May 28, 1919 From SS to Green Beret

So it is that the name of the elite warrior who had served under three flags, a man who once wore the uniform of the Nazi SS, is engraved on that stone in Arlington, along with those of the South Vietnamese warriors with whom he once served.

There is a surprise or two, hidden among the 400,000+ grave sites, at Arlington National Cemetery.  Did you know, for instance, that 4,000 former slaves went to their final rest there?  Arlington is the only cemetery in the world, to hold American servicemen from every war in US history.  Three graves contain the remains of enemy combatants, from WW2.  Among them all there may no greater curiosity, than the grave of a Green Beret, interred with the remains of three South Vietnamese soldiers.  Unless it’s to learn that that same guy, once wore the uniform of the Nazi SS.

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In May 1941, the geopolitical map of the Eurasian continent could be drawn in two colors, the spheres of influence of governments headed by two of the great monsters of the 20th century:  Josef  Stalin’s Soviet Union, and the Nazi Germany of Adolf Hitler.

The Republic of Finland, the 8th largest nation on the European landmass with a population equal to that of Minnesota, suffered military defeat during the “Winter War” of a year earlier, a 105-days long David vs. Goliath contest fought against the Soviet Union.

The two dictators were allies at this time according to the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, signed two years earlier.  That state of affairs ceased the following month, with ‘Operation Barbarossa’, Hitler’s surprise attack on his erstwhile ally.

Finland never signed the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and stated that it would fight the Soviets only insofar as to redress territorial losses suffered during the Winter War. Adolf Hitler saw the distinction as irrelevant and regarded the Nordic republic as an ally.  To Hitler, Finland would become just another part of the war on the Eastern Front.  To Finnish patriots, the uneasy alliance with Nazi Germany and the continued struggle with the Soviet Union, would be known as the “Continuation War’.

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Lauri Törni (center) stands among other soldiers near Lake Tolvajärvi in Russia, date unknown

Lauri Alan Törni was such a patriot, born this day in 1919 in Finland’s Viipuri Province. Törni fought the Soviet Union during the Winter War and the Continuation War, rising to the rank of Captain and earning the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s equivalent to the British Victoria Cross, or the American Medal of Honor. An elite and highly effective guerrilla fighter, Törni trained with the Nazi SS in Austria. Such a menace was this man to Stalin’s war effort, that the Soviets placed a bounty on his head of three million Finnish marks, equivalent to $650,000. There is no record of such a bounty on any other Finnish soldier.

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Törni in Waffen-SS uniform, 1941

The Continuation War came to an end in September 1944, but Törni still had scores to settle with the Communists.  He joined forces with a German unit fighting Soviet troops near Schwerin, Germany, and surrendered to British and American forces in the last stages of WW2.

Törni escaped the British POW camp and returned to Finland, only to be arrested on charges of treason for having joined the German army.  There would be a six-year prison sentence and one more escape, before the Presidential pardon in 1948.

Traveling under alias as a Swedish seaman, Törni jumped overboard in the Gulf of Mexico, swimming ashore near Mobile, Alabama and claiming political asylum. He was granted citizenship in 1953 by special act of congress, and adopted the more “Americanized” name of Larry Thorne, joining the United States Army the following year.

thorne1Thorne was soon headed to Special Forces, the elite warrior becoming an instructor of skiing, mountaineering, survival and guerrilla tactics.

Thorne attended airborne school and earned the silver wings of a Green Beret. He went through Officer Candidate School and received his commission as a 1st Lieutenant, rising to the rank of Captain in just three years.

Larry Thorne had a reputation for physical toughness, even amidst such an elite organization as the Green Berets. Now in his mid-forties, he could physically out-perform many men half his age.

images3UCTLQOHAs part of the 10th Special Forces Group, Thorne served in a search-and-rescue capacity in West Germany, earning a reputation for courage in operations to recover bodies and classified documents, following a plane in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

Captain Thorne was sent to Vietnam in 1963, assigned to operate Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) camps at Châu Lăng and later Tịnh Biên. Thorne earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor during one particularly ferocious attack on Tịnh Biên, an episode author Robin Moore wrote about in his best-selling paperback, The Green Berets.

On October 18, 1965, Larry Thorne was leading a covert mission against a Viet Cong stronghold in Laos when his helicopter crashed, killing all on board.  He was 46.  Captain Thorne was posthumously promoted to the rank of major and awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.  Let the citation tell his story:

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If the patrol were immediately confronted by a superior force, Major Thorne would land and extricate the patrol under fire. This was done with total disregard for the inherent dangers and with selfless concern for the ground forces. In so doing, he exposed himself to extreme personal danger which ultimately led to his disappearance and the loss of his aircraft. He had, however, guaranteed the safe introduction of the patrol into the area, the successful accomplishment of this mission and had positioned himself to react to any immediate calls for assistance from the patrol“.

The crash site of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force CH-34 helicopter was discovered in 1999.   Thorne’s remains were found, intermingled with those of Lieutenant Bao Tung Nguyen, First Lieutenant The Long Phan, and Sergeant Vam Lanh Bui.  Major Thorne was identified by dental records.

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Thorne’s family in Finland said let him be buried in America, because that was the choice that he made.  The four were buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, the way they had died. Together.

So it is that the name of the elite warrior who had served under three flags, a man who once wore the uniform of the Nazi SS, is engraved on that stone in Arlington, along with those of the South Vietnamese warriors with whom he once served.

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 27, 1940 The Miracle of Dunkirk

By day 9 of the evacuation, 338,226 soldiers had been rescued from the beach.  For those, the “Miracle of Dunkirk” ended on June 4.  For approximately 40,000 British and another 40,000 French soldiers left behind in the confusion, a special kind of hell had just begun. 

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation.

319154The island nation of Great Britain alone escaped occupation, but British armed forces were shattered and defenseless in the face of the German war machine.

In May 1940, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and what remained of French forces occupied a sliver of land along the English Channel. Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt called a halt of the German armored advance on May 24.  Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring urged Hitler to stop the ground assault, and let the Luftwaffe finish the destruction of the adversary. On the other side of the channel, Admiralty officials combed every boatyard for miles, for boats to ferry its people off of the beach.

dunkirk1Hitler ordered his Panzer groups to resume the advance on May 26, while a National Day of Prayer was declared at Westminster Abbey. That night Winston Churchill ordered “Operation Dynamo”. One of the most miraculous evacuations in military history had begun from the beaches of Dunkirk.

The battered remnants of the French 1st Army fought a desperate delaying action against the advancing Germans. They were 40,000 men against seven full divisions, 3 of them armored. They held out until May 31 when, having run out of food and ammunition, the last 35,000 finally surrendered. Meanwhile, a hastily assembled fleet of 933 vessels large and small began to withdraw the broken army from the beaches.

The Evacuation of DunkirkLarger ships were boarded from piers, while thousands waded into the surf and waited in shoulder deep water for smaller vessels. They came from everywhere: merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats and tugs. The smallest among them was the 14’7″ fishing boat “Tamzine”, now in the Imperial War Museum.

dunkirk2A thousand copies of navigational charts helped organize shipping in and out of Dunkirk, as buoys were laid around Goodwin Sands to prevent strandings. Abandoned vehicles were driven into the water at low tide, weighted down with sand bags and connected by wooden planks, forming makeshift jetties.

dunkirkevacuation7,669 were evacuated on the first full day of the evacuation, May 27, and none too soon.  The following day, members of the SS Totenkopf Division marched 100 captured members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment off to a pit, and machine gunned the lot of them.  A group of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment were captured that same day, herded into a barn and murdered with grenades.

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Troops wait in the rubble of Dunkirk, for rescue

By day 9 of the evacuation, 338,226 soldiers had been rescued from the beach.  For those, the “Miracle of Dunkirk” ended on June 4.  For approximately 40,000 British and another 40,000 French soldiers left behind in the confusion, a special kind of hell had just begun.

dunkirk troops, 1940Most light equipment and virtually all heavy equipment had to be left behind, just to get what remained of the allied armies out alive. But now, with the United States still the better part of a year away from entering the war, the allies had a military fighting force that would live to fight on.

Winston Churchill delivered a speech that night to the House of Commons, calling the events in France “a colossal military disaster”. “[T]he whole root and core and brain of the British Army”, he said, had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. In his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech of June 4, Churchill hailed the rescue as a “miracle of deliverance”.

On the home front, thousands of volunteers signed up for the “stay behind” mission, expected to follow. With German invasion all but imminent, their mission was to go underground and disrupt and destabilize the invaders, in any way they could. These were to be the British Resistance, a guerrilla force reportedly vetted by a senior Police Chief so secret that, the man was to be garroted in case of invasion, to prevent membership in the units from being revealed.  Many were issued suicide pills in case of capture yet, thanks to these men and women, Great Britain was the only nation of the WW2 era to have a fully operational resistance, BEFORE occupation.

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Participants in these auxiliaries were not allowed to tell their families what they were doing, or where they were.  They generally passed themselves off as Home Guard, a home defense organisation operated by the British Army.  Bob Millard, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 91, said they were given 3 weeks’ rations.  Even Josephine, Millard’s wife of 67 years, didn’t know a thing about the auxiliaries until their reunion, in 1994. “You just didn’t talk about it, really”, he said. “As far as my family were aware I was still in the Home Guard. It was all very hush hush. After the war, it was water under the bridge”.

Another under-recognized group from the period are the young men conscripted to serve in the coal mines of the United Kingdom.  One in ten conscripts of the time received not a uniform, but the hard hat and steel-toed boot of the coal miner.  Often maligned as “Conchies” (conscientious objectors) or worse, these were held in service for as long as two years after the war, condemned to live the life of the Troglodyte with no expectation of peacetime jobs being held for them, as for those who served in uniform.

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“Bevin Boys” of WW2

These “Bevin Boys”, so-called after Minister of Labor Ernest Bevin, would wait decades for recognition of their contribution to the war effort, full acceptance coming only as the result of a speech given by Queen Elizabeth II, fifty years after VE Day.

The word “Cenotaph” literally translates as “Empty Tomb”, in Greek. Every year since 1919 and always taking place on the Sunday closest to the 11th day of the 11th month, the Cenotaph at Whitehall is the site of a remembrance service, commemorating British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in the conflicts of the 20th century. Since WWII, the march on the Cenotaph includes an ever-decreasing number of Home Guard and the Bevin Boys, without whom the war effort would have ground to a halt.

In 2013, five short years ago, the last surviving auxiliers joined their colleagues, proudly marching past the Cenotaph for the very first time.  Historians from the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) had been trying to do this for years.

CART founder Tom Sykes said: “After over 70 years of silence, the veterans of the Auxiliary Units and Special Duties Section, now more than ever, deserve to get the official recognition that has for so long been lacking. ‘They were, in this country’s hour of need, willing to give up everything, families, friends and ultimately their lives in order to give us a fighting chance of surviving“.

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Memorial to wartime ‘Bevin Boys’ unveiled in Staffordshire

May 26, 2018 I Drive your Truck

They are so young and so few, who pick up the tab on behalf of the rest of us.

Jared-C.-Monti-2If you’ve raised a child, you are well acquainted with the triumphs and the terrors of giving those little tykes the sword with which they will conquer their world.

We all have those special dates we mark on the calendar. The birthdays. The anniversaries. For some among us, there are other dates. Moments in time, which very few of us are required to remember. Dates which not one of us wants to recall.

Most of us go about our business, knowing but at the same time forgetting, that we are a nation at war.  There are families among us, who must mark such a date every year. The date when that child was taken from us.

On June 21, 2006, Sergeant Jared Monti’s 16-man patrol was ambushed by a 50-member  force of insurgents, on a high mountain ridge in Afghanistan. Pfc. Brian Bradbury, 22, was mortally wounded early in the fight, and lay on open ground close to the enemy position.

Never a man to leave a fallen comrade behind, twice Sergeant Monti exposed himself to overwhelming fire from three sides, in the attempt to rescue Private Bradbury. A rocket-propelled grenade ended the third such attempt.  Jared Monti was 30.

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In 2011, Army Sergeant First Class Jared Christopher Monti was awarded the Medal of Honor for the action which took his life. The first Massachusetts soldier so honored, since the war in Vietnam.

The following year, singer songwriter Lee Brice released “I drive your truck”, a song that went to country music song of the year in 2014. The “I” in the title, though he didn’t know it at the time, is Paul Monti, Jared’s father and a retired science teacher at Stoughton High School, in Massachusetts.

It’s Jared’s truck.

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Several years ago, Paul was denied permission to place a flag on his son’s grave, at the National Cemetery in Bourne, here on Cape Cod. The authorities don’t like to be left cleaning things up.

Paul took it up the chain of command until he received permission. He could put the flag in, as long as he agreed to take it out a week later.

And that’s what he did. On every grave in the Bourne National Cemetery.

Today, ‘Operation Flags for Vets‘ is a semi-annual event, recurring on Memorial Day and again on Veteran’s day weekends.  Later this morning, upwards of two thousand volunteers can be expected to join with the Monti family to place flags on every one of over 70,000 graves in the Massachusetts National Cemetery.  A week later, they’ll be removed.

There is something that restores and recharges my soul, to be in the company of so many Patriots.

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Medal of Honor citation

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

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Jared Monti’s Medal of Honor presented to members of his family by the President of the United States, 2011

“Staff Sergeant Jared C. Monti distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a team leader with Headquarters and Headquarters troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in connection with combat operations against an enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on June 21st, 2006. While Staff Sergeant Monti was leading a mission aimed at gathering intelligence and directing fire against the enemy, his 16-man patrol was attacked by as many as 50 enemy fighters. On the verge of being overrun, Staff Sergeant Monti quickly directed his men to set up a defensive position behind a rock formation. He then called for indirect fire support, accurately targeting the rounds upon the enemy who had closed to within 50 meters of his position. While still directing fire, Staff Sergeant Monti personally engaged the enemy with his rifle and a grenade, successfully disrupting an attempt to flank his patrol. Staff Sergeant Monti then realized that one of his soldiers was lying wounding on the open ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol’s position. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Monti twice attempted to move from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of relentless enemy fire to rescue his fallen comrade. Determined not to leave his soldier, Staff Sergeant Monti made a third attempt to cross open terrain through intense enemy fire. On this final attempt, he was mortally wounded, sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his fellow soldier. Staff Sergeant Monti’s selfless acts of heroism inspired his patrol to fight off the larger enemy force. Staff Sergeant Monti’s immeasurable courage and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and the United States Army”.

May 25, 1738  That Other war between the States

The problem comes about when you realize that 40° north latitude is north of Philadelphia, well into territory controlled by the Maryland colony.

The Pennsylvania Charter of 1681 specifies the southern boundary of the colony to be “A circle drawne at twelve miles distance from New Castle Northward and Westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and then by a streight Line Westward“.

The problem comes about when you realize that 40° north latitude is north of Philadelphia, well into territory controlled by the Maryland colony.

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Maryland insisted on the boundary as drawn by the Charter, while Pennsylvania proposed a boundary near 39°36′, creating a disputed zone of some 28 miles.

In 1726, Quaker minister John Wright began a “ferry” service across the Susquehanna River. Starting as a pair of dugout canoes, “Pennsylvania Dutch” farmers were soon settling the Conejohela Valley on the eastern border between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

cresap2Business was good.  By 1730, Wright had applied for a ferry license. With Lord Baltimore fearing a loss of control in the area (read – taxes), Maryland resident Thomas Cresap established a second ferry service up the river. Maryland granted Cresap some 500 acres along the west bank, serenely unconcerned that much of the area was already inhabited by Pennsylvania farmers.

Cresap went to these farmers and began collecting “quit-rents”, (an early form of property tax) for the government in Maryland. Pennsylvania authorities responded by issuing “tickets” to settlers which, while not granting immediate title, amounted to an “IOU” of title under Pennsylvania jurisdiction.

When Cresap and his ferry worker were thrown overboard by two Pennsylvanian farmers, probably over a debt, Cresap took the matter to Pennsylvania authorities for justice. After the magistrate said that he couldn’t expect justice in his court because he was a “liver in Maryland”, Cresap filed charges with Maryland authorities, claiming that, as a Maryland resident, he was no longer bound by Pennsylvania law.

Cresap and his gang members began confiscating York and Lancaster county properties as early as 1734, handing them over to supporters. Maryland militia crossed colonial borders twice in 1736, and Pennsylvania militia were quick to respond.

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Thomas Cresap

When the Lancaster county Sheriff arrived with a posse to arrest Cresap at his home, Cresap fired through the door, striking and mortally wounding deputy Knowles Daunt. When Daunt died of his wounds, Pennsylvania Governor Patrick Gordon demanded that Maryland arrest Cresap for murder.

Samuel Ogle, Governor of Maryland, responded by naming Cresap a captain of the Maryland militia.

Cresap resumed and expanded his raids, destroying barns and shooting livestock. Sheriff Samuel Smith raised a posse to arrest him in November. When the Pennsylvanians set his cabin on fire, Cresap ran for the river. Grabbing him before he could launch a boat, Cresap shoved one of them overboard, shouting, “Cresap’s getting away!”, whereupon the other deputies proceeded to pound their colleague with oars until one of them discovered the ruse.

Cresap was taken to Lancaster, where he decked the blacksmith who had come to put him in shackles. He was finally subdued and hauled off to Philadelphia in chains, but even then the man was anything but broken. “Damn it”, he said, looking around, “this is one of the prettiest towns in Maryland!”

DSCN8422-1Maryland authorities petitioned George II, King of Great Britain and Ireland, imploring the King to restore order among his subjects. King George’s proclamation of August 18, 1737 instructed the governments of both colonies to cease hostilities. When that failed to stop the fighting, the Crown organized direct negotiations between the two. Peace was signed in London on May 25, 1738, the agreement providing for an exchange of prisoners and a provisional boundary to be drawn fifteen miles south of the southernmost home in Philadelphia, and mandating that neither Maryland nor Pennsylvania “permit or suffer any Tumults Riots or other Outragious Disorders to be committed on the Borders of their respective Provinces.”

So ended the “Conojocular War”, the bloody eight-year conflict between Philadelphia and surrounding area and sometimes referred to as “Cresap’s War”. The matter was settled once and for all, when Penns and Calverts, each descendants of their colonial founders,  hired surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to establish the modern boundary in 1767. Today, the area in conflict is part of York County, Pennsylvania.

And now you know where that line comes from.

Afterward: During the French & Indian Wars of the 1750s Thomas Cresap and a party of 100 pursued an Indian war band over the present-day Savage Mountain and onto the next. Along with the party marched a free black man, a frontiersman known only as “Nemesis”. A fierce fight ensued on May 28, 1756.  Nemesis, described only as “large and powerfully built”, fought bravely, but lost his life. He was buried on the site, where Cresap named the mountain in his honor. “Negro Mountain”, the long ridge of the Allegheny Mountains stretching from Deep Creek Lake in Maryland, north to the Casselman River in Pennsylvania, stands to this day as his monument. Feature image, top of page, the painting “Shades of Death” by artist Lee Teter, depicts Colonel Thomas Cresap comforting the mortally wounded, heroic frontiersman.

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May 24, 1935 Under the Lights

The first minor league game played under the lights drew 12,000 spectators, at a time when the host club was averaging only 600 per game. As the Great Depression dragged on, minor league owners were finding night games a key to staying in business. Even then, the Poobahs of Major League Baseball were slow to catch on.

The-lamplighterIn 18th century London, it was a bad idea to go out at night. Not without a lantern in one hand, and a club in the other.

The city introduced its first gas-lit street in 1807 on the Central London Pall Mall, between St. James’s Street & Trafalgar Square. Before long, hundreds of “Lamp Lighters” could be seen with their ladders, gas lights bathing the city in a soft, green glow.

The Westminster Review newspaper opined that gas lamps had done more to eliminate immorality and criminality on the streets, than any number of church sermons.

The United States followed nine years later, when the city of Baltimore lit up in 1816.

Thomas Edison patented the first carbon-thread incandescent lamp in 1879.  The first baseball game played “under the lights” took place the following year near Nantasket Beach, in the ‘south shore’ town of Hull, Massachusetts.

It was September 2, 1880 when two teams, sponsored by the RH White & Co. and Jordan Marsh department stores of Boston, played a full nine innings to a 16-all tie.  The era of the night game had arrived, and the lamp lighters of London, can be seen to this day.

Except, no, it didn’t work out that way.  The lamp lighter part is true enough.  Today, five gas engineers keep the Victorian era alive, winding and checking the mechanisms, polishing the glass and replacing the mantles of some 1,500 – 2,000 gas lamps.

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Modern-day “Lamp Lighter” H/T UK Guardian

Across the pond, organized baseball would take another fifty years to give the arc light another try.

Evidence exists of other 19th-century night games, but these were little more than novelties. Holyoke Massachusetts inventor George F. Cahill, creator of the pitching machine, devised a portable lighting system in 1909. With the blessing of Garry Herrmann, President of the Cincinnati Reds, Cahill staged an exhibition game on the night of June 19, between the Elk Lodges of Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky.

The crowd of 3,000  had little trouble following the ball and Cahill was an enthusiastic salesman for his invention, but the man was doomed to frustration and disappointment.  Night-time exhibition games were regularly met with great enthusiasm, yet Organized Baseball was slow to catch on.

The Class B New England league played a night exhibition game on June 24, 1927 before a crowd of 5,000, sponsored by the General Electric Employees’ Athletic Association. The Washington Senators were in town at that time to play the Boston Red Sox.  Delegations from both clubs were on-hand to watch Lynn defeat Salem in a seven-inning game, 7-2. Washington manager Bucky Harris and Boston manager Bill Carrigan, were impressed. Senator’s star outfielder Goose Goslin expressed a desire to play a night game. Claude Johnson, President of the New England League, predicted that all leagues would have night baseball within five years, including the majors.

Lighting_Baseball2When the Great Depression descended across the land, minor league clubs folded by the bushel. Small town owners were desperate to innovate. The first-ever night game in professional baseball was played on May 2, 1930, when Des Moines, Iowa hosted Wichita for a Western League game.

The game drew 12,000 spectators at a time when Des Moines was averaging just 600 per game.  Soon, minor league owners were finding night games a key to staying in business.

Even then, the Poobahs of Major League Baseball were slow to catch on.  Five years later, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the first-ever big league game played under the lights.

A crowd of 25,000 spectators waited on this day in 1935, as President Roosevelt symbolically turned on the lights from Washington DC.  The Reds played a night game that year against every National League opponent and, despite a losing record of 68-85, enjoyed an increase in paid attendance of 117%.

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The first night game in Major League Baseball was played on this day in 1935, when the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-1

Thoughought the ’30s and ’40s, teams upgraded facilities to include lights and, before long, most of Major League Baseball had night games on the schedule. Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs and the second-oldest MLB stadium after Fenway Park, was the last to begin hosting night games. To this day, the Cubbies remain the only major league team to host the majority of its games, during the day.

Wrigley’s first officially recorded night game ended in a 6-4 win over the New York Mets on August 8, 1988.

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 23, 1618 Thrown out of the Window

The first such defenestration took place back on July 30, 1419, when radical followers of the Protestant reformer Jan Hus were marching by the new town hall. Someone threw a rock out of the window at them, and they busted down the door.  The mob threw a judge, a Burgomaster and 13 members of the town council out of the window.

Défenestrer:  from dé- +‎ fenêtre +‎ -er.  The word is obsolete now, but in the old French, the root signified “window”.   “Defenestrate” then, combines with an object, meaning to throw a person or thing, out of  the window.

In 1840, a young politician found himself in a legislative minority, opposed to a payment to the Illinois State Bank.  In order to prevent a quorum,  a handful of Whigs attempted to leave the chamber.  Finding the door locked, our man stepped to a second-story window, and jumped out.  Abraham Lincoln would come to regret what he called his “window scrape”, but the future 16th President was far from the first politician to jump out of a window.  Voluntarily, or otherwise.

Jezebel, yeah that Jezebel, the unlovable Queen of Israel from the Bible, was executed by defenestration, in BC842.

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Defenestration of Jezebel by Gustave Dore

In 1617, the Kingdom of Bohemia included pretty much all of the modern-day Czech Republic, a principality in those days ruled by the Habsburg dynasty, and included in the Holy Roman Empire.

Ever since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, the religious persuasion of all subjects was guided by the principle of “Cuius Regio, Eius Religio“:   the ruling Prince got to choose the religious practices of his subjects.

The system worked fairly well, and Emperor Rudolf II further guaranteed religious liberty in his “Letter of Majesty”, of 1609. Then came King Matthias, aging and without issue, who elected Ferdinand of Styria his heir in 1617. Now everything changed. A strong proponent of the Catholic counter-reformation, Ferdinand was not well disposed to the religious liberties of the Protestant majority. Before long, Bohemian officials were closing Protestant chapels.

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On May 23, 1618, “Defensors” appointed under the Letter of Majesty to protect Protestant rights called an assembly in Prague, trying and convicting the Imperial Regents of violating their religious rights. These Regents were Vilem Slavata of Chlum, and Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice. Having been found guilty, they, along with their secretary Philip Fabricius, were thrown out of the windows of Prague Castle. Literally.

It was 70-ft. down, to the street.

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This event, the Defenestration of Prague, signaled the beginning of the 30 years’ war, but this wasn’t the first time that someone had been thrown out of a Prague window.

The first such defenestration took place back on July 30, 1419, when radical followers of the Protestant reformer Jan Hus were marching by the new town hall. Someone threw a rock out of the window at them, and they busted down the door.  The mob threw a judge, a Burgomaster (“Master of the Town”) and 13 members of the town council out of the window.

These guys weren’t as fortunate as the victims of the second defenestration, 200 years later.  These guys died in the fall or were dispatched by the mob, below.

What happened to the victims of the second defenestration? Surprisingly, none of the three were seriously injured. Supporters claimed they were caught and protected from injury by holy angels.  Detractors attributed their salvation to a pile of horseshit.  Be that as it may, Phillip Fabricius was made a Noble by the Emperor, and granted a title:  Baron von Hohenfall.   (“Baron of Highfall“).

I swear I wouldn’t make that up.

 

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 22, 1856 State’s Rights

The issue of slavery had joined and become so intertwined with ideas of self-determination, as to be indistinguishable.

Since the earliest days of the Republic, those supporting strong federal government found themselves opposed by those favoring greater self-determination by the states. In the southern regions, climate conditions led to dependence on agriculture, the rural economies of the south producing cotton, rice, sugar, indigo and tobacco. Colder states to the north tended to develop manufacturing economies, urban centers growing up in service to hubs of transportation and the production of manufactured goods.

domestic-tariffs-at-the-souths-expense (1)In the first half of the 19th century, 90% of federal government revenue came from tariffs on foreign manufactured goods. A lion’s share of this revenue was collected in the south, with the region’s greater dependence on imported goods.  Much of this federal largesse was spent in the north, with the construction of railroads, canals and other infrastructure.

The debate over economic issues and rights of self-determination, so-called ‘state’s rights’, grew and sharpened with the “nullification crisis” of 1832-33, when South Carolina declared such tariffs to be unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the state. A cartoon from the time depicted “Northern domestic manufacturers getting fat at the expense of impoverishing the South under protective tariffs.”

Chattel slavery pre-existed the earliest days of the colonial era, from Canada to Brazil and around the world. Moral objections to what was really a repugnant institution could be found throughout, but economic forces had as much to do with ending the practice, as any other. The “peculiar institution” died out first in the colder regions of the US and may have done so in warmer climes as well, but for Eli Whitney’s invention of a cotton engine (‘gin’) in 1794.

It takes ten man-hours to remove the seeds to produce a single pound of cotton. By comparison, a cotton gin can process about a thousand pounds a day, at comparatively little expense.

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The year of Whitney’s invention, the South exported 138,000 pounds a year to Europe and the northern states. Sixty years later, Great Britain alone was importing 600 million pounds a year from the southern states. Cotton was King, and with good reason.  The stuff is easily grown, highly transportable, and can be stored indefinitely, compared with food crops.  The southern economy turned overwhelmingly to the one crop, and its need for plentiful, cheap labor.

25The issue of slavery had joined and become so intertwined with ideas of self-determination, as to be indistinguishable.

The first half of the 19th century was one of westward expansion, generating frequent and sharp conflicts between pro and anti-slavery factions. The Missouri compromise of 1820 attempted to reconcile the sides, defining which territories would legalize slavery, and which would be “free”.

The short-lived “Wilmot Proviso” of 1846 sought to ban slavery in new territories, after which the Compromise of 1850 attempted to strike a balance.  The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 created two new territories, essentially repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing settlers to determine their own direction.

This attempt to democratize the issue had the effect of drawing up battle lines.  Pro-slavery forces established a territorial capital in Lecompton, while “antis” set up an alternative government in Topeka.

78451229_783584_lIn Washington, Republicans backed the anti-slavery side, while most Democrats supported their opponents.  On May 20, 1856, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner took to the floor of the Senate and denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  Never known for verbal restraint, Sumner attacked the measure’s sponsors Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois (he of the later Lincoln-Douglas debates), and Andrew Butler of South Carolina by name, accusing the pair of “consorting with the harlot, slavery”.  Douglas was in the audience at the time and quipped “this damn fool Sumner is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool”.

In the territories, the standoff had long since escalated to violence. Upwards of a hundred or more were killed between 1854 – 1861, in a period known as “Bleeding Kansas”.

The town of Lawrence was established by anti-slavery settlers in 1854, and soon became the focal point of pro-slavery violence. Emotions were at a boiling point when Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones was shot trying to arrest free-state settlers on April 23, 1856. Jones was driven out of town but he would return.

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Sack of Lawrence, Kansas

The day after Sumner’s speech, a posse of 800 pro-slavery forces converged on Lawrence Kansas, led by Sheriff Jones.  The town was surrounded to prevent escape and much of it burned to the ground.  This time there was only one fatality; a slavery proponent who was killed by falling masonry.  Seven years later, Confederate guerrilla Robert Clarke Quantrill carried out the second sack of Lawrence.  This time, most of the men and boys of the town were murdered where they stood, with little chance to defend themselves.

Meanwhile, Preston Brooks, Senator Butler’s nephew and a Member of Congress from South Carolina, had read over Sumner’s speech of the day before.  Brooks was an inflexible proponent of slavery and took mortal insult from Sumner’s words.

 

Preston Brooks (left), Charles Sumner, (right)

Brooks was furious and wanted to challenge the Senator to a duel. He discussed it with fellow South Carolina Representative Laurence Keitt, who explained that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing. Sumner was no gentleman, he said.  No better than a drunkard.

Brooks had been shot in a duel years before, and walked with a heavy cane. Resolved to publicly thrash the Senator from Massachusetts, the Congressman entered the Senate building on May 22, in the company of Congressman Keitt and Virginia Representative Henry A. Edmundson.

Caning of Charles SumnerThe trio approached Sumner, who was sitting at his desk writing letters. “Mr. Sumner”, Brooks said, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”

Sumner’s desk was bolted to the floor.  He never had a chance. The Senator began to rise when Brooks brought the cane down on his head. Over and over the cane crashed down, while Keitt brandished a pistol, warning onlookers to “let them be”. Blinded by his own blood, Sumner tore the desk from the floor in his struggle to escape, losing consciousness as he tried to crawl away. Brooks rained down blows the entire time, even after the body lay motionless, until finally, the cane broke apart.

states_rights_imgIn the next two days, a group of unarmed men will be hacked to pieces by anti-slavery radicals, on the banks of Pottawatomie Creek.

The 80-year-old nation forged inexorably onward, to a Civil War which would kill more Americans than every war from the American Revolution to the War on Terror, combined.

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May 21, 1944 That Other Disaster, at Pearl Harbor

Details of the West Loch disaster would remain classified until 1960, explaining why the incident is so little known, today.

Between June and November 1944, forces of the United States Marine Corps and Army conducted Operation Forager with support from the United States Navy, an offensive intended to dislodge Imperial Japanese forces from the Mariana Islands and the island nation of Palau.

Part of the island-hopping strategy employed during the last two years of WW2, Operation Forager followed the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign and had as its objective the neutralization of Japanese bases in the central Pacific, support for the Allied drive to retake the Philippines, and to provide bases for strategic bombing raids against the Japanese home islands.

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A NASA image of Pearl Harbor. The disaster occurred in West Loch which is to the left side of the photo, where the water is lighter in color.

In May 1944, the Pacific naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor was a rush of activity, building up for the planned invasion.  Seventy-four years ago today, twenty-nine Landing Ships, Tank (LSTs) were tied beam-to-beam on six piers, loading munitions, high octane gasoline and other equipment.

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LST in Sicily

LST-353 exploded shortly after three in the afternoon, causing an incendiary chain reaction down the line of LSTs. 200 men were blown into the water in the first few minutes, in explosions powerful enough to knock vehicles on their sides. Eleven buildings on the shore were destroyed altogether and another nine, damaged.

Firefighting efforts were slow to get underway, due to the heat and the inexperience of many of the crew. Some LSTs began to move away under their own power or with the assistance of tugs, others were abandoned and left adrift and burning, before sinking in the channel.

Burning gasoline spread across the water and ignited other ships, left unharmed by the initial explosions. Fires continued to burn for the next twenty-four hours.

Casualty figures are surprisingly inexact. Most sources report 163 personnel killed in the incident and another 396, wounded. Some sources put the number of dead as high as 392.  Eleven tugboats were damaged while engaged in fire control efforts.  Six LSTs were sunk, two already carrying smaller, fully loaded Landing Craft Tanks (LCT) lashed to their decks.  Several others were heavily damaged and/or run aground.

A press blackout was ordered immediately after the incident, and military personnel were ordered not to talk. A Naval Board of Inquiry was opened the following day. The disaster at West Loch was initially believed to be caused by Japanese submarines, but the idea was dismissed due to the shallow depth of the harbor, and the presence of anti-submarine nets.

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The wreckage of the LST 480 following the West Loch Disaster.

The precise cause of the accident remained elusive, as everyone near the initial explosion was killed. Army stevedores were unloading mortar ammunition at the time, using an elevator just fifteen feet from 80 drums of fuel. Some believe that a mortar round was accidentally dropped and exploded, others that fuel vapors were ignited by a cigarette or welder’s torch.

Subsequent salvage and removal efforts on the West Loch brought up the remains of a Japanese midget submarine, now believed to be the fifth such sub used in the attack of two years earlier.

Details of the West Loch disaster would remain classified until 1960, explaining why the incident is so little known, today.

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The last fatality from the disaster at West Loch occurred nine months later, during salvage operations for a sunken LST.

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Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg

On February 17, 1945, two divers were using jet nozzles to tunnel under a sunken LST, when the steel wreckage above them caved in. Buried alive with lifelines and air hoses hopelessly tangled with jagged pieces of steel, the pair was trapped under 40′ of water and another 20′ of mud.  There seemed no chance of survival, when fellow Navy diver Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg went into the water.

Working in the swirling mud and pitch blackness beneath the bottom of Pearl Harbor, the diver worked desperately to wash another tunnel under the sunken LST.  Hammerberg reached the first man after hours of exhausting labor, freeing his lines and enabling the man to reach the surface.

Let Owen Hammerberg’s Medal of Honor citation, the one he would not live to read, tell what happened next.

Cmoh_army“…Venturing still farther under the buried hulk, he held tenaciously to his purpose, reaching a place immediately above the other man just as another cave-in occurred and a heavy piece of steel pinned him crosswise over his shipmate in a position which protected the man beneath from further injury while placing the full brunt of terrific pressure on himself. Although he succumbed in agony 18 hours after he had gone to the aid of his fellow divers, Hammerberg, by his cool judgment, unfaltering professional skill and consistent disregard of all personal danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his 2 comrades…”.

Navy diver and Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg was the only service member in WW2 and the last person ever, to receive the Medal of Honor as the result of heroism performed outside of combat.

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May 20, 1942 White Feather Sniper

The elite sniper must be able to bear heat and insects and rain and a thousand other torments, all while hiding in plain sight from people who want more than life itself, to kill them.

The world of the elite sniper is different from anything most of us will ever experience. Able marksmanship (“one shot, one kill”) is only the beginning. The sniper must be expert at camouflage, field craft, infiltration, reconnaissance, ex-filtration and observation. He or she must be skilled in urban, desert and/or jungle warfare. They must be able to bear heat and insects and rain and a thousand other torments, all while hiding in plain sight from people who want more than life itself, to kill them.

carlos-hathcockCarlos Norman Hathcock, born this day in Little Rock in 1942, was a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant and sniper with a record of 93 confirmed and greater than 300 unconfirmed kills during the American war in Vietnam.

The Viet Cong and NVA called him “du kich Lông Trắng,” translating as “White Feather Sniper”, after the object he wore in his bush hat.

At another time and place, a white feather was bestowed as a symbol of cowardice, an often misplaced emblem of feminine patriotic zeal. Not with this guy.  Hathcock once took four days and three nights to cross 1,500 yards of open ground, stalking and killing a North Vietnamese General before withdrawing without detection. He was almost stepped on by NVA soldiers who were frantically searching for him, and nearly bitten by a deadly Bamboo Viper. It was the only time he ever removed that white feather from his bush hat.

Hathcock once took out an enemy soldier at a distance so great, the man couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. One shot, one kill.

9fa4afc0e7019de60f36f410659f4caaThe sniper’s choice of target could at times be intensely personal. One female Vietcong sniper, the platoon leader and interrogator called ‘Apache’ due to her interrogation techniques, would torture Marines and ARVN soldiers until they bled to death. Her signature was to cut the eyelids off her victims. After she skinned one Marine alive and left him emasculated within earshot of his base, Hatchcock spent weeks hunting this one sniper.

One day, Hathcock was tracking an NVA patrol, when he spotted the enemy sniper from the length of seven football fields. “We were in the midst of switching rifles,” he said. “We saw them. I saw a group coming, five of them. I saw her squat to pee, that’s how I knew it was her. They tried to get her to stop, but she didn’t stop. I stopped her. I put one extra in her for good measure.”

At a time when a typical NVA bounty for American snipers ranged from $8 to $2,000, the North Vietnamese set a  bounty of $30,000 on Hathcock’s head, so great was the damage he had done to their numbers. Whole platoons of counter snipers were sent to kill him. Marines in the area began to wear white feathers of their own, preferring to draw enemy fire on themselves rather than lose such a valuable asset.

The elite Vietcong sniper known as “The Cobra” had already taken the lives of several Marines, when he was sent specifically to kill Hathcock. The two elite snipers stalked each other for days when the Marine fired on a glint of light in the jungle, 300 yards distant. They found the enemy sniper dead, the round having traveled up the man’s scope and into his eye.

Such a shot is only possible if the two snipers were zeroed in on each other at the precise instant of the shot.  Let the man tell the story in his own words.

A through-the-scope shot is supposed to have taken place during the “War of the Rats” (“Rattenkrieg”) phase of the siege of Stalingrad, between Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev and the Wehrmacht sniper school director sent to kill him, Major Erwin König.  There is some controversy as to whether such a shot ever took place.

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Vasily Zaytsev, left, and soviet snipers equipped with Mosin-Nagant M1891/30 with PE scope in Stalingrad, December 1942.

A 2006 episode of Mythbusters “proved” that the shot is impossible, but I enthusiastically disagree.   Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman et.al. used a multiple-lensed scope for their test, while the Soviet made scope used by the Vietnamese sniper had only one or two internal lenses.

History.com and Marine Corps sniper Staff Seregeant Steve Reichert, USMC Retired, conducted a more realistic test at the at the T1G tactical training facility in Memphis, TN, with assistance from the appropriately-named mannequin, “Dead Fred”.  Reichert’s test (below) demonstrates that the “through the scope” shot not only Can happen under the right conditions, but that, in all probability,  it Did.

Carlos Hathcock developed Multiple Sclerosis in his later years, and passed away on February 23, 1999. He was decorated with the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. The honor he would perhaps have treasured most, was that of having a rifle named after him, a variant of the Springfield Armory M21 called the M25 “White Feather”.

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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”.

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