First off, sorry for the erratic posting this week. End of semester. Lots of balls (*giggle*) in the air.
On Tuesday I wrote about how poorly students are taught about recent history – the past 50-75 years – in K-12 in the United States. It's particularly damaging that many students past and present have concluded their high school history courses without getting to World War II, which I argued is essential to understand if one hopes to make sense of the world since 1950. On that note, today seemed an appropriate time to share a couple of my favorite trivial facts about ol' WWII. Well, several iterations of one fact, I guess.
One of the funny things about the Nazis (And really, who can pick just one?) was how important the concept of racial purity and Aryan supremacy was to them when the war was going well and how quickly it became a secondary concern when the tide turned in 1943. For a group of people who considered almost every other ethnic group and nation in Europe to be composed solely of degenerates, the Nazis sure did have a lot of foreigners in their midst.
True fact: The last Nazi SS troops defending Berlin were…French. The SS "Charlemagne" Division was composed of French volunteers who had greeted the Nazis with enthusiasm when they took Paris. By May of 1945, German troops had surrendered in droves to the advancing American and (if they had no other option) Soviet armies. But not the Charlemagne Division. So it transpired that the last holdouts, the people defending the bunker as Hitler and Goebbels were writing out wills and killing themselves, were Frenchmen. We might assume that the French Nazis preferred death in battle to whatever awaited them if they returned to France.
Speaking of, I'm sure the Red Army had a forgive-and-forget attitude toward members of the Russian Liberation Army – Russian expatriates and POWs who volunteered to fight for the Third Reich. What do you suppose was the life expectancy of a Russian in a Nazi uniform who fell into Soviet hands?
And the Russians weren't the only Degenerate Slavs welcomed into the SS and Wermacht with open arms. There were dozens of Croatian units (no one remembers the Ustase, who were actually more fascist than the Nazis and largely responsible for the "ratlines" through which Nazi war criminals escaped to Argentina after the war) as well as the British Free Forces (which was mostly for propaganda purposes), Danish, Belgian, Serbian, Turkish, Dutch, Estonian, and Ukranian units fighting in the German Army and SS.
Oh, and a bunch of dark-skinned, swarthy Indians. Yes, the "Indische Legion" was composed of Indians who so hated the British colonialists that they fled to Berlin and took up with the Nazis. Most were followers of Subhas Chandra Bose and the Nazis thought enough of these decidedly non-Aryan troops that they were heavily represented in the Atlantic Wall defenses that opposed the Normandy landings on D-Day. So contrary to what Saving Private Ryan would have you believe, a lot of the "Germans" defending those beaches were Indians (and Russians).
Must have made for some awkward moment, though, to have so many foreigners in the ranks of such a thoroughly xenophobic population. I mean, not that the Indische Division was disliked by any of its German colleagues or anything…