Monthly Archives: September 2011

Wallenberg Possibly Lived Beyond 1947

Vladimir Isachenkov and Arthur Max for Associated Press. Sept. 26, 2011:

MOSCOW (AP) – Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews before vanishing into Soviet captivity, may have been alive after the official 1947 date of his death _ but only for a few days, says the chief archivist of Russia’s counterintelligence service.

The disappearance of the 32-year-old Swedish diplomat is an abiding mystery of World War II. His defiance of the Nazis is commemorated worldwide in statues, in streets named for him and in postage stamps bearing his likeness, and to this day inspires scholarly articles, popular books and Hollywood movies.

It also has been a perpetual embarrassment for Moscow, which has failed to dislodge a stubborn belief, supported by credible if unsubstantiated evidence, that Wallenberg lived like a ghost in the Soviet gulag for up to four decades after his alleged death.

In a rare hourlong interview with The Associated Press, Lt. Gen. Vasily Khristoforov acknowledged that the Soviet version of Wallenberg’s death of a heart attack could have been fabricated and that his captors may have “helped him die.” He sought to counter accusations that his agency was hiding the truth, but his account and comments from independent researchers only underscored the possibility that the Wallenberg riddle will never be fully laid to rest.

Although he stopped short of discarding the official Soviet version of Wallenberg’s death, his remarks _ coming from a custodian of the country’s most closely guarded intelligence secrets _ represent a crack in the wall of official Russian reticence about Wallenberg. And while he didn’t cite any new evidence, the general said that his statements were based on his knowledge of materials related to the fate of numerous other victims of repression.

Khristoforov denied that the Russian Federal Security Service _ the successor to the KGB _ is withholding any information on Wallenberg, and said that all documentary evidence on the Swede likely was methodically destroyed in the 1950s to cover up his fate. Still, he said, his department was continuing to search the archives for clues.

He discounted numerous accounts by former prisoners who claimed to have seen Wallenberg, or someone who might have been him, in prison or in labor camps after his purported death. Independent researchers cite compelling reports of “sightings” of Wallenberg, identified by another name or only a number, as late as the 1980s.

“I consider all that to be a product of these people’s imagination,” the general said, insisting he was “100 percent certain … that Wallenberg never was in any other prison, either under his name or an alias.”

Khristoforov spoke in response to allegations by two researchers last month that the Russian archives still conceal information on Wallenberg or people who came into contact with him. The accusations came after Moscow released new material about a German officer, Willy Roedel, who shared a prison cell with Wallenberg, although it was unrelated to the Swede himself.

“It’s naive to accuse us of concealing the existence of the interrogation protocols. There is a mix-up of things here,” he said. “There is no mention, not even a hint at Wallenberg in Roedel’s materials.”

He said the archives had kept some pages from Roedel’s newly released file classified for other reasons which he did not reveal.

Khristoforov confirmed a report published last year by Wallenberg researchers Susanne Berger and Vadim Birstein, who cited his agency as saying that the mysterious Prisoner No. 7, who was interrogated in Lubyanka, the prison of the Soviet secret police in Moscow, on July 23, 1947 could have been Wallenberg. The official version of Wallenberg’s death, given 10 years later, was that he died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947.

Khristoforov said he was “more than convinced that if he outlived the official date of his death, it could only have been by a few days.”

While not ruling out the Soviet official version of Wallenberg’s death of a heart attack, he said that “the second version is that they could have helped him die.”

The heart attack version has already been undermined by Alexander Yakovlev, one-time chairman of a presidential panel investigating the fate of repression victims, who in 2000 said he was told by a former KGB chief that Wallenberg was killed at Lubyanka. That year, Russia conceded that the Soviet authorities wrongfully persecuted Wallenberg and posthumously rehabilitated him as a victim of political repression.

Khristoforov said it was highly unlikely that he would have been held in another prison because “it would have been impossible to keep that secret for long, even under an alias or a number.”

An organization of U.S. Holocaust survivors said they want “more definitive answers” from the Russians on Wallenberg’s fate.

“Khristoforov’s comments do not end the controversy, they in fact reinforce the moral basis for a more vigorous inquiry into this profoundly disturbing mystery,” said Elan Steinberg, of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.

Berger, a German, and Birstein, a Russian, served on the Swedish-Russian Working Group that investigated the case from 1991 to 2001.

In an email to AP, Berger said she remained unconvinced that all available evidence has been disclosed, citing the Russians’ history of “incremental revelations” of material that they previously had denied existed. She said that if the Russians had provided full access to the Roedel file, for example, enough “secondary information” might be discerned by trained researchers to shed new light on the case.

“With no unambiguous proof that Wallenberg died on July 17, 1947, and only circumstantial evidence that he may have died some time later, and numerous unresolved witness testimonies stating that Wallenberg was alive in later years, how can Mr. Khristoforov exclude the possibility that Wallenberg did not survive as a secret inmate?” asked Berger.

Susan Mesinai, an American researcher who scoured prison archives for three years in the 1990s with Russian cooperation, said Khristoforov’s conclusions were based on analogies, coincidences and intuition against “decades of state-of-the-art scientific and historical research.”

As Sweden’s envoy in Budapest from July 1944, Wallenberg saved 20,000 Jews by giving them Swedish travel documents or moving them to safe houses, and dissuaded German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of the city’s ghetto.

he was arrested in January, 1945. While the Soviets never gave a reason, Khristoforov, who considers Wallenberg a hero, shares the widely held belief that they suspected he was a spy.

In fact, Wallenberg had been recruited by a U.S. intelligence agent, with Swedish government approval, on behalf the War Refugee Board created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But he is not known to have been engaged in intelligence-gathering.

Some historians say Soviet dictator Josef Stalin may have hoped to exchange Wallenberg for Soviet defectors who fled to Sweden, or use him as a bargaining chip in relations with Sweden or other Western nations, but then changed his mind for unknown reasons.

 

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Slave Name Database

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – The Virginia Historical Society has launched a database of slave names to help scholars and family historians examine centuries of the state’s slave-holding past.

The society drew from its vast collections to create the database, which was unveiled Thursday. It has 1,500 names, higher than the 1,000 names that the society had anticipated for the launch.

The database uses searchable keywords such as name, gender, location, occupation and plantation. It also has more than 250 digital images of original source documents.

The online results are available at no cost to researchers, families and genealogists.

Virginia held more slaves than any other state. The society’s records date back to the 1700s.

The database is funded with a $100,000 grant from Dominion Resources and The Dominion Foundation.

Virginia Historical Society: http://www.vahistorical.org

 

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WWII Enigma Machine to be Auctioned

Eoghan Macguire for CNN, September 17, 2011:

An encoding device synonymous with one of the most remarkable episodes of World War II espionage will go under the hammer in London later this month.

A version of the three rotor Enigma machine — used by the German military to encrypt messages, the code of which was subsequently cracked by a team at the legendary Bletchley Park complex — will be auctioned at Christie’s on September 29.

Although the number of the ciphering machines still in existence is thought to remain in the thousands, “it is rare for one to come up for sale,” says Christie’s specialist, James Hyslop. “Many are believed to have been produced but it’s not a particularly high survival,” he adds.

During the wartime period, the Enigma machine was the most advanced device of its kind, a forerunner of the first modern computer systems.

Originally produced by a Dutch company for commercial use in the aftermath of the First World War, the technology was snapped up for sole use by the German military in 1929.

Employing a complex series of interchangeable rotors, the machine would encode messages before sending them via Morse code to an identical device in another location.

If the receiving Enigma was attuned to the same settings — one of a possible 158 million million million combinations — the encrypted message would then be automatically decoded.

Historians have recognized that Bletchley played a very significant part in the war, shortening it by at least two years
–Simon Greenish
 The mindboggling numbers involved led the Germans to believe that it was “impossible to crack” the Enigma, Hyslop explains, hence its importance to the Nazi war machine.

Unbeknown to Hitler’s charges however, a group of code breakers based at Bletchley Park in the English countryside had devised a way to do just that.

Led by the English mathematician Alan Turing, this small army of cryptologists, linguists, scientists and data analysts managed to create a system that at its peak was breaking as many as 6,000 encrypted German Enigma messages every day.

“The importance of the Enigma machine and the efforts of those at Bletchley to decode it cannot be underestimated,” says Simon Greenish, Director of the Bletchley Park Museum.

“Historians have, until comparatively recently, recognized that Bletchley played a very significant part in the war, shortening it by at least two years,” he says. “But some are now beginning to say that perhaps it made the difference in terms of winning (the war).”

The extraordinary efforts of those involved, Greenish adds, played a vital role in gathering the intelligence that helped shape pivotal battles such as D-Day, the Russian campaign, the North African campaign and the battle for the Atlantic.

Greenish claims the role played by the Enigma in determining the outcome of WWII alone is enough to guarantee its status as a relic of great historical importance.

But according to Hyslop, the machine’s significance goes way beyond its wartime contribution.

Its technological complexity also makes it an attractive item to collectors of “early science, mathematics, history and computing instruments,” he says.

“In November last year, we set the world record price (£67,250) for an Enigma machine at auction,” says Hyslop.

Given that the market for scientific devices of rich historical importance have remained unaffected by the financial downturn, he adds “we’re hoping we might be able to push that again this time round.”

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Mussolini’s Last Suitcase of Clothes

Ben Dobbin for The Associated Press, September 16, 2011:

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — An Army corporal stationed in Italy in the waning days of World War II acquired a suitcase of war booty he sent home and stowed in a bedroom closet in upstate New York for 65 years. In it: Il Duce’s duds.

The brown leather suitcase was purported to have been taken from Benito Mussolini when the Fascist dictator and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were captured and executed by partisans in April 1945 as they tried to flee northern Italy along with retreating German forces.

The family of Paul Moriconi, a Rochester doctor who died last year at 87, said he acquired the suitcase from his supervisor, Col. Charles Poletti, a regional commissioner for the Allied military government in Italy who had served briefly as New York’s governor in 1942.

The ensemble — a gray gabardine military tunic, matching riding pants, a khaki Italian military shirt and a rust-colored woolen dress — is being auctioned in Dallas on Sunday by Greg Martin Auctions/Heritage Auctions, which estimates it could fetch $10,000 to $15,000.

Martin, a specialist in antique arms, armor and historic memorabilia who sold a globe that once belonged to Adolf Hitler for $100,000 at a 2007 auction in San Francisco, said “the provenance of this material is impeccable.”

The uniform carries no identifying marks linking it to Mussolini. The jacket had no medals attached, and a tuxedo stripe running up the side of the trousers had been removed. But the tale of how the items came into Moriconi’s possession was recounted in a formal letter Poletti sent on request to his former personal secretary in 2001.

Poletti, who died a year later, said members of the partisan resistance movement presented him the suitcase and its contents at his office in Milan in late April 1945. He instructed his secretary, he added, “to dispose of these articles as he saw fit.”

Moriconi, a son of Italian immigrants and a Rochester native, mailed the suitcase to his mother. Once in the 1950s, he hammed it up for relatives by donning the uniform at a Halloween party, but he typically had to be persuaded to show off the clothes to friends.

“If we were having a dinner party, it was usually me who coaxed him,” said his widow, Regina. “He was the type of fellow who never wanted to draw attention to himself.

“He realized the great value the uniform held historically,” she said. “I think he felt more fortunate than proud or tickled that he was in a position that he could own these things.”

Christopher Duggan, a professor of modern Italian history at the University of Reading in England, said Mussolini’s capture took place during the war’s chaotic finale.

“The situation on the ground was so confused with no really strong, clear chain of command and so many partisan bands operating against each other, that it’s very hard to verify what really is genuine” among wartime artifacts, Duggan said. “I’d want to know a lot more before risking my money.”

Martin said he first learned about the clothing from Moriconi about a decade ago.

“I reached out to other military collectors who all said, ‘Yes, this is definitely the type of uniform Mussolini wore and the type of dress we’ve seen pictures of his mistress in,'” the auctioneer said.

“We’re in a period of time where a lot of these old guys who brought relics back are passing them on,” he said. “If this had been a third-party or fourth-party handover, you could possibly be suspicious. But this is actually from the fountainhead itself, taken at the time, and that’s about the best provenance I think you’re going to get.”

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9/11 Commemorations

Here is a link to the official 9/11 Memorial site in New York:

http://www.911memorial.org

Another site to check out is:  http://www.9-11healingandremembrance.org/ovc/Events/Default.aspx

 

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History Books and 9/11

Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post, September 9, 2011:

Most states do not include in their social studies/history standards a direct mention of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a new study, and only four states actually name Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda.

An earlier stage of the study had found that many of the best-selling history and civics textbooks used in schools have “a startling lack of detail about what actually happened” on Sept. 11.

Twenty states plus the District of Columbia mention the terrorist attacks but most don’t require that students learn more than a few key facts devoid of context, it says. Of those that don’t directly mention Sept. 11, 14 states include some reference to terrorism or another key term related to the war on terror. And 14 states don’t include any reference to 9/11, the war on terror or terrorism.

“For the most part, students are not directed to examine the roots and causes of terrorism, but instead are asked to learn about the impact of these attacks, primarily on the United States,” a summary of the report says.

The study was conducted by Professors Jeremy Stoddard from the College of William & Mary and Diana Hess at the University of Wisconsin-Madison/Spencer Foundation. It was released by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tisch College at Tufts University.

It was released just days before the 10th anniversary of the attacks and contributes to a debate about how, when and what children should be taught in school about the event.

For example, a separate report just issued by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute argues that some 9/11 lessons being taught to children are missing the point of the event, giving too little information about the history and instead discussing related issues.

There is also the question about whether it makes more sense to teach about the terrorist attacks as part of a history or current events course rather than as a separate lesson taught to coincide with the anniversary.

Supporters of this type of “calendar curriculum” note that because Sept. 11 was such an important day in the consciousness of modern America, it makes sense to use the actual anniversary to introduce and discuss it with children who did not live through it.

(That, of course, begs the question of why we don’t do it with other historically important events in American history.)

The report on standards also says:

* The four states that mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda by name are Georgia, Louisiana, Montana and Texas.

* Three states specifically include Islam in the context of terrorism and 9/11: Louisiana, Massachusetts and Texas. Massachusetts’s standards, it says, focus the study of terrorism on Islamic fundamentalism and the Middle East.

* Sept. 11 isn’t the only unique historical date ignored by most state standards: Only 14 states plus the District of Columbia include direct mentions of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which ushered the United States into World War II.

* Along with Washington, D.C., the states that have social studies/history standards that include Sept.11 are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

Earlier stages of the three-part study found:

* Textbooks and curricula published right after the 2001 attacks portrayed the United States as the victim of “a uniquely devastating attack” and material presented portrayed the events as “of great historic importance,” offering personal stories of the victims and rescuers. That changed in subsequent years to more general material.

“The attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath have been appropriated for a wide array of curricular, pedagogical, and ideological goals that generally reflect the goals of the various curriculum producers,” a summary of the three-stage report says.

“There is a startling lack of detail about what actually happened on 9/11,” the summary says. “This continues in the revised versions of the textbooks, even though students in high school in 2011 were not old enough to have a good understanding (or recollection) of what happened on 9/11. One would expect then that the most recently revised textbooks would contain more specific details.”

* In general textbooks and most standards do not use the attacks to promote “higher-order thinking” among students.

* Many of the curricula and textbooks studied provided “explicit, authoritative definitions of terrorism,” even though the subject is debated and contested.

 

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New Details on Identity of “Jack the Ripper”

Story by Dr. Xanthe Mallett for BBC news, August 30, 2011:

 

Clockwise from top left: Newspaper report on Ripper murder, new e-fit of suspect Carl Feigenbaum, drawing of police discovering a victim and a letter to the police signed Jack the Ripper

On this day 123 years ago, Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim. But who was this serial killer? This new e-fit finally puts a face to Carl Feigenbaum, a key suspect from Germany.

I have for years suffered from a singular disease which induces an all-absorbing passion, this passion manifests itself in a desire to kill and mutilate every woman who falls in my way, I am unable to control myself”

What Feigenbaum allegedly told his lawyer

Jack the Ripper is the world’s most famous cold case – the identity of the man who brutally murdered five women in London’s East End in autumn 1888 remains a mystery.

More than 200 suspects have been named. But to Ripper expert Trevor Marriott, a former murder squad detective, German merchant Carl Feigenbaum is the top suspect.

Convicted of murdering his landlady in Manhattan, Feigenbaum died in the electric chair in New York’s Sing Sing prison in 1894. His lawyer suspected him of the Ripper murders too.

No photos of Feigenbaum exist. So Marriott has produced this new e-fit for BBC One’s National Treasures Live, created from the description on the admittance form when he was in prison on remand in New York.

Why does Marriott think Feigenbaum is Jack the Ripper? Evidence, in the form of police documents and hundreds of letters to the authorities and newspapers, give us some clues.

Feigenbaum’s prison admittance form

Prison record describing Feigenbaum

Age 54. Complexion med[ium]. Eyes grey. Hair dark brown. Stature 5ft 4 1/2. Weight 126 [pounds, 57kg]. Medium sized head, hat 6 7/8 or 7. Shoes 8.

Hair grows thin on top of head. Small slim neck. Eyes small and deep-set. Eyebrows curved. Forehead high and heavily arched. Nose large, red and has raw pimples. Teeth poor + nearly all gone on left sides.

Anchor in india ink on right hand at base of thumb and first finger. Round scar or birthmark on right leg below left knee.

The assumption has long been that Jack must have had anatomical knowledge because of the skill with which his victims’ organs were removed.

But it’s possible these were cut out in the mortuary, rather than by Jack at the scene. The 1832 Anatomy Act made it legal for medical personnel to remove organs for training purposes.

This theory is supported by documents on the fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes. The inquest report shows only 14 minutes elapsed from the time the police did their last sweep of the square in which she was killed and her body being discovered.

Was this really enough time for someone to have killed Eddowes, removed her uterus with surgical precision, and all in near complete blackness? Regardless of one’s medical knowledge, this seems a stretch.

So Marriott believes Jack wasn’t necessarily a surgeon after all.

He began to investigate other groups who might have been in the area. St Katharine and the London Docks are a short walk from Whitechapel, a place merchant seamen would have flocked to as it was an infamous red light district. Such close proximity would have made it easy for the killer to steal back to his ship unnoticed.

Jack the Ripper’s victims

Knife thought to have been used by Jack the Ripper
  • Five women were brutally killed in the East End of London in autumn 1888
  • Mary Ann Nicholls, 31 August
  • Annie Chapman, 8 September
  • Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, 30 September
  • Mary Jane Kelly, 9 November

The gaps between the murders also suggest the killer may have been a traveller.

This theory fits with other facts, too. Although some suggest the killer was a resident of Whitechapel, wouldn’t locals have given him up to the police? Especially after a reward was offered.

After some digging, Marriott came across records which showed the Nord Deutsche Line, a German merchant vessel group, had a ship called the Reiher docked at the time of the murders.

When Marriott investigated the seamen aboard this ship, he came across the convicted murderer Feigenbaum.

Having watched his client die in the electric chair, Feigenbaum’s lawyer William Lawton told the press he believed him to be responsible for the Ripper murders in London. Feigenbaum had confessed, he said, to suffering from a disease which periodically drove him to murder and mutilate women.

What was this disease which made him undertake such brutal acts? Today, a psychiatrist is likely to describe it as a psychotic episode. Fortunately, few people with psychotic tendencies go on to become serial killers, but those who do gain an infamy matched by no other crime.

Crime and the Victorians

Policeman on duty in Victorian London

The Jack the Ripper murders provoked a nationwide panic whipped up by press sensationalism. Violence, especially violence with a sexual frisson, sold newspapers.

But violent crime never figured significantly in the statistics or in the courts.

By the late 19th Century, developments in psychiatry and the popularity of social Darwinism led to “the criminal classes” being identified as individuals suffering from some form of behavioural abnormality, either inherited or nurtured by dissolute and feckless parents. This informed the way they were treated by the criminal justice system.

The English police took the prevention of crime as their watchword. The assumption was that the unskilled, working class constable, patrolling his beat at a regulation two and a half miles an hour, would deter offenders.

At the time, everyone believed all five women had been killed by the same man.

But having reviewed the evidence, Elizabeth Stride may have died at the hands of another killer, as everything about her murder is different to the others.

“Firstly the time the murder took place, and the knife used to cut her throat was much smaller than all of the other victims, hence the knife wound to her throat was much smaller and she had no other mutilations,” says Marriott.

“The location was different to all of the others. The murder was right by the side of a workers’ club which was packed with men at the time.”

And now a serious question mark hangs over the death of Mary Kelly too.

“Fresh material has come to light which may suggest she was not Mary Kelly but someone else,” says Marriott. “If that is the case, there is a motive and likely suspects for her murder.”

As a forensic anthropologist, to review the ultimate cold case is a privilege. Initially, I thought Carl Feigenbaum was that serial killer. His profile fit.

But further evidence, outlined above, may show these murders were not all committed by the same person. Feigenbaum could have been responsible for one, some or perhaps all.

We have shed new light on this old case. But it is certainly not solved, and this dark tale has many more secrets to give up before we know, for sure, the name of the man we call Jack the Ripper.


Prison record describing Feigenbaum (photo courtesy Trevor Marriott)

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