Magazine article Newsweek International

'Nobody Could Foresee the Horrors'

Magazine article Newsweek International

'Nobody Could Foresee the Horrors'

Article excerpt

On Sept. 1, 1939, a little less than 21 years after the Armistice of 1918, Hitler's tanks, troops and dive bombers invaded Poland--igniting World War II. The Nazi blitzkrieg soon swept across most of Europe and deep into Soviet Russia, until only Britain held fast across the English Channel. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, brought America into the war against both Hitler and Hirohito. Total war had engulfed the world, and it would prove the bloodiest conflict ever: 100 million men bore arms, and 30 million civilians--6 million of them European Jews--would die before Berlin fell to the Soviet Red Army in May 1945. In August of that year, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan--ending the war, and changing the world.

BERLIN, 1938: The son of a senior diplomat of the Third Reich, Richard von Weizscker served in the German Army during the war. He went on to become president of Germany from 1984 to 1994. Unofficially, he has acted as the country's moral arbiter on the trickiest issues stemming from its Nazi past.

In 1933, my family moved to Switzerland, where my father was the German ambassador. I went to school there, and afterwards I started studying in Britain and France. So my first personal look at Nazi Germany was only at the age of 17, when I had to come back in order to start my military service.

I saw Kristallnacht myself in November 1938, here in the middle of Berlin. I had just started my military service. …

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