Month: December 2014

Kristallnacht, the Untold Story

Warsaw - 1938

The last post of 2014 brings another excerpt from Stacy Danielle Stephens’ amazing historical novel, we get yet another glimpse into WWII.  This time, we stare the horror of the Holocaust in the face by going into the details that not everyone is aware of regarding its early days.  Can you tell we love these little slices of history? (you can read some of the earlier ones here, here, here and here – highly recommended!).

On March 31st, 1938, the Polish Senate passed The Expatriates Act, a law which had already passed the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament. The intent of this law was to prevent those European Jews who were nominally Polish citizens from entering Poland.

* * *

On October 15th, 1938, the Polish Government announced that effective October 31st, 1938, all persons holding Polish passports and wishing to return to Poland must first obtain a special stamp at the Polish Consulate in their country of residence. It went without saying that Jews would not be given the stamp.

* * *

Jews Boarding Trains for Deportation

At eight o’clock on the evening of October 27th, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan’s parents, brother, and sister were taken into police custody in Hanover. They were among approximately 17,000 Polish Jews residing in Germany who would be taken in cattle cars to the Polish border, then driven like cattle across the border, arriving in Sbenszyn on October 29th, 1938. Because they had valid Polish passports, the Polish government could not refuse them entry; however, they were housed in the stables of a military installation.

On the morning of Sunday, October 30th, the Red Cross brought food to the camp in Sbenszyn. The detainees there hadn’t eaten since their arrest on Thursday.

On Thursday, November 3rd, Hirschel, now living in Paris, received a letter from his father, telling him what had happened to his family, and urging him to go to America, if he could, and to attempt to help them from there.

Herschel had hoped to study in Paris, once his immigration status had been rectified. Although he could not legally remain in Paris, French authorities were unable to deport him. His German visa had expired, and because he was Jewish, neither Germany nor Poland would issue him a new visa. There was no possibility of his emigrating to America.

On Monday, November 7th, he purchased a revolver and a box of ammunition, then went to the German Embassy.

“I am a German citizen,” he told the receptionist, “and wish to speak with the ambassador.”

“On what business?” she asked. He did not answer. “Do you have your passport with you?” Again, he did not answer. She pressed an electric signal to summon assistance from the Embassy staff. Legation Secretary Ernst vom Rath responded. When he entered the reception area, Herschel rapidly fired six shots. Three slugs went wide, embedding themselves in the wall. One struck Rath’s foot and another his shoulder, and one struck his spleen[1].

* * *

On November 8th, 1938, the Völkischer Beobachter’s front page banner headline screamed HEINOUS JEWISH ATTEMPTED MURDER while a smaller front page headline spoke of a CRIME AGAINST THE PEACE OF EUROPE. Neither of these articles concerned the ruthless deportations which had recently occurred, but were about the Embassy shooting in Paris, as were six more articles on the inner pages. Other newspapers in Germany were clamoring for justice, punishment, and consequences. To heighten the drama, Hitler sent his personal physician, Karl Brandt, to Paris to monitor vom Rath’s condition, and quietly promoted the Legation Secretary to Counselor. Newspapers were instructed to use the new rank when referencing vom Rath, and to say nothing about the promotion. In Munich, party Gauleiters were gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, and not wanting to be outdone, each of them phoned his local with instructions that plans be made at once for spontaneous demonstrations against the Jews.

Funeral of Ernst vom Rath

On November 9th, Counselor Ernst vom Rath died[2].

By the morning of November 10th, with few exceptions, every synagogue and Jewish-owned business in Germany had been vandalized or burned. By that evening, 30,000 Jewish men had been arrested[3].

[1] Although the crime took place in the German Embassy, Grynszpan was arrested by Paris police and remained in French custody until July 18th, 1940, when he was extradited to Germany under the terms of the armistice. He never went to trial, and the last person known to have seen him alive, in 1943, was Adolf Eichmann.

[2] He would be given a state funeral on November 17th, with Hitler present.

[3] They would spend two to three months in concentration camps, then be released, only to be arrested again within three years.

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An Antidote to Saccharine Holiday Greetings

So, we were going to do the obligatory pre-holiday post, but Baron Hieronymous insisted that, by virtue of being our oldest staff member by quite a few centuries, he should be allowed to do the holiday post.  We were dead set against it until he ate one of our interns.  After that, it was amazing how quickly discretion became the better part of valor.  Also, from a business perspective, it would have been unwise to provoke our staff vampire into eliminating one of our permanent staffers (interns, of course, don’t count).

Baron H as Santa

Holiday Greetings,

New York, as always, has become a magical city in the holiday season.  Well, Manhattan below 112th street or so, anyway, and that’s all that I consider New York (this is a good way to find out if someone is worth speaking to: ask them what burroughs they consider to be part of the city – and eat the wrong answers).  The tree is up, the wind is blowing and the carolers…  Well, the carolers are fine, I guess, but they don’t come to my door any more, and haven’t since the fifties.  Whether this is because they have fixed spots around the city or whether word has gone around about my place, I’ve never bothered to find out.

Anyhow, the lack of carolers has turned into a bit of an issue because I had a couple of vampires over for dinner just after Christmas (they can’t come out of their boxes on Christmas because you never know when a maniac will chant a prayer at you or spray you with holy water), and had no fresh meat to give them.  I had to hire a group of mercenaries to kidnap a busload of Korean tourists.  Oriental food for the holiday season?  Well, one takes what one can get, and the vampires went away happy.  Also, I got to use the set of butcher’s knives that the Old Monster got me for Christmas – the OM may have her little quirks, but she certainly knows sharp objects!

So, before I go off to hunt for my New Years dinner – I’m thinking European cuisine this time (I can probably get it in the Park) – I’d like to remind you to point fireworks away from children (there’s more meat on grown humans), and remember to stay away from large buildings with spires, no matter how drunk you are.  Those places are unhealthy for the undead.

So have a happy or painful New Year (to each his or her own), and I’ll see you in 2015.

Hieronymous

Et in Arcadia Ego

John Reinhard Weguelin: A Pastoral (1905)

Whenever anyone asks me if I’d live in a certain place, I generally pause for a second and try to understand the type of city on offer before responding.  Over the years, I have found that my honest answers tend to gravitate towards two extremes: places like New York and places like Ysbyty Ifan*.

Essentially, this seems to mean that I enjoy living in huge megacities or in tiny villages or rural towns with not much in between.  The megacities, require little explanation.  You’ll have decent museums, opera, retail and basically everything else civilized life requires (even bidets in many cases) at a world-class level.  Normally, these cities are the repository of national treasures or at least the best stuff in each country.  The art museums in New York or Paris are much better than the ones in Chicago or Lyon (and yes, I am aware of the Art Institute).  Likewise the rest of the cultural, gastronomic and retail experience – not to mention the fact that most companies you’d want to work for have offices in the bigger cities.  And the megacities are immensely cosmopolitan, while medium-sized towns only think they’re sophisticated.

So, medium-sized cities are out, then, but why this preference for the smaller places?  How come I’d happily spend my days staring at a stream in some village whose location in the English countryside only makes sense as a medieval watering hole for horses, or alongside lake Como, or in a French agricultural town?

The people who criticize me most, of course, are those that live in San Francisco, as they think everyone should like it as much as they do.  The fact that I don’t, and that I think it’s a bit too American and not global enough leads to anger, which turns to disbelieving rage when I then turn around and admit that I’d happily live in a village whose inhabitants might not even have heard of the concept of passports and other countries.

But life without amenities only works if you truly strip everything to the bare bones.  Medium sized cities have all of the frustrations of the large ones without the benefits.  I always thought that that was the reason behind the extreme nature of my preferences.

But upon further analysis, it becomes evident that humans have always been looking for that lost pastoral paradise, and it is a recurring theme in everything from religion to secular art.

The most obvious example, of course, is the Garden of Eden.  As a species, it’s pretty clear that humans have felt overwhelmed by the frantic pace of modern life and the loss of innocence ever since Mesopotamian times (the Eden myth has it roots in an earlier mesopotamian legend).  Though little recorded evidence has been left behind, it’s easy to imagine ancient Babylonians complaining about them newfangled sails: “If Marduk had intended Man to navigate without rowing, he wouldn’t have invented slaves, I tell you!”

Claude Lorraine: Pastoral Landscape

It never stopped.  In classical antiquity, the name of the pastoral Greek region of Arcadia was borrowed to represent a back-to-nature utopia, and it informed quite a bit of renaissance art.  William Shakespeare, of course, famously used a pastoral setting in his comedy As You Like It, which idealizes the throwing off of the chains of court life for a country setting – in fact, many of The Bard’s romantic scenes take place out in the boondocks somewhere.

After Shakespeare, the Pastoral movement in art and literature had its ups and downs in Western culture, but survived to the end of the 19th century – even unto that ultimate loss of European innocence, the Great War.

Cotswold Village

World War I effectively ended the tradition, but added even more of a sense of loss to modern elegies – it marked the end of nobility as a social structure, with all that that implied.  We’ve gone into this before when dealing with Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, but the search for simpler times in the twentieth century went far deeper than just a few Oxford laments or Finzi-Continis.  Hippies were essentially pastoralists trying to shoehorn their anxiety about modern complexity into 1960s cities (which explains their failure to gain much traction among “regular” people in the US who were involved in a clash of civilizations with a still-strong Soviet Union).

Postmodern pastoralism is, of course, dismissed by modern philosophers as a delusion for the privileged (or perhaps a privilege of the deluded).  It’s intimately tied to the image of German bankers taking their helicopter to their French chateau retreat – or English lords driving their Range Rovers away from Parliament and into the mile-long drive of their stately manor.

Unlike the philosophers, I find both of these options admirable**, but I would actually go one step further and remove the bank or Parliament altogether.  If you’re going to aim for a relaxed existence, why bother with the distractions (yes, I know it may be necessary to rob an armored car in order to gain the capital to allow this, but today, let’s forget both minutiae and morality).

Even more than the economics and decadence, I believe that postmodernism frowns upon this because having an appreciation for the Pastoral implies both the sophistication to understand what that ideal means and the willingness to throw off socialist ideals of urban life and egalitarianism.  Anyone who can both choose and afford to remove themselves from the urban tapestry of enlightened society is clearly a dangerous non-systemic element…

Most readers of this blog DO fall into that category anyway.  And while your budget may not stretch to that chateau, there’s nothing wrong with a thatched cottage in the Cotswolds or a nice stone house in Champagne when you tire of the hustle and bustle of Shanghai or Sao Paulo.

And if anyone looks at you askance, just tell them that a whole bunch of renaissance painters, plus Shakespeare agree with you.

*It’s in Wales, if you were wondering.

**If this offends you, you should really have read the Classically Educated Manifesto before reading the article…

The Postman Sometimes Rings in Italian

Ossessione film still

Our quest to watch (and comment upon) the 1001 movies we’re supposed to see before we die continues apace, and this time we are presenting an Italian film from 1943, entitled Ossessione.  This film, directed by Luchino Visconti is one of those hugely influential films that was seen by nearly no one when it was released.

The Postman Always Rings Twice First Edition

The reasons for this lack of exposure lie mainly with the fact that the film was based on James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Within the context of Italy’s fascist regime, the adulterous relationship portrayed in the film was simply unacceptable to some sectors, causing it to be banned within Italy.  It then subsequently encountered legal problems in international distribution: due to the ongoing World War, no one had thought to negotiate the rights to the novel, which meant that when the war ended, the film couldn’t be distributed outside of italy.

Despite these setbacks, the movie managed to earn itself a spot on the list, and a deserved one, at that.  The film is brilliantly conceived and filmed, with the plot moving forward swiftly except in those cases where Visconti allows it to slow down in order to heighten an emotion or – even more telling – a philosophical point about society.  The emotional breaks are jagged and raw, without falling into melodrama, which is something that could so easily have happened to this particular story.

Luchino Visconti

More than that, Ossessione foreshadows the Italian Neorealist movement which gave us such great films as Roma Citta Aperta, and characterized directors such as Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini.  You can see the seeds of the movement everywhere, but most especially in small pauses where Visconti lets us catch a glimpse of how things really are – even when they have no bearing on the plot.  Of course, the movement’s working class ethic is represented by the character of Gino the tramp – even though he is an outsider to the true life of the worker.

Worth watching, even if you already know the plot – and we believe the comparison to the newer US version of the film will be interesting, once we reach that point in the list.

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