Posted in 1940s, Shoah

Pedantic, politicised Polish pilpul

Warning: Any hateful comments from historical revisionists will be deleted and the commenters blacklisted. If you can’t agree to disagree respectfully, you can leave.

Since today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I wanted to discuss Article 55a of the 2018 amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance–Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation.

Sections 1a and 1b of Article 55 outlaw historical denialism of Nazi and Soviet crimes against Poles, crimes against peace and humanity, war crimes, and political repression. Shoah denial isn’t outright mentioned, but is understood to be included as a criminal offence.

In 2007, an amendment was passed regarding lustrations in Poland; i.e., limiting the participation of former Communists in government, esp. members of the secret police.

It sounds great so far! Many other countries have similar laws.

And then came the infamous 2018 amendment, which has drawn international criticism.

What makes that latest addition so controversial?

The amended Article 55a makes it illegal to honestly discuss the difficult issue of Polish complicity in the Shoah. Article 2a, now null and void, was also criticised for condemning crimes against Polish citizens by Ukrainian nationalists, since most of those Ukrainians were Polish citizens at the time.

Historical consensus agrees:

1. The most Righteous Among the Nations (as per 1 January 2019) are Polish, 6,992 out of 27,362 total. (The Netherlands is #2 with 5,778, France is #3 with 4,099, Ukraine is #4 with 2,634, and Belgium is #5 with 1,751.

2. Poland disappeared from the map during WWII, carved up by Germany and the USSR.

3. There’s a strong case to be made for Poland suffering the most of any occupied nation during WWII.

4. While many local authorities were left in place, Poland was directly governed by Germany instead of a puppet government.

5. Poland was hurt by the postwar borders decided at the Yalta Conference. She lost 20% of her land, and the Polish residents east of the Curzon Line were expelled.

6. The Polish government-in-exile was actively involved in matters regarding their country, and gave the Allies some of the earliest and most accurate reports of the Shoah.

7. Under Lebensraum, 923,000 Poles were expelled to make room for ethnic Germans. Sometimes entire towns were expelled, and everyone was forced to leave most of their belongings behind. Many houses were left with half-eaten meals and unmade beds.

8. The Polish Resistance was very active, and never stopped fighting the enemy in their midst. There were also strong underground rescue efforts.

9. The penalty for being caught helping Jews was death, as compared to the prison terms meted out in most other occupied countries.

10. After the war, the Polish government prosecuted and executed many collaborators and people guilty of crimes against humanity.

11. There was a LOT of anti-Semitism in countries without Jewish emancipation. Interfaith relations in 1940s Europe were a far cry from what they are today, and many survivors say they never felt at home in their own native countries, were afraid of local Gentiles, spoke Yiddish instead of the national language.

12. Many people in Nazi-occupied countries were active collaborators and silent bystanders.

13. The Shoah couldn’t have happened on its tragic scale if not for the above. E.g., the swift, brutal process in Hungary was carried out entirely by native gendarmes. Many people never saw a German till the death trains changed hands in Košice, Slovakia.

14. More than a few people in Poland shouted epithets and made throat-slashing motions as death trains came through.

15. Many people in hiding, and their helpers, were betrayed by locals.

16. During the war, there were pogroms in Jedwabne, Szczuczyn, and Wąsosz, carried out by locals. After the war, there was a pogrom in Kielce.

Under Article 55a, points 11–16 can’t be discussed honestly and openly. History is a dialogue between past and present, not a forced narrative with a political agenda avoiding difficult questions and conclusions.

This has led to people demanding journalists “correct” articles which dare say, e.g., “Auschwitz was in Poland.”

Showing WWII maps with Poland and referring to Poland as simply Poland isn’t a cruel act of Polonophobia or historical ignorance. It’s a geographical reference everyone understands, not an implication Poles created and ran those camps. Likewise, the term “Polish death camps,” used as early as 1944 but now widely rejected as misleading, is in reference to geography, not culpability.

Should all books about the Shoah be rewritten to specify the country as “German-occupied Poland,” even when no one would’ve spoken or thought like that in real life? E.g., “I could tell by the road signs we were heading towards Poland,” “It’s a good thing we’re still in Poland, since the natives might be kinder to us, and we speak the same language.” How many Poles thought of themselves as suddenly really living in Germany?

Also, how could Poland celebrate 100 years of independence in 2018 if they didn’t really exist during WWII? By that logic, 2045 should be their centenary. Are these people saying they accept Germany’s annexation as legal and valid?

Compelled speech hurts everyone. We need simple, immediately-understood words, not hair-splitting, pedantic verbal gymnastics avoiding calling a spade a spade. It’s like TRAs using grotesque terms like “womb havers,” “cervix owners,” and “people who menstruate” instead of “women.” And why use 5-10 extra words when a single one easily suffices?

Posted in 1940s, Food, Historical fiction, holidays, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—An unlikely celebration

Copyright Jüdischen Museum Im Stadtmuseum, Berlin
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 5409/3094

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. For my last Chanukah-themed snippet this year, I’m sharing something from Chapter 17, “Evacuated Westward,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s December 1944, and a group of nine young women from Abony, Hungary, along with two non-Jewish friends, have recently been moved from the privileged Kanadakommando sorting detail at Auschwitz to the all-female Breslau–Hundsfeld factory. Because this factory was run by the Wehrmacht, not the SS, prisoners had rather good treatment, including the chance to clandestinely celebrate Chanukah.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit ten lines.

Copyright Posner Family Estate, courtesy of Shulamit Mansbach, Haifa, Israel

A week before the holiday, one of the women had organized some leftover cotton and thread from the factory and hidden them under the mattresses. She had also gotten hold of some precious potatoes, cut them in half, created indents for oil, and twisted wicks. Since the prisoners had relative freedom in their living quarters, they were able to gather to light candles, sing holiday songs, and bless one another. As always, they talked about food too.

“My mother always made noodles and cabbage with poppy seeds,” Hajnalka said on the fifth night, rubbing her stomach. “My favorite was chicken paprikash.”

“I wish we had lots of latkes to fill our stomachs,“ Klaudia said. “I’d dunk mine in an ocean of applesauce, sour cream, lecsó, quark, you name it. Next Chanukah, I’m going to stuff myself silly with sufganiyot. My favorite filling was blueberry, but I’d take any filling after this crummy diet, since I’ve got to build my voluptuous figure back up.”

Posted in 1940s, holidays, Movies

A hypnotic murder mystery

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) was so popular, a second Meet film was created for them. Originally, Meet the Killer was entitled Easy Does It and intended for Bob Hope, but Universal bought the rights and reworked it. A&C’s prior two films, Mexican Hayride and Africa Screams, weren’t exactly their strongest work, and they needed another hit.

Boris Karloff’s character was initially a woman named Madame Switzer, and the film was called Meet the Killers. Five days before shooting began, Karloff was hired, and the character became a swami.

In New Zealand and Australia, censors removed every scene with a corpse. Denmark banned the film because of a scene where corpses play cards.

Meet the Killer was filmed from 10 February–26 March 1949 and released on 22 August 1949. Sadly, Lou was stricken by a relapse of rheumatic fever after filming wrapped and bedridden for several months. That November, he had to have an operation on his gangrenous gallbladder. Because of his illness, the next A&C film didn’t begin production till 28 April 1950.

Freddie Phillips (Lou) and Casey Edwards (Bud), a bellboy and detective, respectively, at the Lost Caverns Resort Hotel, are swept up in a lot of trouble when famous, short-tempered criminal lawyer Amos Strickland checks in. Shortly after he has Freddie fired for his hilarious incompetence, Freddie goes to his hotel room to apologise.

Freddie doesn’t realise Strickland is a corpse, nor does he see a mysterious hand in a black glove reaching under the curtains. When it finally gets through to him, Freddie races to the lobby in terror.

Suspicion is cast on Freddie when guest Mike Relia reports someone broke into his room and stole his gun. Bellboys have keys to all the rooms, and he also yelled at Strickland and was fired shortly before the murder.

The missing gun turns up in Freddie’s room, which makes him look even worse. Casey believes his innocence, and goes with him to Relia’s room to return the gun. While in the room, they discover a damning telegram.

Freddie opens the door to check if the coast is clear while Casey plants the gun in a suit pocket, and up comes a swami who hynotises Freddie.

Inspector Wellman (James Flavin) and Sgt. Stone (Mikel Conrad) order Freddie kept in custody as a guest of the state in his hotel room until his name is cleared. This is hardly a punishment, as Freddie lives it up with room service and beautiful female employees giving him beauty treatments.

Freddie’s luck becomes even worse when his date Angela compels him to write and sign a confession, pretending the real killer will confess when he sees it.

Casey sends Relia’s fingerprints to HQ and reports he has a criminal history, with Strickland serving as his lawyer. The investigators don’t think this is damning evidence, since his criminal past is common knowledge and ancient history, and six of Strickland’s other past clients are also at the hotel and received the same telegram.

Angela falls under suspicion too when she’s accused of mixing a poisonous champagne cocktail.

The swami creeps into Freddie’s room that night and hypnotises him again. His orders entice Freddie into putting a noose around his neck, but Freddie is cowardly even under hypnosis, and falls backwards instead of jumping.

Not deterred, the swami asks Freddie to kill himself with a gun. This also fails, and the swami asks how he’d prefer to die. Freddie wisely answers “Old age.”

The swami asks him to jump out of a window next, but Freddie jumps backwards into the room. All these refusals make the swami angry, and he goes after Freddie with a knife, ordering him to plunge it into his heart.

Freddie still refuses to kill himself.

The swami thinks he’s finally found success when he asks Freddie if he’d plunge the knife into the heart of the man in the mirror, and Freddie says yes. Things don’t go as planned when Freddie tries to stab the swami, believing that was the man in the mirror.

Casey comes to the rescue after the swami scrams.

And then the bodies start turning up in Freddie’s closet. Even more damning, he comes into possession of a bloody handkerchief.

Several attempts are made on Freddie’s life, culminating in a mysterious voice ordering him to bring the handkerchief to the Lost Cavern.

Posted in 1940s, holidays, Movies

A monstrous quintet

Premièring in NYC on 15 December 1944 and in L.A. on 22 December, with a general release on 16 February 1945, The House of Frankenstein was the first multi-monster movie. Prior, only two monsters had appeared together. In early drafts, even more Universal monsters were featured—the Invisible Man, the Ape Woman, the Mummy, the Mad Ghoul. Working titles included The Devil’s Brood and Chamber of Horrors.

This film marked the début of Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster. His predecessor, Boris Karloff, is said to have coached him on how to play the role. Karloff’s appearance was to be his last in Universal’s classic horror cycle.

A mad scientist, Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff), was thrown in prison for robbing graveyards in his quest to replicate Dr. Frankenstein’s work in bringing the dead back to life. His hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) is very eager for this project to take place, since he feels it’ll cure his deformity.

After their break from prison during a lightning storm, they run across the travelling Prof. Lampini (George Zucco) and help to push his circus wagons out of the mud. To repay the favor, Lampini invites them into one of the wagons.

This isn’t exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship, since Dr. Niemann and Daniel murder Lampini and take over his horror show.

Who should attend the next show but Bürgermeister Hussman (Sig Ruman), the reason Dr. Niemann was thrown in prison! As part of his quest for revenge, Dr. Niemann brings Count Dracula’s skeleton to life and convinces him to do exactly as he’s told.

While Hussman is walking home with his grandson Karl and his new bride Rita (Anne Gwynne), Dracula (John Carradine) pulls up alongside them and offers a ride. The Hussmans also agree to have a drink with him.

It doesn’t take long for Dracula to bring Rita under his spell with a hypnotic ring. That mission accomplished, Dracula assumes his bat form late at night and kills Hussman. It’s too late by the time Karl discovers their guest’s true identity and rushes to his grandfather.

Things go from bad to worse when Rita disappears while Karl is phoning for help. He races after Dracula’s departing carriage, but to not avail. Karl alerts a team of police on horseback, whom he gives chase with.

Rita is recovered after a road accident caused by Daniel throwing Dracula’s coffin into the path of the pursuers. Dracula himself is killed by the sunlight.

Dr. Niemann’s next stop is Castle Frankenstein, which is now in ruins. He and Daniel are ordered by cops to scram, since travelling shows like theirs aren’t allowed.

More trouble immediately follows when Daniel comes to the rescue of a young Romany girl, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), being whipped and turns the whip on the attacker. Daniel begs Dr. Niemann to take in the injured girl till she recovers. Since the cops also ordered the Romany out, she’s left without any familiar faces.

Ilonka is initially alarmed when she discovers Daniel’s a hunchback, but quickly becomes friendly and accepting again. Daniel’s been kind to her, so it doesn’t matter what he looks like.

While Dr. Niemann and Daniel are prowling around the ruined castle in the middle of the night, Daniel falls through the floor and into a cave. Explorations reveal the frozen bodies of the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), preserved inside ice blocks.

Daniel and Dr. Niemann light a fire to unthaw the bodies. First to be freed is the Wolfman, Larry Talbot, who demands to know why he’s being tortured like this. He can’t bear living with the curse of transforming into a wolf at every full moon.

Dr. Niemann promises to free him from the curse if he helps with reanimating the Monster. This promise is short-lived, since despite Larry and Daniel’s begging, Dr. Niemann refuses to work on anything but reviving the Monster and getting revenge on two other people.

Meanwhile, Larry becomes the Wolfman at the next full moon and kills someone. Daniel tries to tell Ilonka about Larry’s true identity, but she’s too in love with Larry to believe it. She screams at Daniel that she hates him and that he’s ugly, and runs away. Awash in anguish and unrequited love, Daniel begins whipping the Monster’s body.

The locals form a search party to find the werewolf after the body of the Wolfman’s latest victim is discovered. During the search, Larry tells Ilonka the truth about himself, and says Dr. Niemann won’t help him.

Larry confronts Dr. Niemann again while the Monster is being reanimated, and once again is rebuffed.

Everything comes to a head at once when Larry transmogrifies into the Wolfman again, the angry villagers converge on Dr. Niemann’s house, and the Monster is reanimated.

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Imre, Writing

WeWriWa—Trepidation in a train

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, and ends the chapter.

After a violent fight with a former gendarme, Imre Goldmark is being smuggled out of Budapest and into Italy to join his girlfriend Csilla and their friends. Imre is afraid he killed the gendarme, and his mother doesn’t want to take any chances. Imre’s sister Júlia decided to leave Hungary too.

They’re now safe inside a cattlewagon of a train under the protection of the Brihah. Imre has just told Júlia he thinks he loves Csilla, and that he wouldn’t have killed a man for any of his prior girlfriends.

Budapest’s Nyugati Station in 1936
Copyright FOTO:FORTEPAN/Lőrincze Judit

“Are you really sure you killed him? Maybe he just passed out or was badly injured.”

“There was no pulse or breath.” Imre fell silent at the sound of footsteps pacing around outside.

Throughout the night, various voices drifted through the air. Some of them were Russian soldiers, but others were Hungarians. Every so often, they heard voices in a third, unfamiliar language, which they hoped was Hebrew being spoken by Brihah agents guarding the train. It was difficult to fall asleep with only straw for a bed and no blankets, but eventually both Imre and Júlia’s exhaustion got the better of them, and they were sound asleep by the time the train pulled out of the station and began making its way towards the birthplace of Dante, Boccaccio, and the Renaissance.