Monthly Archives: January 2012

Germany Marks Seventieth Anniversary of Wannsee Conference

From the Washington Post, January 20, 2012:

BERLIN — The German president has marked the 70th anniversary of a conference in which plans were coordinated for the genocide of European Jews with the message that Germany must never forget its responsibility for the Holocaust.

President Christian Wulff said Friday that so much time has passed since the Jan. 20, 1942 Wannsee Conference — at which senior Nazis and bureaucrats coordinated plans for the Holocaust — that it has become increasingly hard to fathom how genocide became the country’s official policy.

“Therefore it is important and a national task to keep the memory alive,” he told an audience at a villa on Berlin’s Wannsee lake where the conference was held.

“We cannot be allowed to forget that this — the unbelievable and unimaginable — actually happened.”

The villa is now a museum, memorial and education site focused on the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

The conference was once thought to be the point at which the Nazis chose to stop deporting and randomly killing Jews — instead deciding to industrialize their murder. Most historians now agree, however, that the decision was made some months earlier by Adolf Hitler himself, even though no written order from him has ever been found.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been murdered by the time the 15 civil servants, SS and party officials met at Wannsee. It is now believed by many that Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Security Service and Security Police head, called the meeting to make sure everybody knew what Hitler wanted done and to establish SS oversight of the process.

“This place and the name ‘Wannsee’ has become a symbol for the bureaucratically organized decision between life worth living and life not worth living, for state-organized extermination, for the planned and official systematic killing of Europe’s Jews,” Wulff said.

“This place became a place of cold cruelty, a trigger for carrying out systematic genocide, a place of German shame.”

Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, warned in an op-ed piece in the top-selling Bild newspaper Friday that “there are still people who pay homage to the insane doctrine of the Third Reich,” pointing out that the far-right National Democratic Party has seats in two state legislatures, though it remains marginalized at the national level.

“Anti-Semitism and xenophobia still poison too many people today,” he wrote. “A day like this shows us where the intoxication of racism can lead, with all the consequences.”

Wulff noted that a small group of neo-Nazis killed nine members of ethnic minorities between 2000 and 2006 and a policewoman in 2007 before police finally caught up with them last year after a botched bank robbery.

He said the killing spree was also something that authorities didn’t believe to have been possible in this day and age.

“It fills us with shame and anger,” Wulff said. “We will do everything to ensure that terror and the murderous hatred of others never finds a place in Germany again.”


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Shoichi Yokoi, the WWII Japanese Soldier Who Held Out in Guam

Story by Mike Lanchin for BBC News Magazine, January 23, 2012:

For most of the 28 years that Shoichi Yokoi, a lance corporal in the Japanese Army of world War II, was hiding in the jungles of Guam, he firmly believed his former comrades would one day return for him.

And even when he was eventually discovered by local hunters on the Pacific island, on 24 January 1972, the 57-year-old former soldier still clung to the notion that his life was in danger.

“He really panicked,” says Omi Hatashin, Yokoi’s nephew.

Startled by the sight of other humans after so many years on his own, Yokoi tried to grab one of the hunter’s rifles, but weakened by years of poor diet, he was no match for the local men.

Continue reading the main story
Shoichi’s story

Born in 1915 and conscripted in 1941 to serve in Manchuria, before being sent to Guam in 1944

On his return to Japan he expressed embarrassment at having returned alive, rather than dying in the service of the emperor

Japan had changed utterly during his three-decade absence – some found his stoicism and loyalty inspiring, others found it absurd

He married in 1972, within months of his return and died in 1997, aged 82
He longed to meet Emperor Hirohito – in the end he was granted an audience with Emperor Akihito in 1991

“He feared they would take him as a prisoner of war – that would have been the greatest shame for a Japanese soldier and for his family back home,” Hatashin says.

As they led him away through the jungle’s tall foxtail grass, Yokoi cried for them to kill him there and then.

Using Yokoi’s own memoirs, published in Japanese two years after his discovery, as well as the testimony of those who found him that day, Hatashin spent years piecing together his uncle’s dramatic story.

His book, Private Yokoi’s War and Life on Guam, 1944-1972, was published in English in 2009.

“I am very proud of him. He was a shy and quiet person, but with a great presence,” he says.

Underground shelter
Yokoi’s long ordeal began in July 1944 when US forces stormed Guam as part of their offensive against the Japanese in the Pacific.

Yokoi’s eel trap was one of his prize possessions

The fighting was fierce, casualties were high on both sides, but once the Japanese command was disrupted, soldiers such as Yokoi and others in his platoon were left to fend for themselves.

“From the outset they took enormous care not to be detected, erasing their footprints as they moved through the undergrowth,” Hatashin said.

In the early years the Japanese soldiers, soon reduced to a few dozen in number, caught and killed local cattle to feed off.

Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda led a guerrilla task force on the Philippine island of Lubang for many years after the end of the war. He doggedly refused to lay down his arms until formally ordered to surrender. Repatriated March 1974.

Private Teruo Nakamura, a conscript from Taiwan, was found growing crops alone on the Indonesian island of Morotai in December 1974. He was repatriated to Taiwan where he died in 1979.

But fearing detection from US patrols and later from local hunters, they gradually withdrew deeper into the jungle.

There they ate venomous toads, river eels and rats.

Yokoi made a trap from wild reeds for catching eels. He also dug himself an underground shelter, supported by strong bamboo canes.

“He was an extremely resourceful man,” Hatashin says.

Keeping himself busy also kept him from thinking too much about his predicament, or his family back home, his nephew said.

Return to Guam
Yokoi’s own memoirs of his time in hiding reveal his desperation not to give up hope, especially in the last eight years when he was totally alone – his last two surviving companions died in floods in 1964.

Yokoi demonstrating the handmade loom he used in the jungle
Turning his thoughts to his ageing mother back home, he at one point wrote: “It was pointless to cause my heart pain by dwelling on such things.”

And of another occasion, when he was desperately sick in the jungle, he wrote: “No! I cannot die here. I cannot expose my corpse to the enemy. I must go back to my hole to die. I have so far managed to survive but all is coming to nothing now.”

Two weeks after his discovery in the jungle, Yokoi returned home to Japan to a hero’s welcome.

He was besieged by the media, interviewed on radio and television, and was regularly invited to speak at universities and in schools across the country.

Omi Hatashin was interviewed for the BBC World Service programme Witness
Witness airs every weekday, and tells history through the eyes of the people who were there

Hatashin, who was six when Yokoi married his aunt, said that the former soldier never really settled back into life in modern Japan.

He was unimpressed by the country’s rapid post-war economic development and once commented on seeing a new 10,000 yen bank note that the currency had now become “valueless”.

According to Hatashin, his uncle grew increasingly nostalgic about the past as he grew older, and before his death in 1997 he went back to Guam on several occasions with his wife.

Some of his prize possessions from those years in the jungle, including his eel traps, are still on show in a small museum on the island.

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Battle over WWI Memorial in Washington, DC

From The Washington Times, January 24, 2012:

A federal law that essentially bans any more construction on the National Mall might prevent an attempt to “nationalize” the District of Columbia World War I Memorial, a National Park Service official said Tuesday.

The Commemorative Works Act passed in 2003 prohibits the construction of new memorials — including a tribute to veterans of the “great war” — leaving the District’s site, about halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, as an apt vehicle for a national World War I Memorial.

Yet the law may also prevent any changes to the city’s memorial, as contemplated in a House resolution to rededicate the site as the “District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial,” according to Peter May, associate regional director for Lands, Resources, and Planning with the National Capital Region of the Park Service.

“For these reasons the department has serious concerns with [the bill] and would like to work with the committee to address those concerns,” Mr. May told a House Natural Resources subcommittee on behalf of the Department of the Interior.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, and a companion bill by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, also would rededicate the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City as the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

“The United States has done little, if anything, to recognize that Americans fought in World War I,” Mr. Poe told the subcommittee. “The worst casualty of war is to be forgotten.”

Mr. Poe noted there are national memorials on the Mall to those who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

“But there is no memorial for all who served in the great World War I,” he said.

Supporters of the bill say a national memorial would respect the integrity of the original city memorial with minimal physical adornments. It would also increase its visibility, prompting more tourists to learn about the war, they say.

But D.C. officials are vehemently opposed to any changes to their memorial, which is located north of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in West Potomac Park.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting member of Congress, say the attempt is an affront to a city that must pay federal taxes and submit its laws and budget to Congress for approval even though its residents do not have full voting rights on Capitol Hill.

The D.C. memorial was dedicated by President Hoover in 1931 to honor the 26,000 city residents who fought in World War I and the 499 who died.

“It’s our memorial,” Nelson Rimensnyder, of the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of D.C., told the subcommittee.

The park service and city officials celebrated the reopening of the memorial in November after a yearlong, $2.3 million project to refurbish the domed, round, columned structure and conduct much-needed landscaping around the site.

Some proponents of a national memorial point to Pershing Park, named for World War I Gen. John J. Pershing and located near the White House, as an alternative location.

Edwin Fountain, a key member of the World War I Foundation pushing the legislation, said the D.C. memorial on the Mall is the most appropriate site to honor all of the war’s veterans, but an alternate location is “better than having no national memorial.”

Mr. Fountain said Mr. May’s testimony presented a rather “lawyerly” view of the act that restricts construction or site changes on the mall.

“I believe that what we’re proposing fits within the act,” he said. “Other than the courts, Congress can interpret its own statute.”

Mr. Fountain said he hopes Congress “does something sooner rather than later” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the conflict, “or else we’re going to miss the opportunity to do anything in conjunction with the centennial.”

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Turkey Denounces Passage of French Genocide Bill

Story by Sebnem Arsu and Scott Sayare for The New York Times, January 24, 2012:

PARIS — The Turkish government and news media castigated France on Tuesday, accusing Parliament of racism and a breach of France’s own free speech principles after the French Senate passed a bill late Monday criminalizing the denial of officially recognized genocides, including the Armenian genocide begun in 1915.

Historians widely believe that about 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by Ottoman Turks during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in what they deem the 20th century’s first genocide.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will sign the bill into law within two weeks, an aide confirmed on Tuesday.

The bill has infuriated Turkey, which has long maintained that Armenian deaths were far fewer in number and not the result of systematic killings. Recognizing them as genocide is criminal under Turkish law, as an insult to Turkish identity.

In a speech in Ankara, the capital, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the French bill represented “evident discrimination, racism and massacre of free speech.” He reiterated Turkey’s intention to add penalties against France, though he did not specify what those sanctions might bear upon and also signaled that the government would wait to see the result of possible legal challenges to the bill in France.

“We are going to impose our sanctions step by step with certainty, without hesitations,” he said. “However, for now, we are still in the phase of patience as we watch how this process would shape up.”

After the French Senate vote on Monday night, Turkey’s ambassador to France, Tahsin Burcuoglu, suggested that Turkey might reduce diplomatic ties by calling for his “permanent departure” from Paris.

Headlines in the Turkish news media, regardless of their political affiliations, reflected the level of public frustration in Turkey.

“Arrogant French,” said Milli Gazete, a right-wing newspaper, while Cumhuriyet, a pro-leftist daily with nationalist leanings, called the bill “French Justice” in an ironic tone.

Some newspapers like Sozcu, a widely circulated daily, picked a rougher language. Sozcu likened Mr. Sarkozy to Satan, manipulating a photo of the leader with spiky ears. “French President Sarkozy Sold Out His Ally Turkey in a Devilish Plan! Denial Bill Passed the Senate. Shame on You!” the headline read.

Turkey’s government, led by the Justice and Development Party, briefly recalled Mr. Burcuoglu and suspended bilateral political and military cooperation with the French in late December, after the National Assembly, France’s lower parliamentary house, approved the bill.

The French government has sought to calm diplomatic tensions over the bill, however, concerned with preserving cooperation with Turkey on issues including the violence in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program.

“What I’d like to do today is appeal to our Turkish friends for calm,” said the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, who had openly opposed the legislation, speaking on French television on Tuesday.

“I’m holding out my hand, and I hope it will be taken up one day.”

The Turkish government appeared uninterested.

President Abdullah Gul denounced the legislation, saying, “Our bilateral relations are at a different level from now on.” The opposition Nationalist Movement Party proposed annulment of the Turkish and French friendship parliamentary committee, as party officials lashed out at the legislation, calling it unacceptable.

France’s relations with Turkey, a moderate Muslim democracy and NATO ally, have been strained in recent years as Mr. Sarkozy, along with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, repeatedly expressed opposition to Turkey’s full membership in the European Union.

The government in Ankara argues that Mr. Sarkozy’s opposition to Turkish membership, and his party’s support for the genocide bill, are aimed at appealing to the 500,000 ethnic Armenians in his country leading up to the May presidential elections.

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Survey Reveals One-Fifth of Young Germans Never Heard of Auschwitz

Story by Allan Hall for The Daily Mail, January 25, 2012:

A survey carried out two days before Holocaust Memorial Day shows more than a fifth of young Germans do not know the name of Auschwitz or what happened there.

Twenty one per cent of people aged between 18 and 30 quizzed about the most notorious Nazi extermination camp had not heard of it, the survey revealed.
And almost half of all those canvassed by the Forsa research institute said they had never visited a concentration camp despite the fact Germany has made all of those on its soil permanent memorials to the dead.

Horrors: A survey has revealed one fifth of young Germans have never heard of Auschwitz or the crimes perpetrated there by the Nazis

This Friday is the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in 1945.

By the time Russian soldiers got there, some 1.2million of the six million victims of the Holocaust had been murdered there.

German government officials, camp survivors and Israeli politicians will be among those attending commemorations at the site of the camp built by the Nazis in occupied Poland during World War Two.

The survey, published in Stern magazine, showed that of people over 30, 95 per cent had heard of Auschwitz and the crimes committed there.

Vulnerable: Berlin is concerned that youths ignorant of the crimes of the Nazis are being targeted by a rise in neo-Nazis violence in Germany

But less than 70 per cent could name the country it lies in.

Berlin, which is concerned about a rising tide of neo-Nazi crime and sentiment in Germany, is dismayed by the survey which underwrites the belief that ignorant youth in particular are vulnerable to far-right propaganda that claims the Holocaust is a myth.

The Nazis built six extermination camps – Auschwitz, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek – all of them in occupied Poland.

The murder of prisoners, most of them Jewish, began in 1941 when Nazi officials enacted Hitler’s ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’.

Most of the camps included gas chambers and many victims were then cremated as the Nazi’s attempted to hide evidence of the Holocaust.

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Ancient Jewish Scrolls Found in North Afghanistan

Amie Ferris-Rotman for Reuters, January 23, 2012:

KABUL (Reuters) – A cache of ancient Jewish scrolls from northern Afghanistan that has only recently come to light is creating a storm among scholars who say the landmark find could reveal an undiscovered side of medieval Jewry.
The 150 or so documents, dated from the 11th century, were found in Afghanistan’s Samangan province and most likely smuggled out — a sorry but common fate for the impoverished and war-torn country’s antiquities.
Israeli emeritus professor Shaul Shaked, who has examined some of the poems, commercial records and judicial agreements that make up the treasure, said while the existence of ancient Afghan Jewry is known, their culture was still a mystery.

“Here, for the first time, we see evidence and we can actually study the writings of this Jewish community. It’s very exciting,” Shaked told Reuters by telephone from Israel, where he teaches at the Comparative Religion and Iranian Studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The hoard is currently being kept by private antique dealers in London, who have been producing a trickle of new documents over the past two years, which is when Shaked believes they were found and pirated out of Afghanistan in a clandestine operation.

It is likely they belonged to Jewish merchants on the Silk Road running across Central Asia, said T. Michael Law, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University’s Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

“They might have been left there by merchants travelling along the way, but they could also come from another nearby area and deposited for a reason we do not yet understand,” Law said.

Cultural authorities in Kabul had mixed reactions to the find, which scholars say is without a doubt from Afghanistan, arguing that the Judeo-Persian language used on the scrolls is similar to other Afghan Jewish manuscripts.
National Archives director Sakhi Muneer outright denied the find was Afghan, arguing that he would have seen it, but an advisor in the Culture Ministry said it “cannot be confirmed but it is entirely possible.”

“A lot of old documents and sculptures are not brought to us but are sold elsewhere for ten times the price,” said advisor Jalal Norani, explaining that excavators and ordinary people who stumble across finds sell them to middlemen who then auction them off in Iran, Pakistan and Europe.

“Unfortunately, we cannot stop this,” Norani said. The Culture Ministry, he said, pays on average $1,500 for a recovered antique item. The Hebrew University’s Shaked estimated the Jewish documents’ worth at several million dollars.

Thirty years of war and conflict have severely hindered both the collecting and preserving of Afghanistan’s antiquities, and the Culture Ministry said endemic corruption and poverty meant many new discoveries do not even reach them.
Interpol and U.S. officials have also traced looted Afghan antiquities to funding insurgent activities.

In today’s climate of uncertainty, the National Archives in Kabul keep the bulk of its enormous collection of documents — some dating to the fifth century — under lock and key to prevent stealing.

Instead reproductions of gold-framed Pashto poems and early Korans scribed on deer skin, or vellum, are displayed for the public under the ornate ceilings of the Archives, which were the nineteenth century offices of Afghan King Habibullah Khan.

“I am sure Afghanistan, like any country, would like to control their antiquities… But on the other hand, with this kind of interest and importance, as a scholar I can’t say that I would avoid studying them,” said Shaked of the Jewish find.

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New History Books

Don’t forget to check out all of the latest and forthcoming books on history on There you will find books on the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the U.S. and the world. Updated frequently!

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