Sherman Tank in Bougainville, 1944

22 November 2014
American soldiers using a Sherman tank for cover as it and they advance on Japanese positions during the fight to take Bougainville.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

American soldiers use a Sherman tank for cover as it and they advance on Japanese positions during the fight to take Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 1944.

Large Beer Keg in Parade, 1932

21 November 2014
Photo Credit: New York Daily News

Photo Credit: New York Daily News

A large beer keg makes its way down the street during Major Jimmie Walker’s Beer Parade in 1932. New Yorkers turned out by the thousands to support the legalization of beer in the United States.

Grandma Moses Painting, 1939

20 November 2014

Instead of rocking in a chair on her porch, as old ladies were expected to do after decades of hard work on the farm, Anna Mary Robertson, age 76, decided to become a painter. Her work was discovered by Louis J. Caldor, a vacationing art collector from New York City, who saw her paintings in a Hoosick Falls, New York drugstore window. By the following year, her paintings were exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of America’s best known primitive artists, she was extremely prolific, painting more than 3,600 canvasses by the time she died at 101 years of age. [via Daring Dames]

Book Review: “Disobeying Hitler”

19 November 2014

disobeying hitlerDisobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie
Oxford University Press
480 pp. $29.95/Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-19-992792-0 

My previous knowledge of resistance during World War II was limited to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and its American counterpart – the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The main priority of both covert organizations was to gather intelligence through espionage in order to carry out sabotage and assist in local resistance efforts. I had studied many different facets of those groups but from the viewpoints of the Allied Forces. Sure, I had heard about Operation Valkyrie which was, arguably, the closest attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life by members of the German Army. [Actor Tom Cruise portrayed Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the organizers of the infamous failed plot, in the 2008 film Valkyrie.] Additionally, I knew a little about the Jewish resistance when it came the Bielski partisans thanks to another 2008 film, Defiance. However, my knowledge of German resistance in general was almost non-existent, which makes Randall Hansen’s Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie an interesting read.

Hansen, a Canadian historian and Professor of Politics at the University of Toronto, has previously written about World War II. He is the author of five other books, including a well-received monograph on the Allied bombings of Germany called  Fire and Fury. The topic of German resistance is not one that is discussed much as Germans, in general, get lumped together. There were actually Germans (both everyday citizens and highly appointed members of the government and military) who did not agree with Hitler and the Nazi policies. Operation Valkyrie on July 20, 1944 may have failed in its purpose to assassinate Hitler. It did, however, proclaim that not only were some Germans against Hitler, some were actively resisting or in open disobedience to the Führer.

Disobeying Hitler

As Communism rose to power, there was resistance and sabotage – from spies passing on information to Nazi enemies to anti-Communist groups launching leaflet campaigns in an attempt to educate those in and outside of Germany. However, both leading up to WWII and during the war, Nazi police (Gestapo) crushed the resistance. Like weeds though, when you pull one, more pop up. While Hitler was at war with the Allies, he was also facing the constant threat of internal resistance. The book begins by setting the European stage.

In 1943, after facing off against the Soviets, the German army retreated out of Russia. Under Hitler’s order, the army burned and destroyed everything in its path – what is called a scorched earth policy. While this policy was done numerous times by multiple forces over history, Hitler decided he wanted to apply it against all his enemies. He wanted European cities (such as Paris) to be reduced to rumble, historical monuments were to be torn down, and every German person was to defend – to the death – every part of Germany against enemy advancement. In a September 7, 1943 editorial piece, Hitler exclaimed, “Not a German stalk of wheat is to feed the enemy, not a German mouth to give him information, not a German hand to offer him help. He is to find every footbridge destroyed, every road blocked – nothing but death, annihilation and hatred will meet him” (p. 1-2). As we know now, Paris still stands as do historical monuments around the continent. So, what happened? Military officials, soldiers, everyday citizens disobeyed Hitler’s orders.

In that context, Disobeying Hitler is more about blatant disobedience than actual resistance, something that Hansen does point out. War in and of itself is a brutal thing. During WWII, the tactics used by Hitler and the German commanders (such as the scorched earth policy) took on a new form of brutality. From using starvation tactics against Leningrad, complete destruction and mass killings in Poland, and the systematic murdering of Jews. Hansen points out that the brutality shown by the SS and German Army did two things, “they radicalized the majority and alienated a minority of the German officer corps” (p. 17). While the majority of military officials approved of the brutality and actively engaged in it, a minority of officials were ashamed of the actions.

I especially enjoyed reading about Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel and his disobedience against Hitler. Even though the two had many similarities – childhood backgrounds, World War I experience, desire to spread Nazi interests, and even “vain, ambitious, and self-promoting”  personalities – they were also very different (p. 48). Rommel inspired great loyalty from his men as he took an egalitarian approach. A smart, cunning military man, he knew when to stay and when to pull out. At El Alamein, Rommel encountered British General Bernard Montgomery.  Rommel’s men were outnumbered, retreat was the logical step. Hitler ordered Rommel’s men to stay and either win (stay alive) or lose (die). Rommel tried one last effort to appease the order before retreating – in direct disobedience to Hitler. This was not the only time Rommel ignored or “cherry picked” Hitler’s orders. According to Hansen, there is no proof that Rommel interrogated or mistreated civilians or Allied POWs. Hitler’s policy on civilians and POWs was harsh and the SS in particular were known to engage in torture and mass executions. However, Rommel would not have none of that – which also earned the respect of Allied officials and soldiers.

Book Structure & Content

Disobeying Hitler is composed of 26 chapters, all of which are given various titles such as “To Destroy Germany: Hitler and Scorched Earth” (chapter 15), “A Citizen’s Revolt: Augsburg” (chapter 21), and “Saving Caspar David Friedrich’s City” (chapter 24). The chapters tended to be sectioned together based on location and topic. If you wanted to read about Paris during WWII, you could just read chapters 3-10. As a compilation, the chapters creates an engaging monograph, but each section could very well be read separately and individually based on the reader’s interests.

Hansen does more than discuss the disobedience and resistance, he also addresses legends and tall tales. One being the story of how one man – General Dietrich von Choltitz – single-handedly saved Paris. Hansen quickly points out that Choltitz did not have the resources to ruin Paris. Although one man saving such a famous city makes for a good story, it was not necessarily the entire truth. In actuality, it was the disobedience of several German officers (Hitler wanted Paris or, if the city was lost to the Allies, he wanted it destroyed). Though it should be noted that Cholitiz’s role, although smaller than the sensationalized story, should not be discounted.

Choltitz did not have the men or the materiel [sic] to destroy Paris. He could, however, have seriously scarred it and killed many more people in the process. but the central point is this: Choltitz made no effort to try. . . . Before Choltitz arrived in Paris, preparations for the sabotage of gas installations, power plants, and telephone exchanges had begun. Choltitz made no effort to continue them (p. 118).

At 480 pages, Disobeying Hitler seems like a lengthy read. In actuality, the book concludes on page 332. After that page, the author includes additional sections: “Notes on Approach, Sources, and Acknowledgements”, “Notes”, “The Defense and Surrender of German Cities in 1945″, Glossary”, “Works Cited”, and “Index”. The “Notes” section is over 115 pages of detailed chapter notes, adding to the overall reading experience. In the center of the book are also a handful of photographs. I would have preferred more as they aid in visualizing the story.

Overall Impression

As I am not all that familiar with the hierarchy of the German government or military personnel, there were a few times I had to stop and remember exactly who the person being discussed was and their role in the events. Additionally, a few moments in the book that felt weighed down by ‘extras’ when it could have been simplified a bit. This also caused those same sections to read on the drier side. It is without doubt that Hansen put considerable research and work into Disobeying Hitler as the detailed chapter notes and cited sources clearly indicate.

I liked the flow of the chapters and how he discussed one area/person completely before moving onto the next. I could see how easily this method could make the text choppy but Hansen carefully constructed a well-rounded book. Disobeying Hitler gave interesting insight, backed by extensive research, into topics I knew very little about prior to reading. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading about World War II, military history, and perhaps even general history buffs.

Where to find Disobeying Hitler; German Resistance After Valkyrie

Oxford University Press
Barnes & Noble

Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1935

17 November 2014

After her second transatlantic flight, Amelia Earhart continued to set out on record-breaking trips. Only two months after returning to America in June 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back.

She also found time for other projects, especially those that advanced women’s progress in society. During this period she became close friends with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962). The two women shared a similar sense of independence and supported each other’s causes.

Inspired by Earhart’s example, Roosevelt wanted to obtain a pilot’s license, although her husband rejected the idea. Earhart was a frequent visitor to the White House and was likewise influenced by Roosevelt. She supported the first lady’s efforts to improve the lives of working women and joined her campaign to promote world peace.

Will Rogers doing Rope Tricks

13 November 2014

In this 1918 video called Will Rogers Says, Humorist, actor and social commentator Will Rogers is seen doing rope tricks. The scenes switch back and forth between Rogers’ rope tricks and cue cards. The cards have quotes by Will Rogers talking about upcoming events. This video was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company.

I also found longer video with other rope tricks. At the 2:10 mark you can see Will Rogers reacting to something the cameraman said – probably telling him to stop blocking the product. You can see Will Rogers’ nonchalant response to the request!

In Their Words: Neil Gaiman

12 November 2014

Neil Gaiman

First News of Peace!, Nov. 11, 1918

11 November 2014

Crowds filling streets surrounding City Hall in Philadelphia to celebrate Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Photograph shows replica Statue of Liberty, which was unveiled on April 6, 1918 during the Third Liberty Loan drive.

Capturing a Nazi Flag, 1945

10 November 2014
American soldiers of Patton's Third Army standing in front of their Sherman tank while rolling up a Nazi flag they have taken as a trophy after the capture of Bitberg.

Photo Credit: Mansell/LIFE

American soldiers of Patton’s Third Army roll up a Nazi flag they have taken as a trophy after the capture of Bitburg, February 1945.

Red Cross Canteen, 1917-1918

7 November 2014
American soldiers getting their bowls of chocolate and rolls in the American Red Cross canteen at Toulouse ,France.

Photo Credit: National Archives

American soldiers getting their bowls of chocolate and rolls in the American Red Cross canteen at Toulouse, France, ca. 1917-1918.

At a Slenderizing Salon, 1940

6 November 2014
Model Pat Ogden at slenderizing salon enduring the rigors of the Slendo Massager that runs rollers up-and-down to electrically rub away stomach, hips and thighs.

Model Pat Ogden at slenderizing salon enduring the rigors of the Slendo Massager that runs rollers up-and-down to electrically rub away stomach, hips and thighs. Photo Credit: LIFE

In November 1940, famous LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt went to New York City and documented one of trendiest fitness fad of the decade – the Slenderizing Salon. If a person had any ‘problem areas’ in need of fixing, they would go to the nearest Slenderizing Salon and use metal rollers that would ‘massage’ the areas to help them lose weight by stimulating muscle contractions. No exercise required!

Watch the Slenderizing Salon in action:

VI Corps soldiers in trenches, 1863

4 November 2014
Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Soldiers of the VI Corps, Army of the Potomac, in trenches before storming Marye’s Heights at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign, Virginia, May 1863.

[Zim’s Note: This photograph is sometimes labeled as taken at the 1864 Siege of Petersburg, Virginia]

Genevieve Baskfield – Village Carrier

3 November 2014

Miss Genevieve Baskfield was appointed a village carrier in Zumbrota, Minnesota, in 1919 at the age of 18. She resigned in 1924 shortly after her father, who had been the town’s postmaster, left office. Village delivery was a service similar to city delivery, offered in small towns from 1912 to about 1960. More than one hundred women are known to have served as village carriers, mostly appointed from 1918 through 1920, when about five percent of the nation’s 943 village carriers were women.

Smoldering German Tank, 1944

1 November 2014
American patrol moving towards smoldering German Royal Tiger tank with crew inside during the last major German offensive of WWII whic came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Photo Credit: John Florea/LIFE

An American patrol moves toward a smoldering German Royal tank, with its crew still inside during the major German offensive of WWII which came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944.

Odd Ads of the Past: Old Gold Cigarettes , 1950s

31 October 2014

In these 1950s Halloween-themed advertisements, Old Gold Cigarettes is trying to downplay the effects smoking has on one’s health.

Photo Credit: Mascola Group

Photo Credit: Mascola Group

The photo above is from 1950 and states, “We don’t try to scare you with medical claims…Old Gold cures just one thing…The World’s Best Tobacco.” It looks like even the pumpkin wants nothing to do with the smoke!

Photo Credit: Gray Flannel Suit

Photo Credit: Gray Flannel Suit

This advertisement ran in 1953 with the tagline “Scare claims fool no one so… Trust Old Gold for a TREAT instead of a TREATMENT.” Additionally, it goes on to explain some things about health issues associated with smoking:

“Until you try King Size OLD GOLDS, you’ll never know how wonderful a King Size cigarette can taste. We’re tobacco men…not medicine men. OLD GOLD cures just one thing: the world’s best tobacco…to bring you some famous OLD Gold Blend in both Regular and King Size!”

One thing even OLD GOLD can not cure? Lung cancer.

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