January 2, 1935 Nazis of the Amazon

In 1935, the third Reich reached out to the Amazon basin, in search of ‘lebensraum’.  Living space.  3 SS officers bankrolled by the Nazi government, came with dozens of helpers to explore the region bordering French Guyana, with an eye toward colonizing the area for the ‘thousand-year’ Reich.

In 1978, the British-American science fiction thriller “The Boys from Brazil”  told the story of a bizarre plot to clone Adolf  Hitler, hatched by the “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele in his Brazilian jungle hideout.

In the film, Mengele met his fate at the jaws of a pack of vengeful Dobermans, under orders from one of his 94 ‘baby dictators’.

A story as squirrelly is this one could only come from the minds of Hollywood, but parts of it were closer to reality, than anyone knew at the time.

In the years following WW2, thousands of Nazi officers, senior party members and Nazi collaborators escaped across the Atlantic to find refuge in South America, especially Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

Though widely believed to be dead, Mengele himself was very much alive at the time of the film, living under an assumed identity in Bertioga, São Paulo.  The Angel of Death would escape the noose he so richly deserved, succumbing to a stroke while swimming in 1979, and drowning.

Long before there were Nazis, before there was even a Germany, ethnically German people have been emigrating in search of a better life.  In the United States, some 57 million people identify as being of full or part German ancestry, forming the largest single ethnic group, in the country.  I am one of them.

Outside of Germany itself,  The second largest German population in the world, resides in Brazil.

Mention Oktoberfest, and you’re speaking of an annual celebration of Germanic traditions, in Munich.  The second-largest Oktoberfest is a two-way tie, between the one held in Waterloo, Canada, and the city of Blumenau, in Santa Catarina, Brazil.

Oktoberfest Blumenau
Outside of Munich, Oktoberfest Blumenau in Brazil is one of the two largest celebrations of the original festival, in the world.

Outside of Europe, descendants of German immigrant ancestors have largely assimilated into their host societies, adopting local languages and adapting Germanic-sounding surnames to spellings and sounds more familiar to their adopted cultures.

Brazilians of German ancestry are in every sense Brazilian, except to the racially obsessed mind, of a Nazi.

In 1935, the third Reich reached out to the Amazon basin, in search of ‘lebensraum’.  Living space.  3 SS officers bankrolled by the Nazi government, came with dozens of helpers to explore the region bordering French Guyana, with an eye toward colonizing the area for the ‘thousand-year’ Reich.

Talk about squirrelly ideas.  The hardships of life in the Amazon jungle made this a strange choice of destination, but the idea made sense to these people.  With over 1 million ethnic Germans already living in the country, the pieces were already in place.  Or so they believed.

SS officer Joseph Greiner died of a ‘fever’ while on the expedition, most likely yellow fever or malaria. Expedition leader Schulz Kampfhenkel returned to the Fatherland with glowing reports of “The Guyana Projekt”.  “The two largest scantly populated, but rich in resources, areas on earth” Kampfhenkel wrote to his boss, the failed chicken farmer turned Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, “are in Siberia and South America”.

article-1080071-0238C02C000005DC-732_468x623As befitting a man who completely buys into Nazi ideas of racial superiority, the SS officer wrote “For the more advanced white race it offers outstanding possibilities for exploitation”, adding that the people who lived there “cannot be measured in civilised terms as we know them in Germany”.

A propaganda film was made of Greiner’s work in the jungle, but Himmler showed ‘scant interest’ in such grandiose plans.  “Given time”, the bloodless bureaucrat wrote to his jungle emissary, “the plan may be submitted again”.

So it is, that there is a Nazi graveyard by a tributary of the River Jary,  in the Amazon jungle. There you will find a 9-ft. cross, bearing this inscription: “Joseph Greiner died here on 2.1.1936“.

January 1, 1995 Rogue Wave

“None of the state-of-the-art weather forecasts and wave models—the information upon which all ships, oil rigs, fisheries, and passenger boats rely—had predicted these behemoths. According to all of the theoretical models at the time under this particular set of weather conditions, waves of this size should not have existed”.

From the time of Aristotle, mankind has looked to the field of scientific inquiry to explain the world around us.

From Copernicus to Charles Darwin to Stephen J. Hawking, the greatest of scientific minds have struggled to explain not only “that” the universe works, but also the “how” and the “why”.

We live in a near-miraculous age, when science has conquered complexities from space travel to molecular biology, to medicine, climate and astral physics.

Except sometimes, science has not the foggiest notion of why things happen.

Rogue Wave

In 1826, French scientist and naval officer captain Jules Dumont d’Urville described waves as high as 108.3 feet tall, in the Indian Ocean.  Despite having three colleagues as witnesses, d’Urville was publicly ridiculed by fellow scientists. “Everybody knew” at that time, that no wave could exceed 30 feet.   Walls of water the size of 10 story buildings, simply didn’t exist.

Either that, or very few who’d ever seen such a thing, lived to tell about it.

For nearly 100 years, oceanographers, meteorologists, engineers and ship designers have used a standard linear model to predict wave height.  This model suggests that there will hardly ever be a wave higher than 50 feet. One of 100 feet or larger is possible but unlikely, occurring maybe once in 10,000 years.

Serious study of the subject is younger than you might think.  The first scientific article on “freak waves” was written in 1964, by professor Lawrence Draper.   Far from ridiculing old sailors’ stories about monster waves, professor Draper posited not only that wave heights “can exceed by an appreciable amount the maximum values which have been accepted in responsible circles“, but also a terrifying phenomenon he called ‘freak wave holes’, the exact opposite of a rogue wave.  God help anyone caught at the bottom of one of those things.

rogue wave_destructionOnce considered mythical but for the old sailor’s stories and the damage inflicted on ships themselves, the first scientific measurement of a rogue wave occurred in the North sea in 1984, when a 36′ wave was measured off the Gorm oil platform, in a relatively placid sea.

What really caught the attention of the science community was the “New Year’s wave” measured from the Draupner oil platform off the coast of Norway, on January 1, 1995.  Laser instruments measured this thing at 84-ft.  Oil platform damage above the water line, confirmed the measurement.

Not to be confused with a tidal wave which is caused by underwater earthquake or volcanic eruption, a rogue wave is a different kind of animal. Oceanographers define rogue waves as being two or more times the height of the mean top-third of waves, in any given sea state.

rogue wave (3)

These literal freaks of nature are rare, unpredictable, appear and disappear without warning or trace, and are capable of sudden and catastrophic damage.  Modern ships are designed to withstand a “breaking pressure” of 6 metric tons per square meter or 21psi. A 39-ft wave in the usual linear model produces just over a third of that. A rogue wave can generate breaking pressures of 140psi and more.

In 2000, the British oceanographic research vessel RRS Discovery measured individual waves up to 95.5-ft. Analysis of the data took years, noting that “none of the state-of-the-art weather forecasts and wave models—the information upon which all ships, oil rigs, fisheries, and passenger boats rely—had predicted these behemoths. According to all of the theoretical models at the time under this particular set of weather conditions, waves of this size should not have existed”.

rogue wave (2)

In December 1900, Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald McArthur vanished from the Flannan Island lighthouse, in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  No serious storm had been reported between the 12th and the 17th, and there was speculation about supernatural causes.  Subsequent inspection revealed wave-damage, 200ft. above sea level.

flannan-isles-lighthouseIn 1909, the 500-ft. cargo liner SS Waratah disappeared off Durban South Africa, with 211 passengers and crew.

The liner RMS Queen Mary was broadsided by a 92-ft. monster in 1942, nearly pushing the 1,019-ft vessel over on her side. The 81,961-ton liner listed all the way over to 52°, before slowly righting herself.

In 1966, heavy glass was smashed 80-ft. above the waterline of the Italian liner SS Michelangelo, killing three and tearing a hole in her superstructure.

In 1995, the 963-ft. RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 was forced to “surf” a 95-ft. behemoth to avoid being sunk. The ship’s master said this thing “came out of the darkness” and “looked like the White Cliffs of Dover.”

The 1975 sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is widely blamed on the 1-2-3 punch of a freak wave phenomenon peculiar to Lake Superior, known as the “three sisters”.

rogue-wave

In 2007, NOAA compiled a catalog of over 50 historical incidents, most likely associated with rogue waves.

Serious scientific study of non-linear fluid dynamics began only 20-30 years ago. Researchers now believe that ‘super rogue waves’ of up to eight times the surrounding sea state, are possible.

rogue wave
“The Perfect Storm” movie based on the Sebastian Junger book of the same title depicts the last moments of the Gloucester fisherman Andrea Gail in September, 1991

European Space Agency satellite radar studies have proven that waves cresting at 65 to 98-ft. occur far more regularly than previously believed. Rogue waves occur several times a day, in all of the world’s oceans. One three-week period in 2004 identified over ten individual giants measuring 82-ft. and above, in the South Atlantic, alone.

MIT researchers Themis Sapsis and Will Cousins working with the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office and the American Bureau of Shipping have combined high resolution scanning technology with advanced algorithms, to digitize and map the sea state in real time, to predict the possible formation of rogue waves. The method only gives 2-3 minutes warning, but that is enough. Research is ongoing. Lighthouse keepers, mariners and oil platform operators the world over, anxiously await the results.