St. Maximilian Kolbe: A Polish priest and monk who, during World War Two, sheltered 2,000 Jews in his monastery. He also operated an illegal underground radio station that vilified Nazism. Eventually he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. While there, the camp commander ordered 10 prisoners from Kolbe's cell block starved to death to deter escape attempts. One of the prisoners selected cried out that he had a family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place. Kolbe led the others in songs and prayer for three weeks, telling them they would soon be with the Virgin Mary in heaven. At the end, the guards came in to kill Kolbe. Kolbe held out his arm and prayed while he received a lethal injection. Kolbe was declared a saint in 1982. He is the patron of political prisoners.
What made it even better? The man he saved was at his canonization.
The most heartwarming aspect of Kolbe's sacrifice were his personal views on Jews. Before the war, he was a known and vocal supporter of antisemitic and nationalist movements in Poland. But in spite of those views, he still was ready for sacrifice for a man, who just a few years earlier he would gladly forcibly remove from Poland.
Kolbe was far from an anti-semite, even for his day. While, yes, he was concerned with converting Jews, he did not, it appears, take part in hatred for the Jews. In fact, during the war, he risked his life and the lives of his monks to shelter at least 2,000 Jews at his monastery at Niepokalanów. The closest he may have come to anti-Semitism was anti-Zionism, engendered by taking The Protocols of the Elders of Zion at face value, a failing that all too many people fell to at the time. If anything, his real ire was reserved for Freemasonry, after seeing Mason mobs rioting in Rome during his seminary days. This is one explanation of Kolbe's motivations.
Brother Zenon 'Zeno' Zebrowski, a Franciscan monk who truly lived to his call helping Japanese people during and after war, especially orphans. He was send there by (mentioned above) Maximilian Kolbe who stayed in Asia on mission but decided to come back to Poland to help his country. He was caught afterwards and you know the rest of his story... But Zenon remained in Japan and greatly helped people there. Please, just read his story on this website.
In a small German village, with a concentration camp nearby, everybody was ordered to let some prisoners from the camp work on their fields. They weren't allowed to speak to the prisoners, and weren't allowed to give food to the skinny men. One of the farmers refused. 'If I can't give them food, they aren't going to work on my fields.' This could have cost his life.
The accused Hans Munch was acquitted by the Highest People Court in the whole extent of the accusation, as it results from Part III of the statement, not only because he did not commit any crime of harm against the camp prisoners, but because he had a benevolent attitude toward them and helped them, while he had to carry the responsibility. He did this independently from the nationality, race and religious origin and political conviction of the prisoners.
During the unveiling of the World War 2 memorial in the US, two aging veterans found themselves meeting two busloads of children on a field trip. The children, without hesitation, stood up as one and applauded.
During World War 2 and the London bombings, Queen Elizabethnote Not the present Queen Elizabeth II, but her mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Consort refused to leave Buckingham Palace, sharing the difficulties and dangers as the rest of her people, even when the Palace was being bombed. When asked why, she replied:
The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave.
And when Buckingham Palace was damaged by bombing, she said:
I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel like I can look the East End in the face.
The Danes get a Crowning Moment of Awesome for saving Danish Jews and resisting Nazi oppression (mostly nonviolently) for four years, but they earned another Crowning Moment of Heartwarming after the war. General Dr. Werner Best and General Hermann von Hanneken, the two highest Nazi officials in Denmark during the war, went on trial for ordering brutal acts of counter-sabotage against the Danes and for deporting Danish Jews. Both were found guilty, with von Hanneken receiving a sentence of eight years imprisonment and Best getting the death penalty. Both appealed. I'll let A Force More Powerful explain the rest: "Best's sentence was reduced to five years and General von Hanneken was set free. Resistance had not made the Danes incapable of leniency."
Check the Other Wiki's article linked above, "He [Werner Best] was aware of the efforts by Duckwitz to have the roundup cancelled and obviously also knew about the potential escape of the Jews to Sweden, but he essentially looked the other way..." So the Danish did not pursue vengeance against a man who did not persecute them, even if he was the face of Nazi authority and the most obvious scapegoat.
Very much a case of [[Realpolitik]], however, as Best had originally been sentenced to death in the County court. On appeal, the high court reduced the sentence to 5 years, which generated outrage in the Danish population, as Best was percieved to have been responsible for counter-terror. The Supreme court finally settled on a sentence of 12 years, at which point West Germany intervened to have his sentence commuted and Best expelled from Denmark.
In early 1943, the SS and the Gestapo initiated "the Final Roundup," snatching all the remaining Jews in Berlin with the intention of putting them in the concentration camps. They did not however, collect non-Jewish spouses, and soon after the roundup began, a small group of German women visited the Jewish communiy's administration building at Rosenstrasse 2-4, wanting to see their Jewish husbands. They were rebuffed. This sparked a wave of protests at Rosenstrasse which so embarrassed (and frightened) the Nazis that they let the Jews with non-Jewish wives free. In May of that year, Himmler's deputy released all intermarried Jews from the camps.
John Rabe: He was a Nazi member, yet when the Japanese invaded Nanking, he, together with some other westerners who stayed in the city, set up the Nanking Safety Zone to safe the inhabitants of Nanking from the atrocities of the Japanese army. He was damn successful, saving an estimate of 200,000 - 250,000 people. After the war, when famine hit Germany, he and his family were partly supported by money and food packages from sent by the Kuomintang - even when their own people were starving.
There's a story about several Jewish children and their mother hiding from the Nazis in an attic. The Germans were doing a sweep of the Polish ghetto they were in, and a Polish policeman who disliked Jews found them in the attic. He could have earned massive amounts of money and a promotion if he captured them. But when the SS officer in charge called out to him if he had found anyone, he replied with a no and left them alone. All of the children and their mother survived the war.
A group of Jewish women were being rescued by soldiers after having gone on a death march. One of the women met the first soldier coming in, and explained at the devastation of the emaciated, dying people around her, she said, "I'm Jewish." The soldier replied, in broken German, "So am I." He was American.
That woman was Gerda Weissmann Klein. And the soldier was Lieutenant Klaus Klein.
It gets better. They slowly fell in love and got married within a few months, never leaving each other.
The Righteous Among the Nations in general were decent human beings who did the right thing during the Holocaust and sheltered Jews from German persecution or deportation. Most notable among their number is Oskar Schindler, whose exploits are well known.
A less well-known one is Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who served as a consul in Lithuania. During the Holocaust, he issued transit visas to thousands of Jews to assist them in reaching safety to Japan, risking his career, his life, and that of his family. When he was forced to return to Japan, he was still frantically handwriting visas on the way to the train station and throwing them into the crowd as the train pulled away. It's disputed how many Jews he saved; the accepted range seems to be between 6,000 and 10,000, since some people who received his visas were unable to escape before the Nazis invaded Lithuania. When asked why he did it, he said the following:
"You want to know about my motivation, don't you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes. Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent. People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people's lives... The spirit of humanity, philanthropy... neighborly friendship... with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—-and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage." Bad. Ass. Pacifist.
Even less recognized are the contributions of two Dutch consular officers, Jan Zwartendjik and L.P.J. de Decker. In order to get a transit visa, the Jews needed somewhere to go. Some Dutch Jewish refugees asked for permission to transfer to Curacao, a island that was a Dutch possession off the coast of South America. Curacao didn't require an entrance visa, but did require the permission of the governor. De Decker and Zwartendjik left off that second part off the visa, making it much easier for Sugihara to issue visas. The Japanese government might also qualify, for not deporting those Jews who just stayed in Japan, instead moving them to Shanghai, and swearing that they would refuse to give them up to the Germans, despite Nazi pressure to do just that.
Princess Alice, mother of Prince Phillip of England, was an emotionally fragile woman (she was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown) who was also deaf. Nevertheless, she had her own Crowning Moment of Awesome when she hid a Jewish family from the Nazis.
Herman Göring's brother Albert, unlike his infamous sibling, was a ballsy motherfucker who hid many Jews from the Nazis and used his influence in Nazi circles to avoid capture of both himself and the Jews. His most heartwarming moment, though, may have been at the end of his life. Living on a government pension and shunned because of his family ties, he married his housekeeper—not out of any romantic feeling, but out of gratitude, knowing that when he died (which was just one week later), his pension would continue to be paid to her as his widow.
Frank Foley was a simple passport control officer at the British embassy in Berlin during the 1930s — though this was in fact a cover for his real role as a British Secret Intelligence Officer. As the conditions for the Jewish population in Nazi Germany became unbearable, he bent several rules concerning immigration in order to help thousands of Jewish people "legally" escape to Britain and Palestine, issuing visas that allowed whole families to get out of the country and advising them on where they could feasibly be accepted. He also hid numerous people in his house, particularly during Kristillnacht, openly went into concentration camps to get prisoners out, and obtained forged passports and travel documents for them. He put his own life at risk in the process, as he had no diplomatic immunity and could have been arrested at any time, and when he was finally forced to return to Britain he left behind documents to allow others to continue his work. It's estimated that he saved at least ten thousand people, and probably a lot more.
Another great example is that of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat in Bordeaux, France, who ignored and defied the orders of the authoritarian Portuguese right-wing dictator, António Salazar, regarding the issuing of visas towards refugees (specifically Jewish refugees, since Salazar didn't want to mess with Germany and wanted to keep Portugal neutral). Between June 16 and June 23, 1940, he frantically issued an estimated 30,000 visas, 12,000 of which to Jewish refugees, in order to escape to Portugal (from there, the majority went to the US or Brazil). Most of these visas were issued to entire families. Among those who were issued visas, there were Otto Von Habsburg (heir of the Austrian-Hungarian emperor, who was hated and condemned to death by Hitler), the Belgian cabinet and Salvador Dalí. Unfortunately, he paid a high price, being stripped of his titles, his law career, abandoned by most of his friends, being blamed by a few relatives for the disgrace of the family and dying in poverty some years later, after his wife died and he being also stripped of his pension. Justice was made, later, when he occupied the 3rd place in The Greatest Portuguese (a poll programme similar to the 100 Greatest Britons). He is still fondly remembered by many Jewish people and their descendants and he even has a plaza in Vienna named after him.
Algot Niska, a notorious Finnish bootlegger, began during the WWII to smuggle Jews away from German occupied areas. He was also a skillful artist, and he used his graphical skills to forge passports. His speedboat, designed for smuggling alcohol, was faster than anything the officials could set against him. Finland flatly refused to cede any Jews or Rromanis to the Nazis.
Hugh O'Flaherty, nicknamed 'The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican', was an Irish Catholic priest who, in the later years of the war, helped to conceal thousands of Allied escapees and Jews, coordinating with numerous people to hide refugees in their homes. The SS eventually learned what he was doing and failed to assassinate him, and couldn't arrest him while he was inside the Vatican. When the Allies arrived in Rome, Flaherty demanded that German POWs be treated with respect, and in later years visited the imprisoned Herr Kappler — the former SS Chief in Rome, who had threatened to kill Flaherty if he ever exited the Vatican — every month, as his only visitor.
The North African campaign between the German Africa Korps and the British 8th Army during World War 2 was often called "The Gentleman's War", for the unbelievable gallantry displayed by both sides. To demonstrate, a British soldier was critically wounded during the Battle of El Alamein. He was brought to a British field hospital, and found himself lying beside a German prisoner who had also been critically wounded. He reached out and squeezed the German soldier's hand. The German soldier squeezed back. He lost consciousness and woke up the next morning, and found that his German companion was gone. When he asked what happened to the man beside him, the doctor simply replied "He died during the night. You were still holding hands."
When the Nazis invaded the Greek island of Zakynthos, they went to the mayor and the bishop, who were both Eastern Orthodox Christians and told them "Write down the names of all the Jews on this island and give them to us." A few days later, the mayor and bishop come back and hand over a paper with only two names written on it- their own. The bishop then says "If you want to take them, you have to take us, too." The rest of the community on the island hid the Jews for the duration of the Nazi occupation. Every last one of the 275 Jews survived the war. In 1953, a series of earthquakes collapsed all but a few buildings on the island. The first relief ship was from Israel, along with the message: "The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their Mayor and their beloved Bishop and what they did for us."
The Dutch village of Nieuwlande, where the people agreed that every household would hide at least one Jew.
Denmark's role in World War II. That's one of the biggest Crowning Moments of Heartwarming in history. A small country, not very powerful, shares its only land border with Germany, headquarters of the Nazi party and anti-Jewish movement. Denmark was not neutral - it was occupied, and complied peacefully with Germany to the point that Hitler declared Denmark the model that all occupied countries should aspire to. But when the police came to round up Danish Jews, the people of Denmark, including political officials and the king, banded together and made sure that 99% of Danish Jews survived the Holocaust. The ones that were sent to camps were sent almost entirely to a camp in Czechoslovakia, where the Danish Red Cross was stationed to monitor the health and conditions for not just the Danish Jews, but for every person in the camp. Full. Bloody. Stop.
The Israeli government was going to list several members of the Danish resistance as Righteous Among the Nations. The individuals requested that the honor instead be granted to the resistance as a whole. The request was granted to them, and the Danish resistance is one of only two organizations so named, the other being the Norwegian Underground.
Shortly after midnight on November 13, 1942 (Friday the 13th, in fact), a force of US Navy cruisers and destroyers met a Japanese battleship task force in pitch-dark conditions in Ironbottom Sound off Guadalcanal. The American ships were tracking their opponents on radar, but did not exploit this advantage because the US commander, Rear Admiral Dan Callahan, didn't trust the new technology. The two fleets literally got within spitting distance of each other before a searchlight illuminated the cruiser USS Atlanta, which promptly tore apart the destroyer shining the light. The resulting battle was a brutal, confusing engagement of heavy naval guns and torpedoes at hand-grenade range with friendly fire and horrific losses on both sides. By morning, all ships of both battered fleets had withdrawn from Ironbottom Sound except for the cruiser USS Portland, stuck steaming in a slow circle due to a jammed rudder, USS Atlanta, dead in the water and barely afloat, and the destroyer HIMS Yudachi, which was also crippled and would be sunk by Portland an hour later. As Atlanta's surviving crew tried to save their ship and pull wounded men out of the oil-slicked, shark-infested sea, a motor launch came alongside, packed with American and Japanese sailors, many of them badly hurt. It took a few minutes for anyone to notice that the boat's coxswain was a Japanese petty officer (they guessed that he was a Bosun's Mate, because "the rate insignia is the same in pretty much every navy"). His ship had sunk, but his boat still floated and had fuel, and he refused to discriminate when it came to rescuing men in the water, so the men aboard Atlanta accepted his help in the rescue operation. The Japanese Bosun's Mate got as many men onto Atlanta as he could throughout the day, then assisted in evacuating them to shore when the cruiser had to be scuttled that evening, saving over a hundred lives.
Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist in Germany, worked at many hospitals treating the depressed and the suicidal in the late 1930s. He saved several from Nazi-enforced euthanasia, but his family, and most of his patients, were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. He then continued to help many of the people in the camps keep on going and not commit suicide, until he was moved to Auschwitz and then to Turkheim. His wife, mother and father were killed at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz respectively, but Frankl survived to be liberated by the Americans in 1945. The experience of the concentration camps made Frankl realise the truth of Nietzsche's statement "He who has a why to live can endure any how" and he based an entire philosophy and field of psychology, logotherapy, around it. He died in 1997 after writing over thirty books and teaching seminars all over the world.
His second wife, Eleonore Katharina Schwindt, a German Catholic, was herself a concentration camp survivor and had been imprisoned by the Nazis for her beliefs.
A Hope Spot that didn't go away: the 'the Reich's youngest Nazi' was actually a young Jewish boy who fled the destruction of his family. A kind Latvian soldier, whose unit was going to be absorbed into the S.S., dreamt up a Masquerade to keep the boy alive - as a Nazi mascot. The boy managed to emigrate to Australia after the war, but kept his experiences secret from his wife, family, and friends until 1997.
The history of the Caribia and the Koenigstein ships; both ships departed from Hamburg in 1939 full of Jewish families planning to arrive in Barbados and Trinidad, but thanks to the pressure of Hitler they weren't allow to arrive there. They tried to arrive in Venezuela and then president Eleazar Lopez Contreras pretty much went against his cabinet and Hitler himself by allowing them to arrive to Puerto Cabello. There, in the middle of the night they were received by over 50 families in Mampote, where they stayed with them. Truly something that gives you back hope about mankind.
What Canada did for Netherlands during World War 2:
First, the Dutch Royal family took refuge in Ottawa from the German occupation of Netherlands and Princess Margriet was born there while in exile. The maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital, where she was, was temporarily declared extraterritorial, so Margriet could gain her citizenship from her mother only, making her Dutch.
Second, the First Canadian Army was responsible for liberating Netherlands in 1945. Afterwards, they would send thousands of tulips (the Dutch national flower) to Ottawa in gratitude. And the following year and every year after that, the Dutch Royal family did the same thing. These donations of flowers would later become a tradition of the Canadian Tulip Festival, one of the largest tulip festivals in the world and held annually in Ottawa, which soon became famous for these tulips.
Also, the statue The Man With Two Hats in Commissioners Park, Ottawa. Engraved on the statue is this:
During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers played a crucial role in the liberation of the Netherlands. With the donation of this monument - an expression of joy and a celebration of freedom - the Netherlands pays lasting tribute to Canada. A statue identical to this one stands in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. The twin monuments symbolically link Canada and the Netherlands; though separated by an ocean, the two countries will forever be close friends. Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands unveiled the monument in Ottawa on May 11, 2002, and the other in Apeldoorn on May 2, 2000.
The evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII, when what could have been the Allies' greatest defeat turned into a story of triumph that firmed Britain's will to fight even when they were the only unoccupied European countrynote (obviously, we're not counting neutral nations like Portugal) left in the battle against the Axis. The Allies had expected to only be able to save a few thousand men, but thanks to the efforts of 700 private boats and yachts - many of which the owners insisted to steer themselves - hundreds of thousands managed to escape and live to fight another day. This would lead to Churchill's famous speech. "We shall fight on the beaches [...] we shall never surrender".
Even more heartwarming than the British evacuation; the British promise of evacuation to the French, then the French forces staying behind to cover the English retreat. When the last of the BEF had evacuated, Churchill insisted on coming back to save the French forces bravely resisting the German attacks. On 4th June, the Royal Navy came to rescue as many French soldiers as they could. Although 30,000-40,000 were tragically left behind and became German prisoners, 26,000 Frenchmen reached safety.
During the march of the allies across Germany a US squad was patrolling through a village just recently taken. One of the soldiers while looking around takes off running from the rest of the squad while shouting in German. When the rest of the squad finds him, he is standing in front of a house hugging an older German woman and little boy. The soldier was a German immigrant, who had just realized he was in his hometown; the woman was his mother, and the kid was his little brother.
There's a story in my town in Germany that goes like this: In the spring of 1945, when the German army was crumbling, and the Americans invaded, they had orders to capture this town and the important railroad going through it. There weren't a whole lot of defenders, but there was a few overzealous SS officers that were going to fight to the death. The boss of the largest company in town convinced them not to fight by giving them his own car and fuel (a real treasure in those days) so they could flee. The SS men still killed the driver, maybe because of shame of their "cowardice".
A rather unlikely case - a documentary in a Religious Studies lesson on Hiroshima. Most of the second half was (as you would expect) a heartrending mixture of Tearjerker and horror, but there was one story told by a man who'd been a little boy at the time. He was rescued from the rubble by a young soldier, who then carried him through the remains of the city, past more and more scenes of hopelessness... only to have his father run over, saying 'that's my son!'. The two were reunited, and the sequence was the one ray of hope in the whole film. For once, happy tears.
During WWII, my friend's grandpa was captured and tortured, but he refused to reveal his mission. The Japanese said if he didn't spill, they would kill the other five captured men. He wouldn't budge. He escaped, but he had to live with their blood on his hands. 25 years later, he found out they all lived. Not a single one talked. GMH
This moment was a delayed one which happened after George McGovern accidentally had a bomb on his plane release while over a civilian farm in Austria and it caused great damage. Decades later while making a public appearance there, McGovern mentioned the incident in the media and how he was kicking himself for years for the accident. As it happened, the owner of that farm heard that and made a public statement to tell McGovern that no one was hurt and he felt it was worth the trouble if it helped enable the defeat of Nazi Germany in some small way.
The nurses. These strong, brave, badass women volunteered and spent their time caring for horribly wounded soldiers, often with no breaks, respite, or help, often in the face of danger. In some cases, they were slaughtered. But they did their job, and they did it well, and they saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Thank you so much.
You hear a lot about the conflict between Muslims and Jews, but Khaled Abdul-Wahab's story is even more Heartwarming in Hindsight. He lived in Tunisia, and when he heard the Nazis were going to attack a Jewish woman, he hid her and her family and several other families on his farm. Unfortunately, Yad Vashem in Israel rejected him as a "Righteous Among the Nations", because the penalty for helping Jews in Tunisia was not death. Even though the only country where that was the case was Poland.
There is a whole documentary and book on Arabs who rescued Jews. Here.
And then there is Abdol-Hossein Sardari, but he was Persian, not Arab. An Iranian diplomat, he provided hundreds of blank Iranian passports to Jews. He saved over 500 people.
When a historian told a group veteran survivors of the failed Dieppe Raid the true purpose of their mission he discovered: to mask a commando attempt, possibly commanded by Ian Fleming himself, to capture an Enigma encryption machine to help break one of Nazi Germany's critical codes. To a man, the soldiers then felt immensely better for that knowledge that they were not sent on a useless sacrifice, but were actually part of a vital strategic operation.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, a troupe of Soviet musicians and entertainers arrived on New Years Eve to entertain the troops. The Ukrainian-Jewish violinist Mikhail Goldstein decided to go straight to the front lines and entertain the troops currently standing duty, playing over loudspeakers. Although it was banned in the USSR, Mikhail was so horrified by the destruction around him that he started playing German music. The shooting from the German side stopped as the music flowed, and after the music stopped there was a short period of complete silence from both sides. Then a voice came out over loudspeaker from the German lines in halting Russian saying "Play some more Bach. We won't shoot". Goldstein obliged them.
In 1941, the Luftwaffe hit Belfast, in Northern Ireland, hard. When word got south that Belfast had been bombed and needed help, the entire fire departments of Dublin and several other Irish towns volunteered en masse to go North and help out. The then Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, had made his career opposing Britain and believed that Northern Ireland had no business being separated from Ireland, but he protested to the Germans: "They are our people, too!"
Gert Fröbe, best known for playing the title villain of Goldfinger, was a former Nazi party member and as a result, his works were banned in Israel. That is, until two Jews came forward and revealed that he used his status to hide them during the Holocaust.
In April, 1945, about 140 British Prisoners of War were being held by the SS and feared that they, like many other POWs, would be executed, so they sent a delegation to contact members of the Wehrmacht and made their fears known. Wichard von Alvensleben immediately mobilized his troops to move in and protect the POWs, and managed to use his superior numbers to intimidate the SS into retreating. They then released the allied POWs, including several high profile prisoners.
The Grand Mosque of Paris. While France was occupied by the Nazis, they provided Jewish citizens with fake Muslim birth certificates in order to protect them from being sent to the camps.
It may not be as important as the saving the lives of innocents described above, but there was the fact that the American Army had the Monuments Men: experts of art assigned to spare as much as the great works of art and architecture as possible from the destruction of war. Furthermore, rather than to steal it like the German and Russian armies did, the Monuments Men's purpose was to preserve this art for the proper owners. While this was an underfunded and often heartbreaking task, it did have its good moments. Namely, when they found a cache of art plundered from Florence, Italy, they returned it to the city, and they were met with a grand reception with cheering crowds and even a line of trumpeters in Renaissance dress celebrating a small triumph of the survival of beauty and creativity after so many years of fear and ugly destruction.
Walther Wenck, youngest German Army General, commander of the 12th Army. Ordered to assault and retake Berlin from the Soviets with remnants of the 9th Army to link up, he instead chose to disobey orders. Located between the Americans and Berlin, he ordered his men to protect and escort civilians from Soviet grasp to American lines. Then he told his men to surrender to the Americans. Not to mention, his army sheltered refugees long before the Soviets entered Berlin. In the end? Quarter of a million refugees (including 25,000 German soldiers) escaped Soviet detention. Within a week, mind you. Not to mention part of his speech - "It's not about Berlin any more, it's not about the Reich any more."
Wenck summed the whole thing up with these words: "Nicht ein schlacht, ein rettungzaktion" — "This is not a battle, it's a rescue mission."
Also Wenck's radio message to the besieged 9th Army as his relief force reached its furthest point of advance. "Hurry up, we are waiting for you."
Erich Hartmann, considered the greatest fighter ace in history, with 352 enemy aircraft shot down, was more proud of the fact he never lost a wingman than he was his number of victories.
Rudolf Kastner was a leader of a resistance in Hungary that smuggled Jews to Budapest. It's not well known, but there was a period in 1944 when 12,000 Hungarian Jews were being transported to Auschwitz a day. Krastner negotiated with Adolf Eichmann himself and managed to get 1,685 Jews on a train to Switzerland, a train that became known as "Krastner's Train." Unfortunately, because he had to work directly with Eichmann and the Jews who left had to pay, many Israelis viewed him as a collaborator after the war, and he was put on trial for that "crime." He was assassinated in 1957.
During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, American Admiral Marc Mitscher took a gamble to strike at the Japanese fleet with a wave of planes launched late in the day. By the time the planes returned from their successful attack, the sun had set. Standard procedure would have had the fleet under blackout, and left the pilots struggling to find their carriers with rapidly-emptying fuel tanks. Aware of the risk of exposing their ships to enemy attack, the admiral nonetheless gave the order "Turn On The Lights" to causing the fleet to be illuminated with flares and lights so that the the pilots would be able to make it back.
Captain Laus-Dei Saxell, Finnish Air Force, whose dive bomber flight was ordered to bomb three large Russian Orthodox churches at island of Kizhi, Lake Onega, Karelia. Finns suspected the Soviets were using the churches as artillery fire control towers. When he saw the beauty of the churches from air and the intact snow around, he flatly refused to destroy "those magnificent pieces of art, faith and architecture", realized there was no Soviet troops at the island and ordered his flight to turn away. They instead found a Soviet steamer at the lake and bombed it instead. Turned out the steamer which they had sunk had been a floating radio propaganda station. The Finns later captured the island and the churches intact. When they retreated 1944, they left the churches intact. Today the island and the churches belong in the Unesco World Heritage. Even better, Saxell himself visited the churches 1999 and saw them firsthand.
The greater lot of students from the University of Oslo were rounded up and transported to Germany in the autumn of 1943. The plan was to "nazifice" the Norwegians, who promptly resisted by "rewinding" the nazi propaganda every night after intense sessions of brainwashing. One of them had heart enough for some starving Rromani children who always stood on the other side of a barbed wire fence. He always shared his food with them, although it was pointed out to him that those children probably were toast anyway. But this student kept up the habit - until the morning the children didn´t show....
The Battle for Castle Itter, considered one of the most unusual battles of world war two. Occurring after Hitler's suicide but prior to Germany's surrender, a group of extremely overzealous SS attempted to storm a prison to, in an act of spite, execute those that had been held there, ranging from high profile French figures (including two former Prime Ministers) to resistance members. Defending the prison was a combined force of soldiers from the US and Germany armies side by side along with the former prisoners. Outmatched, their tank knocked out and running low on ammunition, the defenders were relieved when reinforcements arrived. It was the only time in the entire war that American and German soldiers fought together as allies. Sadly, the commander of the German troops, Major Josef Gangl, was killed by a sniper's bullet while protecting former French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud during the battle. He was named a national hero in Austria. Prior to joining with Captain Lee's American forces to protect the castle, Gangl had been organizing his troops to try and protect local towns from reprisals by the SS.
The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler Incident. A few days before Christmas, 1943, a formation of Anerican B-17 bombers hit a target in northern Germany. One of them was called Ye Olde Pub and had a brand-new crew on their first mission with a pilot named 2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown. Ye Olde Pub was shot to pieces by German fighters, but stayed (barely) in the air, with their tail gunner dead and two other men badly wounded. When they flew over a German airbase, a veteran Luftwaffe fighter pilot named 1st Lieutenant Franz Stigler took off to take them down. Stigler caught the B-17, but was surprised when they didn't shoot at him. He flew alongside the bomber, seeing wounded gunners being cared for by their terrified comrades, and realized they were completely defenseless. Stigler (a devout Catholic who'd never really bought into Nazi ideology) remembered the words of his first commander in North Africa, who had told him, "Honor is everything here. It's what keeps you human. If I ever hear that you shot a man in a parachute, I'll shoot you myself." Stigler couldn't pull the trigger. Then he realized that the B-17, flying low and slow on two engines, was heading straight for a coastal antiaircraft battery. If he couldn't shoot them down in good conscience, he certainly couldn't let that happen either. He formed up tight on the bomber's right wing in an escort position. Brown saw the Messerschmitt fighter alongside and tried not to panic, having no idea what the German was doing. Then he realized that the flak guns weren't firing as they crossed the coastline. With Brown's surviving crew safely on their way back to East Anglia, Stigler turned away and returned to his own base, never mentioning the encounter for obvious reasons. Brown's crew reported the incident in their debriefing, but were told to keep quiet about it, both to avoid generating sympathy for the enemy, and to prevent the Gestapo from going after this honorable German pilot, whoever he might be. It remained secret until Charlie Brown came out with it in the 1980s, hoping to find the man who had saved the lives of himself and his crew. Stigler, now living in British Columbia, came forward and met Brown for the second time in Seattle in 1988. The two men greeted eachother like long-lost brothers (Franz Stigler tearfully exclaimed, "I love you, Charlie!" when they told their story to a TV news crew) and remained best friends for the rest of their lives.
Franz Stigler started receiving massive amounts of hate mail when the story broke in Germany, being called a traitor, a coward, and everything else imaginable. One day, he got a phone call from his longtime friend, war buddy, and wartime commander General Adolf Galland, perhaps the most legendary German fighter ace of the war. When Stigler admitted it was true, Galland paused for a moment, then said, "Well, it would be you, pal." Galland said that what Franz had done was treason, but it was also the right thing to do, and Galland (no huge fan of the Nazi party himself) was proud of him for doing it.
Galland was a Military Maverick, very young for his rank, who was very close to his pilots and ground crews (every man under his command addressed him as "Dolfo") who clashed constantly with Göring (whom Galland openly called "Fat Bastard," for obvious reasons), until Göring charged him with treason in 1944. Since Galland was too high-profile a hero for the Gestapo to touch him, they instead opted for the Uriah Gambit, having him lead a special unit of new (and dangerously unreliable) jet fighters on high-risk missions. This unit, Jagdverband-44, was to be made up entirely of men hand-picked by Galland, "to keep all the traitors in one place," according to Göring. This meant that JV-44 not only had a dream team of German aces, but also nothing but men Galland trusted. Stigler was one of the men selected to fly jets in JV-44, according to Galland, because "I always knew you would do the right thing, regardless of the consequences."
While World War II ended on September 2, 1945, for the world, it didn't for some men. One of them was Japanese intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda. In December 1944, Onoda was stationed at Lubang Island in the Philippines alongside several other soldiers. His commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taneguchi, had given him orders to live off the land, forbade dying by his own hand, and assured him that "it may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we'll come back for you." Shortly afterward, the island was taken by American forces and Onoda and three other men fled into the mountains. It was here that they kept fighting the war, deciding that all leaflets and papers sent to them were propaganda tricks. They still carried out guerrilla warfare and lived off the land, dedicated to their order to survive. As the years went by, they died one by one. By 1972, Onoda was the only one left. Then, on February 20, 1974, Norio Suzuki, a Japanese explorer travelling the world, came across Onoda in the jungle. Onoda still refused to surrender until he was relieved of duty, so Suzuki got an idea. He went back to Japan and located Yoshimi Taneguchi, now an elderly bookstore owner. On March 9, 1974, Taneguchi flew to Lubong and relieved Onoda of duty, finally fulfilling his promise to come back for him after almost 30 years.
Leslie "Bull" Allen, an Australian Medic in the Battle of Mount Tambu went to rescue 12 wounded American soldiers amidst heavy gunfire. He carried out each soldier one by one while dodging bullets. And saved every last one of them. Even more awesome is that he was completely Humble about it. Though his story languished in obscurity for years, his recognition gained after Sabaton made a song about his heroism, "The Ballad of Bull. Many a manly tear was shed.