World War II

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Korean comfort women. Ms. Park Young-Shim (center) poses with her comfort woman friends in North Korean region during the Pacific War. A man with the rifle appears to be Japanese soldier.

Women Made to be Comfort Women 

The phrase “comfort women” is a controversial term that refers to approximately 200,000 women who were recruited as prostitutes by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Many of the young women were forced into servitude and exploited as sex slaves throughout Asia, becoming victims of the largest case of human trafficking in the 20th century.

During World War II, the Japanese established military brothels in the countries they occupied. The women in these “comfort stations” were forced into sexual slavery and moved around the region as Japanese aggression increased. Known as “comfort women,” their story is an often-understated tragedy of the war that continues to strike debate.

There were advertisements found in wartime newspapers; a failed attempt at attracting volunteers into prostitution. Instead, young women as young as 11-years-old were kidnapped and forced into service where they faced rape, torture and extreme violence at military camps known as “comfort stations.”

Most were teenagers… and were raped by between 10 to 100 soldiers a day at military rape camps.

The Japanese government denied that they ran any such system until 1991 when a brave woman named Kim Hak-Soon came out and revealed the Japanese atrocities to the world. Japanese Governor General’s Office in Seoul incinerated all related documents before the closing of WWII.

A 1994 report shows that there are still hundreds of former sex slaves alive. Most of them are women of Asian countries occupied by Japan before and during the Pacific War. Among them are 160 South Koreans, 131 North Koreans, 100 Filipinos, 50 Taiwanese, 8 Indonesians, and two Malays. These numbers are only for those who revealed their real name.

There are much more victims living out there who do not want to identify their tragic past. Even after Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, many of the Korean victims chose to live in the Asian country where they were forced to serve sex to Japanese soldiers.

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Young Julian Bilecki. Julian Bilecki (also called Yulian Biletskiy) (1928–2007), a Polish teenager, aided the rescue of 23 Jews during the Holocaust in Poland.  He lived in the village of Zawalow with his family and cousins. His parents owned a farm and all the family would live there in the part of Poland that is know known as Ukraine.

Julian Bilecki

(1928–2007)

“To save one life is as if you have saved the world”

Teenager Who Saved Dozens Of Jews From Nazi Death Squads

Paralysing terror and enduring agony bind the characteristics of the Holocaust together. It expressed man’s carnal barbarism to the fullest with the rarity of human kindness to illuminate the darkness bestowed. Thankfully, there were some people who preserved the hope for humanity’s future.

A Ukrainian Bible and a bag of mushrooms. Those were the most precious items Julian Bilecki packed for his Lot Polish Airlines flight to New York in 1999, for a reunion with some of the 23 Jews he and his family saved from the Nazis in 1943.

The Bible is for Bilecki. An evangelical Christian, he prayed from it each morning.

The mushrooms were for Genia Melzer, Sabina Grau Schnitzer, Mina Blumenfeld, Oscar Friedfertig and Arthur Friedfertig, mutual relatives from Zawalow (now in western Ukraine but part of Poland until World War II) who live in New York and met Bilecki at JFK Airport in a sea of tears and hugs.

They asked him to bring the mushrooms, a reminder of survival. One morning in the winter of 1943, they and other emaciated Jews emerged from the second of three bunkers in the woods near Zawalow, where Bilecki and his relatives had surreptitiously brought food for a year. The survivors, who were fasting at least once a week as a form of prayer and conservation, encountered a field of freshly sprouted mushrooms.

“Non-poisonous mushrooms,” Schnitzer stressed in the living room of her Forest Hills, Queens, home where her family gathered with Bilecki for an afternoon of reminiscence. The mushrooms kept them alive for a week until the Bileckis could reach the Jews’ new hiding place.

“It was like manna from heaven,” Melzer added.

Julian Bilecki handpicked the mushrooms from nearby woods before flying from Lvov, on a flight paid for by the Polish airline. He dried them over a fire, tied them with a string and wrapped them in a plastic bag, handing them to his hosts at an all-night party the day he arrived. “The best gift was him,” Schnizter said.

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Brave: Eileen ‘Didi Nearne operated as an undercover agent called ‘Rose’ in Occupied France and was caught and tortured by the Nazis.

Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne

The Spy Who Took Her Secret With Her To The Grave—Almost

Eileen Nearne — known as Didi — was, in fact, one of the bravest secret agents of World War II. When caught, she showed exceptional courage, withstanding torture and incarceration in concentration camps. Didi was a modest woman who seldom spoke about her wartime exploits. Her latter years were solitary and reclusive. Keeping quiet was one of Nearne’s great strengths, and she saved many lives (including her own) through silence, bluff and determination in the face of what must have seemed a hopeless situation. Buried deep in Eileen Nearne’s secret World War II file, released by the National Archives, is the secrecy agreement she signed on Sept. 4, 1942. It was a commitment she honoured until her death.

The death of an eccentric recluse is rarely an event to be given more than a few lines in a local newspaper. But when, in September 2010, police were called to a tiny, cluttered flat in Torquay and discovered the body of local ‘cat lady’ Eileen Nearne, they also found a small bundle of possessions that told an amazing story.

It transpired that the eccentric old lady who fed stray cats had once been one of the most successful agents of Special Operations Executive (SOE), as had her sister, Jacqueline, who had died many years before.

After Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne died in 2 September 2010 (date body found) a frail 89-year-old alone in a flat in the British seaside town of Torquay, Eileen Nearne, her body undiscovered for several days, was listed by local officials as a candidate for what is known in Britain as a council burial, or what in the past was called a pauper’s grave.

But after the police looked through her possessions, including a Croix de Guerre medal awarded to her by the French government after World War II, the obscurity Ms. Nearne had cultivated for decades began to slip away.

Known to her neighbours as an insistently private woman who loved cats and revealed almost nothing about her past, she has emerged as a heroine in the tortured story of Nazi-occupied France, one of the secret agents who helped prepare the French resistance for the D-Day landings in June 1944.

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Italian Premier Benito Mussolini leaving for Tripoli, 13th May 1926. His nose is bandaged after an assassination attempt on 26th April by Violet Gibson, who shot him with a revolver at close range. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Woman Who Shot Mussolini

Four people tried to assassinate Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Only one person ever came close – her name was Violet Gibson and she was Irish. Violet spent the rest of her life in mental institutions, forgotten by society and by history.

At 10.58am on Wednesday, April 7, 1926, Benito Mussolini paused to salute an ecstatic crowd in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome. As a group of students broke into song, he cocked his head in their direction. At that moment, a slight, bespectacled, shabby woman, standing less than a foot away, took aim and shot him at point-blank range. The first bullet grazed Il Duce’s nose, releasing a spectacular torrent of blood; the second jammed in the pistol chamber.

Violet Gibson shot two people at point-blank range, herself and Benito Mussolini. Both survived. After the first (attempted-suicidal) shooting, Violet, alive because the bullet had bounced off a rib, lived quietly in a convent in Rome, doing jigsaws with her Irish maid, until the day she set off for the Capitol with a gun in her pocket. After the second shooting Mussolini, alive because he turned his head just as Violet fired, set out for a triumphal visit to Libya with a sticking plaster on his nose. Meanwhile Violet was half-lynched, then dragged, badly battered, into a room containing the colossal marble foot of Emperor Constantine, there to be revived with brandy before being dispatched to prison. It was the end of her life in the world.

When Violet Gibson shot Benito Mussolini, the bullet missed Mussolini’s bald head but removed part of his nose, everyone except her thought it was a crazy thing to do. The ensuing debate was to determine whether she was certifiably crazy or not. Death and illness were themes of her life and perhaps fertilised the psychological soil where a religious seed had been planted.

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The Legacy of the Bielski Brothers. The heroic efforts of three brothers who helped save more than 1,200 people while living in the forest during World War II. Florida Holocaust Museum.

Courage and Compassion

The Bielski Brothers

The story of three men who defied the Nazis saved hundreds of Jews and built a village in the forest

In 1941, as the Jews of Eastern Europe were being massacred by the thousands, the Bielski brothers took refuge in a dense Polish forest filled with wolves, poisonous snakes, swamps and frigid temperatures during the winter. It was there they staged their revenge for the deaths of their parents, family members and friends.

Throughout the War, the Bielski brothers carried out a continuous guerrilla war against the Nazis. They often used captured German weapons gained from ambushed German patrols. They also derailed troop trains and blew up bridges and electricity stations.

Tuvia, Asael, Zus, and Aron Bielski were four of 12 children born to a miller and his wife in the rural village of Stankevich, near Novogrudok. The only Jews in a small community, they had connections within and outside of the Jewish community and quickly learned how to look after themselves. Before long, the older brothers developed a fearsome reputation.

After witnessing the brutal execution of their parents by Nazi soldiers, the three Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Asael and Zus, fled into the nearby dense forest, where they joined relatives and friends, scrounged for food and weapons and inflicted whatever damage they could on German troops.

It was a grim scene that would, of course, be repeated endlessly throughout the war. Instead of running or capitulating or giving in to despair, these brothers — Tuvia, Zus, and Asael Bielski — did something else entirely. They fought back, waging a guerrilla war of wits and cunning against both the Nazis and the pro-Nazi sympathisers. Along the way, they saved well over a thousand Jewish lives.

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Unmistakably an old-school cavalryman, Lucian K. Truscott Jr.—here in France in 1944, —led troops in Sicily, Italy, and France with aggressive confidence and a relentless will to win. (George Silk/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.)

The General who Apologised to the Dead Soldiers

Lucian King Truscott, Jr., was born January 9, 1895, in Chatfield, Texas. He enlisted in the Army upon America’s entry into World War I. He was selected for officer training and was commissioned in the cavalry in 1917. He served in a variety of cavalry assignments during the interwar period and served as an instructor at both the Cavalry School and the Command and General Staff School.

Early in World War II, he joined Lord Mountbatten’s combined staff where he developed the Ranger units for special operations. His experience began with learning Commando tactics and then training American officers and men in commando operations.  He led his Rangers in combat at Dieppe and in Morocco and then began his ascent through the various levels of major combat command… Truscott was a reliable, aggressive, and successful leader.

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Donald Stratton was stationed on the USS Arizona when a million pounds of explosives detonated beneath his battle station fifteen minutes into the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Donald Stratton was stationed on the USS Arizona when a million pounds of explosives detonated beneath his battle station fifteen minutes into the attack on Pearl Harbour.

“Remember Pearl Harbour”

“Arizona, I remember you”

Donald Stratton could never shake the memory of it all – the deafening explosions, searing heat, machine gun blasts and heart-wrenching screams of his friends – from his head.

“Never a day goes by for all these many years when I haven’t thought about it,” Stratton said. “I don’t talk about it too much, but when December rolls around I do. It’s important the American people don’t forget.”

Donald Stratton, 93, served four years in the United States Navy and was on board the USS Arizona December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The adventure of being at sea had been a lifelong dream for Stratton, so when he turned 18, he enlisted in the Navy. One year later he was assigned for duty on the USS Arizona. The hulk of the ship still rests in Pearl Harbor as a memorial to the nearly 2,500 Americans killed that day.

That any sailors survived the attack on the Arizona is a miracle, Stratton says.

“A million pounds of ammunition exploded,” he said. “The fireball went 600 or 800 feet in the air and just engulfed us.”

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YEARS AGO—Marthe Cohn as a young woman in the 1940s. Photo: Marthe Cohn

YEARS AGO—: Marthe Cohn as a young woman in the 1940s. Photo: Marthe Cohn

Marthe Misses Nothing

The Lady was a Spy

 During World War II, Marthe Hoffnung was a French espionage agent in Nazi Germany, posing as Martha Ulrich, a 25-year-old ‘Fräulein’ whose cover story was that she needed to find her fiancé at the German front

  “You should never accept to be kept under the boot of anybody; you have to fight back.”

Marthe Cohn

Marthe Cohn (nee Hoffnung), was crouching in a forest, dressed in a skirt and jacket, with white socks covering her silk stockings. She took a deep breath and grabbed her suitcase, taking leave of Georges Lemaire, the Swiss intelligence officer who had accompanied her to this spot on the Swiss-German border. Marthe began crawling through the underbrush toward the stretch of road patrolled by two German sentries. She waited until they met midway and reversed direction, so their backs were to her.

This was her cue. She was to pose as Martha Ulrich, a German nurse searching for her fiancé, but she was suddenly paralyzed by fear, overcome by the enormity of her mission, so she just lay there for more than two hours. Then she thought about a captain named Mollat, the French officer who had overseen her previous 14 missions to infiltrate enemy territory, all unsuccessful, and who had doubted her abilities.

She rose, pulling herself up to her full 4-foot-11 height, and walked to the road. “Heil Hitler,” she greeted the sentry coming toward her, presenting her papers. “Go on your way,” he said.

It was April 11, 1945, two days before Marthe’s 25th birthday.

Marthe Cohn was an unlikely World War II spy. At just 4 feet, 11 inches, Cohn was petite with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was also Jewish. Never hesitant to resist an unjust cause, especially during the Nazi reign in World War II, she courageously risked everything and contributed to the Allies’ victory.

With her fair features and flawless German language skills, however, she was able to convince Nazi officers she posed no threat.

“I was now in Germany,” she said.

Cohn had no compass, map, radio or weapons, only clothes without labels and German money and vouchers.

“Everything I needed to know was in my memory,” she said with a smile. “I have a pretty good memory.”

Now 96 years old, Cohn said she feels compelled to travel around the country to share her story with others. “It’s important that people know that Jews fought,” she said. “We were not just waiting to be arrested.”

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Pages from the diary by 22-year-old Marine Cpl. Thomas "Cotton?" Jones, including a portrait of his high school sweetheart, Laura Mae Davis, at right. Before Jones died, he wrote what he called his "last life request" to anyone who might find his diary: "Please give it to Laura Mae Davis, the girl he loved."CREDIT: AP/National WWII Museum

Pages from the diary by 22-year-old Marine Cpl. Thomas “Cotton” Jones, including a portrait of his high school sweetheart, Laura Mae Davis, at right. Before Jones died, he wrote what he called his “last life request” to anyone who might find his diary: “Please give it to Laura Mae Davis, the girl he loved.”CREDIT: AP/National WWII Museum

Woman Finds Diary of Man She Loved In World War II Museum

Corporal Thomas ‘Cotton’ Jones had one ‘last life request’ before he was killed by a Japanese sniper on a South Pacific island in 1944: Please give my diary to Laura Mae Davis, the girl I love…

During 1944, the scale of the fighting in the Pacific – and the length of the casualty lists – grew markedly.

One of the costliest amphibious operations that year was the invasion of Peleliu, a small, but heavily-defended island in the southwestern Pacific. Nearly 10,000 Army troops and Marines were killed or wounded in the battle for Peleliu. Among the dead was Corporal Thomas Paul “Cotton” Jones.

Jones served with the 1st Marine Division. On September 15, 1944, American forces assaulted Peleliu. Jones’ unit came ashore on September 17. As he approached the beach carrying his machine gun, Thomas Jones was shot in the head and killed.

Corporal Thomas “Cotton” Jones served as a marine for the United States military during World War II. Before he was killed by a Japanese sniper in the Central Pacific, he wrote a “last request” to whoever found his diary. He wanted it to be given to Laura Mae Davis, the girl he loved.

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The 47 suitcases seized by police in a private residence at Villeneuve at the Seine Assize Court during the trial of French mass murderer Dr Marcel Petiot. The cases contain clothes which were identified by relatives of some of his victims. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The 47 suitcases seized by police in a private residence at Villeneuve at the Seine Assize Court during the trial of French mass murderer Dr Marcel Petiot. The cases contain clothes which were identified by relatives of some of his victims. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Dangerous Lunatic

The Monster of Rue Le Sueur

Meet the French doctor who promised Jews safe passage from Nazis, only to rob and murder them

To all who knew him, he was the most devoted, benevolent doctor in Nazi-occupied Paris. Dr Marcel Petiot provided free care for the poor and risked his life helping persecuted Jews flee to safety.
Or so everyone thought – until locals in his affluent neighbourhood reported a foul stench from his home and thick black smoke pouring out of his chimney in March 1944.

Nazi-occupied Paris was a terrible place to be in the waning days of World War Two, with Jews, Resistance fighters and ordinary citizens all hoping to escape. Disappearances became so common they often weren’t followed up.

And one man used the lawlessness for his own terrible purposes, killing perhaps as many as 60 people.

Petiot’s criminal career stretched from his teenage years to his mid-life, and ran parallel to a successful military, political, and medical career. He was a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The inherent grisliness of murder makes it hard — if not impossible — to describe any murderer as “better” or “worse” than another. Still, Marcel André Henri Félix Petiot was truly superlative in his horror, mainly because of the circumstances and motivations behind his acts: He promised safety and freedom to those leaving Nazi-occupied France, only to strip them of their possessions and lives.

Despite his infamy in France, many elsewhere have never heard his story. As with many serial killers, internal struggle marked much of Pétiot’s early life.

Born on January 17th, 1897, he was the son of a civil servant, and his uncle, Gaston Petiot, was a professor of philosophy at the College of Auxerre. From childhood he showed signs of violence, after he strangled a cat after plunging its legs in boiling water.

However, he showed great intelligence, at 5 years old he was reading like a 10-year-old child. He then was found distributing obscene images when he was eight. Interned at St. Anne for a psychiatric disorder, his mother died when he was 12, he was then subsequently sent to several schools for discipline, but exhibited severe behavioural problems in school and was expelled several times before completing his education.

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