Chronology of Jewish Persecution: 1940
The forced march of 880 Polish prisoners of war--all Jews--results in the shooting deaths of more than 600.
Jewish property in Generalgouvernement must be registered.
The British Embassy in Bucharest pressures the Romanian government to prevent its ships from carrying Jewish refugees.
The use of the Dachau, Germany, concentration camp as a training facility for the Waffen-SS concludes. Prisoners transferred to the Mauthausen, Austria, camp in September 1939 are returned, and Dachau reverts to its original use as a concentration camp.
The Institut für deutsche Ostarbeit (Institute for German Work in the East) is founded to study Polish Jewry.
Shanghai, China, accepts thousands of Jewish refugees.
Secret order by the High Command of the Armed Forces: Discharge persons of mixed blood and husbands of Jewish women.
British Foreign Office official H. F. Downie argues that the Jews are “enemies just as the Germans are, but in a more insidious way,” and that “our two sets of enemies [Nazis and Jews] are linked together by secret and evil bonds.”
Polish and Baltic-area Jews begin to escape to Jerusalem and across the Soviet Union to Japan, the Dutch East Indies, Australia, Canada, and the United States. In all, only a few thousand Jews from the region manage to escape.
Rudolf Höss, adjutant at the Sachsenhausen, Germany, concentration camp, is ordered to turn the former Polish army barracks at Auschwitz, Poland, into an extermination camp. He becomes kommandant of Auschwitz.
Norway surrenders to the German army.
At great risk to his life, Oster (with Canaris’s full knowledge) has been repeatedly warning the Low Countries of Hitler’s impending Western offensive. Oster gives the Dutch and Belgian military attaches the exact day and hour of the impending invasion. His warnings are ignored.
Chamberlain resigns; Churchill becomes the U.K.’s new prime minister. “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny,” he declared, “and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.” Churchill declares a policy of “absolute silence” towards the German Resistance. But the Pope secretly offers to act as intermediary for the conspirators. Conspirator Dr. Otto Mueller is sent to the Vatican to pass on messages to the British government via Bishop Anthony Bell of Chichester.
Poet and essayist T. S. Eliot writes that the Jews are the modern world’s foremost “Forces of Evil.” He claims that they have “made the modern world vile.”
The Nazis launch the Extraordinary Pacification Operation plan to eliminate Polish intellectuals.
Auschwitz concentration camp (Auschwitz I) begins functioning outside the Polish city of Oswiecim. Because most of Europe’s Jews live in Poland and Eastern Europe, the six concentration camps called death camps will be established there: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibór, and Majdanek.
Frustrated by “illegal” immigration into Palestine, British High Commissioner for Palestine Sir Harold MacMichael insists that Hungary accept the return of two Jews who had left Hungary and settled in Palestine in 1934 on tourist visas. The Hungarian government replies that there are an “excessive” number of Jews in their country and the government’s aim is “that as many as possible should be encouraged to emigrate.”
May 26-June 4
Allies evacuate 338,000 French and British troops from Dunkirk across the British channel and over to the safety of Britain.
One hundred British prisoners of war are murdered by German troops at Le Paradis, France.
Thousands of Polish Jews are sent eastward as forced laborers to construct fortifications along the new Soviet frontier.
May 1940-March 1941
French and British troops are evacuated from Dunkerque, France.
Battle of France begins.
Paris falls to the Germans. Noted novelist and German-Jewish refugee Ernst Weiss commits suicide in the city.
Transports begin arriving at Auschwitz — The first train arrives at a former military barracks in a little town called Oswiecim, located some thirty miles south-west of Kraków. This first deportation to Auschwitz carried 728 Polish political prisoners, including teachers, priests, and other non-Jewish Poles. From such a small beginning grew, in the words of German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, “quite literally the end of the world.” The number of Jews killed at the camp is unknown. Estimates range from as high as 2,500,000 — Adolf Eichmann’s guess — to a little over a million, according to a contemporary study. Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant for most of Auschwitz’s existence, agreed with Eichmann’s total, but then reduced the number to 1,135,000.
French head of state Marchal Petain sues for peace.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill vows this will be Britain’s “finest hour.”
French army surrenders at Rethondes in the same railway car where France has forced Germany’s surrender in 1918. Marshal Petain signs an armistice with Germany. “The battle of France is over,” Churchill told the House of Commons. “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”
United States Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long determines to obstruct the granting of visas to Jews seeking entry into the United States. He seeks indefinitely to “delay and effectively stop” such immigration by ordering American consuls “to put every obstacle in the way [to] postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of visas.” His goal will be realized over the next four years.
German authorities order that Lodz ghetto be sealed off, confining at least 160,000 people in the ghetto. From then on, all Jews living in Lodz had to reside in the ghetto and could not leave Germany without authorization.
German forces occupy the Channel islands, the only part of the British Isles to be occupied.
The America First Committee is formed. It is the most significant American isolationist group, and it is also infiltrated by Nazis, who are working to prevent American intervention in Europe. Several prominent Americans speak in support of the committee. Many in Congress attack the Jews of Hollywood as attempting to involve America in opposition to Hitler.
Bloody anti-Jewish riots erupt in cities throughout Romania.
In a letter to German Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, Bishop Theophil Wurm, head of the provincial Lutheran Church at Württemberg, Germany, objects to “euthanasia” killings at the nearby Grafaneck crippled-children’s institution.
In Holland, a collaborationist propaganda group, Nederlandse Unie (Netherlands Union), is established.
Vichy government formed.
Battle of Britain begins when the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) attacks British targets. For three months, the German Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) clash over the skies of Britain, with London and other cities taking an incredible pouding. In October, the RAF hands the Germans their first defeat. In lauding the RAF, Churchill remarks, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owned by so many to so few.”
U.K. turns down German peace offer for recognition of domination in western Europe.
Conspirator Fritz Dietlof von der Schulenberg’s plan to have Hitler shot in Paris during a reviewing parade fails to materialize. Hitler makes a spontaneous visit to Paris in the early morning hours of July 23.
The United States Congress passes a law to allow thousands of British children into the U.S. beyond the immigration quotas. The law is widely supported by American public opinion. Exploiting a loophole in America’s immigration law never used for Jewish refugee children, President Franklin Roosevelt calls these British children “visitors”; that is, immigrants planning some day to return to Great Britain. Congress amends the Neutrality Act to allow American ships to evacuate these children.
AntiJewish racist laws passed in Romania.
The first British air raid is launched against Berlin.
Polish underground officer Witold Pilecki penetrates the main camp at Auschwitz with the intention of organizing secret resistance groups inside the camp.
The National Legionary government of dictator Ion Antonescu assumes power in Romania.
President Roosevelt trades fifty World War I-era destroyers to Churchill in exchange for the use of Naval bases in British colonies. To American generals, the deal was a disaster, as warships were in scarce supply . To Roosevelt, the deal appeared to aid Americ’s ally while not jeopardizing the President’s standing in an isolation-minded Congress. To Churchill, the deal futher entangled American and British interests. “I have no doubt,” Churchill told the House of Commons, “that Herr Hitler will not like this transfer of destroyers, and I have no doubt that he will pay the United States out, if he ever gets the chance.”
Bishop Theophil Wurm, head of the provincial Lutheran Church at Württemberg, Germany, sends a second letter to German Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick expressing his objections to “euthanasia” killings.
The Jewish refugee ship Quanza stops to refuel at Norfolk, Virginia, after having been denied entry to the United States at New York and to Mexico at Vera Cruz. One passenger, a German Jew, is returned to the ship by U.S. Army guards after leaping overboard near the shore of Hampton Roads, Virginia.
The United States Congress approves the Selective Service Act of 1940, the first peacetime conscription in the nation’s history. Passed in an election year, the Act contained numerous compromises. For instance, the Act provided that not more than 900,000 men were to be trained at any one time. Also, service was limited to 12 months. Both stipulations would change in the coming years.
SS chief Heinrich Himmler authorizes a special SS Reichsbank account to hold gold (including gold extracted from teeth), silver, jewelry, and foreign currency stolen from interned Jews. The account is held by the fictitious “Max Heiliger.”
Director Veit Harlan’s antisemitic film Jud Süss premieres in Berlin.
German authorities forbid Norwegian Jews to teach and participate in other professions.
Young Jewish men return from the Belzec, Poland, camp to Szczebrzeszyn, Poland, after a ransom of 20,000 zlotys is paid to Nazi captors.
Vichy (Occupied) France passes antisemitic legislation. Vichy’s anti-Jewish laws, the first Statut des Juifs, are modeled on the German Nuremberg Laws, and, like them, are widely accepted. Passed in anticipation of Nazi pressure, the laws’ primary aims are to force Jews out of public service, teaching, financial occupations, public relations, and the media.
German troops enter Romania.
Hitler announces Operation Sea Lion (the plan to take over Britian) to be postponed indefinitely.
Order for the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Jewish businesses in occupied Netherlands must be registered.
German occupiers in Belgium pass antisemitic legislation, including registration of Jewish property.
President Roosevelt defeats Republican Wendell Wilkie in the general election and wins an unprecedented third term in office.
Fifty-five non-Jewish Polish intellectuals are murdered at Dachau.
Hermetic sealing of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was the largest ghetto in both area and population. The Germans confined more than 350,000 Jews — about 30 percent of the city’s population — in about 2.4 percent of the city’s total area.
In Berlin, Lieutenant Colonel Kazys Skirpa, former Lithuanian ambassador to Germany, establishes the Lietuviu Aktyvistu Frontas (Lithuanian Activist Front), a collaborationist Fascist organization dedicated to nationalism and antisemitism.
British Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Lloyd calls those who are working to save Jewish lives by illegally transporting them to Palestine “foul people who had to be stamped out.”
Director Fritz Hipple’s pseudo-documentary, antisemitic film Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) premieres in Berlin.
“Oneg Shabbat” clandestine archives established.
The Vatican condemns Nazi “mercy killings” of “unfit Aryans” as “contrary to both natural and divine law.”
In Holland, a collaborationist propaganda group, Verbond van Nederlandse Journalisten (Union of Dutch Journalists), is established.
British government official Sir John Schuckburgh writes that “the Jews have no sense of humor and no sense of proportion.”
In a letter described as “the most carefully drafted and re-drafted message in the entire Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence,” Prime Minister Churchill pleads for American assistance. He notes that Cash-and-Carry would eventually prove “fatal” for both Britain and American because “we may fall by the way in the time needed by the United States to complete her defensive preparations...” In a press conference, Roosevelt announces that “the best immediate defense of the United States is the success of Great Britain in defending itself.” This would lead to the policy known as Lend-Lease. Simultaneously, Roosevelt sends his most trusted emissary, Harry Hopkins, to London. Hopkins eases Churchill’s mind to a degree. “There he sat, ”Churchill wrote of Hopkins, “slim, frail, ill, but absolutely glowing with refined comprehension of the Cause [the defeat of Hitler] to the exclusion of all other purposes, loyalties, or aims.” Churchill dubbed Harry Hopkins, “Lord Root of the Matter.”
A German soldier leaps from a car in the Warsaw Ghetto and strikes a Jewish boy in the head with an iron bar, killing him.
The Salvador, a ship that set out from Varna, Bulgaria, a month ago, sinks in the Sea of Marmora; 200 Jewish refugees, including 70 children, drown. T. M. Snow, head of the British Foreign Office’s Refugee Section, notes that “there could have been no more opportune disaster from the point of view of stopping this [Jewish refugee] traffic [to Palestine].”
Late 1940-early 1941
1940: Other imporant events
President Franklin Roosevelt puts the question of Jewish immigration into the United States into the antisemitic hands of Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long and associates in the State Department. A political ally of the president, Long opposes “excessive humanitarianism” in regards to the Jews. Tainted by a general xenophobia and a predilection for Mussolini and Italian fascism (Long was ambassador to Italy), Long seems particularly distressed at the prospect of more Jews entering the United States.
Leslie Hore-Belisha, Great Britain’s secretary of state for war, and a Jew, resigns, largely because of the anti-Jewish feelings among members of the British government. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office Alexander Cadogan note that Hore-Belisha’s Jewishness rendered him unsuitable as minister of information, stating, “Jew control of our propaganda would be [a] major disaster.”