Monthly Archives: April 2013

Winnie The Pooh’s A.A. Milne was WWI Propagandist

Alison Flood in The Guardian, April 26, 2013:

Writer was anti-war but new discovery shows he was drafted by military intelligence service MI7b, shut down in 1918

AA Milne with Christopher Robin and the original Pooh Bear in 1928
Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne with Christopher Robin in 1928. Photograph: Pictorial Press

AA Milne famously denounced war in his pacifist essay Peace with Honour, but classified documents found in an old trunk reveal the author of Winnie the Pooh was recruited by a secret propaganda unit during the first world war.

Jeremy Arter was sorting through old paperwork in his aunt’s home when he stumbled across rare, classified documents from MI7b, a military propaganda outfit that worked with writers to present a positive version of the war to those at home.

It closed in 1918 with all official paperwork thought to have been destroyed, but Arter found more than 150 articles saved by his great uncle, Captain James Price Lloyd, who worked for the unit.

“As far as we’re aware this is the only surviving body of material from MI7b and it’s a truly remarkable record of how the British propaganda machine worked at the time,” said Rob Phillips, digitisation project manager at the National Library of Wales, which is creating an archive relating to the Welsh experience of the war.

Along with manuscripts and photographs, Arter found a pamphlet entitled The Green Book, dated January 1919 and stamped MI7b: “for private circulation”.

“I looked for Uncle Jim, but I found AA Milne as well. I also found Cecil Street, the author of the Dr Priestley novels; the frontiersman and author Roger Pocock; the Irish poet Patrick MacGill; and JP Morton of Bystander fame,” said Arter. “It was a bit like the Magnificent Seven had ridden into town, except that these were more than 20 or so of the greatest literary men of their day all working for MI7b, along with Uncle Jim.

“[The Green Book] was a valedictory in-house magazine probably printed in no more than 20 copies, for each of the people who probably had a farewell dinner at one of the London clubs. In it they vent their spleen and humour at the war and at each other … It’s a priceless document. Great Uncle Jim broke every rule in the book [to preserve it].”

In a series of poems, Milne, who also worked as a signalling officer during the first world war and served briefly in France, imagines how “some earlier propagandists” might have approached having to “lie” about the “atrocities” of the war.

In Captain William Shakespeare, of a Cyclist Battalion, Milne writes: “In MI7B, / Who loves to lie with me / About atrocities / And Hun Corpse Factories. / Come hither, come hither, come hither, / Here shall he see / No enemy, / But sit all day and blether.”

In Captain Thomas Campbell, of the Border Regiment he writes: “It was the schooner ‘Hesperus’ / Which sailed the wintry seas … / And victory must remain with us / While we have ships like these.”

Milne “probably stood out because he didn’t keep his pacifist views to himself”, said Arter. The author was discharged in 1919. Five years later he began his career as a children’s author, with the publication of two poetry collections, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, and his two Winnie- the- Pooh novels.

His pacifist work Peace with Honour: an Enquiry Into the War Convention was released in 1934. He wrote it, he said, “because I want everybody to think (as I do) that war is poison, and not (as so many think) an over-strong, extremely unpleasant medicine.”

The second world war changed Milne’s mind, however. He accused his old friend PG Wodehouse, of near-treason for his radio broadcasts from a Nazi internment camp, and in 1940 he published War with Honour, which took a different line from his earlier assertion that “war is something of man’s own fostering, and if all mankind renounces it, then it is no longer there”.

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Holocaust Museum Marks Twentieth Anniversary

From the Associated Press, April 29, 2013:

Elderly survivors of the Holocaust and the veterans who helped liberate them are gathering for what could be their last big reunion at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Some 1,000 survivors and World War II vets are coming together with President Bill Clinton and Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust activist and writer, on Monday when the museum marks its 20th anniversary. Organizers chose not to wait for the 25th milestone because many survivors and vets may not be alive in another five years.

Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wiesel, who both dedicated the museum at its opening in 1993, will deliver keynote speeches. On Sunday night, the museum presented its highest honor to World War II veterans who ended the Holocaust. Susan Eisenhower accepted the award on behalf of her grandfather, U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and all veterans of the era.

The museum also launched a campaign to raise $540 million by 2018 to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to combat anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and contemporary genocide. It has already secured gifts totaling $258.7 million. The campaign will double the size of the museum’s endowment by its 25th anniversary. Also, a $15 million gift from Holocaust survivors David and Fela Shapell will help build a new Collections and Conservation Center.

Museum Director Sara Bloomfield said organizers wanted to show Holocaust survivors, veterans and rescuers the effort will continue to honor the memory of 6 million murdered Jews, in part by saving lives and preventing genocide in the future.

“We felt it was important, while that generation is still with us in fairly substantial numbers, to bring them together,” Bloomfield said, “to not only honor them, but in their presence make a commitment to them that not only this institution but the people we reach will carry forward this legacy.”

The museum continues collecting objects, photographs and other evidence of the Holocaust from survivors, veterans and archives located as far away as China and Argentina. Curators expect the collection to double in size over the next decade.

This week, the museum is opening a special, long-term exhibit titled “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity During the Holocaust.” It includes interviews with perpetrators that have never been shown before, as well as details of mass killings in the former Soviet Union that were only uncovered in more recent years.

Curator Susan Bachrach said the exhibit and its research challenge the idea that the Holocaust was primarily about Hitler and other Nazi leaders. Surveys at the museum show that’s what most visitors believe.

“That’s very comforting to people, because it puts distance between the visitors and who was involved,” Bachrach said.

So, the museum set out to look at ordinary people who looked on and were complicit in the killing and persecution of millions of Jews through greed, a desire for career advancement, peer pressure or other factors. It examines influences “beyond hatred and anti-Semitism,” Bachrach said.

Focusing only on fanatical Nazis would be a serious misunderstanding of the Holocaust, Bloomfield said.

“The Holocaust wouldn’t have been possible, first of all, without enormous indifference throughout Germany and German-occupied Europe, but also thousands of people who were, say, just doing their jobs,” she said, such as a tax official who collected special taxes levied against Jews.

In an opening film, some survivors recall being turned over to Nazi authorities in front of witnesses who did nothing. “The whole town was assembled … looking at the Jews leaving,” one survivor recalls.

Steven Fenves was a boy at the time. He recalled how in 1944, Hungary, allied with Nazi Germany, forced his family out of their apartment. The family was deported to Auschwitz, where Fenves’ mother was gassed.

“One of the nastiest memories I have is going on that journey and people were lined up, up the stairs, up to the door of the apartment, waiting to ransack whatever we left behind, cursing at us, yelling at us, spitting at us as we left,” he said in an interview with the museum.

The museum located images of bystanders looking on as Jews were detained, humiliated and taken away.

Non-Jews were also punished for violating German policies against the mixing of ethnic groups. For the first time, the museum is showing striking, rare footage of a ritualistic shaming of a Polish girl and a German boy for having a relationship. They are marched through the streets of a town in Poland, where the film was located in an attic. Dozens of people look on as Nazi officers cut the hair of the two teenagers. They are forced to look at their nearly bald heads in a mirror before their hair is burned.

“It’s hard not to focus on the cruelty that’s being perpetrated on this young couple,” Bachrach said. “But what we really want people to look at … is all the other people who are standing around watching this.”

Other items displayed include dozens of bullets excavated from the site of a mass grave in former Soviet territory and registration cards from city offices in Western and Southern Europe labeling people with a “J” for Jew.

The federally funded museum’s theme for its 20th anniversary is “Never Again: What You Do Matters.” The museum devotes part of its work and research to stopping current and preventing future genocides. A study released by the museum last month found that the longer the current conflict in Syria continues, the greater the danger that mass sectarian violence results in genocide.

Much more is still being learned about the Holocaust, as well, Bloomfield said. The museum is compiling an encyclopedia of all incarceration sites throughout Europe. When the project began, scholars expected to list 10,000 such sites. Now the number stands at 42,000.

The museum opened in 1993 as a living memorial to the Holocaust to inspire people worldwide to prevent genocide. A presidential commission called for such a museum in 1979. Since opening, it has counted more than 30 million visitors. The museum also provides resources for survivors. It has partnered with Ancestry.com to begin making the museum’s 170 million documents searchable online through the World Memory Project.

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Docent Honors Memories of Holocaust Survivors

Story by Lonnae O’Neal Parker in The Washington Post, April 26, 2013:

Rebecca Dupas always begins her tours of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with questions for students. “Why do we start with this image?” she’ll ask at the fourth-floor entrance to the permanent exhibition. Standing before photos from the 1945 liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, she points out shadows, juxtapositions, paradoxes — a half-dressed figure with the haggard face of a middle-age man and the spindly legs of a child.

They enter Holocaust history where American soldiers entered it, she’ll say, as she begins to introduce students slowly to industrial dehumanization and mass murder; to the philosophical underpinnings of the the Nazi Final Solution.

The petite African American woman, in her dark denims and patent-leather flats, seems scarcely more than a student herself. And she remembers the student she once was when she visited the museum for the first time, then came back, then took classes, then led tours, and now works there full time and sometimes writes poems about survivors.

Nearly 20 years ago, the museum began the Bringing the Lessons Home program in an effort to make Holocaust history relevant to young people in inner-city Washington. Twenty years from now, Holocaust survivors may all be dead and what was lived history will pass into distance with only artifacts left behind.

Whether Holocaust history will matter deeply, when survivors can no longer give it voice, is a source of reflection as the museum marks its 20th anniversary this week.

People such as Dupas play a central role in that.

‘A broader conversation’

Dupas, 31, is now a coordinator of leadership programs for the museum, but she sometimes still gives tours, as she did in March when she posted an invitation on Facebook for friends to visit. Her knowledge of the permanent collection extends not just to key places and dates and people, but also to a recognition of how long students need to pause at the Tower of Faces and where they’ll cry. It extends to the the realization that while she can draw obvious modern-day parallels, students have to make their own links. It’s how the history becomes personal.

She points out Nazi charts on racial superiority and images of Jewish-only benches. She used to point out “Colored Only” similarities, but stopped. “More often than not, someone will say, ‘Just like the South, or civil rights,’ ” she says.

In a section on radio propaganda, students cite the centrality of local urban stations like WPGC or WKYS to their own lives and invoke modern radio programs that broadcast hate talk. “The more sophisticated groups understand that there’s still propaganda going on. My job is to set up the possibility of that connection. It will click in now, or it will click in later.”

Dupas was born in Louisiana and moved to Prince George’s County with her mother, a correctional officer, and sister, who owns a day care, when her parents split up. She has lived in the District, Prince George’s and Baltimore. After graduating from Towson University, where she studied English and secondary education, she taught high school literature before joining the museum full time last year. She’d learned about the Holocaust Museum as a junior at Friendly High School in Fort Washington, and the following year she applied for the BTLH program. There were only two paragraphs about the Holocaust in the history books “and I just had so many questions,” Dupas says.

“Every Tuesday or Thursday, once a week for 12 weeks, I would take the Metro to the museum and we would have classes in the morning.” Students had to tour their families through the museum to graduate. That summer, she attended the museum’s Summer Youth Leadership Seminar, where they met up with youth organizations from around the country. She felt honored to be selected, to be associated with a prestigious museum. She was given a travel stipend for the commute, and at 18, began touring visitors as a part-time ambassador, interacting with survivors and creating artwork from it. Her artwork was poems.

She worked as a tour guide, in visitor services and archives, and as a part-time program coordinator. While at Towson, she coordinated a series of programs between the Black Student Union and Hillel. “That was the very thing I learned to do working at the museum,” she says. To “use the history to have a broader conversation about human relationships.”

She has sometimes had to answer questions about her involvement with the museum, which seems to some inorganic. “The question would always be, ‘Why the Holocaust?’ I do recall someone saying why not the Great Blacks in Wax Museum.”

The answer, Dupas says, is because the Holocaust Museum offered her the opportunity.

‘We want to challenge our visitors’

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Greece to Seek Reparations from Germany for WWII Occupation

From Reuters, April 28, 2013:

Greece has officially declared it will seek reparations from Germany dating back to the Nazi occupation during World War II, which could amount to over €100 billion, likely putting further strain on relations between the two Eurozone countries.

“We will exhaust every means available to arrive at a settlement,” Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos told parliament in Athens on Wednesday. “One can’t compare the times, but also one cannot erase the memories.”

A Greek Finance Ministry report leaked to local media earlier this month showed that Greece believes that Berlin owes it €162 billion – €108 billion for infrastructure damage during the occupation between 1941 and the end of the war, and €54 billion as compensation for an interest-free loan Germany took from the country to support its war effort.

If paid in full, the sum would nearly empty the national currency and gold reserves of Germany (€185 billion as of last month), though this would still not be enough to cover Greece’s national debt (over €350 billion).

Demands for such a reparation scheme have been voiced intermittently by Greek politicians over the past 60 years, but have gained renewed energy amid the recent financial crisis, in which the country has been subjected to tough austerity measures in exchange for largely German-backed loans.

The latest campaign is driven by radical Socialist opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, and is supported by 4 out of 5 Greeks, according to polls.

It remains unlikely that Germany will part with the money voluntarily.

Instead of misleading the people in Greece [about the possibility of reparations] it would be better to show them the road to reform,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said when the numbers in question first surfaced several weeks ago. “The issue was settled a long time ago. Paying reparations is out of the question.”

In his speech, Avramopoulos said the “Greek people suffered, went hungry and were looted like no other country,” and few contest that alongside the Soviet Union, Poland and parts of the Balkans, Greece was the hardest-hit of the invaded countries during World War II.

Still, the legal avenues open to the Greek government seem limited.

In the aftermath of the war, Greece was awarded provisional reparations amounting to a present-day value of about $2.5 billion.

Later, the 1953 London Debt Agreement – in which around half of Germany’s external debt was written off – stipulated that Greece would demand no further reparations until the unification of Germany. When the two German republics finally reunified in 1990, Greece conceded that it had no further claims.

In 1960, Germany also compensated Greeks who suffered under the Nazis.

While anti-German protests – including some that portray Chancellor Angela Merkel as a mustachioed Nazi – have become a staple of Greek political life, and set off what the media has labeled a ‘new Cold War’ between the countries.

The demand for reparations is apparently not just about a thirst for retribution, or even necessarily a chance to retake money from Germany: as numerous historians in both countries have pointed out, the London Debt Agreement was made because Germany couldn’t pay its debts without crippling its future. Forgiving these debts set the scene for Germany’s ‘economic miracle’ in the following decade.

Similarly, Greece’s current debts are about one-and-a-half times its Gross Domestic Product. Media commentators in Athens have repeatedly pointed to the historic parallels, and say that it is now Germany’s chance to allow Greece a better future, instead of suffocating it with obligations it can never repay.

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WWII Vet Who Provided Flag on Iwo Jima Dies

From the Associated Press, April 28, 2013:

Alan Wood, a World War II veteran credited with providing the flag in the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima, has died. He was 90.

Wood died April 18 of natural causes at his Sierra Madre home, his son Steven Wood said Saturday.

Wood was a 22-year-old Navy officer in charge of communications on a landing ship on Iwo Jima’s shores Feb. 23, 1945 when a Marine asked him for the biggest flag that he could find.

After five days of fighting to capture the Japanese-held island, U.S. forces had managed to scale Mount Suribachi to hoist an American flag.

Wood happened to have a 37-square-foot flag he had found months before in a Pearl Harbor Navy depot. .

Five Marines and a Navy Corpsman later raised that flag in a stirring moment captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

Steven Wood says his father was always humbled by his small role in the historic moment.

In a 1945 letter to a Marine general who asked for details about the flag, Wood wrote: “The fact that there were men among us who were able to face a situation like Iwo where human life is so cheap, is something to make humble those of us who were so very fortunate not to be called upon to endure such hell.”

In its story on Wood’s death, the Los Angeles Times reported that over the years others have claimed that they provided the flag, but retired Marine Col. Dave Severance, who commanded the company that took Mount Suribachi, said in an interview last week that it was Wood.

“I have a file of more than 60 people who claim to have had something to do with the flags,” he said from his home in La Jolla, Calif.

Wood went on to work as technical artist and spokesman at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

His wife, Elizabeth, died in 1985. Besides his son, Wood was survived by three grandchildren.

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Clash Between WWI and Bannockburn Memorials Feared

David Maddox for scotsman.com, April 28, 2013:

MPs and peers have called on the Scotland Office to take a leading role in the First World War centenary commemorations next year amid fears that they will be sidelined by the Scottish Government in favour of the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn.

Scotland on Sunday has learned that a meeting was held last week during which peers and MPs from across the parties raised concerns that the SNP Government is lagging behind the rest of the UK in meeting grassroots demands for events to mark the centenary of the start of the conflict.

The accusations that the First World War centenary is not being taken as seriously as Bannockburn has been denied by the Scottish Government and there was anger from SNP MPs that they were not invited to the cross-party meeting attended by more than 20 Scottish MPs and peers.

During the meeting Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was called on to “fill the gap” left by the Scottish Government and get his department to start facilitating events north of the Border.

With 2014 also being the year of the independence referendum, concerns were raised that SNP ministers are more interested in marking the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, which has seen more than £5 million of investment so far.

Labour peer Lord George Foulkes said: “The First World War was very much about the Union and different parts of the UK standing together whereas Bannockburn was, of course, about fighting the English.

“Quite a number of peers and MPs were worried that the Scottish Government wants to play down the First World War commemorations because of this. This is why we wanted the Scotland Office, on behalf of the UK Government, to fill the gap and take the lead in Scotland.”

Labour Glasgow North MP Ann McKechin said: “There has been a lot of emphasis from the Scottish Government on Bannockburn for political reasons but these events should not be a political football.”

There was anger from the SNP’s chief whip in Westminster, Pete Wishart, that his party had been excluded from the meeting. He said: “We have made it clear we want to play a full part in the First World War commemorations. This issue should not be politicised and it is extremely disappointing that we were not invited.

“I hope that there was not a political motive to our exclusion.”

Last October, Prime Minister David Cameron, announced more than £50m had been allocated for a “historic” commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War. An advisory board was set up to oversee the events including Culture Secretary Maria Miller, former Nato Secretary-General George Robertson, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, former chief of the defence staff Jock Stirrup and former chief of the general staff Richard Dannatt.

Among the projects announced by the Prime Minister were a “massive” transformation of the Imperial War Museum, a major programme of national commemorative events “properly funded and given the proper status they deserve” and an educational programme “to create an enduring legacy for generations to come”.

So far in Scotland £1m has been allocated by the Scottish Government to renovate war memorials and a panel of experts, led by former army chaplain Norman Drummond, has been tasked with coming up with a programme of events to mark the anniversary.

Meanwhile, SNP ministers have allocated £5m towards the National Trust for Scotland’s new Bannockburn visitor centre and £250,000 towards the Battle of Bannockburn re-enactment event.

The Scottish Government last night insisted that the First World War events and Bannockburn commemoration should not be compared.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government will take forward a programme of events to mark the commemoration of the Great War.

“A large amount of local activity is planned across Scotland already and the national programme of events for Scotland will be confirmed in due course. It will receive appropriate financial backing.”

She went on: “The commemoration of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn is an entirely separate issue.”

A Scotland Office spokesman confirmed that the Secretary of State for Scotland had met a number of MPs and peers last week to discuss the plans to commemorate the First World War next year.

“We are planning a range of events, including those to remember, among others, the Scots who fell in the Great War and we will work closely with a range of partners, including the Scottish Government, to ensure they are a fitting ­tribute to those who fought and died for their country,” he said.

Scotland’s sacrifice: share of sorrow

More Scots enlisted for the British Army during the Great War, in terms of per head of population, than any other part of the UK.

Government records from the time show that from 1914 to 1918, 557,618 Scots signed up to fight, compared with 4,006,158 from England, 272,924 Welsh and 134,202 Irish.

Inspired by patriotism and a sense of camaraderie, this elevated figure meant that Scotland’s sacrifice was destined to be proportionately greater than the rest of the country.

Of the estimated 745,000 British casualties recorded, it is believed that 130,000 were Scots.

The Royal Scots Regiment alone fielded 15 out of its 35 battalions in active duty during the First World War. More than 100,000 men passed through their ranks, of whom 11,162 were killed and more than 40,000 wounded.

The regiment received 71 battle honours, and six Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of its ranks, as well as innumerable individual medals.

The names of those Scots who gave their lives are commemorated in a memorial in Edinburgh Castle, designed by architect Robert Lorimer with the help of some 200 artists and craftsmen.

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Hitler’s Taste Tester

Rachel Tepper for The Huffington Post, April 27, 2013:

After decades of silence, 95-year-old Margot Woelk, thought to be the last surviving member of the team tasked with testing Adolf Hitler’s food for poisons, has come forward with new details about the infamous figure.

In an interview with the U.K. publication The Times, Woelk described tasting the Fuhrer’s meals between 11 a.m. and noon before the dishes were driven to Nazi headquarters, known as the Wolf’s Lair. There was always an hour delay between when food was tasted and it was served to Hitler — time to let the ill effects of any poisons take hold.

“It was all vegetarian, the most delicious fresh things, from asparagus to peppers and peas, served with rice and salads. It was all arranged on one plate, just as it was served to him. There was no meat and I do not remember any fish,” she told the publication. “Of course I was afraid. If it had been poisoned I would not be here today. We were forced to eat it, we had no choice.”

Woelk’s account seems to confirm longstanding suspicions that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian. Many claims suggest that Hitler may not have been a vegetarian in a modern sense — he allegedly enjoyed the odd sausage — but there’s ample evidence that he was, in fact, an animal lover. Granted, as is the nature with these sorts of debates, there’s dissent. Just consider the title of a 2004 book by vegetarian activist Rynn Berry: Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover.

Woelk became a taster when SS officers showed up at her home; she had recently moved to a house owned by her mother-in-law after her husband went off to war, according to the Daily Mail. Although she initially lived with her mother-in-law, Woelk was forced to live in a school building after an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler’s life in July of 1944. After more than two years of service, she escaped her confines, not long after Hitler abandoned the Wolf’s Lair and the Russians took it. A senior Nazi officer aided her return to Berlin. Woelk believes the other tasters — all young women — were not so fortunate, and perished when the Russians arrived.

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