May 19, 1944 The Seven Dwarves of Auschwitz

Not even concentration camp guards could resist the irony of seven dwarves. They immediately awakened Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death”.

Shimson Eizik Ovitz was a Romanian rabbi, a WWI-era entertainer, and a man afflicted with pseudoachondroplasia. He was a dwarf. Ovitz fathered 10 children by two normal sized wives:  Brana Fruchter and Batia Bertha Husz. Three of those grew to normal height, the other seven were dwarves.

Batia gave the kids a piece of advice that stuck with them, all their lives: “through thick and thin” she said, “never separate. Stick together, guard each other, and live for one another”.

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The dwarves were talented musicians, performing a variety show throughout the ’30s and early ’40s as the “Lilliput Troupe”. They toured Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia with their normal height siblings serving as road crew, until being swept up by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz.

The train arrived around midnight on May 19th, 1944 and, accustomed to celebrity, one began to give out autographed cards. The family would soon be disabused of any notions of celebrity.

Not even concentration camp guards could resist the irony of seven dwarves. Dr. Josef Mengele was immediately awakened, knowing of his perverse fascination with the malformed, and what he called “blood” (family) experiments. The “Angel of Death”was delighted, “I now have work for 20 years”.

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The ten siblings were spared from the gas chamber that night, along with two more family members, a 15-month old boy and a 58-year old woman. Families of their handyman and a neighbor were also spared, insisting that they were close relatives. A total of 22 people.

The family was housed in horrific conditions, yet seven dwarves didn’t come along every day.  They were kept alive for further use and, as bad as it was, the food and clothing was better than that received by most camp inmates. Mengele even allowed them to keep their hair, and arranged special living quarters for them.

The bizarre and hideous “experiments” Mengele performed in the name of “science” were little more than torture rituals.  The three skeletons displayed of their dwarf predecessors, an ever-present reminder of what could be.  Boiling water was poured into their ears followed by freezing.  Eyelashes and teeth were pulled without anesthesia.  Blood was drawn until they would throw up and pass out, only to be revived to have more blood drawn.

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On one occasion, the Angel of Death told the family they were “going to a beautiful place”. Terrified, the siblings were given makeup, and told to dress themselves. Brought to a nearby theater and placed onstage, the family must have thought they’d be asked to perform. Instead, Mengele ordered them to undress, leaving all seven naked before a room full of SS men.  Mengele gave a speech, and then the audience was invited onstage to poke and prod the humiliated family.

One day of fresh horrors ended to reveal the next, and still they lived.  It was unusual for even two or three siblings to survive the Auschwitz death camp.  I don’t believe there was another instance where a family of twelve lived to tell the tale.

Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on January 27, 1945.

Traveling by foot to their Transylvanian home village of Rozavlea, the family found it ruined, though they did find a stash of gold coins where they had left it, buried for safekeeping before the war.

ba132f2b89040eef0fb0b59e29512bafThere was no future for them in this place.  Only 50 of the 650 Jewish inhabitants of the village ever returned. The family emigrated to Israel in May 1949, resuming their musical tour and performing until the group retired in 1955.

Josef Mengele never faced justice. He fled to South America after the war, and suffered a stroke while swimming in 1979.  The cause of death for one of the great monsters of history, was accidental drowning.

The youngest and last of the Ovitz dwarves, Piroska, “Perla” to her friends, passed away two days before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers. She spoke for the whole family, I think, when she said “I was saved by the grace of the devil”.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 18, 2011 No Ordinary Donkey

For the family who now owned him, the  neglected, half-starved pack animal out back suddenly became a “beloved pet”.  They couldn’t possible let him go for anything less than $30,000.  (But, of course).

Al Taqaddum Airbase, “TQ” in military parlance, is a military airbase, 45 miles west of Baghdad, on the Habbaniyah Plateau of Iraq. In 2008, Al Taqaddum was home to the 1st Marine Logistics Group, under the command of Colonel John D. Folsom.

wwfs-colonel-folsom-smallEarly one August morning, Colonel Folsom awoke to a new sound. The thwap-thwap-thwap of the helicopters, the endless hum of the generators, those were the sounds of everyday life. This sound was different – the sound of braying donkey.

Folsom emerged from his quarters to find the small, emaciated animal, tied to a eucalyptus tree.  Standing all of 3′ tall, a sergeant had spotted the donkey roaming outside Camp Taqaddum, and thought it would be amusing to catch him.  Folsom thought it might be fun to have one around. Time would tell they were both right.

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Smoke visits Sgt Lonnie Forrest

The website for a UK donkey sanctuary recommends a diet of highly fibrous plant material, eaten in small quantities throughout the day. I read the list twice and nowhere will you find bagels yet, for this little Iraqi donkey, there was nothing better.  Preferably frozen.  He’d hold them in his mouth and walk along, scraping the bagel in the dirt before eating it.  He liked to play the same game, with a deflated rubber ball.

You won’t find cigarettes on the list either, but he stole one once, and gobbled it down.  It didn’t seem to matter that the thing was lit.  For that reason and because of the color of his coat, the Marines called him “Smoke”.

Smoke-the-donkey-MattShelatoBefore long,  Smoke was a familiar sight around Camp Taqaddum.  After long walks around the wire, Smoke learned to open doors and wander around.  If you ever left that candy dish out on your desk, you were on your own.

SmokeRegulations prohibit the keeping of pets in a war zone.  A Navy Captain helped get Smoke designated as a therapy animal, and he was home to stay.  As it turned out, there was more than a little truth to the label.  For young women and men thousands of miles from home in a war zone, the little animal was a welcome reminder of home.

The humor of the situation was hard to resist, and the “ass jokes” all but told themselves.  (Sorry, but we’re talking about Marines, here).  Dozens of Marines laughed uproariously in that mess hall in 2009, belting out a mangled version of an old Kenny Rogers song: “Yes, he’s once, twice, three times a donkey…. I loooooovvvvvveeeeee youuuuuuuuu.”

That was the year when Folsom’s unit cycled out of Camp Taqaddum, to be replaced by another contingent of Marines.  These promised to look after the 1st MLG’s mascot, but things didn’t work out that way.  A Major gave the donkey away to a Sheikh who in turn dumped him off on an Iraqi family, and that was the end.  Except, it wasn’t.

Smoke-Home-LowerColonel Folsom couldn’t get the little animal out of his head and, learning of his plight in 2010, determined to get him back.  There were plenty of kids who had survived trauma of all kinds in his home state of Nebraska.  Folsom believed that the animal could do them some good, as well.

There ensued a months-long wrangle with American and Iraqi authorities, who couldn’t understand why all the fuss over a donkey.  For the family who now owned him, the  neglected, half-starved pack animal out back suddenly became a “beloved pet”.  They couldn’t possible let him go for anything less than $30,000.  (But, of course).

900 donors pitched in and, despite seemingly endless obstacles and miles of red tape, Smoke the Donkey slowly made his way from al-Anbar to Kuwait and on to Turkey and finally, to his new home in Nebraska.

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Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, at his new home in Omaha

ABCNews.com broadcast this announcement on May 18, 2011. Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, “mascot, ambassador, and battle buddy”, was now, an American.  Semper Fi.

May 15, 1718 Rapid Fire

The lightly armed merchant vessel of the 18th century was ill equipped to oppose the swarming attack of a hundred or more pirates.  Enter history’s first, machine gun.

A story comes to us from the Revolution, of a battle near Boonesborough, Kentucky. A British officer dared to poke his head out from behind a tree. A split-second later he was dead, a lead ball in his head. It was a near-miraculous shot for the day, nearly 250-yards distant from the shooter. The man with the rifle was Daniel Boone.  The weapon was his famous Kentucky long rife.

It was a good thing that the man could shoot that weapon, because it took about a minute to load, aim and fire.  The smooth-bore weapons of the age were a little quicker. A skilled shooter could could get off 3 rounds per minute, but aimed fire was all but impossible at any kind of distance.

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Kentucky Long Rifle

Military tactics on land evolved toward massed firepower.  When large groups of men fired at one another, something was going to get hit.  Defending yourself at sea, was another matter.

Long before the revolt in Great Britain’s American colony, European navies abandoned oar-powered vessels in favor of sailing ships carrying tons of powerful cannon.  Not so the corsairs of the North African coast.

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Ottoman privateer Murat Reis, the Elder

 

The “Barbary pirates” of the Ottoman provinces of Algeria, Tunisia & Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco favored small, fast galleys, powered by combinations of sail and oar and carrying a hundred or more fighting men armed with flintlock, axe and cutlass.

Barbary navies never formed battle fleets, and would flee at the sight of European frigates.  These people were looking for lightly armed merchantmen.  They came to take hostages for the Arab slave markets.

The Arab slave trade was never racialized in the way of trans-Atlantic, chattel slavery.  Black Africans and white Europeans alike, were fair game.  Some historians assert that as many as 17 million entered the Arab slave markets, from Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Southeast Africa and Europe.

It was the enslaved mercenary armies of the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt and Syria, the Mamālīk (singular Mamlūk), who expelled the last Christian armies from the Levant in 1302, ending the era of the Crusades. For five-hundred years, elite slave armies called “Janissaries” formed the bulwark of Ottoman power from southeastern Europe to western Asia and north Africa.

Ohio State University history Professor Robert Davis estimates that Barbary corsairs captured as many as 1 – 1¼ million Europeans between the 16th and 19th centuries alone, kidnapped from seaside villages along the Mediterranean coast, England, and as far away as the Netherlands, Ireland and Iceland. Some 700 Americans were held in conditions of slavery in North Africa, between the period of the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

The lightly armed merchant vessel of the 18th century was ill equipped to oppose the swarming attack of a hundred or more pirates.  Enter history’s first machine gun.

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The “Puckle Gun”, patented this day in 1718

James Puckle (1667–1724) was a British inventor, barrister and author. The Puckle Gun, also called the “defence gun”, was a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock fitted with a revolving cylinder.  At a time when a trained shooter could load and fire no more than three times per minute, James Puckle’s weapon was capable of  nine.

The Puckle gun was intended for naval use, to prevent the boarding of ships at sea.  There were two variations, the first intended for use against Christian adversaries.  This one fired round balls. The second version was considered to be the more lethal of the two and fired square bullets, intended for use against Muslim Turks. According to the patent, square bullets would persuade the Turks of the “benefits of Christian civilization”. The weapon could also fire shot, with each discharge containing up to sixteen musket balls.

Among investors, there was little interest in the Puckle Gun, and the weapon never gained wide acceptance. Before the era of mass production,  gunsmiths had trouble reliably producing its small, complicated parts. One newspaper quipped that the gun “only wounded those who hold shares therein”.

In time, humankind would become much more adept at killing itself. Dr. Richard Gatling invented his multi-barrel, crank fired “Gatling Gun” in 1861, writing that his creation would reduce the size of armies and so reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease. With a rate of fire of up to 900 rounds per minute in the .30 caliber model, Gatling’s gun was popular from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 to the Anglo-Zulu war of two years later, and the “Rough Riders” assault up San Juan Hill.

American-British inventor Hiram Maxim invented the first true “machine gun” in 1884, by harnessing  the weapon’s recoil.  The Hiram gun was a favorite of colonial wars from 1886–1914, and variants entered the trenches of WW1.

It would take about a hot minute with the search engine of your choice, to realize that the practice of Muslim slavery, primarily (though not exclusively) at the expense of black Africans, continues to this day.

May 14, 1856 Red Ghost

The stories became more fantastic and more terrifying with each telling.  One man claimed that he personally saw the beast kill and eat a grizzly. Another claimed that he had chased the “Red Ghost”, only to have it vanish before his eyes.

Long before he became President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis was a young Army Officer.  At one time, Davis was approached with the idea of using camels as pack animals. To Davis, the idea made sense.  The beast’s ability to survive in the desert, its massive strength and great stamina, made him wonder if this wasn’t the weapon of the future.

Twenty years later, then-US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis ordered the creation of the 1st United States Camel Corps. Major Henry Wayne was sent to Turkey to acquire 62 of the animals, along with trainers who could teach American soldiers how to properly handle and care for them.

Camel_from_Harpers_WeeklyThe camels arrived on May 14, 1856, and set out for the newly established Camp Verde in West Texas, with elements of the US Cavalry and seven handlers.

Major Wayne became an enthusiastic salesman for the camel program, putting on demonstrations for cavalry groups. He would order what seemed an impossible load to be placed on a kneeling camel, and then step back and frown, “concerned” that he might have overdone it. Mule drivers would smile and jab each other with their elbows – now he’s done it – then he would step forward and pile on more weight. On command, the camel would stand up and stroll away, completely unconcerned.

One of the handlers, a Syrian named Hadji Ali, (“Hi Jolly” to the soldiers), established a successful breeding program while stationed at Camp Verde.  The program was not without problems. Camels don’t play well with other pack animals, and they don’t accept the whips and prods used to handle horses and mules. They tend to retaliate. A camel will spit or rake your face with its teeth if given the chance, and they can turn and charge in a manner that’s terrifying.

Camp Verde had about 60 camels when Civil War broke out in 1861. The King of Siam seems to have been the only one who grasped the military advantage to the Confederacy.  Seeing a business opportunity, the King wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, saying “here, we use elephants”. It seems that Lincoln never responded to the King’s overture, and the animal arms race got no further than this single letter. It makes the imagination run wild, though, at the idea of War Elephants at Gettysburg.

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The only known surviving photo of the U.S. Camel Corps shows a camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, CA. Library of Congress photo

Some of Camp Verde’s camels were sold off.  One poor brute was pushed over a cliff by frustrated cavalrymen. Most were simply turned loose to fend for themselves. The fates of these animals are mostly unknown, except for one who made his way to Mississippi in 1863, where he was taken into service with the 43rd Infantry Regiment. “Douglas the Confederate Camel” was a common sight throughout the siege of Vicksburg, until being shot and killed by a Union sharpshooter. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bevier of the 5th Regiment, Missouri Confederate Infantry was furious, enlisting six of his best snipers to rain down hell on Douglas’ killer. Bevier later said of the Federal soldier “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.”

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Marker for “Douglas The Confederate Camel”. Cedar Hill Cemetery, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The Apache wars were drawing to a close in 1883, but southeastern Arizona could still be a dangerous place. Renegade bands of Apache were on the move, and isolated ranches were in a constant state of siege.

Two men rode out to check on their livestock one day, leaving their wives at the ranch with the kids. One of the women went down to the spring for a bucket of water while the other remained in the house with the children. Suddenly there was a terrifying scream, and the dogs began to bark. The woman inside saw what she described as a huge, reddish beast, being ridden by a devil.

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She barricaded herself inside the house and hysterically prayed while she waited for the men to return. They returned that night and found the body of the other woman by the stream. She’d been trampled almost flat, with huge, cloven hoof prints in the mud around her body and a few red hairs in the brush.

Gold prospectors awakened in the night a few days later, as their tent crashed down around them to the sound of thundering hoofs. They clawed their way out of the mess and saw a huge beast, much larger than a horse, run off into the moonlight. The next day, they too found red hairs in the brush.

The stories became more fantastic and more terrifying with each telling.  One man claimed that he personally saw the beast kill and eat a grizzly. Another claimed that he had chased the “Red Ghost”, only to have it vanish before his eyes.

camelmulesA few months later, a Salt River rancher named Cyrus Hamblin spotted the animal while rounding up cows. It was a camel, and Hamblin saw that it had something that looked like the skeleton of a man tied to its back. Nobody believed his story, but a group of prospectors fired on the animal several weeks later. Though their shots missed, they saw the animal bolt and run, and a human skull with some parts of flesh and hair still attached fell to the ground.

There were further incidents over the next year, mostly at prospector camps. A cowboy near Phoenix came upon the Red Ghost while eating grass in a corral. Cowboys seem to think they can rope anything with hair on it, and this guy was no exception. He lashed the rope onto the pommel of his saddle, and tossed it over the camel’s head. The angry beast turned and charged, knocking horse and rider to the ground. As the camel galloped off, the astonished cowboy could clearly see the skeletal remains of a man lashed to its back.

The beast last appeared nine years later in the garden of a rancher. He aimed his Winchester and fired, dropping the animal with one shot. On the back of the poor, tormented beast was the body of a man, tied down with heavy rawhide straps that cruelly scarred the animal’s flesh. The story of the Red Ghost ends here. How the body of a man came to be tied to its back remains a cruel mystery.

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The tomb of Hadji Ali in Quartzite, Arizona. The inscription reads: THE LAST CAMP OF HI JOLLY BORN SOMEWHERE IN SYRIA ABOUT 1828 DIED AT QUARTZITE DECEMBER 16, 1902 CAME TO THIS COUNTRY FEBRUARY 10, 1856 CAMELDRIVER – PACKER SCOUT – OVER THIRTY YEARS A FAITHFUL AID TO THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ARIZONA HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT 1935
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

May 11, 1969 Now for something Completely Different

The “Iron Lady”, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself, appears to have been a fan, doing a more than passable version of the Dead Parrot sketch at a Conservative Party Conference in 1990.

Graham Chapman was trained and educated to be a physician, but that career trajectory was never meant to be.  John Cleese was writing for TV personality David Frost and actor/comedian Marty Feldman in 1969, when he recruited Chapman as a writing partner and “sounding board”. BBC offered the pair a show of their own in 1969, when Cleese reached out to former How To Irritate People writing partner Michael Palin, to join the team. Palin invited his own writing partner Terry Jones and colleague Eric Idle over from rival ITV, who in turn wanted American-born Terry Gilliam for his animations.

The British comedy troupe which formed on this day forty-nine years ago was amused at the idea of a haughty Lord Montgomery, patterned after Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC, DL, etc., etc., etc. “Python” seemed just slippery enough to make the whole thing work.

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The Pythons considered several names for the new program, including “Owl Stretching Time”, “The Toad Elevating Moment”, “Vaseline Review” and “A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket”. “Flying Circus” had come up as well. The name stuck when BBC revealed that it had already printed flyers, and weren’t about to go back to the printer.

The show was a collaborative process, beginning with the first broadcast on October 5, 1969. With no writers of their own, the six would divide into groups and write their own material. Whether any given sketch would make it into the program, was always a democratic process.

Different Python factions were responsible for different elements of the team’s humor. The work of the Oxford educated Terry Jones and Michael Palin was more visual, and a little more off the wall. The Spanish Inquisition bursting into the suburban apartment is a prime example, while the Cambridge educated John Cleese and Graham Chapman were more confrontational – “This is abuse. I came here for an argument”.  Cleese described Eric Idle’s work:  “anything that got utterly involved with words and disappeared up any personal orifice was Eric’s”.  The Man who Spoke in Anagrams.  Terry Gilliam was the guy behind the animation.

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The Flying Circus broke new ground with techniques like the “cold open”. With no titles, credits, or opening theme, Michael Palin would crawl across the tundra a la Robinson Crusoe, looking into the camera and saying “It’s“… And off they went. The cold open sometimes lasted until the middle of the show. Occasionally, the Pythons fooled viewers by rolling closing credits halfway through, usually continuing the gag by fading to the BBC logo while Cleese parodied the tones of a BBC announcer. On one occasion, closing credits ran directly after the opening titles.

I personally learned to never leave a Python film during closing credits, finding my reward for sticking around at the end of the Life of Brian was to learn who wiped the moose’s noses. As I recall, it was John J. Llama.

The “Iron Lady”, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself, appears to have been a fan, doing a more than passable version of the Dead Parrot sketch at a Conservative Party Conference in 1990.

The Pythons shared a dislike for “capping” bits with punchlines, and experimented with ending sketches by cutting abruptly to another scene, or breaking the rules altogether by addressing the camera directly. The knight in armor, played by Terry Gilliam, would wander onto the set and whack people over the head with a rubber chicken. Chapman’s “Colonel” character would walk into sketches and order them stopped because things were becoming “far too silly.”

Gilliam’s animations were a favorite technique, when a 16 ton weight would drop from the sky, or else it was Cupid’s foot – yes, that’s Cupid’s foot – cut from a reproduction of the Renaissance masterpiece “Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time” by Il Bronzino.

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John Cleese left the Flying Circus at the end of the third season. He had considered doing so at the end of the second, feeling that he had little original material to offer the show. He found Chapman difficult to work with, who was at this time a full tilt alcoholic. Cleese could be difficult himself. Eric Idle once said of John Cleese. “He’s so funny because he never wanted to be liked. That gives him a certain fascinating, arrogant freedom”.

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The group reunited in 1974 to do the Holy Grail, filmed on location in Scotland on a budget of £229,000. The money was raised in part by investments from musical figures like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin backer Tony Stratton-Smith.

Investors in the film wanted to cut the famous Black Knight scene, (“None shall pass”), but were eventually persuaded to keep it in the film. Good thing, the scene became second only to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and the Killer Rabbit. “What’s he going to do, nibble my bum?”

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Graham Chapman is best remembered as King Arthur in the Holy Grail, and Brian Cohen in the Life of Brian.  Chapman died of spinal and throat cancer on the 20th anniversary of their first broadcast. John Cleese delivered a uniquely Pythonesque eulogy, which sounded a lot like the Dead Parrot sketch. “”Graham Chapman, co-author of the Parrot sketch, is no more,” he began. “He has ceased to be, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the Great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky…

I don’t believe he’d have had it any other way. Silly bunt.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

May 10, 1940 Children of the Situation

It is often said that, when governments make war, it’s the everyday John and the Nigel, the Fritz and the Pierre down the street, who must do the fighting, the bleeding and the dying.  It might well be added, that it is left to the mice, to pick up the pieces.

Little is written in times of war, about the Innocents. The proverbial mice trying to go about their business, amidst the combat of elephants. What then is to be made of the innocent who exists, only as the result of that war?

Throughout history and across cultures, having a child by a member of a hostile force is looked upon as a grave betrayal of social values.  Often, such parents (usually women) are shunned by neighbors and even family.  “War children” are ostracized and bullied, or worse.

0816794dc6f218e5e56c1b3a489b439f--rare-photos-old-photosFollowing liberation, French women were beaten and humiliated in the streets, their heads shaved, for being “collaborators” with their German occupiers.

On the Eastern Front of WW2, combat between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had long taken on shades of a race war, Slav against Teuton, in a paroxysm of mutual extermination that is horrifying, even by the hellish standards of that war.  Soviet soldiers committed prodigious numbers of rapes on German and Austrian women, and even Soviet women released from work camps.  Historian Geoffrey Roberts writes that 70,000–100,000 such rapes took place in Vienna, alone.

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Post-WW2 Occupation Zones

Propaganda banners and posters appeared all over the Soviet-occupation zone and later East Germany, proclaiming the heroism of those who had smashed the Nazi war machine and paved the way to Soviet-German friendship.  The plight of tens of thousands of the mostly fatherless “Russian children”,  was taboo.

s-l640Sixty-five years later, Jan Gregor of the East German state of Brandenburg, can still remember the day his mother told him that she’d been “made pregnant by force”.  He was five, at the time.

An estimated 100,000 “Amerasian” children were born to Asian mothers and US servicemen during WWII, the Korean War, and war in Vietnam.

37,000 or more children were fathered by American soldiers and German & Austrian women in the 10 years following the German surrender.  Food and sex became principle units of  currency in a growing black market.  Cigarettes were widely referred to as “frau bait.”

Locals disapproved of such relations, not only because Americans had recently been their enemies, but also because such children often became “wards of the state” in local economies severely impoverished by war.

The situation for children fathered by black GIs called Negermischlinge (“Negro half-breeds”) was particularly difficult, in what was then a nearly-racially homogeneous society.  Even in cases where the father wanted to marry the mother of his child, Army policy prohibited interracial marriages, until 1948.  Some were eventually adopted by African-American couples and families in the United States.  The plight of black German-speaking children trying to get by in post-war America, is a tale that is yet to be told.

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Lebensborn Birth House

Military forces of Nazi Germany invaded the Scandinavian Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway on April 9, 1940.  Denmark fell in a day and Norwegian armed resistance ceased within two months, when civil rule passed to the Reichskommissariat Norwegen (Reich Commissariat of Norway).

The neutral Scandinavian countries remained under Wehrmacht occupation, for the following five years.

Sometimes, relationships formed between German occupying forces and native women.  The racially obsessed Nazi regime was happy to encourage such relations, particularly in Norway, where local women were considered to be of pure, “Aryan” stock.

“Lebensborn”, the SS-initiated, state-supported association whose goal it was to raise the birth rate of the “Master Race” began on December 12, 1935.  The first such Birth House outside of German soil opened in Norway, within a year of the invasion.

Some such relationships were consensual.  Many were anything but.  Some 10,000 to 12,000 children were born of Norwegian women and German fathers, the most famous being Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad of ABBA, who was forced to flee Norway after the war for fear of reprisals.

For nearly a thousand years, the administration of Iceland was all but indistinguishable from that of Denmark and Norway.  An Act of Union established Iceland as a fully sovereign state in 1918, an independent country in a Personal Union through a common monarch, with the Kingdom of Denmark.

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Alarmed at the possibility of a German military presence in Iceland, British authorities invited the neutral nation to join the war as “as a belligerent and an ally,” following the collapse of Denmark. The invitation was rejected, and the UK invaded Iceland on May 10, an initial force of 746 British Royal Marines disembarking at the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík.

The British invasion of Iceland never resembled the “shooting war” in Europe.  The government complained that its neutrality had been “flagrantly violated” and demanded compensation, but principle opposition took the form of hordes of civilians, crowding in to see what was going on.  Many locals learned they had been invaded, only on seeing a single British aircraft – at that time the only airplane in Iceland.

Wife's grandfatherIcelandic public opinion was sharply divided at the invasion and subsequent occupation.  Some described this as the “blessað stríðið”, the “Lovely War”, and celebrated the building of roads, hospitals, harbors, airfields and bridges as a boon to the local economy.  Many resented the occupation, which in some years equaled 50% of the native male population.

Sexual relationships between foreign troops and local women were severely frowned upon, such women often subjected to what might indelicately be described as “slut-shaming”.  In 1941, the Icelandic Minister of the Judiciary investigated “The Situation”.  Upset that foreign troops were “taking away” women from friends and family. Police investigated over 500 women for sexual relations with soldiers.  Most were determined to be consensual.  Two facilities opened to house such women in 1942, but closed within a year.

Two-hundred fifty-five ástandsbörn (“Children of the Situation”) were born of such relationships.  332 Icelandic women married foreign soldiers.

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WWII landing craft – Mjóifjorður, Iceland

It is often said that, when governments make war, it’s the everyday John and the Nigel, the Fritz and the Pierre down the street, who must do the fighting, the bleeding and the dying.  It might well be added, that it is left to the mice, to pick up the pieces.

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May 1, B.C.62 Ladies Night

Scandal broke out on this day in 62BC, when the aforementioned meathead, the politician Publius Clodius Pulcher, dressed as a woman and sneaked into the festival for the Bona Dea, bent on seducing Caesar’s wife, Pompeia.

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To this day, we know her only as Feminea Dea (“The Women’s Goddess”)

The etymology website etymonline.com defines “pulchritude” as (n.) – “beauty,” c. 1400, from Latin pulchritudo “beauty, excellence, attractiveness”.

The word has fallen out of everyday usage, and the website indicates origin unknown.  Possibly, the term comes down to us from an individual, who may have been the greatest maniac if not the dumbest man, in Roman antiquity.  Either that, or a man so bull-headedly determined to get what he wanted, that he deserves to be remembered as one of the great Meatheads, of history.

In ancient Rome, women partook of a festival, strictly forbidden to Roman men.  So stringent was this line of demarcation that only women were permitted even to know the name of the deity, to whom the festival was dedicated.  For everyone else she was simply the “Good Goddess”. The Bona Dea.

The first of two annual festivals of the Bona Dea was held during the winter, at the Aventine Temple. The second rite took place every May, hosted by the wife of the current Pontifex Maximus and attended by an elite group of Roman matrons, female attendants and vestal virgins.

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Publius Clodius Pulcher

Eighteen years before the end of the Republic, the Pontifex Maximus was Julius Caesar. Scandal broke out on this day in 62BC, when the aforementioned meathead, the politician Publius Clodius Pulcher, dressed as a woman and sneaked into the festival for the Bona Dea, bent on seducing Caesar’s wife, Pompeia.

I’m not even sure how that was supposed to work but, of all the women in Rome, this guy set his sights on the wife of Julius Caesar.

Apparently, ol’ Pulcher was insufficiently pulchritudinous. He was found out and thrown out.  Thus vitiated, the rites of the Bona Dea were rendered null and void, necessitating repetition by the Vestals.  Meanwhile, the desecration of such rites carried a sentence of death.  The legal wrangling went on for two years.

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Pompeia, Granddaughter of Sulla, 2nd Wife of Caesar

In the end, Clodius was acquitted, a fact which Cicero put down to fixed juries and back-room dealings.  Pulcher’s populist politics would one day transform Clodius into “One of the most innovative urban politicians in Western history”.  His transvestite dalliance with the Bona Dea provided arch-rival Cicero with verbal ammunition, for years.

The verdict of the ages was quite unfair to Pompeia.  Nothing more substantial than gossip and rumor ever implicated her in the Bona Dea scandal.

Her husband, one of the most ambitious politicians of the era, divorced her anyway, claiming that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”.

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