Showing posts with label Nazis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nazis. Show all posts

05 August 2018

Innocent Abroad

by Leigh Lundin

Paul recently mentioned stumbling into a den of Nazis. His encounter reminded me that I might have done the same, in Germany, no less.

My German colleague and I were driving to Stuttgart in the nastiest weather. Evening set in like a black curtain falling as winds and torrential rains rocked and hammered our Audi. Thunder boomed like cannon. Lightning blinded us.

Waters in the roads rose, overloading storm sewers. Wrestling the steering wheel, Dedrick slowed to a crawl to avoid hydroplaning. When we turned into one village, waters gushed down the cobblestones like a river. We yielded in the furious face of Mother Nature and pulled up to a pub.

The dash inside the alehouse soaked us to the skin. The pub’s humidity approximated that of an overfilled aquarium without the nice filtration. Weather reports suggested we’d be holed up for several hours.

This kneipe had last been plastered and painted about the time the Kaiser’s coach last passed through. Its toiletten plumbing surely predated the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The bar ran nearly the length of the room stopping short of the left wall so barmaids could pass back and forth. There sat pinball machines flanking a door. Besides serving the taproom, waitresses also passed through the door, carefully closing it behind themselves.

Two waitress wore prim, high-color blouses, but our hyper-blonde server wore a bodice cut like a bushel basket, barely containing the fruits of her Nordic genes. All went for naught. Noses in glasses, no one paid attention. A kind of miasma seemed to have settled upon the bar.

The place didn’t decorate its walls with kitsch, memorabilia, or antiques, faux or otherwise. Apparently some visitors left behind traces such as chewing gum from a New Jersey teen who’d run off to London to become part of the Beatles scene. Visiting German nightclubs and bars, she’d retraced their up-and-coming route through villages like this. She’d disappeared here one evening in 1966, said the barmaid, probably gypsies.

A speaker piped in some sort of deutscher Musik. Whenever someone would switch it on, a man stormed out of the kitchen to shut it off.

A few patrons morosely chatted, exhibiting none of the camaraderie of American taverns or English pubs. A few sat alone, sullen, possibly glum from the relentless rains and floods gushing down the straße. When barmaids opened the door off the bar, traces leaked out of stentorian words, wisps of a laugh, strains of singing.

A man wearing a slouch hat dropped into a seat across from me. The ID tag on the briefcase chained to his wrist might have read Antonio Prohías. His valise covered letters carved into the table. I could make out the letters ‘…child…’.

My colleague was becoming inebriated. After a glass of Mosel, I switched to Coca-Cola, that American abomination that everyone loves. It meant I’d do the driving once the downpour let up.

When slouch-hat man unlocked his briefcase, I made out the rest of the lettering carved in the table, maybe Erskine Childers.

Kaffee,” mumbled Dedrick. “The bardame, tell her kaffee. Gott, I need kaffee.”

The barmaids had wandered off, but I stayed attentive, waiting for one to appear. Within moments, one whooshed out of the kitchen. She balanced a tray on a pinball machine, levered open the side door, and disappeared inside. This time she didn’t close it.

German Flags
German flag, variously 1848-1934
1848~1933
German flag 1935-1945
1935~1945
German flag 1949-present
1949~20xx
From my angle, the room loomed large, apparently an auditorium. A man stood speaking at a microphone. Surrounding him, the platform was decorated in colorful bunting, red, white, and black. Not, I noticed, the Weimar and post-war red, gold, and black, but the terrifying 1935-1945 decade of red, white, black.

“Dedrick,” I hissed. “Damn it, Dedrick, snap to. Take a look.”

My companion blearily opened his eyes and turned. He stiffened.

The barmaid glided back through the door and headed for the kitchen. The speaker suddenly noticed. He pointed sternly toward the door, nearly pointing at me.

A man in a pressed, light brown uniform strode into view. Was that… Was he wearing a Sam Browne shoulder strap? This sergeant-at-arms glanced around and firmly shut the door.

Dedrick instantly sobered.

“Did you see what I saw?” I asked.

“Shh. Shut up in here.” He glared out the window at the rain. “Can you drive?”

To avoid the appearance of panicked departure, we abided another twenty minutes, then dashed toward the Audi, awash in rushing water.

Once out of town, I steered toward Stuttgart.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Was it…?”

“I know what you’re thinking. No. The Nazi Party is illegal in Germany, banned with good reason.”

“But…”

“Don’t speak of it, not here, not now.”

So in a rain-soaked village overlooking a riverbed disguised as a cobblestone street, a curious gathering took place in a private room adjacent to a scruffy bar. Maybe Garbage Collectors Union Local 101 were merely meeting that evening. Perhaps they shared a penchant for neatly pressed brown uniforms and red bunting with dramatic dashes of black and white.

Or maybe it was something else entirely.



Next time: Ladybug Nazi versus the Valkyrie

24 November 2017

A Lost Book

by
O'Neil De Noux

A few days ago, I spotted the spine of a book on one of my bookshelves and felt a stab in my chest. I pulled the book down, ran my hand across the cover, sat on the floor and started reading the book. Again. My chest tightened as I read the only novel written by my friend.

THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION by Daniel Savage Gray (paperback, 317 pages, Zebra Books, 1989) is a World War II espionage-caper novel in the vein of Ken Follett and Frederick Forsyth and another friend, Greg Iles. Check out Greg's BLACK CROSS (1995).



Set from 1939 to 1942, the book centers around a scheme by "the most dangerous man in the world" - SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia and a main architect of the Holocaust. Heydrich is producing counterfeit British pounds by the millions to distribute to world banks in a plot to destabilize the pound and throw Britain's economy into turmoil.

The main character is Professor Victor Boden, an Austrian forced to work on the project by Heydrich. Boden decides to help the British and the book takes a breathtaking trip through intrigue, murder, double-crosses - everything necessary in a good espionage novel. It's not all men-and-guns, there are women the reader will care for immediately and there is heartbreak and a wonderful twist at the end.

I had to slow down reading the book to savor this well-written historical spy novel.

Professor Daniel Savage Gray taught me at Troy University, became a good friend and encouraged me to write fiction. He wrote a couple non-fiction books about Napoleon and Waterloo but THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION was his only foray into fiction. My first novel, also a Zebra paperback, came out a few months before his novel.

When Gray's marriage disintegrated he moved across country and I lost touch with him, briefly talking to Gray on the phone once in 1992. I did not learn he died of a medical condition in 1995 until years later. Hit me hard.

THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION is a classic example of a good book written by a good writer that went out of print shortly after publication and is lost. Back then Zebra printed books, opened their back door and tossed them into the wind to see if anyone snatched up enough for a second printing. THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION remains of out print, a lost book like so many excellent books. By a forgotten writer.

Think about it. How many excellent short stories appeared in the pulps that are lost forever? How many cool adventure novels, mysteries, SF - you name the genre - are gone except for copies in used bookstores and sometimes online? How many writers have been forgotten? I'm sure y'all know a few. Share them if you wish.

As I said earlier - there is heartbreak in this book and when I finished reading the book again, I felt choked up. Old men get choked up easily. This time it was because Gray wasn't talking to me anymore. It was his voice in the story and the story ended and Gray's voice faded. I'm getting too personal now, but all life is personal and a good book is a good book.

04 August 2017

Where do you get your inspiration?

by
O'Neil De Noux

How many times are writers asked, "Where do you get your inspiration for a book?"

Since you asked, I'll tell you about an inspiration.

I was an army brat who lived in a lot of places, went to a lot of schools. From 1960 through 1963, we lived in Italy and I attended the Verona American School on a via called Borgo Milano in Verona. The school had an excellent library where I discovered a series of young adult novels written and illustrated by Clayton Knight. It was a series of WE WERE THERE books, featuring kids who witnessed historcal events, like WERE WERE THERE AT PEARL HARBOR, WE WERE THERE AT THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN and WE WERE THERE WITH THE LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE.


I read them all, my favorite was WE WERE THERE AT THE NORMANDY INVASION because the kids were French and I'm French-American (half Sicilian-American but there was no WE WERE THERE AT THE LIBERATION OF SICILY probably because one would have to ask 'which liberation of Sicily?'). Also the soldiers in the book were paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division and my father was in the 82nd before he became an army CID agent.

Loved that book. I was maybe eleven when I read it but it stuck with me as I grew up and earned a degree in European History, became a cop, became a writer. It floated in my mind, not the storyline, not even the characters, but the vision of France during World War II.

After I started writing mysteries, I began to daydream about writing an historical novel about France during the war and slowly characters formed in my mind. Not at all like Clayton Knight's kids caught up in battle around D-Day. And no paratroopers.

A few years ago, I watched the movie IS PARIS BURNING? (Paramount, 1966) and my imagination created a storyline. Le Maquis. The French Resistance. Eventually my characters took shape and I dropped them into France in 1943 where the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the French resistance wrecked havoc on the Nazi conquerors of occupied France.

My characters formed a special unit. A secret cell. A cadre of young operatives given the code names of archangels, including Samael, the angel of death. These agents called themselves Death Angels. And I let my mind wander with them from an opening scene blowing up a train to the assassinations of Nazi officers and French collaborators. Scene after scene played out in my brain until the Death Angels arrived in Paris to help liberate the City of Light.

Did a lot of research before I started writing. Then I let the character loose and ran after them and wrote down what the did.

Four characters: French resistance fighters Louis (code name Michael), Chico (code name Gabriel) and American assassin Jack (code name Samael) and the most lethal member, French courtesan Arianne (code name Jopiel).

My vision. My story. All triggered, prodded, inspired by thoughts of Normandy and le Maquis and Paris during the occupation.

cover art ©2016 Dana De Noux

Several of my mystery novels and short stories were also inspired by true events. I'll continue with another blog.

That's all for now.

www.oneildenoux.com



27 April 2016

Berlin Noir

David Edgerley Gates


I mentioned last time around that I'd discovered a new enthusiasm, the Bernie Gunther mystery series written by Philip Kerr. These are period stories, set mostly during WWII, and because Bernie's a German homicide cop, he has to answer to the Nazi chain of command.

I picked up on Bernie mid-stride, reading A MAN WITHOUT BREATH first - the ninth book, which takes place in 1943, and involves the murder of Polish military prisoners by the Russians, at Katyn. My habit, generally, if I happen on a writer I like, is to go back and read their books in the order they were written. Right? Seems only fair. In this case, as it was with Alan Furst, I snatched up what was immediately available, and took one step forward, with THE LADY FROM ZAGREB, and one step back, with PRAGUE FATALE, and then FIELD GRAY. Next on the list is the Berlin Noir trilogy, the first three Bernie novels. I couldn't help myself. I grabbed whatever title was on the library shelf. I was too impatient to wait my turn.

I think there are three elements that make the books so fascinating. The first is historical irony. In more than one novel, actually, the story's framed with a look back, from the later 1940's or the early 1950's. Secondly, there's a constant sense of threat, the Nazi regime a bunch of backstabbers, and Bernie hangs on princes' favors. One dangerous patron is Reinhard Heydrich, a chilly bastard who meets an appropriate end. And thirdly, Bernie is really trying to be a moral person, against all odds. You go along to get along, to simply survive, in a nest of vipers, and hope it doesn't rub off on you. After seeing the Special Action Groups at work in Russia, and himself participating, Bernie is sickened by the whole enterprise. He suspects, too, that the handwriting's on the wall.

Bernie's a Berliner, a guy with street smarts, and too smart a mouth. He fought in the first war, in the trenches, and started out as a cop during Weimar. He has no politics. He's as contemptuous, early on, of the Communists as he is of the Nazis, and then, the better he gets to know the Nazis as they consolidate their power, he comes to realize they aren't the lesser of two evils. They are evil. And it does rub off on you.

This is the question often raised in Alan Furst's books, and the two writers have some things in common, aside from the time-frame and the context of their novels. We don't in fact know how we might behave at a personal breaking point, in the context of Vichy France or Nazi Berlin. It's comforting to think we might Bogart through, but daily life becomes an enormous struggle, for the simplest of things. Having a conscience, or a moral compass, might be a luxury we couldn't afford. We might not rise to the occasion. One of Bernie's superiors in Minsk even quotes Luther - "Here I stand" - and then dismisses it. You can't be serious, he tells Bernie. There's no room for that.

And in the middle of all this, institutionalized murder, mass hysteria, people still commit common crimes for common reasons. They kill people for shoes, or bread, or envy. FIELD GRAY has Bernie trying to solve a homicide inside a POW camp. The fact that he's a POW, and the camp is run by the Russians, only makes the whole thing more surreal. Often enough, it isn't some crazed Nazi weirdness at work, although that usually informs it. Everything's out of square. The truly strange thing is that you begin to see this unbalanced world as somehow the norm, at least to the degree of understanding how to navigate it, and once you go there, you've stepped over the edge. The pit opens.

24 July 2013

The Lives of Others

by David Edgerley Gates

It's a commonplace that Germans don't like being reminded of their all-too-recent history, and like much received wisdom, there's some truth in it. Nobody likes it thrown in their face that they were complicit with deep human evil.  Every once in a while you might bump into some guy in a bierstube (I have) who served in the Wehrmacht, and makes no apologies for his war service, but we're talking about a soldier, not Waffen SS or some functionary who played his small part in the Final Solution. Young people, born after the war, get their back up if you mention Hitler and the Nazis, and demand why they should take any responsibility for the buried past---look at what you white Americans have done to the Negro, is the favored response. And of course there are people of a certain age who blame the Jews, for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, without feeling any embarrassment or even a twinge of irony. There's a victim psychology at work, resentful that they've been unfairly singled out, and tarred with too broad a brush. (This is second cousin to the enduring fiction that the French didn't collaborate with the Occupation, or that America First wasn't riddled with virulent anti-Semites and Nazi sympathizers.) "That was another country, and besides, the wench is dead."

So it's a fascinating development, to me, that a few German film-makers have begun to explore this willed national memory loss. DOWNFALL (2004), THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006), and THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (2008). It amounts to a public airing of dirty laundry, and predictably, these guys have taken heat for it.


DOWNFALL is about Hitler's last days in the bunker, and the final Russian assault on Berlin. In a sense, it's a war movie, the fighting in the streets a counterweight to the claustrophobic self-delusion of the Nazi leadership, sealed off underground. It's also deeply, viscerally frightening to be trapped with these people, the impossible hope of rescue, Magda Goebbels poisoning her children, Hitler, to the end, consumed by the perfidy of the Jews. It plays like black comedy, this feverish unreality, toxic with evasion and denial, but there isn't any comic relief in sight, only bitter disgrace, and suicide, and lasting shame for the survivors. The movie was attacked by critics in Germany, not for fudging the historical record, but for 'humanizing' Hitler. A curious complaint. Bruno Ganz, a Swiss, as it happens, manages the weird trick of seeming to shrink inside his clothes, wasting away as you watch. He makes Hitler human, all right, and if anything, all too familiar. This is not a monster, or an alien presence, but a mirror of our own weakness for hatred. Hitler, seen in the flesh, and without disguise, isn't a figure in some distant landscape, the diseased nephew safely hidden in the family closet. No wonder it made Germans uncomfortable.


THE LIVES OF OTHERS and THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX navigate a shifting historical landscape as well. Both are about betrayal. Both are about how Germany defines herself. And both are about doubtful orthodoxies. THE LIVES OF OTHERS takes place in East Germany in the 1980's, when Stasi informants were everywhere, and on the large scale, it's a study of life in an oppressive police state, although the major characters are actually people of privilege. In detail, though, small things matter, choices of honor, or compromise, guilty secrets, proofs of love. The moral punchline comes in a coda, after the Wall is torn down and the East German regime collapses, and old choices, large or small, can be handled like talismans.

BAADER MEINHOF is something of a cautionary tale, a Cold War story from the 1970's, about the zeal of a convert. Politics are radical and undisciplined, and a splinter faction on the Left turns to violence, a terror campaign against the neo-Fascism of the Old Guard. The security services, reading the Devil's handwriting, react with increasingly brutal tactics. The right-wing press, led by the Axel Springer newspaper chain, impatient with civil liberties, egg them on. They give the Baader-Meinhof gang its name, which over-inflates their importance, and actually generates public sympathy. The ringleaders were captured after a nationwide manhunt. Four of them were later to commit suicide in prison, which gave rise to, shall we say, unanswered questions. The legacy of Baader-Meinhof is mixed, at best. 


Taken together, these three pictures don't amount to a critical mass, and nobody expects the Germans to rend their garments and beat their breasts over the crimes of their fathers, any more than you'd expect it of Americans---and everybody, let's face it, is guilty of something. The past is never a closed book. But the unexamined life, Plato tells us, isn't worth much. We don't need to be haunted by regret, or brood on the wrongs done us, or weep for the sins of men. We do require of ourselves an accounting. Choices of honor, or compromise, guilty secrets, proofs of love.

02 March 2013

A Matter of Conscience

by Herschel Cozine
NOTE: I am once again pleased to welcome my friend Herschel Cozine as a guest blogger. He's been writing and publishing fiction for many years, and--as some of you might already know--his book The Humpty Dumpty Tragedy has been nominated by Long and Short Reviews for Best Book of 2012. He's pretty darn good at nonfiction as well: when he showed the following column to me, I found it fascinating--I think you will also. (Herschel, thanks once more for making a guest appearance. Readers, I'll be back in two weeks.) — John Floyd

Recently Eve Fisher posted a column concerning the actions of a fire department in South Dakota. It seems they responded to a fire on the property of an individual who had threatened to shoot anyone who came on his land. Needless to say, he was not well-liked. There was some speculation that the failure of the fire department to save his house was due to animosity rather than fear for their own safety. If it was the former (payback), the fire department behaved irresponsibly and should be reprimanded.

Personal animosity should never be an excuse for failure to do one's duty. I am supposing that the individual, other than being a rednecked, antisocial, and generally unlikable person, was law-abiding and was entitled to the same protection under the law as anyone. Society cannot pick and choose who to serve when it comes to safety or the law.

But there was a time in my life when I and everyone in town felt that this was not the case.

The fire department of my youth behaved similarly, but we all supported their action (or inaction, as the case may be). Were we wrong? Read on, and decide for yourselves.

I was born in a small town on Long Island, and spent the first twelve years of my life there. It was an idyllic life for a child. The town, known as Yaphank, had a population of about 300, and had no amenities other than a grade school, a grocery store, two gas stations, and a post office. No high school, no beauty parlor or barber shop, no movie theater. No pool hall or bowling alley. In spite of the lack of these services and conveniences, we were never bored. There were two lakes in town which we used for swimming, boating, and fishing in the summer and skating in the winter. The townspeople held several "clam bakes" using the grade school grounds. We had weekly card parties where the adults played pinochle while the kids played bunco. All this took place during the Depression. We had no money for entertainment even if it had been available to us. In spite of this, all in all, in my preteen years, life was good.

Then the Nazis came to town. After purchasing a house and grounds less than a quarter of a mile from the house I lived in, they took over the town. Masquerading as a summer retreat for German youth, they were committed to the Nazi philosophy and (we learned later) dedicated to taking over the United States. They frequently marched down Main Street, which was in fact the only street, holding aloft the hated Swastika and forcing traffic to stop for them. They also took over the lake, bullying those of us who were too young and too timid to resist. They were superior, arrogant, and hated.

Sundays saw the arrival of Nazi adults from New York City and surrounding areas. They held noisy and unwelcome rallies where anti-Semitic speeches were given and Hitler was extolled to loud applause.

I had no concept of the significance of these people, or why they were in town. I only knew that my parents, particularly my father who was a WWI veteran, hated them and did whatever they could to make life miserable for them. (I could write a book on that subject.) A few of the year-round residents of the Bund Camp (known as German Gardens) had children who attended school with us. I became friends with one of them who, like me, had no political or philosophical agenda. We were two boys who enjoyed playing marbles, baseball, and the like. Incidentally, unlike most of the Bund Camp residents, his family was loyal to America and remained in this country when the war broke out.

The hostility between the townspeople and Camp Siegfried, as the compound was called, often resulted in confrontations that required police intervention. Yaphank's police department consisted of a sheriff and a part-time deputy. The sheriff was as antagonistic to the Nazis as the rest of us were, so disputes were almost always settled in our favor. In the rare instances when fines and punishment were imposed on the townspeople, they were minimal and seldom enforced.

Whenever a fire broke out in Camp Siegfried or German Gardens, the fire department had difficulty getting there in a timely manner, and to the best of my knowledge never extinguished a fire in time to save whatever structure was ablaze (usually a house). It was of course a volunteer unit, and all of the firefighters were residents of Yaphank, and extremely opposed to the Nazi presence. There is no question that the animosity toward the camp's inhabitants influenced their actions.

I believe, in light of the circumstances, that it is entirely understandable why the fire department behaved as it did in those days. Failure to respond quickly to fires in the camp was simply an extension of the behavior of the townspeople toward Camp Siegfried and the German Gardens. Any means that could be used to get those people out of our town was considered fair. They weren't welcome, they weren't friendly to our way of life, and in fact they were often spying for Hitler. We were not yet at war, so we could not legally evict them--but we saw them as the enemy and acted accordingly. Of course, at the time we were not aware of the atrocities being committed by the Nazi regime in Germany. But the repugnance of their beliefs and actions, particularly after 1939 when the war in Europe started, was reason enough for us to behave the way we did. Harrassment, vandalism, and dereliction of duty by the police and fire deparment. These were our weapons.

But in fact, these people were not breaking any laws. They were in this country legally, and were entitled to equal protection under the law. Still, I cannot criticize the actions of the fire department, the police, or the citizens of Yaphank. Feelings about this are too ingrained in me to believe any other way. Am I wrong to feel the way I do?

This article will give you a lot of information concerning camp Siegfried and its leaders: german/american/bund

As a footnote, on December 8, 1941, the Camp ceased to exist. German Gardens was decimated when the feds descended on the settlement and deported a large number of its inhabitants. A few, like my friend's family, remained.