Monthly Archives: October 2011

Poland Reinvestigates WWII Auschwitz Crimes

Story from the BBC, October 27, 2011:

It is estimated that one million people – mostly Jews and non-Jewish Poles – were killed at the Nazi death camp.

One aim is to track down any Nazi war criminals still living.

It is being carried out by the Institute of National Remembrance, a state body that investigates Nazi and communist-era crimes.

The new investigation was opened by the institute’s branch at Krakow, which is near Auschwitz.

It was not immediately clear if investigations into other death camps operated across German-occupied Poland – such as Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno and Belzec – were also planned.

Poland originally launched investigations in the 1960s and 1970s into crimes at Auschwitz, but closed them in the 1980s without any indictments being made.

During the communist era, Poland had difficulty questioning witnesses and perpetrators living abroad because the country was part of the Soviet bloc.

“We do not discount the possibility of finding alive former employees of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, in which case they may be accused of crimes against the Polish nation,” said Piotr Piatek, of the Remembrance Institute in Krakow.

‘Tremendous implications’Most camp employees were tried in Poland after World War II, accused of crimes against the country, although these trials were ended by an amnesty in 1956.

The last time Poland prosecuted anyone for Nazi crimes was in 2001, when a Pole, Henryk Mania, was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking parts in acts of genocide in Chelmno.

Leading international Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff praised Poland’s reopening of the investigation.

He said it “could have tremendous implications” in paving the way for new prosecutions, thanks to the precedent set by the conviction earlier this year of Ohio car worker John Demjanjuk, after his extradition from the US for trial in Germany.

Demjanjuk was convicted of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder during the time he was a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland.


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Blackbeard’s Cannon Rises from the Ocean off North Carolina

From CBS, October 26, 2011:

A 2,000-pound cannon pulled from the waters near Beaufort Wednesday will give archeologists and historians more ammunition for separating fact from legend surrounding the infamous pirate Blackbeard.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge Project brought the massive gun ashore and displayed it to the public before taking to a laboratory at East Carolina University. Onlookers cheered as the 8-foot-long gun was raised above the water’s surface.

“The last people who saw this were pirates,” QAR project director Mark Wilde-Ramsing told more than 100 spectators who later gathered in front of Beaufort’s Maritime Museum for a closer look at the 18th century weapon.

Dozens of local residents turned out, while some Blackbeard enthusiasts drove in from other parts of the state.

“We read about it last night, and I asked the kids: are we going to skip school tomorrow and go see this?” said Joy Herndon, who made the roughly 230-mile trek from Greensboro with her children, Lucy and Kevin.

Separating the Blackbeard legend from historical facts is one of the goals of the QAR recovery effort, which has so far netted some 280,000 artifacts, said Joseph Schwarzer, director of the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

“This is about as close to that particular point in American history, and to piracy, as anybody is ever going to get,” Schwarzer said.

The recovery effort involves collaboration between the state departments of Cultural Resources and Environmental and Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, East Carolina University and other agencies.

The gun recovered Wednesday was the 13th cannon raised from the shipwreck. Other items have included medical supplies, dishes, gold dust, prisoner shackles, African jewelry and small weaponry.

Schwarzer said researchers believe the ship was built as La Concorde, a French slave-trading vessel, but was commandeered by Blackbeard and his crew six months prior to its grounding near Beaufort Inlet.

Historians theorize that the ship was intentionally scuttled by Blackbeard, who then took off in a smaller boat, because he could no longer afford the expense of four ships and a pirate following estimated at 400.

Neal Stetson, 58, said he and his wife drove a half-hour from Newport to see the recovered cannon.

“After we moved here, I became fascinated with Blackbeard, particularly all the tales and legends that surround him,” said Stetson, who came to the area from Maryland six years ago. “It’s amazing and fortunate that they found the wreck.”

An exhibit of the items recovered from the ship opened at the Beaufort Maritime Museum in June and has already attracted more than 100,000 visitors, said N.C. Cultural Resources Secretary Linda Carlisle.

Only about half the shipwreck has been examined so far, but Carlisle said the state has a goal of finishing the recovery effort by 2013.

“We’re really concerned about the site itself,” she said. “We live through each hurricane season with trepidation.”

The project could move more swiftly if additional funding was available. Carlisle said it costs about $150,000 annually for the recovery and lab work, but state funding has not kept up with the need.

Though some flakes of gold dust are the closest to pirate’s treasure yet discovered, the project and museum exhibit has netted the state a valuable influx of tourism dollars, as well as drawn international attention to the state, Carlisle added.

The cannon will be preserved at the lab at ECU while the research staff studies both the weapon and the cement-like shell of sand, salt and barnacles covering it, a process that could easily take five years, said Sarah Watkins-Keeney, chief conservator for the QAR project.

Blackbeard was an Englishman whose real name may have been Edward Teach or Thatch. After capturing La Concorde in the Caribbean, Blackbeard and his men blockaded the port of Charleston for a time. He was sailing north from Charleston when his ship went aground in what was then known as Old Topsail Inlet, now Beaufort Inlet.

After being granted a pardon from North Carolina Gov. Charles Eden in June 1718, Blackbeard was killed five months later by members of the Royal Navy of Virginia at Ocracoke Inlet.


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Kublai Khans 13th century “lost fleet” likely uncovered

Story by Laura Rozen for The Envoy, October 26, 2011:

Marine archeologists say that the ancient wreckage of a ship discovered in the seabed off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan, belongs to the ancient “lost fleet” of ships belonging to China’s 13th century Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, CNN reports.

Explorers found the 20-meter-long shipwreck by using ultra-sound equipment some 25 meters off the coast of Nagasaki. The team of researchers buried the ultra-sound sensors about a meter deep in the sandy earth beneath the sea. Archeologists believe the ship dates back to 1281, and was part of a 4,400-vessel fleet that China’s Mongol rulers during the Yuan Dynasty had employed as an invasion force.

The discovery of the ship’s well preserved and mostly intact 12-meter-long keel “could go a long way to helping researchers identify all the characteristics of the 20-meter warship,” CNN reported, citing the head of the research team that made the discovery.

“This discovery was of major importance for our research,” Yoshifumi Ikeda, of Okinawa’s University of the Ryukyus, said at a recent press conference in Nagasaki, according to the CNN report. “We are planning to expand search efforts and find further information that can help us restore the whole ship.”

According to Japanese legend, two typhoons–known as the Kamikaze–that occurred seven years apart in the 13th century twice saved Japan from Mongol invasion by “destroy[ing] two separate Mongol invasions fleets so large they were not eclipsed until the D-Day landings of World War II,” CNN reported. China was not so spared, however, and was ruled by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty from 1271-1368.

“According to a contemporary account cited in the book Khubilai Khan’s Lost fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada,” by maritime archaeologist James P. Delgado, the typhoon’s destruction of the over 4,000-vessel Yuan Dynasty invasion fleet created such a vast quantity of material wreckage “that ‘a person could walk across from one point of land to another on a mass of wreckage,'” CNN reported.

The wooden-planked ship, originally believed to have been painted light gray, is among “more than 4,000 artifacts, including ceramic shards, bricks used for ballast, cannonballs and stone anchors [that] have been found in the vicinity of the wreck, linking it to the Yuan Dynasty invasion fleet,” CNN reported.

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WWII Chaplains Honored

Article by Hamil R. Harris for The Washington Post, October 25, 2011:

Their ship was going down. That much was clear as four U.S. Army chaplains helped hustle fellow soldiers onto lifeboats after a German torpedo struck the USS Dorchester during World War II.

Then, the life jackets ran out, and the chaplains made a brave choice: They handed over their own vests and stayed aboard the sinking ship.

Rabbi Alexander Goode, 32, of the District was among the chaplains who gave up their lives that day. On Monday, he and 13 other rabbis who have died while serving in the U.S. military got their due in a monument inArlington National Cemetery.

The monument honoring Jewish chaplains corrects an oversight on Chaplains Hill, where the first monument honoring clergy members was erected in 1926. A separate monument for 134 Protestant chaplains was built in 1981, and another one, to honor 83 Catholics, eight years later.

“I think it was purely an oversight, but once they realized it, the House and the Senate moved quickly,” said Jerry Silverman, president and chief executive of the Jewish Federation of North America.

The two-hour service in the cemetery’s amphitheater brought together Jewish veterans from across the country, as well as family members of the rabbis, members of Congress and military officials.

“It only took 20 minutes for the ship to go down,” Army Staff Sgt. Ernie Heaton, one of the few remaining survivors, said of the panic after the USS Dorchester was struck.

The ship was sailing off the coast of Greenland. Soldiers grabbed all of the life jackets available, but there were not enough. Heaton said he never forgot the image of the four chaplains locking arms, singing a hymn as the ship sank.

“Men were screaming, and I saw the chaplains. They were together, and they didn’t have their life preservers on,” said Heaton, who spent nine hours in the water before he was rescued.

The four chaplains who died aboard the USS Dorchester, known as the Immortal Chaplains, were Goode, a graduate of Eastern High School who never got the chance to return to the Washington Hebrew Congregation; George Fox, who was Methodist; Clark V. Poling, of the Reformed Church in America; and John P. Washington, a Catholic.

Maj. Gen. Cecil Richardson said those who serve as military chaplains are much more than clergy in military uniforms. “They lived the life of warriors,” he said.

Jewish leaders who spoke fought back tears. Members of the West Point Jewish cadet choir sang in Hebrew and English. “This was a very special day for the country and my family,” said Paul Fried, Goode’s son-in-law.

The 13 other rabbis who have died in uniform are: Nachman S. Arnoff, in an Army truck accident in 1946 at Camp Kilmer, N.J.; Meir Engel, of heart disease in 1964 in a Saigon hospital; Frank Goldberg, in a Jeep accident in 1946 in Austria; Henry Goody, after being hit by a streetcar at 14th and Upshur streets NW in 1943; Joseph I. Hoenig, of cerebral hemorrhage in 1966; Samuel Hurwitz, in 1943 in a military hospital in Temple, Tex.; Herman L. Rosen, who drowned just before reporting to chaplain school; Samuel Rosen, in a plane crash in 1955; Solomon Rosen, in 1948 after his plane exploded over Oklahoma; Morton Singer, in a plane crash in 1968; David Sobel, in an accident in Thailand in 1974; Irving Tepper, in action in France in 1945; and Louis Werfel, in 1943 after his plane crashed in the North Algerian mountains.

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Jewish WWI Vets and Medal of Honor Controversy

Article by Richard Simon for The Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2011:

At age 82, Elsie Shemin-Roth didn’t expect to be waging a campaign for congressional legislation.

But the daughter of a Jewish World War I veteran is the leading force behind a measure that would direct the Pentagon to review the records of such veterans to determine whether any were denied the Medal of Honor because of discrimination.

A little-noticed provision of a House-approved defense bill would require the Defense Department to determine whether Jewish recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross or other military decorations for service during World War I should posthumously receive the nation’s highest military honor.

“This legislation will right past injustices,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of a bipartisan group of senators who introduced a Senate version of the legislation.

The William Shemin Jewish World War I Veterans Act is named after Shemin-Roth’s father, a sergeant who received the Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1918, Shemin, who was 19, crossed an open field in the face of heavy enemy fire in France to save three fellow soldiers and took command of his platoon after his superiors were wounded or killed. He suffered a head wound in the fight. Shemin died in 1973.

“My job, as his daughter, is to correct this … and give my father what he justly deserved,” Shemin-Roth said in an interview.

She contacted her congressman, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., after reading about passage of legislation that required a Pentagon review of veterans from more recent wars who may have been denied the Medal of Honor because of discrimination.

“My father in his lifetime, perhaps twice, mentioned that there was an officer in his regiment who was very anti-Semitic,” she said, “He was always extremely grateful for the Distinguished Service Cross, but he mentioned that there was terrible discrimination.”

She said that a fellow veteran who visited the family years later told Shemin-Roth, “Your father never got the medal that he deserved because he was a Jew.”

Retired Col. Erwin Burtnick, commander of the Maryland department of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., has reviewed Shemin’s record. “Had he been put in for a Medal of Honor, would he have gotten it? Probably, given the other citations that I reviewed from World War I of people who did considerably less than he did who got the Medal of Honor,” Burtnick said.

Of 3,458 Medal of Honor recipients, 15 were known to be Jewish, including three from World War I, according to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington.

“Thousands of Jewish service members have served our country bravely, but some may not have been adequately recognized for their service because of discrimination,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a statement. “Any veteran who has put their life on the line to keep us safe here at home or to defend liberty abroad deserves the opportunity to be thanked and awarded appropriately.”

A 2001 bill required a similar review of the records of Jewish and Hispanic war veterans dating to World War II who may have been overlooked for the Medal of Honor because of discrimination.

In 1996, seven African-American World War II veterans were awarded the Medal of Honor, all but one posthumously, the first such awards bestowed on blacks in the armed forces in that conflict. In 2000, 22 Asian Americans who fought in World War II were awarded the medal after a four-year review prompted by legislation.

There is precedent for awarding the medal decades later. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded it to President Theodore Roosevelt for his famous charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War in 1898 when he was serving as a colonel in a volunteer cavalry regiment.

Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last known living American veteran of World War I, died in February at age 110.

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New WWII Books Worth Reading

Walter R. Borneman, The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King–The Admirals Who Won the War at Sea (Little, Brown, 2012)

Ute Gerhardt & Thomas Karlauf eds., The Night of Broken Glass: Eyewitness Accounts of Kristallnacht (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

Ian Kershaw, The End: The Defiance and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-45 (Penguin, 2011)

[see review in NYTimes]

Max Hastings, Inferno:  The World at War, 1939-1945 (Alfred Knopf, 2011)  [see review in NYTimes by Richard J. Evans]

For a primary source reader on WWII, see Frans Coetzee and Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee, The World in Flames: A World War II Sourcebook (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (Harper, 2011)

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Forthcoming WWII Diary Tells of Outwitting Josef Mengele

Story by Martin Evans for The Telegraph, October 16, 2011:

In 1944 Helga Weiss and her mother were transported to Auschwitz, where they came face to face with Josef Mengele – the Angel of Death – who was selecting children and older women for the gas chambers.

Weiss, who was in her early teens at the time managed to persuade Mengele and the other guards that she was older than she appeared and her mother was much younger.

The subterfuge meant the pair were directed to the forced labour camp rather than the gas chambers and Weiss became one of just 10 per cent of children from the Nazi controlled Czech ghetto of Terezin to survive the holocaust.

After the war, Weiss became an internationally renowned artist, whose married name Weissova-Hoskova, is celebrated around the world.

But her incredible story of survival became somewhat overshadowed by her professional success and her diaries from the time were never made public.

Last year however the British publisher Venetia Butterfield of Viking, who also publishes Anne Frank’s diary, heard about the story and met with Weiss first in London and then in Prague where she now lives.

She asked to see a sample of the writing in one of her exercise books and sent it for analysis.

She told The Observer: “Accounts of the past are so often shaped by the knowledge of what was to happen next. What is so important about the diary is that it is Helga’s reality. It is a very different thing from a memoir.”

Helga’s diary is to be published by Viking in June next year.



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