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Friday, 29 March 2013

image for Forgotten Heroes of World War II: Part 7 Hitler: not a fan of clowns

There are many stories of bravery and heroism from the Second World War, but one group of people are often completely ignored in the complex and significant history of that period.

In her new book "Bozo's War", historian Wendy Wilsfalov explores the roles that clowns played during WW2 on both sides. She argues that many operations during the conflict could not been successfully carried out without clowns - for example the Minsk tent incident, or the giant clown-shoe bomb plot which assassinated Hitler's brother.

Many chapters of the book are devoted to the French resistance's own regiment of mime artists, who cunningly and silently made a number of important sabotage attacks in Nazi-occupied France. The group were legendary, and even when captured and tortured, not one of them said a word about who their contacts were or who had helped them - details the Germans desperately wanted.

There is also a chapter about the most famous clown of the whole war. Briton Coco "Bomber" Cockles flew twenty-seven bombing missions over Nazi Germany in full clown regalia. On one occasion he was shot down and nearly captured by German army conscripts, but the quick-thinking entertainer would not be so easily taken. He hastily conjured up some swastika-shaped balloon animals, which kept the dim-witted troops amused while he slipped away to neutral Sweden. He spent the rest of the war in hiding in a Stockholm zoo dressed as a bear.

The final grim chapter of the book is about the German clowns who fought on the other side. The Nazis did not take kindly to clowns, and Hitler is alleged to have personally ordered that all clowns be sent to death camps along with other "undesirables". A number of clowns did manage to keep up their clowning in secret, notably in the case of Oberst-Gruppenf├╝hrer Helmut Bongo. He often wore clown shoes as part of his uniform when he fought on the Eastern front against the Russians.

His clown identity was finally revealed when a tank drove over his toes, crushing his feet but leaving him completely unfazed. He was fortunate not to be arrested, but his commander thought the Germans were short enough of troops on the East as it was. Helmut Bongo had a successful post-war career as a taxidermist.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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