This article is an edited transcript of The Third Reich in 100 Objects with Roger Moorhouse on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 20 November 2017. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.
Reinhard Heydrich stamp
Reinhard Heydrich was the Reich’s protector of Bohemia and Moravia, second only to Heinrich Himmler in the hierarchy of the SS.
He was assassinated by British-trained agents, one Czech and one Slovak, in the summer of 1942 in Prague.
The stamp bearing his name (pictured above) shows Heydrich, along with his life dates and, interestingly, the SS runes giving life and death, rather than Christian symbols. It was put out in 1943 to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
It was issued primarily in Bohemia and Moravia. What’s interesting about it, apart from the fact that it commemorates Heydrich’s death, which the ordinary people of Bohemia and Moravia really didn’t want to do, is it’s exploitation of the ordinary population.
The pricing on the stamp, for example, is 60 haléřů and then it’s another 440 surcharge on top. So, the price would have been 500 haléřů, or 5 koruna. The 440 or 4 koruna and 40 haléřů was effectively tax.
It’s a stamp that ripped off the Bohemian or Czech people a year after Heydrich’s death. To send a letter, people had to stick their arch enemy’s face on it and pay a massive surcharge.
Heydrich had been sent in effectively to sort out Bohemia and Moravia for the Nazis. It was seen as too soft an occupation, and resistance cells persisted there.
He very effectively cleared the place up for Berlin through oppression, executions and kidnapping. He really was the iron fist of the Third Reich in Bohemia and Moravia.
Which, of course, is what effectively provoked his assassination. He made himself a target by being so high-profile and being very effective at making Bohemia and Moravia into a quiescent satellite state of the Third Reich.
And that’s what the British and the Czech government in exile wanted to disrupt. Hence his assassination, even though they knew there would be a terrible price to pay.
Indeed, the backlash after that assassination was so grim that it went a long way towards preventing any further high-profile assassinations. It was decided, for example, not to target Hitler later on in the war, which was very much a possibility being batted around the corridors of Britain’s Special Operations Executive.
The Treblinka Rose Brooch
After Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka was the most deadly of the German death camps.
It was a contrast to Auschwitz in that it was solely a site for the mass killing of human beings. There were no barrack blocks for prisoners and there was no labour going on at Treblinka. It was solely a site for killing. That set it apart in the grand scheme of the Holocaust.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is fundamentally confusing because it was so many things at the same time.
Treblinka on the other hand was a pure death camp. It might therefore be seen as the purest expression of the evil of the Holocaust.
It was destroyed by the Nazis before the end of the war; it had served its purpose. It was only in operation for about 18 months, during which time it murdered upwards of 800,000 people before being plowed over.
The few existent buildings were demolished, and the site was planted with lupins and made into a farm.
Very few items have been dug up from the site because it is now effectively a Jewish burial ground and you can’t do archaeological digs there – it would be desecration.
The Treblinka rose brooch is one of the few items to have been found at the site.A limited dig by a British academic group from the University of Stafford was allowed and they discovered the brooch, which was found very close to the site of the main gas chamber.
It is a tragic object, especially if you bear in mind that the victims at Treblinka were brought in by train, undressed, herded up through a passageway between trees, straight into a gas chamber, probably within half an hour of arrival.
And they would have been naked.
So, presumably, that humble brooch, which is nothing special – it’s not gold or silver – would have been taken into the gas chamber either in the clenched fist of a victim or hidden somewhere about their person.
They didn’t want to leave it behind anywhere. It’s a very moving memento of a collective tragedy.