Erich Jakob Rose (1912-1943) was born into a comfortably middle class family of Jewish origins in Strasbourg, then a part of Germany, on the eve of World War I. During the Great War, his father, a physician, served as a medical officer in the Imperial Army. After the war, with Strasbourg ceded to France, the family settled in Germany, where they were fervent nationalists and anti-communists, blaming the latter for the “stab in the back” in 1918 that formed Germany’s “Lost Cause” myth, and were even supporters of the Nazi movement.
Rose entered the Reichswehr shortly before Hitler came to power, and was commissioned a second lieutenant. Since Rose had three Jewish grandparents, he was expelled from the army in 1934 as part of the purge of “Jewish” personnel. Finding that the young man was fluent in Spanish, the Abwehr, Germany’s intelligence service, offered Rose a post in the German embassy in Madrid.
In Spain, although officially only a minor clerk on the embassy staff, Rose was actually engaged in a covert intelligence activities. Early in 1936, he was ordered back to Germany. Soon afterwards, the Spanish Civil War broke out. When Germany formed the Legion Condor for service with the Spanish Nationalists, Rose volunteered, and was soon back in Spain. Apparently service as a technical specialist was not to his liking, for he soon joined the Spanish Foreign Legion, using the thin cover name Henri Rosse Rosse (the Spanish custom is to use both parents’ family names, and in his case both his parents were surnamed Rose).
Rose fought as a junior officer in the Battle of the Ebro (July-November 1938), earning the Medalla Militar, Spain’s second highest decoration. Taken seriously ill during the campaign, Rose was laid up for some months. Early in 1939, while still recovering, he appealed directly to Francisco Franco for Spanish citizenship, which was granted.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, in September of 1939, Rose briefly returned to Germany, seeking reinstatement in the Army, which was refused. He returned to Spain.
In 1941, when Franco raised the Division Azul for service with the German Army on the Russian Front, Rose was commissioned a lieutenant and assigned to duty as an interpreter with the 262nd Infantry Regiment. In this assignment, Rose had regular contact with German officers, and he was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class in April of 1942. Meanwhile, he learned that his parents had been shipped to concentration camps, despite his father’s status as a veteran of the Great War.
Rose took leave, went to Germany, and tried to pull strings to get his parents, and some other relatives out of danger. With the help of some senior Wehrmacht officers, he applied for a certification of “Aryanization.” The case went right up to Hitler, who ruled against him, on the grounds that such certificates could only be given to those who were 50-percent Aryan. In fact, Hitler lied, as he had often issued certificates to many people, including a number of senior officers who had no more “Aryan blood” than Rose did, but they usually had better patrons, such as Herman Goring.
Unable to save his kinfolk, who largely perished in concentration camps, Rose returned to duty with the Blue Division. Some of his comrades would later comment that he seemed despondent, and courted death.
On February 10, 1943, the division, holding the front at Krasny Bor, near Leningrad, was subject to a massive Soviet attack intending to throw the front back enough to clear the Leningrad-Moscow highway. Covered by about a thousand artillery pieces, some 30,000-40,000 Russian troops, supported by tanks, hit the Spanish lines hard. The Spanish, with only about 6,000 troops on the front, responded with fierce last ditch resistance and a series of counter-attacks, aided by reinforcements from nearby German units.
The Battle of Krasny Bor dragged on for three days. Although the Soviets pushed the Division Azul back, inflicting perhaps 50-percent casualties, the Spanish lines never broke. The Soviet effort to reopen the Moscow-Leningrad highway had failed, at great cost; Red Army casualties were about twice those of the Division Azul.
As for Erich Rose, he was killed on the first day, during a desperate counter attack, while leading a section of anti-tank guns, ironically crewed by Norwegian SS volunteers.
The War of the Poplars, 1701-1711
On July 3, 1775, George Washington arrived at Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a brief from the Continental Congress to take command of America’s first army and press the siege of Boston, held by the British
In 1701 Duke Francesco Farnese of Parma (1694-1721) decided to take action to resolve a long standing territorial dispute with the neighboring Duchy of Modena. The River Enza, a modest stream, formed the boundary between the two mini-states. But a little strip of territory on the “Parmeggiano” side of the river, was held by Modena, which had built a small fort there. Now normally this sort of activity would not be tolerated by Austria, the locally dominant super-power, but the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) had just broken out, and the French were willing to offer Duke Francesco some assistance. So the duke dispatched a little expedition that captured the lightly held fort. To commemorate his “victory,” Duke Francesco had the fort demolished and replaced with a row of poplar trees and a customs house. Although Duke Rinaldo d’Este of Modena (1695-1737), swore vengeance, the issue festered for a decade, because the French captured Modena in 1702, forcing Rinaldo into exile. Austrian troops recovered Modena for Rinaldo in 1707. With the war still raging, however, Rinaldo couldn’t do much to recover the lost territory. But in 1711 the War of the Spanish Sucession was pretty much over in Italy, so he decided to act.
On May 21st Duke Rinaldo sent hundreds of troops and militiamen into the disputed territory. The small Parmeggiano garrison promptly fled the scene, and the Modenese troops demolished the customs house, cut down the poplars, and built a redoubt.
Naturally, Duke Francesco sought revenge and ordered his minuscule army into action. On May 25th about 6,000 Parmeggiani stormed the Modenan works, routing the greatly outnumbered defenders, slaying about a dozen of them in the process.
On June 1st the Parmeggiani troops paraded before their duke to great public acclaim. But a few days later, the Austrian Governor-General of Milan and the Austrian Grand Duke of Tuscany expressed their great displeasure over the whole affair. A hasty peace was cobbled together which gave the disputed land to Parma, permanently demarcating the boundary between the two states.