Warsaw Rebuilt

The Guardian is running a series called “The Story of Cities,” and number 28 on Warsaw is rather interesting:

Story of cities #28: how postwar Warsaw was rebuilt using 18th century paintings

When Warsaw’s Old Town was destroyed by Hitler’s troops in the second world war, the nation mobilised to rebuild the city with the rubble of its own destruction – and the work of Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto.

It is August 1944 and the Polish resistance are in violent clashes with the Nazi forces that have occupied Warsaw. The resistance intend to liberate the city from what the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz has called the “dark, black and red world of Nazi occupation”.

During the Warsaw Uprising, the ill-equipped Polish resistance succeed in inflicting serious damage on their oppressors, with 20,000 Nazi troops left wounded or dead. But it is the civilian population that suffers the greatest losses, with 150,000 people killed in air strikes and in fighting across the city.

In retaliation, the Nazis raze the Polish capital to the ground. More than 85% of the city’s historic centre is reduced to ruins. Unlike in other European cities, where damage largely occurs during the fighting, Warsaw is systematically destroyed once the two months of conflict have ended, as an act of revenge by Hitler’s forces.

What follows is the story of how Varsovians (residents of Warsaw) reconstructed their city – in part from the cityscapes, or vedute, of the Venetian painter Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780), often referred to as Canaletto after his more renowned uncle.

Bellotto, who was made court painter to the King of Poland in 1768, created beautiful and accurate paintings of Warsaw’s buildings and squares. It is testimony to the veracity of his work that almost 200 years later, those paintings were used to help transform the historic city centre from wreckage and rubble into what is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

More at the link.

Espionage in World War II

An interesting story in the National Post (although as ever in the world of espionage, you have to wonder who is playing whom):

The world’s worst Nazi spy: The German agent caught by Canada in a matter of hours

The first clue was the weird banknotes the stranger used to pay for his hotel bill.

To staff at the Carlisle hotel in New Carlisle, QC he presented oversized $1 bills that had not been in regular circulation since the First World War; the modern equivalent of handing over a fistful of pre-loonie $1 bills.

He said his name was William Branton of 323 Danforth Avenue in Toronto — an address now occupied by a women’s wear boutique. Having arrived into New Carlisle by bus that morning, he said he wanted to stop in for a quick bath and breakfast before continuing on to Montreal.

But the first bus into New Carlisle would not arrive for another three hours.
“We knew that he was a foreigner, by the way he spoke… he had kind of a guttural speech in the back of his throat,” Marguerite, the daughter of the Carlisle’s owner, would later tell journalist Dean Beeby for the 1996 book Cargo of Lies, an account of the spy fiasco.

In reality, the stranger had arrived in Quebec via the relatively unorthodox mode of a U-Boat.

That morning, the submarine U-518 had performed the nail-biting task of surfacing just off the well-patrolled waters of the Quebec coast and rowing the man to shore in an inflatable dinghy.

It was November 9, 1942, the same day that Canada would break off diplomatic relations with Vichy France, the rump German puppet state carved out of southeastern France.

New Carlisle’s most famous son, future Quebec premier René Lévesque, had only recently moved to Quebec City for a radio job. In another couple years, Lévesque would be sailing to Europe as a war correspondent.

And now, New Carlisle was the first stop for Werner von Janowski, a German officer sent on a mission of espionage to Canada.

He had stepped onto Canadian soil in the trim, impressive uniform of a German naval officer, complete even with an Iron Cross pinned to his breast. This was standard procedure for German spies. That way, if they were caught, they could avoid execution as spies by saying that they had simply deserted from the German navy and swum to shore somehow.

But in the chilly pre-dawn hours, von Janowski swapped his gleaming uniform for a suit of civilian clothes, buried the uniform in the sand and began his new identity as a Parisian-born salesman who had immigrated to Canada in 1921.

He had a gun, $5,000 and identity papers suspected to have been seized from Canadian casualties of the August, 1942 Dieppe Raid.

The agent’s instructions were vague, but his goal was to go to Montreal and try and link up with some fascists, according to the book U-Boats Against Canada.

That is, if the Nazis’ contact for the Canadian Fascist Party was still current.

Throughout history, Canada has actually been pretty bad at spotting suspicious foreign characters in their midst.

Immediately after assassinating Martin Luther King Jr., the killer James Earl Ray lived unnoticed for weeks in Toronto, despite his picture being all over the T.V. news.
And from the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide, Canada has had the dubious distinction of being a relatively safe hideout for former genocidaires.

But that morning, the citizens of sleepy New Carlisle were really on the ball. The Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing and they knew their coast was crawling with German submarines.

After the war, this would even spawn alcohol-fuelled memories that Gaspé Peninsula pubs were occasionally visited by German submariners looking to stretch their legs.
Of course, it helped that von Janowski was dripping in clues.

The stranger lit his cigarettes with matches that were made in Belgium—which was strange considering that Belgium had been occupied by the Nazis for three years.
He wore clothes with a distinctly foreign cut. And he smelled awful; almost like someone who had been shut up inside the stale air of a sealed metal tube for several days.

Earle Annett Jr., the son of the Carlisle’s proprietor, alerted authorities as soon as von Janowski set off on foot for the New Carlisle train station.

After taking his seat aboard the Montreal-bound train, the German agent was soon greeted by a Quebec Provincial Police officer, who asked him for I.D. “I am caught. I am a German officer,” von Janowski replied.

It had only been 12 hours.

A press blackout would shield the historic capture from the wartime Canadian public. And soon, the RCMP would accede to von Janowski’s offer to act as a double agent for Canada.

But as Beeby would note in Cargo of Lies, the inexperienced Mounties were likely played by the captured German.

The would-be spy provided just enough misleading information to throw off the Royal Canadian Navy hunt for the U-Boat that had dropped his off. And as a double agent, he failed to feed the RCMP one iota of information about German sub movements.

A frustrated Canada ultimately packed von Janowski off to an English prison camp for the rest of the war.

The Atom Bomb

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of lives” claims an article in the Diplomat. “By showing the world the horrors of nuclear warfare, the atomic bombings made future ones much less likely.” I suppose this is true; at least the author did not claim that the bombs themselves ended the war and thus obviated the need for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan scheduled for November, 1945, and which would have cost hundreds of thousands of Allied lives and millions of Japanese ones. That the bombs didn’t actually end the war has been understood for some time; indeed, Keck quotes another article which states that “the bomb didn’t beat Japan… Stalin did.” The bombs were a convenient excuse for Japan to use in surrendering to the United States, and the Emperor famously noted in his surrender speech that “the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.” But do you think that a “new and most cruel bomb” was going to extinguish Japan’s will to fight? More people died in the “conventional” firebombing of Tokyo, which was one of many Japanese cities to suffer such a fate. Or, as the authors put it, “If they surrendered because a city was destroyed, why didn’t they surrender when those other 66 cities were destroyed?”

People tend to forget that Stalin had an agreement with the other allies to declare war on Japan within three months of the end of the war in Europe. True to his word, he declared war exactly three months after VE Day – that is, August 8, 1945, two days after Hiroshima, and one day before Nagasaki – at which point Soviet troops invaded Manchuria and Korea. This removed the Japanese hope that the Soviets could serve as a broker between the US and Japan, and impelled the Japanese to surrender to the United States. Moreover, what the article does not mention is that the Soviet invasion scared the US as much as it scared the Japanese. We were pushing for an unconditional surrender in Japan, as we pushed for (and achieved) one in Germany (which itself was an attempt to avoid the problems of the Armistice of 1918, whereby the Germans could convince themselves that they hadn’t actually lost). The Japanese interpreted our demand for an unconditional surrender to mean that the Americans might force them to relinquish their Emperor, something ideologically unthinkable. But by August of 1945 it was apparent that we were not going to be friends with Stalin after the war, and we did not want to have happen to Japan was was currently happening in Germany, and what would soon happen to Korea. So we indicated that we were willing to accept a surrender with the caveat that the Emperor would remain on the throne and not be subject to war-crimes trials – which indeed came to pass. In other words, we accepted a conditional surrender – the same one the Japanese themselves hinted they would offer in early May, 1945.

So yes, it looks like Stalin impelled Japan to formally surrender, and us to accept that surrender. In retrospect, it also calls into serious question the atomic bombings – and all the other damage – that we did to Japan from May until August of 1945.

Otto Skorzeny

From Haaretz:

The Strange Case of a Nazi Who Became an Israeli Hitman

Otto Skorzeny, one of the Mossad’s most valuable assets, was a former lieutenant colonel in Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS and one of Adolf Hitler’s favorites.

On September 11, 1962, a German scientist vanished. The basic facts were simple:

Heinz Krug had been at his office, and he never came home.

The only other salient detail known to police in Munich was that Krug commuted to Cairo frequently. He was one of dozens of Nazi rocket experts who had been hired by Egypt to develop advanced weapons for that country.

HaBoker, a now defunct Israeli newspaper, surprisingly claimed to have the explanation: The Egyptians kidnapped Krug to prevent him from doing business with Israel.

But that somewhat clumsy leak was an attempt by Israel to divert investigators from digging too deeply into the case — not that they ever would have found the 49-year-old scientist.

We can now report — based on interviews with former Mossad officers and with Israelis who have access to the Mossad’s archived secrets from half a century ago — that Krug was murdered as part of an Israeli espionage plot to intimidate the German scientists working for Egypt.

Moreover, the most astounding revelation is the Mossad agent who fired the fatal gunshots: Otto Skorzeny, one of the Israeli spy agency’s most valuable assets, was a former lieutenant colonel in Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS and one of Adolf Hitler’s personal favorites among the party’s commando leaders. The Führer, in fact, awarded Skorzeny the army’s most prestigious medal, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for leading the rescue operation that plucked his friend Benito Mussolini out from the hands of his captors.

A fascinating story (if true!) – read the whole thing.

A colleague lent me Paul Fussell’s The Boys’ Crusade once. One anecdote that stayed with me: after D-Day, Skorzeny was tasked with training “Skorzeny’s men,” young Nazis recruited to mimic American soldiers and sow as much havoc as possible behind American lines. Eventually the Americans caught on, and would ask unfamiliar people trivia questions that only Americans would be likely to know, such as “Where does ‘Lil Abner’ live?” or “What’s the name of the Brooklyn baseball team?” (according to the Wikipedia article on Operation Greif, the American brigadier general Bruce Clarke was held at gunpoint for five hours after he said the Chicago Cubs were in the American League). Fussell goes on to say that:

there were more telling ways to catch Skorzeny’s men than facetious questioning. Every American soldier carried, in addition to the metal identity tags around his neck, a laminated card with his photo. These cards had one curious feature: an uncorrected typographical error. The top of the card read NOT A PASS. FOR INDENTIFICATION PURPOSES ONLY. Someone preparing the disguises of the Skorzeny spies couldn’t resist – some will say “in a German manner” – of pedantically correcting the spelling on the false cards issued to those masquerading as American officers.

The Lessons of History

One of the popular justifications for studying history is that it helps us to “avoid the mistakes of the past.” By graduate school, however, people don’t tend to say this, on the principle that history “never really repeats itself.” Every time something happens, it happens once under a unique set of conditions, which will never again configure in exactly the same way. We cannot repeat historical events in a laboratory; as a student of mine once said, there is no control factor in history. This is especially true in military affairs: British generals were always famously “preparing for the last war.”

But surely we can learn something predictive from studying the past? I mean, it’s true, you can’t ultimately prove anything through inductive reasoning, which is what all historical inquiry is. “Just because the sun has come up every day for as long as you can remember, does not mean that it will come up tomorrow.” But it’s a pretty safe bet that it will – and that gravity, electro-magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces will keep functioning in the same way at least for the next week.

But humans are a lot more fickle, yes? You’d think that treating people with respect would engender good will. Unfortunately, while some people respond well to being treated with respect, others interpret it as a sign of weakness and an invitation to try to take advantage – as Machiavelli knew only too well. How can you really predict how someone will react to your policies? What if this time it really is different? I think that if you’re in a position to apply any lessons of history, the best thing you can have are simply good instincts: you have to have a good idea about when to push people, and when to back off – and you’ll never get it right 100% of the time, or for 100% of the people.

This is all by means of bringing up one of the most allegedly important lessons of all: that of Munich. No, not the 1972 Olympics, but the 1938 Conference, by which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier conspired to shaft Edvard Beneš of Czechoslovakia by making him hand over the Sudetenland to Hitler’s Germany. The Sudentenland was ethnically German – but it was given to Czechoslovakia in 1919 on account of it being industrialized and mountainous, granting the new state an advantage in economics and defensible geography (similar ideas were used to justify the Polish corridor between Germany and East Prussia). These violations of the nationalist principle were only two of the many grievances Germany had against the Treaty of Versailles. Unfortunately, as it turned out, addressing these grievances was not all that Hitler had in mind: as he stated in Mein Kampf, he had a vision of a vast continental German empire, won through racial struggle against the inferior Slavs – a vision that he actually tried to implement. It turns out those Slavs weren’t nearly as inferior as Hitler believed, although it took tens of millions of deaths to prove the point.

So we all have fantasies about going back and stopping Hitler before he could do serious damage. If only we had stood up to him as he remilitarized the Rhineland. If only we had prevented the Anschluss with Austria. If only we hadn’t sold out Czechoslovakia. Hitler claimed that this was his last territorial demand – but six months later he occupied the rest of that unfortunate country (in violation of the nationalist principle) and six months after that he invaded Poland. Only then did France and England go to war – against a rearmed and motivated opponent. If only we had stood up to the bully earlier, however justified he claimed to be. If only….

So a very important lesson was learned from Munich: no more appeasement! If you don’t give them an inch, they’ll never be in a position later to take a mile. The choice is always framed as being between a war now, or a much worse war later. Poor Chamberlain – gone down in history as a dupe, his name a byword for “sucker.” It is good to remember, though, that in September of 1938 he was the man of the hour – he avoided a war, which no one wanted. You could even say that he bought Britain enough time to rearm itself, giving the country a better chance when war inevitably did come. But this argument is still not a common one, and a great many politicians since have staked their legacy on not repeating Chamberlain’s mistake.

It is precisely this impetus that got the United States involved in southeast Asia. President Kennedy in particular felt he had something to prove, since his father had been ambassador to the Court of St. James and a supporter of appeasement. So although it had no real legitimacy, we sent all sorts of aid to South Vietnam, trying to prop it up, lest the Communists take it… and thereafter Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and who knows what else.

Turns out we got a lot more than we bargained for too. We fielded a draft army, in a country halfway around the world utterly foreign in language and culture, with an inhospitable climate and an enemy that fought dirty, but that had the political capital of having kicked out the French, where we could not tell friend from foe and had no clear objective apart from propping up a corrupt, western-created state… is it any wonder that we lost, no matter how many resources we threw at it? “Could we have won in Viet Nam?” I asked a veteran once. “If we had backed the other side,” was his reply. Thus the other great Lesson of History: we must avoid the quagmire – the doubling-down on bad policy, the throwing of good money after bad, the failure to heed the injunction that “When you’re in a hole, stop digging!” I remember how people feared that the Kuwait conflict of 1991, and then the Kosovo conflict of 1999, would drag us down into a quagmire, “just like in Viet Nam.”

If you recall the run-up to Bush’s Iraq adventure some thirteen years ago now, you may remember the appearance of both of these tropes. “Have we learned nothing from history?” asked one side. “We have to stop Saddam before he goes any further!” “Have we learned nothing from history?” replied the other. “It will turn into a quagmire, like Viet Nam!”

Clearly both sides could not be right – although quagmire just may have been an appropriate metaphor at some points during the last thirteen years. But I guess that’s only because we deposed and killed Saddam, before he could do any more damage, leaving the quagmire the only fulfilled prediction? So maybe both sides were right after all – or maybe they were both wrong. Saddam was not Hitler – he had no visions of conquest, but just wanted to stay in power – but Iraq was not Viet Nam either – Islamism (whether Shiite or Sunni) is not Communism and does not have a worldwide sponsor as motivated as the USSR; Iran does not have an irredentist claim to Iraq, etc.

So as ever, we must be willing to take a step back and ask serious questions about historical comparisons. They’re not completely valueless, but important differences often exist between the two things you’re comparing and you’ve got to take those into account for any comparison to be meaningful.

Hitler Has Only Got One Ball

From the Guardian. No word on the testicular status of Goering, Himmler, or Goebbels:

Hitler really did have only one testicle, German researcher claims

Analysis of long-lost medical notes seems to confirm that Nazi leader suffered from cryptorchidism, or an undescended right testicle

The song sung in schoolyards by generations of British children mocking Adolf Hitler for only having “one ball” might be accurate after all.

A German historian has unearthed the Nazi leader’s long-lost medical records, which seem to confirm the urban legend that he only had one testicle.

The records, taken during a medical exam following Hitler’s arrest over the failedBeer hall putsch in 1923, show that he suffered from “right-side cryptorchidism”, or an undescended right testicle.

Notes written by Dr Josef Steiner Brin, the medical officer at Landsberg prison, state “Adolf Hitler, artist, recently writer” was otherwise “healthy and strong”.

Long thought to have been lost, the records of the examination surfaced at an auction in Bavaria in 2010 before swiftly being confiscated by the Bavarian government. They have only recently been properly studied by Professor Peter Fleischmann of Erlangen-Nuremberg University.

Normally, men’s testicles descend from inside the body into the scrotum during childhood, but Fleischmann told German newspaper Bild the records showed one of Hitler’s testicles was “probably stunted”.

The records seem to contradict long-running specualation that Hitler lost one testicle to shrapnel during the Battle of the Somme in the first world war.

That rumour was backed up by Franciszek Pawlar, a Polish priest and amateur historian, who claimed a German army medic who treated Hitler after the shrapnel incident told him about the injury.

The medical records also contradict Hitler’s childhood doctor, who told American interrogators in 1943 that the future Führer’s genitals were “completely normal”.

Wikipedia on the topic: Adolph Hitler’s Possible Monorchism.

The Last Days of Hitler

The movie Downfall (2004) offered a compelling dramatization of Hitler’s final days in his Berlin bunker – and the one scene when Hitler discovers that the war is truly lost has spawned any number of YouTube parodies. The Smithsonian Channel, however, has recently produced “The Day Hitler Died,” an actual documentary featuring interviews with surviving bunker dwellers. From the National Post:

‘The bunker became a mortuary’: Hitler’s cronies macabrely awaited his suicide for eight days

PITTSBURGH — American television viewers get their first chance to see and hear Adolf Hitler’s inner circle describe the dictator’s final hours in filmed interviews when “The Day Hitler Died” premieres on the Smithsonian Channel.

The documentary marks the first time viewers outside Germany will see the filmed interviews by Michael Musmanno, a Navy attorney who presided at one of the Nuremberg war crimes trials and later became a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.

After the trials, Musmanno spent more than two years tracking down witnesses and re-interviewing them on camera in 1948 to prove Hitler was dead, hoping to thwart rumours spawned when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin claimed Hitler had escaped his underground Berlin bunker….

“The Nazis were like the generic villains of the 20th century, but that’s the real danger,” White said. “We tend to forget that some people found them charming and how they got there and came to power.”

The interviews also vividly describe Hitler’s volatile moods as the Russian Red Army moved into Berlin in April 1945.

Buoyed by news that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt died April 12, 1945, “Hitler went into a dance and congratulated himself as if he had himself had brought about this event,” Hitler’s press attache, Heinz Lorenz, told Musmanno. “He exclaimed, ‘This will mean I will win the war.’”

But 10 days later, Hitler’s mood permanently darkened upon learning one of his generals refused to lead a suicidal counter-attack with a rag-tag collection of German army units.

“He collapsed and said, ‘It’s all over, and I’ll shoot myself,’” Lorenz recalled.

But it would be eight days before Hitler would shoot himself alongside Eva Braun, the longtime mistress who took a poison capsule and died beside Hitler the day after they were married.

In the meantime, the 16-room bunker — with its nearly four-metre thick concrete ceilings and walls some nine metres below ground — became a macabre Neverland as Hitler’s confidants and staff awaited his suicide.

“After April 22, he talked about it constantly,” said Traudl Junge, the secretary to whom Hitler dictated his last will and testament.

Or, as German Army Major Baron von Loringhoven told Musmanno, “The bunker became a mortuary and the people in it living corpses.”

More at the link. “The Day Hitler Died” premieres on the Smithsonian Channel on Monday at 8 p.m. EDT/PDT.

Wanda Ast, Artist

By special arrangement with the author, below is the full text, and some of the illustrations, of Theresa Ast’s talk today in Hill Freeman Library. Be sure to stop by the library in the next month to view more of this remarkable woman’s oeuvre.

Wanda Maria Kowalska Ast was my paternal grandmother, my BABCIA (Polish for grandmother). I will be sharing some of her artwork with you, but I also want to tell you a little bit about her life. Babcia was born in Germany in 1909 and shortly thereafter her family moved to Poland where she spent the next four decades of her life, where she married and had four children.

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The Ast Family, Wanda, her husband Edmund who was a sculptor, and their four children – Jacek, Marek, Justin, and Krystyna – survived the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland. They were Catholic, so they were not specifically targeted by the Nazis as were the Jews, Gypsies, and people on the political Left, but this is not to say that the Nazis treated anybody in Poland with respect or benevolence. Everyone was afraid of the Nazis, as they were violent, cruel, and perhaps worst of all, unpredictable.

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Whenever Nazi detachments or tanks came rolling through their small, usually quiet, town, Babcia and her children would grab the pillows and quilts off their beds and hide in a nearby forest. The quilts and pillows kept the children comfortable and just in case they were still hiding after dark they could sleep in the forest. Edmund was away serving in the Polish Air Force as an aerial photographer, but he and his fellow airmen were quickly captured and he spent the duration of the war in a German POW camp. Wanda and her children lived with her husband’s parents after Edmund was captured.

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When the first “liberating” Soviet troops marched into Poland, in the winter of 1944, the Polish people felt hopeful. They did not realize at first that the Soviet Communists would soon be an occupying army rather than a liberating army. The family did not fare well at all under the post war Soviet occupation, not because they had been Nazi sympathizers, but because they were capitalists! My great-grandfather, Wanda’s father-in-law owned a substantial business employing twenty workers and lived quite comfortably prior to the war. So to the occupying communist authorities, the Ast family was suspected of being Western-sympathizing capitalists.

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When my grandfather Edmund was liberated from the POW camp in 1945, he did not return to his hometown. He had been warned by family and friends not to come home while the Soviets soldiers still occupied the it. He made it to the American Occupation zone in Germany on foot. A year later Wanda joined him there and they worked various jobs for the American Military Government for five years, started saving money, and planned for their future and the future of their children. Meanwhile the children, who ranged in age from six to twelve remained in Poland in the care of their grandparents.

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Babcia emigrated with her husband and children, just as soon as they had saved enough money and could book passage from West Germany to America. When they left Germany, they each had one suitcase; they had to leave everything they owned and everybody they loved behind. A Catholic sponsor family was waiting for them in Maryland; they would help them adjust to their new life in America. They arrived at Ellis Island in 1951 and spent a few weeks with their sponsoring family. Fortunately, the local community had connections in Georgia and they secured Edmund a job in Marietta, Georgia.

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After they moved south, Edmund, who earned his living as a sculptor in Poland began working for a local marble and granite company that polished headstones and grave markers. They bought a house on “Marble Mill Road” in Marietta. Their three younger children started attending school and the two boys, Marek and Justyn, were in the same class together and really liked their teacher. Babcia told her sons to ask their teacher if she would be willing to tutor adults in English. Their teacher, Betty Jo Baker agreed to give Wanda and Edmund English lessons, and started visiting the family home. The oldest son, Jacek, at 17 was not in school, but worked alongside his father to help support the family. He married the school teacher in 1953 and I am the oldest of their four children.

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I did not have a typical relationship with my Polish grandparents. My father joined the Air Force and we often lived far away from Georgia. However, I did return to Georgia to attend college and got to know my grandparents quite a bit better. They were intense people: very hardworking, opinionated, creative, volatile, artistic, self-assured, demanding, loving, and challenging. Spending time with them was always a memorable, and occasionally, even a mildly disturbing experience. Wanda was extremely verbally expressive, intensely curious, a perennial student in every way possible, quite emotional, with a decided flair for the artistic and the dramatic.

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During the years when we did not live in Georgia, Babcia had kept house, raised her other three children, worked as a dietician in a local hospital, refused to learn to drive a car (I never found out why), remained a devout and practicing Catholic walking about fifteen blocks to Mass several times a week, and kept working on improving her spoken and written English (she already spoke Polish, French, and German).

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Before long she began writing stories and poetry, lots and lots of poetry, often winning awards from the Georgia Writers Association. Then, as her younger children grew up and moved out of the family home she shifted her interests to drawing and painting; she began by drawing in chalk (primarily Biblical scenes – I remember a chalk drawing of the young shepherd boy David facing the Philistine giant Goliath- unfortunately I do not have any of her chalk drawings as they do not hold up well over time. After chalks, Babcia moved on to working with watercolors in the early 1970s which is just about when I returned home to attend Kennesaw State College, as it was known as the time.

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I inherited quite a few of Babcia’s oil paintings and batiks, but I do not have any of her original watercolors. What I do have are photographs of a few of her watercolors. From 1975 on she was busy painting, taking an occasional art class, and preparing her watercolors for various exhibits and art shows. She had art shows at colleges, including Georgia State and Kennesaw State, in local churches and parishes, at art fairs on the Marietta and Roswell city squares, and at some of the larger banks.   Banks, closed on Sundays of course, often offer their lobbies and common areas as spaces for painting or sculptural exhibitions. At many of these art exhibits, someone was usually taking pictures, so a record has been preserved even though the originals are gone.

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Babcia did a few representational watercolors (in other words she did paint lifelike scenes from nature), but many of her watercolors were abstract. All of her life she experimented with different formulations and types of watercolors, as well as a variety of painting surfaces, including canvas, paper, and fabric. Her experimentation with different materials was part of her lifelong fascination with, and attempt to achieve, a variety of textural effects. In this, she was not unlike any number of impressionist painters for whom texture was as important as color palette or composition.

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During the years when I was raising my children, Babcia moved on to oil paintings. She took several classes at Georgia State University, both Art History courses and Studio Painting courses. She spent a short time experimenting with abstract paintings, where there is no clearly identifiable object or scene. However, all of the individual portraits on display here were based on models who came and sat for the classes, they are drawn in a realistic style, although Babcia always tended to utilize intense and heightened color combinations in her work.

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As far as I know she did not paint her family members or friends, or if she did, those paintings were either sold or given away before I ever saw them, and I can find no photographs. Lastly, I want to point out that you can see the influence of artists from the Modern period, roughly 1880-1940, particularly in her nudes. Many of them are impressionistic, with blurred lines and very intense color palettes, showing the influence that some modernist painters had on her. However, she never went through a Picasso Phase, for which I am grateful.

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In her seventies Babcia began experimenting with, and mastered, the physically arduous process of “batiking” – which involved applying hot wax to fabric, letting it completely dry, and then dipping the fabric into large tubs of hot dye, then pressing the fabric between layers of absorbent paper with an iron to remove the wax.

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Repeating the labor intensive process again and again would eventually produce breathtakingly beautiful and elaborate designs, some abstract and some representative. Her batiks, just like her oil paintings, were exhibited at numerous Georgia colleges, banks, and several fine art centers.

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As the base material for a batik, she experimented with many different types of fabric – linen, cotton, burlap. She used some fabrics that were smooth and some fabrics which had a great deal of texture. Babcia made quite large batiks, meant to be hung on the wall; they usually measured anywhere from three feet by three to five feet by five.

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In her eighties, no longer able to spend hours on her knees bent over a bath tub full of dye, she began to make small batiks suitable either for framing or for making personalized cards. She continued to experiment with a variety of styles, colors, and textures of paper to serve as the backdrop for her batik cards. And she seldom used repetitive patterns or motifs in her work, preferring to develop her abstracts by apply the paraffin wax mixture free hand with a paint brush.

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The word batik usually refers to cloth that was produced using manual techniques of wax and dye application. Batik or fabrics with the traditional batik patterns have historically been produced and worn by the local populations in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, India, China, Sri Lanka, and in certain regions of Africa.

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In the west batik printmaking is often used to produce works of art of great beauty and complexity. But much of the batik fabric sold in the west and used in clothing is now mechanically mass-produced. These designs involve a great deal of repetition and although they are beautiful, they do not really meet the definition of art.

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Postscript: also on display was an edition of the Reinhardt Hiltonian from the early 1970s, which head librarian Joel Langford had found and which featured an article about Wanda Ast’s visit to Reinhardt, at the invitation of long-serving art professor Curtis Chapman.

Human Interest Journalism

From the Washington Post: Why you should care about how Hitler decorated his homes:

Adolf Hitler is a man who is, quite rightly, infamous for many things. Tasteful decorating choices are not one of them.

However, on Aug. 20, 1939 – just 12 days before the start of World War II – the New York Times magazine wrote a lengthy profile of the Nazi leader’s life at his mountain estate. The article noted that the Bavarian home, known as Berghof, was furnished with “unobtrusive elegance” – with “unstained sanded wainscoting” and a “patternless carpet of hand-woven rugs.”

This wasn’t a one off. Perhaps what’s more remarkable is that it wasn’t just the New York Times writing about the stylishness of the fascist leader’s abodes. A number of American and British publications were – including The Washington Post. On Jan. 2, 1941, Preston Grover wrote a story for The Post describing Hitler’s various wartime homes and paying particular attention to the German fuhrer’s apparent love of good silverware.

What explains this odd fixation with Hitler’s home decor? That’s one of the questions that Despina Stratigakos, a historian at the University at Buffalo, set out to answer in her new book “Hitler at Home.” In this recently published book, Stratigakos studies the intersection between architecture and power: Her work examines not only how the Nazi leader decorated his residences, but how these residences were used to change public perception of Hitler’s private life.

Read the whole thing.

+Edmund Exon.

From the Exeter Cathedral blog:

Edmund  Lacy (or Lacey) was bishop of Exeter from 1420 to 1455. He was a conscientious bishop who discharged his duties to his cathedral and diocese well. He was interested in spiritual, intellectual, liturgical and musical matters and held a reputation for holy living. Lacy was in his 80s when he died but had not enjoyed good health for some time, being afflicted with a painful leg condition. After his death, he was buried in the north side of the cathedral and his altar tomb, now sadly missing its brass effigy, is still to be found in the north quire aisle. Healing miracles came to be associated with Lacy and his tomb was, for some decades, the focus of an unofficial cult with pilgrims travelling there to offer donations and their prayers. Had his cult not been suppressed in the 1530s, perhaps Lacy may even have become a saint in time.

In 1943, during war damage repair work, one of the masons discovered several wax figures tucked away in the cresting above the tomb. The finest of these objects is the figure of a woman with long hair and full dress (about 20cm tall) and with hands clasped in an attitude of prayer. There are also fragments of human legs, faces, fingers, feet and shoes, as well as those of horses, pigs and cattle. These figures are believed to be a very rare British survival of the once common wax votive offerings which pilgrims would have bought at or very near the cathedral and then, most likely, hung around the canopy of Lacy’s tomb as prayers were offered.

Click the link to see the wax offerings in question.