10 Unsung Heroes of World War 2

10 Unsung Heroes of World War 2 10) Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz Despite overwhelming odds against their favor and the terror others of their religion faced across Europe, over 95% of the Jewish population of Denmark survived the Holocaust That stunning rescue is in major part thanks to the actions of a German man; Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz

Duckwitz was a member of the Nazi party and worked as an official in the German embassy in Denmark But when he heard of Germany’s plan to deport all the Jews from Denmark, he knew he had to act – even if it meant his death for treason in trying He flew to Berlin to try, in vain, to convince them to not do this He then took a trip to neutral Sweden to talk to their President Per Albin Hansson, to convince them to take any Danish Jews smuggled out They agreed

Duckwitz then told several Danish politicians and Jewish community leaders of plans to get them to Sweden out of harm's way, which led to many of the citizens risking it all to hide and smuggle their Jewish neighbors All thanks to the initial brave actions of Duckwitz, 7200 Jews made it to safety in Sweden 9) Jorgen Knudsen & Dr Karl Koster Staying in Denmark, here’s a story that came about after Duckwitz’s galvanization of goodwill in the Danish Jorgen Knudsen was a young ambulance driver, who was warned by some of his friends of the incoming deportation Knudsen had to do something, so stole a directory from a phone booth, circling any names that looked Jewish to him

He then took his ambulance door to door warning these strangers of what was to come If they had nowhere to go, he put them in the back Knudsen then approached Dr Karl Koster at Bispebjerg hospital, pleading with him to help as he knew he was active in resistance circles He agreed, and they smuggled the 140 Jewish people Knudsen had gathered so far into the hospital by faking a funeral procession

They were then given fake names and stayed in apartments for hospital staff Bispebjerg hospital helped smuggle around 1000 people in total to small fishing villages near the coast of Sweden, as well as concealing their existence Knudsen was even captured on one of his rounds picking people up in the ambulance, but despite being tortured and beaten for several days, gave up no names 8) Nancy Wake Wake’s nickname in German circles was The White Mouse because she was so good at evading capture It’s no wonder that she was one of the Gestapo’s most wanted people for the entire war

Wake was a New Zealand born freelance journalist who enjoyed the high life and married a French industrialist As she saw the rise of the Nazis across Europe, she grew to absolutely despise them As she was a member of the higher classes when the Germans invaded she still enjoyed comparative safety and used this and her resources to help the resistance She would help the pilots of shot-down planes escape to Spain, she helped Jews cross the border – she even bought an ambulance and drove them there herself After she became known to the occupiers for her deeds, she found her way to Britain, where she joined the Special Operations Executive, an intelligence group working with the French resistance

She then helped organize the resistance before D Day, even organizing and collecting weapons and supply drops by night She also took a 500km, 72 hours non-stop cycling trip through German checkpoints to try to secure communications with Britain again 7) Susan Travers Susan Travers was the only woman in the French foreign legion, first joining the French Red Cross at the start of the war She was attached to the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Legion Etrangere after applying without noting her sex and was on her way to Africa, where she helped save the lives of 2,500 troops Travers was stationed in a desert fortress of Bir Hakeim in Libya in 1942

German forces with planes, tanks, and artillery arrived to besiege the fort, but they managed to hold it for 15 days, in heat of 123 degrees Fahrenheit Travers was then ordered by her colonel – who was also her lover – to lead a convoy in just a Ford to escape, towards the enemy and in desert minefields, in the dark Against a hail of machine-gun bullets, she pushed on forward in the car, bursting through the enemy lines with no hesitation Her car suffered shrapnel damage and bullet holes but she kept driving through the dark until she knew they were at safety This action saved the lives of the 2,500 troops left stationed at the fort, meaning Travers was promoted to general

6) Charles Coward The surname here is a total misnomer for this Sergeant Major of the British Army, later known as the Count of Auschwitz Here’s why He was captured as a prisoner of war, but being fluent in German helped in several escape attempts, two of which were successful, passing himself off as an Axis soldier Eventually, though, he was found out, and as he was moved from camp to camp, he found himself in Auschwitz III Wanting to appear as though they were still following human rights conventions, Coward was appointed the Red Cross Trustee due to his command of the German language

This meant he was more free than other prisoners of war When he witnessed the horror of what was really going on to the Jews there, Coward sprang into action The Red Cross had sent medicine and food items for British POWs, but Coward deliberately set some aside to smuggle into the Jewish camps He also secretly wrote to the British government to tell them what was happening He also bribed guards with chocolate to take the bodies of non-Jewish corpses, stripping them of their papers to give to Jewish prisoners to smuggle them out unnoticed

5) Giorgio Perlasca One man managed to save over 5000 Jews during World War 2 by faking his identity using charisma alone and kept it a secret for over 30 years An Italian businessman who found himself in occupied Hungary, Giorgio Perlasca had previously fought in the Spanish civil war He was then interned into a camp in 1943, before managing to get out and seeking refuge at the Spanish embassy in Budapest Due to his role in the Spanish Civil War, within a day he was granted Spanish Citizenship and a new name – Jorge Over the next year or so, he worked with the Spanish embassy on their mission to provide letters of protection for Spanish Jews

When the consul in the embassy was forced to leave, Perlasca effectively named himself the new Spanish ambassador, handing in fake documents giving Jews from Spain and Hungary itself protection using an old Spanish diplomatic law from 1924 He effectively took them into his custody, hiding them in apartment buildings with fake papers, and guarding it himself Once he knew that these people were safe, he escaped Hungary for Italy and didn’t tell a soul of his actions for decades 4) Lachhiman Gurung It was the night of the 12th of May, 1945 At a jungle outpost at Taungdaw Burma, Lachhiman Gurung of the British Ghurka unit performed what some might consider impossible – fighting off the enemy single-handedly in every sense

At this outpost, there was just Rifleman Gurung and a few others – nothing compared to the 200+ Japanese soldiers that were coming their way The Japanese started by throwing grenades, which Gurung picked up and threw back at them He did this three times – twice successfully, but the third exploded, blowing his fingers off and severely damaging his arm and face It also injured two of his fellow soldiers There was only Gurung left, but he wasn’t done

With a just a right-handed rifle held in his barely functioning left, Gurung fired and fought back ferociously against waves of the enemy For hours he stood alone fighting and killed around 31 of the enemy Eventually, others were able to come and relieve him, but the Ghurkas, including Gurung, still fought there for another 48 hours Gurung was awarded the Victorian Cross for bravery 3) Chiune Sugihara & Jan Zwartendijk The manager of the Lithuanian operations for the electronics corporation Phillips, Jan Zwartendijk seems like an unlikely hero, but he played an instrumental role in saving over a thousand refugees

Zwartendijk was the acting Dutch consul in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, and in 1940 was approached by a couple of students asking him for his help in getting to a Dutch island in the West Indies, Curacao He received a note saying that visas weren’t needed, and it was down to the governor to permit entry The students asked him to leave out that last bit in their passports, which he duly did From there, word spread, and soon he churned out over 1,200 of these slightly different Visas The aim wasn’t getting to Curacao necessarily; just out of Lithuania, away from persecution

That’s where Chiune Sugihara came in; the Japanese consul who also issued Visas for Jews who wanted to flee to Japan, working 18 hour days to do so, despite being told by Tokyo not to He also set up communications that allowed them to travel through Russia to make sure they had safe passage Nobody knows the total people they saved, but it varies from 2 to 10 thousand 2) Juan Pujol Garcia This is a man who hated totalitarianism so much, he put himself directly in harm’s way to disrupt it This is the story of the man nicknamed Agent Garbo for his acting ability

When World War 2 started in 1939, Pujol wanted to help Britain “for the good of humanity” He tried to make contact with them to put himself forward to be a spy but was refused because he had no experience or connections So he hatched a plan – he met German officials in Madrid, presenting himself as a spy for them They accepted him and instructed him to go to England, which he never did, instead of feeding them nonsense stories from a team of sub-agents that didn’t exist from Lisbon He was a double agent, but of his own volition

He even told Germany that the rumors they were hearing of a supposed invasion of Normandy were completely fake to throw them off the scent – an event that turned into D-Day, leaving them extremely unprepared He was so good at subterfuge even Hitler awarded him with the Iron Cross for his “extraordinary services”, but all he had done was disrupt his regime He then faked his death and moved to Venezuela for anonymity 1) Phillip Johnston and the Navajo Code Talkers In 1942, Phillip Johnston of Louisiana opened a newspaper and read an article that set in motion a chain of events that gave the Allies a huge advantage Johnston had spent a lot of his childhood on Navajo reservations, as his parents traveled to them as missionaries

In fact, he was even asked to serve as an interpreter for a delegation sent to Washington at the age of 9 Years later, he came across an article regarding the Marine corps, and how they were looking to use a Native American language as a basis for a military code He knew exactly the language to use Johnston then spearheaded the operation of getting the Navajo involved in communications for the military The language was perfect because it wasn’t widely known by many, nor written down anywhere – it was all spread orally, so it was harder to be cracked

Ordinarily, translating, transmitting and re-translating messages in usual military code would take hours – the Navajos took under two and a half minutes They were involved in every conflict in the Pacific theatre, where they were key for victory – Major Howard Connor said that “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima”

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