Kristallnacht – revisited

‘The Night of the Broken Glass’

On this day in 1938, a great evil spread across Germany and Austria. The German Nazi party launched a cancerous campaign of terror against the Jewish people, destroying homes and decimating businesses. This event, later dubbed ‘Kristallnacht’, bore witness to unfathomable acts of cruelty.

‘The Night of Broken Glass’ left approximately 100 Jews dead, 7,500 Jewish business damaged and countless schools, homes, synagogues and graveyards devastated. An estimated 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, many of whom were sent to concentration camps, only to be released on the promise of leaving Germany. The two day terror represented a histrionic intensification of the campaign generated by Adolf Hitler to purge Germany of its Jewish population. Today, one year after the 75th anniversary, we continue to reflect on the importance of remembering those who lost their lives.


In the fall of 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, became the scapegoat of this horrifying event. After discovering the Nazi party had exiled his parents to Poland from Hannover, the aggrieved teenager shot a low-level diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, in Paris. Dying two days later of his wounds, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, immediately seized on the assassination to rile Hitler’s supporters into an anti-Semitic frenzy. Goebbels ordered German storm troopers to carry out violent riots disguised as “spontaneous demonstrations” against Jewish citizens. Nazi officials ordered German police officers and firemen to do nothing as the riots raged and buildings burned, although firefighters were permitted to extinguish blazes that endangered Aryan-owned property. In the face of all the devastation, some Jews, including entire families, committed suicide.


In the immediate aftermath of this two day hate campaign, the Nazis held the German-Jewish community liable, fining ‘them’ 1 billion marks. As means of restitution, the government seized Jewish properties and kept insurance money owed to the Jewish people. Hell bent on creating the master Aryan race, the Nazi government would soon enact a number of discriminatory policies, systemically excluding and demonising Jews in every aspect of public life.

International Reaction

Over 100,000 Jews fled Germany for other countries after Kristallnacht. The international community was outraged by the appalling events; some countries broke off diplomatic relations in objection, but in truth, the ramifications proved redundant. Arguably this lacklustre retort from the international community served only to fan the flames of the deranged ideological persuasion of the Nazi party. The free world’s muted reaction to the Kristallnacht pogrom foreshadowed the terrible silence with which it would greet the Nazis’ Final Solution Drastic intervention could have potentially prevented the atrocity which was to follow.


‘The Night of the Broken Glass’ coincided with two important dates in the Nazi calendar. Firstly it represented the twentieth anniversary of what Hitler declared the infamous “stab in the back” by the “November criminals” (Jewish community) who had forced the Kaiser to abdicate, declare Germany a republic and signed the debilitating armistice that ended World War I. Moreover it represented the fifteenth anniversary of the failed Beer Hall putsch in Munich. It was no happenstance that the atrocities were conducted during November.

What can we learn?

Kristallnacht represented the tangible manifestation of the genesis of the Holocaust. Historians have argued that the international community had been aware of Hitler’s intentions as early as 1933, but never before had they been so transparent. As it is often remarked through the lenses of hindsight, such events become important not just a moral scale, but on a human level. Remembering the tragedy inflicted on the Jewish community during the days of November 1938, culminating in the mass murder of 6 million innocent lives, is not just our duty, but our collective responsibility.

By Alex Scarfe

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Sunday lunch in the trenches …

Sunday lunches typically involve a good-old gut-bashing with the family. Some congregate with the family around the T.V with precariously placed dinner trays balancing on our laps, while others flock to the local ale house to indulge in traditional roast dinners which have been affectionately re-heated in a grubby microwave.

However we decide to spend our hard-earned day of rest, the beauty veiled behind this seemingly humdrum day is the fact that we actually get to choose.

The photograph above, accessed from the Imperial War Museum Online Archive, show men of the 2nd Australian Division in a front-line trench cooking a meal, Croix du Bac, near Armentieres. A variety of cooking methods were employed including primus stoves and braziers and soldiers produced a lunch of hot ‘bully beef’ hash from tins of corned beef.

Hot food was not supplied to front line soldiers until late 1915 and even then it wasn’t always a regular occurrence. Troops in the front line had a repetitive diet of tinned food, sometimes served cold.

So wherever you are today, no matter how bothersome this mandatory gathering of the ‘extended’ family may seem, take a moment to appreciate your environment, knowing that the likelihood of shrapnel exploding and decimating the questionable spread of your grandparents table is rather slim.

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The Gallipoli Campaign

The Gallipoli campaign bore witness to one of the most cataclysmic failures endured by the Allied powers  during WW1. For the first of my posts on the Dardanelles Campaign, I wanted to bring to your attention a brief over-view from the Imperial War Museum’s principal historian Nigel Steel. Accompanying the piece is a number of photographs from the IWM archive, all of which can be viewed from the Museum’s online catalogue.

By Alex Scarfe

At dawn on 25 April 1915, Allied troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Ottoman Turkey. The Gallipoli campaign was the land-based element of a strategy intended to allow Allied ships to pass through the Dardanelles, capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) and ultimately knock Ottoman Turkey out of the war.

Allied success in the campaign could have weakened the Central Powers, allowed Britain and France to support Russia and helped to secure British strength in the Middle East. But success depended on Ottoman Turkish opposition quickly crumbling.

General Sir Ian Hamilton decided to make two landings, placing the British 29th Division at Cape Helles and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) north of Gaba Tepe in an area later dubbed Anzac Cove. Both landings were quickly contained by determined Ottoman troops, and neither the British nor the Anzacs were able to advance.

Trench warfare quickly took hold at Gallipoli, mirroring the fighting of the Western Front. At Anzac Cove it was particularly intensive. Casualties in both locations mounted heavily, and in the summer heat conditions rapidly deteriorated. Sickness was rampant, food quickly became inedible and there were vast swarms of black corpse flies.

In August a new assault was launched north of Anzac Cove against the hills around Chunuk Bair. This attack, along with a fresh landing at Suvla Bay, quickly failed and stalemate returned. Finally, in December, it was decided to evacuate – first Anzac and Suvla, followed by Helles in January 1916.

Gallipoli has become a defining moment in the history of both Australia and New Zealand, revealing characteristics that both countries have used to define their soldiers: endurance, determination, initiative and ‘mateship’. For the Ottomans, it was a brief respite in the decline of their empire. But through the emergence of Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) as one of the campaign’s leading figures, it also led to the foundation of modern Turkey.

By Nigel Steel, Principal Historian – Imperial War Museum

Photos from the Imperial War Museum Archive

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70 years on: The liberation of Auschwitz

The recent BBC video released to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is harrowing to say the very least. The infamous ‘Death Gate’, the rusting train tracks and barbed wire fences conjure images of unspeakable evil, so much so that the viewing experience is deeply unsettling. One’s imagination fails to fully comprehend the true extent of the horrors.

The 70th Anniversary ceremony, which took place at the entrance to site in Poland in January this year, acknowledged the presence of various royals, politicians and most importantly a number of survivors, to which it is believed will be their last attendance to a major anniversary of such an occasion. This coming together, that resonated throughout the entire world’s community, presented a chance for us all to remember and reflect.

The infamy of Auschwitz is well known and, to such an end, I did not want to inundate this entry with a full historiography. Instead, after thinking about a way I would feel comfortable presenting a piece that serves to remember those that lost their lives, I decided to include four images which I found particularly moving. I would like to remark that this entry serves only to present myself and the readers a chance to reflect upon an event which should remain in the minds of man forevermore.

Image of a gas chamber from Auschwitz.

Visible etchings on the gas chambers wall of people’s fingernails.

Image of the ‘Death Gate’.

Survivors now and then.

By Alex Scarfe

Images accessed online from and – 27/02/2015

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The Nurses of World War 1

The Great War – Unsung Heroes

Overcoming insuperable odds, enduring the constraints of social prejudice and presented with an unrelenting torrent of casualties, the nurses of World War 1 epitomise the very definition of bravery. Somewhat overshadowed by the ubiquitous nature of conflict, these heroines, to which there are so very many, are for some the unsung heroes of the day. Over the coming month I wish to explore the unique lives of these extraordinary women. Herein lies the story of Elsa Brandstrom, a women whose valiant efforts during The Great War deserves thorough recognition.

The Angel of Siberia

Elsa Brandstrom, born in 1888 in Saint Petersburg, was the daughter of the Swedish ambassador to Tsar Nicholas II. She was in Russia during the outbreak of WWI and soon volunteered for the Swedish Red cross. Her primary role was to introduce basic medical care for German and Austrian POW’s. After witnessing the vicious conditions, she dedicated her entire life to serving the injured personnel, most of whom were German soldiers.

In 1915, Brandstrom travelled to Siberia. Matters became complicated during the Russian ‘October Revolution’ when her Russian work permit was revoked. Unimpeded and determined to continue she managed to travel to Siberia illegally for two years until the Russian authorities finally arrested her in Omsk in 1920.

In 1922 her book, ‘Among POWs in Russia and Siberia 1914-1920’, was published. From then onwards she looked after former POWs in a rehabilitation sanatorium for home coming German soldiers in Marienborn-Schmeckwitz. She purchased a mill named Schreibermühle and used it as re-socialisation centre for former POWs. Schreibermühle had extensive lands including fields, forest and meadows on which potatoes and other crops could be grown. This was most useful at that time because the German Mark was an unstable currency and lost value from day to day.

In 1923, she undertook a six month tour in the USA, giving lectures to raise money for a new home for children of deceased and traumatized German and Austrian POW’s. On her trip she raised US$100,000 which was an extraordinary amount for the day.

In January 1924, she founded a children’s home Neusorge in Mittweida which had room for more than 200 orphans and children in need. In Siberia she had promised many German soldiers, who were dying, that she would care for their children, which she did with all her heart.

In 1929 she married her great love Heinrich Gottlob Robert Ulich, a German Professor of Pedagogy and later moved together with him to Dresden. In 1931, she sold the Schreibermühle and donated her other home, Neusorge, to the Welfare Centre in Leipzig. She founded the “Elsa-Brändström-Foundation-for Women” (the foundation awarded scholarships to children from Neusorge).

A few years later Robert accepted a lectureship at Harvard University and in consequence the family moved to the USA. Here Elsa gave aid to newly arrived German and Austrian refugees. In 1939, she opened the “Window-Shop”, a restaurant which gave work opportunities for refugees in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

At the end of World War II, she started to raise funds for starving and homeless women and children in need in Germany, and as a result, the organizations CARE International (Cooperative for American Relief in Europe) and CRALOG (Council of Relief Agencies Licensed for Operation in Germany) were established. Elsa could not undertake her last planned journey to Germany because of illness. She died in 1948 of bone cancer and was buried in Sweden. Her daughter Brita stayed with her husband and children in the USA, Elsa Brändström-Ulich’s husband Robert returned to Germany, where he died in 1977 in Stuttgart. Because of her commitment to POWs, Elsa Brändström became famous as a “patron saint” for soldiers. In Germany and Austria, many streets, schools and institutions are named after her.

Among countless medals, awards and honours, Brändström was awarded the Silber Badge of the German Empire and the Royal Order of the Seraphim. Elsa Brändström was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize “Heroine of Peace” five times: in 1922, twice in 1923, 1928 and 1929.

By Alex Scarfe


Boyd, D. (2014), ‘The Other First World War: The Blood-Soaked Russian Fronts 1914-1922’. Spellmount Publishers Ltd.

Proctor, T. (2010), ‘Civilians in a World at War, 1914-1918’. NYU Press.

Dail Mail Online – The greatest nurses of the First World War: Inspirational women who overcame fear and prejudice to save thousands of lives – [online] Available from:

[Accessed 27 January 2015].

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The Paris Peace Conference – 1919

Yesterday, 96 years ago, Paris witnessed the coming together of some of the most powerful and influential men to grace the post-war world. Riddled with complexities, these intricate negotiations bore witness to the genesis of the Paris Peace Conference, culminating almost five months later, to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Leaders of the victorious Allied powers – Great Britain, France, The United States and Italy – would make most of the central decisions in Paris over the coming months. For most of the conference, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson struggled to muster support for the notion of “peace without victory”, whose purpose was to ensure that the sentencing and subsequent punishment imposed on the German Empire was not excessively unforgiving. Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France on the other hand reasoned quite the contrary. Given the cataclysmic scale of damage to French industry and the large part of the war being fought on French soil, one would almost be obliged to understand such a grievance. In the same vain, albeit not so harshly, David Lloyd George too felt the need to push for more punitive measures to ratify the monumental cost of war. An inevitable compromise was reached, for which Wilson was prepared to agree upon, in order to create his personal international peacekeeping organisation – The League of Nations.

Representatives from Germany were omitted from the initial peace conference until May. When they arrived in Paris and were presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty, the delegates where somewhat surprised. Having placed great faith in Wilson’s promises, the Germans were deeply disillusioned by the settlement; large scale reparation payments, territorial reduction and forced limitations to the nation’s military strength were mightily rigorous. However it was the infamous Article 231, the War Guilt Cause, which forced Germany to accept sole accountability for the war which incited the greatest discontent.

The Treaty of Versailles was eventually signed on June 28, 1919, five years to the day after a Serbian nationalist’s bullet ended the life of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and ignited the beginning of World War I. In the decades to come, anger and resentment of the treaty and its authors festered in Germany, boiling beneath the social conscience. This undercurrent of antipathy would soon be exploited and engineered into something so dreadful, as to epitomise all the victors wanted to prevent, a second, and equally devastating global war. Soon the world’s eye would be focused on the rise of Nazism and the immergence of Adolf Hitler.

The Treaty of Versailles represents an important idea, an important change in the consciousness of man – the need for global governance. The emergence of the United Nations and the creation of the European Union are but a few examples of the continuation of such a philosophy. Versailles, as hindsight always so kindly reminds us, was a failure. Many believe the tension left in the wake of Paris only served to fashion an environment conducive for retribution, a notion to which I accept as true. In the last 100 years the pages of our past are drenched in international conflict. The question remains – can global governance ever truly preclude the almost insatiable inevitability for conflict amongst the people of this world?

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Today in WW1: British forces captured Jerusalem

This iconic photograph of the surrender of Palestine to the British forces is somewhat fortunate to grace this extract. The original negatives of the photograph were ordered to be destroyed by Commander in Chief General John Shea shortly after the event. Measures were even taken to ensure an officer was sent to confirm the orders were concluded as to guarantee any remnants did not endure. So why did the British brass get so angry?

On the morning of December 9, 1917, shortly before 9am, two British scouts from General Allenby’s main force, Sergeants James Sedgewick and Frederick Hurcomb of 2/19th Battalion, London Regiment, were met by a delegation of dignitaries on the western approaches of Jerusalem. Walking underneath a white flag-of-truce were the mayor of Jerusalem, Dr Hussein Salim al-Husseini, Habj Abd al-Kadir, Chief of Jerusalem, several police officers and a handful of associates. They bore a letter of surrender from the Ottoman Governor Izzat Pasha. El Husseini had brought a young photo journalist from the American Colony to document the occasion. The photograph above is that of the young American, Lewis Larsson.

However this photo of the initial exchange was not actually the ‘official’ moment of surrender. When the delegation approached the two British Sergeants, the letter was initially rejected. Both men were insufficiently ranked to take delivery of the laying down of arms. Having precluded the preliminary proposal, the agreement was officially postponed until being finally received by Brigadier-General C.F. Watson, who accepted the surrender on the steps of David’s Tower a number of hours later. It was only after discovering he was not the first to receive the surrender that orders were issued for Lewis Larsson’s photographs to be destroyed, as to eliminate any confusion on the matter. Fortunately copies of the photograph survived and now this has become an iconic image for middle-eastern twentieth century history.

By Alex Scarfe

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