There is an Iron Maiden song that has the line, “Only the good die young, all the evil seem to live forever.” There was a time when I thought this to be true, but luckily this is not the case. Sometimes the good ones live a long time.
Traute Lafrenz Page died ten days ago at age 103. She was a German resistance fighter and a White Rose member of the White Rose during World War II. Many people will have heard the names of Sophie and Hans Scholl but may not be familiar with Traute Lafrenz (now Page). She was in her early 20s when she joined the White Rose and ultimately to survive the war, even though many White Rose members were executed.
The White Rose never numbered more than a few dozen persons representing one of the first organized protests calling attention to the Holocaust, which eventually claimed the lives of six million Jews, and additionally, Roma, disabled people and others. “We will not be silent,” said one of the leaflets, and “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
Lafrenz was born on 3 May 1919 in Hamburg to Carl and Hermine Lafrenz, a civil servant and a homemaker; she was the youngest of three sisters. Together with Heinz Kucharski, Lafrenz studied under Erna Stahl at the Lichtwarkschule, a liberal arts school in Hamburg. When coeducation was abolished in 1937, Lafrenz moved to a convent school, from which she and classmate Margaretha Rothe graduated in 1938. Together with Rothe, Lafrenz began to study medicine at the University of Hamburg in the summer semester of 1939. After the semester she worked in Pomerania, where she met Alexander Schmorell who had begun studying in the summer of 1939 at the Hamburg University Medical School but continued his studies from 1939 to 1940 in Munich.
In May 1941, she went to Munich, where she soon met Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst. She took part in many of the White Rose group’s conversations and discussions, including with Kurt Huber.
The White Rose never numbered more than a few dozen persons and represented one of the first organized protests calling attention to the Holocaust, which eventually claimed the lives of six million Jews in addition to Roma, disabled people and others. “We will not be silent,” said one of the leaflets. “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
In November 1942, Traute Lafrenz brought the third White Rose leaflet to Hamburg. That Christmas, she tried to get hold of a duplicating machine in Vienna. Along with Sophie Scholl, Traute Lafrenz obtained paper and envelopes for dispatching more leaflets in January 1943. She was first interrogated by the Gestapo on 5 March 1943, and then arrested a few days later on 15 March.
After her release, the Gestapo arrested her again at the end of March 1944 and put her into Fuhlsbüttel Gestapo prison in Hamburg with other female prisoners from the Hamburg White Rose group. Traute Lafrenz was then transferred via prisons in Cottbus and Leipzig to Bayreuth. On 15 April 1945 she was liberated by American troops.
After Germany’s defeat, Page emigrated to the United States. There, she met her husband and had four children, and largely stayed quiet about her activities during World War II. According to The New York Times, her children didn’t learn about what she’d done during the conflict until 1970.
Even then, Page largely stayed out of the public eye. It wasn’t until 2019, on her 100th birthday, that she was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit for rebelling “against the dictatorship and the genocide of the Jews.”
“Traute Lafrenz was not at the centre of the White Rose,” Peter Normann Waage, a Norwegian author and journalist who interviewed Page, said according to The New York Times. “She did not physically write any of the leaflets—but she did just about everything else.”
Waage added, “She helped lay the foundation for the revitalization of cultural heritage as a weapon against brutality; she helped make the distribution of the leaflets as practical as possible and helped to spread them.”
She emigrated to San Francisco and worked as a medical resident at St. Joseph’s hospital. In 1948, she married fellow resident physician Vernon Page of Texas. Together they formed a medical practice in tiny Hayfork, California. Vernon Page received further training in ophthalmology, and the growing family settled in Evanston, Illinois. A strong conviction in the reality of the spiritual world inspired Traute’s adult life. She joined the Anthroposophical Society and was an early practitioner of the anthroposophical-inspired holistic medical approach. Like many women in the post-WWII years, Traute was at home with her young family. She liked to say “in those days you met PhDs at the park.” In the 1960s, Traute organized Waldorf summer school programs in Evanston. Waldorf schools work to awaken and enliven recognition of the human spirit through art, poetry, and appreciation of great human advances. Her son, Michael and granddaughter, Emily are Waldorf teachers. In later years, Traute became director of the Esperanza school in Chicago for developmentally delayed children, with a focus on these same principles. Traute always travelled extensively with her family including trips to Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, Egypt, Mexico, and South America into her 80s and 90s. In 1993, Traute and Vernon moved to Charleston, SC.
On 6 March 2023, Lafrenz died on Yonges Island, South Carolina, at age 103, as the last living member of the White Rose group.
She was a maid and came from an NSB family. At the age of 18, she started working as a guard in Camp Vught. She was involved in the Bunker drama that took place on the night of 15 to 16 January 1944. From the end of 1944 to March 1945 she worked as a security guard in Ravensbrück.
Katja Schot was notorious in the camp Vught. She taunted, kicked, humiliated, abused and beat the inmates. In 1947 she was sentenced by the Special Court in Den Bosch to twenty years in prison for her crimes, after two granted requests for clemency, she was given nine years. Katja Schot was called “an animal creature” by the prosecutor at the hearing
Katja Schot never expressed regret and married a former SS man.
The Bunker drama was an atrocity committed by the staff at the Herzogenbusch concentration camp (also known as Kamp Vught) in the Netherlands, on January 15 1944.
Right before the Bunker tragedy a quarrel took place at the female department of the camp. One of the female prisoners in barrack 23 was blamed by other women for betrayal, and finally, they cut her hair to punish her. The next day the main culprit was locked up by the camp leadership in a cell in the camp prison, the Bunker. She refused to tell the names of the other women who were involved in the quarrel. The women of the 23rd barrack decided to declare their solidarity with her and all declared guilty in expectation to lighten the punishment of their detained fellow prisoner. That was a fatal miscalculation because Grünewald took the women’s solidarity action as mutiny and decided to take very hard measures. On the 15th of January, he let round up all the women and, under the encouragement of SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Wicklein, lock them in two cells in the Bunker. They crammed 74 women into cell 115, while the remaining 17 were detained in cell 117 nearby. Cell 115, had a floor area of 9m2 and hardly any ventilation.
After 14 hours of confinement, the inmates were released from the cell. Ten women did not survive the night.
Katja Schot was present during the confinement of the prisoners and had to translate camp commander Adam Grünewald’s speech in which he described the accused women of mutiny and told them not to shout and that no window could open. There was so little space left that Schot, had to climb onto a bench to see how much space was left. Schot was also the one who reopened the cell the next morning.
Tineke Wibaut a resistance fighter and survivor testified, “When the lights went out, the panic erupted in full force. Some tried to shout through it to calm down the women and not to waste oxygen. Sometimes that helped, just for a moment, but then it started again. It didn’t stop, not that whole night, it just got less noise. The heat got stifling.”
These are the women who died.
Lena Bagmeijer-Krant Nelly de Bode Maartje den Braber Lamberta Buiteman-Huijsmans Anna Gooszen Mina Hartogs-Samson Johanna van den Hoek Lammerdina Holst Antoinette Janssen Huiberdina Witte-Verhagen
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The Dutch word for superstition is bijgeloof and in a literal sense translates into side belief or side religion. This sort of religion was the cause of the murder of Bridget Cleary on 15 March 1895.
Bridget Cleary was an Irish woman who was murdered by her husband. She was either burned alive or immediately after her death. The husband’s stated motive was his belief that she had been abducted by fairies and replaced with a changeling, which he then killed. The gruesome nature of the case prompted extensive press coverage, and the trial was closely followed by newspapers across Ireland.
When Johanna Burke visited her cousin, Bridget, she found the 26-year-old being held down and force-fed a concoction of herbs and milk. The men restraining her were three of Johanna’s brothers, an elderly neighbour named John Dunne and Bridget’s husband, Michael.
The Clearys were not quite like their neighbours. They were childless and, although Bridget was a local girl, they had lived in far larger towns than the nearby villages of Drangan and Cloneen. They may also have been richer than their neighbours. Coopers were well-paid craftsmen, and Bridget brought in extra money as a seamstress, she even owned a Singer sewing machine.
Bridget had become ill with a cold in the prior days to her death. She had been delivering eggs in Kylenagranagh, the site of a fairy ring, according to local folklore. Over the coming days, her house would be occupied by several relatives and neighbours amid a growing concern that there was a supernatural element to her illness. Trial records were later to suggest that this idea may have been put forward by John Dunne, a neighbour who was known to be more aligned with old faery traditions that were dying out in Ireland.
Relatives of Bridget were convinced as the days passed that there was a faery changeling in the house. In superstitious folklore, it was believed a faery changeling was a duplicate put in the place of a real person, often a woman or child, after they had been abducted by faeries.
There were several attempts to have the doctor and the priest visit the house, as well as an herbal doctor. As the days passed Bridget’s fever did not improve. By Friday 15th March 1895 tensions were running high in the small cottage with Michael repeatedly asking his wife who she was. She angered him by asserting that his mother had gone off with the faeries. She also stated that she could see the police at the window in an effort wanting to be left alone.
According to a court report in The Irish Times on 27 March of that year, Johanna said the men forced Bridget to take the herbs, and Cleary asked her, “Are you Bridget Boland, the wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of God?”
She answered twice, but when she refused to answer a third time, she was hauled up and held in a sitting position over the slow-burning embers of the kitchen fire. Bridget “seemed to be wild and deranged, especially while they were so treating her,” according to the report. She eventually responded: “I am Bridget Boland, daughter of Pat Boland in the name of God,” referring to her maiden name.
Michael repeatedly attempted to get her to say her name while getting her to eat three slices of bread. When she did not reply to the third time of questioning, he stripped her, doused her in oil and set her alight. He shouted that it was not his wife but a witch he was burning.
By 16 March, rumours were beginning to circulate that Bridget was missing, and local police began searching for her. Michael was quoted as claiming that his wife had been taken by fairies, and he appeared to be holding a vigil. Witness statements were gathered over the ensuing week, and by the time Bridget’s burnt corpse was found in a shallow grave on 22 March, nine people had been charged in her disappearance, including her husband. A coroner’s inquest the next day returned a verdict of death by burning.
Legal hearings ran from 1 to 6 April 1895. A tenth person had been charged, and one of the original nine was discharged at this stage, leaving nine defendants bound over for trial. The court session began on 3 July, and the grand jury indicted five of the defendants for murder: Michael Cleary, Patrick Boland, Mary Kennedy, James Kennedy, and Patrick Kennedy. All nine were indicted on charges of “wounding”. The case proceeded on to trial.
The evidence showed that on 15 March, Michael summoned Father Ryan back to the Cleary household. Ryan found Bridget alive but agitated. Michael told the priest that he had not been giving his wife the medicine prescribed by the doctor because he had no faith in it. According to Ryan, “Cleary then said, ‘People may have some remedy of their own that might do more good than doctor’s medicine,’ or something to that effect.” Bridget was given communion, and Ryan departed. Later that night, neighbours and relatives returned to the Cleary house. An argument ensued, again tinged with fairy mythology.
All ten people who had been in the house in the days surrounding the murder were arrested but only the men involved were given sentences ranging from six months to twenty years.
Charges against one co-defendant, William Ahearn, were dropped. Three others – John Dunne, Michael Kennedy, and William Kennedy – were convicted of “wounding”. Patrick Kennedy was sentenced to five years of penal servitude, Michael Kennedy was sentenced to six months of hard labour, James Kennedy was sentenced to eighteen months of hard labour, William Kennedy was sentenced to eighteen months of hard labour, Mary Kennedy was released owing to her age and frailty, Patrick Boland was sentenced to six months of hard labour, and John Dunne was sentenced to three years of penal servitude.
Michael Cleary was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude; he spent fifteen years in prison. He was released from Maryborough (now Portlaoise) prison on 28 April 1910 and moved to the English city of Liverpool, from which he emigrated to Canada in July of the same year. On 14 October 1910, a black-bordered letter was sent from the office of the Secretary of State, Home Department, London, to the undersecretary, Dublin Castle, stating that Michael had emigrated to Montreal on 30 June.
Bridget Cleary’s death has remained famous in popular culture. An Irish nursery rhyme reads Are you a witch or Are you a fairy? Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?
The Holodomor comes from the term moryty holodom which translates as “death inflicted by starvation.” A man-made famine that convulsed the Soviet Republic of Ukraine from 1932 to 1933, peaking in the late spring of 1933.
Millions of Ukrainians were killed in the Holodomor, engineered by the Soviet government of Joseph Stalin. The primary victims of the Holodomor were rural farmers and villagers, who made up roughly 80 per cent of Ukraine’s population in the 1930s.
The first journalist to write about it was Gareth Jones. He went to the USSR, to investigate and witnessed the horrors with his own eyes.
On 29 March, he issued his first press release, which was published by many newspapers, including The Manchester Guardian and the New York Evening Post:
“I walked along through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying.’ This cry came from every part of Russia, from the Volga, Siberia, White Russia, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia. I tramped through the black earth region because that was once the richest farmland in Russia and because the correspondents have been forbidden to go there to see for themselves what is happening.
On the train, a Communist denied there was a famine. I flung a crust of bread which I had been eating from my own supply into a spittoon. A fellow passenger, a peasant fished it out and ravenously ate it. I threw an orange peel into the spittoon and the peasant again grabbed it and devoured it. The Communist denier subsided. I stayed overnight in a village where there used to be two hundred oxen and where there now are six. The peasants were eating the cattle fodder and had only a month’s supply left. They told me that many had already died of hunger. Two soldiers came to arrest a thief. They warned me against travelling by night, as there were too many starving desperate men.
‘We are waiting for death’ was my welcome, but see, we still, have our cattle fodder. Go farther south. There they have nothing. Many houses are empty of people already dead,’ they cried.”
This report was denounced by several Moscow-resident American journalists such as Walter Duranty and Eugene Lyons, who had been obscuring the truth to please the dictatorial Soviet regime. On 31 March, The New York Times published a denial of Jones’s statement by Duranty under the headline, Russians Hungry, But Not Starving. Duranty called Jones’ report “a big scare story.”
On 11 April 1933, Jones published a detailed analysis of the famine in the Financial News, pointing out its main causes: forced collectivisation of private farms, removal of 6–7 million of “best workers” (the Kulaks) from their land, forced requisitions of grain and farm animals and increased “export of foodstuffs” from USSR.
Below is the full of the April 11 and the follow-up report.
BALANCE SHEET OF THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN
By Gareth Jones
It is difficult to gauge the industrial achievements of the Five-Year Plan. It is true that on paper formidable results can be produced, such as the increase of coal production from 35 million tons in 1927-28 to 62 million tons in 1932, the increase of iron production from 3,283,000 tons to 6,206,000 tons, and the increase of oil from 11 million tons to 21 million tons in the same period. Official statistics also show great achievements in the building of tractors, the annual production of which rose from 1,27 five years ago to 50,000 last year, and in the building of motor lorries, the production of which increased from 677 in 1927-28 to 24,000 in 1932. In light industry, gigantic figures are also produced. On the other hand, in 1932 less rolled steel was made than two years previously, and the production of steel has remained almost stationary since 1929-30. One is justified, however, in having very little confidence in Soviet statistics.
White Elephants The giants of Soviet industry, Dnieperstroy, Magritogorsk, the Nijni-Novgorod factory, and the Kharkoff Tractor Works, can also be regarded as great achievements, but achievements of the order of Wembley or the Crystal Palace rather than well-functioning organisations. Difficulties of production are so great that they will long continue to be white elephants.
Through the Five-Year Plan, the Soviet Government succeeded in creating many factories for the construction of machines, which were never been made before in Russia. This was part of the autarchic aim of the Five-Year Plan, namely, to make the Soviet Union independent of the rest of the world. This aim has not been reached. In spite of all the various objects, which can now be made in the Soviet Union, such as motorcars, aluminium, and hydraulic turbines, which were formerly imported, their quality is so bad, and the lack of specialists is so great, that the Soviet Union can never be regarded as independent of the capitalist countries. Autarchy has not been achieved in so brief a span as five years. The shortage of foreign currency will render the render import of machinery difficult, and the recent cutting down of orders from abroad points to a slowing down of Soviet industry. The number of foreign specialists in Russia grows less month by month and when most of them have gone, the plight of the machinery will be grave.
According to experts, the Five-Year Plan has succeeded in its munitions side, and, from the point of view of ammunition, large gun, rifle and tank factories, there is reason to believe that it was a great success, for it was first and foremost a military and not an economic plan. Its primary aim was to render the Soviet Union powerful in defence against capitalist aggressors.
Another achievement is the great increase in the production of cotton in Central Asia.
In spite of colossal achievements, however, on paper, the difficulties facing the Soviet industry are greater than ever and are likely to increase in the future. They are mainly hungry, lack skill and fear responsibility, transport and finance.
In some factories, especially in the big Moscow factories, the first difficulty, hunger, does not yet exist, for there solid meals with meat are still given each day. But in the majority of factories, especially in the provinces, there is undernourishment. In a Kharkoff factory, the male worker received the following rations: 600 grams (about 1.3/4 lb.) of black bread per day, a pound of sugar per month, a quarter-litre of sunflower oil per month, and 800 grams (about 1.3/4 pounds) per month of fish, which was usually bad. In Moscow, the worker receives 800 grams (about 1.3/4 lb.) of bread per day, together with a meal at the factory. If he is a skilled worker, he will have sufficient to eat. There is every prospect of food conditions worsening, which will lessen the productivity of the workers.
Lack of skill and fear of responsibility are other great enemies of industrialisation. The damage done to good machinery through clumsy handling and negligence is disastrous. Much of the skill and brains of Russia have disappeared through shooting or imprisonment, while the successive trials have led to a condition of fear among many engineers, which is not conducive to good work and responsibility.
Transport difficulties are still unconquered and are responsible for most of the bad distribution in Russia. Last summer, according to “Pravda,” perishable goods had from 30% to 95%, losses en route; potatoes sometimes took sixty days to come to Moscow from a village about forty miles away. The result of these difficulties has been rapidly growing unemployment, which is a striking contrast to the shortage of labour one year ago. There have already been many dismissals throughout the country. In Kharkoff, for example, 20,000 men have been recently dismissed. Unemployment is a problem, which will attack the Soviet Union more and more and led to increasing dissatisfaction, for there is no unemployment insurance, and the unemployed man is deprived of his bread card.
What are the causes of unemployment in the Soviet Union?
The first is technological. A director of the Kharkoff Tractor Factory explained why his factory had dismissed many workers: “We dismissed them because we had improved our technical knowledge, and thus do not need so many workers!” an admission that technological unemployment is not confined to capitalist countries.
Lack of Raw Material
The second cause of unemployment is the lack of raw materials. A factory has to lie idle because the supply of coal or of oil has failed. Such is the synchronisation in the Plan that when one supply fails there are delays in many branches of industry. “Pravda” of March 10 contained the following item, which throws a light upon this cause of delay: “In the storehouses of Almaznyanski Metal Factory 13,000 tons of metal are lying idle, intended mainly for the agricultural machine factories; 550 tons are waiting to be sent to the Rostoff Agricultural Machine Factory, 1,500 tons to the Kharkoff Factory, 2,000 tons to Stalingrad Tractor Factory. The Southern Railway is only sending 12-15 wagons of iron per day, instead of 35. On some days absolutely no wagons are despatched.”
The third cause of unemployment in the Soviet Union is the food shortage. The factory is now made responsible for the feeding of its workers, a given a certain agricultural district or certain State or collective farms from which to draw supplies. A director is made responsible for the supply department. When the food supply is not sufficient for the total number of workers, the surplus men are dismissed. Some experts consider this the chief cause of unemployment.
The final cause of unemployment is financial. This will be dealt with in my next article, which will appear in tomorrow’s issue of the Financial News.
The Financial News, Tuesday, April 11th, 1933.
BALANCE-SHEET OF THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN
By GARETH JONES
A drastic economy drive is now in progress in the Soviet Union. The control over expenses in the factory is new exceedingly strict. The factories no longer have financial autonomy and a heavy responsibility is placed upon the administration of the factories to balance their budget. Last year the expenses of the factories exceeded the estimates. To counteract the deficits, which were caused by over spending the planned figures imposed from above on the factory administrations are now to be absolutely obligatory, and the financial work of each factory is to be controlled each month by the bank, which gives it credit.
When a factory or a trust has a deficit, sanctions are applied. In some cases, where the deficit is attributed to bad organisation a trial of the director is held and he is condemned and thrown out of the Communist. Part. Other sanctions in cases of deficit are: Non-payment of salaries and the obligation for the factory administration to dismiss a part of the staff. The rigid economy drive has thus been responsible for a part of the growing unemployment. In some offices and factories 20 per cent, 30 per cent., and even 40 per cent of the staff have been dismissed on financial grounds.
The absence of statistics upon the most vital sections of financial life makes it difficult to form a judgment concerning the currency. Gold reserve figures are no longer published. Gold production figures are hard to obtain, but in one official organisation the figure given for 1932 was 84,000,100 roubles. No figures are published on the amount of gold obtained from the Torgsin Stores, where customers have been able to buy with gold, silver, or with foreign currency. Even on the issue of roubles there have been no statistics published since September 5th, 1932. Some reliable observers state that they have seen at least l00 one-rouble notes with the same number printed upon them. The impression one obtains, is that those in charge of Soviet finances are bewildered.
There is only one certainly about. Soviet finances, and that is that there is a large-scale inflation, however loudly it may be denied by the Soviet Government, and however much members of the Communist Party may boast that “the chervonetz is the only stable currency in the world.” Some data on prices form sufficient proof of this. The Government has opened the so-called commercial shops for those who earn good salaries, where the following prices are now normal:
Butter: From 62 roubles to 75 roubles a kilo. (rouble at par equals 3s.).
Meat: 15 roubles a kilo.
Sugar: 15 roubles a kilo., but difficult to obtain.
Bread (black): 3 roubles a kilo.
(white): 4 roubles 50 kopeks a kilo.
In the open market the prices are as follows:-
Meat: About 20 roubles a kilo.
Tea: 25 roubles a pound.
Butter (when obtainable): 65 roubles a kilo.
In the Ukraine, where the food shortage is greater, the prices are higher.
In the co-operatives bread may be obtained cheaply for breadcards at the price of 7 kopeks a pound for black bread and 12 kopeks a pound for so-called white bread.
The gold prices in the Soviet Union provide interesting data for the economist:-
Flour (25 per cent.): 47 kopeks a kilo.
Sugar (refined): 50 kopeks a kilo.
Potato flour: 40 kopeks a kilo.
Flour (85 per cent.): 24 kopeks a kilo.
Butter in Torgsin (gold or foreign currency) costs from 1 r. 40k. to 1 r. 90k.
The rapid rise in prices has been a source of disorder for the Plan, for long-term planning ahead is disarranged when the currency loses its value, in the same way as in the capitalist world falling prices disorganise trade. The high prices in the Soviet Union must, however, be studied in connection with the wages which are paid. An unskilled labourer receives about 120 roubles a month; a skilled worker may receive anything from 200 to 600 roubles. Engineers are well paid, and usually receive monthly from about 500 to 1,500 roubles, and even 2,000 roubles. A young train conductor receives about 67 roubles a month.
A part of the wages goes, however, to the loans and lotteries, which play an important part in financing the Plan. In 1932 15.9 per cent. of the budgetary receipts came from loans. In 1933 it is planned to raise 2,800,000,000 roubles through internal loans. Lotteries, while providing a negligible part of the State funds compared with the loans, are used to finance such undertakings as the Soviet Mercantile Marine, the Society for Aviation and Chemical Defence, and the Motorisation of the Soviet Union. Prizes, such as motor-cars, which may be owned as private property by one man, and even money prizes, are offered as incentives to invest in these lotteries.
In internal finances one obtains impression of disorder. The rouble seems to have run away from the Plan. On the Black Market 50 to 70 roubles can be obtained for a dollar, instead of the legal 1 rouble 94 kopeks. Any suggestion of devaluation, however, is immediately refuted with indignation.
The external financial situation also arouses no confidence. It is estimated that the Soviet Union’s obligations abroad total £120,000,000. Recently the adverse balance has mounted up with the declining prices of the goods exported by Russia. In 1929 the Soviet Union exported 923,700,000 gold roubles’ worth of goods, whereas in 1932 her exports amounted to 563,900,000 gold roubles. Her imports have not declined so rapidly, having fallen from 880,600,000 gold roubles in 1929 to 698,700,000 gold roubles in 1932.
World prices have declined so much and Russia’s agriculture has received such a blow from the Five-Year Plan, that it is doubtful whether the Soviet Union will long be able to maintain her payments abroad, however meticulous she may have been in meeting payments up to now. If an embargo is placed upon Soviet imports by the British Government, the difficulties of payment will become still greater, for normally nearly 30 per cent. of Soviet Russia’s exports are destined for Great Britain, and a blow will be dealt to the creditors of the Soviet Union in Britain, and especially in Germany, where the Government has guaranteed German ex-ports to Russia to a considerable degree.
The concluding article of this series, dealing with agriculture, will appear to-morrow. The first, on unemployment, appeared in our issue of yesterday.
The Financial News, Tuesday, April 13th, 1933
BALANCE-SHEET OF THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN
III-RUIN OF RUSSIAN AGRICULTURE
By GARETH JONES
THE main result of the Five-Year Plan has been the ruin of Russian agriculture, a fact which completely outbalances the achievements of Soviet industry and is already gravely affecting the industrialisation of the country. In the eyes of responsible foreign observers and of peasants, the famine
in Russia to-day is far worse than that of 1921. In 1921 the famine was spread over wide areas, it is true, but, in comparison with the general famine throughout the country which exists to-day, it might be considered localised. In 1921 the towns were short of food, but in most parts of the Ukraine and elsewhere there was enough bread, and the peasants were able to live. To-day there is food in the towns although in the provinces not enough whereas the countryside has been stripped of bread.
Symptomatic of the collapse of Russian agriculture is the shooting of thirty-five prominent workers in the Commissariat of Agriculture and in the Commissariat of State Farms, including the Vice-Commissar of Agriculture himself, and Mr. Wolff, whose name is well known to foreign agricultural experts. They were accused of smashing tractors, of burning tractor stations and flax factories, of stealing grain reserves, of disorganising the sowing campaign and of destroying cattle. “Pravda ” (March 5) stated that “the activities of the arrested men had as their aim the ruining of agriculture and the creation of famine in the country.” Surely a formidable task for thirty-five men in a country which stretches 6,000 miles!
Sign of Panic
The shooting of thirty-five is a sign of the panic which has come over the Soviet regime on account of the failure of collectivisation. The writer has visited villages in the Moscow district, in the Black Earth district, and in North Ukraine, parts, which are far from being the most badly hit in Russia. He has collected evidence from peasants and foreign observers and residents concerning the Ukraine, Crimea, North Caucasia, Nijni-Novgorod district, West Siberia, Kazakstan, Tashkent area, the German Volga and Ukrainian colonists, and all the evidence proves that there is a general famine threatening the lives of millions of people. The Soviet Government tries its best to conceal the situation, but the grim facts will out. Under the conditions of censorship existing in Moscow, foreign journalists have to tone down their messages and have become masters at the art of understatement. The existence of the general famine is none the less true, in spite of the fact that Moscow still has bread.
What are the causes of the famine? The main reason for the catastrophe in Russian agriculture is the Soviet policy of collectivisation. The prophecy of Paul Scheffer in 1920-30 that collectivisation of agriculture would be the nemesis of Communism has come absolutely true. Except for drought in certain areas, climatic conditions have blessed the Soviet Government in the last few years. Then why the catastrophe?
In the first place, the policy of creating large collective farms, where the land was to be owned and cultivated in common, led to the land being taken away from more than two-thirds of the peasantry, and incentive to work disappeared. Moreover, last year nearly all the crops were violently seized, and the peasant was left almost nothing for himself. The passive resistance of the peasant has been a far more important factor in Russian development than the ability to cook statistics.
In the second place, the massacre of cattle by peasants not wishing to sacrifice their property for nothing to the collective farm, the perishing of horses through lack of fodder, the death of innumerable livestock through exposure, epidemics and hunger on those mad ventures, the cattle factories, have so depleted the livestock of the Soviet Union that not until 1945 could that livestock reach the level of 1928. And that is, provided that all the plans for import of cattle succeed, provided there is no disease, and provided there is fodder. That date 1945 is given by one of the most reliable foreign agricultural experts in Moscow. In all villages visited by the writer most of the cattle and of the horses bad been slaughtered or died of lack of fodder, while the remaining horses were scraggy and diseased.
In the third place, six or seven millions of the best workers (the Kulaks) have been uprooted and deprived of their land. Apart from all consideration of human feelings, the existence of many millions of good producers is an immense capital value to any country, and to have destroyed such capital value means an inestimable loss to the national wealth of Russia. Although two years ago the Soviet authorities stated that they had liquidated the Kulak as a class, the drive against the better peasants was carried on with renewed violence last winter.
The final reason for the famine in the Soviet Union has been the export of foodstuffs. For this it is not so much the Soviet Government as the world crisis, which is to blame. The crash in world prices has been an important factor in creating the grave situation in Russia. Prices have dropped most in precisely those products, wheat, timber, oil, butter, &c., which the Soviet Union exports, and least in those products, such as machinery, which the Soviet Union imports. The result has been that Russia has had to export increased quantities at lower value.
What of the Future?
What of the future? In order to try and gauge the prospects for the next harvest, the writer asked in March the following questions in each village:-
(1) Have you seed?
(2) What will the spring sowing be like?
(3) What were the winter sowing and the winter ploughing like?
(4) What do you think of the new tax?
On the question of seed, several villages were provided with seed, but many lacked seed. Experts are confident that the Government has far greater reserves of grain than in 1921, but evidence points to a lack of seed in certain areas.
Peasants were emphatic in stating that the spring sowing would be bad. They stated that they were too weak and swollen to sow, that there would be little cattle fodder left for them to eat in a month’s time, that there were few horses left to plough, that the remaining horses were weak, that the tractors, when they had any, stopped all the time, and, finally, that weeds might destroy the crops.
Information received concerning the winter sowing and the winter ploughing was black. There had been little winter sowing, which accounts for about one-third of the total crops, and winter ploughing had been bad. The winter sowing had been very late.
On the question of the Soviet Government’s new agricultural policy, peasants were also doubtful. The new tax, by which the collective farms will pay so much grain (usually about 2 and half centners) per hectare and be free to sell, the rest on the open market, is not likely to make much difference to the situation, for the peasants have completely lost faith in the Government.
The outlook for the next harvest is, therefore, black. It is dangerous to make any prophecy, for the miracle of perfect climatic conditions can always make good a part of the ‘unfavourable factors.
The chief fact remains, however, that in building up industry the Soviet Government has destroyed its greatest source of wealth – its agriculture.
This is the concluding article of a series of three; the first appeared in our Issue of Tuesday and the second yesterday.”
On May 13th the New York Times published a stinging reply from Jones which reiterated that he stood by every word he had said:
…” I stand by my statement that Soviet Russia is suffering from a severe famine. It would be foolish to draw this conclusion from my tramp through a small part of vast Russia, although I must remind Mr. Duranty that it was my third visit to Russia, that I devoted four years of university life to the study of the Russian language and history and that on this occasion alone I visited in all twenty villages, not only in the Ukraine, but also in the black earth district, and in the Moscow region, and that I slept in peasants’ cottages, and did not immediately leave for the next village.
My first evidence was gathered from foreign observers. Since Mr. Duranty introduces consuls into the discussion, a thing I am loath to do, for they are official representatives of their countries and should not be quoted, may I say that I discussed the Russian situation with between twenty and thirty consuls and diplomatic representatives of various nations and that their evidence supported my point of view. But they are not allowed to express their views in the press, and therefore remain silent.
Journalists, on the other hand, are allowed to write, but the censorship has turned them into masters of euphemism and understatement. Hence they give “famine” the polite name of “food shortage” and “starving to death” is softened down to read as “widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.” Consuls are not so reticent in private conversation.
My second evidence was based on conversations with peasants who had migrated into the towns from various parts of Russia. Peasants from the richest parts of Russia coming into the towns for bread. Their story of the deaths in their villages from starvation and of the death of the greater part of their cattle and horses was tragic, and each conversation corroborated the previous one.
Third, my evidence was based upon letters written by German colonists in Russia, appealing for help to their compatriots in Germany. “My brother’s four children have died of hunger.” “We have had no bread for six months.” “If we do not get help from abroad, there is nothing left but to die of hunger.” Those are typical passages from these letters.
Fourth, I gathered evidence from journalists and technical experts who had been in the countryside. In The Manchester Guardian, which has been exceedingly sympathetic toward the Soviet régime, there appeared on March 25, 27 and 28 an excellent series of articles on “The Soviet and the Peasantry” (which had not been submitted to the censor). The correspondent, who had visited North Caucasus and the Ukraine, states: “To say that there is famine in some of the’ most fertile parts of Russia is to say much less than the truth: there is not only famine, but – in the case of the North Caucasus at least – a state of war, a military occupation.” Of the Ukraine, he writes: “The population is starving.”
My final evidence is based on my talks with hundreds of peasants. They were not the “kulaks”- those mythical scapegoats for the hunger in Russia-but ordinary peasants. I talked with them alone in Russian and jotted down their conversations, which are an unanswerable indictment of Soviet agricultural policy. ‘The peasants said emphatically that the famine was worse than in 1921 and that fellow-villagers had died or were dying.
Mr. Duranty says that I saw in the villages no dead human beings nor animals. That is true, but one does not need a particularly nimble brain to grasp that even in the Russian famine districts the dead are buried and that there the dead animals are devoured.
May I in conclusion congratulate the Soviet Foreign Office on its skill in concealing the true situation in the U.S.S.R.? Moscow is not Russia, and the sight of well fed people there tends to hide the real Russia.”
Banned from the Soviet Union, Jones turned his attention to the Far East and in late 1934 he left Britain on a “Round-the-World Fact-Finding Tour”. He spent about six weeks in Japan, interviewing important generals and politicians, and he eventually reached Beijing. From here he traveled to Inner Mongolia in newly Japanese-occupied Manchukuo in the company of a German journalist, Herbert Müller. Detained by Japanese forces, the pair were told that there were three routes back to the Chinese town of Kalgan, only one of which was safe.
Jones and Müller were subsequently captured by bandits who demanded a ransom of 200 Mauser firearms and 100,000 Chinese dollars (according to The Times, equivalent to about £8,000). Müller was released after two days to arrange for the ransom to be paid. On 1 August, Jones’s father received a telegram: “Well treated. Expect release soon.” On 5 August, The Times reported that the kidnappers had moved Jones to an area 10 miles (16 kilometres) southeast of Kuyuan and were now asking for 10,000 Chinese dollars (about £800), and two days later that he had again been moved, this time to Jehol. On 8 August the news came that the first group of kidnappers had handed him over to a second group, and the ransom had increased to 100,000 Chinese dollars again. The Chinese and Japanese governments both made an effort to contact the kidnappers.
On 17 August 1935, The Times reported that the Chinese authorities had found Jones’s body the previous day with three bullet wounds. The authorities believed that he had been killed on 12 August, the day before his 30th birthday. There was a suspicion that his murder had been engineered by the Soviet NKVD, as revenge for the embarrassment he had caused the Soviet regime. Former UK prime minister Lloyd George is reported to have said:
“That part of the world is a cauldron of conflicting intrigue and one or other interests concerned probably knew that Mr Gareth Jones knew too much of what was going on. He had a passion for finding out what was happening in foreign lands wherever there was trouble, and in pursuit of his investigations he shrank from no risk. I had always been afraid that he would take one risk too many. Nothing escaped his observation, and he allowed no obstacle to turn from his course when he thought that there was some fact, which he could obtain. He had the almost unfailing knack of getting at things that mattered”
Amazingly 90 years on Russia is still using the same tactics ‘allegedly’.
I recently interviewed Eddy Boas and his son Phil. Here are some of the subjects we touched on.
Eddy Boas is a Holocaust survivor and author of the book I’m Not a Victim— I Am a Survivor. He was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1940. Eddy was just three months old when the Nazis invaded and three years old when his family was rounded up and sent to Westerbork and from there to Bergen Belsen. They were the only family unit sent to the camps that survived the Holocaust.
After the war, the Dutch government treated the Boas family very poorly. They left the Netherlands for Australia. The Dutch government issued a public apology about the Dutch and their involvement in the Holocaust on Eddy’s 80th birthday on 26 January 2020.
I spoke to Eddy about the rise of Anti-Semitism and the oft-forgotten victims of the Holocaust. The quote, “If you want to improve the future, you have to learn from History” comes from his granddaughter.
I also spoke to Eddy’s son Phil, to get a perspective of the son of a Holocaust survivor.
Below is a video of Eddy’s granddaughter Sarah Jane, speaking up about Anti-Semitism. During the interview, she coined the quote, “If you want to improve the future, you have to learn from history.” I think that is a powerful and effective bit of advice.
It is rare to have three different generations of the same family in the room. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to hear from a Holocaust survivor and the second and third generation adding to the interview.
The above photograph sent shivers down my spine. Not because it is a horrific picture, just the opposite is true. Three young girls walk into town, pushing a pram.
Why I find it so disturbing, is because I know that street very well. I have walked the same route many times. In fact, all my Dutch family would have walked that route many times. It is the street that leads into the city centre of Sittard, the neighbouring town to Geleen where I grew up. Sittard and Geleen merged in 2001 to make it the bigger city of Sittard-Geleen.
The girl pushing the pram is Hermine Zondervan. She was born on the Brandstraat in Sittard, where her father had a business as an electrician and optician. Benoit had taken it over from his father. Hermien’s grandparents died when she was still small, in 1932 and 1934. Afterwards, Max Capell from Düren, a cousin of her father, lived with them for a while. Hermien did have a grandmother on her mother’s side, who lived on Stationsdwarsstraat.
Hermine was an only child but had a niece Ivonne who was the same age, and a nephew Herman who was a few years younger; and lived on the Bergstraat. On her mother’s side, she had an older cousin living in Sittard and a few others in South Holland. She spent a lot of time with Roosje Silbernberg from Engelenkampstraat, who was the same age as Hermine. In 1941, the family took in a single uncle from the father, the 84-year-old Jozef Zondervan from Maastricht. After the summer, Hermien was suddenly no longer allowed to go to school, and from then on she and the other Jewish children attended an improvised school next to the synagogue in the Plakstraat.
In August 1942, Uncle Henri was deported with his family, and in November of that same year, Uncle Jos Hertz was her mother’s brother. Hermine’s friend Roosje and her family then went into hiding. The Jewish class had become a lot emptier by then, but the atmosphere was becoming more and more oppressive.
It was Hermien’s turn, her parents and Great-Uncle Jozef Zondervan’s at the beginning of April 1943, when the last major deportation from Limburg took place. Grandma Hertz was also taken via Vught and Westerbork. First Great-Uncle Jozef, then Grandmother Hertz, and finally Estella and Hermine were all taken to Sobibor to be murdered upon arrival, on 12 June 1943. Hermine was 12 years old.
Father Benoit had stayed behind in Vught because his technical skills made him very useful in the so-called Philips Kommando, where he had to perform forced labour. In March 1944 he was also deported to the east, where he finally succumbed in April 1945.
Roosje Silbernberg survived the war.
After seeing the picture and reading the story I realized it could have easily been members of my family.
Rudolf Breslauer was born on 4 July 1903, in Leipzig, German Empire. He was a German Jewish director and cinematographer. He died on 28 February, 1945, in Auschwitz, a month after liberation.
Westerbork Film is the title of a film made in 1944 at the Westerbork Transit Camp in the Netherlands. It was a transfer point set up by the Germans for Jews transported to other concentration camps.
In 1938, Breslauer fled with his family to the Netherlands. Four years later, he was arrested by the Germans and sent to Westerbork. The camp commandant at the time, Albert Gemmeker, had an idea to make a documentary about the camp to show how civilized things were there, and Bresllauer took on the task to shoot the movie. Very similar to what Kurt Gerron, known from The Blue Angel, was told to do at Theresienstadt, in 1944. The film Der Führer gives the Jews a city made from Gerron’s pictures.
In contrast to Gerron’s work, Breslauer’s film is hardly known to a broader public because it was never officially completed. Filming stopped after a few months. Breslauer’s colleague Wim Loeb processed the raw material into two versions—an official and a residual. The latter was eventually smuggled out of the camp and used primarily as a research object. It was only recently restored and compiled into a final film after UNESCO included the contemporary document in 2017 in the list of world memories that —must never be forgotten. It shows how perfidious the propaganda and lying machine portraying the everyday life in the transit camp was to look like something thoroughly normal, almost as a gesture of good nature towards those people.
Aside from shooting the film, he also snapped a great number of photos at the camp of the supposedly normal daily life in Westerbork.
The most iconic image is of Anna Maria (Settela) Steinbach, a Dutch girl, gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Initially identified as a Dutch Jewish girl, her personal identity and association with the Sinti group of the Romani people were discovered in 1994.
The Westerbork Film was never completed, but much of its raw footage was preserved.
The Westerbork Film is regarded as an irreplaceable, unique visual document that occupies a special place among all sources on the Second World War. The historian Jacques Presser called it “unsurpassable” in this respect, and rightly so because such film material was not known from any National Socialist Concentration Camp. In 2017, the film, and production documents, were included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The unique footage was then examined, selected and painstakingly restored.
The edited version of the Westerbork Film is now online in colour with background music on YouTube.
An estimated 1,800 Dutch citizens attempted to escape to England during World War II. The majority chose to travel via neighbouring countries, while a minority went straight across the North Sea. Many different vessels were used and at least 204 people made the crossing successfully. Most of the attempts were made in 1941 when the Dutch coast was still somewhat accessible. One crossing from Scheveningen was undertaken on 16 March 1941: seven young fishermen from Scheveningen journeyed to England on the shrimp barge Anna KW 96. All of them subsequently enlisted in the Royal Netherlands Navy and survived the war. Four Engelandvaarders (Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema-aka Soldier of Orange, Chris Krediet, Peter Tazalaar and Bob van der Stok) started Contact Holland as a way of improving contact between London and the Dutch resistance. Reliable radio communications were crucial. Dutchmen who had previously ventured across the North Sea as Engelandvaarders were trained as secret agents, ready to return to the Netherlands armed with instructions and Morse code equipment. These secret agents then had to be dropped off on the coast of Scheveningen along with radio gear. Hazelhoff Roelfzema, Krediet and Tazelaar carried out two landings off the coast of Scheveningen during the winter of 1941-42. A number of agents were arrested in the spring of 1942; Anton van der Waals, the most significant Dutch traitor in World War Two, played an important role in this. The Allied secret agents were captured and forced to continue to communicate with England through messages written by the Germans. This was the start of the Englandspiel. Not realising that the agents were sending their messages while in the enemy’s clutches, the British continued sending secret agents to the continent. Upon arrival in the Netherlands, they were immediately captured by the Germans. At the end of the war, most of the secret agents were deported from the Netherlands; 54 did not survive the Englandspiel.
Two of these men were captured respectively 80 and 81 years ago today on 9 March 1942 and 9 March 1943.
Thijs Taconis born in Rotterdam, on 28 March 28, 1914—Mauthausen, was a secret agent with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. On 15 May 1940, he arrived in England on a fishing boat. In January 1941 he travelled to Canada to enlist. On his return to England, he started his training with the SOE on 28 May 1941. After he was parachuted into the Netherlands on 7 November 1941, he was arrested on 9 March 1942. He was deported to Mauthausen via internment in Kamp Haaren. Here he was executed on 6 September 1944.
Pieter Arnoldus Arendse,
Born: 14 February 1912 The Hague. Dutch agent of the SOE/Plan-Holland. Parachuted into the South of Ermelo and was arrested the same day 9 March 1943. He was executed on 6 or 7 September 1944, in Mauthausen.
The aforementioned Antonius van der Waals (Rotterdam, 11 October was a traitor and a spy for the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD). He played a leading role in the Englandspiel, in which at least 83 resistance members were arrested, thanks to him. After the war, he was sentenced to death for this betrayal. Van der Waals was executed on 26 January 1950 on the Waalsdorpervlakte.
When you hear about football tragedies, you might think about something like Manchester United being beaten 7-0 by Liverpool, but not about a great number of casualties among supporters.
Yet there have been dozens of football disasters with a great number of deaths. One I hadn’t heard of before is the Burnden Park disaster. Thirty-three people were crushed to death at Bolton Wanderers’ Burnden Park on March 9, 1946. The match, an FA Cup Sixth Round second-leg tie between Bolton and Stoke City
Bolton took a 2-0 lead from the first leg back to Burnden Park where it was estimated that 85,000 spectators attended – 15,000 over the capacity.
It was estimated that the crowd was in excess of 85,000 people. The entrance to the Bolton end of the ground, which had no roof, was from the Manchester Road end only. The disaster happened at the Railway End of the ground where, in common with many other post-war grounds, facilities were rudimentary.
As the Railway End of the ground filled, a decision was taken at approximately 2.40 pm to close the turnstiles. However, the pressure inside the stand caused a crush.
Phyllis Robb was among them. As the crush began to be felt, she was photographed being lifted to safety and passed over the heads of the rest of the fans.
Now aged 101, she remembers it well. “I can remember barriers breaking down and they were all rushing out – and they put me like that”. She said she was not scared of the crush, adding: “I was more bothered about my father because he was still on the ground.”
The disaster was the result of a perfect storm. In 1946, the FA Cup was the first competitive football played since the end of World War Two.
After a six-year absence from top-flight football, the fans were eager to flock to games especially as Bolton was the only team playing in Lancashire that day. An added attraction was Sir Stanley Matthews, one of the game’s greatest stars, who was lining up for Stoke. Fans from opposite ends had to use the same turnstiles because parts of the ground that had been requisitioned for wartime storage were not returned to full use.
Other supporters had to pass the same area on their way to a separate terrace creating a bottleneck. The gates were shut 20 minutes before the kick-off as fans crammed into the ground but things got worse behind a goal when a gate at the rear of the stand was opened.
Some accounts say it was forced open by fans trying to get in while others say a father picked open a lock from within to escape the crush with his son. Whatever the truth, shortly after kick-off two barriers gave way at the Embankment End and the huge crowd fell forward crushing those in front.
The play was initially stopped but resumed with bodies laid out behind the goal. With the game ending goalless. The disaster brought about the Moelwyn Hughes report, which recommended more rigorous control of crowd sizes.
Heroes don’t always wear capes, or are dressed in uniforms, sometimes they are just ordinary people. I say ordinary but more often than not they are anything but ordinary, as was the case with Fredy Hirsch.
I first heard of Fredy a few years ago. I got the book, The Librarian of Auschwitz, as a birthday gift. Although it is based on the story of Dita Kraus, Fredy features prominently in the book.
Alfred Hirsch, known as Fredy, was born in Aachen, Germany on 11 February 1916. In Aachen, he began his career as a teacher and educator in various Jewish youth organizations. An enthusiastic and talented athlete, Fredy also worked with Jewish sports associations. After the Nazis came to power in Germany, he fled to Czechoslovakia, where he believed he would be safe.
In October 1939, after having moved to Prague, Hirsch helped a group of kids he had been working with go to Denmark for pre-aliyah training(Pronounced: a-LEE-yuh for synagogue use, ah-lee-YAH for immigration to Israel, Origin: Hebrew, literally, “to go up.” This can mean the honour of saying a blessing before and after the Torah reading during a worship service, or immigrating to Israel). They later went to Israel.
Following the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, strict restrictions were placed on the country’s Jews. Despite this, Hirsch continued his work with children, organizing sports activities, camping trips and study groups.
When he was deported to Theresienstadt in December 1941, Fredy organized activities for the children there. He set up games, including soccer and track and field events, in the grassy areas of the camp.
Fredy was described as athletic, attractive, and extremely caring. He made sure that the children kept themselves as clean as possible despite the lack of hot water and soap, even running cleanliness competitions. Survivors remember him as a kind and reassuring presence to the children.
“Every group had a counsellor, and above all the counsellors—was Fredy. Fredy was admired by everyone” Dita Kraus, Auschwitz survivor who knew Hirsch from Prague and Theresienstadt.
Fredy Hirsch arrived in Terezín on 4 December 1941 as part of a team called the Aufbaukommando II, consisting of Hirsch and 22 other employees of the Jewish community who had been given the task of organising life in the newly-created ghetto. From the start of the ghetto’s existence, special rooms were created for children, who lived apart from their parents. Later they were transformed into the heims [homes] around 11 children’s houses where several carers and teachers devoted themselves to the children’s semi-legal education. Fredy Hirsch, Egon Redlich and Bedřich Prager were in charge of looking after the young people. Hirsch and the other carers tried to improve the living conditions of the children in the ghetto in whatever way they could. Hirsch insisted that the children must exercise every day and pay attention to personal hygiene to maintain their psychological and physical condition, for in this lay their only hope of survival. The fact that Hirsch came from Germany, and his self-confident manner, meant that some SS members had a certain degree of respect for him. He thus managed to gain space for a playground, where in May 1943, the Terezín Maccabi Games took place.
The Maccabiah Games (a.k.a. the World Maccabiah Games; Hebrew: משחקי המכביה, or משחקי המכביה העולמית; sometimes referred to as the Jewish Olympics), was first held in 1932, are an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event held quadrennially in Israel.
Fredy Hirsch also gained the ability to have individuals taken off the planned transports to the east, and often made use of this to benefit children. When a group of 1,200 children from the recently liquidated Bialystok ghetto arrived in August 1943, Hirsch went to see them in defiance of German orders to stay away. He was caught and his connections did not prevent him from being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in transport along with 5,006 other people before the visit of representatives from the International Red Cross.
Unlike most arrivals to Auschwitz, Hirsch’s group did not have to go through the selection process and was instead moved to a newly built family camp. (BIIb)
They also did not have to wear uniforms or have their heads shaved. Men and women were allowed to interact and the group was allowed to receive packages from relatives. Hirsch took responsibility for the 274 children under 14 years of age from his transport, and another 353 who came later.
The children slept with their mothers, fathers or counsellors and during the day, were brought to a building Hirsch convinced the SS to set aside for them. The children’s block was under the supervision of Josef Mengele.
Hirsch once again organized classes, scout activities, plays and physical fitness courses. Two artists drew cheerful pictures that were put on the walls. He forbade counsellors from talking about the gas chambers and crematoria and his insistence on maintaining hygiene was critical to the survival of children, especially as adults began to die from the disease. Hirsch again made friends with guards who allowed the children to receive better food and to stay indoors for twice-daily roll calls.
Children in the block had secret, improvised lessons, taught in small groups according to age. If an SS patrol was approaching, the lessons quickly turned into games, or the children started to sing German songs, which were allowed. For the carers, too, working in the children’s block had a certain advantage: an intellectual environment, and under a roof too, which made it easier for them to keep themselves in relatively good psychological and physical condition. The teachers would tell the children the content of books that they remembered. They taught them geography and history, played games with them, and sang with them. In late 1943 and early 1944, the children also rehearsed and performed a production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was attended by SS men, including Dr Mengele, who applauded the children enthusiastically, had them sit on his knee and asked them to call him Uncle.
As the September transport neared the end of its six-month quarantine period towards the end of February 1944, members of the camp’s resistance movement contacted Fredy Hirsch. They knew that the word Sonderbehandlung, written on the identity card of each prisoner in the family camp, actually meant death in the gas chamber. In Fredy Hirsch, who enjoyed natural authority among the prisoners, they saw a potential leader of the planned uprising. Hirsch found himself facing a difficult decision: a rebellion would mean the chance to kill several SS men and a slim chance of possible escape for a handful of prisoners, but also certain death for the great majority of prisoners in the family camp, and without a doubt, certain death for all the children. On the morning of 8 March, he discussed the issue again with Rudolf Vrba, who was connected to the Auschwitz resistance movement. Vrba visited him and told him there was no doubt that the whole transport was heading for the gas chambers. Hirsch asked for an hour to decide. An hour later, Vrba found him unconscious. A doctor stated that he had taken an overdose of tranquillizers. That evening, Fredy Hirsch’s body was burned in the Birkenau crematorium, together with the remains of the 3,792 murdered prisoners of the Terezín family camp.
There is still speculation as to what happened in the final minutes of his life. It is not entirely clear how he managed to obtain a fatal dose of medicine, nor whether it was truly suicide. Before his death, Hirsch appointed his successors as the heads of the children’s block—Seppl Lichtenstern and Jan Brammer.
In Rubi Gat’s 2017 documentary, Dear Fredy, the subject of Hirsch’s sexuality comes up as early as the film’s first two minutes, in an animated segment in which we are told, “Hirsch couldn’t fall in love. That was the gossip in the ghetto.” And it is raised again in questions asked of the interviewees. In an interview by Dr Michal Aharony, Gat, who is himself gay, and lives with his partner and their three children, was asked why he put such an emphasis on Hirsch’s sexual orientation. “It’s part of who he was,” Gat said. “I tried to tell his story without omissions or prettifying things. He didn’t hide it, so I’m certainly not going to hide it.”
Indeed, it was well-known in Prague that Hirsch was gay. Nor did he hide it at Theresienstadt, Terezin in Czechoslovakia, or Auschwitz. “We’d heard that Fredy was gay,” Kraus told me in an interview, “but we didn’t care about that at all. It wasn’t an issue anywhere.”
Unfortunately, it was an issue in the city of Harish in Israel.
They had set a location and date, Thursday, 26 January, the evening before the start of International Holocaust Remembrance Day—and Gat had even approved promotional materials for the event.
Suddenly, ten days before the event, the head of Harish’s youth services called Gat and told him they had to call off the event. During the call, which Gat recorded, she told him that it was because of a fuss within the municipality, that there had been “explosions” between different officials in city hall. She explained that the cancellation of his screening was part of a broad cancellation of LGBTQ-focused events in the city due to opposition from Haredi leaders. “There’s a crisis about the [LGBTQ] program in general because we’re a mixed city and it’s a new program and a new city,” she told Gat, referring to the secular and religious communities that share the city.
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