Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction

Historical accuracy on fire

Warning: Contains massive spoilers!

While Season One of Masterpiece Theatre’s World on Fire, about the first year of WWII, isn’t nearly as egregiously anachronistic as Anne with an E, it nevertheless has much to answer for. I’m so tired of people defending historical characters with Current Year values as just “ahead of their time,” “not the kind of characters you’re used to seeing,” and “looking back on the past, not portraying it.”

I’ve zero problem with hist-fic including things like interracial couples, gay characters, single moms, assertive women, and people questioning the status quo. All those things obviously did happen in the past, even if they weren’t socially acceptable or legal. The key is in portraying them in a historically accurate way.

And what does that mean?

People being very discreet, only confiding in extremely trusted people they know to be fellow black sheep, keeping secrets, facing negative consequences.

Instead of recapping the entire season, I’m going to focus on everything wrong with it. There are plenty of other places you can find full reviews of each episode and Season One as a whole.

1. Those familiar with historical weaponry have said the guns and tanks are anachronistic.

2. The term “dumb-ass” did not exist in 1940, unless I’m very much mistaken!

3. Posh, wealthy Robina is a cold, unfeeling antagonist. Not only is she one of the few well-rounded characters, she’s just acting like anyone in her position would. Being rich doesn’t make one an automatic villain.

4. The interracial gay couple in Paris seems to have been included just to tick boxes. This storyline doesn’t feel well-integrated with the others, with far less screentime. The lovers are also a bit too out and indiscreet for their era. Even if you’re in a progressive, Bohemian bubble, the outside world still exists.

5. Nancy would’ve been an extreme rarity, a female investigative journalist and news reporter, yet we don’t see her facing any sexism.

6. We’re supposed to believe someone of Nancy’s age (forties or fifties) has never heard of eugenics or Social Darwinism before? It was hugely popular in the U.S., not just Nazi Germany!

7. Nancy’s incessant meddling and refusal to leave well enough alone leads to a huge tragedy with her neighbors the Rosslers. I predict her causing a similar situation when she’s in the USSR in Season Two.

8. How was Nancy not arrested after her anti-Nazi broadcasts?! She has no concept of the danger loose lips cause in totalitarian countries. (And egads, Helen Hunt’s mask-like facelift is so creepy and distracting!)

9. We’re supposed to believe Nancy and Hr. Rossler disposed of a dead body without anyone seeing anything? Also love the comment “She’s a dead Nazi, and that’s good enough for me.” Did the writers intend a parallel with the modern “Punch a Nazi” slogan, where anyone to the right of Antifa is deemed a Nazi and therefore deserving of violence?

Polish national shero Emilia Gierczak (1925–1945), killed in action at Kołobrzeg

10. Kasia’s surname should be Tomaszeska, not Tomaszeski! Polish surnames have grammatical gender.

11. It seems highly unlikely a Wehrmacht soldier would’ve killed an unarmed civilian so early in the war, even if she spat at him. It smacks of yet another convenient plot development.

12. How is Harry able to take Kasia’s little brother Jan back to England without papers? He could’ve only brought Kasia, his wife (who elects to stay behind and be a freedom-fighter with no apparent awareness of what danger she constantly puts herself into).

13. How did two Polish guys get all the way to freaking Dunkirk?! Huge plot holes! And of course they just happen to end up on the same boat as Harry.

14. And of course Kasia’s brother Grzegorz just happens to end up in a hospital close to Jan’s new home with Robina!

15. Why is Harry sent back to Poland to smuggle out Resistance fighters? Wouldn’t England be more concerned about resupplying them to enable them to continue fighting on their native turf, and wouldn’t a member of the Polish Free Forces be chosen in lieu of an Englishman?

16. How convenient Harry just happens to parachute into the area where Kasia’s stationed!

17. Also convenient how a bomb explodes just as Kasia is being led to the gallows before this, enabling her to escape.

18. And how convenient only Harry and Kasia are left alive after the Nazis attack their outpost!

19. Who the bloody hell leisurely, matter-of-factly wanders around in the middle of a warzone or behind enemy lines?

20. I have so much to say on the beyond-historically-inaccurate depiction of Lois’s out of wedlock pregnancy, I’m saving it for its own post on Wednesday!

21. Robina claims the Nazis didn’t bomb Paris. That’s sure news to me, after I read articles about the June 1940 bombing of Paris!

Posted in Russian history, Shoah

Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part III

Here are a few of the other real people who appear as characters in my alternative history, whom I haven’t already featured. Not everyone is from the Russian Imperial Family!

Captain Aleksandr Aronovich Pecherskiy (22 February 1909–19 January 1990) was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, and grew up in Rostov-na-Donu. He earned a diploma in literature and music, and worked as an accountant and manager of an amateur musicians’ school, and as an electrician at a train repair plant. He served in the army from 1931–33.

The day the war began, he was drafted as a junior lieutenant, and served with the 596th Howitzer Artillery Regiment. In autumn 1941, he saved his wounded commander from capture, but didn’t get any medals for his bravery.

He was captured in October 1941, and suffered with typhus for seven months. He and four other POWs escaped, but were recaptured that same day. They went to a penal camp and then a POW camp, where it was discovered he was circumcised. He admitted he was Jewish, knowing he’d be whipped for lying.

Severe punishments and several other POW camps followed. He ended up in Sobibór, where he organized and led the revolt and mass escape of 14 October 1943. After serving with two partisan groups, he reunited with the Red Army, and was promoted to Captain. He was wounded in Latvia in August 1944.

During the last years of Stalin’s reign, he lost his job, was briefly arrested, and was unable to find new employment. The Soviet government prevented him from testifying at several trials of Nazi war criminals abroad.

For his courage, he has received four medals (two posthumous), and many other awards and honors.

In my alternative history, Captain Pecherskiy and 50 other Jewish partisans, mostly escapees from camps and ghettoes, arrive at the Aleksandr Palace in September 1944 to petition Aleksey and Arkadiya to create all-Jewish regiments in the Imperial Russian Army. He becomes commander of an eponymous infantry regiment, and receives many medals and honors after the war.

King Mihai (Michael) of Romania (25 October 1921–5 December 2017) was the last king of Romania, and the last true surviving WWII head of state. He was the son of the repulsive King Carol II and Queen Mother Elena (née Princess Eleni of Greece and Denmark); grandson of King Konstantinos I of Greece and King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania; great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria and Tsar Aleksandr II; great-great-great-grandson of Tsar Nicholas I.

Soon after Mihai’s birth, his sleazy father was embroiled in yet another scandalous relationship, and renounced his claim to the throne. Mihai became king in 1927, after Ferdinand’s death, with a regency including his uncle Nicolae.

Carol returned to Romania in 1930, and refused to reconcile with his wife. He forced her out of the country and only let her see Mihai a few months a year, on his own terms. After Carol abdicated in September 1940, Mihai became king again.

Mihai frequently suffered bouts of depression, feeling he were too young and inexperienced to be king, and upset at being treated like a pathetic figurehead by the ruling fascists and Germans passing through. His mother provided teachers to shape him into a strong, active king, and urged him to depose the fascist Prime Minister Ion Antonescu.

She also made him to understand he had to take a stand against Jewish deportations, or risk going down in history as King Mihai the Wicked. He listened to his mother (who posthumously was honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations).

In June 1944, Mihai began secret talks with members of the opposition, to discuss overthrowing Antonescu. His successful coup in August turned Romania to the Allies and shortened the war by as much as six months. Sadly, the Soviets forced him to abdicate in December 1947.

In 1948, Mihai married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, with whom he had five daughters and enjoyed 68 years of marriage.

In my alternative history, Mihai and Nicolae secretly come to Russia in June 1944 to discuss the planned defection and overthrow of Antonescu. He returns in August for the belated baptism of Aleksey and Arkadiya’s surprise fifth child Shura and their nephew Oleg. It means a lot to him that Aleksey, who also came into a throne at a very young age, says he believes in him. Good kings are gradually made, not instantly created.

Posted in Writing

IWSG—Powering towards the finish line

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

Sometimes titles come easily to me, in bursts of Divine inspiration or hitting upon a great idea drawn from literature, song lyrics, or symbolism/themes from the book. Other times, it’s a little harder. I’ve had a Devil of a time retitling my Atlantic City books, both already written and planned! So many of the original working titles are so corny, cliché, generic, insipid, after school special-worthy.

As a name nerd, it’s very easy to find names. I like choosing names (both surnames and forenames) either with symbolic meaning to the characters, or that aren’t overly common. My secondary blog is all about names.

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I’ve been powering through to the finish line of my alternative history, which I’m very nervous but confident of having ready by my planned 17 July release date. I’d originally hoped to have it ready for a 12 August 2016 release, what would’ve been my primary protagonist’s 112th birthday, but I was pulled away from it and towards other things.

Now I realize it was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) I wasn’t finished at that time. What could be a more appropriately bittersweet release date than his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary)?

My JuNoWriMo wordcounts so far are much healthier than last year. I always count fiction, blog posts, and journal entries. This was my progress as of midnight on 6 June:

While powering through Part IV, I decided to have Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria come for two secret meetings in 1943 and ultimately defect to the Allied side. Bulgaria switched sides in 1944, but in real life, Boris died in August 1943. I support the theory he was killed with a slow-working poison, due to the circumstances raging at that time. Hitler was furious at him for repeatedly refusing to declare war on the USSR and deport Bulgarian Jewry.

The only reasons Boris joined the Axis were to regain lost Bulgarian land (and with it national pride), and to save his kingdom from foreign invasion and occupation. He was no fascist or anti-Semite. Since he’s one of my heroes, I saved him and gave him premonitions about being poisoned. He refuses to eat or drink anything at that final stormy meeting with Hitler.

I’ve joined a new writing group in the area I’ve been stuck in since last June. I really like it, though I very much miss the people and camaraderie of my writing group back home in NY. I also feel vindicated at how everyone in the critique groups I’ve been in so far loves my Cinnimin.

Out of everyone who’s “met” her over the years, only two people have ever said they didn’t like her and misread her as a mean-spirited bully. I know we can’t expect every single person to love each one of our characters, but it can shake one’s confidence. For awhile, I seriously considered toning/watering her down even further, but realized she wouldn’t be my Cinni anymore if I took away her sassy, smart-ass attitude.

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For the second time this year, I had an issue with my computer charger. The charger I got with this refurbished computer in August 2014 became frayed in several spots, and finally stopped working in January. Against my own better judgment, I got a cheap third-party replacement instead of the $79 Apple one.

That charger began erratically working in late May, and finally stopped charging altogether. I also got a Service Battery message. Thankfully, my 11-year-old MacBook Pro still works very well, other than the broken left vent fan. Every time I have tech issues, I go back to my older computer.

I got a replacement charger, and didn’t need to get a new battery as well. I’ve heard far more horrific tales about these third-party chargers, like fires and zapped hard drives. Lesson learnt.

Posted in New York City, Photography, Travel

Yorkville

Copyright Leifern

Yorkville is a neighborhood within Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Its boundaries are E. 96th St. (north), E. 79th St. (south), Third Ave. (west), and the East River (east). Part of Carnegie Hill used to be within Yorkville.

In August 1776, about half of Gen. Washington’s troops were stationed in Manhattan, many of them in Yorkville. They were strategically positioned along the East River to protect the other half of their brothers-in-arms if they retreated from Brooklyn, and to counter any attacks from either land or sea.

Gracie Mansion

Copyright Limulus

After a terrible defeat by the Battle of Long Island on 27 August, Gen. Washington’s Continental Army retreated from Yorkville. During the retreat, the British piped the song “Fly Away,” about a fox fleeing from hounds.

Instead of giving in to this musical taunt to fight, the Continental troops retreated in a very orderly fashion. This prepared them for their success next month in the Battle of Harlem Heights.

St. Monica Catholic Church, Copyright Limulus

Carl Schurz Park

Slowly but steadily, Yorkville evolved from farmland and gardens to a modern, industrialized, commercial area. One of America’s first railroads, the New York and Harlem Railroad, went through the neighborhood. The Boston Post Road, a mail delivery route, also went through Yorkville.

The current street grid was lay out from 1839–44. By 1850, a large portion of the population were German and Irish.

After the Civil War, slums were replaced by mansions.

The Marx Brothers’ old tenement, 179 E. 93rd St. (now in Carnegie Hill), Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Yorkville was a working-class and bourgeois neighborhood for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to the big German and Irish sections, there were also many Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Lebanese.

Yorkville was one of the most common destinations for German immigrants by 1880. After the General Slocum ship caught fire in the East River, off Yorkville’s shores, on 15 June 1904, many Germans moved to Yorkville from the Lower East Side’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany). Most of the passengers had been German, and people already in New York wanted to be closer to their affected relatives.

There were many ethnic bakeries, shops, groceries, churches, cultural associations, bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and imported gift shops.

Sidewalk clock, 1501 3rd Ave. between E. 84th and 85th Sts., Copyright Beyond My Ken

Disgracefully, Yorkville was home to the openly pro-Nazi German American Bund. There were frequent protests and demonstrations against the Bund, including street fights.

Thankfully, its founder, Fritz Julius Kuhn, got busted for tax evasion and embezzling $14,000 from the Bund, and spent 43 months behind bars.

While he was in jail, his U.S. citizenship was cancelled. After his release, he was re-arrested as an enemy alien, and sent to an interment camp in Texas. Kuhn was interred on Ellis Island after the war, and deported to Germany on 15 September 1945. He died in 1951 in München.

146–156 E. 89th St. between Lexington and Third Aves., Copyright Beyond My Ken

On a happier note, Yorkville was a haven for people fleeing from Nazi Germany and occupied Europe, and from behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, Yorkville is one of Manhattan’s richest neighborhoods.

Landmarks include Lycée Français de New York, Carl Schurz Park, Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s official home), the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal Asphalt Plant, the Rhinelander Children’s Center, Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Monica Church, Holy Trinity Church, St. Joseph’s Church, and Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Besides the Marx Brothers, other famous residents of Yorkville include Lou Gehrig (born in the neighborhood) and James Cagney (grew up on E. 96th St.).

My characters Vera and Natalya Lebedeva move to a cellar apartment in Yorkville in spring 1929, after their father finally lets them live on their own. After Natalya’s marriage to Rostislav Smirnov, she stays in the neighborhood.

Vera finds a job teaching second grade in Yorkville after she graduates Hunter, and moves back to the Lower East Side after marrying Rostislav’s brother Vsevolod. She and Vsevolod later return to Yorkville and move into a brownstone a short distance from Natalya and Rostislav.

Novomira Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, the daughter of old family friends, lives with Vera and Vsevolod while she attends Barnard.

Posted in 1940s, Photography, Travel

The Battle of Tarawa

In the interest of not reverting to the days when my average post was 1,500 words, this post will only include select information. Those who want greater details can check out the sources listed at the end.

My generous thanks to the USMC for putting such wonderful historical monographs online for free!

The Battle of Tarawa was fought from 20–23 November 1943 at Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. It was part of Operation Galvanic, the U.S. invasion of the Gilberts. This was the first U.S. offensive in the crucial central Pacific region, and the first time U.S. forces faced significant opposition to an amphibious landing.

In comparison to previous landings, this time the Japanese put up a major fight. There were 18,000 Marines and 17,000 soldiers from the Army’s 27th Infantry Division against 5,000 Japanese Naval defenders. Within 76 hours, the U.S. losses were as high as those from the six months of the Guadalcanal Campaign.

The Japanese spent almost a year fortifying Tarawa, right up till the day of the invasion. Rear Admiral Keiji Shibazaki encouraged his troops by saying, “It would take one million men one hundred years” to take Tarawa.

The Marines made a disastrously miscalculated decision about landing time, rejecting the advice of a New Zealand liaison officer who tried to tell them the tide was all wrong.

The Marines found themselves in neap tide. The water wasn’t high enough for their Higgins boats to clear the reef. Only LVT Alligators were able to clear it.

The Marines had to go the rest of the way on foot through the water. During the lull in the Naval bombardment, the surviving Japanese had gotten back into position and now began firing without stop. Many Marines were dead before they reached shore.

Many LVTs were also taken out of battle. Their hulls weren’t armored, thus making them vulnerable.

With the LVTs unable to clear the sea wall, the first landing wave of Marines were stranded. Most of the remaining LVTs who tried to rescue them were too badly damaged to stay afloat. These Marines remained stuck on the reef 500 yards from shore.

By the end of the first day, half of the LVTs were unusable.

One disaster followed another over the next few days. The Marines who got past the first deadly volley and the underwater tank traps and mines had to contend with wet, heavy, slippery sand, log barricades, and barbed wire traps.

Commanding officer, Col. David Shoup, took schrapnel in the leg and a grazing wound on the neck, but continued leading his men.

The first afternoon, Admiral Shibazaki and his forces were caught walking around in the open. The Marine who spied them communicated with the Navy, who launched a barrage of shells from two nearby destroyers. This prevented another brutal wave of carnage overnight.

Many Marines in the landing wave on the second morning were also shot down, but there was more Naval reinforcement. High casualties continued, but U.S. forces began gaining a toehold of that tiny atoll.

Some Marines moved to Bairiki, the next islet over, where more Japanese were amassing across the sandbars.

Col. Shoup was relieved by Col. Merritt A. Edson, the 2nd Marines’ Chief of Staff, but stayed on as an assistant.

Copyright USMC Archives; Source

After 76 hours of intense fighting and much bloodshed, Tarawa was cleared of Japanese. Only one Japanese officer and 16 enlisted men surrendered. All the others were either killed or chose suicide. Afterwards, the surviving Marines island-hopped to root out any remaining resistance in the vicinity.

During this operation, a force of 175 Japanese Naval infantry on Buariki launched one last stand on 27 November. This battle was over by the end of the day, and all the Gilberts were in U.S. hands.

The heavy U.S. casualties and botched landing sparked much outcry and public protests.

My characters Patya Siyanchuk and Rodya Duranichev are with the 6th Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division at Tarawa. Though Rodya is terrified the entire time, and knows he’s a very unlikely Marine, he holds his own well in battle.

While they’re helping to bury the dead afterwards, Rodya finds a dead Japanese who’s not as disfigured or putrid as the other corpses. He takes three beckoning cats, an omamori, a photograph, and a letter as souvenirs.

These personal objects are meant to show the common humanity of the other side.

Further reading:

Tarawa:  The Incredible Story of One of World War II’s Bloodiest Battles, Robert Sherrod

http://tarawaontheweb.org/

http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_tarawa.html

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/tarawa.htm

http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/jp-betio-island/index.html

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-M-Tarawa/

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-C-Tarawa/index.html

http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/slugging-it-out-in-tarawa-lagoon/

http://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Tarawa-Captured-by-Allies-in-1943

http://www.ww2gyrene.org/spotlight7_tarawa.htm