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5 Little Known Facts About World War II

March 18, 2010 , Posted by byu at 10:56 PM

The history of World War II is well documented and much more is known about this conflict than any other in history due to the amount of surviving documents and, of course, living testimony. However with such a wealth of information, many of the interesting events and facts about the war are all but forgotten, here are a few examples.

1. Secret Messages from the BBC

The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) was the most listened to radio station in the world during the war. The news in particular had a reputation for its honesty about world events and millions of people throughout Nazi occupied Europe tuned in at great risk to themselves.

At the beginning of certain programs, the BBC would put in what were known as ‘message personnels’, which were coded messages to resistance groups throughout Europe. To most listeners, the messages meant nothing but to the informed few, they could mean anything from ‘blow up a section of railway line’ at a given point, to ‘a new SOE agent will arrive shortly’.

The most awaited secret message by the BBC came with the approach of D-Day and was from the first two lines of a Paul Verlaine couplet. “The long sobs of the violins of Autumn” was the first and told resistance groups to prepare, soon after, the second, “Soothes my heart with a monotonous languor”, told all resistance groups in France that the time to fight had come.

2. Jewish Lives Saved by Reverse Circumcision
During WW II many Jewish lives were saved by doctors performing operations connected to circumcision. Dr Josef Jaksy would make a small incision on the penis of his patient, then give him a certificate stating that his circumcision was recent and done for medical purposes.
A Polish doctor by the name of Dr Feliks Kanabus went a step further and performed around 140 operations to hide the circumcision of the patient by attaching skin to the penis taken from another part of the body.

3. Wagner’s Lost Scores

On his 50th birthday, Adolf Hitler was presented with a case containing the original scores of some the music of composer Richard Wagner. A group of industrialists had paid nearly a million marks for the collection which included the scores of ‘Die Feen’, ‘Die Liebesverbot’, ‘Reinzi’, ‘Das Reingold’, and ‘Die Valkure’ and the orchestral sketch of ‘Der Fliegende Hollander’.

Towards the end of the war, Frau Winifred Wagner offered to take them to a safe place for the Fuehrer but he refused saying he had already put them in an extremely secure location; Hitler wasn’t kidding as the manuscripts haven’t been found to this day.

4. The Fall of Hong Kong
On Christmas day, 1941 the British territory of Hong Kong fell to Imperial forces becoming the first British colony to fall into enemy hands since 1791. The allied force was heavily outnumbered consisting of 1,975 officers and soldiers and about 8,000 volunteers made up of British residence in Hong Kong. They managed to hold out for 17 days but the Japanese force of around 60,000 eventually proved too much for them and they were forced to surrender.

Those still alive after the fighting were taken to prisoner of war camps where many died of starvation and disease. However the worst tragedy occurred when an American submarine sank the ship the ‘Lisbon Maru’, without knowing who was on board. In total, 843 prisoners of war were drowned or shot during the disaster.

5. The Last Execution in the Tower of London

On the 14th August, 1941 German spy Josef Jakobs became the last man to be executed in the Tower of London. Seated in front of an eight man firing squad from the Scots Guards, Jakobs had a small target patch placed over his heart, which was hit five times. Jakobs had been caught almost immediately on arrival in Britain, after breaking his leg on landing when parachuting in.

He is buried in an unmarked grave in London and while people remember his superior, Rudolf Hess, who was the last man to be held as prisoner in the Tower, Jakobs has been largely forgotten.

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