Josephine Baker- Not just a sex icon but also a WWII hero.

Josephine Baker is mainly remembered for her erotic and provocative dances, vaudeville routines, and appearances in films. However her efforts to fight the tyranny of Fascism have received very little attention.

She was born as Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie, was adopted in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1886 by Richard and Elvira McDonald, both of whom were former slaves of African and Native American descent. Her career began with blackface comedy at local clubs. her mother did not approve of this type of “entertainment” .But it was because of these performances Josephine had an opportunity to tour in Paris, which would become the place she called home until her final days.

Her performance in the revue Un vent de folie in 1927 caused a sensation in the city. Her costume, consisting of only a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace, became an iconic image and a symbol both of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties.

When the German army invaded France during World War II, Baker joined the fight against the Nazi regime.

Baker left Paris and went to the Château des Milandes, her home in the south of France. She had been approached by Jacques Abtey, the head of French counter-military intelligence. Abtey was recruiting people for espionage duties.

Josephine was an ideal candidate for this work, as her celebrity allowed her to move easily between countries and offered her enhanced protection. When Abtey approached Josephine to see if she would take the risk and join the resistance, she told him. “France made me what I am. I will be grateful forever. The people of Paris have given me everything… I am ready, captain, to give them my life. You can use me as you wish.” . Being able to travel to neutral nations such as Portugal, as well as some in South America. She could carry information for transmission to England, about airfields, harbors, and German troop concentrations in the West of France.

She housed people who were eager to help the Free French effort led by Charles de Gaulle and supplied them with visas. She aided French military officials by passing on secrets she heard while performing in front of the enemy. The Nazis found out of the resistance activity happening at Josephine’s chateau, and went to the estate. Josephine had been hiding several resistance fighters at the time of the visit. She successfully charmed the Nazis when they questioned her, but the visit had become a bit too close for comfort and she took the close encounter as a sign that it was time to leave France. Abtey contacted General Charles de Gaulle, who instructed both Abtey and Baker to travel to London via Lisbon.Between them, the pair carried over 50 classified documents and secret intelligence. Josephine carried hers by writing the information down in invisible ink on her sheet music.

After D-Day and the liberation of Paris, Josephine returned to her adopted Paris wearing a military uniform. She quickly took note of the terrible conditions many French people endured after the Nazi occupation. She sold pieces of jewelry and other valuables to raise money to buy food and coal for the poor citizens of Paris. Following Germany’s surrender in 1945, General de Gaulle awarded Josephine the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance. He also named her a Chevalier de Légion d’honneur, the highest order of merit for military and civil action.

A few years after the war she returned to the USA. Ironically she regularly received less respect at home then she did from the Nazis. Baker had to confront segregation and discrimination which she had not experienced since she was a child in St. Louis. She often refused to perform to segregated audiences, which usually forced club owners to integrate for her shows. For this she would often received threatening phone calls from the KKK.

In her later years, Baker converted to Roman Catholicism. She lost her castle due to unpaid debts. Grace Kelly aka Princess Grace offered her an apartment in Roquebrune, not too far away Monaco.[

Baker was back performing at the Olympia in Paris in 1968, in Belgrade and at Carnegie Hall in 1973, and at the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium and at the Gala du Cirque in Paris in 1974. On 8 April 1975, Baker starred in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50th anniversary in show business. The revue, paid for by notably by Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, opened to rave reviews. The demand for seating was such that foldable chairs had to be added to seat all attendees . The opening night audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

On April 12, 1975 , Josephine Baker was found peacefully in her bed around her were newspapers with glowing reviews of her performance. She was in a coma after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, she died there the same day , aged 68.

She was a beautiful woman in every sense of the word.

Donation

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sources

https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/siren-resistance-artistry-and-espionage-josephine-baker

https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/josephine-baker

https://www.history.com/news/josephine-baker-world-war-ii-spy

Happy Birthday Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh ( 30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In a decade, he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which date from the last two years of his life. They include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, and are characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. He was not commercially successful, and his suicide at 37 came after years of mental illness, depression and poverty.

On his birthday lets have a look at his lesser known works.

Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette

Still Life with Open Bible, Extinguished Candle and Novel

Drawbridge in Nieuw-Amsterdam.

Happy Birthday Marcel Marceau

I did do a blog on Marcel Marceau about 2 years ago but he would have been 97 today. Therefore I thought it to be appropriate to do another tribute to this silent Hero.

He survived the Nazi occupation, and saved many children in WWII. He was regarded for his peerless style pantomime, moving audiences without uttering a single word, and was known to the World as a “master of silence.”

Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, to a Jewish family. His father, Charles Mangel, was a kosher butcher originally from Będzin, Poland. His mother, Anne Werzberg, came from Yabluniv, present-day Ukraine.

At the beginning of the Second World War, he had to hide his Jewish origin and changed his name to Marceau, when his Jewish family was forced to flee their home. His father was deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered in 1944. Both Marceau and his brother, Alain, were in the French resistance helping children to escape to safety in neutral Switzerland. Then Marceau served as interpreter for the Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle, acting as liaison officer with the allied armies.

He gave his first major performance to 3,000 troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944.

In 1947 Marceau created the character Bip the Clown, whom he first played at the Théâtre de Poche (Pocket Theatre) in Paris. In his appearance he wore a striped pullover and a battered, be-flowered silk opera hat. The outfit signified life’s fragility and Bip became his alter ego.

He died on September 22,2007 . A silent Hero who should never beforgotten.

Source

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0545131/bio

Remembering Günther Ernst Aronade

Günther Ernst Aronade was born on March 19, 1918 Kattowitz, Germany, now Poland.

I am not sure on the exact date but it looks liked Günther and his wife Alisa (Ilse) Heymann moved to Amsterdam in 1938, I can only imagine because of the Nazi regime in Germany.

In September 1943 the couple ended up in Camp Westerbork, they managed to escape on September 15, 1943. They fled to France in December,

In France they were captured again and were sent to Auschwitz on February 10,1944 via Drancy.

Günther was murdered in Auschwitz on February 1943. he was aged 25.

His wife survived the war, she died on January 8, 1986. in Israel.

Source

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/nl/page/358450/gunther-ernst-aronade

https://www.geni.com/people/G%C3%BCnther-Aronade/6000000002292874170

https://www.geni.com/people/Alisa-Ilse-Heymann-Elsberg/6000000030450294861

I am Annie

I am Annie Nakache.

My Father,Alfre Nakache was a famous Olympic swimmer. In 1936 he competed in the Berlin Olympic games for France.

In July 1941 he set the world record in the 200 metre breaststroke with a time of 2:36.8.

But his biggest achievement happened on August 12,1941. He became a father that day. A father to me Annie Nakache. I was born in Constantine Algeria.

This strange thing happened though in 1944 , my parents and I were sent to a camp called Auschwitz. My mother and I were murdered there.

I am Annie Nakache, a child of 2 Jewish people one died with me the other one survived,

My dad would win more races after the war but he lost his wife and his daughter Annie Nakache.

I am Annie Nakache. I could have become a famous Olympian ,maybe a footballer.

I am Annie Nakache but an evil regime did not deem me to be worthy of life.

15 Month enemy of the state

Martine

I wish I could explain why this 15 month old girl was an enemy of the state, but I can’t

I wish I cold explain why this 15 month girl was an enemy of the French state ,but I can’t.

I wish I could explain why this 15 month old girl was an enemy of the French state controlled by a Nazi regime, but I can’t

I wish I could explain why this 15 month old girl was an enemy of the French state, controlled by a Nazi regime and accommodated by French politicians, but I can’t

I wish I could explain why this 15 month old girl was an enemy of the state, and although she was an enemy she survived, but I can’t because she didn’t.

I wish I could explain why this 15 month old girl was an enemy of the state and was taken from her birthplace Lyon and transported to Auschwitz, but I can’t

I wish I could explain why this 15 month old girl was an enemy of the state and was murdered in the gas chambers in Auschwitz, but I can’t.

What I can say is that her name is Martine Polack, born 29 October 1942,Lyon France.Murdered on February 3, 1944, Auschwitz,Poland.

 

 

 

 

Only 11

Helene

Helene Wegbrejt it is just a random name

She lived in Paris. She was French and Jewish.  Her birthday was September 16,1930. She would have been 89 today,but she didn’t even get to age 12. She was murdered in August 1942 in Auschwitz.

She was one of many on Transport 20 from Pithiviers to Auschwitz which left on August 17, 1942.

Helene Wegbrejt just a random name but not a random girl. She was a young lady who had a bright future ahead of her as an actress or teacher or just a mother and home maker but she was not allowed to become any of this.

Her murder may have seen random but it was not, It was a deliberate plan to erase a group of people who did not fit in the warped Nazi ideology.

Helene Wegbrejt was only 11 when she died.

Seeing this beautiful child all dressed up which such a pride in her expression and a lovely smile just breaks my heart, to think that she could have been considered a threat. It just sickens me to the core.

Eli Wallach-Is this war?

Eli

Who doesn’t know Eli Wallach? Such a great character actor, known from iconic movies like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, “Mystic River” or more recently “The Holiday” . He was such a versatile actor but the role he not known for was his portrayal of Adolf Hitler. Born on December 7 1915 in Brooklyn, to Polish Jewish immigrants Abraham and Bertha  Wallach.

He gained his first method acting skills  at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. But on December 7, 1941. Wallach’s 26th birthday , Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the USA into WWII.

ATTACK

Like so many others Eli Wallach was drafted into the United States Army in January 1942

During World War II, Wallach first served as a United States Army staff sergeant at a military hospital in Hawaii. He then went to the Officer Candidate School in Abilene, Texas to train as a medical administrative officer and graduated as a second lieutenant, eventually rising to captain. He first was sent  to Casablanca and soon after was stationed in France.

Serving in France during the later years of the war, one of his superiors learned about his acting background and recruited him to put together a group to perform plays for the patients.

He and his unit wrote a comedy  play called “Is This the Army?”, which was  inspired on Irving Berlin’s This Is the Army. In the play, Wallach and the other actors mocked Axis dictators, with Wallach portraying Adolf Hitler.

Donation

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

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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.

Donation

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

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Sources

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Donation

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

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Sources

memoirevive.org/alida-delasalle

Find a grave

History Extra

Express.co.uk