Mona Lisa smiles, but was she happy?

Mona Lisa

One of the most famous paintings, if not the most famous painting is the Mona Lisa,painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

In 1503 or 1504 Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint Lisa del Giocondo (nee Gherardini), the painting became known as the Mona Lisa. Aged 15, real-life Lisa Gherardini married Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo. a modestly successful cloth and silk merchant, becoming his third wife. Lisa’s dowry( the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband or his family in marriage)was 170 florins and the San Silvestro farm near her family’s country home.

Francesco del Giocondo,regularly bought girls from North Africa and converted them to Christianity with many working as maids at the del Giocondo household. However there would have been too many to work in the household, it is therefor very likely he sold some of the girls as slaves.

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Lisa’s sister Camilla,  who was a nun, caused a scandal when she and some other nuns were accused of allowing four men to touch them indecently.

I wonder how much reasons did Lisa have to smile.

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Sources

Martin Kemp and Giuseppe Pallanti: Mona Lisa: The People and The Painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Django’s lucky escape

Django

The title of this blog is not referring to a Western film, it is actually referring to an extraordinary event during WWII.

Django Reinhard is one of my favourite guitarists it is actually because of him (and Jim Croce) I picked up a guitar myself. Although I am an admirer of his music and even more his style of playing I didn’t know too much about Django during WWII. I had always assumed he had escaped Europe on time.

It was only after watching a documentary on BBC 4 called Tunes for Tyrants, presented by Suzy Klein, I discovered that Django not only survived the war he also thrived.

You may think “What is so extraordinary about that?” Django was a Belgian born Roma French jazz guitarist. Three words in the last line is what makes it extraordinary, Roma Jazz Guitarist.

Roma’s were persecuted in Nazi occupied Europe, about 1 million Roma-Gypsies perished in extermination camps or as a result of forced labour.

Jazz was considered degenerate music in the Third Reich.

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However Jazz was allowed in Paris, because Hitler did not care about the ‘spiritual well being’ of the French. Django had lived in the UK before the war but had returned to Paris when the war broke out in 1939,leaving his wife behind and eventually divorcing her.

In 1943, Reinhardt married Sophie Ziegler in Salbris. The could had a son, Babik Reinhardt.

Because Django and his family were Roma, he tried to escape Nazi occupied France, His first attempt failed he and his family were caught ,but lady luck smiled on them for a Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Köhn,who was an ardent Jazz fan and knew Django and his music, allowed Django and his family return to Paris. If Köhn would not have done that the Reinhard family would have surely ended up in a concentration camp.

Django remained nervous though for he knew there was always a chance that he’d still be arrested some day and be sent away. Although he did attempt to flee France again, he was send back at the Swiss border.

He remained in Paris and his music was enjoyed by the Parisians but also by the Nazis. Django actually managed to make quite a bit of money during those years. One of his songs, “Nuages,” did  become an unofficial anthem in Paris to signify hope for liberation.

He did change his musical direction somewhat though, because Jazz although allowed in Paris was still considered degenerate music, and the laisse faire attitude the Nazis in Paris had towards it  could change any minute. He attempted to  He tried to write a Mass for the Gypsies and a symphony.

Django guitar

I would really recommend watching the 3 part documentary series ‘Tunes for Tyrants’ on BBC 4. It gives a great overview of the musical history during the world war 2 era and the years before it.

Ending this blog withe the aforementioned “Nuages”

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How Curious George nearly didn’t make it.

george

I don’t think there is anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard of Curious George, you may not have read the books or watched the cartoons or movies, but you will recognize the iconic Chimpanzee when you see him.

Although it is an iconic children’s book character and has a strong brand recognition, it could have easily been a different story, His origin tells a story of luck but indirectly also a tale of a false sense of security.

Curious George was written by H.A Rey and his wife Margret.

Rey

Hans Augusto Reyersbach was born in September 1898 in Hamburg , Germany,near the world-famous Hagenbeck Zoo, which gave him a lifelong love for animals and drawing.  His wife Margret was born on May  16 1906 also in Hamburg, her father Felix Waldstein had been a member of the Reichstag. the German parliament from 1871 to 1918. Hans and Margret both Jewish. The two first met in Hamburg at the 16th birthday party of Margret’s sister. They met again in Brazil, where Hans had a job as a bathtubs salesman Margret had moved to Brazil to escape the rise of Nazism in Germany. On August 16, 1935 they got married and went to Paris on their honeymoon, they fell in love with the place and decided to stay there.

Although Hitler had come to power in Germany it is apparent that the Rey’s felt safe in their new home, as most of the Parisians and the rest of France felt. Although the French were anxious of the developments in Germany, they did not envisage any danger to come from their eastern neighbour.

While in Paris, Hans’s animal drawings were noticed by a French publisher, who commissioned Hans  to write a children’s book. The book was to be” Rafi. and the Nine Monkeys” or “Rafi et les neuf singes” in French. It was published in 1939.

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One of the characters in the book was George, although he was called Fifi in the French version. Hans Rey thought that George deserved a book of his own.

But alas, war broke out.

On June 10, 1940, German troops were a few days away from Paris. People were trying to flee by  every way possible, cars,bicycles or whatever they could find. The Rey’s had left it a bit late but they managed to get 2 bikes.In fact Ray built the bikes himself, he had bought enough spare parts for 2 bicycles.

They left Paris only a few hours before it fell. Among the few possessions they were able to bring was the illustrated manuscript of Curious George.

Their journey  took them to Bayonne, France.On June 20, 1940.They crossed the Spanish border, where they purchased train tickets to Lisbon. Because they still had Brazilian passport  they returned to Brazil, they journeyed on from Brazil to New York.

The couple soon went to Houghton Mifflin publishers , they bought the manuscript for $1,000 and an additional three stories. The only demand  was that they change the name of Fifi to George.

The rest is history.

So next time you read a Curious George story yourself or to your children or other youngsters, remember that George nearly didn’t make it.

george fifi

 

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The Eiffel Tower

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On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower was dedicated in Paris in a ceremony presided over by Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s designer, and attended by French Prime Minister Pierre Tirard, a handful of other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers.

The tower is 324 metres (1,063 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building, and the tallest structure in Paris. Its base is square, measuring 125 metres (410 ft) on each side. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930.

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To give another indication of its height the highest summit in the Netherlands is Vaalserberg which is 2 meters lower then the Eiffel tower.

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Both buildings have been surpassed throughout the years by many other buildings. The Eiffel tower however has remained its iconic status.

Below are some pictures if the Eiffel tower throughout the ages.

20 March 1888: Completion of the first level.Construction_tour_eiffel3

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, left, explores the completed tower with a friend.eiffel_tower_under_construction_8

The Eiffel Tower during the Nazi occupation, 1940The Eiffel Tower during the Nazi occupation, 1940

Adolf Hitler visits Paris with architect Albert Speer (left) and artist Arno Breker (right), June 23, 1940.adolf_hitler_in_paris_1940

American soldiers watch the French flag flying on the Eiffel Tower, c. 25 August 1944American_soldiers_watch_as_the_Tricolor_flies_from_the_Eiffel_Tower_again

A. Citroen DS 19 in front of the Eiffel Tower, 1960sans-titre-1.6607

Zazie in the metro poses in front of the Eiffel Tower – 196017bcc7ab99fa7b3e45349c48ec273bfd

Paris to protect Eiffel Tower from terror attacks with 8ft bullet-proof glass wallnintchdbpict000253386959

 

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There are no monsters under my bed

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There are no monsters under my bed who want to hurt me or do me harm

There are no monsters under my bed, but I wish there were for I know they aren’t real.

There are no monsters under my bed, but there are monsters everywhere else.

The monsters can be a stranger, a teacher, a neighbor or a friend.

The monsters don’t look scary or ugly. They are well dressed and are well to do.

The monsters even wear uniforms designed by well known designers.

The monsters don’t really know me and yet they want me dead.

The monsters, are they afraid of me? Am I a monster to them?

The monsters they now know who I am, they now know my name. It’s Rachel Narcyz age 11 from Paris.

The monsters put me on a train to a camp called Auschwitz.

But here is the thing, they are not monsters. They are human beings, they need oxygen just like I do. They need food and sleep. They speak the same language and read the same books, Some of them even pretend to care.

They are not monsters, they are human just like me. But I am dead.

There are no monsters under my bed.

 

Picture source

Yad Vashem

Gabrielle Weidner-Forgotten Hero

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The more I do these WWII stories the more I realize how littIe I  actually know.. It was by chance I came across the name Gabrielle Weidner. Today when I tried to open a page on her it came up blank, just like my brain.I never heard of her or her brother Jean nor had I heard of the resistance group he had founded “Dutch-Paris” a group of Dutch,Belgian and French resistance fighters.

But this blog is about Gabrielle Weidner although she was Dutch she was born in Brussels, Belgium on  17 August 1914.

The second child born to a family that included her older brother Jean, and younger sister Annette. Her father was a minister who taught Greek and Latin at what is now Saleve Adventist University in Collonges, France, .

As a devoutly religious girl, she was living and doing church work for the Seventh-day Adventists in Paris at the outbreak of World War II. With the ensuing German occupation of France, she fled with her brother Jean , South to Lyon, in the unoccupied part of France. Following the 22 June 1940 signing of the agreement with the Nazis to create Vichy France, she returned to Paris while her brother went to Lyon where he established the “Dutch-Paris” underground.

In Paris, she resumed her work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, from which she secretly with the help of her brother and other volunteers coordinated escapes for Dutch-Paris. As a significant contributor to the French resistance she has been responsible for the rescue of at least 1,080 persons, including 800 Dutch Jews and more than 112 downed Allied airmen.

On February 26, 1944, the Gestapo arrested Ms. Weidner and was sent to Fresnes Prison.

gestapo-sit

Ms. Weidner was forced to endure physical and mental torture at Fresnes prison in Paris. Shortly after she was moved to a Ravensbrück sub-camp where she passed away on February 17, 1945 due to malnutrition

 

Her arrest had come about after a female courier who against all rules carried a notebook with a great number of names of the resistance in it. After being tortured extensively the courier did succumb to pain and divulged the names.

On 24 May 1950, Gabrielle Weidner posthumously received the Dutch Cross of Resistance for her efforts in the war. On the Dutch Orry-la-Ville honorary cemetery (north of Paris), her name is recorded on a plaque dedicated to the Dutch resistors.

Donation

I am passionate about my site and I know a you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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Sources

Adventistreview.org

Raoulwallenberg.net

Abdol Hossein Sardari-Beating the Nazis at their own game.

sardari-main-965x543

An Iranian official risking his life to save Jews? This scenario, while unlikely nowadays, actually happened during the Holocaust.

Iranian diplomat Abdol Hossein Sardari provided critical assistance to Iranian Jews in occupied France (1940-1944). In June 1940, following the German invasion of France, Iranian ambassador Anoushirvan Sepahbodi left for Vichy in the unoccupied zone to reconstitute the Embassy there. This left Sardari, the Consul General of Iran, in charge of consular affairs in Paris. In this capacity, Sardari appealed on several occasions to exempt Iranian and other Central Asian Jews living in German-occupied France from anti-Jewish measures decreed by French and German authorities.

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At the beginning of World War II, about 150 Jews from Iran, Afghanistan, and Bukhara (a city in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan and the former cultural center of the ancient Persian Empire) resided in France. Sharing linguistic and cultural ties, many of these Central Asian Jews, fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, had settled in Paris during the 1920s. Following the German occupation of northern France in 1940, representatives of these three communities presented themselves to Vichy French officials and the German occupation authorities as “Jugutis” (Djougoutes in French). Jugutis were the descendants of Persian Jews who, forced to convert to Islam in 1838, continued to practice Judaism privately in their homes. Official identity papers, such as passports, generally identified Jugutis as Muslims.

Sardari was in charge of the Iranian consular office in Paris in 1942. There was a sizeable community of Iranian Jews in Paris when Adolf Hitler invaded and occupied the city.

synagogue_in_tehran_qajar_period

Leaning on the national socialist perception that Germans were Aryan, Nazi Germany and Iran had an agreement which protected all Iranian citizens against German acts of aggression. Sardari was able to protect Iranian Jews, whose families had been present in Iran since the time of the Persian Empire. (Cyrus the Great personally ordered the Jews of Babylonia to be freed from Babylonian slavery.)

cyrus_ii_le_grand_et_les_hebreux

He very strongly argued this point to the Germans and specifically ascertained that the Iranian Jews were protected under these statutes. The Nazis grudgingly agreed and accordingly, many Persian Jews were saved from harassment and eventually deportation by the Nazi regime.

But Sardari went further. Once he realized the full nature of Nazi ambitions, he began issuing hundreds of Iranian passports for non-Iranian Jews to save them from persecution.

iranian_biometric_passport_cover

Sardari’s plan actually worked. When Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David, a directive was issued that Iranian Jews should be exempt. In addition, Sardari gave out between 500 and 1,000 Iranian passports, without the consent of his superiors. This saved 2,000 to 3,000 Jewish lives, as passports were issued for entire families. His actions were later confirmed and applauded by the government of Iran.

Sardari’s later life was blighted by many misfortunes, including the disappearance of his Chinese lover during the Chinese Civil War in 1948, charges of embezzlement by the post-war Iranian Government, and penury in his final years due to the loss of his pension rights and property in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. After a period spent living in a bed-sit in Croydon, he moved to Nottingham where he died in 1981.

Sardari has been honored by Jewish organizations such as the convention in Beverly Hills, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center on multiple occasions.

simon_wiesenthal_center

Sardari never took any credit for what he did. When Yad Vashem asked him in 1978, three years before he died a poor exile in London, about his wartime activities, he responded: “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.

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Marcel Petiot-“Doctor Satan”

Docteur Petiot.preview

Nazi-occupied Paris was a terrible place to be in the waning days of World War Two, with Jews, Resistance fighters and ordinary citizens all hoping to escape. Disappearances became so common they often weren’t followed up.

And one man used the lawlessness for his own terrible purposes, killing perhaps as many as 60 people.

Marcel Petiot, (born Jan. 17, 1897, Auxerre, France—died May 26, 1946, Paris) French serial killer who preyed on Jewish refugees attempting to flee France during the Nazi occupation.

Petiot was unusually intelligent as a child but exhibited severe behavioral problems in school and was expelled several times before completing his education. At age 17 he was arrested for mail theft but was released after a judge determined that he was mentally unfit to stand trial. In 1917, while serving in the French army during World War I, he was tried for stealing army blankets but found not guilty by reason of insanity. Despite his mental state, he was returned to the front, where he suffered a mental breakdown. He was eventually discharged for abnormal behaviour, for which some of his examiners said he should be institutionalized.

By 1916, the young Frenchman had volunteered for the French Army in the First World War.

In the Second Battle of the Aisne, he was wounded and gassed, and exhibited more symptoms of mental breakdown.

1024px-Soupir_(Aisne)_nach_den_April-Angriffen_1917

He was sent to various rest homes, where he was arrested for stealing army blankets, morphine, and other army supplies, as well as wallets, photographs, and letters; he was jailed in Orléans. In a psychiatric hospital in Fleury-les-Aubrais, he was again diagnosed with various mental illnesses but was returned to the front in June 1918. He was transferred three weeks later after he allegedly injured his own foot with a grenade, but was attached to a new regiment in September. A new diagnosis was enough to get him discharged with a disability pension.

Petiot-as-a-young-doctor. (1)

Despite his history of instability, Petiot then enrolled in school and eventually obtained a medical degree in 1921. He established a practice in the town of Villeneuve, where he became a popular figure.

In 1926, Petiot struck up an affair with Louise Delaveau, the daughter of one of his patients. Delaveau vanished not long after the affair began. While Petiot was never officially implicated in the disappearance, Delaveau may have been his first victim; neighbors said they saw Petiot loading a trunk into his car around the time the girl disappeared. Also in 1926 he was elected mayor but was suspended for four months in 1930 after being convicted of fraud. Later one of his patients was murdered, and another patient (who had accused Petiot of the crime) also died mysteriously. Again removed as mayor in 1931, he soon won election as a local councillor, though he lost his council seat after being convicted of stealing electric power from Villeneuve. In 1933 he moved to Paris, where he enjoyed a good reputation as a doctor and continued to commit various crimes.

After the 1940 German defeat of France, French citizens were drafted for forced labor in Germany. Petiot provided false medical disability certificates to people who were drafted. He also treated the illnesses of workers who had returned. In July 1942, he was convicted of overprescribing narcotics, even though two addicts who would have testified against him had disappeared.He was fined 2,400 francs

Petiot’s most lucrative activity during the Occupation was his false escape route. Under the codename “Dr. Eugène”, Petiot pretended to have a means of getting people wanted by the Germans or the Vichy government to safety outside France. Petiot claimed that he could arrange a passage to Argentina or elsewhere in South America through Portugal, for a price of 25,000 francs per person. Three accomplices, Raoul Fourrier, Edmond Pintard, and René-Gustave Nézondet, directed victims to “Dr. Eugène”, including Jews, Resistance fighters, and ordinary criminals. Once victims were in his control, Petiot told them that Argentine officials required all entrants to the country to be inoculated against disease, and with this excuse injected them with cyanide. He then took all their valuables and disposed of the bodies.

At first, Petiot dumped the bodies in the Seine, but he later destroyed the bodies by submerging them in quicklime or by incinerating them. In 1941, Petiot bought a house at 21 Rue le Sueur.

Rue-le-Sueur

Petiot failed to keep a low profile. The Gestapo eventually found out about him and, by April 1943, they had heard all about this “route” for the escape of wanted persons, which they assumed was part of the Resistance. Gestapo agent Robert Jodkum forced prisoner Yvan Dreyfus to approach the supposed network, but Dreyfus simply vanished. A later informer successfully infiltrated the operation, and the Gestapo arrested Fourrier, Pintard, and Nézondet. Under torture, they confessed that “Dr. Eugène” was Marcel Petiot. Nézondet was later released, but three others spent eight months in prison, suspected of helping Jews to escape. Even under torture, they did not identify any other members of the Resistance because they knew of none. The Gestapo released the three men in January 1944.

According to his own account, Petiot worked with the French Resistance during the occupation. He planted booby traps, developed weapons that could kill without leaving forensic evidence, and met with high-ranking Allied commanders. While the veracity of these claims remains largely unsubstantiated, Petiot was cited as a source many years later by Colonel John F. Grombach, the former head of the independent espionage agency known as “The Pond”

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.In March 1944, neighbors complained of a foul stench coming from Petiot’s home in Rue Le Sueur, and of noxious smoke billowing from his chimney. Authorities were summoned. When they searched the premises, they found the remains of numerous victims including, reportedly, charred human remnants smoldering in the fireplace.

The extensive coverage of the Petiot affair soon escalated into a full-blown media circus. Newspapers dubbed the doctor the Butcher of Paris, Scalper of the Etoile, the monster of rue Le Sueur, the Demonic Ogre, and Doctor Satan. One of the first and more popular sobriquets was the Modern Bluebeard.  Later, other names would be proposed for the murder suspect, from the Underground Assassin to the Werewolf of Paris.

The fervent media coverage extended internationally, the same source reports, and “In Switzerland, Belgium, and Scandinavia, the Petiot affair dominated headlines on a daily basis.”

 

Petiot evaded capture for a short while by adopting an alias and growing out his beard.During the intervening seven months, Petiot hid with friends, claiming that the Gestapo wanted him because he had killed Germans and informers. He eventually moved in with a patient, Georges Redouté, let his beard grow, and adopted various aliases.During the liberation of Paris in 1944, Petiot adopted the name “Henri Valeri” and joined the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) in the uprising. He became a captain in charge of counterespionage and prisoner interrogations.

When the newspaper Resistance published an article about Petiot, his defense attorney from the 1942 narcotics case received a letter in which his fugitive client claimed that the published allegations were mere lies. This gave police a hint that Petiot was still in Paris. The search began anew – with “Henri Valeri” among those who were drafted to find him. Finally, on 31 October, Petiot was recognized at a Paris Métro station, and arrested. Among his possessions were a pistol, 31,700 francs, and 50 sets of identity documents.

Abesses_entrance_1

Petiot was imprisoned in La Santé Prison. He claimed that he was innocent and that he had killed only enemies of France. He said that he had discovered the pile of bodies in 21 Rue le Sueur in February 1944, but had assumed that they were collaborators killed by members of his Resistance “network”.

But the police found that Petiot had no friends in any of the major Resistance groups. Some of the Resistance groups he spoke of had never existed, and there was no proof of any of his claimed exploits. Prosecutors eventually charged him with at least 27 murders for profit. Their estimate of his gains ran to 200 million francs.

Petiot went on trial on 19 March 1946, facing 135 criminal charges. René Floriot acted for the defense, against a team consisting in state prosecutors and twelve civil lawyers hired by relatives of Petiot’s victims. Petiot taunted the prosecuting lawyers, and claimed that various victims had been collaborators or double agents, or that vanished people were alive and well in South America under new names.

He admitted to killing just nineteen of the twenty-seven victims found in his house, and claimed that they were Germans and collaborators – part of a total of 63 “enemies” killed. Floriot attempted to portray Petiot as a Resistance hero, but the judges and jurors were unimpressed. Petiot was convicted of 26 counts of murder, and sentenced to death.It was estimated that he netted 200 million francs from his ill-gotten gains

On 25 May, Petiot was beheaded, after a stay of a few days due to a problem in the release mechanism of the guillotine.

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