World War II was a horrible conflict, which engulfed much of the known world. Known as the Great War, this conflict killed as many as 75 million people, making it the most deadly war in all of human history. Just take a moment to savor that fact–75 million people perished, in just a short 6 years (1939-1945). That’s an almost unfathomable fact. Up to 100 million people served in various militaries during the war, and it was the first time people witnessed the most destructive weapon developed by humans, the atomic bomb. World War II was unlike any war, past or present, and in the environment of total war, civilians were considered fair game in battle. This attitude led to the most barbaric and unprecedented atrocities against civilians, such as mass rape, death marches, wholesale murder and exterminations, and the Holocaust. But what gets lost in this massive death and destruction, are the acts of kindness that took place. What is truly amazing is that any acts of kindness took place in an environment of the utmost inhumanity.
10) Brown and Stigler
In 1943, 2nd Lt. Charlie Brown had flown a successful B-17 bombing run against a German munitions factory. But even though the bombing run was a success, the B-17 was hanging on for dear life, as it came under attack by enemy planes, which knocked out the plane’s oxygen, hydraulic and electrical systems, the number two and three engines, partially destroyed the number four engine, ripped out a part of the plane’s exterior, damaged the tail as well as one of the wings, plus 11 guns were incapacitated. To make matters worse, most of the crew was injured and the tail gunner was killed. Lt. Brown struggled mightily to return the plane to base, of which he had only partial control. Luftwaffe pilot, Franz Stigler, came across the bomber in his Bf-109. Only needing one more enemy kill to win the coveted Knight’s Cross, Stigler, instead, relented from downing the bomber, after seeing the terrified crew and bloodied Lt. Brown. Stigler later said that shooting down the plane would be akin to shooting at a man in a parachute, as his commanding officer preached honor in the skies. Stigler even escorted the bomber for some time, ensuring its safety and as he departed, he saluted Lt. Brown. Brown and Stigler met years later in a touching reunion. They both died six months apart from each other, in 2008. Brown was 87 and Stigler 92.
9) Motts Tonelli and the Ring
Mario “Motts” Tonelli, was a former fullback with Notre Dame, who once ran 76 yards for a touchdown, against the University of Southern California as well as playing in the NFL for the Chicago Cardinals. In 1942, Motts, serving in the U.S Army, as a Sergeant in the 200th Coast Artillery, found himself in the Bataan Death March, where thousands of American and Philipino prisoner of war servicemen would perish. During the march, a Japanese soldier demanded that Motts give up his Notre Dame Class ring. At first, Motts, resisted and fought the notion, and balked at giving up his one prized possession. The Japanese soldier than pressed his bayonet to Mott’s neck, and at the behest of his fellow Americans, he finally gave it up. But one of the Japanese officers had recognized Motts from his days playing for Notre Dame. The English speaking officer had been educated at USC. He asked Motts if one of his soldiers had taken something from him. Motts answered and the officer immediately took the ring from the Japanese soldier and gave it back to Motts. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but to Motts, he said it was like receiving a piece of his life back. He credited this act and the ring in helping him survive the death march and the war.
8) Gernot Knop and Dorothy Bird
William Ross, a pilot for the English RAF and Gernot Knop, a German, were absolute foes on the battlefield. But Knop would do something that would extend beyond the constraints of their respective militaries. Ross, was attacking his target, a Nazi fuel ship. During this mission, Ross was killed as his plane was downed in anti aircraft weapons. Knop had witnessed Ross’s death. A year after the war had ended, Dorothy Bird, Ross’s fiancée, received a letter from Hamburg. Inside was a handwritten letter from Knop, in English, describing what he had witnessed and how the bodies of Ross and his comrades were treated with the utmost respect, and given full military honors at burial. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel even saluted Ross, respecting the bravery the young pilot displayed. In addition to the letter, Knop also returned some of Ross’s possessions, such as stamps, banknotes and a picture of Ross with his rugby team. He also sent Ms. Bird a photograph of Porto Bardia, marked with an “X” to show where Ross had crashed. Despite the fact that Ms. Bird had known about Ross’s death, the surprising letter and its contents brought her further comfort, as it helped her cope by knowing her beloved’s final moments.
7) Christmas Eve Miracle
Fritz Vincken was a child when the German and U.S forces were engaging in a life or death struggle in the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last ditch effort to turn the tides of war in their favor. He was left in a shack with his mother, away from the battlefield, by his father, a German soldier. During the chaos of the battle, it was not uncommon for soldiers to get separated from their units in the dark woods. On Christmas Eve, three lost U.S soldiers had come across the shack and asked to come in. Fritz and the German cook’s wife had a chicken cooking, which was to be their meal for the holiday. But the woman had invited the lost Americans to partake in the supper. As they waited for the meal, a knock rang out on the shack’s door. It was four German soldiers.
They also became separated from their unit. The lady remarked that they’re guests, and they were Americans, and for them to enter, they would have to lay down their arms. The Americans had to do likewise. After some awkward silence, a U.S soldier offered the Germans cigarettes. This broke the ice as one of the German soldiers began to treat one of the Americans, who had been wounded. Later, they all broke out in song, singing Silent Night, and slept under the same roof for the evening. In the morning, the German soldiers gave directions for the Americans to rejoin their unit, as well as building a stretcher for the wounded G.I. The Germans returned as well, bringing the women and her son to her husband.
6) Little Boy in the Photo
Tim Ruse, wanted to find out more about his grandfather, Carl Ruse, who had passed away in 2007, after he inherited his grandfather’s wartime souvenirs and memorabilia. Carl Ruse had survived being a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He had survived such horrors as the Bataan death march, a 60 mile non stop march, which killed thousands of Allied soldiers. When Carl Ruse boarded the USS Rescue in 1945, he got rid of all of his possessions, except for two photographs-one of himself and one of a young Japanese boy. When Tim had begun his investigation into his grandfather’s experiences, he learned why he had kept the photograph of the young Japanese boy for all of these years. The young boy had helped save Carl’s life while he was a POW. When Carl was being worked in the Yokkaichi-Ishihara Sangyo prison camp, the young boy would sneak extra food to Carl, keeping him going. He also offered friendship, despite the barrier of language that existed between them. Tim credited the child with not only saving his grandfather during the war but after as well, allowing the veteran to move on in his life without anger or bitterness. Tim eventually found the identity of the young boy in the photo, after going to Japan. His name was Fumio Nishiwak. Tim met with Fumio’s brother and wife. Sadly, Fumio died when he was 30 years old from illness.
5) Ross and the Unknown Soldier
Stephen Ross was 14 years old and had been in and out of various concentration camps for about 9 years, 10 to be exact, when the camp he was housed in, Dachau, was finally liberated by Allie forces. When Ross was housed in Dachau, there were 67,665 other prisoners behind the walls. Dachau was the training facility for concentration camp guards, as well as being the model in which all other camps would be based on. During his time as a prisoner, Ross was beaten viciously, humiliated, used for medical experiments as well as systematically starved. After liberation, Ross met an American soldier who shared his food with the starving boy and gave him a small American flag. Ross responded by kissing the soldier’s boots. He credited this inconspicuous, seemingly small act of kindness as giving him the will to live and saving his life. Ross went on for over 60 years trying to find that soldier, even going as far as participating in the show “Unsolved Mysteries.” The soldier was Steve Sattler, of the U.S 191st Tank Battalion. Brenda Clark, Sattler’s granddaughter, saw the episode and contacted Ross. The two families reunited and Ross gave Sattler’s family an American flag out of gratitude. Sattler passed on in 1986.
4) The Jew Hid by a German Officer
Wladyslaw Szpilman was a talented musician, as a pianist and composer. When World War II broke out and the Germans occupied Poland, all of the Jews were segregated from the rest of the city in the notorious Warsaw Ghetto. Szpilman and his family were moved into the district, where he continued to work as a musician, to earn any money he could, for his family. Even though conditions in the district were horrid, with overcrowding, starvation and disease, Szpilman continued to try to work. Eventually, he and his family were rounded up and for transportation to Treblinka in 1942, for the express purpose of extermination. He was saved by happenstance and was left behind in Warsaw, until it was abolished by the Germans. After this, he remained, but kept out of sight. Szpilman was eventually hidden by his musician friends Andrzej Bogucki, his wife Janina, Czes?aw Lewicki and Helena Lewicka, in the city. But in 1944, his secret was discovered when he was found by German officer Captain Wilm Hosenfeld. Szpilman all but expected to be turned in, but Hosenfeld did the opposite; he actually helped Szpilman evade capture. Hosenfeld was enamored by the piano playing skills of Szpilman. Hosenfeld kept Szpilman by bringing him food for sustenance and giving him a place to hide out, under the noses of the Nazis. Szpilman later found out that Hosenfeld was captured by the Russians and had died as a POW in a gulag. Szpilman’s story was the basis of the 2002 movie “The Pianist.”
3) HMS Glowworm and the Hipper
The HMS Glowworm was G-class destroyer type ship. In April 1940, the Glowworm encountered the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, part of a detachment. The detachment was on the way to Norway to assist with Germany’s invasion efforts. When Glowworm spotted the detachment, it fired upon it. Hipper responded to distress calls and fired upon the Glowworm with 20.3-centimeter guns, which caused damage to the Glowworm, causing it to smoke. The Hipper shot at the Glowworm again, but this time with 10.5-centimeter guns. In this volley, the Glowworm suffered extensive damage. Lieutenant Commander Gerard Broadmead Roope, commander of the Glowworm, gave the order to fire at the Hipper, but all five torpedoes missed its target. In perhaps a last ditch effort to sink the Hipper, Roope commanded that the Glowwordm ram the much larger ship, which caused further damage to the Glowworm. The Hipper suffered damage as well, but it was not enough to sink it. The Glowworm finally exploded. 109 sailors were killed. But instead of taking vengeance, the Hipper and her crew began to rescue the English sailors, overboard and floating in the water. 40 in total were rescued, and were treated very well, according to accounts. But it didn’t stop there. The Hipper’s commander Kapitän zur See Heye was so impressed by Roope’s gallantry; he actually went out of his way to write the British government and recommended the highest English award, the Victoria Cross, for his enemy.
2) Richard Carroll
Richard Carroll was a B-24 bomber pilot. He was tasked with bombing run missions to destroy the strategic targets of German arsenal factories in Eastern Europe. Every time he went on a run, Carroll was targeted by German flak guns, which left black clouds all around his bomber. Carroll witnessed one bomber get hit directly by a flak gun. This was on his first mission, so it certainly left an impression. While on his 15th run, flaks caught up with his bomber, causing a propeller to be destroyed. Terrified, he had resigned himself to surrender or death. Landing in the rural land of Hungary, he was direct in enemy territory, as many of the locals were extremely angry towards American bombers, which caused massive destruction in the way of dead family and destroyed property, due to miscalculated dropped bombs. Now was the time for to unleash their anger. But before the natives could harm him, the local police interceded. They could have left him in the hands of the locals to do as they wish, which probably meant killing him, but instead, seeing that he was seriously wounded, took him to the local military hospital, where he learned that he had been shot in the heart. Carroll credited the mercy of the Hungarian military with saving his life, as military doctors and nurses toiled to keep him going, even as he was near death, time and time again.
1) The Desert Fox
It seems as if Erwin Rommel has a somewhat split consensus from people. Some consider him just as guilty as other German military leaders in being in league with Hitler’s insane goals and vision, as he went along with advancing Hitler’s war effort, while others say that Rommel was just a professional soldier doing what professional soldiers do best. Rommel indeed was as professional as they come. He served with gallantry in World War I, and was given the Pour le Mérite award for courage exhibited. During the onset of World War II, Rommel stood out from the pack as the 7th Panzer Division commander in the German invasion of France. Rommel was never a member of the National Socialist Party and seemed to stay away from the political intrigue that high ranking members of the military were embroiled in. Rommel just focused on the job at hand and doing it well, which he did, gaining for him the name “The Desert Fox” for his ingenious leadership of the Afrika Corps in Northern Africa. His skill was such, that even his enemies were forced to recognize his ability and give him due respect. The Desert Fox truly gained the respect of his troops and enemies, but not just for his battlefield tactics, but also due to his humanity and chivalry towards the enemy. The Afrika Corps, under his command, was never accused of committing any war crimes or atrocities, unlike many other German units. Prisoners of war who were captured or surrendered to Rommel’s forces were treated humanely and more important, Rommel deliberately ignored the order from the Nazi leadership to automatically execute every British commando or Jewish prisoners captured. Rommel saved countless lives by doing this. The desert fox also refused to engage in slave labor, which other units were notorious for doing. Rommel soon became disillusioned with Hitler and joined a conspiracy to overthrow the Fuhrer. His involvement was discovered and Hitler, due to Rommel’s immense popularity, gave him the option of committing suicide, with the promise that his family would be spared. Thus, in 1944, Rommel decided to take this route and killed himself via cyanide, saving his family in the end.