Saturday, 20 June 2015

Bessie Rodger and the Munich Parade, July 1938

Bob Armstrong, Mrs (Albert, Abbie) Armstrong, Bessie Rodger, Vancouver, no date
"Aunt Alice [Gall] corresponded regularly with her brother Albert (Abbie) in Vancouver. Albert went to Vancouver and did well in building construction as a contractor (addition to Shaughnessy Hospital, etc)." - LC Gagnon caption. The photo is not dated and the given name of Abbie's first wife (he remarried after her death) is not recorded.
Bessie Rodger was a seasoned traveller. Above, she is shown on a teacher exchange to Vancouver. She also managed to include a trip to Hawaii (then a US territory) while she was there.

A few years later, in 1938, she participated in an Overseas Education League trip to Europe for Canadian teachers (and other teachers of 'The Empire') which was promoted, arranged and led by Major Frederick Ney. Like her older sister Mabel in 1922, Bessie's tour also took her to the 'Centre of the Empire' and Paris. However, she was taken much farther into Europe - just a few months after Hitler invaded Austria and as he was planning to invade Czechoslovakia.

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from: The New World Atlas and Gazetteer; 1923; PF Collier and Son, New York.
Above, this rough old map from 1923 shows the boundaries of Germany as they were established after the Great War 1914-1918. After they lost the war, both the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were broken up. You'll notice that the main part of Germany is separated from what had been part of Prussia (in the north-east) by the newly-reconstituted nation of Poland. 

Although Hitler had begun to redraw the map of Europe by the time Bessie toured through here in 1938, this was how things looked when he came to power in 1933. Notice the locations of  Munich and Vienna ... as they are important to the story which continues on the map below.

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from: The Citizen's Atlas of the World; 1924; John Bartholomew and Son; Edinburgh
In the previous posting about Bessie, her tour had visited Nuremberg - where the infamous Nazi rallies were held each year. Nazi annual general meetings (rallies) were held at Nuremberg ostensibly because of its traditional Medieval German buildings - but you can also see that Nuremberg was a central railway hub which facilitated the massing of the NSDAP's (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei - Nazi for short) members and the military. Virtually all the lines on this 1924 map represent railways. (The Nazis were never left wing socialists, nor was the party a workers' party - those words in the NSDAP name were for 'public relations'.)

For scale, Nuremberg (upper blue dot) and Munich (lower blue dot) are about 150 kilometres apart. My dots hi-lite the name but not the actual locations of the cities to avoid blocking out map details.

In Austria: Hitler was born an Austrian in Braunau (red dot on the border with Germany). Linz (red dot to the right) became his 'home town'. His most 'formative' years as a teenager and a young adult were spent in Vienna - the old, poly-cultural capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Vienna is about 150 kilometres to the east of Linz - it is off this map to the right. (He later received and gave himself a significant military education during his Great War service for Germany with a Bavarian regiment, but his cultural and racial theories were developed and 'refined' in Vienna.)

Back in Germany: After the Great War ended there were various small 'revolutions' which caused the old hereditary rulers, such as the German Kaiser and the King of Bavaria, to flee. Bavaria was the kingdom/republic containing Munich. Munich had its own ruling 'soviet' for a while, but right-wing paramilitaries (e.g. the Freikorps) from the former German Army overpowered communist and socialist forces during bitter street fighting and through thuggish murders. Street violence (between the left and right) continued in Munich for years. At Munich was the beginning, the birthplace, and the 'home' of the Nazi Party. 

Other locations:

Pink dot near Dachau: In March 1933, Munich police chief Heinrich Himmler established a concentration camp to hold up to 5000 political prisoners and 'undesirables' at Dachau - five years before Major Ney's Canadian schoolteachers' tour visited nearby Munich. In May 1945, after Liberation, an American Army report stated that it contained 65,000 prisoners of considerable diversity, including some captured Canadian Army paratroop officers.

Red dot south of Salzburg: Berchtesgaden. Hitler had vacationed in this area of the mountains since the 1920s. Beginning in 1928, and continuing through his rise to power in 1933, Hitler purchased and enlarged a property here. Eventually, it became a secondary Reich Chancellery with all the facilities and support services necessary to run the Third Reich.

Hitler's Small Neighbourhood

Hitler's various physical 'homes' and the birthplace of the Nazi movement were concentrated in a relatively small area in the southeast corner of Germany. Austria, his birthplace, had been invaded and made part of the Third Reich four months before Major Ney's tour visited Nuremberg and Munich. 

Here is Bessie's diary entry for her first full day in Munich.

from: YouTube, 1939 Mythical Nazi Sites The Ehrentempel in Munich, Keir Heath

Described in Bessie's diary, the Ehrentempel (honour temples) were two open-air structures designed to hold the sarcophagi (eight per temple) of the sixteen 'martyrs' of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. One temple is shown above. After taking power in 1933, the Nazis exhumed the bodies and united them here - characteristic of what some historians refer to as the 'Nazi Cult of the Dead'. 

Below right, circa 1939, the SS 'guards standing like statues' and a flaming brazier are visible as a couple enters the temple, giving the Nazi salute. Below left, circa 1945, American soldiers examine the sarcophagi displayed within the structure. After the war, the bodies were returned to the families or buried in unmarked graves, and the bomb-damaged structures were completely demolished.

from: YouTube, WW2: Munich / München, Germany (August 1945), The Digital Implosion, and, 1939 Mythical Nazi Sites The Ehrentempel in Munich, Keir Heath
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from: YouTube, Tag der deutschen Kunst München 1939, Blaukreuz100
Some of the decorations in place for the annual parade of the History of German Art in July 1939.

1939's Parade of the History of German Art

The images below are taken from 'home movies' made during the same event, the year after Bessie's visit. These views are of the reviewing stand on which Bessie would have seen Hitler.

from: YouTube: München 1939 (unkommentiert & in Farbe) Zeitgeschichte; Geschichtsstunde
Rudolf Hess (foreground, in Nazi party uniform) sits at a lower level than Goebbels (standing, in white jacket with armband) and 'Hitler's architect' Albert Speer (seated with woman, in party uniform) to review the Great German Art Exhibition parade at Munich in 1939.

from: YouTube: München 1939 (unkommentiert & in Farbe) Zeitgeschichte; Geschichtsstunde
 Hitler on the reviewing stand at the Great German Art Exhibition parade at Munich in 1939.

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Scenes from the 1939 Parade

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From Bessie's account and from viewing the YouTube images: The parade was lavish and the costumes, vehicles and floats were of high quality. It would have been an impressive spectacle.

Keep in mind that the centrepiece of this celebration was the 'German Art' presented in the building housing The Great German Art Exhibition. The building holding the exhibition was designed by Hitler's favourite architect (until his death in 1934) Paul Troost. As soon as Hitler rose to power in 1933, he immediately commissioned a number of projects like this  - some of which he had planned for many years. The building was complete and opened in the middle of July 1937. 

Bessie Rodger's tour, conducted by Major Ney, was attending the celebration on the first anniversary of the opening of the Great German Art Exhibition. 

Hitler had particular ideas about what constituted 'German Art' and a 'Degenerate Art Exhibition' had been set up in 1937, just a few blocks over, to help Germans understand that which did not constitute German Art. 

The annual celebrations included an address from the Fuhrer (about ... German Art ... and the German Volk) and these ideas will be discussed in the next post. Bessie did tour the Exhibition on July 11, 1938 - once all the Nazi officials had left town ... or at least after they had gone back to work in the Party's Munich offices.

A Metaphor

I wanted to show you the purpose-built art gallery and was lucky to find this 'parade float' (below) which is a large accurate model of the actual art gallery designed by Paul Troost and finished by Albert Speer and others. This building still exists. The building had a monumental full-width stairway on its street side, and here we are looking at the rear of the building with its less impressive stairway arrangement. 

The 1938 celebration Bessie watched was all about German Art and Culture. It was impressive. However, if you think about Hitler's tactics, invasions, concentration camps ... things aren't quite that nice below the surface ...

from: YouTube: Paul Troost, House of (German) Art, 1933-37; Smarthistory 
Now look at the nice art gallery model and its bearers, attired in period costume.

If you look closely you will notice that not all of the 'bearers' are plainly visible.

Beneath the 'apron' it looks as if jack-booted feet and unseen men are providing most of the energy for this pleasant spectacle.

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Reporting on the event seen by Bessie Rodger on July 10, 1938, is this article published in the Palm Beach Post on the following day.

Article from The Palm Beach Post, July 11, 1938