Holten: Things you thought you knew about WWII
If you're a history buff, you probably think you know everything there is to know about World War II. Well. guess again.My dad was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941 and after basic training in Minnesota and San Antonio, Texas, he was s...
If you’re a history buff, you probably think you know everything there is to know about World War II. Well. guess again.
My dad was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941 and after basic training in Minnesota and San Antonio, Texas, he was shipped to a place outside of London to prepare for D-Day. Afterward, he ended up in France, Belgium and Germany.
Of course, like most World War II veterans, he has never really talked about the war. So we know little about his experiences, except that he was in Paris the day after the famous “Liberation of Paris” and he once had a nice little visit with actor Mickey Rooney at a celebration in Germany shortly after the war was won.
“Those Russian soldiers were very scary looking,” he said after seeing them at the event. So perhaps it’s best we didn’t fight them at the time, even though U.S. Gen. George S. Patton wanted to do so while we were prepared to do so. Apparently he knew more about Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin that President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill did.
At any rate, my dad’s involvement in World War II generated my interest in it and, as a result, I acquired a fairly deep knowledge about it. But still, there are a few things that I was surprised to learn and I think you will be too.
For example, did you know that the nephew of Adolf Hitler served in the U.S. Navy in World War II?
That’s right. William Patrick Hitler, who was actually born in England, had moved to Germany before World War II because his uncle, Adolf, the German Chancellor, had the power to get him a job, first at a bank and then at a car factory.
Eventually, Adolf offered him a position high up in the Nazi party if he’d simply renounce his British citizenship. But he refused to do so and instead he decided to blackmail his uncle by confirming a rumor that Adolf was the illegitimate grandson of the Jewish merchant.
That didn’t sit too well with the Nazi leader and, as a result, William Patrick Hitler was either forced to leave Germany or was paid handsomely to do so, no one seems to know for sure.
He moved back to London and, at the request of American newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, came to America to participate in a lecture tour entitled “My Uncle Adolf.”
Afterward, he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a hospital corpsman for three years until 1947 and then settled in Long Island, changing his name to William Patrick Houston-Stuart.
A few other interesting, surprising and alarming World War II facts include:
- The first American serviceman killed was killed by a Russian (alley) soldier and the first German soldier was killed by a Japanese (also their alley) soldier.
- A Polish Catholic midwife delivered 3,000 babies at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust in occupied Poland.
- Four out of every five German soldiers killed were on the eastern, or Russian, front.
- Only 20 percent of Russian men born in 1923 survived the war, and only one of out of four German soldiers serving on German U-Boat submarines survived the war.
- The German Siege of Stalingrad resulted in more Russian deaths, both military and civilian, than all U.S. and British deaths combined.
- To avoid using the German term “hamburger” during the war, Americans briefly called it a “Liberty Steak.”
- Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler each kept a picture of the other on their desk during the war.
- The largest Japanese spy ring was located in Mexico and the mortality rate for prisoners kept in Russian prison camps was 85 percent.
- But worst of all, total casualties for World War II were between 50 million and 70 million people, and 80 percent of those came from Russia, China, Germany and Poland, with 50 percent of those casualties being civilians - most of whom were women and children.
All of this is what led former Allied Commander and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to say, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility and its stupidity.” I’m guessing that he probably agreed with Russian writer Leo Tolstoy who said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Holten is the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Association and writes a weekly column for The Press.