centres by early September - leads to the unfortunate suggestion that Japanese ‘indirect’ discrimination was more impactful than was the German bombardment of propaganda[33]. This is not a conclusion of greater efficiency from the Japanese. Nonetheless, the suggestive evidence is notable.



The policies of Showa Japan and Nazi Germany towards Muslims differed significantly throughout the global wars of 1931-45, particularly if one specifically considers their treatment of Muslims in the British colonies of Malaya and Singapore, and British mandates of Palestine and Iraq. Indeed, although the development of currents of ethnic and racial theories differed greatly, practical and strategic considerations during both campaigns could have engineered more congruence between the two. Instead, the pressures of failures in strategy during the 1942-45 years made these differences even more pronounced. Overall, neither Japan nor Germany truly convinced Muslims that their values were compatible with Islamic religious and political identities. A final consideration: the detail in policies discussed in this essay do not facilitate awareness that Japan and Germany’s approaches towards Muslim engagement were, from an Islamic perspective, different parts of the narrative of their engagement with the non-Islamic world during the first half of the twentieth century. It would, as such, be useful to conduct a further study into the differences of the roles of Japan and Germany into postwar Islamic revolutionaries and nationalism, in Malaya and Singapore and Palestine and Iraq, but also in the total extent of Nazi Germany and Showa Japan’s spheres of influence.


What do you think about the author’s arguments? Let us know below.




Barber, Andrew, Kuala Lumpur at War, 1939-45, Kuala Lumpur, Karamoja Press, 2012

Cheah, Boon Kheng, Red Star over Malaya: Resistance and Social Conflict During and After the Japanese Occupation, 1941-46, 2nd ed., Singapore, Singapore University Press, 1983

Cheah, Boon Kheng, ‘The Japanese Occupation of Malaya, 1941-45: Ibrahim Yacob and the Struggle for Indonesian Raya’, Indonesia, No. 28 (Oct., 1979), pp. 84-120

Doak, Kevin M., ’Building National Identity through Ethnicity: Ethnology in Wartime Japan and After’ in The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Winter, 2001), pp. 1-39

Esenbel, Selcuk, ‘Japan's Global Claim to Asia and the World of Islam: Transnational Nationalism and World Power, 1900-1945’ in The American Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 4 (October 2004), pp. 1140-1170

Goda, Norman J. W., Tales from Spandau: Nazi Criminals and the Cold War, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006

Herf, Jeffrey, ‘Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Aimed at Arabs and Muslims During World War II and the Holocaust: Old Themes, New Archival Findings’, in Central European History, Vol. 42, No. 4, (December 2009), pp. 709-736

Kehoe, Thomas J., and Greenhalgh, Elizabeth M., ‘Living Propaganda and Self-Serving Recruitment: The Nazi Rationale for the German-Arab Training Unit, May 1941 to May 1943’ in War in History (2017), Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 520-543

Kratoska, Paul H., The Japanese Occupation of Malaya, London, Hurst & Co., 1998

Mallmann, Klaus-Michael, and Cuppers, Martin, Nazi Palestine, The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine, trans. Krista Smith, New York, Enigma Books, 2010

Morse, Chuck, The Nazi Connection to Islamic Terrorism: Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, Lincoln, iUniverse, Inc., 2003

Motadel, David, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2014

Nicosia, Francis, Nazi Germany and the Arab World, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2015

‘Policy - Definition’, Oxford Living Dictionaries,, (accessed 24 Dec 2017)

Spector-Simon, Reeva, Iraq between the Two World Wars: The Militarist Origins of Tyranny, Updated ed., New York, 2004

Staudt, Ida, ‘A Nazi-Inspired Revolt, 1941’ in Living in Romantic Baghdad: An American Memoir of Teaching and Travel in Iraq, 1924-1947, Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 2012

Steiner, Jesse, ‘Japanese Population Policies’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 5 (Mar., 1938), pp. 717-733

Tajuddin, Azlan, Malaysia in the World Economy (1824-2011): Capitalism , Ethnic Divisions and ‘managed Democracy’, London, Lexington Books, 2012

Tsutsui, William M., ‘Landscapes in the Dark Valley: Toward an Environmental History of Wartime Japan’, Environmental History, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Apr., 2003), pp. 294-311



[1] ‘Policy - Definition’, Oxford Living Dictionaries,, (accessed 24 Dec 2017)

[2] Kevin M. Doak, ’Building National Identity through Ethnicity: Ethnology in Wartime Japan and After’ in The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Winter, 2001), pp. 14-15

[3] Ibid, p. 2

[4] Jesse Steiner, ‘Japanese Population Policies’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 5 (Mar., 1938), pp. 718-720

[5] William M. Tsutsui, ‘Landscapes in the Dark Valley: Toward an Environmental History of Wartime Japan’, Environmental History, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Apr., 2003), p. 298

[6] Ayabe Kuichiro ran a ‘(dentistry)... that doubled as a barber’s shop’. The multiplicity of services probably made Kuichiro a well-known figure in the local area. See Andrew Barber, Kuala Lumpur at War, 1939-45, Kuala Lumpur, Karamoja Press, 2012, pp. 22-24 for similar anecdotes.

[7] David Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 27-31

[8] Ibid, p. 30

[9] Francis Nicosia, Nazi Germany and the Arab World, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 99

[10] Ibid, pp. 87-88

[11] Cheah Boon Kheng, ‘The Japanese Occupation of Malaya, 1941-45: Ibrahim Yacob and the Struggle for Indonesian Raya’, Indonesia, No. 28 (Oct., 1979), p. 94

[12] Ibid, p. 103

[13] Azlan Tajuddin, Malaysia in the World Economy (1824-2011): Capitalism , Ethnic Divisions and ‘managed Democracy’, London, Lexington Books, 2012, p. 94

[14] Thomas J. Kehoe, and Elizabeth M. Greenhalgh, ‘Living Propaganda and Self-Serving Recruitment: The Nazi Rationale for the German-Arab Training Unit, May 1941 to May 1943’ in War in History (2017), Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 526

[15] Ibid, p. 526

[16] Nicosia, Nazi Germany and the Arab World, p. 163

[17] Chuck Morse, The Nazi Connection to Islamic Terrorism: Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, Lincoln, iUniverse, Inc., 2003, pp. 53-56

[18] Ida Staudt, ‘A Nazi-Inspired Revolt, 1941’ in Living in Romantic Baghdad: An American Memoir of Teaching and Travel in Iraq, 1924-1947, Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 2012, p. 223

[19] Ibid, pp. 218-221

[20] Reeva Spector-Simon, Iraq between the Two World Wars: The Militarist Origins of Tyranny, Updated ed., New York, 2004, p. 131

[21] Kratoska, The Japanese Occupation of Malaya, p. 64

[22] Ibid, p. 65

[23] Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, p. 96

[24] Ibid, p. 97

[25] Ibid, p. 114

[26] Jeffrey Herf, ‘Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Aimed at Arabs and Muslims During World War II and the Holocaust: Old Themes, New Archival Findings’, in Central European History, Vol. 42, No. 4, (December 2009), p. 728

[27] Ibid, p. 731

[28] Cheah, Red Star over Malaya: Resistance and Social Conflict During and After the Japanese Occupation, 1941-46, 2nd ed., Singapore, Singapore University Press, 1983, p. 38

[29] Ibid, p. 39

[30] Ibid, p. 219

[31] Ibid, p. 217

[32] Ibid, p. 235

[33] Ibid, p. 230

In April, the Japanese government released the names of over three thousand members of Unit 731. Unit 731 was a group in the Japanese Imperial Army responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. Jack Gray explains.

Shiro Ishii, commander of Unit 731

Shiro Ishii, commander of Unit 731

(1)   Unit 731 is the commonly used name for the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army. It was a secret unit of the Japanese Imperial Army that carried out experiments in biological and chemical warfare using human test subjects. Unit 731 was only one unit of several in the Japanese Imperial Army that carried out medical experiments, but it is the best known. These units were known as the Ishii Network, after Lt. Gen. Ishii Shiro, the commanding officer of Unit 731 who spent his military career researching the development of biological weapons.


(2)   Unit 731 was established in 1936 and operated in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. It was shut down in 1945 after the defeat of Japan. Lt. Gen. Ishii had been carrying out experiments in China in secret since 1933 during the second Sino-Japanese War, although most of these early experiments were much smaller in scale. After 1939, Unit 731’s headquarters were located in Pingfan, near Harbin in China. In its early days most of its members were medical researchers from various Japanese universities, not professional soldiers. There were only eight people in the first group posted to the unit, but it quickly grew in size until there were several thousand members (only a small number were doctors).


(3)   Unit 731 was known for their use of humans as test subjects in horrific experiments studying the effects of plague, frostbite, and other various diseases. While they did carry out several field tests using biological weapons, the use of their weapons was generally less successful than their gruesome experiments. In these, they examined the effects of diseases such as anthrax, cholera, dysentery, plague, smallpox, tetanus, tuberculosis, and typhoid on live human subjects. Researchers infected prisoners with the diseases and then performed vivisections on them while they were still alive to track the progress of the infection. Some experiments studying frostbite involved leaving prisoners outside until their limbs froze and then attempting various methods of reviving the necrotic body parts.


(4)   Many of the members of Unit 731 received immunity from the U.S. government in exchange for the data from their experiments. After the conclusion of the war, Americans began investigating the unit’s experiments and asked for the data, but never used it as evidence to prosecute any members, saying that the information gained from the experiments was too valuable not to take advantage of, since no similar experiments could be carried out in the United States due to moral scruples. In addition, seizing the data prevented the Soviet Union from being able to access it; using the experiments as evidence in a trial would have resulted in making the results public, thereby giving the Soviet Union the information as well. Regardless of the reason, no member of Unit 731 was ever prosecuted by the United States or by Japan.


(5)   The history of Unit 731 has been a contentious issue in Japan, as the government did not disclose any information about the group until recently. Only recently has more information come to light after a request from the public. Many people feel that the lack of any criminal charges against members of Unit 731 is a great injustice, and that the United States should have prosecuted every member. The publication of the names of several thousand members of the unit by the National Archives of Japan was the result of a petition led by Katsuo Nishiyama, a medical professor. The request was first made in 2015, but most of the names on the list were redacted. Only in January of 2018 did the government agree to release the rest of the names. Katsuo hopes that the release of the names will lead to greater awareness of the unit’s history and a new commitment never to repeat the crimes of the past.


To summarize, Unit 731 was a group in the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II that was responsible for war crimes involving experimentation on live human beings, but escaped prosecution. Only recently have the names of the members of the Unit come to light. Hopefully with this new information there will be new commitments to avoid further atrocities and remember those who suffered.


Jack Gray is from Pacific Atrocities Education,


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

We were recently contacted by an organization seeking funds for a film to tell the story of a World War II veteran, No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave. We thought we would publish their press release in case any of our readers want to support the project (link here).

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    Image courtesy of Go Button Media, available  here .

Image courtesy of Go Button Media, available here.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – Filming has begun, time is running out and help is needed to find a vanished piece of history and fulfill 93-year-old WWII British Navy veteran Patrick Thomas’ dream to finally honor his drowned shipmates.

Conflict archaeologist, historian and former rock star John Henry Phillips, in an impulsive moment fuelled by an unexpected bond, promised Patrick he would find his ship and plant the memorial with Patrick by his side.

If you could help change the life of a WWII Veteran, solve a nautical mystery and honor the memories of a drowned fleet, would you?

To learn more about this incredible story and to help us raise the funds to finish the documentary and transform history, please visit our Indiegogo page here (

“You don’t get that many chances to change someone’s life and to make sure that they will never be forgotten,” says John Henry Phillips, “If I can find the ship then I can change history and I can change Patrick’s life and his story will be there forever.”

Like many veterans, Patrick came home from the war and got on with his life. He never spoke of the sinking or his later exploits in the Far East until his twilight years. “Very soon this history will be beyond living memory and Veterans will no longer be around,” adds Stuart Robertson, WWII author, historian and battlefield guide.

Patrick assumed his story and the story of his ship would die with him, but meeting John changed everything.

Henry Phillips, 26, is not the usual WWII aficionado. Two years ago, he arrived at a WWII celebration event and found his accommodation double booked. He had nowhere to stay until a complete stranger, Patrick Thomas, offered John his spare room.

A wonderful and unique friendship began. One day, John said to Patrick: “You know, your ship really deserves a memorial.” He then went further; “Patrick, someone should find your ship.” Needless to say, Patrick agreed. John did not know this was just the beginning of an adventure that would take over his entire life.

“When I said to Patrick I’d find your ship it seemed like a pretty simple task: go to France, find where the ship went down, put a plaque up.”

The problems started immediately, John has no idea where to begin building a permanent memorial, where the ship is and he can’t scuba dive. Undeterred and realizing the gravity of his promise and his friend’s age, John’s search for the missing ship has begun and already inspired help from many.


For more information about “No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave” or Go Button Media, please contact: Daniel Oron,

Article supplied by Go Button Media, originally here.


Please leave any comments below.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

The Red Ball Express was a supply line that was set up to ensure that the Allied troops who invaded France in 1944 were well supplied. It wasn’t just any supply line though; it was vital to the Allies’ advance against Nazi Germany in the latter months of 1944… Here, Greg Bailey tells this World War Two story.

A Red Ball Express convoy is waved on near Alenon, France. September 1944.

A Red Ball Express convoy is waved on near Alenon, France. September 1944.

Like the Pony Express, whose legend has lasted far longer than its short history, the Red Ball Express, the vital supply line across France supporting the Allies’ war-effort against Germany, has earned a well-deserved heroic reputation. The around-the-clock stream of truck convoys was as important as any battle fought in World War II.

The Red Ball Express was created on the battlefield to solve an unforeseen but welcome development. The planners of D-Day anticipated there would be enough supplies, primarily gasoline, to support the advancing combat units while engineers completed a gas supply line from the Normandy landing area to the rear of the combat area. For a time, as the Allies slowly fought their way through difficult hedgerow country, the supplies piled up. But after Bradley’s division broke through the German lines, General George Patton saw an opening and aggressively took it. He charged across France and the army soon began to run out of supplies. By mid August Patton had to slow down his advance for lack of fuel. The gasoline and other supplies his men needed were piled up far from the front. "My men can eat their belts” Patton said, "but my tanks gotta have gas."  The solution was a special unit running on designated roads to move the supplies. Borrowing the name from the railroads, the Red Ball Express was born.


The Express at work

The Red Ball Express only ran from the end of August to the middle of November 1944. Men and trucks from scattered units were hurriedly brought together.  During those few months the convoys running on the designated roads marked by red ball signs, hauled more than 400,000 tons of materials from the Normandy beaches to the ever changing front lines of the Allied campaign. The loads included ammunition, medical supplies and food but above all gasoline in five gallon jerricans that were needed to keep the fuel hungry tanks and other vehicles advancing toward the enemy. Patton called the operations of the Red Ball Express “our most important weapon.”

Patton’s most important weapon was a combination of one of the best examples of American ingenuity and one of the most shameful episodes of American history.  Although the army used several models of truck during the operations, the mainstay was the two and a half tom Jimmie. The Jimmie had a five-ton cargo capacity.  The no frills version of the civilian truck, the Jimmie, was designed to be easily and quickly assembled. With simple, interchangeable parts, during the Red Ball Express’ operations, mechanics were able to swap out engines and transmissions by the side of the road often under enemy fire. Tires were a problem, often flattened on the road by discarded C-ration cans.  Under these tough conditions, each Jimmie had a life expectancy of less than a year.


Valiance in the face of Discrimination

What really pushed the operation was the men driving and repairing the trucks Three quarters of the Red Ball Express personnel were African Americans serving in all black units with white officers over them, barred from serving in combat under the segregation laws of the time. The white troops lived in separate quarters and were kept away from their comrades during and after duty.  British Major General H. Essame said: "few who saw them will ever forget the enthusiasm of the Negro drivers, hell-bent whatever the risk, to get General Patton his supplies."

Despite the sting of discrimination the men charged with the vital supply mission went above and beyond. On an average day 83 transportation units operated almost 900 trucks on the network of roads closed to all other military or civilian traffic.  On paper the speed limit for the five truck convoys was 25 mph with each truck spaced out in 60 feet intervals. In reality drivers disabled the governors on the truck engines to exceed the posted speed limits and the trucks were sometimes overloaded above their five-ton capacity.

During the first days of the Express, as the front lines nearly ran out of supplies, drivers set out with maps torn out of the pages of the Stars and Stripes newspaper.  And while the route was a solid line on a map, in reality the roads were narrow and twisting, pock marked with battle damage, running through fields of dead livestock and hidden snipers. The trucks ran at night with obscured headlights soon called cats’ eyes. Along the roads drivers passed the remains of trucks wrecked in accidents or destroyed by enemy fire.

Indeed, although the Red Ball Express was officially a non-combat unit, drivers were drawn into battles. Some of the trucks were fitted with 50 caliber machine guns and all of the personnel carried rifles with them. In these battles, black drivers left their trucks and fought alongside white soldiers and then returned to their second class status behind the wheels of their trucks marked with bullet holes. Against these hazards the Red Ball Express pushed on, with drivers completing the average 600-mile round-trip with little or no rest.


The murkier side

There was a dark side to the operation. In his 2000 book The Road to Victory author David Colley tells how bottles of premium French wine were traded for far more valuable cans of gasoline. Prostitutes along the way accepted jerricans as payment.  A few fully loaded trucks disappeared into the Paris black market under the unchallenged story that the trucks were destroyed by enemy fire.

By November other supply lines including pipelines and secured ports and rail lines had taken over the task of the Express. The Red Ball Express trucks were using a great amount of fuel to deliver gas to the increasingly distant destinations. The Red Ball Express had completed its mission. Other operations ran on other routes but the Red Ball Express image lived on it part because of the red circles on the transportation units insignia.



After the war the Red Ball Express was celebrated in the Broadway musical Call Me Mister. “Steam was hissing from the hoods when they showed up with the goods. But they turned around and went back for more.”  A wildly inaccurate film on the Red Ball Express was released in 1952 staring actor Jeff Chandelier leading mixed white and black crews on trucks through burring villages to delivery gas to the stranded tank crews. An equally inaccurate sitcom on the Express ran for a short time on CBS in the 1970s.

But perhaps the most sincere tribute was expressed by the simple words of Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower. After calling the Red Ball Express the “lifeline between combat and supply”, Eisenhower said:

To it falls the tremendous task of getting vital supplies from ports and depots to the combat troops, when and where such supplies are needed, material without which the armies might fail. To you drivers and mechanics and your officers, who keep the ‘Red Ball’ vehicles constantly moving, I wish to express my deep appreciation. You are doing an excellent job.


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Greg Bailey is a history writer from St. Louis. His book The Voyage of the F.H. Moore and Other 19th Century Whaling Accounts was published last year.

Admiral Yamamoto led the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. However, Yamamoto was an interesting character who clashed with other, more bellicose, factions in Japan. Here, Kevin K. O’Neill tells us about his life.


Seventy-three years ago, on a day that has lived in infamy, America was attacked by Imperial Japan at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a devastating surprise attack. One of the masterminds of this attack was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of Japan’s combined fleet. Portrayed in the American press as the chief perpetrator of this nefarious gambit, Yamamoto was successfully demonized in the American mind by newspapers and magazines. Such slander is a tool of war as old as the business but with the passage of time a more realistic summation of Yamamoto’s character is in order.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.


Born Isoroku Takano in 1884, to a Nagaoka samurai clan, Isoroku was adopted into the Yamamoto clan in 1916 to keep the clan name alive, a common practice of samurai clans with no male heirs. By that time Yamamoto had already graduated form the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1904, served as a line officer during the Battle of Tsushima Straits in 1905, returned to the Naval Staff College in 1914, and been promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1915. Yamamoto went on to study at Harvard for two years with several subsequent American postings allowing him to tour America and become fluent in the English language. It was during this time in America that Yamamoto gleaned his understanding of American production and logistic capability. Showing foresight, Yamamoto shifted his specialty from gunnery to naval aviation.

In the 1930s the Army and Navy of Imperial Japan were at odds with each other over national doctrine. This animosity was fanned by politics turbulent enough to, after an assassination attempt in 1930, give the Japanese eleven Prime Ministers in as many years before the Army Officer, Hideki Tojo, became Prime Minister in 1941. The Army’s nationalistic outlook, a mix of ‘bushido’ and European fascism termed ‘Showa Nationalism’ by historians, was fueled by many things. Two of these were lingering resentment over the treatment by the ‘Black Ships’ of Commodore Perry’s gunboat diplomacy, and the indignation over the Japanese ‘racial equality’ proposal being rejected by the League of Nations at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I. One of the main bones of contention between the bellicose Army and the more pragmatic Navy was whether or not to join the German-Italian Axis powers in what was to become the Tripartite Act.

Admiral Yamamoto, previously against aspects of the Japanese aggressions in China, was also against the Tripartite Act, recognizing that it would almost certainly lead to open conflict with the United States. Well aware of the age old military tenet that it is easier to start a war than to end one, Yamamoto, against public opinion and to the ire of the Army, sounded the alarm over America’s production abilities saying that the Japanese Navy could “run wild in the Pacific for 6 months… after that, I have no expectation of success.” This realistic viewpoint, considered weak and unpatriotic by the Army and an increasing number of the Navy power players, led to Yamamoto being removed from his position in the Navy Ministry to sea duty as the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, where he was held in high esteem.



After Tojo was appointed Prime Minister, Yamamoto, knowing war was imminent, went into patriotic obedience with the mindset of giving America a heavy blow, drawing battle lines, and suing for peace. The first of these blows came at Pearl Harbor, but while the rest of Japan was celebrating the ‘decisive’ victory Yamamoto was in deep melancholy over the fact that not a single American aircraft carrier was touched and that, due to bureaucratic lag, the declaration of war was delivered late to the Americans, making Pearl Harbor a sneak attack that would harden American resolve. Yamamoto tried again to hit the Americans hard then sue for peace with the plan of securing Midway Island and swatting American aircraft carriers.

Midway was a sure Japanese victory on paper, but there were problems such as the lack of security making the plan an open secret discussed publicly in teahouses. One Japanese pilot received a letter from a foot soldier relative fighting in China wishing him good luck at Midway. Other tricks of fate, including the submarines sent to detect American aircraft carriers being placed incorrectly due to a typographical error, thwarted the Japanese fleet. American intelligence work and gambits, the heroism of the torpedo squadrons, and shipboard fire fighting capabilities helped tip the balance. The Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered from their losses at the Battle of Midway.

As the Japanese were pushed back further and further during the battle for the Solomon Islands and ensuing loss of Guadalcanal, their morale suffered. Yamamoto, against strong vocal protests by his staff, insisted on going on morale boosting visits to forward areas. With the Japanese secret codes broken, the US Navy knew the details of these visits. President Roosevelt ordered the Navy to “Get Yamamoto”. On April 18, 1943, Yamamoto was shot down during an aerial ambush. Killed outright by .50 machine gun fire the 59 year old Yamamoto was found thrown clear of the crash site in his seat, still upright, with head bent as if in deep thought, his katana still clutched in his white gloved hand. Boosting the morale of the Americans and demotivating the Japanese, Roosevelt’s decision to go after Yamamoto is hard to question when viewed from the mindset of the times.

Sadly for the Japanese people Yamamoto never got his chance to keep the, or sue for, peace with the Americans. Roughly 90% of Japanese casualties occurred after his death as the Japanese fought tooth and nail against the advancing allies. One can only wonder what might have happened in the mid-twentieth century had the forces of bellicose nationalism listened to Isoroku Yamamoto, a true warrior who knew the price of aggression.


Now, click here to read our article on how World War II stereotypes of Japan linger on to this day.

Reference: The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire by John Toland.

Helen Saker-Parsons tells us the story of how Mussolini’s Italy systematically undermined Germans in South Tyrol, a region of Italy with a German majority – at a time when Italy and Germany were close Fascist allies. The article looks at Italian ethnic cleansing, the ban on the German language, the land of stolen treasure and counterfeit pounds.


In 1920s Europe, fascism was gathering strength. In Germany, the National Socialists were winning support on the basis of their belief in German superiority. Hitler published Mein Kampf in 1925 and wrote of the supremacy of the Aryan race. But in one German-speaking region of Europe all references to the German language were banned. This was not a socialist or communist led country, hostile to the ideas of Fascism: this was Fascist Italy. The region itself had removed its Germanic title of South Tyrol and had reinvented itself as Alto Adige. For 500 years it had belonged to Austria but after the First World War and the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919, Tyrol had been divided in two and the southern part handed to the Italians as ‘spoils of war’ in gratitude for Italy’s co-operation with the Allies during the war. Thus began a twenty-five year period in its history which saw it experience ethnic cleansing, local martyrs, and concentration camps - and ended as it became a dumping ground for Nazi lootings and the home to the production of counterfeit British pounds.

Following the rise of Fascism and Benito Mussolini in 1922, a policy of Italianization in the area was introduced, driven by Italian ultra-nationalists, such as Senator Ettore Tolomei who on July 15, 1923, presented his 32-point program for Italianization: Provvedimenti per l'Alto Adige ("Measures for the Alto Adige"), which he claimed was aimed “to clean the area which had been polluted by strangers for centuries.” Mussolini said in February 1926: “We shall Italianize this territory, because it is Italian, geographically and historically.” In fact 70% of the population spoke German and only 25% Italian. Amongst the measures were: the introduction of Italian as the only official language; the establishment of Italian kindergartens and schools; the dismissal of German-speaking civil servants and teachers; a complete stop on German immigration in South Tyrol; Italian as the juridical language; the closure of German banks; the Italianization of the names of places (towns, roads, rivers, mountains etc. – except Gries) as well as the Italianization of Germanized family names, with the list of new names being printed in 1926 in the Gazetta Ufficiale. Tolomei acquired the nickname ‘grave digger’ as he also proposed prohibiting the use of German in cemeteries and ordered that German words should be deleted from gravestones.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler together in Munich, Germany. 1937.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler together in Munich, Germany. 1937.


These measures met with varying degrees of success. The settlement of Italians from other regions was encouraged through the building of thousands of new houses, especially in Bolzano. However the tricky terrain of high mountains and deep valleys hindered repopulation and prevented the new arrivals, especially from the south, warming to their new environment. The planned substitution of the German clergy with Italians failed because of the opposition from the Vatican. Another move that met with opposition was the ban on teaching in German - either in schools or in private lessons. School books were ‘cleansed’ of everything referring to German customs, traditions or history. The singing of German ‘Lieder’ was considered dangerous to the Kingdom of Italy. German teachers were systematically dismissed on the grounds of ‘insufficient didactica’, or transferred to the south, from where Italian teachers were recruited instead. One vehement critic of this policy was the priest, Canon Michael Gamper, long time editor of the newspaper Volksbote. In 1925 he used his paper to call for a continuation of German education, writing that it was their duty to imitate the early Christians who found refuge in the catacombs of Rome.

The clandestine establishments he encouraged became known as ‘Katakombenschulen or ‘catacomb schools’. A shortfall in suitable teachers was overcome by recruiting young women, without families or responsibilities. The first group of 25 teachers received training in Bolzano in 1925 under the auspice that they were part of a sewing circle. More young girls were approached until around 500 volunteers were eventually trained, usually by local clergymen and often in secret. Most of the teaching took place in barns, attics, kitchens or ‘stube’- the living rooms of rural houses. Up to five children at a time, sometimes 30 per day, received instruction in reading and writing in German. Often girls would arrive with knitting to disguise their true intentions but would leave having learned a new Tyrolean song. Books of fairy tales and songs were supplied by German cultural societies, and were smuggled from Austria, hidden in religious buildings and then taken from school to school. For the children of the catacomb schools, who also attended Italian public schools, there was a confusion of identity that lingered long in to their lives. 

After initial difficulties, secret seminars for the instruction of teachers were organized throughout the province, usually under the protection of the Catholic Church and from 1931 were also held as far afield as Munich. Despite the risks, there were many prepared to take them. One such teacher, Angela Nikoletti, has been hailed as a regional Joan of Arc. She received several warnings to stop but continued to teach undeterred. She was arrested on May 14, 1927 and sentenced to 30 days in prison. During her imprisonment she contracted tuberculosis, which worsened when she was banished from her home community on her release and forced to hide in a cave. Only once her weak condition had been diagnosed was she allowed to return home to live with her aunt. However, she was to die from her illness and her death created an almost myth-like legacy. In October 1930 her funeral turned in to a public rally and five years later a newspaper wrote:  “She had given her life for her homeland. Her German heart could bear no bonds.”



Between 1928 and 1939 various resistance groups formed to fight the fascist Italian regime and its policy of suppressing the German language. Catholic media and associations resisted the forced integration under the protection of the Vatican. The underground resistance movement, the Völkischer Kampfring Südtirols, was formed by a Nazi Party member and tailor from Bolzano, Peter Hofer. Then on October 21, 1939, Mussolini reached an agreement with Hitler that all inhabitants had until December 31, 1939 to choose between remaining in the region, accepting complete Italianization, or emigrating to Nazi Germany (including annexed Austria), the so-called "Option für Deutschland" (option for Germany). The population was deeply divided. Those who wanted to stay (Dableiber) were condemned as traitors; those who left (Optanten), the majority, were defamed as Nazis. Hitler commented on a plan to relocate the ‘Optanten’ to Crimea (annexed to Greater Germany) in 1942: “the transport of South Tyrolese to Crimea offers no special physical or psychological difficulties. They need only make a voyage down a German stream, the Danube, and they’d be right there”. But most were to be resettled in German-annexed western Poland.

The National Socialists put their successful propaganda machine into action, launching a campaign to encourage the South Tyrolean population to ‘opt’ for resettlement. Lies were deliberately spread amongst the people to incite hatred against one another, resulting in entire families being ripped apart and resentments resonating for many decades. The majority of people succumbed to Nazi pressure with 86% choosing resettlement - thus began a program of ‘ethnic cleansing’. The Optanten banded together in the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Optanten für Deutschland (Association of optants for Germany or ADO) that was founded on January 30, 1940 under the ubiquitous Peter Hofer. Those who chose to stay, the Dableiber, mainly banded together around local Catholic priests. The first families left their homeland in 1939, and up to 1943 a total of around 75,000 South Tyroleans emigrated (the original numbers curtailed by the outbreak of war), of which 50,000 returned after the war.



In September 1943 Mussolini was deposed and Italy surrendered to the Allies who had invaded the country from the south. From the north the German Wehrmacht poured in its troops. On September 10, 1943 the Operation Zone of the Alpine Foothills was established, incorporating South Tyrol. The ADO was dissolved and joined with the Deutsche Volksgruppe. Peter Hofer was chosen as the Volksgruppenführer. Many German-speaking South Tyroleans, who had suffered years of linguistic oppression and discrimination by Fascist Italy, wanted revenge upon the ethnic Italians living in the area, particularly in the larger cities. There were also attempts to arrest fleeing Italian soldiers and attacks on the Dableiber. However, wide scale retribution was discouraged by the occupying Nazis who feared alienating Mussolini and the Italian Fascists. The man once described by Hitler as a ‘strutting peacock’ had been rescued from his high altitude imprisonment on the Gran Sasso by German paratroopers and had been instated as the puppet head of an Italian Social Republic in Salo. One sector of the community not considered safe, however, was the Jewish population, especially the large contingent of foreign Jews living in Merano. On September 16, 1943, the Nazis sent the first group of Merano Jews to Auschwitz.

Owing to its mountainous terrain and its remoteness, the region managed to escape much of the fighting between Allied and German forces as the former swept through the country. But the history of this tranquil region remained troubled. In summer 1944, a concentration camp was established in Bolzano, hosting around 11,000 prisoners. The area also became an extension of Switzerland as a dumping ground for Nazi lootings. The US 88th Infantry Division which occupied South Tyrol from May 2, 1945 uncovered vast amounts of precious items and looted art treasures. Among the items reportedly found were railway wagons filled with gold bars, hundreds of thousands of meters of silk, the Italian crown jewels, King Victor Emmanuel's personal collection of rare coins, and scores of works of art looted from art galleries such as the Uffizi in Florence. Furthermore, from this mountainous area, the Nazis attempted to wreck the British economy. Castello Schloss Labers (located above Merano) was used by an SS Task Force for ‘Operation Bernhard’, a plan to undermine the British economy by the mass production of fake pound notes using inmates of concentration camps as counterfeiters.

Fears the Germans might use the region as a last-ditch stronghold to fight to the bitter end were not forthcoming and following the German surrender in May 1945 Austria and Italy came to an agreement ratified under the Paris Peace Treaty that Austria would give up its claim to the region on the condition that Italy took steps to redress some of the cultural damage perpetrated under Fascism. None of the ADO leaders were tried for their crimes. Peter Hofer himself was killed during an Allied bombing raid on Bolzano in December 1943. Amongst the plethora of wreaths sent to his funeral was one from Hitler. Alto-Adige is now the wealthiest province of Italy, proud of its bi-lingualism, its diverse architecture, culture and traditions, yet for some the divisions are still raw and its troubled history too recent.


Helen Saker-Parsons is the author of a book about an Allied soldier who is captured and held prisoner in Italy during World War II. The fascinating book, A Captive Life, is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Helen has also written a historical fiction book related to World War I, Searching for Cecil. It is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK


As always, your feedback is welcome below. Alternatively, like the article, tweet about it, or share it by clicking on one of the links below.


South Tyrol: A Minority Conflict of the Twentieth Century By Rolf Steininger

A Comparative Study of the Northern League, Plaid Cymru, the South Tyrolese People‟s Party and the Scottish National Party Emanuele Massetti

The Italian Military Governorship in South Tyrol and the Rise of Fascism  By Giuseppe Motta

 The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley  By John W. Cole, Eric R. Wolf