12 September 1940

Cave paintings are discovered in Lascaux, France.

On this day in 12 September 1940, near Montignac, France, a collection of prehistoric cave paintings are discovered by four teenagers who stumbled upon the ancient artwork after following their dog down a narrow entrance into a cavern. The 15,000 to 17,000-year-old paintings, consisting mostly of animal representations, are among the finest examples of art from the Upper Paleolithic period. First studied by the French archaeologist Henri-Édouard-Prosper Breuil, the Lascaux grotto consists of a main cavern 66 feet wide and 16 feet high. The walls of the cavern are decorated with some 600 painted and drawn animals and symbols and nearly 1,500 engravings.

The pictures depict in excellent detail numerous types of animals, including horses, red deer, stags, bovines, felines, and what appear to be mythical creatures. There is only one human figure depicted in the cave: a bird-headed man with an erect phallus. Archaeologists believe that the cave was used over a long period of time as a centre for hunting and religious rites. The Lascaux grotto was opened to the public in 1948 but was closed in 1963 because artificial lights had faded the vivid colors of the paintings and caused algae to grow over some of them. A replica of the Lascaux cave was opened nearby in 1983 and receives tens of thousands of visitors annually.

25 June 1940

The French armistice with Germany comes into effect.

With Paris fallen and the German conquest of France reaching its conclusion, Marshal Henri Petain replaces Paul Reynaud as prime minister and announces his intention to sign an armistice with the Nazis. The next day, French General Charles de Gaulle, not very well known even to the French, made a broadcast to France from England, urging his countrymen to continue the fight against Germany.

A military hero during World War I, Petain was appointed vice premier of France in May 1940 to boost morale in a country crumbling under the force of the Nazi invasion. Instead, Petain arranged an armistice with the Nazis. The armistice, signed by the French on June 22, went into effect on June 25, and more than half of France was occupied by the Germans. In July, Petain took office as “chief of state” at Vichy, a city in unoccupied France. The Vichy government under Petain collaborated with the Nazis, and French citizens suffered on both sides of the divided nation. In 1942, Pierre Laval, an opportunistic French fascist and dutiful Nazi collaborator, won the trust of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and the elderly Petain became merely a figurehead in the Vichy regime.

After the Normandy invasion in 1944, Petain and Laval were forced to flee to German protection in the east. Both were eventually captured, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to die. Laval was executed in 1945, but provincial French leader Charles de Gaulle commuted Petain’s sentence to life imprisonment. Petain died on the Ile d’Yeu off France in 1951.

3 June 1940

The Luftwaffe bomb Paris.

Unternehmen Paula Undertaking or Operation Paula is the German codename given for the Second World War Luftwaffe offensive operation to destroy the remaining units of the Armée de l’Air, or French Air Force during the Battle of France in 1940. On 10 May the German armed forces began their invasion of Western Europe. By 3 June, the British Army had withdrawn from Dunkirk and the continent in Operation Dynamo, the Netherlands and Belgium had surrendered and most of the formations of the French Army were disbanded or destroyed. To complete the defeat of France, the Germans undertook a second phase operation, Fall Rot, to conquer the remaining regions. In order to do this, air supremacy was required. The Luftwaffe was ordered to destroy the French Air Forces, while still providing support to the German Army.

For the operation, the Germans committed five Air Corps to the attack, comprising 1,100 aircraft. The operation was launched on 3 June 1940. British intelligence had warned the French of the impending attack, and the operation failed to achieve the strategic results desired by the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe. Fortunately for the Luftwaffe, the plight of the French ground and air forces at this stage meant that the failure of the operation would not impede the defeat of France.

Hugo Sperrle had long planned attacks upon Paris and on 22 May he ordered Fliegerkorps II and Fliegerkorps V with Kampfgeschwader 77 and Generaloberst Ulrich Grauert’s I Fliegerdivision, III./Kampfgeschwader 28 to bomb Paris. Bad weather prevented the operation. Determined to continue with his plans, Sperrle ordered Otto Hoffmann von Waldau and Helmuth von Hoffman, Gruppenkommandeur Group Commander of III./KG 28, to plan an operation named Paula the following day, on 23 May 1940.

The operation was broad in its scope. As well as eliminating French airfields and aircraft factories around Paris, in von Waldau’s words, the bombing was to “achieve a desirable influence on the morale of the capital”. German reconnaissance aircraft reported 1,244 aircraft on airfields in and around Paris, including 550–650 single engine aircraft. This French air power was to be destroyed along with the aviation factories in the area. French anti aircraft artillery defences were mapped from tactical to operational level, and intelligence of French ground defences was therefore good. The operation was due to be carried out on 30 May, but again, bad weather prevented it.

The operation was compromised by poor staff work and excessive confidence in the “invulnerable” Enigma machine. The British intelligence, namely Ultra, who had been reading the German codes, forewarned the French. On 30 May they intercepted a message sent by Grauert discussing the arrangements he was making for his Corps. Adding to this leak, the units involved received incomplete orders for the assault. Oberst Johann-Volkmar Fisser, Geschwaderkommodore Wing Commander of KG 77 complained about this. He asked the Headquarters of VIII Fliegerkorps, only to be told that the target was “Paris”. Sperrle responded to his request by removing KG 77 from the order of battle. The British intercepted Frisser’s request to VIII Fliegerkorps, and passed it to the French. The French had intercepted similar messages and in response they doubled their aircraft strength to 120 fighters.

20 May 1940

The first prisoners arrive at the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

The in famous sign “Arbeit macht frei” (work set you free) on the entry gate have become a symbol of dehumanization, work above strength and mass extermination. Auschwitz Concentration Camp witnessed the mass murder of over 1.1 million human beings. Today, to honor the fallen and not forget the history of WWII, museum was established and auschwitz trips are organised in order to prevent such history from happening again.German Nazi were aware that it was important to choose the adequate location to hold so many prisoners in one place and conduct mass extermination.
The area had to be big enough with an access to well developed railway. This was the reason why Auschwitz site was chosen in the middle of Europe.

Auschwitz concentration camp was located in the Province of Upper Silesia in southern polish territory incorporated by Third Reich, Germany in October 1939. Concentration camps were located in the city of O?wi?cim, Brzezinka and Monowice, that were given German names: Auschwitz, Birkenau and Monowitz. The first, main camp called Auschwitz I was formed in deserted barracks. At first, it was a concentration camp for polish political prisoners who opposed German invasion. Later, soviet captives, German criminals, Jews, homosexual, priests were kept there as well. It covert the surface of 15 square miles. At once a few thousands prisoners were kept there. The second site — Auschwitz II was located in the city of Birkenau and covered surface of 140ha. Until 1944 it consisted of 300 different buildings, including barracks, gas chambers with crematoria.