Lindy Smith, 1993-2017

Sad news: I have been informed that Lindy Smith, a former Reinhardt student, died last November at the age of 24. I had the pleasure of teaching Lindy in one of my classes, and she came with the history club to hear Ken Wheeler speak at the Rock Barn back in 2014. She also worked at Cabela’s, and was very helpful to me when I made a major purchase there in 2015. She will be missed. Requiescat in pace.

Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens

From the New York Times:

Jeannie de Clarens, an amateur spy who passed a wealth of information to the British about the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets during World War II and survived stays in three concentration camps for her activities, died on Aug. 23 in Montaigu, southeast of Nantes, France. She was 98.

The death was confirmed by her son, Pascal.

In 1943 Jeannie Rousseau, as she was then known, was an interpreter in Paris for an association of French businessmen, representing their interests and helping them negotiate contracts with the German occupiers. She was young and attractive. She spoke flawless German. She was a favorite with the German officers, who were completely unaware that the woman they knew as Madeleine Chauffour had been reporting to a French intelligence network, the Druids, organized by the Resistance.

Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.

“I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I kept saying, ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”

One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets.

Most of what she heard was incomprehensible. But, blessed with a near-photographic memory, she repeated it in detail to her recruiter, Georges Lamarque, at a safe house on the Left Bank.

In London, intelligence analysts, led by Reginald V. Jones, marveled at the quality of the information they were receiving from Paris, notably a startling document called the Wachtel Report. Delivered in September 1943, it identified the German officer in charge of the rocket program, Col. Max Wachtel; gave precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.

Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London.

In “1940-1944: The Secret History of the Atlantic Wall” (2003), the historian Rémy Desquesnes called the Wachtel Report a “masterpiece in the history of intelligence gathering.” When Mr. Jones asked who had sent the report, he was told that the source was known only by the code name Amniarix, and that “she was one of the most remarkable young women of her generation.”

Read the whole thing.

Martin McGuinness

I have just discovered that the other chuckle brother died this week:

Martin McGuinness, IRA chief of staff turned Sinn Féin politician

Martin McGuinness, who has died from a rare heart condition aged 66, was with Gerry Adams the dominant figure in Irish Republicanism through four decades of armed struggle and subsequent political manoeuvrings.

He was in turn the IRA’s chief of staff, Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, Minister of Education in David Trimble’s short-lived Executive, and Deputy First Minister, initially to Sinn Fein’s arch-enemy Ian Paisley. And on June 27 2012 he shook hands with the Queen.

While Adams could portray himself as a politician, McGuinness had his finger on the pulse – and trigger – of terrorism. Yet Sinn Fein selected him, not Adams, as its senior ministerial nominee when the Good Friday Agreement was implemented. And Unionists found McGuinness less difficult to deal with than the prickly Adams, and even magnanimous.

Brunhilde Pomsel, 1911-2017

From the Washington Post, via the National Post:

Brunhilde Pomsel, Joseph Goebbels’ secretary and one of the last surviving top Nazi staffers, dead at 106

by Emily Langer

Brunhilde Pomsel, a secretary to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who late in life came forward to publicly reflect on, if perhaps not fully reckon with, questions of personal and collective guilt in the face of the Holocaust, died during the night of Jan. 27 at her home in Munich. She was 106.

Her death was confirmed by Roland Schrotthofer, a director of “A German Life,” a documentary drawn from dozens of hours of interviews conducted with Pomsel when she was 103. No other details were immediately available.

Pomsel was one of the last surviving members of the Nazi hierarchy’s most intimate staff, but she spent all but the final years of her life in obscurity. She became widely known only after the premiere of the documentary in Nyon, Switzerland, in 2016. The U.S. release is forthcoming.

The film, directed by Schrotthofer, Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller and Florian Weigensamer, presents an arresting portrait of an ordinary German swept into the Nazi apparatus in her youth, then left to reflect for more than seven decades on her complicity, if any, in its crimes.

Pomsel sparkled on camera in her lucidity. She confessed to harboring “a bit of a guilty conscience” but professed that she had known nothing of the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust — the “matter of the Jews,” as she termed it — until after the war was over.


More at the link.

Curtis Chapman, 1943-2016

Longtime Reinhardt art professor Curtis Allen Chapman II died on August 7 in Asheville, North Carolina (obituary). History professor Ken Wheeler has penned a moving reflection on his life and career:

The recent death of Curtis Chapman has me thinking about who he was and what he meant to Reinhardt during almost four decades of full-time work.  I know that others at Reinhardt knew him far longer than I, but his friendship was important to me and I wanted to pass along a few impressions.

Reinhardt Junior College was a small school when Curtis Chapman, who had just graduated from LaGrange College, was hired onto the faculty in January 1966.  Lacking a car, Chapman took the bus to Cartersville, where he was picked up by President Burgess and driven to Waleska along roads that made Chapman think his new job must be at the ends of the earth.  The college housed him in an old sharecropper’s cabin located where the post office stands today.

Waleska may have seemed isolated, but Curtis introduced students to a world of art in his classes.  And almost as soon as he arrived, he began taking students on international trips where they could view up close some of the art and architecture available on the slides in his projector.  In fact, the way I knew Curtis best was because as soon as I came to campus in 1999 he immediately recruited me to join a trip to Italy for the following summer.  That led to a trip to Paris and the south of France, followed by a return trip to Italy. 

Curtis was exuberant on these trips.  His gleeful, spirited eagerness to learn rubbed off on his students, and he made sure that everyone saw and did everything they could.  He encouraged people to try things, to visit museums they did not expect to enjoy, to sleep after the trip had finished.  I remember being in Paris late at night after a full day of visiting churches, museums, and the Eiffel Tower.  Curtis was proposing walking a few miles to see something more.  I felt embarrassed at being run into the ground by a man my father’s age, but I finally had to say I’d had enough, it was time for bed.

Not all of the trips were international.  After the deregulation of the airlines in the late 1970s, cheap airfares were available, and Curtis and his students would catch a Saturday red-eye flight from Atlanta, spend a full day in the world-class art museums of New York, see Central Park, and then take a late flight back to Atlanta that night.

These experiences were profound for so many of his Reinhardt students.  Even in my few trips, I saw first-hand the changes—students who changed their major, and the trajectory of their lives, after visiting the ruins at Paestum or the art of the Uffizi in Florence.  One student who went to Italy with us had not only never flown in an airplane, he had never been inside an airport.  These were experiences that students remember all the rest of their lives, and no wonder—they were educational in so many ways.  Many people have worked hard to internationalize Reinhardt’s curriculum; Curtis Chapman pioneered those efforts again and again and again.

Whether in Waleska or abroad, Curtis was an encourager, and he helped make art accessible to everyone.  He was not elitist, never snobby or forbidding.  And it was clear that art could be made by anyone, anywhere.  Routinely Curtis would lunch in the cafeteria with a large plate piled high with a salad—and every time the salad was beautiful, just arranged with such… well… artistry. 

In conversation with Curtis he would sometimes say “Teach me something,” and then ask me about what I thought about some incident or issue.  It was so striking to me that this senior colleague of mine, instead of setting me straight, was asking me what I thought.  “Teach me something.”  I want to make that spirit, of inquiry, of respect for and interest in others, part of my own intellectual posture.

I’m thankful for what Curtis meant to me, to other people he worked with, and to thousands of Reinhardt students as he dedicated his working life to educating them during decades of great changes.  He had a great love for Reinhardt, and for life.  I miss him.

I second Dr. Wheeler’s thoughts. My career at Reinhardt overlapped only briefly with Curtis’s, but even in that time I found him to be a warm and generous colleague.

William H. McNeill, 1917-2016

USA Today:

Historian William H McNeill dead at 98

NEW YORK – William H. McNeill, the prize-winning scholar who wove the stories of civilizations worldwide into the landmark “The Rise of the West” and helped pioneer the history of disease and epidemics in “Plagues and People,” has died at age 98.

McNeill died Friday at his home in Torrington, Connecticut, according to Steve Koppes, associate news director at the University of Chicago, where McNeill was a professor emeritus.

McNeill wrote more than a dozen books, notably “The Rise of the West,” published in 1963 and greeted by The New York Times as “the most stimulating and fascinating” work of world history ever released. It won the National Book Award, sold well despite exceeding 800 pages and later was ranked No. 71 by the Modern Library among the 20th century’s best English-language nonfiction books.

The title of McNeill’s book was a direct challenge to Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West.” But “The Rise of the West,” its narrative extending from the Paleolithic Age to the present, was also born out of a Freudian struggle with McNeill’s hero and father figure Arnold Toynbee, then the reigning scholar of world history. Toynbee believed that civilizations of the East and West had essentially developed independently and their stories were separate. McNeill countered that they were very much part of one story, one of “contacts and “exchanges” and the triumph of Western innovation over the stagnation of Muslim and Chinese culture.

“Indeed, world history since 1500 may be thought of as a race between the West’s growing power to molest the rest of the world and the increasingly desperate efforts of other peoples to stave Westerners off,” wrote McNeill, who also cautioned that another civilization could yet overtake the West.

More at the link.

Vive la Résistance

From the National Post:

The incredible life of a fearless agent, smuggler and spy who fought the Nazi occupation of France

Jeannette Guyot, who has died aged 97, resisted the occupation of France by Germany throughout the Second World War and became one of France’s most highly decorated agents.

Jeannette Guyot was born on February 26 1919 in Chalon-sur-Saone, where, after the fall of France in June 1940, she and all her family were quick to join the Resistance. Until August 1941 she worked for Felix Svagrowsky of the Amarante network as a passeur, using a German-issued pass, or Ausweiss, to smuggle people out of the occupied zone to the north and across the Saone river by boat into Vichy France.

In August 1941 she met Gilbert Renault, alias Colonel Remy, chief of the Paris-based Confrerie Notre-Dame reseau (network), and she became one of his liaison officers, carrying mail into Vichy France, while continuing as a passeur. In February 1942, however, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saone and Autun. She resisted all interrogation and nothing could be proved against her, but the Germans withdrew her Ausweiss. Unperturbed, she resumed her role as a passeur, accompanying a dozen people a month across the demarcation line.

More on the incredible heroics of this agent at the link.

Asa Briggs, 1921-2016

From the BBC:

Historian Lord Asa Briggs dies, aged 94

Lord Asa Briggs, a leading historian and pioneer of adult education, has died at the age of 94.

He had an “extraordinary life” and died peacefully at home in Lewes, East Sussex, son-in-law Philip Preston said.

Lord Briggs worked at the Bletchley Park code-breaking station during World War Two, and later helped establish the Open University and Sussex University.

Sussex’s vice-chancellor, Prof Michael Farthing, called Lord Briggs a “visionary and a dear friend”.

Prof Farthing, who was with Lord Briggs and his family when he died, said he would “miss him terribly”.

“He had a huge breadth in his life and he contributed to an enormous number of different universities, different ideas to his discipline of history, and on a much wider scale to higher education in general,” he said.

Lord Briggs, who was born in Keighley, Yorkshire, and attended Cambridge University, received a call in 1943 to join British intelligence at Bletchley Park – the base from which Germany’s Enigma code was deciphered.

After the war he returned to his academic interests, becoming an expert in the Victorian period and writing several books during a career at universities including Oxford and Princeton.

His five volumes on the history of broadcasting in the UK was often described as the unofficial history of the BBC.

BBC director general Tony Hall said Lord Briggs’s “great gift to the BBC was the insightful and illuminating histories he wrote about the corporation, which set the highest bar for all media histories to follow”.

The vice-chancellor of the Open University, Peter Horrocks, said Lord Briggs was a “towering figure in education, influencing the development of new universities in Britain and abroad”.

Lord Briggs was made a life peer in 1976 and sat as a crossbencher.

Forrest Macdonald, 1927-2016

From the New York Times:

Forrest McDonald, a presidential and constitutional scholar who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual, died on Tuesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He was 89…

As a Pulitzer Prize finalist in history and a professor at the University of Alabama, Dr. McDonald declared himself an ideological conservative and an opponent of intrusive government. (“I’d move the winter capital to North Dakota and outlaw air-conditioning in the District of Columbia,” he once said.) But he refused to be pigeonholed either as a libertarian or, despite his Southern agrarian roots, as a Jeffersonian.

His becoming an avowed conservative, one colleague suggested, was prompted by the liberal backlash to his early research, which cast Wisconsin’s public utility companies in a favorable light and repudiated Charles A. Beard’s theory that the Constitution was framed to preserve the personal wealth of a ruling elite.

In his book “The American Presidency: An Intellectual History,” published in 1994, Dr. McDonald concluded that “the caliber of the people who have served as chief executive has declined erratically but persistently from the day George Washington left office.”

But he added a caveat: “The presidency has been responsible for less harm and more good, in the nation and in the world, than perhaps any other secular institution in history.”

Jenny Wormald, 1942-2015

From the website of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford:

It is with sadness that we share the news that Jenny Wormald died peacefully on 9th December 2015. Jenny was Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at St Hilda’s for twenty years (1985-2005), during which time she served also as Fellow Librarian and Senior Tutor. She was a highly respected and much loved friend, colleague, scholar, and tutor. She will be greatly missed.  A memorial event will be planned to take place in 2016.