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Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

This past weekend saw the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy during World War II.  The invasion was memorably portrayed in the movie The Longest Day (1962) and in episodes of the mini-series “Band of Brothers.”  By all accounts, this year’s celebratory events were a grand success.

The same cannot be said about the 10th anniversary celebration in 1954, at least from the American perspective.  The French planners of the events had invited President Dwight Eisenhower, who had been the Allied commander of the invasion, to attend, but the press of business kept him in Washington.  He designated Henry Cabot Lodge, then serving as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as his representative and to lead the American delegation.

The celebrations stretched over two days.  On June 5, activities focused on honoring the British and Canadian contributions to the invasion.  Events on June 6 honored American participation in the invasion.  The weather was terrible (cold and rainy); the traffic and parking even worse; Ambassador Lodge and the American military officers attending did not receive the respect they expected; and the events were not well planned or coordinated.  This is all described in the detailed report by the U.S. Consul in Cherbourg.  His report is reproduced in the following ten images.

This record is from File 851.424/6-1154 of the Central Decimal Files (National Archives Identifier 302021), RG 59, General Records of the Department of State.



Today’s post is written by Scott Ludwig, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park

Today marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, which was part of the larger Operation Overlord and the first stages of the Battle of Normandy, France (also referred to as the Invasion of Normandy) during World War II. It was a crucial event in the war and a culmination of years of Allied strategy and planning.  The success of D-Day allowed the opening of the Western Front of the War.

Here at the National Archives and Records Administration we have extensive holdings related to D-Day throughout the various archival units.  The Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park has created a webpage that features some of the records in our holdings and provides a link to the Online Public Access (OPA) Catalog that has a lot more.

Records Relating to D-Day at the National Archives

Records highlighted on this D-Day page were created both during and after the war and cover a wide array of topics, including the famed meteorological reports that helped decide what day the invasion would take place and Eisenhower’s “Order of the Day” message and messages related to the dissemination of it. There are also invasion planning files, naval operations files, reports communications and correspondence files from various levels of command.  Further there are also battle participation awards files and anniversary commemoration files as well as the background files for Gordon A. Harrison’s “Cross Channel Attack”, the comprehensive 1951 US Army publication on D-Day.

The webpage also includes a United News Video Clip on D-Day that is available to watch. There are also a variety of links to other National Archives resources and other US Government agencies on the page.

This new webpage is a great starting point for anyone interested in D-Day and finding out about relevant resources at the National Archives and Records Administration.



Today’s post is written by Megan Dwyre, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park

“Hans Smit Duyzenkunst lent his bicycle for the evaders transport, but never got it back. He request you politely for an other bicycle.”

Hans Smit Duyzenkunst Claim

Hans Smit Duyzenkunst Claim

While working on a reference request, I came across this claim from the file for Hans Smit Duyzenkunst in the series Case Files of Dutch Citizens Proposed for Awards for Assisting American Airmen, 1945-1947 (National Archives Identifier 5709392), informally known as the “Dutch Helper Files.”[1]

The case files, compiled by the Award Branch of the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service, Escape and Evasion Section (MIS-X), contain information on civilians in formerly occupied areas of Western Europe who aided Allied servicemen in escaping and evading the enemy during World War II. Some civilian helpers were part of organized escape lines, while others were simply friendly citizens who crossed paths with Allied servicemen in need.

I returned to the case file and discovered that Hans was part of an organized escape line, described as “the group Hoogland.” According to his file, in addition to giving his bicycle, Hans provided temporary shelter and food to approximately eight evaders and personally transported them to subsequent sheltering addresses.

The aid he provided could have brought dire consequences to Hans. According to MIS-X, retribution for underground activities was particularly vengeful in Holland, where “pilot-helping was considered from the start of the occupation as serious an offense as espionage,” and likewise punishable by death.[2] A 1943 bulletin on escape and evasion stressed this fact – “Anyone who helps, risks death,” instructing would-be evaders to protect any helpers “with the greatest care.”[3] Despite such risks, the only thing Hans requested in his claim was a replacement bicycle. The case file notes that he received a Grade 5 award, but I wondered – did he ever get the bicycle?

According to the case file, Hans’ award was decided at Conference No. 10 on October 19, 1945. Representatives from the British and American offices attended weekly joint conferences to discuss and confirm award grades. Agreement was necessary to ensure that helpers would “not be given the impression that one country prized their work more highly than the other.”[4]  I searched the series Minutes of Conferences Concerned with Granting Awards to Dutch Citizens for Assisting Allied Airmen, 1945-1947 (NAID 5709386) and located the minutes of Conference No. 10, which confirmed that Hans received a Grade 5 award. A “+” symbol appears next to his name, with the explanation that those helpers “will receive one bicycle from the American Section at helpers’ own request.”[5] It seems that Hans’ polite request was fulfilled.


[1] “Smit Duyzenkunst, Hans,” Entry UD 183, Case Files of Dutch Citizens Proposed for Awards for Assisting American Airmen, 1945-1947; Records of Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, United States Army, Record Group 498 (NAID 5709392)

[2] Holland Office, 6801 MIS-X Detachment, Military Intelligence Service, U.S. Army to HQ 6801 MIS-X Detachment, 28 June 1946, “Continuation of history of the Holland Office. Period January 1, 1946 to June 30, 1946,” Page 7; Entry UD 126, MIS-X General Correspondence Files, 1942-1947; RG 498 (NAID 5687139)

[3] “Bulletin No. 5 – Evasion and Escape,” Page 3; HQ ETOUSA Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, MIS Detachment Bulletins on Security – Evasion – Escape, Set No. 27, 1943; Entry UD 148, MIS-X Security Bulletins, 1943-1946; RG 498 ( NAID 5694231)

[4] “Operations History of the 6801 MIS-X Detachment 2 May 1945 – 1 January 1946,” Pages 18-19; Entry UD 126, MIS-X General Correspondence Files, 1942-1947; RG 498 (NAID 5687136)

[5] “Minutes of Conference No. 10 – 19.10.45,” Entry UD 178, Minutes of Conferences Concerned with Granting Awards to Dutch Citizens for Assisting Allied Airmen, 1945-1947; RG 498 (NAID 5709386)

The Chaplain at Nuremberg

by on May 20, 2014


Today’s post is written by Daria Labinsky, Archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis

Capt. Henry F. Gerecke thought he was going home. It was November 1945, and the Second World War had been over for several months. Instead, the Lutheran minister accepted a new assignment: to serve as the chief chaplain to the Nazi war criminals awaiting trial at Nuremberg, Germany.

The National Archives at St. Louis holds the Monthly Reports and Personnel Records from Record Group 247, Records of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains, 1902-1964 (National Archives Identifier 6016856). Chaplains were required to file reports at the end of each month detailing their activities while assigned to military units. The reports include statistical information on the number of services, visits to hospitals, marriages, baptisms, funerals, and other routine chaplain duties. But Gerecke’s files include something less routine: comments about his service in Nuremberg prison.

Gerecke was born in Gordonville, Illinois, on August 4, 1893. After graduating from St. John’s Academy in Kansas (which featured German-language instruction) in 1918, he studied at Concordia Seminary and elsewhere in St. Louis. He married St. Louis native Alma Bender in 1919, and they had two sons. In 1926 he became a pastor at the city’s Christ Lutheran Church and later headed up the St. Louis Lutheran City Mission. Throughout his career he ministered to prisoners, the sick, and the poor.

In August 1943, at age 50, Gerecke reported to the Army’s Chaplain School; his grown sons were already serving in the Army. He was assigned to the 98th General Hospital unit and stationed in England from April 1944 to June 1945, ministering to wounded American troops as well as to hospital staff. He received glowing evaluations from his commanding officer:

Efficiency Report for Henry F. Gerecke, 7/1/1945, NAID 299741

Efficiency Report for Henry F. Gerecke, 7/1/1945, NAID 6016856

In July 1945 the 98th set up operations in a hospital in Munich, and several months later Col. Burton C. Andrus, prison commandant at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, requested Gerecke’s service. He thought a mature, Lutheran, German-speaking chaplain who had worked in prisons back home ideally suited his needs.

After much prayer and contemplation, Gerecke agreed.[1] He joined the 6850th Internal Security Detachment, International Military Tribunal, which oversaw the war crimes trials, and arrived in Nuremberg in November 1945. Gerecke described the heavily bombed, former Nazi Party rally site as “a city of ruins.”[2]

Serving as his assistant chaplains were Capt. Sixtus R. O’Connor and Capt. Carl R. Eggers. O’Connor (1909-1983) was a Roman Catholic priest from Oxford, N.Y., who had studied in Germany in the 1930s and was, like Gerecke, fluent in German. O’Connor enlisted in June 1943 and served with the 11th Armored Division in the Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe campaigns. He saw the liberation of the Mauthausen-Gusen prison camp and received a Bronze Star in May 1945 “for heroic conduct in connection with military operations against an armed enemy.”[3] O’Connor was reassigned to Nuremberg in August 1945.

Eggers (1917-1998) was appointed a chaplain in September 1944 and was attached to a prisoner of war camp in Massachusetts before being sent to Europe in April 1945. He briefly served as the war criminals’ Protestant chaplain before Gerecke arrived. His monthly report for November 1945 noted, “Have discontinued working with the War Crimes Commission as chaplain to the German internees.”[4]

Gerecke served as minister to the 15 Protestant Nazi prisoners. Among the most notorious were Hermann Goering, former head of the German Air Force and Adolf Hitler’s chosen successor; Rudolf Hess, the deputy Fuhrer; Albert Speer, an architect and the Nazis’ minister of armaments and war production; Wilhelm Keitel, general field marshal; Joachim von Ribbentrop, foreign minister; and Alfred Rosenberg, minister of the Occupied Eastern Territories and the primary author of many Nazi ideologies.

O’Connor was responsible for the six Catholic criminals, including Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who had overseen the Nazi concentration camp system; and Hans Frank, the Nazis’ chief lawyer and governor general of Poland.

Both chaplains served not only prisoners but employees of the courts and prison, prisoners of war at a nearby camp, American service members and civilian employees, and even members of the prisoners’ families. One of Gerecke’s reports stated:

Visited the families of Goering, Funk, Frick, and von Schirach. One defendant said it touched his heart that the American Prison Chaplain should visit his people. The families were deeply grateful.[5]

Gerecke regularly attended the court proceedings at the International Military Court. In February 1946 he reported, “My assignment is becoming increasingly more difficult, both with Witnesses and Defendants. I shall have to prepare two German Sermons. The Defendants will need special Sermons. … Ten visits to Court Sessions.”[6]

While O’Connor’s monthly reports were generally matter-of-fact, listing basic statistics such as the number of masses he said and how many confessions he had heard, Gerecke’s reports included his observations. Of attendance at his sermons he noted, “Hess claims membership but never attends. Rosenberg thinks he is Gottglaübig.”[7]

On October 1, 1946, the court found the Nazi war criminals guilty. Twelve, including Goering, Frank, Kaltenbrunner, Keitel, von Ribbentrop, and Rosenberg, were sentenced to death by hanging (one, Martin Bormann, in absentia), seven, including Speer and Hess, were sentenced to life in prison, and three were acquitted.

O’Connor’s report for October 1946 included this remark: “I assisted as Chaplain at the execution of 10 War Criminals on 16 October 1946.”[8]

Gerecke’s report for that month began with a matter-of-fact narrative on a marriage he performed, listing the bride, groom, witnesses. Then his report includes an accounting of the execution of the war criminals (8b and 8c), as well as the suicide of Hermann Goering:

I was at Goering’s bedside when he died by his own hands. Spoke with him between 2000 hrs and 2030 hrs… Had he been sincere in his quest for Christ and Salvation, he would not have gone the way he did. (8d)

Gerecke, Monthly Report. 10/31/1946

Gerecke, Monthly Report. 10/31/1946

 

In a dramatic indorsement (sic) to Gerecke’s report, Col. Andrus sought to clarify any potential misunderstanding about his remarks “that might indicate that Gerecke was present when Goering took poison.”

Gerecke, Monthly Report, 10/31/1946

Gerecke, Monthly Report, 10/31/1946

The rest of those sentenced to death were hanged before dawn on October 16, and their bodies were cremated. The remaining war criminals were shipped out to other prisons.

Shortly after the executions Gerecke was promoted to major and transferred to the Fifth Army’s disciplinary barracks in Milwaukee for the remainder of his service, until 1950. He then became the pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Chester, Illinois, south of St. Louis, as well as the chaplain at the Menard Correctional Center and a hospital for the criminally insane. Gerecke died of a heart attack suffered in the prison parking lot on October 11, 1961.

A new book, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis, by Tim Townsend (HarperCollins), sheds light on Henry Gerecke’s life and his service before, during, and after the Nuremberg trials. The National Archives holds numerous record series related to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal; one place to start is Record Group 238, the National Archives Collection of World War II Crimes Records, 1933-1949.

 


[1] Townsend, Tim, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis (New York, HarperCollins, 2014), 97, 104

[2]Henry F. Gerecke, Monthly Report, Dec. 1, 1945, Monthly Reports and Personnel Files.

[3]Record of Award of Decoration, O’Connor, Sixtus R., Official Retired Officer Personnel File, RG 319, Department of the Army, National Personnel Records Center (NAID 299741)

[4]Eggers, Carl R., Monthly Report, Nov. 30, 1945, Monthly Reports and Personnel Files, 1920-1950, RG 247, Records of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains, 1902-1964, National Archives at St. Louis

[5]Gerecke, Monthly Report, March 8, 1946, Monthly Reports and Personnel Files

[6]Gerecke, Monthly Report, Feb. 1, 1946, Monthly Reports and Personnel Files.

[7]Gerecke, Monthly Report, Jan. 1, 1946, Monthly Reports and Personnel Files. Gottglaübig was a Nazi term used to signify a believer in God but not in Christ or in organized religion.

[8]O’Connor, Sixtus R., Monthly Report, Nov. 1, 1946, Monthly Reports and Personnel Files, 1920-1950, RG 247, Records of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains, 1902-1964, National Archives at St. Louis



Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

The April 27, 2014, broadcast of the CBS news show “60 Minutes” included a segment entitled “Saving the children.”   It recounted the efforts of Nicholas Winton, a British citizen, to save almost 700 Czechoslovakian children, mostly Jewish, from the Nazi German occupation.

Correspondent Bob Simon interviewed Mr. Winton, who is now 104 years old.  During their discussion, Simon asked Winton if he had approached countries other than England to accept children.  Winton replied that he wrote to the United States, but that America would not accept any of the children.  Simon explained that Winton wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and received a reply from the U.S. embassy in London explaining that the U.S. was “unable” to help.

Winton’s letter is now in the National Archives, the agency responsible for preserving the permanently valuable records of the U.S. Government.  The White House referred it to the Department of State for action shortly after receipt.  It was ultimately filed in the Department’s primary file on the issue of refugees displaced by persecution and war in Europe.

Nicholas Winton to President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Nicholas Winton to President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Included in the file with Winton’s letter is the documentation of the Department’s limited follow-up.  The Department took two steps:

First, it forwarded a copy of the letter to George L. Warren, Executive Secretary of the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees.  The Department suggested that organizations represented by the Committee might be interested.

Theodore C. Achilles, Chairman to George L. Warren, Executive Secretary

Theodore C. Achilles, Chairman to George L. Warren, Executive Secretary

Second, it sent the U.S. embassy in London a copy of the letter with the instruction to acknowledge receipt of the letter and “to advise him that the United States Government is unable, in the absence of specific legislation, to permit immigration in excess of that provided for by existing immigration laws,” but that the letter had been forwarded to the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees since it was possible that private organizations might be of help.

Despatch No. 749 to the American Ambassador, London

Despatch No. 749 to the American Ambassador, London

Source: All documents come from File 840.48 Refugees, 1930-39 Central Decimal File (National Archives Identifier 302021), Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, National Archives, College Park.  The entirety of the “840.48 Refugee” file is on rolls 19-70 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M1284: Records of the Department of State Relating to the Problems of Relief and Refugees in Europe Arising from World War II and Its Aftermath, 1938-1949.

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