The World War 2 hero who saved my sight.

Charles

Just before Christmas 2011 I lost the sight in my right eye. The retina had become detached but after 2 operations the sight could not be saved, in fact my eye shrunk, dramatically  and I have now a glass shell with  an eye painted on it in front of the remainder of my eye.

In November 2014 the retina in my left eye also became detached, so I was facing going blind. I had to undergo an emergence operation in a Hospital in Cork which is 100 km away from my home in Limerick.

In Cork the consultant surgeon advised me he would be putting a scleral buckle in place to re-attach my retina and to save my eye and sight.The operation was a success this time and my eye was saved.

buckle

The man who pioneered this technology was Dr Charles L. Schepens. Hewas born in Mouscron, Belgium, in 1912  He initially studied mathematics before graduating from medical school in 1935 at State University of Ghent in Belgium.In 1937 he served as assistant to Dr. L. Hambresin in Brussels.

In 1940, he was appointed as a Captain in the Medical Corps of the Belgian Air Force, where he served until the country was invaded by the Nazis in May 1940. He escaped to France and worked with the French and Belgian resistance,  In 1942, under the nom de guerre “Jacques Pérot,” he spearheaded a secret information and evacuation pipeline in the Pyrenees, under the cover of a country lumber mill near the village of Mendive. He was arrested several times by the Gestapo.

He was firts arrested by the Gestapo in October 1940 while he still was in Belgium  on false accusations  of using a bus to transport Allied pilots out of Belgium. Although he was released 10 days later, this experience turned the previously apolitical doctor into an activist, and he allowed his office to be used as a post office for underground agents, arranging for the transfer of maps and such information as troop movement.

In 1942, a spy in Gestapo headquarters alerted him that he was about to be arrested, and he escaped to Paris.

In an of the mill  effort to find  an escape route to Spain, he and a group of fellow resistance members came across  an abandoned sawmill near the town of Mandive in the Pyrenees on the Spanish border.

One of the key features was a 12-mile-long cable-car system extending up the mountain and ending near the border.

Dr. Schepens, bought the mill in July 1942 with backing from a wealthy French patriot and had it in full operation by the end of the year. The site became a functioning lumber enterprise, taking orders, delivering wood and meeting a payroll. Not to cause any suspicion Dr. Schepens(aka Jacques Perot)  developed relationships with the occupying Germans, leading his Basque neighbors to think that he was a Nazi collaborator.

Men,mainly men he helped to escape, who did manual labor around the mill could secretly ride the cable-car system to the top of the mountain and slip into Spain, often with the assistance of a shepherd named Jean Sarochar.

MILL

More than 100 Allied pilots, prisoners of war, Belgian government officials and others made their way out of France over the cable railway. The system also was used to move documents, currency, propaganda and other materials into and out of France.

Everything went according to plan until 1943: That year, a captured resistance agent exposed him. The Gestapo came for him a second time. He escaped before they could arrest him.He had told the Gestapo “it is now 10 o’clock. I have 150 workers idle, because they have not been given their orders this morning. Give me 10 minutes with them. I’ll give the orders and come back.”. He then just walked out.

He spent 16 days in the forest before reaching Spain and, eventually, England, where he resumed his medical career.

In the mean time the Nazis held Dr. Schepens wife and children as bait to lure him out of hiding. However eventually his wife and children  made their own daring escape, hiking through the mountains to reach Spain, and were reunited with Dr. Schepens nine months later in England.

After the war, Schepens resumed his medical career at Moorfields.[3] In 1947, he immigrated to the United States and became a fellow at the Harvard Medical School.

harvard

He became famous in the ophthalmic community for his work in creating the first binocular, stereoscopic indirect ophthalmoscope (1946) and in treating retinal detachment with an encircling scleral buckle (1953).

If the Gestapo had arrested him the second time, he more then likely would have been executed. Amazing to think of what could have happened to my eye in that case.

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Sources

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/news/charles-schepens-featured-in-eyeworld

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/charlesschepens

Washington Post

https://www.eyeworld.org/article-ophthalmologist-who-created-vitreoretinal-subspecialty-lived-double-life-as-wwii-resistance-fighter-and

https://www.aao.org/biographies-detail/charles-schepens-md

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The dressmakers of Auschwitz

Fashion

Haute Couture fashion is not something you would associate with Auschwitz, yet there were about 23 women who worked as dressmakers, producing dresses and haute couture fashion.

These female  prisoners served as the staff of the “Upper Tailoring Studio,” a private dressmaking shop for the wives of SS officers stationed at the facility. They were chosen for their skills, or because they had connections with existing dressmakers.

The names of only a few women are known. One of those women was Alida Vasselin(nee Delasalle-pictured above). she was a French communist, a member of the French resistance and a a corsetière. She was arrested arrested in 1942 for hiding anti-Nazi leaflets in the corsets she sewed.

Another French  communist resistance member was Marie-Louise Colombain, who was also set to work as a dress maker.

Marie

Both women survived the war. Alida died on April 28, 1986,and Marie died on December 17, 1998.

The Auschwitz commandant’s wife, Hedwig Hoess, had first employed two local Polish seamstresses to sew in her villa overlooking the concentration camp. Hedwig referred to the  life in the villa as  “paradise”. where she could indulge in luxury items.

Hoess

These included fabrics and fashions selected from the vast amount of plundered goods which was  being  in warehouses in the camp,only a short distance from her  flower garden. The prisoners carried out the sorting of goods, would often come across belongings of their own murdered relatives. The wives of other SS officers and also some of the female guards grew envious of Hedwig’s wardrobe, Hedwig then decided to open the elite dressmaking workshop – the Upper Tailoring Studio – inside the camp itself.

One of the Auschwitz seamstresses, a Slovakian dressmaker named Lulu Gruenberg, had difficulties controlling her resentment at the indifference and arrogance of the women for whom she was making clothes to survive.

It is said that one time when Hedwig Hoess came for a fitting with one of her young sons and while his mother’s back was turned, Lulu looped a tape measure around the boy’s neck like a noose and whispered, ‘Soon you are going to hang; your father, your mother and all the others’,” according to Lucy Adlington, the fashion  historian who  uncovered the facts about the ‘Tailoring studio’

The seamstresses were forced to produce two outfits per client a week. They created new designs, and altered high-quality clothes brought into Auschwitz by Jewish deportees. Many SS clients ordered beautiful evening gowns in fashionable styles, to be worn on social occasions like dinner parties, music concerts and cinema visits. None of the women had any issues wearing the gowns  of murdered innocent women, or clothes created by enslaved prisoners.

For the 23 seamstresses it was at least a small chance to survive.Although they were not immune to beatings and harsh treatments outside the studio. How many women survived I don’t know.

Hedwig Hoess re-married in Germany and immigrated to the USA, where she died on 15 September 1989 (aged 81)

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Sources

memoirevive.org/alida-delasalle

Find a grave

History Extra

Express.co.uk

 

 

 

The Train Violin.

violin 1

The following story may not seem like much for anyone who is not a musician. But a musician will understand the significance of it and can identify with the sense of loss and sacrifice.

A musician’s instrument is more then a tool it becomes part of him or her.nearly a member of the family.

The violin from Lyon or the Train Violin

In July 1942 thousands of Jews were arrested in Paris and sent by cattle trains to concentration camps in the East, most of them to Auschwitz. On one of the packed trains was a man holding a violin. When the train stopped somewhere along the sad roads of France, the man heard voices speaking French, a few men were working on the railways fixing them and walking at leisure. The man in the train cried out:

“In the place where I now go – I don’t need a violin. Here, take my violin so it may live!”

The man threw his violin out the narrow window. It landed on the rails and was picked up by one of the French workers. For many years the violin had no life. No one played it. No one had any use for it. Years later the worker passed away and his children found the abandoned violin in the attic. They soon looked to sell it to a local maker in the South of France and told him the story they heard from their father. The French violin maker heard about Violins of Hope and gave it to us, so the violin will live.

violin 3

One Violin

Two Hands

Four Strings

Ten Fingers

Thousands  pieces of music

One Haunting Memory

One Final Farewell

One Revival

The soul of the musician is heard again.

The spirits are lifted one more time.

You can kill the artist but you can’t kill the art.

 

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Sources

Violins of Hope

YouTube

 

The weird case of Violette Morris

viole

Of all stories relating to spies and collaborators during WWII this most be one of the most intriguing ones.

When I first read about Violette Morris and saw the date she died,26 April 1944, I assumed she was killed for being a member of the French resistance. Why I thought that I don’t know.

Born in France on 18 April 1893. She was a French athlete who won two gold and one silver medals at the Women’s World Games in 1922 and the Women’s Olympiad in 1924.

violette

She excelled in those sports that require strength and power such as shot put and javelin.However those weren’t the only sports she was involved in.

She partook in football,water polo ,road bicycle racing, motorcycle racing, airplane racing, horseback riding, tennis, archery, diving, swimming,weightlifting, and Greco-Roman wrestling,boxing and car racing.

She loved car racing so much that she had her breasts removed to fit better in the car.

car

She married Cyprien Edouard Joseph Gouraud on 22 August 1914 in Paris. They divorced in May 1923. She had served in World War I as a military nurse during the Battle of the Somme and a courier during the Battle of Verdun.

Although she had been married, she was attracted to women.

Her motto was “Anything A Man Can Do, Violette Can Do, Too”

Her lifestyle was of no shame to her. She lived as a man and made no secret of the fact that her lovers were women. This was considered really scandalous behaviour in 1920’s France.

In 1928, she was refused license renewal by the Fédération française sportive féminine and as a result was not allowed to compete in the 1928 Olympic Games.

Despite her being openly gay she had a big fan in Adolf Hitler. This one of the anomalies in the Nazi policies,according to the Nazi doctrine women could not be gay.

In 1935 she was approached an recruited by by the Sicherheitsdienst. On the personal behest she was invited to attend the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

1936

She provided the Nazi regime in Germany  with partial plans of the Maginot Line, detailed plans of strategic points within the city of Paris, and schematics of the French army’s main tank, the Somua S35. Her information was vital to the German invasion of Paris in 1940.

tank.JPG

After the Nazi invasion, Morris remained close to the Germans and started working for the French Gestapo, the Carlingue. She had the nickname, ‘The Hyena of the Gestapo,’ because apparently she got a lot of sadistic pleasure by torturing people and extracting information.

On 26 April 1944, when she went for a  drive in her Citroën Traction Avant car with two friends and their two children for a spin on a country road.

citoen

Her engine sputtered and the car came to a halt. Earlier tha day, the engine had been tampered with by  the French Resistance Maquis Surcouf group. Members of the group  then emerged from a hiding spot and opened fired on the car. Although Morris was the target, all five people in the car were killed. Morris’ body, riddled with bullets.

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The brave words from a Mother to her Daughter.

olga

This story is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Heartbreaking because it is a story about a mother who knew she was going to die. Uplifting because her last words were so positive and courageous, despite the fate that awaited her.

Olga Bancic was born on May 10, 1912 to a large Jewish family living in the Bessarabia province when it was still part of the Russian Empire.

In 1936, she traveled to France, where she supported communist activists in transporting weapons to Spanish Republican forces fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Shortly before the outbreak of WWII she gave birth to her Daughter Dolores, the child’s father was Alexandru Jar. After the outbreak of the war Olga left Dolores in care with a French family. Olga joined a resistance group.

She was arrested on November 6, 1943 by the Gestapo, during the interrogation she was tortured.Despite the torture she refused  give information about her comrades.

On February 22,1944 Olga and 22 others were sentenced to death. All male defendants were executed later that day at Fort Mont-Valérien. Olga had been the only female defendant and due to a loophole in the French law which prevented women from being executed on French soil, Olga was deported to Stuttgart. She was executed in Stuttgart on May 10,1944 , her 32nd birthday. She was decapitated with an axe in the local prison’s courtyard.

One of her last deeds was throwing a letter out of a window during her transportation to her place of execution. The letter had a note attached to it saying.:

“Dear Madame: I ask you to please give this letter to my little girl Dolores Jacob after the war. This is the last wish of a mother who will only live twelve more hours.”

Miraculously the letter did reach Dolores, who had been given the name Dolores Jacob, the letter said the following:

“My dear little daughter, my darling little love

Your mother is writing the last letter, my dear little daughter; tomorrow at 6:00, on May 10, I will be no more.

Don’t cry, my love; your mother doesn’t cry any more either. I die with a peaceful conscience and with the firm conviction that tomorrow you will have a happier life and future than your mother’s. You will no longer have to suffer. Be proud of your mother, my little love. I always have your image before me.

I’m going to believe that you will see your father, and I have hope that he’ll meet a fate different from mine. Tell him that I always thought of him, as I always thought of you. I love you both with all my heart. Both of you are dear to me. My darling child, your father is, for you, also a mother. He loves you a lot. You won’t feel the loss of your mother. My darling child, I finish this letter with the hope that you will be happy all your life, with your father, with everyone.

I kiss you with all my heart, a lot a lot.

Farewell my love.

Your Mother”

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The darker and also heroic side of Dior.

dior

I think mostly everyone has heard of the name Dior. The fashion house Dior is one of the most successful fashion houses in the world.

However there is a darker history behind the name and on the other hand also a tale of heroism is connected to the name. Especially the family’s history during WWII is a complicated one.

In 1937 Christian Dior was working for the designer Robert Piguet, but in September 1939 he was called up for military service because if the declaration of war.

Luckily enough  for him, his unit was not in the path of the German advance in May and June 1940 and he and his unit were demobilized quite soon after the French-German armistice on June 22nd, 1940. He stayed in the unoccupied of France for a while and did not return to Paris until 1941.

paris

In 1942 he joined the fashion house Lucien Lelong, where he worked closely together with legendary designer Pierre Balmain.

Dior designed dresses for the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators. Looking at that now it is easy to be judgmental about his fraternizing with the enemy,but other designers like Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Nina Ricci did the same, people did what they felt they had to do to survive. They also wanted to ensure that the couture would remain in Paris

On the other hand there was Christian’s younger sister, Catherine Dior. In 1941 she joined “Massif Central’, a Resistance network which was set up in the summer of 1940. by Polish military intelligence officers in exile in France. and were  focused on gathering and transmitting intelligence about German troop movements and weapon production.Catherine had joined them as a courier. which was extremely dangerous.

In June 1944 she was caught and arrested by the Carlingue, the French members of the Gestapo sometimes referred to as Gestapistes. After Catherine was tortured by the Carlibgie she was put on one of the last trains out of Paris, which departed on August 15, just days before the liberation of the city, her destination was Ravensbruck concentration camp.

ravensbruck

Between the time of her arrest and the time of her deportation, Christian tried  to seek  release for his sister,  via the Nazi contacts he made at his job and also via the Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling, who mediated in the release of prisoners in the past. Unfortunately the efforts bore no fruits.

But fate was in Catherine’s favor ,she had been put to work in a munitions factory in the camp and survived the war. She was liberated in April, 1945 and returned to Paris the following month.

After the was she received the Croix de Guerre, the Combatant Volunteer Cross of the Resistance, the Combatant’s Cross, the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom (from Britain), and being named a chevalière of the Légion d’Honneur.

Catherine also publicly distanced herself from the daughter of her other brother Raymond. Françoise Dior after the niece married Colin Jordan, a British Neo-Nazi leader.

niece

In November, 1952, Catherine was called to testify against 14 former members of the Carlingue before a military tribunal in Paris.Catherine helped to preserve her brother Christian’s legacy after his death in 1957, she was involved with the opening of the Dior Museum in Granville. Catherine died in 2008.

dior 2

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Sources

Fashionunfiltered.com

Jezebel.com

 

Stealing the last bit of comfort.

dolls

People can be conditioned to commit evil acts but some are just born evil.

In February 1944 two French Jewish sisters Denise and Micheline Lévy were about to be put on a transport to Auschwitz. They were lined up in the small French village of Gemeaux

sisteers levy

One of the last acts they experienced before being put on the train was not an act of kindness but an act of pure evil.

A French police officer snatched the 2 dolls the girls were carrying(picture at the top of the blog). There was no need for him to do this, he was not ordered to do so, He just did it because he could and in his own pathetic,sick little mind he thought it was the right thing to do. Depriving these 2 little angels from the last bit of comfort they had.

The Gendarme knew the 2 girls were going to be killed but yet he could not find that little bit of humanity to let the girls keep those dolls. He did not even keep the dolls to perhaps give to other girls, he just discarded the toys.

A shop keeper found the dolls on the street and picked them up and gave  to Mrs Gilles in the village. She gave the dolls to her twin daughters, who in return gave them to their nieces, However none of the girls ever played with them because they knew the history of the dolls.

One of the nieces who is now in her forties decided to give the dolls to the THE SHOAH MEMORIAL in Paris, where they are now.

 

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Source

The Telegraph

 

 

 

 

The brutal execution of Robert-François Damiens.

damiens

Regicide is the deliberate killing of a monarch, or the person responsible for the killing of a person of royalty. Through the ages there have been a great number of regicides, the last one happened this century. In June 1,2001 the Nepalese Royal Family was allegedly massacred by Crown Prince Dipendra of Nepal.

However this blog is about a failed regicide. On On 5 January 1757 French King Louis XV was stabbed by Robert-François Damiens. The king survived the attempt possible because of the layers of clothing he was wearing, in the midst of winter.

luois xv

Guards had captured Robert-François Damiens but the King ordered him not be harmed, well at least not yet.

Damiens was jailed and was tortured in jail in order to ascertain if there were any accomplices to the assassination attempt.

On March 28,1757  Damiens was fetched from jail. He supposedly said “The day will be hard” and how right he was.

He was initially  tortured in where his legs were painfully compressed by devices called “boots”. The tortured then continued with red-hot pincers; the hand with which he had used to hold the knife during the assassination attempt was burned using sulfur. Then molten wax, molten lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds.

He was sentenced to death by drawing and quartering and was subsequently  brought to the royal executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, who harnessed horses to Damiens’s  arms and legs to be dismembered. Damiens’ limbs however,did not separate easily: the officiants ordered Sanson to cut Damiens’ tendons, and once that was done the horses were able to perform the dismemberment.Once Damiens was dismembered, to the applause of the crowd, his reportedly still-living torso was burnt at the stake.

sentence

Damiens was the last person  to be executed in France by drawing and quartering,

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And the guns fell silent.

wwi

November 11, 1918. 10:59 am, one last volley of machine gun fire, one last soldier to die.Henry Nicholas John Gunther took one last charge with his bayonet, The enemy warned him , but he wanted to proof himself.He wanted to show his demotion from Sergeant to Private had been unjustified.

One last hoorah, one last act of bravery. The enemy warned him again but to no avail,  Henry N. Gunther kept going, the machine guns rattled, Henry N Gunther fell down,dead. But a Sergeant he was yet again.

Henry

His misguided act of bravery was more an act of madness ,because 60 seconds later the war was over. But he wasn’t to blame the so called Great War was based on human insanity.

November 11, 1918. 11:00 am the guns fell silent.

What was supposed to end before Christmas 1914 lasted 4 bloody years 40 million dead and for what?

The guns fell silent but soon they would fire again.

END OF WAR

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They gave their today for our tomorrow.

1

They gave their today for our tomorrow.

Our tomorrow was sacred to them.

They gave their today for our tomorrow..

Sacrificing their own lives for those they would never meet.

They gave their today for our tomorrow..

A tomorrow which we should cherish even more.

They gave their today for our tomorrow.

Their bravery should forever be remembered and ingrained in our hearts.

They gave their today for our tomorrow.

To those who gave their today for my tomorrow, I bow humbly and respectfully and hope I was worth your sacrifice.

(The picture above is of a badly injured US soldier receivING the last Sacrament from Chaplain Anthony Dolavira of Brooklyn, somewhere behind the lines in France. The pictures below are of the Netherlands American War Cemetery in Margraten)

2

 

3

 

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